September 

I was teaching an open water course, the entry level certification that will allow you to dive to 18 meters anywhere in the world. I misjudged the amount of air it would take to return to the mooring line at West Wing with my one student, and so we reached our ascent point with way more air to spare than was necessary. Luckily, a flash of color caught my eye at a nearby bommie, so I led the new diver over to investigate. Our approach scared an octopus down into his hiding spot in the coral. I already knew he was there though, and so instructed my student to just kneel on the sand a little ways away. We would wait as still as possible to see if the cephalopod would reemerge.

I love watching octopuses. Their personalities are so curious, and then of course there’s the fact that they can change their shape and color at will. We don’t see a lot of octopuses here, mainly because they hide from us. The locals here catch them and eat them. I had the misfortune of watching one head towards the dinner table firsthand. I was out in the lagoon, doing some paddle board yoga, completely at peace in my little slice of paradise. Some of the local ladies who were out fishing started gravitating towards my board, and so a little self-conscious, I stopped stretching and just sat and watched what they were doing. They had a metal rod that they were jabbing into the coral. Apparently that is the way to find octopus, just keep on jabbing until you see a defensive squirt of ink emerge. Well, the poor octopus had been hiding under the paddle board because suddenly the ladies began holding their breath and ducking down into the shallow water until they were able to wrestle eight protesting tentacles up to the surface. Then they began to beat the creature with the metal rod, while all eight arms suckered onto the woman’s arm, trying to climb somewhere out of harms way. Each whack, whack, whack, was intermittently followed by the sound of bubble wrap as she tried to pull the suckered arms off of her skin. Whack, whack whack...

It’s a strange world we live in. I admire the ability to live off the land. I admire the ability to kill your own food, rather than just buying a nice piece of packaged meat at the supermarket that no longer resembles anything with a face. But pulling something that beautiful from the sea and just beating it to death like it was never anything but dinner to begin with, that’s a skill I will never have. Who am I to judge though, I still eat seafood, even though doing so is increasingly getting harder and harder the more time I spend in the ocean.

So there I was, hovering a little ways away from a bommie, waiting for an octopus to reemerge so that it could awe and delight my student. At the opposite end of the bommie, a completely different octopus started to peer inquisitively out of his hole. We held very still, and two eyes poking out slowly turned into a whole head and then eight arms spilling out like liquid. Maybe they sent some signal to each other, I really don’t know how octopuses communicate, or maybe the first one merely was able to see, from his hidden vantage point, that his friend was emerging. Whatever the case, the appearance of the second octopus prompted the original one to slowly appear in the same manner. Two eyes slowly stretched up out of the hole, which slowly turned into a head, and finally eight tentacles flaring out, trying to cover as much surface area as possible. We watched with wonder as they began flashing colors at one another, going from a smooth white pattern, to a jagged red pattern, to blending in with the neutral rock around them. We were so enthralled that I almost missed the third octopus poking his head out from behind the bommie. Three octopuses within a square meter area! This third one looked like he was trying to sneak out the back window before the other two noticed his presence. We sat there mesmerized for ages, watching the three cephalopods interact, and still it was too soon when my student pounded her chest, signaling that she was low on air and it was time to begin our ascent.



Late September

Another rite of passage in the diving world is diving naked for your 100th dive. My 100th dive happened in Roatan. Some drama was going on that week in the dive shop, and for some reason I can’t recall, no one was up for a naked dive. So my 100th dive came and went without any hoopla. Well, I just reached my 1000th dive and that was cause for celebration. It timed perfectly with a morning where no one was scheduled to dive. So Fletch and I hopped on a boat (something we never do without guests) and went to the lobster cave. Simi, our boat captain, must have wondered why we weren’t wearing wetsuits. Not much escapes his notice. Once underwater and away from the view of the world, it was all too easy to untie the swimsuits and go visit the lobsters in our birthday suits. What? The lobsters didn’t have any bikinis on either so I doubt they cared.

I chose the lobster cave because I wanted a deep dive and that is the coolest deep site we have. The reason I wanted a deep dive is because I am constantly cold, even in this warm, tropical water, but down deep the “martini effect” kicks in and I don’t notice being cold, which is very important when diving with zero exposure protection. Plus it ends up being a shorter dive due to limited bottom time.

It was nice to have a fun dive just me and Fletch, without any guests to take care of and entertain. You would think we get to do that a lot working in a dive shop, but in reality we never take the boat out unless there are paying guests on board. At least one of us is always working. Out of my 1000 dives, that is probably only the second or third one we’ve ever done just the two of us. It was a special treat.

