Last year, I found out with about 10 days notice that I was going to Fiji for work, on a whirlwind of property inspections. In a blur of packing, trying to find my passport, and finding a pet sitter for Louder rat, I barely had time to look at the itinerary, let alone research some of the properties I would be visiting and staying at. Fiji is admittedly not my field of expertise in the travel industry – I don’t typically sell it, since I deal primarily with Asia in the context of my job. I didn’t sell it in a previous travel industry job, so it was a big empty hole in my personal knowledge base.
And yet somehow, I found myself sitting on an Air Pacific flight from Los Angeles to Nadi, with plenty of time to contemplate this destination with some of my colleagues.
I skimmed through the itinerary, somewhere during my gong show of flights from Toronto to Los Angeles via Chicago, juggling carrying on luggage with me on an LA public bus to Santa Monica pier for a beer. Hotel inspection. Lunch. Drive to another hotel. Inspect. Dinner at hotel. Cocktails at a third hotel. Up at dawn, repeat a similar variation on a theme the following day. Replace drive with boat. Etc.
There it was. That hole in the itinerary I was hoping for. The one my boss said, with a wink and a Chechire cat grin, “If you just so happen to find a free morning, you better not sneak off and go diving. You should actually try sleeping for a change.” I took this to mean there was a hole in the itinerary, and the challenge was mine to get into as much mischief as possible on a remote island.
I scanned through the fact sheet on the resort. The magical four letters danced off the page. PADI. There was a licensed PADI dive shop on site for at least 3 hotels I visited. But this one had that magical combination of factors. No flights within 24 hours. No cocktail party the evening before that I would need to tuck myself out of and lie excited in bed, desperate for sleep but heart racing with possibility. And a 12:00 ferry transfer off the island to the next property. It was there. It beckoned. My opportunity would come at .
After visiting the grounds and touring the spa services (no treatments for me!), I raced towards the dive shop, nearly tripping over my feet. I tumbled in the door 10 minutes before closing, clutching my log book and license in hand. “Please, I need to go diving tomorrow morning. Please tell me that you can take me out for a one-tank dive before the ferry whisks me away tomorrow at noon.”
“Bula, sister. Bula. You are here tomorrow at 7:30 a.m., I’ll take you diving.”
I plowed through dinner. I may or may not have met Wilson. You know. Wilson. From that movie? Castaway? Yeah. That Wilson. He was up to no good, so I had to stay away from him.
Turning in early did me little good. I ran through my last dive in my mind, analyzing it over and over. 2 months earlier, my ears would not clear in Costa Rica. I swallowed, I wiggled my jaw, I blew out through my nose, but my ears would not cooperate. I made it to 5 metres and had to abandon the dive, stuck without being able to unblock my ears. It was that, or risk a ruptured ear drum. It was a tough choice, but I bawled my ears out on the dive boat. My ears would not clear until I was back in Canada several days later, proving to be a very painful flight. Would I have a repeat performance? Would I remember how to control my buoyancy? Would I remember the golden rule of diving, of life, of Douglas Adams?
Seems simple enough. Oh, and always know where your towel is, obviously.
The dive boat sped away, the breakfast of fruit fluttering in my stomach. But I had come upon a patient dive master, and I explained my Costa Rican failed dive. We stopped at a pinnacle, an easy dive. The goal, once everyone was neutrally buoyant and a pre-dive safety check was completed, was to descend to 18 meters, the base of the pinnacle. From there, we would circle around this rock formation, gently rising to a safety stop.
My disorientation from the backwards roll into the water is brief. My ears cooperate. I descend cautiously to 3 metres and I can equalize. 5 metres. 8 metres. 12 metres. 15 metres. 18 metres. I’ve made it.
The water is warm, and not just because there is a distinct possibility that I have peed in the wetsuit from excitement. I float weightlessly, and long to reach out and touch the rocks. But I leave nothing but bubbles, take nothing but memories and photographs.
And suddenly, I realize I am calm. I rationally explained my fears and challenges to the dive master before taking the plunge. Some dive masters lack the people skills required to calm a beginner diver, insisting that everything will be fine. I know that everything will be fine, but a skilled dive master carefully explains and refreshes, so that your trust built. Discussing hand signals, acquainting you with rented equipment that might be as foreign as a space suit, and managing my expectations regarding the current and the wildlife, I could focus on enjoying the dive.
Not every dive can be realized. Sometimes the current is above your skill level. Sometimes the equipment isn’t up to your standards. And sometimes, your body just says no. You know what? That’s OK. It happens. There will be other chances, other sites, other times.
And you know what they never tell you in dive classes? You will enjoy second breakfast, and elevensies. You resurface, and although you have just participated in the most anaerobic, lazy exercise known to mankind, you are famished. You take being waterlogged to eleven. So indulge in the chocolate cookies or roasted chicken on board. You’ve earned it. Tell them hoboshutterbug said so.
Now where did I put that towel again? I hear the stripes have nutrients on it, and I’m famished after a good dive.
Travel opportunities do arise when working in the travel industry. This was a trip sponsored by my company, however diving was not endorsed by the company, and was done on my own free time.