Casa de Bender> travel> Fiji, October 2006
At the end of our second full day on Matamanoa I finally decided to start writing. The trip down was uneventful. Boise to Phoenix, Phoenix to LA, LA to Nadi in 30(?) hours or so. We left Boise at about 14:30 on Monday October 9th and arrived in Fiji just before 3:00 on Wednesday the 11th. The food and seats on the Air New Zealand fight were better what Shelley and I remembered of the Air Pacific flights we'd taken before. Getting into Nadi at 3am was not the greatest thing in the world however. The Tiger IV doesn't leave Denarau for the Mamanukas until 9am and killing 6 hours in an air port is never fun.
When Shelley couldn't sit still any longer at 7, we caught a cab to the marina. Our cab driver could probably use a few more driving lessons, but we managed to get to our destination in one piece. Our ultimate safety may have been due in no small part to the portrait of Ganesha that was well placed on the dashboard. (Maybe we should get one for Helen.)
We had a little drama at the marina. We were let off at the bug unloading station in front of a construction site. There were several men there who told us to just leave our bags and they would be put on the ferry. Shelley was skeptical, but eventually went along with it. We ate some breakfast at the cafe and piddled around for a while. When the ticket office for the Tiger IV finally opened up we went to claim our reservation. Shelley didn't see our bags sitting around at the counter and this worried her. We walked over to the bus stop and were assured that our bags had been taken care of. Shelley aquiesed, but I could tell she was still pretty disturbed. I finally went back to talk to the guys and they convinced me that our bags would be on the Tiger when we got there and marked for Matamanoa. I think my confidence made Shel feel better, but I could see that she was sort of surprised when we saw our bags off loaded from the Tiger and loaded into the launch at Mana.
Dinner time now, more boring stories we be told later.
So we are actually 5 days into our trip now, but we have been having so much fun I haven't found time to write. To catch up. When we arrived at the island a lot had changed, but a lot seemed the same. The new infinity pool is very pretty. Leona, my dive instructor from 2003 has moved to Switzerland to marry a swiss fellow I assume. They only serenade the people who are leaving the island the next day (mercifully), and Fijian Elvis doesn't do much singing at all anymore. Kini is still here and remembered us, as some of the others claim as well. The bure redecoration is quite pretty, but not as comfortable as we would like. They have put some chair in here, the very one that I am sitting in, that is more of a torture device than anything else. I will, therefore, be writing quickly.
On our first day, as usual, we mostly fought to stay awake until after dinner. A fight we both lost. The wind was blowing at hurricane, or rather cyclone speeds though, so we didn't feel like we had lost any outside time. Dinner under the tropical....ahem....breezes, was lovely as were the mai tais, and then we were very happy to be off for a full nights sleep.
The next day started in our favorite fashion, Bryan up hours before me reading, then me with my coffee and cigarettes joining him in the reading exercise for a while before breakfast. It was lovely except for the wind that kept blowing my hair around so that I thought I would be burned bald. The hair survived, breakfast was good and then we came back to the room for a quiet day of recovering from jet lag. After lunch I made plans with the dive shop for two dives the next day. At dinner Kini informed me that there had been some sort of drama during the day, a disagreement with management I think she called it, and the woman who ran the dive shop had quit. Not to fear she told me, there would be someone else there to dive with me at 9:00 which seemed perfectly bizarre since there are so few people on the island. I tried to trust but I had my doubts.
After dinner was the international crab race again. We purchased the U.S. crab "Moon Walker" for $14. This time they added a new twist to the evening though. The person who purchased the crab has to sing the National Anthem of the country it represents. I sang our national anthem, and did a pretty good job of it, but the people at the event thought I was some sort of truly amazing chanteuse. It made me a bit of an island celebrity for a couple of days, but that seems to have passed now. Also, Moon Walker came in fourth, out of the money.
Bryan and I got up at about the same time on Friday so that I could get breakfast before it was time to dive in the event that there actually was someone at the dive shop, and there was. Koli took me out diving that morning. There was another person signed up to dive too, but the wind and waves made him have second thoughts so it was just Koli and me and some guys on the boat, Mo and Save. Bryan stayed back and did some hiking and reading. The wind nearly whipped him off the top of the mountain, but he made it and discovered some new photo opportunities and features of his camera at the same time. Koli and me in the meantime went on two dives, first at Tavuna and then on the leeward side of Matamanoa. At Tavuna we saw a White Tip shark, an enormous Eagle Ray and a pretty impressive Spanish Mackerel. At the next site we saw a sleeping White Tip and sort of stared at it in its little sleeping den until I got nervous and moved on. At which point Koli pinched the back of my calf, which terrified me and amused him to no end. That afternoon we did what we do best, read and slept, and then off to another dinner. (We both think that the island could use some culinary intervention. Everything is overdone, and under-flavored.) We turned in early.
