It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Friday, December 30, 2011

Ginnie, with Pictures!

After last year's successful New Year's trip in cave country, we decided to do it again. We flew out on Thursday night, on the redeye. I think I got about 2 hours of sleep between the two flights, plus I had a horrible cold (so bad in fact, that I even verbally questioned to Rob whether I could make the trip). When we got to High Springs, I promptly collapsed in bed and declared my need for a nap. Rob disappeared to EE and the storage place to get tanks and such, and just under 2 hours later, he started to make it known to me that he would really like me to get up soon. Grumble. So I dragged myself out of bed and we headed to Ginnie. I finally convinced Rob to bring his camera to Florida, so I suggested we just do a not too ambitious dive at Ginnie, and he could bring his camera. So the plan ended up being to head up the Hill 400 line to wherever, just taking it slowly so Rob could get some pictures.

I volunteered to lead the dive. It has been a long time since I have run the line at Ginnie. Since there seems to be a constant escalation in the amount of gear schlepped along on such dives, I have been making Rob run the reel there a lot lately. So I figured it was time to suck it up and do it myself, plus with "only" one stage, now was a good time to do it. Well, a stage and a deco bottle, but that doesn't really count. I think we finally got to Ginnie around 3. I was delighted to find that Rob had already setup my doubles for me. I should nap more often! We got geared up and into the water, and we were off. I was sad to find that someone else had already run their line pretty much the way I like to run it. After negotiating that and running the line down to the 30 foot room, I found a pair of divers loitering in there, and had to make my way around them. We dropped our O2 bottles and then I headed to the sign. At this point, I found that the existing line started on the right side, then moved over to the left. I crossed under it so I could start on the left and then couldn't figure out what to do next, without having to cross back under it again halfway down the restriction. So, naturally, I gave up and handed the reel to Rob and told him he was captain :) After some eye rolling, Rob headed down the chute, and pretty much ran the line in the only mediocre way that I could come up with to run it. Once we got to the mainline, I took the lead again.

It was a pretty crowded day at Ginnie. We passed another team (or maybe it was a singleton, Rob said after the dive that he thought it was) in the gallery, and then a team of 4 just past the lips. We would eventually pass another team on the way in as we were headed out. Anyhoo, we got through all of the annoying parts and dropped our stages just a bit before the Hill 400 jump. As planned, once we got to the jump, we switched order, so Rob could stop and direct me where to pose for pictures. After we installed the jump, he made me go back to the mainline to pose for some pictures of me entering the hill 400 tunnel. After that, we slowly ambled up the tunnel, stopping now and then for pictures. We eventually made it to the bats and then I turned it. We swam back most of the way, and stopped a couple of times for more pictures once we were almost back to the mainline. And then of course, Rob had to get some pictures of me pulling the spool. He loves those action shots, but I always feel like I am being judged. However, I do think the pictures right at the jump are some of the best... I like how you can see the two tunnels diverging. As we approached our stages, I just knew he wouldn't be able to help himself, so I posed as I approached mine, and sure enough, he had whipped out his camera for some pictures. We got back onto our stages, and continued out. As we approached the park bench, he was signalling and pointing, and I thought he wanted to go up that line. I didn't want to, because my sinuses would bothering me. But then I realized he just wanted me to pose for some pictures, so I obliged. Then he stowed his camera for the ride out.

When we got back to our reel, Rob asked if I was going to get the reel. I was like "no thanks, you can do it". I could tell he was miffed by this. I headed up to the 50 foot room and waited for him. When he got there, he was clearly annoyed with me for sticking him with the reel :) I headed up the restriction, got my O2 bottle and waited for him. The ascent was bothering my sinuses, so by the time we got to 20 feet, I had a wicked sinus headache. I thought my eyeballs might pop out of my head during deco, but they did not, phew. I took my favorite spot on the ledge, and Rob was just hanging out in front of me. I asked him several times if he wanted the spot next to me on the ledge, but he did not. I guess he was really annoyed about my reel shenanigans! I think he was a bit unhappy that we didn't go anywhere too exciting on this dive, but I think the pictures turn out pretty nicely, so I thought it was a good way to spend the dive.

All of the pictures from the dive are here.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Sunday we were on the Escapade, diving with Kevin.  Even though the forecast had originally looked best for Sunday, in the end there was a pretty big swell.  But it was very long period, and there was very little wind, so it was a pretty comfortable ride.  The breakers near Point Pinos were pretty impressive, however.  On the way down, somewhere between Pinos and Cypress Point, we encountered whales.  There were orcas!  I've never seen orcas before, so I was pretty excited.  In fact, this was the best part of the day (which probably spoils the rest of this report :P).  We eventually made it down to Yankee Point, and after some discussion, we decided to go to K2.  I was recently looking at a picture from a previous dive near K2 of this super cool crack/canyon that we found.  So I wanted to try to find that again (though we have tried on other occasions, and not yet made it back).  So this was the plan -- head north and try to find that spot.  That area is always pretty cool, even aside from that exact spot.

We dropped in and found not so good viz, and a wee bit of surge.  Actually there was an insane amount of surge near the top of the pinnacle -- gotta love that long period swell.  There was the usual school of blue rockfish at the top of the pinnacle, but we pretty much just headed past them and down the east side wall.  I couldn't believe how much the viz had deteriorated since Friday!  It was green and quite crappy today.  We headed north, and well, I was just following Rob.  At some point I realized that I really didn't know where we were.  We headed out and then at some point turned around and I thought we would be in the sand channel to the east of K2.  But I quickly established (based on depth, etc.) that that's not where we were :)  We eventually ended up in an area that was much deeper than we usually end up when we dive the north side of K2 -- the bottom was at least 230 feet.  I guess we were further west than usual (though I didn't put this together during the dive).

I saw two things of note on this dive.  First, I saw a basket star -- pretty standard for the north side of K2 :)  It was on a gorgonion that was fluttering in the surge.  Poor little basket star looked like he was having a wild ride.  Later when we were in the deep are, we saw *the* cool critter of the dive.  Rob signaled me and I looked up to see a BIG mola.  It was like a diver-sized mola (in length... Rob pointed out he doesn't know any divers shaped like that).  It was definitely the biggest mola I've seen underwater, though I've seen one about that size on the surface before.  Sadly, it had a chunk missing from its bottom fin.  However, it was still able to swim, so maybe there is hope for him.  It was so dark and green that I didn't even bother trying to get any video of it (and Rob didn't bother trying to get a picture).  In hindsight, I'm not sure why... it was a cool siting, even crappy evidence would have been better than none!

We eventually attempted to head to a shallow area, and ended up spending like 10 minutes trying to find the peak.  We came to a spot topping in about 140 feet, and hung out there for a bit, then went off looking for the peak.  We gave up and came back to the same spot.  Then after a few more minutes, I suggested we start our ascent (early, because that little barren peak was pretty boring).  Rob suggested looking around for just another minute, and this time he got it right, and we found the peak.  As we approached it, we realized it was surgy as hell, and decided to keep our distance from the reef.  Other teams apparently did not have such a realization until they ended up tasting rock :P  From a safe distance from the reef, Kevin put up the bag and we started our ascent.  The deco was pretty uneventful.

