Fiji has been the most incredible place since we got here, and I can already tell it might never be matched. One of the most common thing my friends and family will ask about when I get back to the states will be something along the lines of “how clear was that water?” or “did you see any fish?”. One of the things that stood out to me the most were the plants that surround our resort and cover each and every island. I am constantly blown away everywhere I look because it is all so different thank back home. I don’t think I have seen one plants that is common in the states, or from what I have noticed. Everything is extremely colorful and stands out so much.
These two pictures of a pink flower I saw is found along the trail up the bures.
This yellower flower stood out to me the most because of its size and incredible color. It is very brightly colored and is common around the resort.
While driving on the boats to get to our dive sites, plants and trees cover every inch of the mountains in our view. It is absolutely unbelievable seeing the native trees. These are forests like no other. Everything seems so pure and untouched, which adds a little extra beauty to it. Palm trees are sticking up from the very top and dense trees scale the side of the mountains. Coming from such an urban/suburban area back home, this is not seen at all. There is beauty in the water as well as on land in Fiji.
Yesterday we went out for two dives in the morning at Coral Wonderland and Golden Chimney. These dives were different from our previous dives because they were directly on the reef wall. The reef wall is the point where the reef drops steeply into open ocean.
Professor Joe Warren and Leora observing the reef wall.
While looking at the wall was captivating and beautiful, looking down or behind us and seeing the ocean continue to infinity was terrifying. During our ascent, the reef completely disappeared and there is only empty ocean. Without the reference of the reef the vastness of the ocean hits you. It is scary but also beautiful as the light beams dance from the waves above along with the promise of unique creatures somewhere in the deep. As students, experiencing the size and power of the ocean firsthand is priceless.
Sunrise over the water.
In Fiji, at Matava, every direction you turn provides you impeccable views of the island. The sea, the trees, the mountains, the environment, the natural and man-made architecture are like no other. My room is called river, or uciwei in Fijian. It sits on a hilltop therefore providing me with a breathtaking view of the morning sunrise. The sun rises just above the palm trees forming a silhouette of the horizon, truly beautiful. The colors that the sun emits into the sky is something to talk about as well. Vibrant purple, pink, orange and some blues blend together like watercolor in the sky. Sunrise is at around 6:25am so I either watch it from my amazing porch view or walk down to the beach and watch it rise over the mountains. I believe that since we are by the equator, the sun is brighter and more powerful so in return you get bright morning colors in the sky. Its breathtaking every time.
The beautiful view from my burre over the trees.
One of the most exhilarating aspects of this course is that I will also be a fully certified Open Water diver by the time that it is over. I had completed my pool training before coming to Fiji, and I had received a referral to complete my open water training here. For a few years now, I have had some ear trouble caused by TMJ, a muscular issue in the jaw. This caused trouble mostly in my left ear, but occasionally I could feel discomfort in my right ear as well. Since I was only trained in a six-foot pool, I had a lot of fears about my training in open water. I was nervous that my ears might be too sensitive and that I would not be able to equalize them properly, especially since I had no need to equalize them in the six feet I was trained in.
When it came time to do my first open water dives, I stressed to myself that the number one key is to relax and breathe — this is what our dive master, Mike, stressed to us as well. As we made our decent, I continuously held my nose while gently blowing out of it, which is the proper procedure for equalizing. By the time we had completely descended, my ears felt completely fine! We continued our dive from there, and as we descended even more, I had to equalize even more. That’s when I heard the sound of proper equalization—something that sounds like a deflating balloon coming from your ears. After that is when I felt completely at ease. As we continued my first open water dive, we came across the massive cabbage coral that I had only seen from above before I could join the rest of the class in diving, which made me really happy. To my surprise, our first dive went all the way down to 11.8m, or approximately 35ft. Finding out that I successfully dove down to nearly six times my pool training with minimal ear issues made me feel like I had achieved something great!
A large cabbage coral.
Life began in water.
By this I mean that the first things that could be called cells, the first self-replicating DNA strands enclosed in a protective lipid membrane, were aqueous. They likely evolved near hydrothermal vents, fueled by the heat and chemical energy in the water pouring out of the chimney-like structures. All life eventually evolved from these humble origins. We still carry salt water in every cell, a reminder of our ancestry.
Scuba tanks on a boat as we pass an island moored in teal waters.
Perhaps that’s why my first scuba diving experience felt like coming home. As we (I, three other student divers, and the instructor) dropped beneath the waves – one, two, three feet, eventually coming to rest on the sand about eight feet under – my brain seemed to slow its racing thoughts. My breathing became relaxed, with every inhale accompanied by a hiss, and every exhale, a column of bubbles reaching up to the glittering surface. I could barely follow the instructor’s signals, I was so enthralled in the experience.
There really is nothing quite like it. Snorkeling and diving in a pool don’t even come close. Nothing compares to seeing a massive coral right in front of your face, swarming with tropical fish like birds flitting around a tree. Nothing compares to soaring and twisting through the water with only the slightest of effort, somehow unencumbered by the ungainly inflatable vest and air tank. I never wanted to leave – but of course, as the air in the tanks hissed into our lungs and bubbled into the ocean, we were forced to turn back.
A bird’s eye view of the reef surrounding one of the Fijian islands. The breaks are caused by the influx of fresh water and sediment brought in by the rivers.
I think it goes without saying that I am very much looking forward to my next dives.
