Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Day 4: Underwater exploration

 When I got up and started walking this morning, everything hurt. I feel old, injured and achy. I slept pretty well last night despite the pain and having to get up early to take another dose of ibuprofen. I was going to get up to see Kini and go to the market, but I got woken up by one of the resort staff saying someone was here to pick me up. I didn't know that anyone had responded to the emails I had sent to the dive shop nearby because there's only one small corner of the reception area that has WiFi. I really didn't want to flake out on Kini, but this would be my only opportunity to go diving in Fiji. I made the split second decision and told the worker to tell them that I'll be on my way. I grabbed my suit and clothes that were hanging on the line outside and quickly put them on. I hurried out the door after I grabbed my waterproof camera, wallet, and phone. I went so quickly that I didn't have time to get ready; brush my hair or eat breakfast. The dive shop workers were waiting for me in the front and said that they came over yesterday, but I was gone rafting so they came over today just in case and I'm glad that they did. I left a note with the receptionist for Kini so she wasn't left wondering what happened to me.

Apparently, I didn't even need to rush because everyone runs on Fiji "island time," which is actually even slower than Hawaiian time. I was the first one at the dive shop, but  shortly after, ended up getting grouped with the odd Australian family from the rafting trip yesterday. There was also an Australian Chinese girl, Vivian, that came diving by herself because her boyfriend didn't want to come. She was very nice and it was just interesting to hear her with an Australian accent. We did a shallower dive in a nearby bay because there were first-time divers in the group. I had a difficult time getting down at first because I didn't have enough weight, so Joe (the divemaster) had to put another kilo on my air tank. Right away we saw some lionfish and some soft corals. Vivian kept chasing after the fish trying to touch them, the boys kept swimming under me and basically that whole family kept getting in my way. As Vivian was after this one fish, I noticed a stingray in the sand very close to her and she ended up kicking it up and it swam away. Nearby, we saw some clownfish (Nemo) in a big cluster of anemones and Joe also found this strange sea cucumber. I got to hold it and it sort of sticks to you, but not as much as some sea urchin. He later told us that those sea cucumbers are worth a lot of money per kilogram because it's a delicacy in some Asian countries. Vivian was the first to go back to the boat because she burned up her air quickly from chasing fish. I was glad that I was able to control my breathing better so I was one of the last to go in. I decided after that dive that I wanted to go again because I can never get enough and I knew that there were probably better spots than where we were. We went back to the shop and I had to say goodbye to the group. Vivian gave me her contact info and a big hug. She thinks that it would be cool to meet up some day on our travels - maybe Australia will be next.

Can you spot the fish and the lobster?








I'll be honest, I don't know the name.
A few lionfish

With fronds like these, who needs anemones?!

The little stingray coming out of the sand

Joe making air rings


The guys at the shop couldn't believe how big my bruise was and this one guy kept giving me sympathy and wanting to hug me... I headed back out not that long after, and this time I had the boat all to myself. We got into the aluminum boat and motored out on the surge. The weather wasn't favorable; it was windy, cloudy, and there was a lot of chop on the water. Joe asked me if I had ever done a wall dive before and I replied that I hadn't. He said, "well, there's a first for everything." I guess I was going to learn quickly, and we sat on the edge of the boat once we had our equipment on. As the boat tossed up and down, he counted to three and then we leaned back and fell into the water. Once I righted myself, I looked out and all I could see was blue. I couldn't see the bottom or the coral wall. It was the first time that I ever felt like I was really in open water. I started to see the wall as we were descending; it was towering on our right, but in front of us it was just blue. We saw several fan corals and even other corals growing on the fans. Joe poked in a hole, cupped his hands, and once I was ready with my camera, he opened his hands up and two nudibranches (Spanish dancers) came swimming out. That was so cool! We saw more soft corals, sea anemones, sea turtles and little tiny fish. We swam with one sea turtle for awhile, but it went ascended and went out of our area. Joe started poking a stick in a hole as we were nearing the end of the dive, but it had a lobster in it that wouldn't come out. He came back with a bigger stick to poke another hole nearby. I thought it was the same lobster hole, but I saw a tentacle come out and it was an octopus! It grabbed onto the stick a couple times, but eventually it shot out and left. I had to go up after that because I had reached my limit on the air in my tank. Joe filled an inflatable orange marker for the boat guy to find us.



