March 

Fletch and I have found ourselves a wonderful little island paradise: Mana Island, Fiji. Mana is Fijian for “magic,” and it is indeed magic; it never rains here. The island is a long, narrow stretch of sand, with a ridge of hills down the middle to protect us from whatever storms might try to approach from the north. Our south side is protected by a gorgeous reef that is home to not even half of the dive sites we frequent. There are no roads here, and thus no need for transportation. There really isn’t even any need for shoes. We go barefoot to work and back home everyday. Once every second or third week or so one of us will swing over to the mainland, an hour ferry ride away, when we have day off. Then we have to figure out where we last put our shoes. We don’t have to worry about food or money either. Part of our pay for running the dive shop is room and board. The room is a closet, but we’ve made it home. The food is a set meal plan that repeats every week and is made fresh every day. I never know what day of the week it is anymore, only that it is fish and mash night, or lovo night. We even get a crate of beer per week. As there aren’t any stores or any businesses aside from accommodation on the island, there is nothing to spend any money on, so we live our days not worrying about shoes or wallets. Yeah, life is pretty rough.

(Aerial image of Mana Island, Fiji, found on Google)


April 

Every six months Fiji kicks me out of the country. I fly from Nadi to Seoul where I spend 24 hours in the Grand Hyatt, compliments of Korean Airlines. It is always refreshing to relax in a nice room and sleep in a real bed, which helps break up the jet lag. It’s also a treat to have a chance to wash of the grunge from living in a backpackers’ hostel in the tropics before presenting myself to civilized, western society again. Then from Seoul to San Francisco where I’m welcomed back into the country by grouchy border security agents, forever yelling at the Asians in front of me for not speaking enough English to understand which documents to present. And finally back to Denver, somewhat more chill now thanks to everyone being high. 

The Grand Hyatt, Incheon, South Korea

Looking at the map, Seoul is a really out-of-the-way route to take...

I stay with my mom who lives on this great little corner in Boulder where I can walk one block to Whole Foods, Target, and REI. Between those three stores I can find pretty much everything I need to stock up on supplies for another six months overseas, and all without having to ever get in a car, which I am very grateful for. When you walk barefoot on the beach to work everyday, the thought of trying to remember how to drive in a world where 10mph over the speed limit is still too slow and everyone constantly has road rage, is a lot to handle.

I spent a few days in New Orleans, eating the best food in the country and listening to music, each live jazz band better than the last. A few days just wandering the streets of the French Quarter aimlessly, drinking boozy coffee drinks, sampling hot sauces, eating oysters, and listening to tour guides tell of various mansions’ haunted histories. Fletch introduced me to NOLA three years ago during Mardi Gras and I have been obsessed ever since. There is no place in the US with such a vibrant culture, food to die for, and people so eager to tell you a story of their city’s rich history. I could happily wander those cobblestones, listening to the tunes of a saxophone drifting around the corner for weeks. Eventually the ocean calls me home though. 

Eating beignets at Cafe du Monde

Voodoo Museum, New Orleans, LA


May

It was a gorgeous day, with the sun shining and the water becoming more and more crystal clear by the day due to the temperature starting to drop. my two co-workers and I back-rolled into the blue ocean off of our little skiff. I was only away for a month but I had already forgotten just how good it feels to be underwater. The weightlessness, the perfect blue color, the sound of the world above drowned out, and replaced with that of your own breathing. I do this because it is what I love most, but even at that, sometimes I forget just how much I do love it until that first drop into the water after I have been away for a long while. (And a month is a terribly long while to be dry when you are used to spending the majority of your days in the saltwater).

We were alongside a wall, and descended down towards the bottom of it, all the way down to 30 meters (100 feet). The current carried us along, down the wall, at a pace so that we barely had to kick, until we reached a generous sized opening in the rock. We lit our torches and cautiously made our way in. A rope was already strung along the right side of the wall. It is important to lay a line when entering any area that does not have direct access to the surface. Fins can stir up silt, reducing the visibility, so that the light at the end of the tunnel is no longer visible. Divers get lost that way. Fletch had told us that the best way to dive the cavern would be to leave our fins at the entrance and just pull our way along the bottom. Less sand to stir up that way. Our fins would float up to the ceiling of the small area and be caught there until we collected them on our way out.

We put a little bit of air in our BCDs and bounced on fingertips and toes into the depths of the cave. One chamber turned into a second, and suddenly antennas were coming out of the walls, curiously extending towards us, exploring what intruders were entering. Lobsters filled every nook and cranny in the walls, up to the ceiling, some bigger than my calf, others so small and translucent you really had to focus to see them. We were in another world, one where lobsters ran the show. I had to stop and ask who was in charge. The biggest lobster I’d ever seen before slowly scuttled forward until we were face to face, my light directed towards him, like a spotlight in the dark abyss, and his antennas reaching for my face, trying to determine what otherworldly creatures were in his midst.

