Yesterday was different than our other days at Matava. Usually we go on two to three dives a day then come back to the resort and either have class or study for our class. Sometimes we even have a Kava ceremony in which we all gather and drink Kava. Yesterday we went to the Kadavu village. We got there by boat and then walked around. While walking around, the villagers greeted us with smiles and waves. We were shown the systems used to make their Kava as well as got to sit in on a church ceremony. After the church we went to the waterfall located just on the outskirts of the village. I was surprised by how many dogs were there. I somewhat thought that the village would have more up keep so I was surprised to see the houses not in the best shape.
Some houses in a Fijian village and a rooster.
These past two days were not the best for me. Unfortunately, I came down with a head cold that had been going around here at Matava. I suspect that it may have been transmitted to me during one of the kava ceremonies. It started out as just a sore throat, and I didn’t think much of it, but during my second dive of our first three-tank day, my biggest fear happened — I couldn’t equalize. I heard the sound I usually hear during equalization, followed by an intense pain in my inner ear. When I tried to dive on the third tank, I only made it a meter before the pain happened again. So, I decided to sit out on the next two days of diving. Missing out on dives is the last thing I want to do in Fiji, but I was able to make plenty of progress in my species identifications! [Ed: We can report that Greg has recovered from this and is back diving]
A few of the well-worn identification guides the students can use at Matava.
The cell transmitter tower that Matava uses for its Wi-Fi accessibility has been down since the 10th of January. It’s still down as I write this; I have no idea when these blog posts will go up. It may not be until we arrive back in Nadi, or even LAX. This isn’t exactly surprising, since we’ve had a few storms over the past few days, but it is inconvenient. Or at least, it is to us college students, who are so used to the Internet being available almost without interruption. I’ll admit it’s been a difficult adjustment: I miss my family and friends, and want to let them know I’m still alive and okay and having a great time.
The plane we took to get from Nadi to Kadavu, and that we will take to get back. There were fourteen(?) of us total and we filled almost all of the available seats.
At the same time, I suppose it’s good to get away every once in a while. I probably wouldn’t enjoy myself nearly as much if I could disappear into the online world whenever I wanted. As it stands, lacking anything better to do, I’ve been absorbing as much of the atmosphere and imagery Kadavu and Matava have to offer. We’ve had storms since we got here, yes, but also days of bright, clear sunshine and cooling breezes. I’ve seen so much more ocean life than I could have hoped to imagine. I’ve been coming out of my shell around the other students a bit more.
The view from the boat leaving the village by the Kandavu airport behind as we set out towards Matava on the first day.
I guess a little remoteness now and then doesn’t hurt.
Unlike most of the other blog posts discussing the dives and the cultural aspects of this trip, this one will be about the physical classroom aspect. The second (or third) dive of the day is followed by a lecture by one of our professors. Topics include discussions about coral biology, limiting factors, human interferences, as well as, marine hierarchy. Each lecture starts with a quiz on the previous day’s lecture, usually five questions. Then, we go over the quiz answers. I have to admit, they are pretty stressful. The lectures are informative, interesting and thought provoking.
I really like how the professors include images of what they see during their dives; teaching about the marine life that we see daily, in Fiji, is much more engaging than if we were thought things that we didn’t have the real-life experience of seeing.
We are students nestled on the couches looking over to a projector screen pinned to the wall. The intimate setting provides an atmosphere great for asking questions and having more personalized discussions about freshly seen organisms. The gentle breeze flows through the main bure, where our lectures are held, which is relaxing. All-in-all, the lectures are wonderful.
A lecture by Professor Joe Warren.
During our lecture yesterday, we talked about how anemones are in the phylum Cnidaria and have nematocysts which are the stinging cells that they use to stun their prey. The professors told us how on anemones they won’t actually painfully sting you, which of course made us all want to touch an anemone the next time we saw one. During our second dive today, my group came across an anemone so we all began touching it and it was the coolest feeling, because growing up you always think they are going to sting you badly but they were sticky, it just felt like they were velcroing to your fingers.
Anemone with two anemone fish. Photo by: Alex.
Never in my life have I felt more like I was in Finding Nemo.
Yesterday while diving along a reef wall I came across a Hawksbill Sea Turtle. My group was drifting along with a current, slowing for anemones or bright damsels. In following a school of silvery fish along the reef, I saw a shape I immediately recognized (but didn’t quite believe), resting on a flat coral. I signaled back to the group, but having forgotten the underwater hand sign for “turtle,” I sort of just flailed and pointed for a second. Our dive-master Mike saw and made the signal, and once I knew the group knew what it was I swam closer to get a picture.
Hawksbill turtle resting on some coral.
