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I’ve spent a ton of time lately working on a manuscript to give my boss, and the more time I spend working on it, the less time I want to spend sitting around writing other things. So, not so many posts lately.

But now I’m just sitting in front of the computer exporting image files to TIFF files, individually, one at a freaking time, in 5 different color combos, and I’m about to go mad from boredom. I’m really hoping the time this is taking is because John’s old computer is so slow, and thus it’ll be faster if I can find a computer at work, but it may just be the program.

One hour and 47 images down, millions of both to go.

So what have I been up to?

1. We went out and bought a couple hundred dollars worth of school supplies for the school in Fiji–it’s amazing just how much you can get for so little. Now, of course we have the problem of shipping this stuff there. That might actually cost more than the supplies themselves, but it’s a price we all (the people from the trip) are glad to pay. I just feel bad that it took us so long to go and do this!

2. I’ve screwed up my neck/shoulder/side muscles through some random combination of work and diving. The extent apparently has to do with my body trying to compensate for, say, my neck muscle being sore, and thus holding my shoulder funny, thereby injuring it as well. I am not amused. The chiropractor thinks she can help, but if not, I’m off to physical therapy. Grouch. That said, I’d like to be able to dive and bike again soon, so I’m doing what I can. Frankly, there are days when I’d like to take a deep breathe (or sneeze or yawn or whatnot) without intense side pain as if from a stitch. Grouch.

3. We’re going to visit my grandparents this weekend. They’ve been moved down to California, although they would probably term it “they’ve moved to California.” They haven’t done so well this past year, and fall (the month, although it did involve some falls) was hard on them. I couldn’t go help out, as I felt like I’d already taken off so much time to be with my mom, but now I can go and see them and take care of them whenever. Or just visit them. They’ve moved down here to be close to two children and their families instead of just one. Maybe this means my parents will come visit more? I hope!

4. Speaking of which, my mom Facebook’d me. I was amused. And yes, I accepted. I’ve always approached that site with the theory that, if I didn’t want my parents/boss to see it, it wouldn’t be on there. So why not? I’m wondering a bit about my sister, though.

5. We have back-to-back-to-back-to-back scuba classes starting tonight. I didn’t go down to help, but I might get in the pool if I can weasel permission from the doctors. This schedule is going to take the combined work of our entire staff. Le sigh.

6. We had brunch a week or so ago with Elizabeth and Mark, and found an awesome crepe place to add to our list of enjoyable restaurants. Plus, it was just a lot of fun.

7. On the opposite side of the spectrum, James M wanted to get together for dinner Tuesday night. When he was late, I texted. And apparently woke him up. Frankly, we were okay with being stood up. Less awkwardness, as he still hadn’t quite caught on to the fact that most of us are incredibly fed up with him and his lack of help to our scuba staff. Especially with the upcoming classes…

8. My goal for 2009 was to declutter my life. Not so much a New Year’s resolution, which is made to be broken, but a plan to feel better about living in a small apartment with a lot of stuff meant decreasing the amount of stuff. To that end, we took 7 bags of stuff to the Goodwill last Saturday. And that was only one room’s worth!

9. John finally, finally, has a full weekend off this coming weekend. First since December. He still has a job, so I’m not complaining, and I understand that his schedule is wacky because his boss is rearranging the whole schedule to maximize the full-timers, thus (a) protecting them and (b) minimizing the amount of time he has to pay his part-timers. This sucks for them, but not much I can do about it. That said, the lack of weekends off together combined with the number of late nights he’s working isn’t fun.

10. Sydney and I haven’t gotten together much recently, what with her crazy shifts around the holidays, my trip home, and now her trip to Thailand. But she’s home and we’re having dinner Monday! Woot!

Okay, ten seems like a good number. It seems like all I’ve been doing lately is working, going to the doctor, or going out to eat. I’m sure there’s more to my life than that, but maybe not.

Oh, yes, there was the massive Target run and clearing them out of all conceivable school supplies. Fun!

Anyways, John’s almost home and the San Jose Sharks are playing, as are the Stanford boys’ basketball team, so I think it’s officially time to call it a day and shut down the image analysis. Gee, darn!

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I know some of you were or are getting pounded with blizzard conditions and beyond-freezing cold, and I don’t mean to brag, but we had lovely weather this past weekend.

Saturday in Monterey was sunny and beautiful and warmish (60’s, maybe?). It was a perfect day to be outside–not so hot that our students risked heat exhaustion in their wetsuits (and we in our drysuits) on land, and not so cold that they kept freezing when they got out of the water. Our winter classes are often very hit-or-miss: either beautiful or horrible. Luckily, this one was beautiful

Three years ago this class, John and I helped with our first class ever. It’s a class we kindly refer to as “Bowling for Students”. The waves were rolling in and crashing into the breakwater, causing reflection waves that kept rolling in, but from a different angle. Waves were crashing up onto the steps we normally seat our students on. We attempted an entry with our three students, but the waves came rolling in. You can guess what happened from how we refer to this class, I’m sure. Needless to say, we all changed into street clothes and went out to breakfast.

Upon arriving at the ocean Saturday (at 6am, I’m listening to John next time about when to leave–better to be a bit late than half an hour early!), we found the exact same conditions. Rolling waves paired with a predicted extra-high tide. We had 11 students, 3 instructors and 3 divemasters. Piece of cake, sort of.

James M, luckily, anticipated the needs of his instructor and DIDN’T show up. Ah, bliss. Especially since last weekend, he showed up at the pool several times but failed to do anything but stand there, despite the fact that Shelly and I were lugging around tanks and trying to help students and whatnot. I snapped at him at one point–“Nice of you to show up just in time to not help”–to which he replied–“I’ve got a cold.” I walked off without pointing out that Ben was so sick he wasn’t in the water, but was there nonetheless helping on the topside, or that I had a cold and couldn’t clear but was still in the water doing what I could. He just made me so angry. I think we’re all getting to the point where we just don’t want to interact with him at all in a scuba situation, and possibly just don’t want to be friends with him at all. Bah.

Anyways…

James F and I took four students–two little girls and two women, one of whom had to be done by noon in order to fly to Cancun the next day. John went with Greg and three other students, one of whom was our obligatory idiot. And that’s putting it nicely. John always seems to get stuck working with the idiots, no matter who he pairs up with. I tried to switch with him, but he was being all gentlemanly about it.

The entries into the water went fairly well–the girl I was holding had to be hauled to her feet at one point, but she muscled through, which was pretty much the theme of the day. (I think most of the students made it in and out okay–maybe a few went to their knees, but no one got bowled over.) Both little girls had problems on the first dive, which was fine with me as my ears were pretty uncomfortable once I got down. Instead of pushing it, I took the two of them into shore. Luckily, John had been “babysitting” students on the surface and was available to help me get the two of them into the beach. I spent my surface interval getting them warm and comfortable and sorting out all the students.

For the second dive, I did the obligatory “babysitting” on the surface, since I wasn’t going down again, and John got to go down and swim around with the girls and James F. Apparently there were lots of crabs out and about, but not much else. Good visibility, 20 feet or so, and beautiful weather made for good diving, and the waves calmed down after the high tide peaked around 8:30, but apparently no sea life was out and about.