On the ride back, not too far from Point Pinos, we encountered more whales -- greys this time.  We spent a while watching them; we had some pretty near-boat encounters.  After they lost interest in us, we headed home.

Even though both Rob and Clinton were on the boat, neither took a single picture.  I guess that says a lot about the quality of the dive!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Rec 3 Scooter Dive

Since our boat plans for Saturday were cancelled, we decided to do a rec 3 scooter dive at Lobos. It was me, Rob, Leah, and Matt. Despite the forecast calling for bigger seas, it was in fact calmer than it had been on Friday. Monastery looked quite nice in fact. It was cold and gray when we got there though. We decided to go to the Road to Twin Peaks for a bit and then the Sisters for a bit longer. Then we would optionally hang out in the 50 to 70 foot range around Lone Metridium/Hole in the Wall for a while (after switching to our 32% "ascent gas"). That's right, we were actually doing the 32% ascent gas thing... So a real rec 3 dive (actually our back gas was 18/45 but details details...). Leah proposed a deco plan which I knew would clear with 18/45 too. I'd been playing around on DecoPlanner with the 18/45, 32% combination earlier in the week, because who knows how to plan a dive with that gas combination :). Leah didn't want to lead since she'd never been to the road before. So I volunteered. Strange, I know.

The tide was a little low, but coming up. Getting in was not a problem as long as you timed it right. There was a small but very long period swell which occasionally churned things up. You know what that means for the surge :P. We scooted out on the surface over what looked like pretty clear water. We dropped just past the worm patch. It turned out that the clear water was a layer on top. On the bottom it was really murky. I did a quick flow check since I was using foreign tanks (Ted's Worthington 85s, gag) and then we headed out along the sand channel. The murk persisted until we got to about 45 or 50 feet and it abruptly opened up. Yay. It was not epic but it was nice viz. We headed around HitW and over to Lone Metridium, then over the sand. As is often the case, we ran into s column of rockfish in about 70 or so feet -- blues and a few olives. We stopped to appreciate them for a minute and then continued on to the first sister (which as usual I was relieved to actually find). We paused at the second sister so Rob could deal with some bottle shenanigans; for gas logistics reasons he was diving a stage of 18/45 (okay perhaps I can't really claim this was a Rec 3 dive :P). Then we headed down the road a couple of minutes to the first spot with big vertical structure. We all agreed to kick around there for a while. The barnacles are out on the road though many are dead. There were also a bunch of the barnacle-eating slugs around (pretty dense in spots on the sisters). I was looking for slugs, hoping to find a Kitty slug to show to Leah, since we were in the right area, but no one found any. I did see another Aldisa albomarginata... they must be "in bloom".

After about 10 minutes there, we headed back to the second and third sisters. In addition to the carpet of Onchidoris bilamellata, I saw a bunch of clown nudis and some Hiltons. Eventually we headed back toward the Lone Metridium area and switched to our 32 bottles. We spent a while there and then headed over to Hole in the Wall and looked around. Eventually I was starting to get kind of cold and bored so suggested we head in. We scootered in to the worm patch and Leah shot a bag and we did our deco and ascended there. When we surfaced, the sun had come out and it was still quite calm on the surface. The tide had come in during the dive, making the exit quite simple. After packing up our gear, we headed to RG for lunch.

Rob didn't bring his camera, because yesterday's stuck button problem drained the battery (and he didn't bring a charger :( ). So no pics today! I did bring my hero cam but since I am iPad blogging on the road, that will have to wait.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Back to Cold Water

It seems like I didn't do a lot of diving in November, so somehow I agreed to a three day weekend of diving this weekend.  Three days of diving is always nice, though considering it was wedged between the weekend that we got back form Fiji, and the weekend of Christmas, it was in hindsight a bit crazy :)  We had plans for a Team Kitty dive on Phil's boat on Friday, then diving with Matt and Leah on Phil's boat on Saturday, and a BAUE tech charter on the Escapade on Sunday.  Rob really wanted to shoot for Birthday Wall.  After our first dive there, I told Rob we needed to go back with deeper gas, so we planned a 12/65 dive.  The forecast was calling for pretty calm seas on Friday that were getting progressively bigger through the weekend.  When we arrived at Lobos, conditions looked a little bigger than expected, just from watching the water over by Granite Point.  But without much discussion of conditions or where we could go, we launched the boat, and Rob headed south.  As we were coming around Point Lobos, it was actually quite snotty -- lots of wind chop.  I wasn't feeling too positive about making it to Yankee Point.  But once we got around Point Lobos, the wind calmed down.  There were still very large swells -- much bigger than forecast -- but I find those more tolerable than wind chop.  On the other hand, I was a bit nervous with Rob driving; he drove all the way to the site, and then handed the wheel over to Phil when it was time to find the spot and drop the anchor.  After a bit of driving around, we eventually found a spot in the 150s, and we dropped the anchor there.  Conditions were not too bad as we got geared up; there were big swells but they were long period so it didn't feel too bad.

After we rolled in and headed down the line, we found that the viz was pretty good, though not epic.  The water had a greenish tinge to it, and it got darker as we got deeper.  But despite the darkness, the horizontal viz was good all the way to the bottom.  We passed the spire on the way down, and paused at the little plateau, then headed down the wall.  As we approached the edge of the wall, we found a HUGE school of juvenile rockfish.  It was so dense that we couldn't really see through it, and it was probably at least 30 feet high and 100 feet wide.  It was like those super dense groups of anthia you see in the tropics, but it went on and on.  I have never seen such a large group of juveniles before.  Rob tried to get some pictures, but was having some camera problems.  So after playing around in the school, we continued down the wall, and headed to the north/west.  We followed the wall, pretty close to the bottom, for a minute or so, and then Rob headed out over the sand and sort of cut the corner where the reef juts out to the left from the main wall.  So we landed on that section of the reef, but further out than I think I have been on it (I guess, since the bottom was quite a bit deeper).  As we were over the sand, I noticed that the max depth on my gauge read 297 feet, and I decided that that would be no way to end a dive.  So I descended a little and then jammed my arm below me so it would surely read 300.  Unfortunately it came back reading 301.  I really like round numbers, so it was a bit of a disappointment :P  Rob caught me in the act of sticking my gauge below me and just gave me a disapproving look.  Anyhoo, as we were approaching the reef, we ran into a ratfish.  It was swimming along, bumping into the reef on occasion.  Once we approached it, it turned and looked at Rob, and swam straight at him, and then bumped his scooter, before veering away.  It was a great ratfish encounter.  Rob whipped out his camera, but had some sort of problem with it.  Apparently he has finally found out the depth at which the buttons don't function :)  So the camera was a bust for the whole dive, hence the lack of pics in this report (boohoo).