Where's the wall?


Spanish dancers (nudi

 









 









A lil hermit crab









After a short bumpy ride, we took our equipment off and brought it ashore. We were waiting for the boat guy to anchor the boat and come back when a stranger Australian woman walked up holding a mask and fins. It turned out that she was walking the beach to the dive shop for the afternoon dive trip. She had a pretty impressive bruise on her arm from hitting herself when she was drunk and fire spinning. She declined the ride to the shop since she fancied a walk on the beach. Evidently this lady is pretty crazy. Joe said she just broke up with her boyfriend and was crying at the dive shop yesterday. I asked him how long she's been here and he said, "too long, maybe." He was thinking that we were quite the pair because we both were bruised, but I told him that at least my bruise wasn't self-inflicted. He said that I had a good point. Ha ha!
Diveaway guys

I had to get a ride back to the resort to get my dive log and go to another resort to take out cash for the dive at an ATM. I was driven by Ray, a Fijian guy that was raised in Australia, but had just moved back here three years ago. It's a little confusing because he looks like a Hawaiian guy, but has an Australian accent. We stopped at a roadside stand along the way to the resort and he bought me a half of a pineapple that was already peeled and semi-sliced for easier eating. I think it cost less than a dollar because he paid in coins. The pineapple was super sweet, soft and extremely juicy. It reminded me of white pineapple, but with a completely different taste. We had a good time talking story about life while going to and from the resort. I chatted with some of the dive shop people and took pictures before I had to return to my resort.

The ladies at the desk and restaurant
After I had a late lunch, I decided to get a massage for my soreness. I had a good time talking with Lani, the masseuse. She told me these hilarious stories about old Australian women coming to Fiji to find boyfriends! I will be missing all of these people here because they really do feel like family. In the evening, I had a great dinner of garlic prawns over rice with vegetables. The guys were playing music as usual and I was the one person that got people clapping every time. They don't play for tips and I just thought that it would be rude not to clap for them. Kini came over and apologised for our plans not working out. Turned out that they boys wouldn't have been available to cook anything anyways so it was okay that I ended up scuba diving. She didn't have time to bring her hand line for fishing so she said that we'd do it next time. That made me feel a little better about changing plans early in the morning.
Lani and her massage parlor

Later in the evening, the band got closer to the dinner tables and I though it was just because it was only me and another couple in the dining room. Kini came forward and said that she wished safe travels to me and hopes that we'll get to meet again someday. The whole band, including Kini and another staff member, sang a song just for me. It made me all teary and very special as I've never seen them perform for anyone else's last night there. I didn't know what the words to the song meant, but I had a good idea when it ended with, "....until we meet again." They all came up to me and gave me a hug after the song was over. I went and chatted with everyone for awhile and took pictures with Sera and Kini. Kini was funny, she saw a sculpture on the front desk that she had never seen before and called her "Grandma." We took our picture with Grandma and later with "Grandpa," a large wooden statue of a man. We had to take a few photos because Kini said that I wasn't hugging Grandpa close enough. She's such a hoot. We said our goodbyes, and Kini was like "awwww....Kara." She told me to come back someday with my boyfriend or hopefully a honeymoon. Ha ha!
Sera and I
 







Kini and I with "Grandma"
Kini and I with "Grandpa"




Monday, January 21, 2013

Day 3: Fijian whitewater rafting adventures

Sunrise at the resort

Wow. What a day. Right now, I'm icing my thigh and waiting for dinner, but I'll get back to that later. I started the day pretty early talking to one of the guys that works the night shift. He was pretty curious and asked me a lot of questions. He's staying in the village that I visited yesterday; however, he's from another island and only gets to see his family every two weeks. Our conversation was cut short because my shuttle arrived to pick me up for the whitewater rafting adventure. The last person to be picked up was an American man with an annoying southern accent. He was stereotypically loud, but at least he was also funny. We continued driving for probably another 45 minutes until we reached an area where we had to switch buses. The new bus was 4-wheel drive, had a similar seating arrangement, but was much more ghetto. We continued inland going up into the mountains and winded our way up on a poor, clay dirt road. The views from the higher altitudes were amazing, but it was difficult to take pictures from the bumpy bus. Our guide explained that the cutting of mahoganies both benefits the Fijians monetarily through export as well as ecologically since they are introduced species. Mahogany has pushed out other traditional plants like taro and banana. One of the guides, Moses, wanted to take pictures of us on the bus. He told us to say, "Tuki," and told us not to worry because he'll tell us what it means later, but it's not a bad thing. He later told us that it meant, "sex." Halfway through the journey to the rafting site, we had a break for banana bread and juice. Our guide paired us up with our rafting guides and companions. Since I was by myself, I was placed with a group of three guys from Australia. We loaded back up and kept driving for quite some time - it probably took 2-3 hours to get to our drop-off site from the time we left the resort. 

