Culling Crown of Thorns

In Roatan we used to spear lionfish. Half of you are probably reading that sentence again, wondering why someone who loves the ocean as much as I do would ever spear something as beautiful as a lionfish. The first time I ever posted a picture of a lionfish at the end of my spear on social media, I received a slew of concerted comments asking why I was killing Nemo. The other half of you may already know that lionfish are invasive in the Caribbean, and are destroying the reefs there. Lionfish don’t belong in the Caribbean, but were introduced there by man around 2009. There are many rumors as to how they got there. An aquarium dumped the fish they didn’t want anymore back into the ocean. Hurricane Katrina brought them in. Whatever the case, they have been eating 70-80% of the juvenile reef fish species that do belong there, and in turn have no natural predators. So the marine ecosystem in the Caribbean is completely out of balance. It’s so bad that scientists have toyed with the idea of introducing another foreign species just to add some balance back in. That almost always turns out to be a bad idea though. But that’s another discussion. Now I’m going off track, or chasing rabbits as Fletch says.

For us divers, invasive lionfish meant going out and spearing as many lionfish as we could with every spare afternoon that we had, and we had a blast doing it. Next time you are in the Caribbean, be sure to eat some lionfish. They are delicious. And you are helping the reefs by increasing the demand for these fish.

Here on this side of the world, the lionfish are no threat, but there are other dangers at bay. There is a species of starfish known commonly as the crown of thorns. They are not invasive, so of course if the ocean was left alone, they would be just another part of the ecosystem. People don’t leave the ocean alone though, we extort it in every way we can. Humphead, or Napolean wrasse are known predators of COTs, but those are very large fish, large enough to feed a village, or look badass in a fisherman’s photo (tragic). So they have been overfished and sold on the black market to the point that now they are endangered. Triton’s trumpet is a species of snail that is also one of the only known predators of the COT starfish, but they live in very large, beautiful shells, shells that catch a lot of money in souvenir shops, and so unfortunately you never see any of them alive either. In fact, I just saw my first live one today, after a year in Fiji. Giant Clams may feed on the larvae when crown of thorns breed, but these days the Chinese are on a carved-clamshell-as-a-status-symbol kick, and giant clams are disappearing overnight from all over southeast Asia. Entire farms, gone. (You can read about this disturbing new trend here.) That leaves this horrible, spiny, venomous, starfish that looks like the spawn of your worst nightmares with no predators. COTs eat coral. In small amounts that’s no big deal, but with nothing to control the COT population, they devour all the coral and leave decimated reefs in their wake.

Crown of thorns

Crown of thorns feed on coral polyps, which is the living part of the coral that gives it its color. After they feed, nothing but the white skeleton is left. 

Sometimes people decide to do a good deed without doing their research first. The logical conclusion to what I just told you is to kill some of the crown of thorns starfish, right? So people go out and spear them. This is the worst possible solution because if the starfish is ready to spawn, killing them causes them to release up to 10,000 eggs. So next people decide to start collecting them in a bag as they go, and bring an entire bag of the coral-cullers up to the surface. Once again, this is a bad idea. Allowing a bunch of the starfish to sit wedged together like sardines can cause them enough stress to spawn if they are ready. So the best solution is to remove them one by one and bake them in the sun.

There is a dive site here called Seven Sisters where someone has obviously tried to spear all the crown of thorns. When Fletch first arrived on Mana Island back in August, it was his favorite site. By the time I arrived in October, there was nothing left of the site except for hundreds of crown of thorns splattered across the seven pinnacles that give the Seven Sisters its name. Any more than 30 of the starfish per square hectare is considered an infestation. And we were seeing hundreds, during the daytime, when they are not as active. 

Don't worry, my hand is on a rock. 

