Continued from Taveuni - Fiji’s Garden Island

Sunday, Valentine’s Day

I slept like a rock and then woke up to a big, cuddly Fletch wishing me a happy Valentine’s Day. What better way to celebrate than to go out diving?

Fletch, Aaron, Mikaila, and myself started the day out with breakfast, an amazing omelette stuffed full of wonderful, fresh veggies. Not to sound like one of those new-age, hippie weirdos, but as my yoga teacher would have said, it was just bursting with prana. (Prana being the sanskrit word for 'life force', or 'energy'). A side of toast with homemade passionfruit jelly was the icing on the cake.

The napkins were always cutely folded into different designs.

We got our own private dive boat for the day with Taveuni Ocean Sports. We hadn’t requested it, but the Californian lady we had booked with (we’ll call her Delores) seemed excited to dive with a group of all instructors. We were excited to have our own boat, until we realized that this was just a ploy for Delores to show off her PADI-textbook-perfect divemaster skills. She gave us the full boat briefing, including what to do in an emergency. She gave us the full dive briefing, including basics like what to do if we got separated, hand signals to use, nothing specific to this shop, but universal dive basics. It would have been flawless had we been a bunch of beginners, but we were instructors. We knew the drill. We just wanted someone to point out cool stuff and let us do our own thing.

Taveuni is famous for its Rainbow Reef, and is one of the top dive spots to visit in Fiji, that’s why we went. The soft corals are supposed to be some of the best in the world.

The first site we went to was called Swirling Rainbow, and Delores led us on a very strange dive. The site had currents galore, which was why she had brought us here. She was used to diving with beginners, for whom this site would have been too challenging to go to. The group of us being instructors meant that she could bring us on the more difficult dives. Usually strong currents mean drift dives: you drop in and ride the current and the boat picks you up at the end. It’s an awesome roller coaster ride. Not this dive though. We spent the entire dive kicking into the current and meandering our way around various bommies. All any of us could wonder was why? Why were we expending all of our air and energy kicking into the current?

The surface interval started off wonderfully with banana bread and crackers and hummus and fresh fruits. We were all enjoying ourselves in the sunshine with the beautiful garden island for a view, when Delores came over with a two-inch thick book. She sat down and proceeded to go through the entire thing with us, page by page, of all the different fish species that were common in Fiji. At first I was thinking, oh this is nice, she’s going to point out a few species that are endemic to Fiji that we might not have seen before. But no. She went through every single page. 90% of the fish were species that we were all overly familiar with. Everyone was too polite to tell her as much. I tried chiming in with what I knew in an attempt to nudge her into realizing that she was preaching to the choir. When I made a comment about a yellow margin triggerfish, her hesitation made it obvious that she had absolutely no idea what a yellow margin triggerfish was, and after hesitating, she tried to pawn it off as a blue trigger, which is another fish entirely (One is big and green-, pink-, and yellow-pastel colored and mean looking; one is solid royal blue). Fletch’s strategy was to just shut up so that she would get through the book sooner. Once again, the book would have been fantastic if we were a group of beginners. But we did this for a living. She might as well have been telling a group of professional chefs how to cook spaghetti.

The fish book took the entirety of our hour-long surface interval to go through. When we finally reached the last page, none of us could get in the water fast enough. At least she couldn’t talk to us underwater. Not true. Delores was writing down comments on her slate every couple of minutes, and if we weren’t looking at her, she would sound her noise maker until she had everyone’s attention, then show us whatever comment she had written on her slate. “Cool to see the tide change!” was one of these comments. Each little message on her board would be followed by ‘ok’ signs with both hands that she would wave back and forth excitedly. I gave her props for the enthusiasm, but the dives felt like we were dogs on a leash and we weren’t allowed to stop and sniff the grass.

Orangutan Crab - This guy would have been easily mistaken as a bit of algae had we not known what we were looking at.

Delores did show us an orangutan crab, which I had never seen before, so that was a highlight. The next highlight was a beautiful school of blue tangs (Dory from Finding Nemo), but I couldn’t enjoy them for long before hearing the startling “quack quack” of Delores’s noise maker. Oops, I must’ve reached the end of my leash.

Just keep swimming, Dory. Who else is excited to see Finding Dory? 