Saturday the wind stopped and the island turned into the warm, quiet, and sunny place we were missing. I dived again in the morning. This time we went first to a site called Bora Bora near Manna island. Despite the calmness on the surface, it was pretty cloudy and choppy underneath. Nevertheless we saw two Octopus trying their damnedest not to be seen. Koli decided to grab one of their tentacles and he (I don't know it was he, because I am not sure where to look on an octopus and even if I had couldn't have found it) recoiled into an even tinier ball of an Octopus. They really can look like rocks. Next we went to Wheel of Fortune. This dive spot really looked like the Under the Sea dance number from "The Little Mermaid" there were so many colorful and funny reef fish swimming around us. At least in my head when they were talking with me they were funny. Bryan took a stroll around the beach, and read some more. After lunch I decided to get a sunburn. At dinner we tried to talk the new Chinese/British/Irish manager Patrick to give us jobs here in exchange for room and board. He said they might need a lawyer, which makes me want to reconsider.
Today, Sunday, was a day of rest. Aside from about 20 minutes of snorkeling because the waters at the beach were calmer today, we did nothing but read. I think Bryan is through 5 or maybe 6 books already and I have ploughed through 4. Funny thing about weekends when you're unemployed.... I was a little off today though, and started worrying about work. Got to get past that. At dinner tonight, Stephen, the consumer law attorney from Florida who chickened out on the first day of diving but joined me for the second said that he and folks from the dive shop are going cave diving tomorrow and wanted me to come along. I am still trying to make up my mind. The last thing I want to do is make a White Tip think that I have it trapped in a cave. More to come later.
Days roll by and being on vacation seems to be more of the normal state of things than a break from routine. I have been reading voraciously and Shel has kept very busy diving. The folks at the dive shop talked her into getting her Advanced certification. She's been studying and taking tests and practice dives for the last couple of days. I haven't been back into the water since Sunday. :( I really need to figure out how to get over the panic attacks in the water. It's a very strange feeling to have your rational mind tell you that things are one way and yet deep emotions tell you something else entirely.
I took another hike up the mountain on Monday and played with the panoramic assist feature of my new camera. I think it's about the fifth or sixth attempt I've made at taking a panorama from the top of the island, but at least flipping through it on my laptop, I think it's the best. Now I need to work out how to stitch the images together and play them back on the photo-box.
One disappointment this trip has been the food. Shelley and I both remember the meals here being of generally high quality in the past, but this time something's off. Shelley sent her steak back last night after receiving well-done instead of medium-rare. The new steak that replaced it looked good until you noticed that it had been butterflied and cooked from the inside out as well. Apparently even the second time around they were scared of making it too rare. Personally I would have sent the second one out blood rare as it could always be cooked more if sent back again. Shel had a talk with the new manager on the island and he acknowledged that the kitchen was a problem right now. Apparently the kitchen staff is stockpiling food in an attempt to get plates out faster, but it is of course leading to over cooking most dishes. Interestingly enough the service is still slow as hell too. I think they probably need to bite the bullet and hire some experienced kitchen staff to replace the islanders that they have working now. I don't know how may guys they have in the kitchen, but it really shouldn't be too hard to handle the 30-40 meals they make in a night. It might be easier if they cut the menu down some and added a second seating. Right now seating is a free for all affair, and they have at least 2 appetizers, 5 entrŽes, 5 main dishes and 4 desserts on the menu each night. I would be much happier with less choice and better quality.
What I've read so far:
Another book down:
Shelley had another dive this morning. I think that put her up to ten so far for the trip, and she's out on another right now. It's her first night dive and if things go well she and the dive masters will be bringing back a lobster for our dinner tomorrow. I read some this morning and wandered around aimlessly. I met Shelley at the dove shop when they got back in and then we went on the "shell market" trip to the village on Tavoa (is that the name of the island?).
There seems to be a building boom going on right now. They are building a new and bigger church and it looked like maybe a couple of new sleeping houses and a cistern or two. That's lot of concrete to bring in in sacks from the barge and then mix by hand. I think Ben would fit in with these guys, but he might want them to move a little faster.
Oni gave the tour of the village, but he needs some more practice. He freely admitted that he didn't know much about the village and mostly pointed out that he was from a big town on Vanua Levu. Shelley and I had seen the sights twice before, so we didn't miss much, but the Italian couple that was with us didn't get much out of the trip except some over priced junk from the ladies' market.
The books and crayons that Shelley brought for the kids seemed to go over pretty well. One little boy kept clutching at his box of crayons until he convinced his mom to hide it for him. The kids were as cute as ever. I got a picture or two of a small herd of them giving me the "thumbs up" and we had to say bula to them about a hundred times.
The trip back was a little rough and would have been really wet if Mike hadn't pointed out that we could wrap ourselves in a plastic tarp he had on the boat. Ramsey and the Italians got soaked, but we stayed fairly dry.
After the trip (and of course lunch) Shell and I both tried to read but ended up napping instead. We woke up right at 16:00 when she was supposed to meet at the dive shop to make sure things were ready for the night dive. We went down, but didn't stay long since it turned out that there was nothing for her to do. More reading and lounging in the sun occupied or time until she left at 18:00 for the dive. I sat on the ridge and watched the sunset, and now I'm waiting for her to come back and tell me how much fun she had.