After lunch with our staff and a lot of students, John and I headed home to wash gear and take a nap, then spend the evening doing nothing at all, which felt marvelous.

On Sunday, John had to work and I was off to help Cara shoot our friend’s wedding. She’d picked a super-small venue, and thus had a limited guest list, so she’d snuck in a few extra people by having them be “staff”. Now, Cara’s a pro photographer, so she makes sense, but I was there as her assistant purely to attend the wedding. We had another beautiful sunny day, and the view from the winery we were at was gorgeous. It was a bit windy, but Cara got some beautiful pics of our friend’s veil blowing out behind her.

I mostly did a lot of people herding to get them ready for group pics that Cara was taking, as well as a certain amount of small things–carrying extra cameras and film (backup to the digital, smart girl!) and taking a few group candids with Cara’s small camera. All in all, helpful, I hope, and it was so lovely to see our friend get married. She had a beautiful location and ceremony and reception, and we were both so happy for her.

There was a bit of sadness–this is the same friend who’s little brother was killed back in August, and I handed out tissues to various people for both happy tears and sad tears. I know it was hard on my friend to get married without her brother present, but I’m sure he was there with her in spirit. That may not have helped a whole lot, but she got through the though moments.

It was a long day, as we were there from 11:30 to 6 (not including the drive there and back!) to capture her getting ready all the way to getting in the car and driving away at the end. I can see why Cara says it’s such a good workout! Plus, Cara and I got in a nice amount of gossip time both on the drive there and back, and at the points in the day when we took small breaks.

So that was my weekend–long and full, but I got to be outside in the beautiful weather quite a bit. The weather is nice all this week, though I’ll be mostly enjoying it via the windows at work, but I’m hoping for a bike ride or something fun this coming weekend. Best of all, I may finally be kicking this cold’s butt. Cross your fingers for me, eh?

(Because I’m needing some warm, happy thoughts right about now, and because it’s about damn time I finished my story…)

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Part 4
Part 5

Day 7, Friday

Our last morning to wake up and go diving. Sad, but part of the reason vacations are so great is that they’re different from the same old, same old, right?

It began to rain during breakfast, but being the hearty, intrepid diving souls that we were, this didn’t phase us. After all, we were headed out to intentionally get wet, right? I will admit, though, that there’s a difference to getting into the ocean and getting wet versus getting caught in a rain storm.

We boated in the opposite direction the last morning, heading to a nearby island instead of to the far side of our island, where all our previous dive sites had been. This island was a private resort, and we were going to be diving off of it for the morning.

Our first site was a place called Fantasy. Or maybe Fantasea. It was supposed to be covered in large sea fans, including some gorgonians. Indeed, there were tons of them, some bigger, or wider as the case may be, than us. It was pretty cool to swim along and look at them stretched out beside you as you passed. We also found some more “magic coral”—the stuff that changed colors if you touched it (gingerly!!). Towards the end, one of the divemasters found a tiny popcorn shrimp. While looking at it, John found several other miniature shrimp (is that possible? Smaller than what we were used to seeing, at least) nearby. The site was also covered in many beautiful red anemones, which made a splendid backdrop for all the Nemo-like clown fish. There wasn’t anything truly spectacular or outstanding that we saw at this site—nothing special like the octopus, but just a generally great site where the whole dive was entertaining and fun.

During our surface interval, we motored in towards shore and anchored there. Some of the guys from the private resort came out to hang out with our guides, and we all went off snorkeling.

The very first thing we found, or John found, was a giant scorpion fish, just sitting in a little hole in the rocks in about 10 feet of water. He looked suitably grumpy and mean, so other than diving down to view him, we mostly left him alone.

Instead, we went off to play with some of the striped black-and-white fish that were clustered on the coral heads. John dove down to grab a coconut at one point, and after we tossed it back and forth a few times, we tossed it in the ocean. To our surprise, every little stripped fish from yards around came dashing over to inspect the coconut, probably hoping it was food that had been dropped from heaven. This was repeated numerous times, right up until we had to go get on the boat again. Fun little fish games for you, I suppose.

The second dive was at a place called Golden Arches (I know, I know, bah), and it was simply fantastic. There were a huge number of swim throughs/unders/betweens in the coral, adding a sort of acrobatic atmosphere as we swam along. Many of these were decorated with all sorts of soft corals, mostly in shades of yellow (hence the ‘golden arches’–much more appropriate than in reference to a certain greasy local), hanging down towards us, making for beautifully framed views of blue ocean surrounded by hard and soft coral.

At one point, we found a hug moray, greenish-brown and speckled. He was easily over a foot, maybe two, in diameter, and probably 6-8 feet long. He was in a hole, and when the divemaster poked at him, he swam out right and John and myself! Eek! Thankfully, he took an immediate left into another hole, although this meant he disappeared and only ourselves and Nate got a good look at him. Gigantic!

Towards the end, I saw a small little octopus, about the size of my hand, come out from one whole and swim to another one. He sat at the entrance, changing colors form reddy-brown to rock-colored, but as soon as I tried to get John’s attention, he ducked off into the hole, never to be seen again. But! I spotted my first octopus by myself!

At the end of the dive, as we hung out on top of the coral head, it was funny to watch all the bubbles filter up through the rock. They were from our out-breaths when we’d been going through the swim-throughs below, and were taking their sweet time to filter up and out towards the surface. Pretty cool.

About the time we started to head for the anchor line to ascend, it occurred to me I was getting out of the water for the last time. I signalled “tear” to John, and waved good-bye to the reef. Sad times, but some of the best diving I’ve done in my entire life. And hey, we’ll be back.

On the way back to the resort, it was commonly agreed that these two sites were two of the best of the whole week, along with Three Thieves and Glory H*ole. Not that any of the dives was “eh”, but these four were even better than the rest. I highly recommend them to anyone heading there!

We spent a lazy afternoon swimming in the pool or reading in the lounge chairs. The rain in the morning had disappeared while we’d been on our first dive, and it was bright and sunny and warm—perfect lounging weather. John and I did head off at one point to do some packing and to lay out all the wet dive gear in the hopes that the sun would dry it before we had to pack it home.

There had been an afternoon activity of traditional Fijian cooking lessons, which we didn’t attend (too drawn to doing nothing at that point), but we did get to partake of the food afterwards, and I have to say, I’ve never had such delicious fish in my entire life. Apparently all you have to do is soak it in coconut milk, wrap it in leaves, and cook it in a pit in the ground for a couple of hours. Delicious!

In the evening, just before dinner, we had a Meke Night. Many of the resort workers, as well as a number of the local villagers, came and sang and danced for us. The women did a traditional song and hand dance routine, the children all sang for us, and the boys did a dance with spears, which was way cool. It created a very party-like atmosphere, which pretty much banished the “how sad, we’re leaving” mentality. The school teacher that we’d met on our tour was there, and we were able to give her an envelope with the money we’d collected for the track meet that the kids were going to, and her gratitude and thanks were very touching–it made us feel like we’d really made a difference. At dinner, the chef outdid her self, and we all gave her a round of applause when she came out to wish us well on our trip home. A beautiful last day of diving and a beautiful and tasty last night to remember our trip by.

