Monday, May 29, 2006

Part 2: 10-days of diving in Fiji with Nai'a

Every day, just after breakfast, we were treated to an educational presentation by Josh. They were excellent! I learned a lot on this trip, but the best part was simply watching Josh and Liz's videos. They are SO good. You can see a sample of their work, called their 'Show Reel' on their website. I have no doubt that we'll be seeing their work on the Discovery Channel, or on the big screen sometime soon. One of their tricks is that they've rigged up a tripod for their underwater video camera. Pretty cool. They have one video (soon to be available for purchase on their website) where they left the camera setup on one scene for an extended period of time. The end result is like watching an aquarium. I think it would be great for a waiting room's TV monitor. And a lot cheaper than a real aquarium! If you have Quicktime installed on your computer, you can see a lot more of their video clips here. What I especially like about this page is the list of keywords at the bottom. If you want to see a video clip of a Clown Triggerfish, just click on the keyword. The only underwater movie I've ever seen that was any better than Liz and Josh's is the Imax movie, Coral Reef Adventure. And, guess what? A lot of that was filmed in Fiji, from the Nai'a! In fact, my favorite dive site of the trip was called 'Howard's Diner', named after Howard Hall, the guy who filmed Coral Reef Adventure. Here's some of what I saw there. Saddle Butterflyfish: Moorish Idol: Lettuce Coral: Table Coral: Tridacnid Clam: We also had lots of fun getting to know the other passengers. 14 people. 9 women and 5 men. Don't let anyone tell you this is a man's sport! One from S Africa, 2 from Britain, and the rest from the USA. One woman, Pru said she works in Washington D.C. We asked where she lives and she said, 'Oh, a little town about an hour away, you wouldn't know it.' Jim said, 'Try me'. Come to find out, she's from Solomon's Island ... where Jim was born! We visited there in 2004, when we first started our RV journey. And, we may just go visit again! How big did you say your driveway was Pru? A couple non-diving highlights of the trip was a visit to SomoSomo Village, and a Kava party on-board. Nai'a comes near some of the remote islands in Fiji during the 10 day cruise and they have a few different villages that they visit. There are only one or two other commercial dive boats in the region, and they don't visit the same places. So this village is only visited by Nai'a, and that only happens once or twice a quarter. It was so heartwarming to visit with these wonderful people and feel their happiness. You just wanted to give everyone a hug. First of all, we had to get into traditional garb. What is called a sarong, or lavalava in other places is called a sulu here. Then we took a skiff into shore. And were greeted by the villagers. They love having their pictures taken. Then comes the kava ceremony. Here's Josh, sitting next to the chief. Notice the wonderful handwoven mats we're sitting on. And Mom and me drinking kava. Notice the beautiful hand-strung, real-flower leis (they didn't call them that, but I don't remember what they did call them). Kava is a drink made from grinding the kava root into a powder, putting inside cloth and putting the cloth into water and squishing it around. It tastes a little peppery and makes your tongue tingly and numb for several seconds. It's supposed to be mildly narcotic. I can't say that I felt any effects, but I *did* have a good time! We were also told that Kava is sold elsewhere in capsul form as an anti-depressant. "You haven't seen any depressed Fijians have you?" No, as a matter of fact, we sure didn't! We also had a Kava party onboard another night. Complete with guitar music and singing. The last couple days of the trip, the sun finally came out! We used the sundeck! What a nice ship! We watched tropical islands go by. We watched the sunset. A fantastic trip! Thanx Mom! BULA!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Part 1: 10-days of diving in Fiji with Nai'a