Since the crown of thorns have to be brought up to the surface individually, and you can’t go up and down to that extent on scuba, we tried collecting them while freediving for a while. This was a very slow process as it was difficult to see them from the surface, and we were spending the majority of our dives just looking for them. So Fletch devised a clever plan. We would send a buddy team down on scuba, they would carry kitchen tongs to pick the crown of thorns up with (oh yeah, the spines on the crown of thorns contain saponins, a toxic substance that is very painful to humans). Fletch and I would be waiting at the surface with clean tongs to swap out with. When a diver had a starfish, they would wave to us at the surface, one of us would dive down, swap out the COT for a fresh set of tongs, and bring the pest up to the surface where we would have a big floating bucket waiting to deposit them into. 

This proved to be a fun activity for all involved. We only mention the project to guests who are experienced enough divers to manage pulling up a crown of thorns without crashing into the surrounding reef themselves, or breaking the coral trying to get at the things. So far everyone we have brought out has loved it, and requested to go as much as possible. They get to experience all the same joys of diving while simultaneously feeling a sense of accomplishment for doing something good for the ocean.

In the course of an hour dive, we can fill up a 10- or 15-gallon bucket (I have no idea what the size of this thing is) with about 50-60 crown of thorns. The first batch we brought back we tried burning with the garbage. That warranted complaints from everyone in the village as it stunk for days and days afterwards. Fletch and I both felt really bad. It did reek something terrible. Not only that, but the COTs didn’t burn. The trash would literally burn all around them while the spiny things were unharmed. Talk about a resilient creature. Someday in the near future our oceans will be nothing but jellyfish, lionfish, and crown of thorns. I suppose those things will only die out when there is nothing left to feed on.

A bucket full of crown of thorns. The foam is from the saponins, which have detergent-like properties. 

Now we burry the crown of thorns in the graveyard. I thought it rude to the deceased to cover them in a bunch of nightmarish ocean spawn, but in some cultures, any living thing deserves the respect of being buried in the graveyard, and that was where the resort manager told us we could dig a hole. The only thing we cared about was that they were above the tide line, so that they could never return to the ocean. Good riddance. 

Apparently when you group 50-60 crown of thorns together in a bucket, they congeal like  a can of cream-of-mushroom soup. 

Ratu Kitty Cooper

Warning: this post contains a plethora of cute kitten pictures.

It was July 1, and Fletch and I were headed to our first rugby match. Two big teams from New Zealand were in Fiji, and so we were headed down to Suva to watch the game with the resort owner and all of his buddies, at least a dozen of them, all flown in from New Zealand.

We were in the resort lobby, hiding from the onslaught of rain. It always rained in that corner of Fiji. Suddenly we saw a little kitten darting under one of the dining tables. So we snatched it up and gave it some of the dried chicken dog treats we used to carry around for the village dogs, Lady and Buddy.

We discussed what to do with the little thing. The resort already had two resident cats; cats that the manager was not a fan of, and was constantly trying to get rid of. The resort owner had told the manager he would get rid of the manager before he got rid of the cats (good man). So they had come to an agreement that the cats could stay, but no more animals would be permitted on the resort's property.

The resort was the only thing besides the village for miles. In the village, the dogs were trained to hunt wild boar, and so would kill anything that moved. Fijians don't believe in keeping animals in the house; they think that's dirty, so even if we brought the kitten to the village, whoever cared for it would leave it outside to fend for itself with the hunting dogs. Whichever way we looked at it, the poor little kitten gnawing on the dried bit of chicken was doomed. So we decided to take it in and train it to be a mouser for our apartment.

He adapted quickly to the luxury of having a roof over his head. He acted like a house cat from the beginning, and left his feral days behind. 

He was a sad little scrawny thing for a while... 

But after feeding him some rice and tuna (it was a few weeks before we were able to find a grocery store that stocked kitty food), he soon grew to be a handsome Kitty.

He was constantly purring, and had an impressive motor for his small size, so Fletch had the clever idea to call him Cooper - like the car. After Fletch began work at the new resort, the name of the new place gave me the idea to expand Cooper's name to Ratu Kitty. Ratu is the Fijian title for chief. His name became Ratu Kitty Cooper.

