A beautiful turboprop sea plane comes in to pick up passengers at Blue Lagoon Resort. It’s on the beach for maybe ten minutes, loading passengers and gear, then is off to the mainland.
I’m in no hurry and prefer the giant yellow catamaran, a huge marine triple decker transit bus that makes the island circuit once a day and is the only other passage to these north islands.
But none of the hotels where I want to stay have any rooms. I didn’t think the “high season” started for another month, but it’s also Easter Break. Manta Ray Resort, just a long hop down the island chain, has one private room available when I call.
I really don’t want to stay in a dorm. I don’t need posh, but there are some things a man my age shouldn’t do. Manta Ray is also supposed to have tremendous snorkeling right off the beach.
I pick a seat in the shade on the second deck. Zoe and Alice come sit down across from me after they bake long enough in the sun on the unshielded deck above. The two blond girls have freckles. Zoe, for about the tenth time since I met her, asks why I am traveling alone.
“She emailed you from the next room?! She didn’t want anyone to know you were together? She’s just mental then,” Zoe lays out in her thick Essex English accent. “You’re a good guy!”
I start to defend you: “Two sides to every story… I’m sure she had reasons… ” and then stop. It doesn’t matter.
“Thank you. I think I’m a good guy, too,” I say.
I go down at one point to find my snorkel bag. I’d planned to carry it but the resort guys gathered it up with all the rest of the luggage and it wasn’t tagged with a destination. A crew member helped me find it, we tagged and moved it to the pile going to Manta Ray Resort.
We get to Manta Ray and I say goodbye to Zoe and Alice. There’s just four of us getting off here, Claire from Switzerland and a young Japanese couple. The resort check-in person assumes Claire and I are a couple despite the age difference, and starts to check us into the same room.
“That would work for me, but I think Claire might have another idea,” I say when I catch the error on the paperwork. We all laugh.
It’s nice not worrying how every word will be construed.
Manta Ray is not as upscale as Blue Lagoon. My room on stilts is about 10 foot square, and the bearings in the fan may not last the another month. I unpack as much as I think is prudent, then decide to write for a while.
That decision lasts less than 10 seconds. I did not come to Fiji to write when some of the best snorkeling in the world is 30 meters off the beach.
I toss my glasses on the bed and pull my fins and mask out of the green mesh bag (so glad I didn’t lose it on the ferry!) and head down to the beach. After everything is adjusted, I swim out, turn to my right against the current and do a crawl out to deeper water.
There are a zillion fish, and the corals look like they were dipped in the finger paint from third grade. It’s magical. Eventually, clouds roll in and I don’t like snorkeling alone, so after I dive down to pick up a D cel battery lying on the ocean floor, I swim straight back to the beach while the current pushes me south and I end up right where I set off.
I put my fins on the concrete shelf and am deciding if I should get something to drink when I’m pulled into a game of volley ball by Christina, a six-foot tall German girl with a Teutonic-tinged English accent .
On about the third serve, the other side puts a ball right in a dead spot near me. I do a full stretch body slam onto the sand but reach out with one fist and get the ball up and we make the point. There are oohs. Geezer guy plays!
We play five sets, and finally I bail out.
“I’m too old, you’re too good!” I say as I head to the ocean to cool off with a swim. They’re polite about it.
After dinner, three of the guys who’d been in the game asked if I was going to play tomorrow.
“Depends on two things: The snorkeling might be really good. If it is, I’m going to be in the water. If the snorkeling isn’t so good, then I’ll play… if I’m still able to move my right arm, that is. And if my right hamstring is okay. And my left elbow. My right hip, too. And if I still have a large bottle of ibuprofen left in my bag…”
They laugh. Eric, Gustov and Magnus are from Sweden. Eric says I look Swedish. I say that’s where most of my blood comes from.
The sun is bright the next day. I write, have lunch, grab my snorkel gear and wish I’d loaded my Go-Pro to take photos underwater instead of a Sony that doesn’t work.
It’s bright all the way to the sand valleys that meander between the coral. Bright silver fish and dark blue fish and black and yellow striped fish browse the coral heads for lunch.
There’s a couple not far away and I sort of stay in an area with them, so as not to be really snorkeling alone.
It’s so incredibly beautiful that I’m not diving down to the bottom as I often do for a better look at details. I’m just taking it all in when about fifteen feet away a five-foot shark swims through my field of vision.
The animal is amazing, with movement not lazy, not by ocean fish on the reef standards, more like it’s hyper efficient. It can’t hide, nor waste a lot of energy on unsuccessful frenzy, so it moves with a rhythmic, strong but easy sweep of it’s tail. Smooth is fast, right, Racer Boy? It seems nonchalant, but I imagine the fish around me are quite aware the predator isn’t just out for a swim.
“Did you see that shark!” says the man behind me. I point to where it disappeared into the green curtain of underwater distance, and nod.
I didn’t know how I’d respond if I saw a shark out here. I’m thankful I’m cool with it, also thankful that it was swimming away from me when I see it. But for the next half hour, I’m looking backwards forwards and to each side with a little more intensity than I had been before the shark swam by.