I just love the video display that you get on international flights that let's you know exactly where you are. On our Air Pacific flight from LA to Fiji each person had their own display in the back of the seat in front of them. It doesn't photograph very well, but here ya go. This was taken just before we landed in Fiji (approx 23 hrs after we left home). You can see that we are a ways below the equator and just on the other side of the International Date Line. Here's Mom and Jim as we arrived at the Nadi (pronounced Nandy) airport with the full moon overhead. It was very early in the morning. We checked in to a nearby hotel for a day room so we could get some more sleep before getting on the ship in the afternoon. When we woke up we still had time for a little walk. Notice the thatched roof bus stop - and the fact that they drive on the left. Fiji used to be a British Colony ... they won their independence in 1970. Come to find out, Fiji was in the midst of their national elections. We think this was why our transportation was delayed. Every bus and taxi was busy taking voters to the polls. So, we arrived at the Nai'a almost 2 hours late. They headed out right away to get us to the dive site for our check-out dive. Since it gets dark at 6, the checkout dive turned into a night dive. Here's the skiff coming back in after the dive. According to my careful calculations, 6pm in Fiji would be midnight Florida time, so our bodies were sure this was a night dive! After that, we had our welcome aboard the Nai'a and a full dinner. I can't say I remember much of that since I was just trying to keep my face out of my soup, but here's a picture of the delightful crew welcoming us aboard with some island music. There were 13 crew, and 13 passengers. Nice odds huh? The next morning we were treated to another view of the full moon. The first dive was at 7:30. Nai'a operates differently than most dive boats I've been on - Caribbean mostly. The main ship anchors away from the reef, then the skiffs are loaded with our dive tanks. The divers get in the skiffs and are taken to the dive site just a short distance away. We do a simple back roll off the skiffs to start the dive. At the end of the dive, you just come up wherever you happen to be and the skiff will be there waiting for you! You take off your BC/tank and the skiff driver will haul it into the boat. Then you haul yourself in. At first I needed help. The skiff driver had to grab a handful of my wetsuit and haul me up like a cat grabbing a kitten by the scruff of the neck. It didn't take long though before I could grab the line and pull myself up, then straighten my elbows to launch my body up on top of the side of the boat - then I just flop like a fish until I'm fully inside the boat. Too bad we don't have video of that! Here's the skiff: The weather was poor for the first part of the trip. It actually rained just once, but it was overcast and windy. Very windy. Didn't bother us much underwater, but it made the skiff rides pretty adventurous. And, boy was I glad for the *hot* shower on deck where we took our wetsuits off - that wind felt cold. May in Fiji is fall weather, they're just heading into their winter season. The water was 80-82 degrees, plenty warm, but still I needed my shorty wetsuit over my skin to be comfortable. The air temperature was about the same, but with the wind it sure felt colder. When we came up from a dive, we would take that nice hot shower on deck, then quickly go below and get dried and into dry clothes. I think the best part about Fiji diving is that the reefs usually come up to about 15 feet below the surface. They may drop down a sheer wall to 3,000 feet, but the corals grow and build to just below the surface. In case you're not a scuba diver, this is important for two reasons: 1)you can stay down longer. Because of the physiology of scuba diving, the deeper you go, the shorter your dive. At 15 feet, you have no time limitation, you can stay until your air runs out. For us that was usually just over an hour. 2) there's more light to see stuff. Here's what we see at 15 feet in Fiji: For underwater photos, I just had a $20 camera I picked up in a dive shop. I didn't get any photos that are very good, but you should be able to get the idea anyway. You see things in the Pacific that don't live in the Atlantic. Anemone fish, aka Clown Fish, aka Nemo, are *the cutest*. The way they snuggle into their anemones just makes you want to pat them on the head! Both Mom and Jim took video, hopefully I'll have some clips to post of snuggling anemone fish later. Before every dive, our divemaster/cruise directors Josh or Liz, would draw a diagram of the dive site we're about to visit and tell us how to dive it and what to expect. One of the divemasters was always underwater with us. You have the option to follow them, or you can take off on your own. So, being briefed on the site is very welcome. Here's Mom reviewing the diagram with Liz. Another white board let us know what our schedule was every day. Basically each day consists of dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat and maybe one more dive. According to Josh it boils down to this: if you're wet, it's time to eat. if you're full, it's time to dive! And the food was gourmet wonderful delicious! Our cabin was spacious and well-appointed. A full sink/bathroom/shower in the room. And a porthole to see outside. I've never been more comfortable on a liveaboard. OK, back to the diving. The most unusual dive site was Nigali Passage. A passage is a cut in a barrier reef where the tides go in and out so it has to be timed right. We want to dive while the tide is flowing in thru the passage because that's clear ocean water. When the tide is going out, it's 'flushing' the lagoon of the dirtier water. In this passage, you see lots of sharks if you just hang out a while. Here's a group of us hanging out. The current was pretty stiff. To hang out for any length of time, you need to find some dead coral that you can hang on to. We saw lots of sharks, but I didn't get a good enough picture to post. To see some good pictures go to the Nai'a photo page . Specifically, the last photo on the last photographer's page is of sharks in Nigali Passage. >Burt Jones & Maurine Shimlock I did get some decent shots of the snake tho. Believe it or not, this guy is deadly poisonous. But, divers have learned how docile they are. I just thought s/he was beautiful. more later...

