Dive slave and strange happenings in Fiji
06.10.2008 - 08.11.2008 34 °C
So I've been on the road for 9 months now. It seems like yesterday when I left a cold, wet London and cousin Morgi called at Heathrow airport to wish me luck and to be wary of all the lady-boys. Luckily, I've had my wits about me the whole time. So I haven't been to work, done anything in the office, looked at a spreadsheet, or even spent hours trying to look busy since February. That is, until 5 weeks ago. I thought doing a dive course or two would be easy work. Do a few dives, practice some rescue techniques, guide a group of divers, map a site. Hmmm, may sound easy, but the four fat novels I brought with me have hardly been touched, meaning I haven't had all that much beach time.
The rescue course started on the island of Taveuni, in the north eastern segment of Fiji. This part of the world is famously referred to as the "soft coral capital of the world." And yes, under the water Rainbow Reef is very beautiful. Its just as pretty above, Taveuni itself having earned the nickname "The Garden Island."
I started my rescue course at a resort called Paradise. Their dive centre, Pro-dive, offered a good price, and great facilities. Their house reef (ie. the reef they do all training on - its literally a step off the boat jetti) is excellent as well, teeming with life. It was here that I met two Scots in the form of Jerry and Buzzy ("Yes, that is my real name!"). Naturally, I was not going to stay at the resort's $F600 a night Bure's (Fijian cottages), and instead stayed at a self-catering lodge 5km's south at Vuna village. Jerry and Buzzy were busy completing their PADI Divemaster qualifications at the resort, and had gotten to Vuna only a few days before me. So for the next couple of
weeks we walked the long road there and back each day, occasionally hitching a lift, and doing our daily training in the pool or on dives. Vuna village is surrounded by an absolutely enormous lagoon, that extends out to sea, with a lighthouse on the far side to warn ships. Its overfished, but still offers great snorkeling. Staying here for two weeks was ideal. In the evenings, Jerry, Buzzy and myself would sit in the lagoon waters, having a sundowner (Fiji Bitter is a great beer) after our long, sweaty, fly-infested walk back, or chill on the porch, while the sun was setting directly ahead of us. A calm quietness would always descend on our group as the sun disappeared, below the sea. The sunsets were spectacular.
At one time during our courses, we got a few days off, and snorkeled the reef. I don't think I have ever felt as vulnerable or scared as when Jerry started grabbing at my feet under the water. It so happened that only a few weeks before an enormous tiger shark (7m according to the dive guide, Wilson; but I don't think they grow that big, or at least that's what the fish books say...) had cruised passed a dive group in the lagoon area. So here I was with Jerry and Buzzy splashing about, the water visibility had dropped to about 15 meters, and we were so deep I could no longer see the sandy bottom. Jerry, of course, thought it was hilarious every time he attacked me or made the universal shark sighting sign at me (hand held vertically above your head, like a fin), but I reckon my heartbeat was like a bongo drum for kilometers around. I urged us to head back, the last remnants of control fading from my croaking voice. Fiji Bitter had never tasted so good that evening.
Jerry and Buzzy contributed to my rescue course by being victims, although personally I think Jerry was hoping I'd have to do CPR on him. Thankfully, my instructor Bruce, was against this suggestion. Upon completing my Rescue course, I decided that I would continue with my Divemaster course as well, but instead I would do it elsewhere, closer to the reefs. Jerry and Buzzy were keen too, as the dive package at Dolphin Bay Divers, across the strait, was better. I wanted to go because Dolphin Bay was offering 2 dives per day as part of the course, while Pro-dive offered none. Also, there was a clear difference between the way that we were treated by staff and the way that guests were treated. This irked me, as I was already going to spend over $F2000 there. All the same, thats only 2 nights at the resort. A backpacker environment was needed...
Dolphin Bay Divers (www.dolphinbaydivers.com) is a retreat on the far eastern coast of Vanua Levu, right across the straight from Taveuni, but closer to all the dive sites. Its run by Viola and Roland - a German/Swiss couple who have stayed in the area for the last 13 years. Dolphin Bay is in its own time zone - staff recommend that you change your clock when you arrive! Of course, its not official, but it does help with daylight savings. As a result, I've been getting up at 5am every morning since leaving. Unlike Taveuni, where it rains virtually everyday, there was a severe drought in progress here, resulting in Roland having to send staff back daily to Taveuni, only 10km's away, to collect water in large canteens. Showers were short affairs at Dolphin Bay, the rainy season was late. It was a massive contrast to Taveuni, where on one day, I counted heavy rainfalls at least 30 times during the course of the day.
The course was great, mostly because I got to dive the reef so much, and got to avoid much of the theory. I'm saving that for London (why study in Fiji, and dive in the channel?). I did have to do 2 exams though, and PADI did a great job of writing a mind-numbingly boring manual. Luckily I got through this in one week, but it was tough doing 2 early dives each day and then studying in the afternoons in the dining area, where the warm sea is only 20 meters away. The mornings were mostly made up of carrying tanks, putting together people's dive gear, checking that everything was on the boat, etc. Dive slave stuff - its all part of the experience. A funny/not-so-funny incident happened while I was there, read this link for details: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=104723
The reefs out here seem to be fighting for space. The fish are plentiful, except where there is a village - the fisherman will take anything out of the sea, big or small. Spear-fishing is big here too. Everywhere you go, there is a reef. Every island is rimmed by a reef, and then a steep drop-off into the deep blue waters beyond. You see it when you drive along the coast, take a boat, and from the air. During my flight back to Nadi (touristy, international airport town) this morning I saw countless atolls out to sea, many of them with beautiful turquoise lagoons, and coral spreading around the lagoon, barely a few meters above the waterline. I jumped from one side of the plane to the other, trying to get the best pic through grubby windows. There were only two passengers on the plane. Perhaps the political stances of Australia, New Zealand and the US are starting to take effect. None of those countries recognise the current government - afterall, its in power as a result of a coup, held back in 2006, and the fourth one in Fiji in only 2 decades. The military controls the country now, along with the backing of the Great Council of Chiefs (apparently).
At the same time, you keep hearing about the ridiculous resorts that are being built here in Fiji. The best one I've heard yet is Poseidon (http://www.poseidonresorts.com/poseidon_main.html). Its going to be built underwater with transparent - walled rooms that look out to the fish. Hmm, good luck. Another classic is the resort owned by the Red Bull katrillionaire, Dietrich Mateschitz, just north of Taveuni. Its so exclusive that it will cost between $F10,000 and $F15,000 per bure, per night, and Arnie and John Travolta are meant to be flying in to do the opening ceremony. At least, thats what the islanders are saying on Taveuni.
So I guess tourists are still coming. Well, those with loads of cash at least.
I've also been to the Mamanuca's and a few other spots. That'll come in the next update, in a couple of days, and hopefully with some pics too