Fiji was just one incredible country and 12 days was definitely not enough time but luckily I still managed to experience the culture and learn about a whole new place.After a long, overnight flight from Perth with a stopover in Brisbane, I landed safely at Nada airport, where I had lost several hours because of the time difference. I was welcomed by a couple of guys in a colourful shirt with a guitar singing Fijian songs. Later, I realised that Fijian just love singing all the time and they are actually good.
At the airport, I went through immigration which was a doddle and was met by a lovely young girl from the hostel, who arranged my lift to my accommodation. By now, it was late after with the sun still blazing. The vibe from the airport and just the drive made an impact where I thought I’m going to live this place. I had heard fantastic things from different people about the views, people, culture and their experience.
Once I had checked in and dumped my bags in a 16 bed dorm, I decided that I should probably eat and get in a routine here. I didn’t want to stuffer from jet lag or waste my time with sleeping at funny time. After eating a veggie quesadilla at the hostel restaurant, I chilled in my room, giving myself an early night as I knew I had to be up at 6.30am the following morning.
Even though I was in a large dorm, I managed to sleep extremely well but I think this was because I was exhausted from flying. To my surprise, quite a few people from my dorm got up at a similar time as me to go on trips. I was so excited for my next few days. I had booked to do a PADI open water scuba diving course. I had never been scuba diving so I was feeling a little anxious. However, my excitement overrode the nervous feeling especially after not being able to do it in Australia due to complications.
Today, I knew I wasn’t going to be diving deep just the theory part and basic skills in shallow water. Once I had a shower and scoffed some breakfast biscuits down my throat, I was ready to rumble. Outside my personal chauffeur was waiting for me. I always feel a bit anxious when I first meet someone especially as I knew it was going to be a fourth-five minute journey. However, he was so lovely and chatting with an infectious laugh and I didn’t feel awkward.
The journey was first through Nada main city then on the main road with small villages and crops on each side, on to windy country road through mountains. The actually dive centre was being renovated so there wasn’t many people around and seemed a bit dead. The first thing that came to mind was ‘is this a legit centre?’. Soon I came to the realisation, it was and used to be booming. At a wooden cabin, I filled out various forms with the lady at the desk. I had a slight panic attack when my card didn’t work but it was easily sorted out.
During the morning, I sat in a dark room with a projector to watch three of the theory DVD’s. After each unit, I had to fill in the revision part of the book then complete a test with my diving instructor, Scuba Sam. Some of it was common sense, whereas other part were interesting and more complicated especially as I hadn’t done any underwater activities before.
Gazing out onto the ocean with the tide so far out, I ate my pre-packed lunch of tinned fish and crackers while chatting to my instructor about general Fijian life.
After, I sized up for a wetsuit, flippers, goggles and wet shoes then we headed out on a small boat into shallow waters to start my skills. On the boat, I was shown the different equipment and how to construct the BCD, regulator and tank together. It wasn’t too difficult but I knew it was important to carefully put it together otherwise my life would be at risk. With a safety check in place; equipment, flippers and goggles on; I lowered myself into the water. Under the water, we practised breathing; taking out the regulator and the goggles off; different hand signs etc…
Breathing under water was kind of a weird sensation, where I felt a little panicked but also excitable. It was harder than I thought to breathe normally and slowly with the constant sound of inhaling and exhaling. I started thinking maybe this wasn’t for me but also loved it at the same time.
After a couple of hours out to see, we returned where I got a lift back to my hostel. I had a shower then went in search of food. I quickly realised that my hostel generally had the cheapest food but there was a offer for cheap pizzas at a different restaurant. I ate the vegetarian pizza which was too bad, not Italian but it was edible. Back at my hostel, I enjoyed an evening of Kava time. This is basically a traditional drink that is used in ceremonies, which looks like dirty water and doesn’t really taste any better. Sitting on a large straw mat in a circle with no shoes, we each were handed, one at a time, a small bowl of Kava. The Kate was made in a large bowl of water where spices were put into a bag then washed though the water for a few minutes. A Fijian would massage the bag into the bowl with his hands until it was ready. Before receiving a bowl of kava, they would ask ‘high tide’ or ‘low tide’, basically a small or large amount. After answering, I had to clap once with curved hands, say ‘bula’, drink the bowl in one, give it back without it touching the floor, then clap three times.
In between Kava, there were people playing guitar and singing, where many people joined in this session. I chatted to several traveller and locals including a girl from the USA currently studying in New Zealand and a French guy living in New Canadonia.
When Kava time had finished, I decided to go to bed as I had to be up early to check out and be collected.
Once I had sorted myself out and changed room because the hostel said there wasn’t anymore room in the large dorm (which I later found out was a lie as there were empty rooms), I found my chauffeur. Exactly as the day before, he drove the route to the dive centre with the time passing quickly.
Scuba Sam welcomed me at the cabin, where I changed into my scuba gear ready for the morning in the ocean. Walking a km through the shallow waters, trying to avoid any slime or animals was slightly difficult but we reached the boat eventually.
Three of us were on the boat: myself, Scuba Sam and the driver so it was a private scuba diving session. I was feeling a bit nervous but also extremely excited for first dive which was 12m deep. My love of the ocean and all the creature has just grown so much over this trip and it wasn’t going to stop now.
With a plan arranged and all our gear set up, we were ready to embark on this new adventure. The best thing was not to panic. Sitting on the boat, I rolled myself in with all the equipment on and puffed up my BCD until I was afloat. My instructor entered the waters, where we swam to the front of the boat to lowered ourself down through the water. Holding my hand up high squeezing the air out with my regulator in my month, I merged into the sea. Slowly but surely, we lowered ourselves to the bottom of the sea, surrounding with blue water with a visibility of 15m and temperature of27 degrees.
