November

The time really does fly here. Before I knew it, Fiji was kicking me out of the country again. I’d known for the past year that my oldest and closest cousin was getting married at the end of November. Unfortunately my visa was up at the beginning of the month, and there’s no way for the dive shop to operate with only two people for an entire month, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to make the wedding. Fletch worked his magic though, and arranged for a previous instructor who used to work here to come in and take my place, and flew me 6,285 miles around the world to Colorado.  I don’t know how I got so lucky in finding a man that never stops giving.

The wedding was such a special occasion to be able to see most of my family in one place. I’ve always had family all over the place, but after I started traveling, they really scattered. I remember when I returned to Colorado from Thailand it was to find that my aunt had moved to Dallas, and my cousin had moved to Louisiana. This was all a shock to me as everyone had forgotten to tell the girl living overseas. To be fair, long-distance communication has gotten a lot easier since then. My visits to the US are usually just to Colorado, so there was a lot of family I hadn’t seen in quite some time.

The wedding itself was breathtaking. My aunt put together a gorgeous event up in the little mountain town of Estes Park. Everything she touches turns out visually stunning.


I got to get all dolled up which I do occasionally miss. I wouldn’t trade my life of no shoes for anything, but occasionally even an island bum likes to look pretty. And looking pretty doesn’t necessarily have to mean shoes; I think the gold heels my sister loaned me lasted for five minutes before they found their way into a corner somewhere. 

The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado

My sister and I all dressed up. (Photo credit: Nick)

We’ve all grown up. My oldest cousin was getting married on the same day that my youngest cousin was turning 21. We were always the kids at family functions. Now suddenly there we all were, adults. Time flies. 

All of my first cousins (Photo Credit: Brian Paul Mallik)

My beautiful family (Photo Credit: Brian Paul Mallik) 

The evening was stunning from beginning to end. The ceremony was short and sweet; we laughed, we cried, and then we partied. The bride was beautiful, and my cousin looked so happy. He pulled a prank where all of his groomsmen were pulling empty ring boxes out of their suit pockets, trying to find the one with the ring in it. Dinner was divine. I am still drooling over the truffle soup that was an appetizer. And then we danced the night away. The only thing that would have made the night more perfect would have been having my man at my side.


December

I missed our anniversary, so Fletch and I celebrated it when I returned to Fiji. We played with the idea of going somewhere new, but there just wasn’t enough time to travel too far with the three days we would be able to take off together. So he treated me to another luxurious weekend at Tokoriki Island Resort, a sumptuous, couples-only resort on an island about a 45 minute boat ride away. Ahh there’s nothing more relaxing than the sounds of no kids for three days. Our backpackers' resort where we work has a restaurant with amazing food and much cheaper prices than the big resort next door. So even though we don’t get many kids staying here, we do get a lot of families coming over for meals with their half a dozen screaming children. There are a lot of local kids running around too, but most of them are more capable adults than the adults who travel here. Anyway, we got to escape all that for three days of complete bliss.

Fletch and I have been together for four years. Four years of galavanting around the world. Four years with a man who still treats me like I’m the only woman in the world. I don’t know how I got so lucky. He really does spoil me. More importantly, he brings a smile to my face every day. 

My handsome man driving us to our island getaway.

We drove our own little skiff over this time around. There was something very freeing about just jumping on our own boat and escaping to another island for a few days. We spent a glorious three days in our own villa with a private pool looking out over the beach, enjoying unlimited massages, and eating to our hearts’ content. You can check out my story from last year for more details about the resort. 

One evening was spent at the resort’s teppanyaki grill, which was a cozy, single teppanyaki table under a grass roof that we shared with thee other couples and our chef. The food was a welcome change. The company, not so much. One of the couples was rather loud and obnoxious, and kept asking the couple at the other end of the table if they were Japanese, which they weren’t, they were Chinese. No matter, they still kept trying to ask them questions about Japanese food. When he asked if teppanyaki originated in Japan, I finally interrupted that yes, it did, thinking that they were still confused on the Asian couple’s ethnicity, and besides, the poor couple didn’t speak any English. It turned out he was trying to ask the table a trick question, and prompted by my answer, was all too delighted to inform us all that teppanyaki originated in the US. I don’t talk a lot, and so when I do, I have to be fairly certain of what I’m saying. The loud guy trying to say that teppanyaki was an American thing struck a nerve, but when people correct me I have this instant reflex to second guess myself. I looked it up later on though and I was right. Teppanyaki is Japanese and did originate in Japan. Careful about getting your facts from The Wolf of Wallstreet. Fletch had some fun too, telling him off on another matter.