He liked to cuddle all the time. As soon as I got home from work, I would have to be careful not to sit down on the bed until I was ready to be glued there, because as soon as I would sit or lie down, he was there on top of me, purring away. Sometimes looking like he had just seen a giant spider.

He really loved cuddles. Sometimes I'd be sitting on my computer and he would come wedge himself under my arm...

 ...and then pass out.

 So many cuddles!

When it was time to leave Fiji for our visas, we struggled to find Ratu Kitty Cooper a place to stay. The original plan had been to leave him at the apartment permanently to be a mouser (this is quite common in Thailand where you move into a house and find out that there is already a cat living there), but he had become too reliant on being indoors and, of course, we were way too attached to him at that point to do any such thing. So we searched for an animal shelter or some sort of boarding service. Since Fijians don't believe in having animals indoors, and they hardly ever leave their villages, there is no reason to have pet kennels. They don't exist here. The only animal shelter we could find claimed they were completely full of strays. We had asked well in advance, and thought it strange that they would rather put up a stray that far down the line than a cat that they could make a few dollars off of.

Our vet two hours away in Suva finally agreed to watch him for the two weeks I would be gone, plus an additional week that Fletch and I figured it would take us to make our new living quarters kitty-friendly.

Poor Ratu Kitty Cooper must've thought we were going on some grand adventure, and sat eagerly on Fletch's arm the whole ride.

Due to unfortunate circumstances, it was five weeks before I was able to pick Kitty up from the vet. The poor thing had to live with the vet for five weeks. Remind your pet that they only have to go for an hour or so next time a trip to the vet is due. An hour isn't nearly as bad as five weeks. We weren't even ready for him yet; I just couldn't stand the thought of abandoning him for any longer. Fletch was in the US at the time, so I took the hour-long ferry over from our new island, borrowed a friend's car, and drove the three hours each way to Suva. I hate driving, and nothing could ever compel me to drive for six hours. Especially in a foreign country, on the opposite side of the road. Nothing except this silly little monster.

The ride back wasn't nearly as long as the ride to Suva had been with Kitty for company. We listened to an audiobook and made frequent stops along the beach to visit the world's largest litter box. We tried to stop for pizza too at this spot that cooks pizza inside the lovo pit and is without hesitation, the best pizza in Fiji. It was closed though. So we continued on our journey.

It was dark by the time Kitty and I reached Nadi again, and the next ferry was not until the following morning. I had called around to see if there were any pet friendly hotels, but seeing as how homes aren't even pet friendly in Fiji, you can imagine how those phone calls went. I finally got a room at a hotel that Fletch and I had stayed at before, and knew was spread out enough that I could walk around without anyone seeing me if I needed to. I almost felt bad accepting the free upgrade to the suite that they gave me, since I was about to head back to the car and smuggle Kitty into the room in my backpack.

He very much enjoyed sleeping on a bed again.

We left the hotel at 5 AM, before anyone was awake enough to notice a little white girl leave with a moving backpack making meowing sounds.

I discovered to my dismay, that coffee shops don't open until 7 AM in Fiji. That probably makes me sound like every other Starbucks addict from America, but all we get on the island is brewed coffee, so a nice, foamy cappuccino on the rare occasion when I am in town is a treat. Not that morning though. So I took Ratu Kitty to the only place I could think of where a cat on a leash might not be the strangest thing anyone had seen all day.

Port Denarau is where all the rich white people live. It is the ritzy area that people envision when they  think of going to town on their tropical vacation. The entirety of Fiji is very humble. From what I've seen, there's no real upper or lower class. Everyone lives in their villages, under a tin roof. Then there's Port Denarau, where you leave the third world and enter Beverly Hills. Driving down the street and seeing everyone's waterfront mansions with their yachts is pretty ridiculous. Even more ridiculous than a cat on a leash.