  

Once we got to our drop-off site, we were outfitted with gear and had to take another twenty minute hike through the woods, down and up some steep stairs, and then down to the river. At the river there was a guide that gave us our safety instructions. He was very difficult to understand and you could definitely tell that he had a different dialect than the people that lived along the coast. He also explained that they usually put the strongest paddlers in the front and usually have the women in the back, which I thought was very lame. When the guys asked who wanted to sit where, I said that I wanted the front right away. I figured that I probably was the strongest paddler of the bunch, since I outrigger canoe paddle. We first started practicing instructions, turns, etc. before heading down the river. We went right into a canyon with wall sides that were very steep and showed erosion and water level lines. It was so amazing that it's really hard to describe with words. The rapids weren't very big or scary, but they made things exciting. Our guide, Ben, told us stories along the way of local legends. He told us about the legend of this one waterfall - I forgot what the name was, but it translated to something like Push Waterfall. There was a village chief that had the power to do anything he wanted. He decided to have two wives; one wife was good, and the other was bad. One day the bad wife was being nice to the good wife, so the good wife figured that the other was plotting to kill her. The bad wife had led the good wife by the waterfall so that she could kill her and be the only wife for the chief. The good wife tied something around the bad wife's ankle or something while they were doing laundry. When the bad wife pushed the good wife over the waterfall, they both fell down so neither of them could be the chief's only wife. Ben also pointed out areas in the rock where there were old corals. At some point in time, the ocean used to be there and it was underwater. He also told us about this one kind of palm that the Fijians use to make the thatch in their bures. He pointed out another plant that is used for food and tastes a little better than cabbage. 


We got to go under a few waterfalls throughout the morning to cool off, but after awhile I thought he was purposefully trying to get me wet every time. We drifted down the river for awhile when we spotted a stranded piglet on the side of the cliff face that must have fallen down from the forest above. The camera guy went up on a small trail on the cliff face to try to get the piglet, but it fled and fell into the water. The girls in the other boats were gasping as the men were trying to get it because they were afraid that they were going to kill it. I was indifferent because they're probably just as bad for the ecosystem as they are in Hawaii. I knew that they wouldn't kill it though because it would make for bad P.R. with the tourists. They ended up putting it in a bag until they could release it later.


Scott, Dan, Me, and Matthew
Before we took out for lunch, we were on some little rapids when he turned the boat sideways and I fell out. I was making sure to keep my toes pointed downstream, but he told me to swim to the boat and he was able to pull me back in. I was fine and the guys couldn't believe that I was still smiling. I shook it off and we continued on. However, only like 5 or 10 minutes later, I fell out again and that time it was in much bigger rapids. I went underwater briefly and popped back up hacking up the water. My feet were down so I tried to bring them up to the surface and tuck my legs like Ben was yelling at me to do. Just as I was tucking my legs, I slammed into a large rock with the side of my thigh and then was thrown into some smaller rocks with my right foot. The guys in my raft got to me quickly after that because I came down through the rapids after them. The pan was pretty bad by the time I got into the boat. I sat there for a few moments just grunting a little bit with my eyes closed. The pain sucked a lot and I knew it was going to suck even more to paddle. Luckily for me, we had lunch shortly after and it gave me time to walk and stretch out. They had made a spread for sandwiches with homemade bread, various vegetables, and mystery meat. I chose the meat I could recognize, tuna, and added lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and cheese despite the warnings not to eat fresh vegetables in Fiji. I figured that I already drank a bunch of river water so if I was going to get sick, it wasn't going to be from the veggies. They also had some super delicious pineapple that was maybe even better than Big Island white pineapple, but in a completely different way. I noticed some birds nests above us in this sort of cave-ish area. I asked what the name of the bird was that made its nest in the overhang, but I already forgot it...something that starts with an "s".