Yesterday, January 06, 2017, many of use saw multiple sharks. They were about three to four feet in length. They were light gray, and smooth, in color. I thought it would be a little scary to see sharks swimming around me. However, it really wasn’t. They seemed so satisfied and not actively trying to cause harm. We learned that, typically, sharks do not attack, if they are not provoked.
Caption: One of three sharks spotted at the Great Astrolobe. (Photo: Flynn)
I don’t know about everyone else but yesterday, I saw three sharks! Two of the sharks were close together and the other one was swimming solo. The Dive Guide put his hands up on his head, palms together, to indicate that there was a shark present. Then, he indicated how many. One of the sharks came towards the group, but not too close, before swimming away. I hope that I have the opportunity to see many more sharks.
After we got back from two dives at Two Tree Island, showered and came down, we had an “informal” Kava ceremony with the resort staff and other guests. Kava is a root here that they essentially grind up and brew in water like tea. Traditionally, chiefs would drink it to discuss village matters, but these days anybody can drink it anywhere, anytime. It was also mentioned that in the village you actually cannot drink alcohol because it provokes fighting when two people who have underlying issues with each other, but Kava is available because it chills them out. It is a milky muddy color and tastes as Delphine put it “like spicy cardboard” (spicy as in spices not spicy as in hot), and numbs your mouth and tongue making it feel like you spread oral-gel all over your mouth, BUT is non-alcoholic.
Where the Kava Ceremony was held.
They mix it in a little bowl on the ground in a permeable bag, then use what looks like a grass skirt [ed: it’s part of the hibiscus plant] to soak it up and wring it into the cups. There is no taking a sip and passing it down. Everybody gets a little cone shaped cup full starting with the appointed chief and then the speaker (who says begin to begin brewing and serve in Fijian) then each person one at a time drinks a cup and its “bottoms up”.
Kevin making the Kava.
You clap once before taking it, drink it all at once, then everyone says “finish” in Fijian (kind of sounds like “matha”) and claps three times. If you forgot to clap before or do anything they deem “punishment worthy” (or simply are an experienced Kava drinker), you get the “high tide” cup and they switch you to a bowl shaped cup that’s deeper and holds more Kava (versus the “low tide” cone shaped cup) We did three rounds of this then headed off to dinner.
Erin drinks the kava!
“First view of fiddler crabs as we arrived at Matava! (Definitely not leaves).”
Within seconds of offloading the boat to Matava, we were introduced to some of Fiji’s unique marine wildlife. Wading through the water along a path of sea grass in low tide, we had a view of some of the creatures that reside on the shallow sea floor: particularly, Fiddler Crabs! That said, it was fairly hard to tell at first. From even a few meters away these tiny, bright yellow crustaceans could easily be mistaken for fallen leaves. The closer we got, the more they seemed to move, and by the time we were right by them, we realized what exactly they were; all in awe, before even getting into the water. Any time we come back from a dive at low tide, these crabs are out and about, all along the shore.
Male fiddler crabs each have a singular massive claw, roughly the size of the rest of its body. They wave it in the air (sort of as if playing an air fiddle), in order to attract a mate. Getting a picture of one of these guys was almost like playing a game of wack-a-mole. Even when surrounded by countless crabs by the shore, if I got too close, they would quickly scatter and scurry into nearby burrows. Luckily I happened to be near one that was too big to fit into any of its nearest burrows. After a brief staring contest (and a couple of great photos) we each carried on. It was pretty inspiring to see creatures like these crabs in their natural habitat, and was a great first animal encounter for the trip, making me all the more excited to see what else we’ll find!
“Close up shot of one of the fiddler crabs.”
As we sat after dinner recieving instructions for this assignment, I thought back to all the things I could write about. The plane and boat rides into Kadavu were incredible, the food was delicious, and the kava ceremoony was an amazing cultural experience. Of course, on top of all of that, the diving was spectacular. There was so many interesting things I wasn’t quite sure which one to write about. As it turns out, I’m not going to write about any of that, because while there’s 2 weeks of diving, kava, and food, I had a unique experience after everyone turned in for the night that I’d like to share.
I’ve always had trouble getting to sleep at night, so when everyone else decided to go to bed, I was still wide awake. To kill some time, I went down to the dock to check out the stars and the scenery. I sat there for about a half hour before I started back to my bule [ed: that’s Fijian for hut]. On my way there, I saw a crab on the ground pretty far from the water. I took my phone out to take a picture but it quickly retreated into its burrow. Disappointed, I decided to wander for a bit to see what else I could find. Eventually, I came across a tree with loads of crabs in the branches.
A crab sits in a defensive posture in a tree.
I began taking pictures and even found a massive hermit crab.
A hermit crab wanders around by the base of a tree.
While I was taking pictures, I noticed a light approaching from behind me. It was Kevin, one of the Fijian employees at Matava. We chatted for a bit, talking about our cultures and learning about each other. I found out he was 20 years old, from Suva, and had just started working here in December. I had a bag of kava that I bought in the Nadi marketplace, so we returned to my bule where he mixed the drink. We sat and talked and drank kava until about midnight before turning in for the night. It was a really genuine and unique experience to get to hang out with someone from Fiji and to learn so much about their culture.
Apologies for the delay in posting the student blog posts. The professors were underwater for much of the first week here in Fiji. And then a storm knocked out the internet access on the island so we only got back on online today. The student blog posts will start appearing 2-4 per day from now until we run out of them. The good news is that the blog posts will still be appearing when we return to NY next weekend, so we’ll be able to look back on our time in the wonderfully warm tropical waters of Kadavu!
Posts will start appearing monday morning (US time).