Kitty and I picked up Fletch at the airport at 8 AM and then the three of us, finally reunited, took the ferry back to Mana Island and introduced Ratu Kitty Cooper to his new home.

Kitty has a love/hate relationship with rugs. He cannot allow them to lay flat. They must be bunched up.

Kitty's hobbies include sitting on Fletch's large hand and staring out the window to see if it is the opportune time to chase the geckos off the porch yet. He only gets one go every night, so he has to make it count. Fletch and Kitty make quite the team.

He also enjoys laying in the window. We finally had to remove a few panes of glass for him because he is getting fat.

Kitty declared that newspapers are the new cardboard boxes.

Christmas time presented so many fun gift bags to play with.

Kitty really loves sitting on Fletch's hand

Baskets make a mediocre substitute.

He's not quite the tiny thing he used to be...

But he is still just as cute and ridiculous. 

 Thanks for being a constant source of entertainment, Ratu Kitty Cooper.

Beachcomber Island - Happy New Year

A great deal of thought and planning went into this year’s New Year’s Eve celebration. Fletch and I were at home in our tiny, mustard-walled, one-room apartment playing with Ratu Kitty Cooper (our kitty that I now realize I have failed to welcome into our lives with a proper blog post. That will come shortly). Fletch asked, "So what are we doing for New Year’s this year?" I thought about it for a good 60 seconds. These things are very important decisions. Kitty rolled over and stretched. “Beachcomber?” I asked after a minute. Beachcomber Island is another island in the Mamanuca group of islands where we are. It is meant to be the party island out of the group, and so I figured must be as good a place as any to bring in the new year. So Fletch booked us the last couple of spots in the dorm and that was that. 

Beachcomber Island, Fiji

December 31 our resort’s transfer boat brought us about 30 minutes east to the little bloop of sand that is Beachcomber Island. The island is so small that there is only one resort on it, and it takes maybe 30 minutes to walk around the entire island at a leisurely pace. It is the quintessential beach paradise island if all you are looking for is a party and a roof over your head.

The dorms were large and accommodated 100 bunks. Luckily they had lockers built in underneath. Also, just for the record, if anyone is finding this blog after searching for the same question that Fletch and I had, passports are not required to check in. The check-in form asked for our passport numbers, but never asked to see our physical passports. We had been debating whether to bring them or not. They were not needed.

Beachcomber Island Resort

Beachcomber Island Resort was much larger than I had been expecting. I have become so attached to our own, quaint little backpackers' place, that I had begun to assume that other hostel-type accommodations in Fiji would be similar. Beachcomber was the Disneyland of islands though, with not only the resort’s 200 guests enjoying the picturesque beaches, but day trips full of tourists pulling in and out every half hour as well. The day crowd consisted largely of families with sunburnt, screaming kids, Chinese couples in matching white outfits taking photos, and overweight, pasty-white couples from a monstrosity of a cruise ship, barely visible off of the mainland in the distance. Fletch and I eyed everyone suspiciously, wondering where the party was.

We had spent the previous night eating sandwiches and sifting through the horror show of one-star reviews on TripAdvisor. There were, of course, mostly good reviews, but the one-star ones are always the informative ones. When traveling to a hostel, it is important to know how many times the word “bedbug” comes up, and then wish you had gone in oblivious to the knowledge.

From the collection of tirades, we had learned that the food would be abominable. That is the other benefit to reading only the one-star reviews: reality can only exceed your expectations, and it did. The food was delightfully average. I had expected a buffet of rice and meat and french fries. The variety was much more generous than just that though. For the non-meat eaters, there was fried eggplant, rourou (taro leaves cooked like spinach in coconut milk), and a bean and corn salad. The eggplant was horribly greasy, but I was just happy that there was something veggie to eat. The rourou was the highlight.

