Dinner party aboard Shannon.
After our Sunday adventure Kevin and I were both feeling a bit... burned out. We have pretty much been "on the go" - although that has a different meaning in the tropics than in other places - since we arrived in Fiji respectively, and wanted a day or two just to relax.
We spent the morning making breakfast and jamming on ukulele and guitar until Koli showed up in his boat. In spite of the 80 degree weather he was wearing a huge down jacket and a beanie. Apparently he has come down with a cold (that I wouldn't be surprised the, ahem, white man brought), and invited to go to the hospital in the other village with him. "Ummmm... no thanks..." Kevin and I both said. Going for a free dive sounded like much more fun than going to the "hospital".
Before we could be waylaid by another friendly villager Kevin and I threw all our gear in his dinghy and headed out to the pass we sailed in through. The pass is pretty deep and lined by a steep coral wall on either side, which makes for excellent diving. We decided to do a drift dive along the pass as there was a bit of current, so Kevin tied the dinghy to his body so it could float along with us and we jumped in.
We were immediately greeted by a huge school of travalli and a white tipped reef shark. It is always a bit of a relief to see a shark or two because it is a sign of a healthy reef. And healthy this reef is! The reef is covered with purple and blue stag horn coral, bright green finger coral, huge growths of soft corals, giant anenomes with clown fish living in them, and tons and tons of psychedelic looking fish. I also saw huge clams and some very weird giant nudibranch-looking things. The closer one gets to Indonesia the more diverse the reefs become, and this one was pretty wild.
It is hard to describe the euphoria I felt being back in the water around a healthy and vibrant reef. I could tell Kevin felt the same. He works as a free diver for NOAA and was diving down 30 or 40 feet and doing back flips under water. Curious fish came by to take a look at the two 5 and 6 foot intruders, but didn't seem to be scared away by us. At one point when we were diving on the south side of the pass I saw the reef marker for that side laying horizontally along the reef, knocked down by a cyclone. But who needs reef markers on both sides of a pass, anyway?
Our free dive was by far the best I have ever done in Fiji (which isn't that many) and I was so happy to see healthy reef. The only thing I am sad about is that it took us so long (3 days) to get in the water here. But respects must be paid to the locals first. After getting cold - yes it is possible to get cold in 80 degree water - we headed back to the boat. Koli had given us a bunch of cooked taro before he headed to the hospital and Kevin fried it up with spices to make taro chips. I think he is on to something.
Kevin and I spent the afternoon drinking rum drinks, playing music and chilling out. A note on the rum drinks: Bounty is the official and locally made rum of Fiji. It is also the most god-awful alcohol I have ever tasted in my life. Even a whiff of it can make me light headed. It tastes like something that could be used to degrease and engine rather than ingested. Nevertheless, I drank enough to give me a pretty nasty hangover, which made our attempt at a dawn patrol surf session a little less pleasant.
Yes, Matuku has surf. Sometimes. The island is known as a remote but popular destination for surf charters - maybe one or two a year. Apparently a few years ago the Quiksliver surf boat came here and the guys scored, saying the wave here is way better than Cloudbreak on Tavarua. Unfortunately the swell was not working for us. Regardless, we loaded up the boards and snorkel gear and headed out to the outer reef, a quarter mile or so off the island. We saw one potentially surfable wave to the north, and headed out. Kevin's dinghy has a 2.5 horsepower engine which does the trick, but takes a long time to get anywhere.
After motoring for about 30 minutes we got to the wave, which was even smaller up close than it looked in the distance. Not to be deterred we got in the water and paddled around a bit. The current was flowing to the south and for some weird reason I was very concerned about being sucked out to sea, so I ended up paddling right back to the dinghy. Kevin nor I got any waves but it was cool to paddle around over the reef. Anyway, if we had just wanted to surf we would have stayed at Tavarua and Namotu. This has been much more of an adventure.
We decided to do another free dive on the pass which was just as spectacular as the one the previous day. This time when we got in the water we were greeted by a giant Napoleon wrasse, which is one of my favorite fish. We also saw a coral banded sea snake - a bit creepy but coooool. Kevin brought his spear gun to catch us some dinner, but was so blown away by the beauty and serenity of the reef that he couldn't bring himself to kill anything. I was not disappointed.
As soon as we got back to the boat Koli showed up. I invited him for lunch, even though he and his family were coming back for dinner in a few hours. He accepted and I made udon noodles, which made me miss Mark and Yuka. After lunch Kevin and I were both totally beat, and took naps before we had to prepare the boat for a Fijian invasion.
Naps taken, we cleaned up the boat and began cooking. We wanted to serve Koli and Luciana typical food that we eat, but they eat so much starchy food that we made a hodgepodge of dishes to make sure they were well fed. We cooked up a bunch of lamb shoulders, made some curried potatoes, and Kevin made a delicious pizza in a bunt pan.
Koli, Luciana, and three little boys between the ages of 8 and 12 showed up as we were cooking. They brought taro, yams and a fried barracuda to supplement the meal, as well as a basket full of bananas, avocados and limes. The boys got a kick out of running around the boat, poking their heads down the hatches, and drinking Coca-Cola. Everybody (including Koli and Luciana) squealed with delight whenever the stove was lighted. The boys loved learning the words "pizza" and "pe-pe-ro-ni", and couldn't seem to differentiate between the words "lamb" and "lamp". They were all very polite and it was easy to see the fascination in their eyes as they looked around the boat.
Dinner was a success, although I have never seen young boys who loved taro way more than the pizza, which they tasted but were uninterested in. After dinner I served tea and cookies. To a regular mug of tea a Fijian will add two or three heaping tablespoons of sugar - kids and adults alike. They love their sweet food. Another thing I have realized about Fijian hospitality: Fijians will give you anything and everything they can, but they also expect to be given anything and everything they ask for.
Luciana was not shy about asking us for more dishwashing soaps, lotions and cookies for the kids who could not come to the boat. I did not feel obligated to give her anything per se, but the fact that it means so much more to them than it does to me makes me more inclined to do so. I just hope the villagers do not see the 6 or 7 boats that come through here each year as cash cows or supply stores. But being way the hell out here I could see how they see our boats as mini supply ships. Can't blame them.
After dinner I gave Koli my guitar and he strummed a tune which the boys joined in singing to. Kevin taught them card tricks which they got an absolute kick out of, and I worked my way through a massive pile of dishes. I think we used every one on the boat. They left around 10 PM, with many a "vinaka vakalevu" shouted across the water. It was a very fun night that I will remember forever.