An eternity later, our ten minutes of bottom time were dwindling to an end and we made our way back out into the light of the sun and the color blue and began the slow ascent. As soon as the narcosis wore off I realized I’d journeyed to another world. I used to love reading fantasy novels growing up, and for a few moments it had felt as though I were in one.


June

Fletch and I took off work for my birthday, a rare treat. Since we are two of the three instructors who run the dive shop, we almost never get to take time off together, but sometimes special occasions call for life to come first. Cloud 9 is a floating bar out in the middle of the ocean. It’s the perfect spot to just chill and forget the world is turning for an afternoon with your favorite person. Oh and they also have a pizza kitchen, another rare treat for us. Pizza is one of the few foods from home we really begin to crave every now and again. We didn’t realize they could only cook one pizza at a time though, so my biggest tip to travelers now is to order as soon as you get there, before you go snorkel and enjoy the crystal blue water. It’ll take the pizza a while to find its way to you. The drinks were expensive but delicious. I got so hooked on something called a ‘scrumptious’ that I didn’t even try anything else. Fiji has a company that makes local rums, and the honey rum is devine. Any cocktail that contains it is usually golden.

Cloud 9, Fiji

We spent the day snorkeling and lounging in the sun, eating pizza, drinking froufrou drinks, and enjoying the hot, Fiji sun. If you’re a fan of the show Survivor, they featured cloud 9 as a reward for one of the challenges on season 33, Episode 10. They actually towed the entire bar over to Mana Island for the show to film. Normally it’s an hour boat ride away, over on the other side of Malolo. 

Snorkeling off of cloud 9 (Photo credit: Fletch)

(Photo credit: Fletch)

Speaking of Survivor, the crew is all camped out over at Mana Island Resort for the second year in a row. Fletch and I got really into watching it when we were living at our last job on the mainland, and so having them here was a complete novelty in the beginning. After realizing what a huge production it was though, and having them close off half of our already small island to us, the novelty wore off very quickly. Mana Island Resort is the biggest resort in the Mamanuca Islands, the only one big enough to house the entire crew of over 300 people. They put the contestants on surrounding islands that are actually deserted, but then boat them over here to various beaches where all the challenges are set up. Every day they tell us which beaches we can’t drive past because they will be busy filming there and can’t have any boat noise in the background. As a peace offering for all the trouble they’ve caused, some of the higher up guys actually offered to give Fletch and me a tour of the sets one day. For fans of the show that’s about as good as you can offer. They came to our gate (yes there’s a gate that separates Mana Island Resort from the rest of us riffraff) and picked us up in the golf cart. We got a tour of the airstrip where tents line both sides as a makeshift camp where all the sets and props are made. We got to see two different challenges, one with big puzzle blocks, and one with giant sling shots, and finally we got to see Tribal Council. Tribal is going to look awesome next season when Ghost Island airs. And that’s all the information I can share.


July 

My job here is teaching diving. I take out people with zero experience, in fact, half the time they don’t even know how to swim, and tow them around like toy submarines for “discover” dives. I teach people how to dive safely over the course of four very full days so that they can get their certification cards. And then sometimes people come in for advanced and specialty courses. Part of the advanced course is learning how to navigate underwater using a compass. I always do this dive in the lagoon in front of the shop because the visibility out there is usually pea soup. Learning to navigate in the crystal blue water that the rest of Fiji has to offer is just cheating in my opinion. I was doing this navigation dive with an advanced student when of all places, there in the mucky lagoon I saw my first ever cuttlefish! What a treat! The two of us stopped, and since she had already finished all of her navigation skills with flying colors, we floated there and watched the alien creature until we were low on air (which was a fairly long time in water that shallow). Cuttlefish are weird. They have all these tentacles for a face, which sometimes they stretch out in every direction and curl forward like talons to try to look threatening. Their skin looks like an lcd screen, colors constantly swirling from one to the next. And they have these weird little skirt things that allow them to just hover there motionless, like a little ufo. 

Cuttlefish

Naturally I had to show Fletch, and so after lunch we went back out with masks and fins and just freedove down with the camera to get some photos. Here is a link to a video, “True Facts About the Cuttlefish,” that is both factual and utterly hilarious. I highly recommend watching it. What else are you doing for the next five minutes? 

Photo credit: Fletch