Longnose Filefish

The dive boats were beautifully refinished and really a joy to be on, but even the prettiest boats have mechanical issues from time to time. Some air in the line caused us to get stranded. Luckily one of the shop’s other dive boats was around to give us some assistance.

By the time we made it back to the resort, it was lunch time. I had a whole, perfectly ripe papaya cut in half and stuffed full of tuna salad. It was so good I think I inhaled the entire thing.

Fresh papaya stuffed with tuna salad. 

The afternoon was spent lazily lounging around in the hammocks on the hillside. 4:00 signaled tea time, a remnant of Fiji’s British colonial days that is still observed today. Fletch was asleep in the room, so I drank tea and ate biscuits with Aaron and Mikaila and listened to them try to make a decision on a plane ticket.

When dinnertime rolled around, it was my fifth meal of the day (if you include boat snacks and tea time) and I was nearly bursting I was so full. A feast was served to us of salad with chick peas and sprouts and homemade dressing, homemade breads and butter, a main course of fish and coconut milk with veggies, and breadfruit, which seems as though it should be spongy like bread, but is really just a starchy vegetable like a potato. Somehow Aaron and Mikaila found room for dessert, which was peanut butter cookies with ice cream and chocolate syrup. By the time we walked back to the room we were all waddling.

We caught two frogs off in a corner, doing it, on our walk back, reminding us all that it was Valentine’s Day. It’s nice to know that the frogs get to celebrate with a little romance, although they looked pretty bored. There wasn't a lot of movement involved.

Frogs gettin' it on for Valentine's Day

As it was nearing the late hours of the night, we snuck up to the pool for a midnight swim. We were quiet at first, not sure if the pool had closing hours. No one seemed to care, but we kept pretending that we weren’t supposed to be there. The quiet atmosphere of Nakia felt more like we were staying at someone’s house than at a resort. Something about the place felt a little weird, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

Monday

We signed up for a second day of diving, and luckily, Delores was too busy to be our personal guide again for the day, so we were sent on the bigger boat with all of the other dive shop's guests. When we turned up, all the gear was set up on the boat already for us. Our guide was a local guy, and he was a much better divemaster for our needs.

Humphead Bannerfish - I never knew there were triangular shaped fish until I saw these funny guys for the first time over a year ago. They still make me smile. 

We went first to a site called Rainbow Passage (did they let a five-year-old girl name all the sites?) Our guide just left us to enjoy the dive for the most part, and only pointed out a few things that we had never seen before. He made the sign for ‘eel,’ and all of us gathered around, not sure what we were looking at for a few minutes. Then we finally saw what we were looking at, a blue ribbon eel, poking his head out of the sand, colored bright blue with a neon yellow forked nose flaring out in different directions. That was my first blue ribbon eel, making two new things that the Rainbow Reef had shown me.

Blue Ribbon Eel 

I looked up at about ten minutes into the dive to see a very funny spectacle. One of the other divemasters had one guest using his alternate air source and the rest of the group was all hanging onto him for dear life as well. He just kept swimming though, completely unfazed by having his entire group dragging him down. He looked like a rino or some other large safari animal covered in birds just tagging along for the ride.

Tomato Anemonefish (Or the anemonefish that's endemic to Fiji that I can't tell apart).

Our divemaster was perfect for our needs. He trusted us as professionals, pointed out the cool stuff, and never so much as asked about how much air we had left. We were much happier then we had been the previous day.

During the surface interval, we all held our breath when we saw the two-inch thick fish book come out, and then let out a sigh of relief and snickered inwardly when it was another group that had to go through it. Hopefully they were newbies to the underwater world and still at the point where learning what butterflyfish and clownfish and moray eels look like would be an interesting lesson.

While our dives had been lovely, they hadn't exactly been knocking our socks off with world famous soft corals that that part of Fiji is known for. We had chosen Taveuni out of 300 Fijian island specifically for the diving. When we asked our guide about some of the better known sites we had read about (of course every dive professional loves when every guest comes in asking for the exact same, best-known site), he told us something we should have realized. Soft coral only blooms when the tides and currents are right, so there are only a few days out of the month when those well known sites are worth going to. We weren't there at the right time to see Great White Wall or the Zoo. 

