Have you ever done something that is on your Top 3 Terrors List? Scuba diving was on my Top 3, but it’s now something that thrills rather than just terrifies me. I wrote about my first time diving in the Great Barrier Reef in my second post on Australia (http://whereintheworldissandy.com/2017/07/02/how-dorothy-gets-her-groove-back-in-oz-part-2/). After an incredible couple of months traveling Australia, I knew I wanted to go somewhere to chill, where it’s sunny and tropical and I considered the possibility of getting my diving certificate so I boarded a flight to Nadi, Fiji.
After just one night in Nadi, the main island that’s the hub for international tourists, I was off to Kadavu, a small and more remote island that’s best known for diving. When I arrived to the domestic terminal of the airport, I was shocked when the gate agent asked me to step on a scale before checking me into the flight. Let’s add public/airport weigh ins to my Top 3 list. After that unexpected and humbling check in, I boarded a small 20 seat plane for a 40 minute flight to paradise. Another interesting observation during my Fijian flying experience was that the captain and co-captain literally work together to get the plane off the ground, as in their hands are on top of each other’s as they push one of the levers on the plane to take off. Here’s a photo capturing that unique moment and you know you’re on small plane when you can see their hands clasped together so tightly.
The flight was short, but man was it gorgeous. Everywhere below us I could see aquamarine seas and small island after small island. It looked like scene from every movie or TV show made about paradise. Upon landing in Kadavu, the airport was the size of a small shop and I was picked up by the men from the “resort” where I would be staying for the next week. They grabbed my bag and we walked along the beach, a few steps from the airport and we hopped on a boat for the 20 minute ride to Dive Matana, the place I selected based on something I’d read about their famous AstroReef, one of the best reefs in the world, according to this website and I was ready to sign up for the Open Water Dive Certification! On the boat ride to the resort, I met Joe, the resort’s manager and the dive instructor, a Fijian man with a wicked sense of humor and who turned out to be an awesome instructor and friend.
Arriving in Matana, I couldn’t believe how stunning the surroundings were — water, volcanic mountains, lush green forests and the most welcoming smiles from the staff and locals from the village. I was in a remote island paradise. Along with stunning scenery, there are a few other “perks” of being in a remote paradise, which included losing our generator and backups the second day of my trip, which meant that there was no electricity for me the week I was there. And while I am quite accustomed to life on the road occasionally being a challenge, not having any electricity for the week when staying at a “resort” was unexpected. But I made jokes with Joe and the staff about it and felt sorry for the staff who had to figure out how to keep running the place without power. But I had dinner at 5:30pm with solar powered lamps and went back to my bura (my hut) by 6:30pm because it was completely dark with nothing but stars lighting the cavernous sky.
My first night in Kadavu I was asked if I wanted to go and visit the village. I did and we walked about five minutes into the dark and essentially the buildings next to the resort was where we crossed into the village. We walked to the community hall where many from the village were gathered to drink kava, the traditional grog made from the root of the kava plant, which is then pounded and placed into a cloth and soaked in water. People, mostly men, gather in the common room, drums are played, songs sung, and the Chief is present and special guests are welcomed as people sit in circles and the kava is served in a communal cup that’s shared among everyone. Mary was kind enough to bring me to the village and act as my liaison during the whole village experience. When we walked in to the room, I could feel all eyes on me, many smiling and lots of “bula’s” (“welcome” in Fijian). I was aware of kava and knew that it’s a popular tradition in the Pacific Islands, but I have heard varying tales of its effects, from hallucinating, numbing of your tongue and mouth, and of course a buzzy drunkenness. Mary told me that kava tastes like “earth” and so when the young man offered me the cup, I drank the lukewarm, muddy colored kava and she could not have been more accurate in her description. I just drank earth. And my tongue started to tingle and grew numb and several cups later, I felt a light buzz, but nothing like affect of a few martinis. And as we sat around sipping kava and listening the young men sing Fijian songs and everyone around me seemed pretty darned content. Bula, indeed.
Joe gave me diving lessons with two young and friendly people from the village, which was really cool as he was hoping that Mary and Bero would learn to dive and perhaps someday be instructors themselves. Joe explained that so few Fijians have an opportunity to dive, which is not all that shocking as I’ve learned that diving is quite an expensive sport. But I was psyched to have diving buddies learning with me. We read from the course manuals and did our skills tests and dives together, as a team. For those who are interested in getting their certification, it’s actually an intense set of skills tests that one has to pass in order to be certified and in complete honesty, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it. But as I’ve said before, this is the year of doing shit that scares me and pushing myself physically, mentally and emotionally in a positive direction that ultimately makes me feel like I’m stronger than I ever imagined. One of those tests included swimming 200 meters (that’s like 667 feet) in the sea followed by 10 minutes of treading water with your hands in the air. Now remember I was doing this with my scuba buddies Mary and Bero who are in 22 and 19 respectively so not only did I worry I would not be able to do this, but I also did not want to let down my young and fit teammates. And while they were both much faster swimmers, it turned out that slow and steady still works and I was able to do the swim and the tread with energy to spare. F YEAH! Some of the other tests include taking off your gear under water, including your face mask, oxygen device, saving your teammate by sharing oxygen, swimming with an underwater compass and more. I seriously felt like US Navy Seal by the end.
Beyond the physical, emotional and psychological endurance tests, what is really exciting about diving is that you’re entering into a whole new, unfamiliar world filled with creatures and life forms of every color, shape, texture, size and so much of it feels like something right out of a sci-fi movie. And despite the fact that you’re in their world, somehow you feel welcome to observe, follow, swim, and when appropriate even touch this previously undiscovered place and its inhabitants. One of the most thrilling moments during diving was when I was diving in Nadi following my certification in Kadavu and although the water wasn’t nearly as clear nor the coral as spectacular, one of the divers found a leopard shark. I was just explaining to someone that as a new diver, the thrill is big enough for me just being down there with the schools of fish, turtles, coral, etc. and I’m not looking to chase sharks. Then we find a 4 foot leopard shark on the bottom of the sea and my instructor takes my hand and pulls it closer to the beautiful and terrifying predator so that I can touch its tail. If I wasn’t in a sound proof underwater environment, he would’ve heard me squealing and dropping a couple of F-bombs, but I did as instructed and I lightly touched its tail. I thought it was pretty amazing but I won’t be signing up for the Great White Shark cage dives any time soon.
I left Fiji feeling so excited and proud that I managed to get my scuba license and that I met some really great people along the way. Fijians are so friendly, welcoming and their kindness extended beyond basic hospitality standards. I look forward to my next underwater adventure and will always be grateful to Fiji and teacher Joe for giving me the courage to literally go deeper.