After that we were just kicking around near that spot, I was checking out a couple of bocaccio just off of the structure, when I got a signal from Rob and looked below to see him pointing his light at a flag rockfish.  Woohoo!  A minute or two after that, I got a signal from Kevin, and then he swung his light around and lit up a group of silver, very reflective fish.  I couldn't figure out what they were until I swam over toward him, and saw that they were ratfish!  There were 10 or 12 of them swimming along in formation!  It was awesome.  I excitedly signaled Rob, and he came over to take a look.  Stupid stupid camera!  It was just about time to head shallower, but not before Rob and Kevin found a wolf eel too.  They gave me the signal, and I was like "very nice, time to go" :)  If it had been a GPO, maybe I would have stayed to check it out.  So we headed up and back toward the anchor line, meandering along around 200 or so feet until we got back to the spire.  Then we came up a bit shallower so we could switch onto our 190 bottles.  I noticed that there was the same little swirling current around the spire as the last time, though this time it was pretty insignificant.  After switching to our bottles, we wiled away the time on the top of the spire, looking for nudibranchs :)  Rob found an Aldisa albomarginata, which I haven't seen in a while.  Once he pointed one out, I saw at least one more.

Once it was time to go, we started our ascent, not moving too much from the structure.  Kevin put up a bag and we were on our merry way.  When we got to 70' and I switched onto my bottle, I got a mouth full of water.  I went back onto my backgas reg, hack hack hack.  My first thought was that the valve was closed (but the line was pressurized, since gas came out when I purged it), but I checked and it was in fact open.  I was thinking to myself "I am NOT sharing gas for the next 45 minutes" (not that I would have needed to, since we conveniently had a bunch of 190 regs no longer of use to us).  After a bit of futzing with it and purging it, and confirming that gas really did come out of it, I tentatively put it back in my mouth and took a small breath; it was a little wet but definitely breathable.  It seemed to improve after a few more breaths.  After all of the excitement, we just hung out for a few minutes, and then Rob rotated his bottles.  On deco, we always go around and report our max depth.  They each reported theirs, and then when it was my turn, I saw a little flinch from Kevin :)  I never go deeper than the boys, except for that one time when my wing failed on the bottom :P

At 60 feet, Kevin rotated his bottles, and I decided to just wait until the next stop.  I guess that was a good choice, considering the shenanigans that would ensue.  We got to 50 feet, and I signaled that I was going to rotate my bottles.  I brought my leash forward and moved my 190 bottle to it.  Then I took my O2 bottle and went to clip it to my chest D-ring.  I kept thinking that I needed to aim low, since I remembered that that pesky D-ring is a bit too low.  But I just couldn't find the D-ring.  I kept going for it and not being able to find it.  I think it was pulled even lower than usual because I had an 80 of 50% (whereas I usually lame out and bring a 40 when I'm diving 3 bottles).  So I finally decided to move the 190 bottle back first, to free up both hands to deal with the O2 bottle.  And then I couldn't get IT clipped!  I finally gave up and handed it to Kevin while I dealt with the O2 bottle.  Then, with two hands free, I tried to pull the 50% bottle out of the way, and get that bad boy clipped.  But it just wasn't happening, and my hand was starting to feel cramped up holding onto the clip, and all I could think of was my O2 bottle plummeting to the bottom of the ocean.  So I told Rob to come and clip it for me.  Hehehe.  It was terribly embarrassing, and I signaled as much as soon as he finished it.  Then I turned back to Kevin and gave him the "give me that bottle" signal.  He was like "no, don't worry about it" and then I was like "give me my freakin' bottle" and he handed it over :)  I think he thought I was too frazzled to be trusted with it :P  I guess that is what we call a "team bottle rotation"!

After that, deco was pretty uneventful.  There were tons of deco critters; lots and lots of salps from about 40 feet up.  When we ascended to 30 feet, we went through like a layer of salp chains and then at the stop we were looking down at tons and tons of them.  Aside from that there was the usual menagerie of unnameable jelly creatures.  No deco mola today :P  We surfaced to biggish swell but still not really much wind.  The ride back actually seemed calmer than the ride down, though it was still a bit dicey coming around Point Lobos.  Once we got back to Whalers, we noted the good viz in the cove, and then hurried to get packed up and out of there in time to get to Siamese Bay for lunch.  Yum!

Phil broke the news to us that he had to cancel for Saturday, so we were left to ponder the plan for the next day.  But to soften the blow, Phil let us stop by in the afternoon to meet his million-toed cat :)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fiji Trip: Going Home

Beach across the street
On Saturday it was time to go.  Our luggage was picked up from our room around 8, and then we went to breakfast, wandered around taking some last pictures (like of this beach, which I never actually went to during our stay), and got on the bus for Labasa a little after 9.  We were on a woefully under-provisioned bus.  We were barely making any progress going up the hills.  This bus made the bus that we rode on the way in seem great!  At some point, on the way up a hill, there was a guy on a horse, carrying a machete, and he was making it up the hill faster than we were.  The driver kept telling us that we would make it to the airport in time.  First we would be there by noon.  Then just a bit before noon, we passed a sign saying that Labasa was another 40 kilometers.  Hmmm.  Then about 8 kilometers from the airport, the bus broke down.  Ginny told the bus driver to call cabs for us NOW.  He got on his cell phone and we all de-bussed.  The guys on the bus quickly unloaded all of our luggage from the bus.  We had broken down right in front of a gas station, which was convenient, because there was a place we could stand in the shade.  However, their phone was not working, so we were at the mercy of the bus driver (for some reason, no one was having success calling the resort to ask them to arrange taxis for us).

Broken down bus
Eventually a taxi just happened to show up, to get gas.  Ginny and a couple of others got in and went to the airport, so that they could arrange for more taxis to come and pick us up.  A couple minutes later, another taxi showed up, and agreed to take some people to the airport, for 25 FJD.  Rob and I invited ourselves along in that car.  It was a small pickup truck with a front and back seat.  Three of us (the Waltons and I) rode up front, and the three young men (including Rob) sat in the bed, with our bags.  There was a canopy over the truck bed, which kept out the sun.  On the way to the airport, it began to rain and then to pour.  Apparently the canopy didn't keep water out, but the driver pulled over and put a tarp over it, and then it kept the rain out.  But in the meantime, the guys got pretty wet.  We got to the airport, and only as we were about to pay the guy, did we find out that we weren't actually in a taxi, just some guy's car :)  There was some discussion about how the bus company was going to pay the taxi drivers, but since this wasn't a real taxi, they might not pay him.  We happily paid the guy anyway, since we were just glad that someone got us to the airport!  I hope the guy managed to get some more money from the bus company!