We spent the afternoon at the bar, ordering one concoction of a cocktail after another. The piña coladas were disappointing, but the hot mamas (exactly the same ingredients as a piña colada) were delicious. My favorite ended up being danny boy, which was creme de menthe, light rum, dark rum, and fruit juice. The mint made it refreshing instead of overly sweet, and masked the taste of the over-proofed, local rum.

In the late afternoon, Fletch and I grabbed our snorkel gear to see what the water was like. We walked halfway around the island, to a spot where people had been talking about sharks, and then realized that it was shallow for a good long while until the reef. Venturing into the water suddenly seemed like more effort than we were willing to put into the early evening, and we instead finished our walk around the island.

We met up with a girl who had cut our hair back on Mana. Lots of people go island hopping around the Mamanucas, and this girl had been on Mana Island the previous week. Living on an island, neither Fletch nor I had had a proper haircut in ages. Every trip to the mainland was spent running errands during the few, short business hours for which we were there. So when this girl told us she was a hairdresser, Fletch ran to the room to grab his comb (a free one from Korean Airlines) and scissors, and we bribed her with beer to please cut our hair. She was happy to oblige, and so now on Beachcomber we were still buying her beers and praising her skill with scissors to every passerby.

We met a very bubbly and boisterous blonde girl in a bright green, frilly, party dress, and her less animated, though equally sociable friend. We learned that they were veterinarians over in Nadi, and when we told them that we were from Mana Island, the blonde girl exclaimed that she had met a guy from Mana, a British guy with the most beautiful dog. We told her that that was our friend Aaron, and that we were sorry to inform her, but Charlie was gone, she had been poisoned. “I know,” she said, “I was the one who put her down.” Several more tragic stories followed, in the same exuberant, bubbly manner, until we asked her to please tell us one with a happy ending. The conversation moved on to puppies.

Rainstorm over Treasure Island in the distance.

After dinner, Fletch and I went for another walk and found a hammock that was meant to be shared between a couple of the private rooms. Everyone was getting their drink on though, and so no one was around to care that we had hijacked the hammock.

By the time we made it back to the festivities, the crowd had shifted. The strange day-goers were gone, and the party animals had emerged out of the woodwork.

Polynesian dancers entertained us with traditional lively dance moves, followed by fire dancing. No fire dancing will ever compare to the spectacles that happened in Thailand on a nightly basis, but it was probably the best show that we had seen in Fiji.

The room full of drunk people all gathered together for a limbo competition, which was more entertaining to watch than I care to admit.

And then we danced.

We danced the night away to all the songs that were top hits five years ago. Music is always behind in the islands. Some songs even went back to when I was in high school. A few of the songs neither Fletch nor I recognized, but all the young gap-years seemed to know all the words. Goes to show how out of touch we are with music, or pop-culture for that matter. I wasn’t sure what was worse, the fact that most of the songs were five years old, or the fact that we didn’t recognize the few songs that were more recent.

When we tired of dancing, we found a staircase leading up to a balcony, where we sat and happily watched the party revolve around the room, like the hands on a clock, ticking down the minutes til midnight. Ticking down the little bit that was left of 2016. Singles gradually became couples. Couples parted into singles. The party raged on.

I lost track of time, but we made it back downstairs into the chaos of drunk dancers maybe ten minutes before the final countdown began. Before I knew it, the room was echoing with the sound of everyone counting 10. 9. 8.








Happy New Year!!!

We didn’t sing Auld Lang Syne. We sang Celebrate good times, come on! (Let’s celebrate). Because why not welcome in 2017 with some 80’s disco music. 

At the sound of fireworks, everyone ran outside to watch the show. Our display was nothing to brag about, but what was a never-to-forget show, was watching dozens of displays go off all along the coast of the mainland. I've seen plenty of fireworks go off in my life, but what I've never seen is so many shows at once, across the water, all along the coast of the next land mass. That was a cool picture. A picture that will forever be burned in my mind's eye because I didn't have a phone with a camera there to pass it off to. Fletch and I went the whole evening without phones, and realized at the end of the night, that we were two of the only people throughout the party who had seen the night in reality, and not through a phone screen.