Day 8, Saturday-Saturday

We woke to have our last fresh fruit and toast and pancakes with our resort friends on Saturday morning. It was drizzling a bit, befitting our mood, but the food was as tasty as ever. After the boats were loaded with our luggage, it was time to say goodbye. In particular, one of the waitress came to say goodbye to me—we’d become friends over the week—and I nearly cried. That’s how warm and friendly these peole were! The people at the resort came and serenaded us as we headed off to the boat, just as they had when we arrived. Cara did cry then, and I definitely teared up. The boat and bus ride back to the mainland were somewhat subdued, but we still talked and joked along the way.

Back in Nadi, we all had day rooms rented for the six hours before we headed to the airport. Nate, Shelly, Rae, Aaron, John and I got a cab to one of the shopping centers, where we did some last-minute souvenir shopping and sat around with our last fruity cocktails of the trip. Then it was off to the airport to catch our 11pm flight home to LA, where we arrived approximately 10 hours before we left, at 1pm. By 6pm, we were back home in our own little house, suitcases full of dirty clothes and damp dive gear, and greeted by the general disdain of our cats, who were not impressed with our prolonged absence.

However, there’s something to be said from coming home from a trip and being in your own house in your own bed. Lovely.

And all in all, by far the best diving I’ve ever done, and in general, the best trip I’ve ever been on with some of the best people I’ve ever traveled with.

The only real, true downside? Never, not once, did I see a sea snake. All that therapy, all that preparation, and I’ve got no idea how well it worked. Oh well, there’s always next year!

To quote James F upon arriving home: We need to do this more often–this traveling together thing.

James? We’re all coming on your honeymoon when you go back, dude. Hope you don’t mind!

All it takes is one or two asshats, some rain, and some massive motion sickness. For details, read on:

When you go to bed at midnight and your alarm goes off at 4:45am, life doesn’t seem particularly rosy. That said, it was our fault we went to bed so late–we spent the evening with James F and Cara, talking and hanging out. They let us sleep at their place most nights before diving. Means the alarm goes off at 4:45am instead of 4:00 or 4:15am. And, really, we probably wouldn’t have gone to bed much earlier at home. We never seem to, despite the best of intentions.

We arrived at Breakwater beach around 6:45am and began to prep for the day. The staff (ourselves, James F, Greg, Ben, Nate and Shelly) all sorted out the plan of attack for the day. Then we spread out the tarp and began to direct students to set up gear and to prep for the dives.

The plan for the day was pretty ambitious. We were supposed to just be teaching Advanced Open Water, which is a fun class. It’s 5 dives long, and is basically composed of the first dive of five different specialties. Navigation and Deep are required dives, and in addition, we almost always do Peak Performance Buoyancy, Night, and Boat. All in all, it has less skills and more fun diving than most other classes.

However, Ben had invited along 2 Open Water students to come and finish up their ocean dives. As we were going to have to teach the two of them anyway, James F agreed to take on 3 additional open water students from another instructor. Open Water is a much more rewarding class-getting to introduce students to the wonder that is scuba diving, but it’s a lot more work (both for us and them) and a lot less fun diving, mostly because of the “more work” component.

Ben, additionally, had talked one of the AOW students into taking Drysuit, since one of the 5 dives could be his first drysuit dive, and if he did a 6th additional dive over the weekend, he could also be certified to dive a drysuit.

Finally, Greg, as one of the instructors for a local dive club, had agreed to finish supervising the two remaining certification dives for some club members for Night diving.

So, in the grand scheme of things, three instructors and four divemasters were teaching four different classes.

Ben took Nate and Shelly and went off to do the first two dives with three of the four AOW students. He’d (conveniently) told the fourth guy that he didn’t have to show up until noon. (WTF?)

Greg and James F took myself and John and the five open water students and set off to do their dives. We were planning on doing three on Saturday to lighten the load for Sunday. That, among other things, may have been mistake number one.

Dive one went fine. After covering the surface skills required, we took off on a dive. James led and John and I looked after the three students, mostly making sure they didn’t wander off or shoot to the surface or anything. James F found a couple of nudibranchs, a cute little white one and a hermissenda. There were also lots of sanddabs out, and plenty of decorator crabs. All in all, a fairly pleasant twenty minutes or so. The students, however… One liked to star (and stare and stare and stare) at creatures in the sand, and while I’m all for having them enjoy things that they see, we usually like our students to, oh, say, respond, when we signal “follow me” and start swimming. Another showed classic signs of impending panic–he constantly was trying to clear his mask although it wasn’t flooding. The third was okay, for the most part.

Afterwards, we talked amongst the three of us–consensus was that it had all the signs of a Very Long Day about it. But off we went on Dive 2. And miraculously, our students seemed to have woken up or returned to awareness or something, because all of them did well on the skills and on the tour afterwards. Maybe Dive 1 was a bit of a “good gracious this is all new hey shiny lookee” thing, but it was a nice turnaround. Not much to see on this dive other than more crabs and sanddabs, but good visibility (about 20 feet) and pleasant lack of swells or currents or surge or anything.

We sent our students off to get their tanks filled while we wandered down to the deli on the dock. If you’re ever in the area and want some fairly good food from a very angry Russian lady, that deli is the place to go. We were surprised to learn that someone must have mentioned the words “customer” and “service” to her since our last visit, as we actually got smiles to go with our bagels and cream cheese. AND they were homemade bagels–delicious!

I hung out with Cara for a bit–she was trying to do homework, as well as planning on wander the beach locations in Monterey for wedding spots. Mostly I think she was sleeping. I was a bit envious. Rae and Aaron were also there fun diving, and we chatted with them for awhile. We’re all wishing that they’ll decide to do Divemaster and will come work with us, which would be awesome.

Dive 3 was a bit longer and bit more tricky. Ben’s AOW noontime student showed up, and instead of taking him out himself, Ben foisted him off on Greg and James F. So we had 5 OW students and one AOW student. And a float to pull in from the dive site. But we had fun. I pulled up the float while the instructors did the skills, and then took two students off on a tour of the area. We most found lots of crabs and snails out, nothing new and exciting, but I’m sure it was all new and exciting to the two students, and they enjoyed it.

After the dive, around about 2:30pm, we changed into street cloths (just as it started to pour rain, so much for DRY street clothes) and went down to the deli for lunch. Greg had told the Night Dive students to meet at 3:30 so we didn’t have time to go elsewhere. I ate about five bites of clam chowder, a good chunk of breadbowl, and then headed back to the car to curl up in the drivers seat for a cat nap. The car wasn’t warm, but it was out of the wind and rain, and I had a couple jackets on/over me to keep warm.

It came time for the night dive with both the AOW and Night classes, and I’d reached my limit. Despite the coats and the nap, I was shivering and exhausted. John and Greg pretty much ordered me back into the car, and I was pretty happy to sit out the dive. Of course, whenever I don’t do a night dive, John sees fabulous things on it, so that may have been part of his rationale.