Our ride to the airport
It turns out that our flight was running a bit late anyway, and they didn't seem to mind waiting a bit longer until everyone made it to the airport since we had like 36 of the 40 seats on the plane (I'm not convinced the plane would have taken off any sooner anyway).  On this leg of the trip, they actually did weigh my carry-on, which was way below the weight limit.  They didn't weigh Rob's bag, I think because he carried it like it was really light (while I carried my much lighter bag like it was really heavy!).  Once we got to Nadi, we had an epic long layover (like 7 hours I think), which was super boring.  I had originally been thinking we could go into town to do a little shopping, but it was raining really hard when we arrived.  So I decided to do my shopping at the airport instead :)  There is a cafe there that has comfy couches to sit in, and lots of outlets to charge laptops, iPads, etc., so a bunch of us passed several hours there.  We managed to score exit row seats again, but not on the upper deck :(  I slept for most of the flight back, woohoo.  When we got back to LAX, we had like another 5 hours until our flight to SFO.  We confirmed that that really was the soonest flight to SFO, and though there was an earlier flight to San Jose, it was already overbooked.  So we didn't bother standing by on it, and instead headed to the Admirals Club, where I had the best shower ever (or so it seemed).  Ahhh, to be clean after that trip!

We finally made it back to SF around 6:30 and in a show of super-human endurance, we raced home, changed, and then drove to Santa Cruz to go to Jim's annual Christmas party; and still made it in plenty of time for the gift exchange!  Here's what I contributed to this year's gift exchange.

Yes, that's a teaser.  More on that topic later.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Fiji Day 6: The Elusive Hammerhead

Our trip included the first five days of diving, but there were a few of us that were not too excited about spending the last day not diving.  So we put a boat together for the last day, but there were only like 7 or 8 people on it.  I think this was a way more reasonable number of people to have on the boat (the Bligh Explorer).  The original idea was to go dive some "other sites" that they don't typically dive, just to check them out.  We'd already been to all of the best local sites, some of them multiple times, so we were happy to do something new.  But on the way out, we stopped at Purple Gardens, because Colin really really wanted to try to retrieve Rob's lost canister (actually it was my lost canister, but it was the one that Rob lost).  We told him like a million times that we really didn't want him doing a deep air dive on a single tank on our account, but he didn't listen.  So in he went, for a bounce to the bottom.  He returned about 10 minutes later, having retrieved the canister, the weight that Rob had stashed behind the canister on his waist strap, and Rob's lost mask.  Not bad :)  Rob wanted to know where the plastic buckle was ;)  He also reported that the bottom was "only" 160-some feet, not the 210' that we expected.

Purple Gardens is pretty close to Dreamscape, and after we pulled anchor there, the DMs noted that the currents looked favorable to see hammerheads.  So we had a last minute change of heart and decided to make one last attempt.  Our hope was that with fewer people in the water, we may be less likely to scare the sharks away.  Rob was, once again, shooting macro, so we also thought that would help our odds of seeing sharks :P  We headed out into the blue, not really seeing much for a while, and just when we had sort of given up, we saw exactly one hammerhead.  Woohoo!  It swam by us, close enough to get a good look.  Then it swam off.  A minute or two later, there was another sighting, presumably of the same shark (but who knows).  Well, now I have officially seen a hammerhead :)  We eventually made it back to the reef where we spent the rest of the dive looking for nudibranchs and such.  Someone (a DM I think) found a scorpionfish really close to the anchor line, which was pretty neat.  I guess Rob didn't get a publish-able shot though.

For the second dive, we went back to Turtle Alley, sort of.  Apparently if you go one direction from the anchorage, it is Turtle Alley, and if you go the other way, there is another site (I think with some swim-throughs).  Since Rob was shooting macro, Colin really wanted him to see the juvenile rock-mover wrasse that is a resident near Turtle Alley (which we didn't see on our previous dive).  So he convinced Rob to "follow the DM" for the first few minutes of the dive, so he could show him that, and then we could do our thing.  I'm glad that Colin insisted, because that is one cute little fish!  We hung out with him for probably like 10 minutes, watching him dance around.  From there, we headed out along the wall, in the Turtle Alley direction, just moving along slowly looking for critters.  We found some more of the same kinds of slugs we'd seen on previous dives, plus Rob found a *really* tiny slug that wasn't in their ID book.  Rob didn't think the picture was too great, but I convinced him to post it, since I thought it was such a great find!

One of the waterfalls by the spa
In the afternoon, I went to the Rainforest Spa to get wrapped in a banana leaf.  This may come as a surprise, but I'm not exactly a big spa person, but everyone was talking about the banana leaf treatment.  Even Kevin Barry was raving about it!  So I figured if people as diverse as Kevin Barry and many of the middle-aged ladies on the trip liked it, well I should give it a try.  Heading up to the spa (which is up the hill in the "rainforest"... they drive you up there in a little van) was a good chance to see the rest of the resort grounds, since I'd mostly just been walking from our bungalow to the boat dock all week.  There are a lot of nice flowering trees and shrubs (which I guess they get the flowers for around the resort from) and many fruit trees (where they get the fruits that they serve).  On the way up, we stopped by the stream where there were some guys tending to the food buried in the earth that we would be eating for dinner that night.  The lady who would be doing my treatment (who was riding up to the spa with me) hopped out of the van and collected some big banana leaves from those guys, who had apparently been tasked with picking some big banana leaves for the spa.

Getting wrapped in a banana leaf was pretty fun, and I smelled like a coconut afterward.  Here I am, all wrapped up.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Fiji Day 5: Somosomo Strait

Today we went to Somosomo Strait, which I thought would be the best dives of the trip, since this area is so famous.  But actually I think that Namena was better (though Somosomo was certainly the second best).  The sea conditions were super good for the trip, so it actually took less than 90 minutes, even though it usually takes a bit longer.  First we did White Wall, which is so named because the wall is thickly covered with tons of white (or blue white, really) soft corals that are so thick that when you look down the wall, it looks white.  It was  neat but would have been neater a bit deeper :)  We dropped into a sand bowl on top and inside of the wall, and then swam though a swimthrough that leads you to the outside of the wall.  You pop out on the wall and swim against the current halfway, and then the wall curves around at some point and you drift back with the current.  We went a bit deeper than most of the people, I guess because this was discouraged by the DMs during the dive briefing :)  But once you were at 90', the soft corals were thicker, and looking down, it just got better.  Sadly we did not break 100'.

There was a good bit of current when we got in, but it was certainly manageable.  We went around the wall twice, and the current was noticeably stronger the second time around.  By the end of the dive, the current was absolutely ripping, and all of the divers were stacked on the downline hanging on like flags.  I had to hand-walk over all of the people on the line, then when I got to the top, I let go, drifted swiftly to the back of the boat and popped up just behind the ladder and grabbed the current line.  If I had missed the current line, or let go of it, there was no way I would have made it back to the boat under my own power :)  It was quite amazing considering how little current there was when we got in.

We slowly meandered down the strait, killing time during the surface interval, and eventually ended up at Rainbow Reef for the second dive.  It was a fun dive, but I didn't think it was epic (which is weird, since it is such a famous site).  We started on top of a wall (maybe more of a slope), holding on against the current, watching a reef shark, some Napoleon wrasses and lots of other fish swim by.  I wasn't really sure what we were waiting for, so eventually Rob and I headed down the slope.  There were a bunch of outcroppings with all different colored soft corals on them.  There was a bit of current, making it sort of a pain to line up for pictures. Anyway, after Rob got a bunch of pictures, we found that the rest of the herd was gone, but there was one DM who hung back with us.  I couldn't figure out if this was intentional or a coincidence, but he shadowed us for the rest of the dive, so I guess it was intentional.