We partied for maybe another hour and then drifted off to one of the bunk beds.

Beachcomber was a bit like Koh Phi Phi: good to get your party fix (a much more tamed down version), but not a place I would stay for longer than a night or two. While the island was beautiful, and the backpacker accommodations were much cleaner than expected, the amount of people coming and going was reminiscent of an amusement park. We had a fantastic time, and started the new year off with a bang, but honestly, the more resorts we visit, the more I appreciate our own resort, which I will dedicate another post to shortly. 


My lovely, wonderful man outdid himself again for our three year anniversary. I told him that at this rate we’d better be riding dolphins off into the sunset next year, whilst being serenaded by mermaids.

The only downfall so far with our job, is that we are two out of only three divers running the shop. So it is a little bit tricky for both of us to take time off at once. Fletch magically arranged the time off for us though, and the day before our anniversary, one of our boat captains drove us north about 45 minutes to another island in the Mamanuca group called Tokoriki.

This is the Mamanuca group of islands in Fiji. (Image found on Google). We now live on Mana Island. For our anniversary we went north to Tokoriki. 

The beauty of living on a little patch of sand is that you don’t need shoes. I have a pair of shoes, hidden away in our room somewhere. I have to dig them out every now and then when we go back to the mainland, but aside from that I run around barefoot, with sand between my toes pretty much 24/7. Yes, I actually have a job that I get paid to do and never have to put on shoes for. That is my definition of happiness. As we were just jumping over from one patch of sand to another, Neither of us bothered wearing or, for that matter, bringing shoes. For our first anniversary we had dinner barefoot by the sea. For our third we took a whole trip barefoot because, why not? Our life is rough.

We pulled up to a pretty, white sand beach where a man in his work sulu (the Fijian sarong) greeted us with wooden necklaces and welcome drinks. He led us past the dive shop, where we met the dive instructor, past two pools, one saltwater, and one a chlorine infinity pool, that from our viewpoint ran seamlessly from pool into ocean. Beach chairs with turquoise cushions that doubled as pool floats were scattered comfortably around. He led us into a big, open reception area where the band greeted us with the customary Bula song as we completed our checkin.

We were lead through perfectly manicured lawns and beautiful gardens in full bloom, past the orchid greenhouse, around pools of lily-pads, to the far end of the resort where our villa was located. A heavy wooden door swung open, welcoming us into a well lit and open living area, with large balcony doors looking out over our own private pool area with steps leading down to the beach. Adjoining the living space, was a luxurious bedroom. The entrance was guarded by a black, wooden figure of a man hanging on the wall, which made me think my wetsuit was hanging there every time I walked past. (Shows you where my mind is at). The bathroom was complete with both an indoor, and an outdoor shower, beautifully surrounded by curving rock walls. We were in our own little piece of paradise. That’s a terrible analogy, we are always in our own little piece of paradise. We were in our own little slice of 5 star luxury treatment for a few days. 

Frogs on lily-pads.

The living area. 

The canopy bed. 

The wetsuit man.

The outdoor shower. 

To top off the princess pampering, we headed to the opposite end of the resort where the spa was located. Not just for a massage though, but for… (are you ready for this?) An unlimited massage package. Yes, that is a thing. And Fletch telling me that we were in for a weekend of unlimited massages was better than telling a kid that they had unlimited access to the toy and candy stores. Unlimited massages. I don’t want to be obnoxious and keep repeating myself but the words are just so delightful. Unlimited massages.

We joked on our stroll to the spa that now that we had this package, they were probably going to be completely booked full. Luckily they weren’t. We stole the last two spots for that day, and spent the next half an hour indulging in foot rubs. The spa was a lovely little area on a hillside, surrounded by jungle that made us feel like we were escaping from the heat of the sun into the cool of the middle of the rainforest. The massage ladies led us up a curving set of stone steps, and into an open room, with a rock wall with water cascading downwards. The sounds of trickling water lulled us into a sleepy afternoon daze while two Fijian ladies rubbed our feet. 