We went back to the shop after a second dive, had another beautifully fresh lunch at the resort, and then decided to spend the afternoon looking for one of the garden island’s many waterfalls. The island turned out to be bigger then we thought, and what might have taken a short amount of time on a normal road, turned out to be a very long and bumpy ride on the only dirt road. The road was surrounded by jungle, and only periodically opened up for a view of the coast on our left hand side. We kept waiting to arrive in the little town area on the northern point marked as Matei on the map, but not knowing that Matei was only a small hotel or two, we drove straight through it without ever realizing. Aaron was navigating us, and should have been able to tell which direction we were traveling by the compass on his phone, but there seemed to be some discrepancy between the direction his compass was pointing us in and the GPS on my phone. We finally discovered that Aaron had a magnetic case on his phone, which would not allow the compass to function properly. Needless to say, he was fired as the car’s navigator.

We drove through some isolated little villages, where all the people and kids would run to the road when they saw the car dive past and wave. This was probably an area that didn’t see tourists all that often. The rivers were full of kids splashing and playing. Old men were bathing, and women were doing laundry. It still amazes me how fresh and clean the water in Fiji is. We all had a good laugh when we drove past a little house on the side of the road that had a towel with a confederate flag as the design hanging from the porch. It’s always amusing when you travel to the opposite side of the world and find some small memento from home, that the locals probably don’t even realize the significance behind. I once found a used Colorado license plate for sale at a souvenir shop in Palau. Why anyone visiting Palau would want a used Colorado license plate, I’m not quite sure. In third world countries, we’re always seeing sporting event tshirts from US teams and the wrong winning team printed on the shirt. They usually print up shirts with both outcomes of whatever game it is, and then send all the shirts with the team who didn’t win to third world countries, or countries in Asia that love English stuff but don’t know the difference.

We kept on driving and drove past a man walking down the road in the middle of nowhere with a guitar strapped to his back. He seemed to just be out for a leisurely stroll.

We finally came to a small shack that appeared to be a visitor center. We got out of the car and sure enough, this was the start of the trail for the waterfall. There was an entrance fee to pay, but as it was already after 5, the center was closed for the day. It would be getting dark soon, so rather then start the trek, we decided to come back the following day when we would have time to spend.

The spot where the visitor’s center was located was on a pig farm, and there were dozens of little miniature pigs running around, which Mikaila and I were thoroughly entertained and amused by. After taking all the pictures that we could, we headed back to the car parked on the road. A little girl was walking by carrying a very long log over her shoulder, that easily weighed twice as much as she did. She offered to show us the way to the waterfall, but we told her it was too late in the day and that we would come back tomorrow. She looked very disappointed, and told us that she had school the following day or else she would show us.

We drove back along Taveuni’s one road, this time noticing the couple little bungalows and one restaurant that made up Matei. We stopped at the restaurant just in time to watch the sun set and ordered a couple of drinks. The sun did that thing that it does everyday, that thing that somehow is always a new and beautiful spectacle to watch.

Sunset from Matei, Taveuni

It was dark by the time we drove the final stretch back to the resort. In Fiji, there are lots and lots of frogs that come out around sunset, and they litter the lawns and the roads alike. There were so many frogs on the road on our way back that we had to play dodge the frogs with the car so as to avoid squashing too many of them. Every time we missed, there was an audible thud and we all let out an awww of disappointment. There were no streetlights on the road, just the headlights from the car and dozens and dozens of frogs around every turn. Dodging them felt like playing a video game for a while, but as we went along, the frogs became more numerous, and the thuds became more and more frequent. By the time we came to the turn onto the hidden dirt road leading to the resort, I had to hop out of the car and shoo all the frogs away. I couldn’t bear for anymore of them to be squashed, even though from the looks of it their population could have used a little controlling.

Tuesday

We slept in til 8 and had a leisurely breakfast of fresh omelets, then hopped back in the car to return to the waterfall. Since we knew where we were going and had already taken our time to smell the roses the first time around, we booked it on the bumpy dirt road as fast as we safely could. There weren’t any other vehicles on the road so the ride went quickly. It was a stiflingly hot day, and between the heat and the bumpy ride, poor Mikaila was motion sick by the time we arrived. I felt completely zapped of energy, which was probably the first step towards being motion sick as well. Thank goodness we stopped when we did. The restroom facilities at the visitor center had a shower, so we took turns cooling off under the cold water.