It also worked out, as one of the AOW students was pretty distraught about an argument with her boyfriend, and she sat out the dive and we talked and I calmed her down. *sigh*

When I’d gotten her talked through it all and feeling better, I encouraged her to go out on the second night dive with the Night class students. Ben and Nate hadn’t gone out, with the rationale that they’d help Greg on the second dive, and they ended up taking this student out on a private Night dive. I don’t think they’d have gone out otherwise, but oh well.

In the meantime, Greg and John and James completed the first night dive, then James took the students back out for a second one while Greg went to pull the float.

It was a looong day. We finally left the beach around 8:45pm. FOURTEEN hours after we’d arrived. Loooooong.

John and I were delegated the task of buying a bunch of cheap pizza at Little Caesars and Nate and Shelly were given the task of buying lots and lots of water and other drinks for everyone. The instructors, meanwhile, finished debriefing the students.

Back at the hotel, we all met up and crammed ourselves with pizza and crazy bread, followed by a long soak in the hot tub. Ahh, warmth.

The only marring of the evening, other than the late hour and exhaustion and rain, was James M. James M is an assistant instructor, and theoretically on our staff. However, he hasn’t worked a class with us in probably over a year and half. He keeps saying he’s going to come back and help, but he keeps finding excuses. This time, it was that he’d agreed to help another instructor, which was pretty much the last straw for most of us. I mean, we had four classes and all those students, and he’s not helping? This is pretty common–he can’t say ‘no’ to anyone but us. And then he had the nerve to come to us and complain about having to do three damn dive. And how tough it was to work with someone else.

To which I wanted to reply, I’ve done three, John and Greg have done 4, and James F has done five. Shut up. And it was your choice to go work with someone else.

But in the spirt of playing nice, and the fact that we were all sharing the hotel room, I just kept my mouth shut and pretty much didn’t acknowledge his existence most of the evening. Interestingly, Greg was pretty much the only one who did, and as Greg, being the Head Instructor, has always been the peace keeper, that’s pretty normal. *sigh*

Sunday dawned at 7am, thanks to the race being run in Monterey, and it was a drizzly dawn. We packed up the cars and headed down to the beaches, aimlessly driving around the Monterey downtown area until 8am when the barricades preventing us from getting to the beaches were taken down.

John and I had pulled rank and chosen to go on the boat with the AOW students and Ben, leaving Nate and Shelly to help Greg and James F with the OW students on their last dive.

Big mistake. While Saturday was flat and calm and beautiful, Sunday was rockin’ and rollin’ out on the bay. We didn’t even attempt to go down to Carmel, although since the boat crew couldn’t make it to the ramp any earlier than we could, I don’t think we’d have had the time even if it had been good weather.

That said, I’d have been fine diving in the damn harbor. The moment the boat started moving, I was staring fixedly at the horizon. I can handle the up-down or the side-to-side, but when you mix them? I go all green. And not in an eco-friendly way, even if the end result does attract more fishes.

We had two dives to do–Deep and Boat–and I don’t remember much of them. I did both, as it was preferable to be off the boat than to be on it, but there were other people on the boat who weren’t teaching and thus took their sweet time, so we ended up waiting post-dive each time. Nothing spectacular on either dive, and nothing horrible beyond a completely ADD student who’s attention was seemingly focused on anything but the staff who was trying to get his attention. Repeatedly. GAH!

On the way back, Ben started complaining about having to do another dive to catch up AOW student who’d showed up at noon (Ben told him he could, thus it was Ben’s fault he was a dive behind) and to finish off the drysuit student (again, it was Ben’s suggestion for him to take the extra class/dive). I was a bit tired of all of James M’s “eh, eh, life is hard” act and wasn’t feeling good enough to placate Ben, and pretty much said so. GAH! AGAIN! Especially when he started ragging on Greg and doing the Night diving class. First of all, despite his suited-up state, Ben wouldn’t have done that dive at all if the girl student hadn’t needed some consolation over her argument with her boyfriend and had missed her own dive. Second, Greg offered to do all the work himself–it was kind of James F and John to help out. Third–James F and John had already done 3 dives, while Ben had only done 2. WTF? Fourth, Greg had a responsibility, and he took care of it. That’s commendable, not something that should be ridiculed. GAH!

After we got back, Ben bailed on the dive (of course) and Greg had to do it all by himself, meaning he was teaching two students two different sets of skills on one dive with no help. James F was already out of gear, I was too sick, John was trying to get me out of my drysuit and into the car, and Nate and Shelly had already left. Sorry Greg! It was about par for the course for Ben, who’s a great guy, but not much fun to teach with. He’s a poor planner when it comes to logistics, he can’t make a decision to save his life, and he’ll opt out of any work given the choice. Not that he’s lazy, but he’s just lacking the authoritarian manner that’s necessary for an instructor to make people pay attention. It’s frustrating to work with him at all, especially compared to the competence that Greg and James F both display.

To top it off, James M was hanging out at the docks–turns out his instructor had cancelled the class. There was 2 foot visibility along the beaches, so this was probably prudent. Although why he was hanging out and annoying us by STILL NOT HELPING, I don’t know.

Between the motion sickness and the pissed-off-ness at Ben and James M, I just wanted to get the hell out of there. My day had pretty much been ruined at that point.

It was salvaged a bit by some seafood burritos with James F and Cara and James F’s parents, followed by a nap all the way home, followed by a three hour nap, followed by awareness long enough to unload the car, rinse the gear, put stuff away, eat chicken noodle soup and toast while watching the end of the Giants game, followed by 11 hours of sleep.

Ahh, sleep. In a warm bed. That can make anything better.

So it was a good weekend of teaching in the sense that we got all the students through all the classes and most of them had a good time. Not so good in the sense that most of us wanted to murder James M, several of us wanted to murder Ben, and it was an exhausting experience.

It will be a long time before I pull rank again to get on a boat. Nate and Shelly can have it for the foreseeable future. And I may not be willing to talk to James M or work with Ben for quite awhile. Gah.

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Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Day 6, Thursday

Thursday dawned bright and clear, but with the knowledge that it was our second-to-last day of diving. The end of vacations are always so bittersweet, aren’t they?

After cramming our gullets with more toast and fruit and pancakes than a normal person needs in a week (hey, you need calories when diving!), it was off for the morning boat dives.

Sadly, there was no one left to get engaged. Although I suppose Rae and Aaron could have actually gotten married-they’ve only been engaged for 3 or so years. Not ones to hurry, those two.

Dive one was at a site called Circus Circus. We mostly circled one coral outcropping, and despite the name, it wasn’t necessarily the dive with the most stuff.

James F found his second tire of the trip and “rescued” it. A lot of the permanent buoys are chains around coral or rocks that are tied through a tire, and then a rope with a buoy marker on it. Saves wear and tear on the coral because the tire gives with each pull of the boat in the waves a bit, and means the boats aren’t dropping anchors. However, the tires eventually break. James found two, and lifted them both up to the surface to be taken to shore and tossed.