There were lots of nudibranchs, tons of all different colored fish (mostly on the reef top), many different colors of soft coral, and more wrasse and shark action.  I liked the shallows a lot because there were tons of anthias.  We eventually thumbed it, shot a bag, and headed up.  We were pretty far from the boat.  I guess we didn't cover nearly as much ground as the rest of the divers.  They got to see blue ribbon eels.  I guess that's what we get for straying.  Eventually the boat came and picked us up, and we made it back to the hotel surprisingly fast.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fiji Day 4: Macro Day!

Rob was finally shooting macro today, which made me happy, since I wanted to search for nudibranchs :)  Today we had the option to go back to try to find the hammerheads at Dreamscape or not to.  We waffled about it but eventually decided to go for the hammerheads (strange, I know, since Rob was shooting macro).  Because of this decision, we were on the other boat today.  This boat was smaller, slower, and didn't have as many good places to lounge while the boat was underway.  But it had a much better tank-retaining system (it was very sophisticated, and consisted of some bungee loops tied onto the rail behind the tanks), and I preferred its ladder.  So I guess there were pros and cons.  Also, the Namale Pearls is nice and shiny and those upholstered seats are nice and cushy now, but probably won't be for very long.

When we got to the site, it was determined that the current was unfavorable, so we'd come back in the afternoon.  Instead we headed back to Dungeons and Dragons.  Since Rob was shooting macro, we covered very little ground.  We saw two morays, an octopus, several nudibranchs, popcorn shrimp, lots of clownfish, and a cool flatworm, Pseudoceros zebra, out for all to see, crawling across a coral.  Not a bad bunch of sightings for a macro dive.  Frank was on our boat today, and like us, he was not staying with the herd, so was often not far from us, and whenever he found something good, he would yell through his regulator to get our attention, which I found highly amusing.  So he was actually responsible for several of the sightings.  When we surfaced and got back on the boat, we were seemingly the last divers in the water.

We were live-boating, so the boat got underway as they did the roll call.  During the roll call, we found that one diver was missing.  The boat stopped (I guess it really should not have been underway in the first place, BEFORE the roll call was finished), and after about 5 minutes of discussion, we learned the following.  One of the divers (who shall remain nameless) had, very early in the dive, gone through a swim-through that came out shallow, really shallow, like in the whitewater.  He got sucked to the surface, and his (loose) buddies followed.  He was in the shallows above the drop off "standing on the reef", gave them an okay and said he wasn't going back down.  Then he proceeded to walk into shore, walk across the beach, and into the jungle, after giving the boat captain an okay signal.  After this information came out, the crew called the resort to ask them to send a car for the diver, but he had already in this time made it back to the resort on foot (with all his gear!).  When we went back to the shop for the surface interval, we found him sitting in a lounge chair waiting to go out for the next dive.  Needless to say, this was a very strange situation, and the diver was dubbed "the reefwalker".

We headed back to Dreamscape for the second dive.  We were of course not successful at finding the hammerheads. There was less current, though I had a failing fin (the bungee strap was overstretched on one, so it kept slipping off of my heel when I flutter kicked with much force), so the swim was still pretty annoying.  We saw less stuff in general out in the blue, but I saw some reef sharks below us.  I think there were some tuna out there too.  The dive guide had to surface to figure out which was to go to get us back from the blue, which I found a bit lame.  Back on the reef, Rob wanted to go to 100' to "look down".  I followed him down and when I got to 100', he was quite a bit below me.  Bad Bob.  He was shooting macro, so we spent the rest of the dive looking at clownfish and nudibranchs (which we found a few of).

After lunch, we went back out on the small boat with Ginny, who was testing out the DUI 30/30 drysuit for the first time.  We went back to Purple Gardens, since the other boat had found a scorpionfish there on one of their dives.  Since scorpionfish apparently tend to stay in the same place throughout the day, Colin thought there was an excellent chance that it would still be there, so we decided to go there.  Colin also promised us some purple aeolids, Cuthona sibogae.  It's funny, for the first several days of the trip, I'd been looking for slugs on every hydroid I saw.  But I never found any, and started to wonder if Fiji's hydroids actually host slugs.  So Colin described a hydroid where you can find these aeolids, and said he'd jump in the water with us to show us the scorpionfish and some slugs.  The scorpionfish was not to be found, but Colin found some slugs for us, and once we saw the hydroids they live on, we had no trouble finding more... they seemed to be everywhere!  And they were very pretty.  Colin also showed us the next reef over, which had a cool swimthrough (I guess the swimthrough we had missed on the first dive there, because we didn't follow the DMs).  We found more nudis, and another cool flatworm, Thysanozoon nigropapillosum, which was black with yellow speckles.  There were also two Napoleon wrasses cruising around over by the second pinnacle.  We managed to get ourselves back on the boat without any more gear losses :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fiji Day 3: Namena Marine Reserve

Today we went to Namena Marive Reserve to dive.  I had never heard of Namena, so really had no preconceptions about what the diving would be like.  All I knew was that it was not "local".  Somehow Rob and I both were under the impression that it was a 45 minute boat ride, but it was actually closer to 90 minutes (on the Namale Pearl... it took longer for the other boat).  We got going late because we were waiting for the boat ladder, which was having 2 extra rungs welded on (and was en route back from whoever in town does welding).  This was good news in my book, since my previous experience getting huge bruises while being thrashed around on the ladder was a direct result of the ladder not having enough rungs.  One more was really necessary, and two was quite luxurious :)

The first dive site was Chimneys (aka Thumbs Up).  The site briefing described two pinnacles starting in 15 feet, which, when viz is good (which it was) you can see from one to the next.  It turns out that there were a few smaller, deeper, flatter coral heads too.  The site name is an excellent name, since the two main pinnacles are very tall and skinny.  Improbably so, in fact.  They look like they should fall over.  This site was amazing; it was, hands down, my favorite dive of the trip.  It was like what they show in the Fiji brochures!  There were all different colored soft corals (not all open though), some really nice sea fans, lots of different-colored crinoids (oooh) and zillions of very colorful little fish, plus some cool bigger fish.  There were a bunch of unicornfish, which I have never seen (or heard of) before, but I thought were super cool looking.  The top of one of the pinnacles had a ton of anemones with clownfish.  The fish life in general was just insane.

There was a decent amount of current on the site, so I imagine that if you want to see the site with all of the soft corals open, there were be a ton of current.  But even without all of the soft corals open, the reef was very colorful.  After the dive, I told Rob that I thought it was the only dive I've done where the amount of color on the reef compares to Carmel.  A bunch of people on the trip looked at me very quizzically when I said this, but really, of all of the Caribbean diving I've done, the reef is just never as colorful as, for instance, Big Sur Banks, Outer Pinnacles, Mt. Chamberlain, etc.  We spent most of the time near the top of the pinnacles, where the huge schools of anthias were (which Rob complained kept getting in the way of his shots :P).  We did take a quick foray down to one of the wider, flatter coral heads on the bottom, which had a very entertaining trumpet fish cruising around.  There were also some garden eels on the bottom, which I guess were apparently pretty cooperative for at least some of the people taking pictures/video.  However, we didn't bother to go down to look at them.