First we did the cramp removal skill as the day before with Scuba Sam demonstrating them and then I copied him. Trying to calm and slow my breathing, we mooched around the bottom, where I found it difficult to get my buoyancy, causing myself to bob unnecessary. It was a whole new world down here with various fish just swimming around and loads of different coral including trumpet fish, coral fish even a white tip reef shark, stingray and Hawks bill turtle. My eyes were just darting everywhere with the goggles enlarging each organism and a closer depth of perception. I was constantly looking at my gage to ensure I had air and the depth below sea level.
I did have a slight panic attack when I started floating up and my instructor wasn’t paying attention, I didn’t know what to do. Eventually he came and got me, and dragged me back down. I definitely need to work on my buoyancy but at least I know now that I should push out the air, stand vertically and breathe out with small slow inhaling breathes.
Not long later, we surfaced taking a 3 minute safety stop at 5m. Back in the boat, we took a rest as it important to have a decent amount of time out of the water for my safety. We drank a cup of tea with a fresh coconut and a weird fruit called bread fruit. It was delicious but had the consistency of bread. I think it had been cooked before.
We drove to our next stop, where we did a bother dive of 12m. It was a similar procedure but I did more skills: removal of scuba and weights, regulator exchange. Down the bottom, there were high walls of corals with fish deep inside. We also saw another white tip reef shark, sea slugs, moorish idol fish, cornet fish and big eye fish.
The time at the bottom seemed to go so quickly and soon enough we were back on the boat. Before heading back, I had to swim around the boat three time and be afloat for 10 minute to ensure I could pass my PADI.
What an amazing morning of my first scuba diving experience. Back at the centre I ate lunch then completed the last two unit of the course, where I completed the final test. Then I received a lift back to my hostel, where I checked back into the hostel. My room was a little further away in a separate house up a set of stairs at the back, where I dropped my bag off then wandered to the pool to catch some end of the day rays.
In the evening, I grabbed some food from the restaurant and sat with a group from different countries chatting while they drank some beers. I didn’t want any alcohol in my body as I was diving the next day as I can be sensible sometime. We jammed on the floor by the Kava for a couple of hours, where I talked to the American girl and French guy. With familiar song played on the guitar, a Fijian guy showed us a Fiji tobacco which was rolled into a long, thin straw using newspaper. It was bizarre.
After a couple of rounds of Kava and singing, I went to bed on my squeaky top bunk.
The following day, I rose as usual for my last day at the dive centre. I was excited to go diving again. Again, I got picked up then transferred 45 minutes. Today, we were riding around on a bigger boat as there were four other divers with their own guide.
Once everyone was geared up and ready to vamoosh, we dawdled towards the boat, squelching on the ground. I was able to take my GoPro to video some footage of the underground world. We drove to the edge of the reef, where the others started their dive first, then I went through the plan and safety check with my instructor before stepping off the boat into the ocean. Holding the cord, we pulled ourselves down under with the regulator in my mouth.
There were a few skills I had to do at the bottom before exploring the surrounding area. I felt so much more comfortable and confident. We glided at around 18m, actually some of the time, it was lower. To one side was a high coral wall, where we admired the life. My instructor was great at seeing all different types of sea creature and would constantly point them out to me. We saw 4 white tip reef sharks, 18 century anchor, green turtle, soft coral, nemos and 4 line snappers. I can’t explain how magical it was, swimming through the blue water.
As we were swimming through the nursery reef, we started and finished at different point, which meant we got to see a lot more. When we ascended to the surface, I climbed onto the boat and soon found out I didn’t run out of air for 50 minutes, which is better than my 35 minutes when I first started.
To my surprised the others had other been down for about 35 minutes. We rested with a cuppa and coconut.
On the way to the canyon reef, we went in search of dolphin. This must have been the most incredible experience of my life. There were massives of dolphins swimming and just over the water. I managed to get some footage but it’s not as good as real life. Our captain drove the boat around in circles, where the dolphin glided parallel to us. We all just didn’t have the words to say.
On the next dive, we descended to 16m with a visibility of 10m. Without any warning, at the bottom we swam through a dark cave with hard coral, where I cut my hand as it was so narrow. Unexpectedly, the cave was long than I thought, turning left and right to avoid the walls then ascending a little to leave the cave.
My love for diving has just grown so big. I can’t believe I didn’t start diving earlier in my life. Down in the reef, I saw a white tip reef shark, unicorn fish, grouber fish, hard and soft coral, ghost coral and a school of snappers. I just loved every minute and didn’t want to return to the boat but soon enough I had to as my air was running out.
I did a controlled emergency swimming ascent then used the inflatable signal tube so that the captain could see us and collect us from our spot.
Calmly but quickly, we were driven back to the mainland, where again we had to walk about a kilometre back to shore. I washed my equipment and took a seat while all my paper work was filled in and signed. I learnt how to fill in the dive record book with all the correct times, condition and what we saw. After I sat on the floor with some of the locals sharing their food of tea and breakfast crackers with a mixture of butter and jam. It was delicious.
When we were ready, we drove back to the hostel, filming along the way as this was the last time I would do this journey.
At the hostel, I just chilled by the pool in the sun, trying to top up my tan as much as possible.
When the sun started setting, I sat with a group I had met the previous few days, chatting and drinking beers to say goodbye to some of them who were leaving and me for completing the PADI open water scuba diving course. we were a little bit cheeky as we bought Berra from the shop then drank them in the hostel. One of the guys had a traditional Brazilian drink so we shot this down as well.
For the rest of the evening, we just hung out. One of the girls went with some Fijians to a local club but a couple of us decided to stay then go to bed.