I also found a compass, which I passed off to one of the divemasters. I never saw it again, but he probably had more use for it than me. I can imagine new gear is hard to come by when you’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

For creatures themselves, we saw a school of baracuda that we watched for quite awhile. They eyed us menacingly, but never came all that close. They were mostly silvery flashes out in the depths. There was also a lot of red sea anemones, a variation we hadn’t seen, or at least hadn’t noticed in such profusion, before. They contrasted nicely with all the orange clown fish. Awww, Nemo.

Our second dive was at Gee’s Rock, another large pinnacle. We found cleaner shrimp, and nearly everyone had their teeth cleaned. A couple people also had their masks cleaned–if you didn’t have your mouth open enough or close enough, but your mask was, they’d jump on that instead. There were two cleaner shrimp, and one usually found your mouth. It’s a really cool sensation. Right next door, there was a banded coral shrimp and two clear shrimp. I have no idea what the clear shrimp were, other than that they were shrimp shaped, but pretty much absolutely clear. John found a bluish eel in one of the coral outcroppings, but he never came out far enough for us to get a good look to try to identify him. There were also lobsters, more white and purple nudibranchs, and some beautiful juvenile longfin spadefish.

No tires, but a much better dive than the first one.

On the way back for lunch, we were all very mellow, laying in the sun on the deck and relaxing. James F and Cara were talking about how nice it would be to lay by the pool for the afternoon, and John and I agreed. Thus, we decided to bag the afternoon dive, despite having already paid for it. The point of vacation is to relax, right?

Thus, for us, lunch was a much more relaxed and slower affair than normal. Not that we were rushed normally, but there was usually an air of “gotta get going for that afternoon boat” feeling. Today, no such thing.

As Nate and Shelly and the others headed off to catch the little boat out to the big boat, the four of us migrated to the poolside, where we spent the afternoon reading, laying in the sun, drinking the occasional coke, and getting in the pool every now and then when it became too hot. There was a waterfall in the pool, and we played in that for quite awhile, as well as that age-old childhood tradition of chicken fighting. All in all, a beautiful afternoon.

There was an organized trip to tour the village, and Rae and Aaron wandered off to go do that at some point, but we were all pretty much little unmoving slugs by that point. Plus, having seen a lot of the village from afar during the school tour, we weren’t entirely up for the walk there and back.

When Nate and Shelly returned from the dive, they said it had had such a current that they’d spent most of the dive fighting it, and it had turned out to be not much fun. Shelly in particular was pretty disgusted after swimming hard to get where the divemaster was trying to show her something, only to find it was another white and purple nudibranch. I tell you, that particular kind must be the aquatic equivalent of rabbits based on how many we saw all over. We were very glad to have skipped the dive.

Happy hour came around, and we moved just enough to acquire drinks. There was talk of playing Killer Bunnies (after all, I’d carried the damn game how many thousands of miles?), but it turned out to be just that as we all sort of collapsed back by the pool.

Dinner time eventually arrived, putting is into a food coma eventually with more of LaLa’s incredible cooking, and as night settled in, there was a lot more sitting and talking and reflecting on all the diving.

It was one of those days that is just what you’re looking for on vacation–a bit of fun, and a whole lot of relaxation.

Part 6

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Day 5, Wednesday

Wednesday was our shark dive day. Most of our group had signed up to do the dive, and no one else from the resort had, so it was just us rushing through breakfast to get an early start. We had to head to a dive site near the mainland to meet up with Aqua Trek Divers (I think), the group that does the shark dive. They have two divemasters who hand-feed the sharks. What you may not see is that they wear chainmail under their dive gloves. Not quite such a trick in that case, but still pretty impressive.

It was a beautiful day–sunny, puffy clouds, and the wind from earlier in the week was mostly gone. We all did our pre-dive set up and checks, and no one seemed too nervous. Even Cara, who’d only decided at the last minute to do the dive, was pretty excited.

We were relaxed enough that, at one point, our group of 10 or so actually did the “spontaneously all break into the same song” thing.

On the way to the school the day before, one of the songs we’d thought of singing was “You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin'” from ‘Top Gun’ (the only good Tom Cruise movie ever made, btw). We all actually knew enough of it that we could get through it, and some of us even had the voices for the highs and lows in it (Bay-bee! Bay-bee!–You know the part I mean). So, on the boat that morning, someone, probably James F, randomly started, and before we knew it, we were all singing along, with all the voices and everything. All the way through. It was pretty cool, and something you only feel like happens in the movies, but we really did it.

It became the song of the trip. Which, based on what later happened, was pretty funny.

So we got to the shark site, appropriately named “The Bistro”, only to find the other boat there and already jumping in the water. Our divemasters gave us a thorough briefing, emphasizing that we’d be perfectly safe, and off we went. We pretty much drifted straight down to about 60 feet (with a brief detour by John to rescue Shelly’s camera from where it had accidentally sunk following an accidental removal from the camera bin), and then swam down a ledge to about 80 feet of water. There was a shallow coral wall with a rope running across it, and we positioned ourselves sitting along the wall and holding onto the rope.

The Aqua Trek guys had two large trash bins, the lidded kind that you see for apartment complex recycling (or at least, that we have for that purpose), full of fish heads and guts and various other unwanted parts from one of the local fish factories. They were pulling out chunks and hand-feeding anything that came near.

There were two nurse sharks, probably 6-7 feet or so in length, nosing around on the bottom. At one point, one of them swam up and just stuck his head inside the trash can, inhaling whatever he could. It was pretty funny, and the divemaster had to push him back out.

There was also a big silver tip, maybe 8 feet in length, circling the area. He went right over the heads of the people next to us, although he didn’t seem concerned with us at all. All the divemasters had large metal rods to poke the fish away when they got too close, which was a bit reassuring.

Aside from the sharks, there was a large maelstrom of fish circling the feeding area: black jacks (sort of like giant tuna), a giant napoleon wrasse, a giant grouper with an entourage of golden trevally (or “yes fish” as we took to calling them). Theoretically, there was also a lemon shark (I may have seen it, but it’s pretty much identically to the nurse shark, so who knows) and some bull sharks in the distance (never saw them).

Seta, one of the divemasters, took Rae out to touch one of the nurse sharks, and after he brought her back, he took me out. And…the sharks promptly swam away. He put me back in line, we waited, and then we tried again. No luck. “Next dive”, he signed to me.

After about 15 minutes, we headed back up the slope to the Japanese fishing trawler wreck that was under our boats (but our boats were still on the surface, thankfully). Here, we found a tiny banded pipefish, and spent some time swimming along the wreck. We found a little jellyfish, which the divemasters signaled ‘don’t touch’, and watched it for awhile. There was also a yellow margin moray hiding in the rocks looking for extra fish handouts.

John was headed off to look at the screw (the propeller, I think “screw” is the right term, if not, haha anyway), and I was set to follow when James F grabbed my fin. I turned around and he signaled “come back here”.

Then, as I watched, he asked Cara to marry him!

Awwww!

There was “you and me” pointing, then “buddy up” signaling, and finally he pantomimed a ring on his ring finger. She kind of looked at him funny, so he did it again. This time, there was a definite response of “really?” He nodded. She squealed. It was really funny and romantic and awesome. They “bumped regs”, then actually took out their regs and kissed, then cleared their masks and checked their air like good little divers.