At the end of the dive, I found the new addition to the ladder to be very convenient.  We went to a spot off of a deserted island (which you aren't allowed to land on, I think) for lunch, and did a little swimming and snorkeling.

After a surface interval, we headed to the second site, Grand Central Station.  The site is so named because apparently lots of pelagics are always coming and going past this big sandy spot, right next to a dropoff to deep water.  At the start of the dive, we were on a wall from about 20' to infinity.  It was SO vertical, it was really quite cool.  But the fun part of the dive was still to come.  We got to a sandy area, which is where you are supposed to see all the pelagics.  We saw reef sharks, schools of jacks and barracudas, and one turtle.  Every time we came upon a school of fish, I kept swimming along with the school while videoing them, giving myself a raging CO2 headache each time (but continuing to do it, because it was fun :P).  This dive was not a terribly photogenic experience, but I thought it was really fun.  Eventually we left the big sandy area for some bommies, where we finished up.  We saw two reasonably big eels there, some nudibranchs, and I found a crown of thorns.  I know that these critters are evil, and bad for the reef, but I had never seen one before and thought it was quite interesting to look at.  Overall it was a really fun dive, though apparently if the dive had been timed "better" with the tides, we would have seen even more pelagics come in over the sand.

In the afternoon we relaxed in the pool, which was strangely deserted.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fiji Day 2: Turtle Turtle

We arrived at the boat a little early since we had not left our gear with the shop, and after dealing with some not-quite-full-tank shenanigans, we finally got going, and headed to a local site called "Purple Gardens".  This site had several pinnacles near each other with lots of purple soft corals (and some pinks, whites, and yellows too).  I really liked this site. The only problem with it was that there were too many dang divers around :)  Our strategy was to get in the water first, scope out and get some pics of the area near the downline, then let the throngs of divers go by, take some more pictures on that pinnacle, and then when they came back, we moved along to the next pinnacle.  There were apparently some swimthroughs too, which we didn't see, because we weren't following a DM.  Depending on where we were on the pinnacles, the soft corals varied from completely open to not quite as open.  But the vast majority of them were completely open while we were there.

In addition to the soft corals, there were some HUGE sea fans.  And near the end of the dive, a turtle swooped by.  I looked around thinking there must be some other divers around to show it to (other than Rob), but no, it was just us.  So of course I had to chase it with my hero cam... that's why they invented those things, right?  I was obviously pretty excited, but Rob was kind of "whatever".

For the next dive we went to Turtle Alley.  I guess there is an area that is supposed to be good for turtle sightings.  But I thought the dive was pretty freakin' cool regardless of turtleness.  It was a wall from like 20' to infinity (well as far as I could see).  There were allegedly some swim-throughs too, but we just stuck to the outside of the wall for the most part.  It had just generally nice coral.  A DM pointed out a nudi to us, which was white with some black lines and bumps on its back (a Phyllidiella pustulosa, I believe).  I also saw a big freakin' wrasse cruising the wall below us, which I thought was a Napoleon wrasse, but it wasn't as huge as the pictures I have seen, so I wasn't sure.  I later found out that these fish were humphead wrasses, and then still later found out that that's actually the same thing as a Napoleon wrasse (hey, I'll freely admit I am a fish moron).    I think that the turtles were supposed to be near the far part of the dive, but we didn't see any there.  When we got back near the boat, we came up into the shallows, where we saw a school (!) of parrotfish zipping around. I had some fun trying to keep up with them with the hero cam.  Right near the end of the dive, I saw a turtle meander by.  I don't think anyone else besides Rob and I saw it (or any other turtles on the dive).

On the way back to the dock, Rob sweet talked Janine about taking us out for a dive in the small boat in the afternoon; and Janine in turn sweet-talked Colin, so he told us to come back around 3 to go out.  We headed to lunch and killed a bit of time before returning, with Sergio and Bruce.  We headed back to Purple Gardens, since we liked it the first time, and it was close.  We went out in the small boat, which involves a back roll in.  Rob went in first, and his mask flew off of his face, and was lost to the ocean.  Doh!  Luckily Rob is a dork, and carries a backup mask on all dives, so he whipped that out and was good to go.  The soft corals were more closed in some areas, I guess because the current had died down.  The new things that we saw this time included a pair of triggerfish doing a dance, I suppose some sort of territorial thing.  We watched that for quite a while because, well, it was freakin' cool.  I also found about a dozen nudibranchs that were cream with purple lining (Chromodoris lochi).

When we surfaced, we started to remove our rigs, since that was the protocol.  While I was dealing with that, I heard some exclamations behind me, and turned to see Rob and Sergio looking down at "something" that had fallen off of Rob's rig.  Turns out when he jacked up his wing, it pushed on his light canister, which popped the buckle in front of it (it was a crappy plastic buckle).  So then the canister slid off of the strap and since it had an EO cord, the cord disconnected and the canister plummeted to the bottom of the ocean.  Doh!  Colin reported that the last time someone dropped something off the back of the boat at this site, he he went to retrieve it and the bottom was 210 feet.  Doh!  Rob had the plastic buckle because he was using a backplate that he normally just keeps around for students to borrow, and he couldn't find a normal buckle when he as provisioning it -- that was an expensive mistake! So don't use a plastic buckle to hold your can light on.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fiji Day 1: Hammerheads (or not) and Al50s

After breakfast we headed down to the dock, where we had been told to meet at 8:15.  We were told that we would get started a little late today, since it is Sunday, and apparently the locals actually like to go to church on Sunday.  We got there a bit before 8:15, so we could snag some good spots on the boat, right by the entry (at the rear of the boat).  We were diving off of the Namale Pearl, which is a nice new 40-ish foot boat that belongs to the resort next door (Namale).  Since we had such a big group, bigger than the dive shop's boat could handle, they rented the Namale Pearl, and half of us were on that boat.  It was a much nicer and faster boat than the Koro Sun Dive boat (the Bligh Explorer), though the tank racks left a little to be desired.  It was basically not possible to put your BC on the tank and snap it into the rack (at least not if your BC has two straps).  After much bumbling around, all of the crew finally showed up, and we finally got going a bit after 9.  I thought it was pretty lame (and unprofessional) to have a boat full of customers who were polite enough to show up roughly on time, waiting around for the crew to show up.  At the time it may have seemed like it was just the first day kinks being worked out, but this was pretty much typical throughout the trip.  We weren't always literally waiting for the crew to show up, but we were generally waiting for something before we could get going.