Saturday, May 27, 2006

We have to go back to Fiji

We're home. We arrived at Fort Lauderdale airport at 6am yesterday, after 27 hours of travel. 6am here is 10pm Fiji time - the next day. We were pretty tired and jet-lagged. We got home and said, oh doesn't that bed look good! We slept all day, only waking up long enough for Jim to visit his parents' and pick up Odie. But, we have to go back! There's so much more to do there. We were very disappointed that our river rafting got cancelled. Check out the website for Rivers Fiji. We were booked to do the rafting on the Upper Navua river. Doesn't it look great?! Due to a broken bridge, we were unable to do that river trip. The little bit of traveling around Fiji we did after leaving the Nai'a dive boat just whetted our appetite for more. We'd like to go back and raft that river. We'd like to go back and visit the land-based dive resorts on Taveuni island. We'd like to cruise with the Tui Tai. And, of course, we'd love to dive with Nai'a again. This Fiji travel guide mentions many more things I'd like to see and do in Fiji. It's beautiful, the people are very friendly without being pushy, they speak English, there's diving, kayaking, hiking, biking, and lots of beaches. Apparently, lots of backpackers go there. I didn't see any RVs though. Here's a map. Our Upper Navua river trip was scheduled for Wednesday. The Rivers Fiji folks suggested we do the Luva river trip scheduled for Thursday. But the schedule was just too tight for our comfort. The trip concluded about 5pm and we needed to catch our ride to the airport no later than 5pm. So, we didn't go on the river, but they let us ride in the bus to where they dropped the kayakers off, then we just rode in the empty bus back down. I'm really glad we did that. We saw the beautiful rainforest of the Fiji highlands. On the map above, we stayed in Pacific Harbour, on the south side of the main island, Viti Levu. The drive started at Navua town where we saw people with Kava root taking it to market via river transportation. Then we left the main, paved road that hugs the coast and started up the dirt road into the highlands. This is rainforest, with the biggest tree ferns I've ever seen. When we got to the highest point on the road, about 3,000 feet I think, the bus driver stopped and let us take in the view back to the ocean. Continuing on, we found ourselves in a gorge with sheer rock walls. Wow. And beautiful streams. Have you ever seen orchids growing in the wild? The Luva river flows thru land under the control of a village, so we stopped at the village and had a Kava ceremony with the Chief to get his permission and blessing. This is the real thing .. not a village set up for tourists. Our guide from Rivers Fiji is from this village, and, in fact, the chief is his father. This was a very special experience. And, the villagers seem to genuinely enjoy our visit. Here is one of the more shy villagers showing herself from her window and shouting 'Bula!'. One of their sources of income is from harvesting Kava, which is a root that makes their traditional drink. Here is some Kava root drying. (another source of village income is from prize money for Rugby tournaments!) On to the river, where the inflatable kayaks are waiting. Here's where the rest of the group gets off the bus and we leave them to take the river back down. Boo Hoo - I wanna do that. But, I'm really glad we got to see this part of Fiji. We gotta go back! Next post will be a recap of our 10-day liveaboard dive adventure. Gotta go get the film developed for the little underwater camera I took. and .... gotta sleep ... jet lag is real! We woke up for a few hours last night, and a few hours in the middle of the night, then it was back to sleep for most of the day today. I'm adding this note at 5pm and am just now feeling a little awake. It doesn't help that we both ended the trip with little colds.