At that point, Aaron handed James the ring from his whistle (it was like the ring off of car keys), and it fit perfectly over Cara’s gloved hand. And as any girl out there knows, that rusted ring of metal is going to mean more to her than any expensive rock James could ever buy.

James had been talking about this with me for awhile, and I knew he had no money for a ring but that he wondered if he found the perfect time and place, would that be enough? My answer was OF COURSE!!! And of course it was!

The divemaster who was filming us on the shark encounter even caught some of it on video, and James M snapped a couple pictures. When James F looked over at me for approval, all I could do was nod, smile, and fold my hands over my heart (I wasn’t sure the smiling was evident around the reg). That, too, is on video, and it’s pretty funny.

It. was. perfect.

Which is why “You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin'” was such a funny song for the trip. 🙂

Back on the boat, we again congratulated James and Cara, verbally this time, and I assured him, when he asked later, that it had been perfect. He told me that, as we were getting ready for the dive, he’d decided to do it. He wasn’t sure how or when, but he was going to do it there, underwater, on the shark dive. Wasn’t Cara glad she decided to do that dive?

Even after that, there was still more diving to do!

On the second dive, we stopped at the 60 foot wall, and faced the same cyclone of fish around the two trash cans of food. I’d teased Delana, one of the divemasters, about not seeing the bull sharks and thinking he made them up, so he came and got me out of line and took me so I was on a line perpendicular to John and all the other divers. The maelstrom was right ahead of me, and behind it (relative to the other divers) there were a number of bull sharks.

Now, bull sharks are pretty man-hungry in that they can swim up fresh water rivers (most sharks can’t), and often do, and tend to munch on people bathing in those rivers. So before the dive, I was a bit nervous about them. However, this was just ridiculously awesome.

Right in front of me were about 5-10 sharks, several upwards of 10ish feet. I could see the divemasters holding out fish heads, and the bull sharks circling in for the feast. I stayed their with Delana for the whole 20 minutes, and it was amazing. I felt a bit bad afterwards that John and Company didn’t have as good a view, but that didn’t really diminish my excitement. The black jacks, napoleon wrasse, yellow margin moray, and lots of other fish were still there on this dive, but all my attention went to the bulls.

Afterwards, we poked around in the coral at about 20 feet, working on getting out some of the nitrogen we’d accumulated on a long safety stop. Seta signed to me at one point why hadn’t I wanted to go touch a shark. I signed back that I’d SEEN the sharks! After the dive, it was back to our own island, and all along the way we kept reliving the experience.

The only thing to mar it was that the famed tiger shark hadn’t shown up. Apparently it was an “off” day for her. Oh well, this means we just have to go back and do the dive again, right? Gee, darn!

Back at the resort at lunch, we spread the word about the sharky engagement, and after James and Cara had gone to get ready for the afternoon dive, asked the managers if they could arrange for champagne for a toast at dinner. We met back up with James and Cara at the pool, where we laid in the sun waiting for the afternoon dive time. A couple people came up to congratulate them, and James kept remarking that he hadn’t done anything worth congratulating! My point was, the congratulations were for their love.

The afternoon dive was much more relaxed, and after the excitement of the morning, we were A-OK with that. We went to a site called Seven Sisters, which had 7 shallow coral heads that we swam around. There were many more white and purple nudibranchs, blue ribbon eels, black and orange flatworms, and a purple and orange fringed nudibranch. We also saw a reddish-brown scorpionfish, which turned to stone color as it swam, and some magic coral.

Magic coral, you say? What’s that? It’s coral covered in polyps that retreat when you touch them, so if you touch a small part of the coral, all the polyps retreat along it’s length in a rippling effect. It’s pretty cool to watch, although we tried not to torture the coral too much by doing so.

Back at the resort, we lounged by the pool and had our daily happy hour cocktails. James F had rescued a diver’s light on the night dive the night before, and the diver offered to buy him a drink. I quipped that he’d narrowly beaten me to the light, and he didn’t drink. I meant it as a joke, but the diver bought both him and me a drink. Happy Sarah!

Then, before dinner, the waitress brought out the champagne. It was pretty obvious right from the beginning, but after everyone was served, I stood up and made a toast to James and Cara and invited everyone to drink to their love. It was sweet and wonderful, and I know they both appreciated it, even though they were a bit embarrassed at the time. I told Cara afterwards, when she offered to help pay, to think of it as an engagement party!

After the toast, the manager stood up and congratulated them. Then he made an announcement that bowled us over. For getting engaged while AT the resort, they were gifted with one of two options: Come to the resort for the wedding, and have the entire Fijian ceremony and everything FREE, or come after their wedding and stay for a week in the honeymoon suit for FREE. Both easily a $1000 value. Wow.

We all promptly informed James and Car that we were coming on their honeymoon with them!

The last part of the evening was the traditional Fijian kava ceremony. Kava is a slightly narcotic drink made from a root that is ground into powder. It looks sort of like muddy dishwater, but it tastes like peppery or spicy tea. Not like chai, but spicy tea. It’s not something I’d enjoy every day, but it was interesting. John was made chief for the ceremony, and there was a lot of clapping involved. A minute or two after drinking, my lips and mouth went tingly-numb, and about five minutes later, feeling came back. That was about it. Maybe it was the alcohol (2 happy hour drinks, 3 glasses of champagne), or maybe that really was all, but I didn’t feel anything more. James F reported that all the kava did to him was to make him very relaxed and sleep very well that night. So maybe that was it. It was still a pretty cool ceremony.

All in all, probably maybe our best day in Fiji.

And we were all glad they found that lovin’ feelin’. Awwwww!

Part 5
Part 6

It’s not as if I’ve fallen off the planet (although if the Republicans win the election or Prop 8 or 4 passes, I may try), but more just been sucked into the vortex that is work, and every time I manage to climb out for a reasonable amount of time, I use that time to lay down.

Le Sigh.

I will return you to Fiji stories soon, I promise, and I will be back more often soon (I signed up for NaBloPoMo AGAIN, WTF was I thinking?!?!?).

In the meantime, here’s a smattering of my random thoughts lately.

*****

My childhood best friend got married two weeks ago. Financially, I couldn’t go to her wedding. She understood. It was the same reason she couldn’t come to mine. But when she posted pictures on Facebook for all to see, I felt a sense of nostalgia for the two little girls who planned to be each other’s maids of honor, live next door to one another, raise their children together, and live happily ever after with our guys-of-the-moment. I wish I’d been there. Damn plane ticket prices. Damn economy.

Speaking of Facebook, Sydney has gone AWOL. When I got back from Fiji, we exchanged emails along the lines of planning to get together, then suddenly Facebook announced to the world that she was no longer in a relationship, and as far as I can tell, she’s now gone underground. Or is avoiding me. Or is on her nursing mission in Mexico. I’m hoping it’s the last one, since I can’t remember the dates, but I’m a bit worried. Break ups suck. Poor girl.

Fall is officially here in the bay area. It has been for awhile, maybe, but between the few trees turning colors, the brisk mornings, and the RAIN today, it’s definitely here. In all it’s BRRRRness. I do not appreciate this.