Our own private plunge pool.

Day beds and lounge chairs galore.

We spent a few hours relaxing next to our private pool, sunbathing, and taking full advantage of more privacy to even out the tan lines than we had had since living in Palau. Before dinner we returned for another round of massage bliss. This time, with an entire hour to enjoy, the options were greater. I chose a bamboo massage, a novelty I have never seen anywhere else. It turns out that if you are a small girl without much surface area, there are not very many places to roll a tube of bamboo over. But that’s the beauty of unlimited massages, (ok I promise I’ll stop saying that. Soon...), you can try the things you might not have tried otherwise.

After massages, we relaxed by the resort pool and watched the sun set, while sipping berry mules and watching all the Chinese couples take their various photos complete with wardrobe changes. Dinner was a delectable meal. We sat tucked away at a little table for two behind all the other dozens of tables for two. The entire atmosphere of Tokoriki was very romantic, although it was slightly humorous to break out of our little romantic bubble and realize that the resort was a perfect churn-mill for dozens of other cookie cutter romantic experiences. 

The actual day of our anniversary arrived and we made our way to the dining area for a lovely buffet spread of fruits and breads and cheeses. I was ecstatically happy to be able to order a cappuccino. It’s the little things you start to miss. After breakfast we made our way down to the dive shop where our transport was waiting to take us on a snorkel and picnic trip. That was all I knew about what Fletch had planned, that it involved snorkeling and a picnic. We joked that we would probably be going to Sandbank. Sandbank is a little blob of sand next to Mana Island. It has an atoll surrounding the whole thing, so we go there as a dive site. Sometimes guests arrange to camp out there for the night, or just go for a picnic in the afternoon. It is a perfect place to go if you just want some sand to yourself.

The boat brought us not to Sandbank, but to a proper island called Monu. To give a little perspective, the next island over, Monuriki, is where the movie Castaway was filmed. So our boat captain brought us to this island, and proceeded to unload picnic blankets and pillows and a large cooler full of food. He also handed us a small first aid kit with a cell phone inside, and then jumped back onto the boat and sped away. We had our own private beach for the afternoon. I was delighted. Fletch and I wasted no time in pulling out our long fins and going for a snorkel.

Here is a screenshot from Google Maps of Tokoriki island where we were staying, Monu Island where we were dropped off for the day, and the neighboring Monuriki Island where the movie Castaway was filmed. 

Another screenshot from Google Maps of Monu Island. We were 'stranded' on the east stretch of beach, and ended up snorkeling all the way up to those rocks on the north point.

Our view of Mana Island, our home in the distance.

The area where they dropped us off was a pretty perfect beach, with crystal clear blue water, but the clearest of water is where there is no life. We could see straight down to the sandy bottom, but there was no coral in sight. So we meandered our way north along the coast until we found an area where there was a little more coral to be seen and a few white tip reef sharks slinking their way along the bottom. We made it all the way to the rock, where I found a few species of fish I hadn’t seen before. Before we knew it, we had roasted our backsides in the sun, but were too happy to care. We made our way back to the spot on the beach where a little thatched roof provided some shade to our cooler full of goodies.

We opened the cooler and unpacked a feast of fruits and salads, shrimps and cheeses, breads with butter, and a bottle of champagne. We were a far cry from experiencing our own Tom Hanks moment. Later that day, one of the owners or managers or someone of importance told us with humor that a lot of people who sign up for that trip, usually leave some of their food, just incase they really do get stranded there. We weren’t too worried about getting stranded. They had given us a phone, we had our own phones, and a village across the channel was a feasible swim away.