For the first dive, we went to a site that can have hammerheads out in the blue water near a pinnacle.  We were warned that there would be some current on the way out.  As we were approaching the site, I went to zip up my suit and the tail on the zipper fell off in my hand.  I asked Rob to take a look (thinking it was just the little fabric thingy that had pulled off), but he determined that the zipper was "busted", must have been damaged in transit, and was not fixable.  So I just velcroed my suit at the top and put my vest on over it (instead of the usual under it.  That actually worked fine.  Rob and I dropped down first, and after dropping a couple of feet, I reached back to vent a bit more gas from my wing, and felt my OPV come off in my hand.  Doh!  I looked at it, and didn't think it looked like the good kind of OPV-falling-off-in-your-hand failure, where you could screw it back on.  What is it with pieces of my gear falling off in my hand!?!  I pointed this out to Rob and we agreed to debug it on the bottom.  We got to the bottom of the line, I gave him the OPV and he agreed with my assessment that it was not fixable -- the plastic part had actually sheared off.  Oh well.  Luckily I have a lot of experience diving out of trim, so I can dive with a missing OPV.

We looked around and saw a bit of soft coral.  I posed for some pictures and once enough people showed up, we were herded off of the pinnacle.  Our boat had 18 people on it, with 3 DMs.  Ginny had quite carefully assigned us into groups of 6 before the trip, but this was completely disregarded (both the group assignments, and the concept of even splitting up the group of 18 into smaller groups).  The current was pretty significant and we swam like hell for a while.  Flutter kick for the win (thank you, David Rhea).  We didn't see any hammerheads, but did see a few reef sharks in the distance (before we even left the reef) and some schools of barracuda and jacks.  Those schools were actually pretty cool, but a bit of a let down when looking for hammerheads (and not necessarily worth the swim like hell against the current).  Eventually we gave up and somehow we had to swim at least partially against the current on the way back.  Yikes.  Once back, we had a few minutes on the reef, but overall it was a pretty crappy dive.

We went back to the dock for a surface interval, which seemed lengthier than necessary, then headed back out.  The second site (Dungeons and Dragons) had a bunch of swim-throughs -- I guess that was the main attraction.  We sort of did our own thing though, and skipped all but two of the swim-throughs.  The swim-through thing just isn't that exciting to me, since there isn't much life down there.  [Snooty-cave-diver]Plus if I want caverns, I'll go to Florida or Mexico [/Snooty-cave-diver] We thought the reef on top was much nicer than the swim-throughs we went through.  The highlight for me was that we saw a ton of anemones with clownfish (which I'd never seen before).  They were so cute!  Near the end of the dive, Sergio saw a reef shark and announced it by yelling through his reg.  I also found my first nudi of the trip, a black with white speckles dorid.  We did a pretty long dive, and when we finished, we just swam off of the reef and ascended, since we were live boating.  One great thing about the dive op was that they didn't care how long we stayed in the water.  We were pretty much always the first in the water, so that we could do long dives without people having to wait too long for us to come up at the end.  One day we did a dive that was like 75 or 80 minutes, and the next day, when we pulled up to a site that was quite shallow, they asked that we limit our dive to 90 minutes... which I think is quite generous :)  While I was climbing back on the boat, I got totally smacked around at the ladder (not really sure what happened) and ended up with some epic big bruises on my leg!

After lunch, we sent Kevin Barry to negotiate with Colin for afternoon diving.  Rob had been a bit loud about his displeasure at our first dive, so he didn't seem like the right person to do the negotiating :)  Kevin returned and said there were 4 Al63s we could use with the kayaks.  After offering the other two tanks to some others, it ended up being me, Rob, and Kevin.  Like Team Kitty, but with a stand-in Kevin.  When we showed up for the tanks, we found that they were actually Al50s.  Hehehe.  They had two-person kayaks, so we took two of them.  Rob and I rode in one with one of our rigs, and Kevin rode in one with the other two rigs.  We kayaked down the boat channel for a while, I'd say 20 to 30 minutes.  There is a fringing reef around the island, which is where you want to do your diving.  But at the point where the reef drops off, there are (as you'd expect) breakers.  In order to get out to the other side of the reef, there is a channel dredged from the dive shop dock to the reef.  As we were approaching the dropoff, we were a bit intimidated by the breakers on either side of the channel, so we started discussing how we should approach it.  Someone had the idea that we could gear up, get back in our kayaks and then head down the channel the rest of the way.  I wasn't too impressed with this idea, so I suggested that we kayak out of the channel, so we were in the shallows, stand up and get our gear on there, and then walk to the drop off at the channel and descend in the channel.  So this is what we ended up doing.  The plan was to tow the kayaks.  We lashed them together, and Rob tied a spool to them.  We tip-toed to the edge of the dropoff, and I went to put my first fin on when I "slipped" off of the ledge and ended up bobbing on top of the deeper water in the channel.  It was no big deal, as my BC was inflated and and I think I had a reg in my mouth (or I did in short order).  But I was flailing around a bit to try to get my fins on.  Just then, Kevin said "shark!" and while I thought he was kidding, then he said there was a reef shark below me.  I stuck my face in the water and was like "ooh la la, cool" and finished putting my fins on.  I was disappointed that he was gone by the time I was ready to descend.  Later, Kevin told me that he wasn't too happy with me flailing around on top of a shark :)  Ooops.

We dropped down and it was quite murky.  There was a pretty significant current pushing us out the channel, but we did not think it would be a problem to make it back up the channel on the way in.  Eventually the water got much clearer, much colder, and then we popped out of the channel.  There was no current here.  We headed left.  I think that was an arbitrary choice.  We saw more clownfish, which were more Nemo-like than the ones we saw earlier in the day.  There were also several BIG grouper swimming about on the top of the dropoff, which was pretty neat.  Rob found a nudi, which was black with white stripes, and I found at least one more of the kind that I had seen earlier in the day.  We eventually turned the dive and made our way back to the end of the channel.  There was a bit of a miscommunication about everyone's gas situation, and then there was confusion, so I just called the dive.  We headed up into the murk up the channel, and boy was there some current.  Rob was towing the kayaks (the plan had been to "take turns" but Rob never turned the spool over to anyone else) and he was getting worked making progress against the current.  Luckily there was dead coral rubble on the bottom of the channel, so we could actually pull and glide up the channel.  We saw a few lionfish hiding under some of the rubble in the channel. We eventually thumbed it on (Rob's) gas.  We basically all had the same amount of gas when we started up the channel, but since he was towing the kayaks, he used about twice as much as we did on the way in!  When we surfaced, we were further up the channel than we started.  We came up the channel wall and then up into the shallow part and stood up there.

We took our rigs off and were getting back into the kayaks, discussing the likelihood of someone flipping the kayak.  Rob was already in our kayak when I attempted to get in.  I can't remember the exact sequence of events, but he had the idea to use Kevin's yak to stabilize ours, which was great, until the noise of Kevin's ended up UNDER ours and ours flipped, as I was attempting to get in.  Doh.  The gear that was not clipped in (e.g. Rob's fins) scattered, but since we were in like 3 feet of water, it was not a problem to retrieve it.  Once we all managed to get in our kayaks, we headed up the channel.  It seemed like we were barely moving, while Kevin was having no trouble making progress.  Rob made the astute observation that while we were towing a rig, Kevin had both rigs actually in his kayak.  So we stopped and moved the towed rig up front, between my legs.  Oh man did that make a difference!  It was so much easier and we were moving so much faster!  So there, towing your rig behind the kayak is dumb.  Don't do it.