Last Thursday, we spent the day in Las Vegas at a scuba trade show, DEMA. It was a lot more interesting for John, but we both schmoozed away and came home laden with a ridiculous amount of brochures. Plus we saw the guys from Fiji, which was awesome.

On the way home from DEMA (we flew there at 6:30am and flew home at 9pm), disaster struck. The flight didn’t go so well for me, but I made it off the plane with my cookies intact. Then came the bus ride to the car park. Again, I made it off the bus with my cookies intact. I made it into the car, John backed up about a foot, and then I made it right back out of the car. And lost said cookies. First motion sickness I’ve had in many a year. Famous following words were, “I believe, for the second time in my life, I’m no longer eating shrimp.”

Or is it motion sickness? Ever since then, I’ve had vague rumblings of nausea creep up on me almost daily. It sucks. I’ve basically stopped eating, since smells make it worse. I pointed out to John that an unintended side effect of this was to lose about three pounds in only a couple of days. He pointed out that they have a name for that–bulemia. I pointed right back out that it would probably be considered anorexia, since it was “not eating” and not “inducing nausea”. We joke, but never fear, I love bacon too much to ever be one, and hate throwing up enough to never be the other. That said, this feeling can go away right damn now.

John’s birthday was Monday, and we had a party for him Saturday night, with all sorts of assorted scuba people over: James and Cara, James M, Rae and Aaron, Nate and Shelly, Greg, etc, etc. Killer Bunnies was enjoyed by all. It was a blast, aside from the food smells and nausea. And this was his Golden Birthday–27 on the 27th. Happy Birthday, love!

For his birthday evening, I met him at the door when he got home with a candle in a Fig Newton. This goes back 10-15 years when my mom didn’t have time to make me a cake (I think, due to a track meet or choir concert of mine), and thus my birthday was celebrated with a table candle (not a birthday candle, a table candle) in a Fig Newton. I’m trying to start a tradition here, people. I also made him Chicken Parmesan, served him his dinner, and promptly went to bed. Stupid sick. Alas, there was no celebrating in the vein that Brat mentioned…

We had a potluck on Tuesday with all the people who’d gone to Fiji with us. It. Was. Awesome. I’ll tell that story at the end of the Fiji stories.

We also had dinner last night with Elizabeth and Mark last night. We took them to a restaurant near our house to repay them for taking care of the cats while we were gone. We had a blast catching up with them, and hearing all about their wedding plans. Can’t wait to celebrate that one!

I met with Dr. M on Monday, and we’ve set tentative deadlines for Paper 1 submission, Paper 2 submission, Last Committee Meeting, and Thesis Defense. AHHHHHH!!! WHEEEE!!!! Graduation is theoretically… Nope, not jinxing myself here. Sometime. Within reason. WHEEEE!!!! In the meantime, I’m working my buns off to meet those deadlines. And this does not allow for nausea. Sorry, it’s a common theme the last couple of days.

Last, if I’m feeling up to it, what should I dress up for for Halloween tomorrow? Got two parties to go to, one with Nate and Shelly, and one with the nursing folk that Sydney has introduced me to (I’m hoping she’ll be there and I can see for myself she’s doing okay). Both require costumes. I don’t particularly believe in Halloween costumes that require work.

*****

And now my timer has gone off at work, so I’m off to play Mad Scientist again for an hour or so, then drive home just in time to eat a piece of toast (maybe) and go to bed, then get up and do it all over again.

Part 1
Part 2

Day 4, Tuesday

Again with the early morning wake-up and the drums and the mountains of toast and fruit and all sorts of goodness to fill our bellies with, then off to the reef. Just another day in paradise, really.

On the way out, we had 5 dolphins come and escort our boat for about 10 minutes. We caught site of them behind us in the distance, racing to catch up with us, leaping through the waves. When they did eventually catch us, they swam in the waves at the bow of the boat for awhile minutes, playing in the water. They were very graceful, but disappeared as we approached the reef. We never saw them underwater, but to see them above was pretty damn neat.

Our first dive was at Three Thieves. This was hilarious for several reasons:

Earlier, on Sunday, Rae had accidentally taken Cara’s weight pouches (they go in the BCD pockets to hold the lead), and James F had been giving her a teasingly hard time about this ever since. As we all dive with pretty much the same BCD, and thus have the same weight pouches, the only way to tell is to label them. Luckily, someone had brought along a sharpie. Then, Monday morning, one of the guys in our group had been a bit preoccupied (his wife was sick for the first couple days while we were there) and had accidentally taken and PUT ON Rae’s wetsuit. Her girl-cut, girl-colored (we get two stripes while the guys get one) wetsuit! More thief jokes. Begin cross-dressing jokes. So to take us to Three Thieves to dive was just asking for trouble!

The dive was 3 large pinnacles that we swam among. Spiraling up them was pretty cool, but swimming across the chasms between, where the bottom dropped off to 80-100 feet? Was like flying. And that, folks, is one of the many reasons I dive. It’s one of the coolest, most ever-changing experiences you can have on this planet. We found a large octopus (hopefully I’ll have some good pictures in a bit), more white tip sharks, several lobsters (mmm, lunch…), more of the swimming black-and-orange flatworms, more of the purple-and-white nudibranchs, cowrys, unicorn fish, leaf scorpionfish, lionfish, banded coral shrimp. The list just goes on and on and on.

The coolest thing by far, however, was finding the cleaner shrimp. One of the divemasters beckoned me over and showed me two little shrimp just sitting on a ledge. He gestured to them, then took a deep breathe, took out his reg, and opened his mouth near the little guys. And who would have guessed, but the hopped right in and started cleaning his teeth!!! I gave it a try afterwards. Two, actually, as the first didn’t work–I don’t think I was quite close enough to get them to jump in. But the second time was the charm–it felt sort of like having a bug walking on your arm, or grass brushing against you. Only it didn’t really tickle, and it wasn’t really a poking feeling, and it definitely wasn’t gross to think of them cleaning my teeth. I suppose it was like being very gently cleaned by little tiny shrimp. Basically. Get the idea? And it was so freaking cool! John also tried it, as did Nate. We couldn’t convince Shelly to try. Ah well.

Next, it was off to Sea Fan Coral, which had (who would have guessed?) lots of sea fans. Lionfish, black-and-orange flatworms, cowrys, a reddish lionfish (not brownish like the commons), blue ribbon eels, large anemones that would retreat upon contact. Best of all, maybe, were all the little anemones with the anemone fish. I spent a long time putting my hand out nearby them to try to get them to defend their anemone, but apparently a blue-gloved hand is just a little too threatening–they never would fight me off. They did, however, tend to attack the lens of James M’s camera when he took pictures of them, probably due to seeing their own reflections. It was pretty funny. And then on the way back, the dolphins swam by again, although they didn’t escort the boat for nearly as long.

We had the afternoon off because we were planning a night dive, and we all decided to go on the tour of the local school. We arrived while some kids were having track-and-field time (and good lord could some of those kids do the long jump!) and while the little kids were having singing time. They sang all sorts of nursery rhymes to us, both in Fijian and in English. They were impossibly adorable children, and all the little dances they did with each song was so cute. Especially when one of the songs contained the lyrics, “Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds” (and that’s it) and the dance involved making a hut shape with their hands, then mimicking wings, and finally shaking their hips hula-style. It was hi-larious! Pictures to come, I promise.