Entrance tickets for the waterfall were F$20 each. We purchased four and journeyed the ten minute hike to the first fall, dodging frogs and piles of horse poo as we walked. The fresh air had me feeling better in no time. Before too long we emerged into a clearing with a picture perfect waterfall, cascading down the rocks into a crystal clear pool of water, across which a bridge traversed onto the path continuing off into the woods.

Tavoro Waterfall, Taveuni

It didn’t take us long to strip down to our bathing suits and run splashing into the chilly river water. I say chilly, because it was colder than the ocean, but it was still 27 degrees (or 80 degrees fahrenheit). Everyone went rushing straight over to the waterfall, but I got distracted by a dead bat that was floating face down in the midst of some rocks off to the side. It was bloated like a balloon and when I turned it over with a stick, had an awful expression on its face. Poor thing. I opted not to include a picture of him. You're welcome.

Obligatory yoga pic at Tavoro Waterfall, Taveuni

I swam over to where Aaron, Fletch, and Mikaila were climbing up the rocks so as to jump in. We all jumped in turn and had a good old time. We went over to where the waterfall was making contact with the pool and slowly crept closer and closer to where the majority of the water was hammering down. What power! We were the only ones here, and had all this natural beauty to ourselves. We hung about and played in the water until the arrival of another couple brought us out of wonderland and back to reality. It was time to head back to the resort, so that we would have time for lunch before catching the ferry back to the main island, Viti Levu.

We enjoyed one last fresh, organic meal at Nakia, and then went to pay our bill. All the loveliness of the resort suddenly dissolved as we looked at the damage and realized how sneaky the Californian family running the place had been with the prices. Half of the items on the bill were priced in Fijian dollars, and half were in US dollars (1 US dollar is worth 2 Fijian dollars). I mentioned in my previous post that we had purchased a meal plan for $50 per day after seeing that the meals on the menu averaged around $20 Fijian. The prices on the menu were in Fijian. As we had been looking at the menus, the family in charge had verbally told us about the meal plan for fifty dollars per day. We had all just assumed that they were still quoting us in Fijian dollars. But no. Now that we were looking at the bill, it was to see the sad truth that these people had been sneaky and dishonest. The meal plan had been $50 US per day. That’s $100 Fijian per day. No one could possibly consume F$100 worth of food in a day. Maybe Michael Phelps, but no normal person could possibly eat that much in a single day, let alone the three days in a row we had been eating off of the plan. At the time, we felt really deceived and betrayed, but I figured it was our own fault for not inquiring as to the currency specifically. I’ve been to enough countries that will accept either their local currency or the US dollar. In retrospect though, these guys were even more crafty then I had initially thought. I’ve been in Fiji for a total of four months now and no one in this country quotes prices in US dollars. No one except for that one resort that lured me in with their fancy organic farm.

That wasn’t the end of the unscrupulousness. VAT taxes in Fiji are a hefty 25%. This tax is included in any prices you see quoted. It’s included everywhere except for, you guessed it, Nakia Resort and Dive. When we went to pay by card, they informed us that there would be a 25% charge for payment by credit card. So basically all of their cash transactions went under the table so that they didn’t have to pay taxes.

As if to pour lemon juice on an open wound, when I walked around to the public restroom for one final trip before heading on our way, the resort’s misbehaved doberman pinscher came racing after me at full speed. I held out the palm of my hand towards it as a stop sign, and added in an audible 'stop,' but I guess dogs don’t abide by human hand signals. It thought I was holding my arm out to it as an offering for something to chew on. So I tried to raise my arm out of its way but it just jumped on me, revealing how much bigger it was than me. No amount of yelling ‘NO!’ or turning my back to it with my arms held tight to my body would stop it. He just went after my legs instead. Finally Delores’s mom chased it away with a shoe.

We should have walked away from the place as happy as we had been when we arrived, but instead we left extremely disheartened after being taken advantage of, and by an American family no less. I’ve run into plenty of scams and dishonest crooks in my travels, but usually they are uneducated and desperate individuals. Not to sound like a bigot, but I really didn’t expect to be hoodwinked by a family from the US running a nice resort in Fiji. It just goes to show that there are honest people in the world and dishonest people in the world. It really doesn’t matter where or what walk of life they are from.

We stopped for snacks on our way to the ferry, and then traveled the 20 hours by boat back to Viti Levu, ready to leave a sour ending experience behind us and continue on our journey to someplace new.