Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fiji Day 4: Namale - Diving and Savusavu

Will here.  I am guest-blagging.

After another tasty breakfast, we eagerly bounded toward the dive shop.  That’s how I remember it, anyway.

Another boat ride just past the pearl farms brought us to the Black Beacon dive site.  It’s named after the small, unmanned lighthouse jutting out from the reef, and it’s fairly near the site from Wednesday.

Our divemaster was Paul this time, and Lai once again came along with us.  Similar (and similarly awesome) fish and coral life, with our favorites being the “families” of small, bright, tropical fish that live within the protective strands of some twig-like, hard coral.  Saw a few parrotfish as well, which always makes me happy.

Paul surprised us a bit by unsheathing his dive knife and going Rambo on some large invertebrates along the bottom.  He used his slate to explain: “Crown of Thorns … Very Bad … Enemy of Reef.”  We signaled OK, and then he gestured to some living coral, some gray, dead coral beside it, and finally the (now thoroughly savaged) crown of thorns spitted on his knife.  We got the message.

The dive concluded with the world’s best safety stop.  There’s a reef shelf right at 15-20 feet next to the mooring line, and it was no burden at all to hover among scores of tropical fish and bright coral while waiting the prescribed 3 minutes.

After the dive, we sat down for a lunch of delicious pumpkin soup, with some chicken satay for me.

Then, having heard good things from Chris and Mary, we hired a taxi into the town of Savusavu, with Lai coming along as our guide.  If you ever want to walk around Savusavu, you need to go with Lai.  He’s such a confident, friendly, outgoing guy, and he seemed to know every third person we passed on the street.  And this was in spite of the fact that he comes from a village near Namale, and doesn’t often go into Savusavu proper.

The town of Savusavu was fascinating.  The heat, the bustle, and the concrete construction made a lot of my Taiwan neurons fire, actually.  But Savusavu was clearly a poorer and less developed place.  Most people seemed very happy, though, and absolutely everyone was friendly.  Although they must get plenty of foreigners coming into the yacht marina, we were still definitely oddities in town; the locals were as curious about us as we were about them.

We had happened to arrive in town as they were gearing up for a small local festival, so we bought some barbecue off the one vendor who had already set up shop in the festival’s field.  (Incidentally, we discovered that “barbecue” continues unchallenged as a universal word.  The Fijian word for it is indeed “barbecue.”)  A sausage, some beef shortribs, and some roasted(?) taro for around $2.50US, with plenty to share between Lauren, Lai, and me.

We poked our heads into some gift shops and local grocery stores.  Lauren succeeded in her mission to find some more reasonably-priced sunscreen to replenish our supply.  And Lauren succeeded in her OTHER mission to buy (and snarf) some coconut-flavored pastries from a local bakery.

One really cool stop was the natural hot springs, where local folks go to cook dinner and to cook down leaves for craftwork (making mats and such).  This was right next to the local soccer field.

[The Icelanders would be proud.]

Sam had boasted that in Savusavu, you could put your dinner on the spring, go do some shopping or play some soccer, come back and hour later and be guaranteed to find all your belongings right where you’d left them.

Leaving Savusavu, I was struck by the interchange between the small minority of boat-livers, vacationing yacht owners, and Western backpackers on the one hand, and Fijian and Indian locals on the other.  The crowded bus/taxi depot.  The buses disgorging huge herds of uniformed schoolchildren.  The strong sense of community as people gathered to chat on streetcorners, or ran into each other in passing.  Dogs scampering across the street.  Hand-painted signs.  Really a remarkable afternoon.

Our plan on returning to the hotel was to soak in a hot tub near our room and finally drink the bottle of champagne they’d given us on arrival.  (We’d been too tired to drink it on our first night).  So we threw on our swimsuits, grabbed the bottle, headed out the door and called for an ice bucket on the way out.

This being Namale, the ice arrived a few minutes later, along with a surprise tray of appetizers.   There are so many nice touches here.  We sipped our champagne as the sun slowly set, toasting each other and feeling so grateful to have this time together.

Just as we were getting up to leave, a new couple came along, and we had a nice few minutes getting to know Jordan and Jana, also from the States.

Dinner was penne pasta for Lauren and chicken parmesan for me, with light music playing, the breeze blowing, and plenty of good conversation.