After 6 months we’re back in Canada. The plan is to stay in Vancouver for at least two months. It has been a year since I quit my job. So now it is time to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.
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While sailing around the Fiji Islands, I signed up for diving lessons. There were two dive instructors on board (Kim and Dan) and the course was 3 days long. The first thing Kim said was that my beard and moustache would hold me back. That night I shaved. I’d had the beard for 16 years so seeing my chin was a bit of a shock. In the last 10 years it has gone quite white so the general consensus it was an improvement.
We were given the course materials and told there would be a written exam on the last day. Most of the instruction was practical and we dived twice a day. We also practised some emergency procedures in the ship pool and in 5 feet of water just off the beach.
In diving you always have a buddy who will keep an eye out to see that you are OK. There were four people getting their certification; me, Harry and Eli (brother and sister from Australia) and Laurence from PNG. After the first dive our instructor, Kim, checked our air levels and assigned us buddies based on rate of oxygen consumption. Eli and I were fairly efficient so we were buddies. Harry and Laurence burned through their tanks more quickly. This meant Eli and I could stay down longer while the others had to surface earlier.
We spent the first few days learning the equipment and practising emergency techniques like how to find your regulator if it is lost and how to clear your mask if it fills with water. This reminded me of getting a pilot’s license. It is important to learn the material but it is critical to remain calm in a crisis. I suspect some percentage of people panic during these simulated emergencies. Everyone in our group passed with flying colours.
We also learned hand signals for communicating under water. The most important thing is to remember that thumbs up is not OK but instead means you are heading for the surface. Using thumbs up instead of OK costs you a beer, payable to the instructors. Thanks to our diving diligence, Kim and Dan remained sober for the entire course. Sorry guys.
Even out of the water our instructors Kim and Dan communicated with hand signals.
After we graduated we had the pleasure of seeing our instructor Kim performing a hula dance. Hand gestures underwater were terse and to the point: I’m OK, I’m out of air, Don’t touch that! Hula hand gestures on the other hand are complex and mesmerizing.
Once we had learned these basics we did several open water dives and even some simple cave diving. Swimming into a cave with the only a tiny light in the distance takes a certain nerve but underwater caves and canyons give a strong sense of flying.
The best dive was at Sacred Island. Legend has it that this was the home of the first Fijians. It is forbidden to walk on the Island but there is excellent diving off the shore.
After Hong Kong we travelled to Fiji where we boarded a cruise ship and spent seven days sailing around the islands. Fiji has hundreds of islands, some inhabited, some not. The first night was a captain’s dinner. We sat with the chief engineer who entertained us with stories of the previous ship, Reef Escape, although by now it may have been rechristened Reef Encounter. At the table we also met Lance and Jenny who were booked on the trip exactly a year previously. Unfortunately, as our host related, a massive storm blew up and drove the ship onto the reef. The captain was forced to beach it to avoid sinking. Lance and Jenny, brave souls that they are, accepted a replacement cruise exactly a year later.
Visiting the villages
Many islands are still home to traditional villages. Since these are people’s homes there are certain courtesies that must be observed when visiting. Luckily our purser, Florian, had made contacts in the villages and we were invited to dinner. The greeting ceremony is fairly complex involving four members of our party. Traditionally, these are representatives of the clans: chief, warrior, and spokesman. After presenting the traditional gift of Kava our hosts welcome us and everyone shares a bowl. Then there is lots of music and hanging out.
The woman of the village also sell handmade crafts and beautiful coloured fabric. These can be used to make a sulu, the traditional garment. It was funny to see many of the Australian men essentially wearing skirts. Luckily, they’re a tough bunch and carried it off with nary a snicker.
In the first village we were entertained with excellent singing which included four part harmony. The dancing was led by a very talented dancer who knew how to play to the crowd. When we all got dragged up to form a conga line (probably not a traditional dance form) he got very frisky with the woman in front of him. The other villagers loved this and howled with laughter.
In the second village the dancing wasn’t as good but it was fun to watch the village woman watch the men. One young woman was obviously very enamoured of the lead dancer and watched him with naked lust. He knew he was being watched and hammed it up, much to the delight of the women. The Fijian’s clearly know how to have fun.
Life on the ship
The ship was fairly small which allowed it to anchor off the small islands. It also meant that we quickly got to know the passengers and crew. Most of the people at the start of the cruise were Australian and we made several good friends. We hope to visit them later in the trip.
The crew were very friendly and seemed very genuine. We felt very welcome.
On the final night we bought traditional lays from the village. After dinner we watch the sun set from the top deck. No one was around and we felt like the boat was our private yacht. The sunset was the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. The sky seemed to be on fire. As darkness fell we tossed our lays into the sea. This is meant to bring good luck which in Fiji means a promise to return.
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