Celebrating my 1000th dive 


October 

There’s a dive site here called Plantation Pinnacle that we don’t go to very often. It is over on the other side of Malolo, about an hour boat ride away, and so we have to charge a fuel surcharge to get there. As our guests are mostly backpackers on a budget, and we have so many good sites in the near vicinity without having to go that far away, we rarely get requests to go there. It is a fantastic dive site though for anyone who wants to see the best of what we have to offer, regardless of the price.

Plantation Pinnacle is a single pillar underwater. The base of it is 26 meters (85 feet) deep, with a swim through at the bottom. You can swim the entire circumference of the pinnacle in under a minute, but there is so much to see at each depth that you can just slowly spiral the whole thing, and still only make it halfway up after an hour. At the base there is a rock where a mantis shrimp lives. I’ve written about mantis shrimps many times before, and will try to refrain from doing so again, but they really are some of the most fascinating creatures in the sea. There are also little garden eels poking their heads out of the sand. As you spiral up you can focus in on the coral and look for multiple different varieties of nudibranchs, or you can look out into the blue water and see schools of thousands of fusiliers, snappers, and trevallies. On this day in particular, looking out into the blue was not so much blue, as it was every color of the rainbow, splattered across in the form of different shapes and sizes of fish all schooling around. At that particular spot there was a nook in the pillar, so I pulled out my reef hook and just hovered there suspended, watching in awe as thousands of fish gradually forgot that I was there and eventually allowed me to become part of their surroundings, swarming around me like bees around a beehive. The rest of the divers were continuing their spiraling ascent, once around, twice, three times, until I finally decided it was time to level up. 

Fish schooling around Plantation Pinnacle 

This photo doesn't even come close to doing this dive justice. 

I skipped the upper portion of the pinnacle as I always run out of time there and miss the top, and instead jumped directly to the roof of the pinnacle which sits at about 10 meters (33 feet). This is where all the little anemone fish and damsel fishes hang out. 

The top of Plantation Pinnacle

Pink anemonefish on Plantation Pinnacle

Then I found something really cool. A hopping motion caught my eye, like one of those wind up toys that hops across the floor. I wondered what creature was causing this rock to move and then realized that the rock was the creature! I’d found a stonefish. And not just one, but two upon closer examination, and they were massive! 

Do you see them? 

Stonefish are really difficult to find as they look exactly like stones, as their names suggest. They are also thought to be the most venomous fish in the world. The sharp spines along their dorsal fin are pressure sensitive, and when stepped on, inject a venom that is excruciatingly painful, and often even lethal. Don’t worry, they’re not going to actively try to stab you with their spines or anything, but do be mindful on beaches that are known to have them, because it is all too easy to not recognize them and accidentally step on them.


Halloween 

Dressing up for Halloween is not a big thing in many of the countries I’ve been to, and I don’t understand why. Who doesn’t love an excuse to wear costumes? The tradition of eating lots of candy has spread to other countries, and little kids will dress up and go trick-or-treating in a lot of places, but adults dressing up just doesn’t seem to happen outside the US and it is a shame. Fletch and I decided to have some fun on our own though, and so Fletch bought us a pair of skeleton Morphsuits when he was back in the US during his leave. We figured Morphsuits would be easy enough to wear over wetsuits. Plus they glowed in the dark, so we planned a special night dive for the occasion.

The Morphsuits ended up being way more fun than either of us had anticipated. Our backpackers’ resort is intermingled with the local village, and so there are always local kids running around. They were screaming with delight all day long, every time they saw the two skeletons approaching. There’s a little strip of beach that we walk back and forth, carrying tanks all day long. Some of the local village ladies use that same stretch of beach to set up their tables full of souvenirs and handicrafts to sell. When they saw us, they immediately all started saying that we had to go to the school. Now Fletch and I aren’t the kind of people to just go disrupt school, but one of the ladies led us over there so we grabbed a basket of candy and followed along.

The school is set up as a little square with a grassy field in the middle. When we started making our way across the field, we were welcomed by the sound of screaming and the shuffling of little feet hurrying to the open windows. Yes, Fletch and I disrupted an entire school, kids from every class were now gathered around the windows, staring at us and screaming with delight.

The headmaster approached us with a scowl and said he wished we would have made an appointment. We gushed our apologies and offered to leave, but the Fijian culture seems to be unable to turn people away or turn down anyone’s request. They can't not be accommodating. Fletch finally explained that we were the dive instructors, and the headmaster’s demeanor instantly switched from annoyed to welcoming. “Oh Fletch!” he exclaimed. “Yes, please come with me! We will start with the youngest classes and progress to the older students.” And that’s how Fletch and I randomly ended up in a local school on Halloween, passing out candy in skeleton suits. 

Trying to leave for a dive and still being swarmed by kids.