Bula! Fijian for Welcome! Pronounced Boo-La.

I’m safely home with tons of stories and pictures, but I’m going to parcel it out a bit. If I write all of it at once, it’ll be way too long. And I don’t have the pictures yet, so we’ll just have to string out the story a bit, eh? All the pictures below are random ones from the internet, but I’ll post some of the ones from our group as soon as possible–John and I hardly took any pictures, but James M and Cara took millions and have said they’ll give me copies. Besides, the both have super awesome cameras compared to my little point-and-shoot.

First of all, this was easily the most amazing trip I’ve ever taken. In terms of the people we went with, the place we stayed, the diving we did, the memories we made. Incredible, all of of it.

Life may be about the journey, but this trip was all about the destination.

Day 1, Thursday-Saturday

To get there involved a shuttle van, a plane, another shuttle bus, the LAX international terminal (thank all deities that we weren’t flying Air China or Air Philippines–we never would have made it given the lines at check-in) another plane, customs and immigration, a bus, and a boat. It took, all told, from 3pm Thursday the 2nd to about noon on Saturday the 4th. Keep in mind, though, that we crossed the international dateline, and thus Friday the 4th never existed.

One of the guys on the trip had a birthday on the 4th–he didn’t age this year, we decided. All told, we had 4 birthdays and an anniversary along with us. And a new one created, but that’s a later story.

The resort, Bega Lagoon Resort, was amazing. Their website isn’t the most informative one out there, but figured I’d give you guys the link if you wanted it. Take a look at the Gallery pics. All I can say is, they don’t do it justice. And Bega is pronounced bane-ga.

They have a big open-air bure (pronounced Boo-Ray…sort of, but with a bit of a rolling of the “r”, and I guess a bit of a “u” sound in there.) for meals and get-togethers, with dining tables, the Bula Bar, and smaller and larger seating areas. Nearby is the pool and lounging area, and beyond that is a big grassy field and all the individual bures that we stayed in. John and I had our own beachfront bure with a plunge pool, hammock, and beach access. It was one of the nicest places, altogether, that I’ve ever stayed in.

And if the place was nice, the people were incredible. I’ve never been somewhere where the people were so friendly and welcoming, from the manager and his wife all the way down to kitchen and grounds staff. You couldn’t walk anywhere without a friendly “Bula!” greeting. The manager welcomed us, and then we all relaxed a bit before lunch. The food there was so amazing, it was often ridiculously hard to choose between the two lunch or dinner options. Soup, yes. Dessert, for sure. Diet, what diet?

And yes, I know I’ve got a lot of “incredibles” and “wonderfuls” and “amazings” in there, and I apologize, but I can’t think of better words. You’ll all just have to either take my word for it, or go yourselves. I encourage the latter.

The first afternoon, we went on a check-out dive on the house reef. I don’t think any of us got below 16 feet, but we saw so much that it was amazing. Christmas tree worms, anemone fish, a cowry, billions of brightly colored fish, coral of all sorts. We were out for over an hour, and although the water was a balmy 79°F, it got a bit chilly. Probably the lack of energy/sleep/food/whatever, but it was still a damn good dive. And that was just the house reef!

We spent the rest of the day lazing around by the pool, watching the sun set behind the clouds, and after dinner, most of us beat a hasty retreat to bed. Fiji is 19 hours ahead of California, or 5 hours behind it on the next day. Thus, the 7pm dinner drums? Came at midnight. And we’d all been up since 3am local time.

Day 2, Sunday

Waking up normally at 8 or so isn’t a big deal. Waking up at 6am? While on vacation? On purpose? Was actually rather nice. We weren’t facing the sunrise, but we got to watch the sky lighten over the ocean, which was amazing. The breakfast drums (yes, drums) came at 7am, providing a spread of fruit, toast, jam, juice, coffee, eggs made to your liking and either french toast or raisin pancakes. Afterwards, we loaded onto the dive boats and made for open water. Or at least, the reef in the middle of the open water. With partly sunny skies and a bit of wind, the boat was rocking around a bit and it was a relief to get off and descend into the relative calmness of the water.

Our first dive was at Shark Reef, where we were guaranteed no sharks by the divemasters. Instead, we saw cowrys, large clams, many (many) purple and white nudibranchs, crown-of-thorns starfish (a horrible creature that is destroying reef life wherever it invades), a common lionfish (I was super excited about actually seeing one, until I realized they really were fairly commonly seen), a blue ribbon eel (also fairly common, but never enough to get tired of them), and all sorts of nudibranchs and fish. After Monterey, which is fairly sparsely populated in comparison, this was like a feast for the eyes.

Next it was on to Pearl Reef. Alas, no pearls, but we did see a white tip shark and our first turtle. We also saw a swimming crinoid. These guys seem to be just little mouths and a whole bunch of legs/tentacles/appendages. They’re pretty cool to watch when they’re swimming–they sort of paddle around with all appendages at once and are very graceful. Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of this dive, after the shark, was the current–we spent a great deal of time swimming but going no where. Suddenly, the comments of the two guys who’d visited before but mentioned never gaining weight made a great deal more sense. We were definitely working for our dinners.

Back to shore for a shower and lunch, and then it was off to the afternoon dive at Carpet Cove, both a lovely spot for anemones and for a good wreck–a Japanese fishing trawler that sank in a storm a couple years ago. More sharks, more nudibranchs, many more fish. The low point was when James F and Cara had to call the dive–her mask strap failed, and it was her first underwater gear failure. By the time she and James had ascended and switched masks, her ears wouldn’t clear and she just couldn’t descend. It was too bad that they missed the dive, but the boat crew was made up of some really lovely guys, so I’m sure they had fun talking with them while we were all down below making bubbles.

Back on shore, there was more showering (we learned quickly to hurry back to the bure, as 17 people all showering upon the return of the dive boat took the water pressure away pretty darn quick), and more lounging by the pool. Happy hour was from 5 to 6, and there was a tasty “Firewalker” calling my name. Before dinner, we watched the sun set (again into the clouds) and listened to the Bula Band–a group of 3 or 4 (depending on the night) guitar players and singers who were wonderful. The local choir also came and sang–they recently placed 4th in a nationwide competition, and were quite good. After dinner, there was theoretically going to be a game of Killer Bunnies (see the sidebar link if you’re interested), but internal clocks began to suggest it was bedtime and most of the people in our group folded quickly. That, and we spent a lot of energy diving. And we had another 6am wake-up coming our way.

But a 6am wake isn’t so bad when you’re going to bed at 9pm, is it?

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

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