 After lunch, we went back into the water and my leg was pretty painful. Dan offered to change sides with me if it wouldn't work with me paddling on the left side where I had hit. However, I knew that he wanted to even himself out since we had been paddling on the same side for half the day already and I didn't want to burn him out on the same side. Our first birds on the trip were ducks. We asked Ben what kind of duck it was and he said that it was a wild duck. Ha ha! We drifted further when I spotted what looked like birds, but could possibly be bats. I found out they were bats when a big group of them came out of the trees and flew straight above us; biggest bats I've ever seen in the wild. Ben started making conversation with us again and asked all of us if we were married. All of us looked at each other and told him we weren't married. Ben said that he's still looking to find the right person for him. I'm still trying to figure out why every Fijian guy wonders whether I'm married? Jeesh. Everybody kept splashing each other with water like children throughout the whole trip. Before we reached a waterfall, Moses dumped the rest of the orange gatorade on us so we had to rinse everything off or the flies would come and get us.

The crew with our guide, Ben
We got to stop for a "natural massage" at the large waterfall nearby. The temperature outside and the water was cool, but it still felt nice and was so beautiful. We continued down the river again; this time with our feet locked into the boat just in case. There was only one time when I almost fell out again, but I held on tight and stayed in the boat. Another story that Ben told us was that villagers used to clean clothes by beating them in the water and then would lay them on the rocks to dry while they went to take a nap. Sometimes, they would wake up and come back to a deeper river and all of their clothes would be gone. Some people still wash their clothes like that and you can spot random shirts, pants etc. caught up in the bushes higher up on the river banks. I told Ben that I spotted African Tulips (an invasive plant species in Hawaii), among the other two dozen species I've identified. He says that it's also displaced the taro and banana because of what it does to the soil. I found out that they don't do much to the taro to eat them like the Hawaiians, they only boil and eat them.

Rafting through the rainforest
The take-out spot
A traditional Fijian raft - Bilibi

The road to the bus
We ended our journey when we reached a village that had longboats beached on the riverbank. However, our trek was not completed because we still had to wrap up our rafts and then walk up the steepest road that never seemed to end. We passed by some of the village women that had machetes and stacks of branches carried in bundles on their backs. The estimated time of ten minutes was way off - it probably took 25-30 minutes walking up concrete and then sticky clay before we reached the bus. It was obvious that the bus wouldn't have made up the hill. We had some pretty crazy drivers on the way back. We actually got stuck going down this curve on the dirt road in the forest. The driver was pressing on the gas more and the bus started to lean to the right, I thought we were going to tip over! At the same time, these stupid Americans were yelling that this wasn't in the brochure. I just kind of chuckled and leaned to the left (like that was going to help). Eventually, we got out and everyone cheered. I just laughed instead of getting mad like some other people because we didn't die so it was funny and I chalked it up as an authentic Fijian experience! 


After the long 4-wheel bus ride, we stopped back at their office and waited for the bus to take us back to our resorts. Dan was nice enough to give me his contact information and said that I could contact him in case I get into any trouble in New Zealand because he has a lot of friends there. The guys say that I need to go to Australia someday - especially Cairns, the city I still can't figure out how to pronounce ever after hearing them say it. It was a little sad to say goodbye to them because we had a lot of fun together and they we like my guys. Dan is an oncologist, Matthew is an infectious disease doctor, and Scott works in human resources.

When I got back to the resort, Sera greeted me and welcomed me back. Some of the band members were in the dining hall and they helped to give me ice for my leg. It was super painful, but slightly better with pain relievers. So that brings us back to the beginning, now you know why I was icing. I had chicken fettuccine for dinner tonight and it was pretty good for someone starving. I also just found out that I can't dive at all in Fiji! They cancelled my dive to Beqa (Beng-ga) lagoon and I'm so heartbroken because that was the only thing I really wanted to do here. I doubt that the local dive place will take me now too. Kinni said that I could go to the market with her for most of the day tomorrow. She said we could pick up some food to cook underground instead of going to the other village that I got invited to. Kinni told me that I shouldn't go to the other village alone because nobody from the village works at the resort so it's just safer if I do dinner with people from here. I'm glad that I have someone to watch out for me and willing to teach me how to line fish after work! We'll see what tomorrow brings.