So that was our afternoon dive.  The diving was fine, but I think the fact that it was a bit of an adventure was the best part!  When we appeared at the bar for happy hour, it was like we'd returned with tails of travel on the high seas :)

Frank managed to fix both my OPV and my wetsuit zipper.  The fix for my wetsuit zipper involved a needle and thread.  I must admit I felt a bit lame standing over Frank watching him sew a zipper up for me... after all of the sewing projects I've done that include instructions on shortening a zipper, I really should have been able to figure this out myself!  But this is one of the benefits of traveling with Frank!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fiji Trip: Getting to Fiji

View from our cottage
Welcome to my Fiji trip report :)  We spent a week at Koro Sun Resort near Savusavu.  The trip was organized by Anywater Sports, and was our first ever shop trip (I don't think Channel Islands trips count).  We ended up going on this trip because we were thinking about a trip, and had a short list, which included the Philippines.  Since Anywater frequently runs trips there, I inquired with them about a trip this year, and Ginny said she wasn't sure since they had a bunch of other trips planned, and mentioned that they had just announced a Fiji trip.  Since that was on the short list, and the idea of not having to research and arrange the trip myself seemed great, we decided to go for it.  We booked our own flights, since we were using miles, but other than that, the planning was all Ginny.  Apparently there had been a lot of back and forth about whether we would fly to Savusavu, which has a small airstrip that only handles small planes (carrying 12 or 13 people), or Labasa, which can handle a larger aircraft (which would hold the entire group of 36 or so people).  In the end, we were to fly into Savusavu on 3 separate flights, and out of Labasa.

Boat dock at Koro Sun Dive
We had an afternoon flight down to LA with a several hour layover before our night-time Air Pacific flight to Fiji.  When we checked in at the AA counter in San Francisco, we were given boarding passes for both legs.  So when we got to LAX, after schlepping to the international terminal, and presenting ourselves at the security line, we were told that we couldn't use these boarding passes (WTF) and had to go wait in line at the Air Pacific counter for new boarding passes.  The line wasn't too terribly long, but it was a pretty annoying experience, if you aren't used to having to wait in line with the hoi polloi :P  Apparently the AA-Air Pacific partnership does not extend to use of the Business Class line.  When we finally got to the counter, we had a very friendly agent, who, when we inquired about exit row seats, happily reported that there were some available.  We got through security quickly and found a pretty ghetto terminal, with basically nothing to eat except a greasy snack bar and, most importantly, a bar.  This is when I realized... I've never flown an international flight from LAX.  I've always thought that LAX is basically the armpit of the universe, and the international terminal is no exception.  I guess some sort of big reconstruction project is underway, and it looks like it is about time.  We headed to the bar forthwith and passed the time there.  While we were waiting in the departure lounge, I for some reason was doodling around on the Air Pacific website on my phone, and happened to look at an aircraft map; this is when I discovered that our seats were on the upper deck.  I'd never been on the upper deck of a 747 before -- yippy!  I guess the seats up there are considered a minor "upgrade" though I didn't know this at the time, and didn't particularly notice it.

The Rainforest Spa
The nice thing about exit row seats on a 747 is that the door is so freakin' big, you have a million miles of legroom.  I slept surprisingly well, and for surprisingly long, on the flight.  When we got into Fiji, we were luckily some of the first people in line for immigration and got through fairly quickly.  As we were in line there, we noticed that all of the flights to Savusavu had been cancelled, but there was a flight to Labasa at 11.  I assumed this would be our flight, and this was indeed the case.  We made our way through customs and over to the domestic terminal, and waited around while they got everything together and gave us our boarding passes.  There had been warnings that Air Pacific would be very strict on luggage weight (including for carry-ons).  Rob's camera backpack was definitely overweight, but we had a contingency plan wherein his lenses and maybe some strobes would be moved to my "purse" (which is a re-purposed REI day-pack).  Luckily no such shuffling was required, since they did not weigh any of our carry-ons.  We had several hours to kill before our flight, so we went across the street to Raffles hotel and had breakfast there, which was reasonably tasty.  After playing some penny poker with Sergio and Brian, it was finally time to head to the gate, where we waited some more (because our flight was not exactly on time) and then finally headed to Labasa.  I guess the little planes could not fly to Savusavu because of wind.  But the flight to Labasa was perfectly calm.  When we arrived there, we were met by a bus driver, who was to take us to the resort.  We had been previously led to believe that the ride was about an hour (since we'd have to go back to Labasa at the end of the trip), but the driver told us two and a half hours.  It was actually a bit less, but still over two.  The bus was not air conditioned, but once it was going, with the windows open, it was not bad.  But then it started to rain and then it started to pour, so then we had to choose between being drenched with rain or hot and steamy.  Or both, since even with the windows closed, rain was leaking in all over the seats and floor.

Our room
We finally got to the resort and all of the staff was waiting by the roadside to sing and greet us, and there was some sort of welcome meeting (and coconut waters, mmm) in the lobby.  When that was finally complete, we headed to our room, and I finally got to take a shower :)  The room, which was actually a cottage, was cute, but nothing extraordinary.  My only significant complaint about it is that aside from a one-person seat (and some chairs outside), there was no place to sit but the bed.  The room had an outdoor shower, which is cool in principle, but in practice, I think it is a source of mosquitoes (though it is all screened in, I don't think the screens are 100% effective).  After that, we headed to lunch, and then went to poke around by the dive shop, to see if there was any possibility of diving today.  The dive shop was deserted, so we just hung around that afternoon, then went to happy hour and attended a dive briefing before dinner.  During the dive briefing, Colin (owner of the dive op) laid out to us what days we would do local diving and what days we would go to Namena and Somosomo.  There was no mention of the possibility of dives in the afternoon, which we had been told leading up to the trip could be "arranged after we arrived".  Rob harassed Colin about this a bit after the meeting, and he said he would see what he could do.

The Bligh Explorer
After this, we headed to dinner.  I had a fish curry, which was very nicely presented in a half coconut shell.  I think this was one of the tastiest dishes that I had all week.  And while we are on the topic of meals, here's how that worked.  Everyday at dinner, we were given a menu for the next day, and we were to select our meals for the next day.  For each meal, there were usually two starter options and two or three entree options, and dessert (yes, dessert with lunch and dinner, everyday!).  I had heard from people on a prior trip that there was not much variety, but I thought it was fine.  I think that I had fish about a third of the time, chicken about a third of the time, and beef about a third of the time (actually there was a vegetarian meal or two in there as well).  I thought that the fish dishes were generally quite tasty.  For breakfast, there was a "continental" buffet, with cereal, muffins, and fruit, plus a menu to order off of.  I don't generally like to eat very heavy foods before diving, so I felt like I sort of missed out on the breakfast options on the menu.  I liked the cereal very much though :)  On the final day, I got the "wavos" which was roti with eggs and way too much cheese (which I just picked off of it) and that super tasty sweet chili sauce.  I think anything tastes good with that chili sauce on it.