A dinghy pulled up with a couple who got off and started strolling along the beach. We eyed them suspiciously, as they seemed very out of place. Our own pickup came along a short while later and saw the couple with the dinghy. Our guy told them off for being on the beach. Apparently this was a private beach that Tokoriki had purchased specifically to be able to strand paying customers there for their own Castaway experience.

When we made it back to the resort a sea-spray-filled boat ride later, we beelined for the spa for our next round of getting rubbed from head to toe in delicious smelling coconut oil. I ditched the idea of getting poked with a bamboo stick and went instead for the traditional Fijian bobo massage. It was much more to my liking. I was so relaxed, that much to my embarrassment, I must have dozed off momentarily mid-massage, because when all was said and done, my lady said she had heard a little snore.

For our anniversary dinner, my prince charming booked a seafood dinner by the sea. We were escorted away from the cluster of couple tables, and down to the beach, where three little platforms were set up, spaced well apart, with tables dressed in linens and fire-lit lanterns. We were just in time to watch as the sky turned a dazzling shade of pink followed by purple. The sun dipped behind the shadows of the island in our immediate view, and the last rays of colorful light reflected brilliantly off of the ocean’s surface. 

Dinner was an elaborate six-course affair accompanied by a bottle of red wine. The amuse bouche was simply a bite to wet our appetites, followed by an hour wait while we anxiously craved the next course. Chilled poached tiger prawns made their way to the table at long last, followed by another hour long wait. The rest of the restaurant must’ve been very busy.

A delectable plate of tuna tataki eventually found its way to us, followed by salt & pepper calamari and pan fried baby octopus. I have had plenty of baby octopus in my travels, it is very delicious although sometimes a little chewy. I had come to think that the chewiness was just a part of the textural experience, but not this pan fried baby octopus. This was so tender and delicious that it was more like biting into a ball of mochi. I savored every little bite, not wanting it to end.

At this point the band made their way around to each of the three little individual platforms to give a private performance to each couple. In Fiji, singing is a national pastime. Everyone sings from a young age, and it is as though they are all naturally gifted with the most beautiful voices. I was walking home from work the other day, and walked past the school, where three of the little kids where sitting outside on a bench playing, and absentmindedly singing the Cups song from Pitch Perfect in perfect harmony. I couldn’t help but slow down my walk to listen it was so good. And not to sound like a stuck-up scrooge, but I had a very strict classical music upbringing, so I don’t dole out musical compliments easily. I’ve never heard an entire group of people so naturally gifted with beautiful voices though. 

The only food I actually stopped to take a picture of before indulging my taste buds. The real courses were too good to wait. 

We were serenaded, and I felt slightly obligated to turn my attention towards the music instead of the mouth-watering baby octopus sitting in front of me. The rest of the restaurant must have finally slowed down, because the servers took my moment of not eating as a cue to clear my plate and I had to pull it back away from them. A whole hour between all the other courses and now they wanted to hurry me through the best one. No way.

A small bowl of sorbet arrived to cleanse our palates for the main course of lobster. The lobster came with a side of salad that I was nearing being too full to eat. I didn’t feel bad leaving it as we had had the same salad for lunch.

Another long break came before the final dessert course. By that time Fletch and I were laughing at how long dinner was taking. Although it had been lovely, we were ready to be done of the dining experience. Even the best of things can drag on for too long. Dinner had been a feast to remember. But all the other couples had long ago drifted off to enjoy each others company instead of sitting at the same table they had been at for the past several hours. If you are finding this blog after searching for information on Tokoriki Island Resort, know that the seaside dining experience is an incredibly long affair.

The following morning we awoke early for a final massage appointment, which put us in a happy and relaxed daze for the rest of the day as we made our way back to Mana Island. You know life is good when you can have a luxurious, romantic weekend such as that wonderful anniversary gift that Fletch planned for us, and still be just as happy to go home at the end of it. Both of us were beaming with smiles as we made our way back to Mana Island, happy to go back to our chilled, relaxed, barefoot life.