In return, we were asked to sing to them. We obliged with “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (both of which they knew better than us, it turned out) and “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” (they loved the yelling part of that one) and “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” (Shelly did it in Japanese, which was a huge hit, and which they picked up incredibly fast) and finally “Baby Beluga”. James F led this one, and it was so fun to start to watch them copy his movements to go with the words, unintentional though they were. I love that song. We’re working on a recording (and possibly something to play it on) to send to them.

Afterwards, we took tons of pictures of them, and of us with them–they all loved being in front of the camera, and we’ve promised to send them all sorts of pictures, as well as the lyrics to the songs.

Then one of the teachers took us on a tour of their new school building, which was built with a grant from the EU and which will soon be furnished with a few computers thanks to another foreign teaching grant from some other nation. The school was so charming, and we so wanted to help in someway (computers were beyond us, although Aaron did get into a deep discussion of how to network them with one of the other teachers). We asked the teacher leading the tour for a wishlist of supplies, which she gave us–it’s things like glue and paper and notebooks and pens. All simple stuff that a lot of kids take for granted in this country. Needless to say, all of us who were on the trip and are so inclined are getting together a huge package, not only with the stuff they wanted, but lots of fun stuff too.

ADDITIONALLY (and here’s where my faith in humanity has been temporarily restored), upon hearing that several of the kids had qualified for the regional trackmeet but that the school didn’t have quite enough money to send them to the mainland, people in our group donated several hundred US dollars (so several hundred and then some Fijian dollars) to the school to ensure that these kids could go and would have water bottles and lunches and whatnot. It was such a generous outpouring, on top of volunteering all sorts of money and supplies to be sent upon our return, that I was so amazed. Truly, we had an amazing group of people go with us on this trip. I am ridiculously proud of all of them.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to linger at the school and watch more track practice as we had to get back in time to leave on the night dive. And finally, finally, we got to see the sun set into the Pacific ocean. No green flash, but reds and oranges and yellows and purples like you wouldn’t imagine. Very picturesque, with reflections all stretched out on the water and on the sky and on all the island mountains. If I could have captured even a little of perfection and essence of that scene with a camera, I would have, but I think it was just something you had to be standing their watching.

On the night dive, it was back to Pearl Reef (same place as Day 2, the infamous current dive, although it wasn’t so bad at night). We found slipper lobsters (think something that looks like the tail-end of a lobster–all plated, or possible like a horseshoe crab without the tail?), a red lionfish, more tiger cowrys–one completely out of it’s shell, more banded coral shrimp, two twin-spotted lionfish, huge clams, an undulated moray, and many sleeping fish. All you could see of these last guys was just little tail tips sticking out of rock crevices. It was very cute. Pictures to come, I promise!!

It was a pretty spectacular night dive–over an hour long, plenty to see, not too cold. The reef was a bit crowded with so many people on it, but not too bad right up until the end when we were all hanging out under the boat. James F, John and I were almost the last ones up–we debated staying down longer, but dinner awaited us when we got back and hungry stomachs won out over inquisitive diving.

And besides, after dinner and sleepy time? The shark dive!!! Like kids on the night before Christmas, we all were off to bed early to bring morning that much faster.

Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Part 1

Day 3, Monday

Monday dawned partly-cloudy and breezy, although not as bad as Saturday or Sunday morning. After a filling breakfast (the carb loading was amazing–I’ve never seen so many people eat so much toast along side their fruit and pancakes), we headed out for the first dive. While I was waiting in the shallows for the little boat to take me to the big boat, one of the divemasters that we were waiting with found a little yellow seahorse, the first I’ve ever seen in the wild. It was pretty cool, and the only one we saw the entire trip.

Soft Coral Plateau was calling our name, and was a beautiful dive site. We circled around 3 coral pinnacles that started about 80ft down in the water, going from one to the next, always sort of spiraling upwards around them. We saw four white tip sharks–a loner sleeping on the bottom, a loner swimming, and two baby-sized ones swimming together. By baby-sized, I mean 1-2ft. More lionfish were found, as was a leaf scorpion fish, a black-with-blue-dots nudibranch, a black-with-green-dots nudibranch, a black-with-orange-dots nudibranch (common theme, eh?), a pink and purple nudibranch, a free-swimming flatworm (they kind of ripple along in the water), and some crab and shrimp.

This was, hands down, the best dive for many of us in quite awhile. For about an hour.

Then we dove Glory H*ole. Yes, that was it’s name. Feel free to snicker and make side jokes. We certainly did.

This site was a large pinnacle of coral that had a swim-through (hence, the name) where you could swim into the cavern left by the coral and out the other side. That alone was pretty cool, but the huge number of lionfish, two tiger cowrys, blue ribbon eels, crabs, white-and-purple nudibranchs, flatworms, pipefish, yellow leaf scorpion fish, and the triton’s trumpet we saw easily made it the best dive by far. There was a ridiculous amount of sealife on this dive, and it was just wonderful.

Our afternoon dive was pretty pale in comparison, and happened at a spot called Ridge Reef near the resort. It had clouded over, so the dive was a bit dim, and there wasn’t much to see. A blue-spotted ray, some large sea cucumbers (we’re talking measurement in feet, not inches here) and an empty map cowry shell were about it for the dive. That cowry shell is now one of my prized possessions. It’s beautiful, and as nothing was making it a home at the time, mine!

Part of the reason the afternoon dive wasn’t great was we didn’t take the hour-ish boat ride out to the reef. And the reason for this was that the afternoon entertainment at the resort was…Firewalking!!

We heard the story of how one set of tribes on the island of Bega (there are 2 tribes in 7 villages there) was given the power to walk on fire, and then 5 guys from the nearby village came and put on a show. They used big sticks to roll the logs out of the fire, leaving behind the hot rocks. These were then arranged flat-side-up. Lots of chanting and yelling occurred. And then, one by one, they walked across the rocks. Despite the logic part of my brain wondering how fast the rocks take to cool, it was pretty neat. One of the guys was also part of the Bula Band that played at the resort each night–we got to identifiy a lot of people pretty quickly.

One of our divemasters for the week (they were incredible, best anywhere) told us he used to do the firewalking, but you have to be pure to do it, and he’d accidentally been burned a time or two. Apparently coconut is one of the things that makes you impure, and he’d had a coconut cookie on the boat between dives. He was a funny guy, very full of jokes and pranks and laughter. And a very good divemaster.

After the ceremony, happy hour rolled around, and despite seeing the Firewalking, I tried a ‘Happy Fijian’–much better than a ‘Firewalker’, although they both mostly consist of vodka or rum and lots and lots of fruit juices. The Bula Band played again as we lounged by the pool and watched the sunset, and then dinner rolled around.

I’d passed around cards for all the birthdays and anniversaries, so during dinner we handed them out to thunderous applause for each person. Made me super glad for the last-minute run to Target to make people feel good. Shelly and Aaron both had birthdays there, as did two other people, and two more celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. Awww.

Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

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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