By the time I got some footage, the hawksbill took off from the coral and drifted farther down the reef. I thought that that footage of it swimming away would be the best shot I got, but I ended up incredibly lucky, as it only went over a few patches of coral over. I was able to get about 10 feet away and hovered for a while, struck with admiration. Its shell was nearly the size of my torso, and after a minute or so, it moved on, swimming up the reef wall. Thanks to the light current, I was able to follow it for a few seconds before it really kicked off and swam away, fading into the distance. Easily one of the coolest things I’ve seen on this trip so far, and I’m still reflecting in amazement (I probably will be for a while).
The Hawksbill Sea Turtle resting on a patch of sand, just before swimming away.
We had to collectively make dinner as a group the other day, and I was responsible for not just collecting wood for the fire, but for mixing the kava prior to dinner. I’ve already written about how much I enjoy kava and the cultural aspects of it, but being an active part of the ceremony was something completely different. I had to memorize lines in Fijian and mix the kava for everybody, while Maggie told us about the customs and legends of Kadavu. After dinner, I rejoined Maggie, Kevin, Esau, and the others after dinner to drink more kava, and we sat around exchanging stories and cultural traditions. I showed all of the Fijians what snow looks like back in upstate New York, as they had never seen it before. I also told them about life in New York City and discussed politics and social norms.
The kava bowl.
Although I have been spending the last few days in paradise; the exhaustion from all of our previous dives has finally caught up to me. The other day I only participated in our first dive and headed back early; today I stayed back entirely to rest up so I can enjoy our final week in Fiji to its fullest.
Last night our class helped to prepare a Fijian dinner for the resort and in the process collected a large amount of coconuts. I have been working on cleaning up the coconut enough to use as a cup or bowl once back home by scraping off the outter fuzz and shaving out the inner white part of the coconut.
Current progress on my coconut bowl.
Now to rest up and relax for the rest of the day as I wait for the rest of the class to return.
We get back from our last scuba dive of the day and look to see the jobs we have to prepare dinner. I look down the list and spot my name under “collect firewood”. Ok, this is probably just carrying already cut wood to the cooking place. It will be great, just a little manual labor. One of the staff members leads my group away from the main bure down this little path around some other buildings. He is carrying two axes in his hands. This is where my mind shifted from slight manual labor to extreme manual labor (at least for me, someone who has never cut wood before). He leads us up a path, or a slight opening in the brush since there was no real path. It rained that morning so the dirt was a little slippery. Maybe more than ‘a little slippery’ considering it took Ashley, Joe and I a while to climb that hill. I think we can all say we gained a little more flexibility after sliding into splits a few times during this climb. About five minutes later, 5 physically exhausted people finally made it up the hill, but that is when the “fun” started.
We started swinging those axes. “Collect firewood” should have been changed to “chopping firewood”. The person who led us to the site showed us where to cut and we all took turns, chopping away. Once we thought had good footing, we fell. Then the rain started. Here we are, in the middle of the forest with axes in hand, and the rain drenches us. Finally, we have all the wood we need and we climb higher up the mountain until we reach a path. So, with a log on our shoulders, axe and flip flops in our grasps, we descend down the path, hopefully towards the resort. At this point, we thought anything could really happen.
I am first in the line going down the hill. At first I thought this was an advantage because I would be down the hill first, but I could not have been more wrong. I was the first to test the soil and, well, the first to see how slippery it was. I guess I could say it was extremely slippery considering my position shifted from my feet to my butt a couple times. I think Brad was glad I was before him because he knew where all the soft spots were. We reach the bottom of the hill, and see everyone else. I would also like to add here that they were under a roof, dry as can be. We stroll in, dirt everywhere, out of breath, and it was extremely rewarding. This is what people do every day to eat and it was a great experience to be able to partake in this. In the moment, I definitely did not think this, but now I am very glad I got to do this.
The quite slippery downhill path.
A couple days ago we had a Lovo which is basically a Fijian barbeque. We were all assigned different tasks and I had the pleasure of husking and scraping coconuts. I thought. “Oh, that doesn’t seem to bad” but I was super wrong. In order to husk a coconut, one must use a handy stick that is shoved into the ground.
The husking stick in the ground.
The coconut is then shoved into the stick and then pushed down to peel off some of the husk. Then you use the stick as a fulcrum to peel the rest of the husk off like a banana. As you peel you are fighting a hundred strands from the husk. Those steps are repeated until the entire husk is removed.
Removed coconut husks.
We had to husk about forty coconuts! After husking we had to open them by hitting the veins of the coconut with a blunt blade. When done right the coconut would open within a few strikes.
Flynn cutting open a coconut.
After the process of just opening the coconut we still had to shave and squeeze the coconut meat to get the coconut cream or cut the coconut from the husk to make coconut chips. I hope you appreciate all things coconut a little bit more because I sure do.