We had a beautiful, romantic, tiki-torch lit dinner on the ocean the next night. Course after course was served of one exquisite dish after another. Rain clouds were rolling in and out, causing everyone to run for shelter indoors. It did rain hard enough for about ten minutes to cause us to seek shelter as well, but as soon as it lightened up, we returned to our beach-side table with an umbrella. We were the only ones unbothered by the slight drizzle, and as such, the only ones enjoying the fresh air outside. We had the resort to ourselves for at least one delectable course. Then it started pouring hard enough to run inside again with everyone else. 

Anniversary champagne with a view

It was so nice to spend those three days with my other half and no work to be bothered with. I know our work isn’t really work, but we’ve been in Fiji for two years now, and for the last year and a half of that, 99% of our vacation time has been separate. We spend all of our time together, sure, but we almost never get to take a break together. We never get to sleep-in together. At least one of us is always heading out for a morning dive.

We spent a day deserted on the uninhabited island, Monu, only this time on a beach on the opposite side of the island. The beach took a little more prep work to make a level spot for our picnic, but the coral on that side was much better. We continued our annual tradition of freediving until our bums were good and burnt. 

Snowflake moray eel

On our final day we checked out only to realize that we were in no hurry to leave. We only had to vacate the room, but were still welcome to use the resort’s facilities for the rest of the day, and since we had our own boat, there was no rush. So we kicked off our shoes and ordered drinks by the pool. We actually brought shoes this year because after leaving them behind last year, we found out there was a dress code we were breaking. Bringing them along this year turned out to be a mistake though. I’m so used to not wearing them, that after a few too many long island iced teas, I must have left them on the island without realizing it. Those were my favorite shoes (out of three pairs that I own). But then again I never wear them. C’est la vie.

Edit: My favorite Olukai flip flops have been found! I didn't forget them on the island, I just forgot where I put them so that I wouldn't leave them behind. They were inside my freediving bag. 


Late December

Seeing a hammerhead shark has been at the top of my bucket list of things to see in the ocean for quite some time now. There are areas that are known for getting schools of them: the Galapagos, Cocos Island. I always figured I’d end up in such a place one day to see them. We do get them in Fiji, but not on this side of the country. And even in the area that is known for them, Savusavu, it is still fairly rare to see one. We used to have a French instructor working here with us, and he would jump on every Supermarket dive we did in hopes of seeing a hammerhead. We all thought he was dreaming.

I was teaching a deep dive with two students at this beautiful spot called Yadua Pinnacles. It is perfect for deep dives because there are lots of sandy spots that sit at exactly 30 meters. I was watching them do their skills when suddenly the girl started pointing excitedly behind me. I turned around to look, expecting to see a pretty angelfish. The things students get excited over are usually the more common things you see. I turned and looked over my shoulder and it all happened in slow motion. I saw a massive tail swimming away, maybe five or six meters from me. My eyes gravitated from the tail to the body which was large and bulky, bulkier than any reef shark we see here. My heart started racing in excitement, because seeing anything that big and majestic that’s out of the ordinary is reason enough to give me chills. Finally, my eyes moved up from the body to the head, where I could just make out the elongated shape of a hammerhead, before it was too far away to see clearly anymore. I turned back to my students, my eyes wide like saucers, and smiling like a maniac which caused my mask to start filling up with water. I made my hands into fists and held them on either side of my head, the sign for hammerhead, and held my eyes in a question, Was that a freaking hammerhead?! They made the sign back to me, like a couple of little kids playing simon says. I couldn’t stop shaking the rest of the dive I was so excited. This was the number one thing I’ve wanted to see in the ocean for as long as I can remember, and there it was just cruising by, completely out of place.

I didn’t have my camera of course. There’s a rule that when you have a camera, you don’t see any of the cool stuff. As soon as you leave it behind though, mermaids come out of hiding. And as much as I love mermaids, hammerheads are way cooler.