|Arrival. Finally! (Bailey is pictured front row, center)|
Our intrepid but weary band of travelers, having eagerly exited from Fiji Airways’ soon-to-be-retired Boeing 747 on the Island of Viti Levu, stand on the jetway at 4:45AM medicinally taking in lung fulls of the tropical air. The distinctive fragrance and texture of that air helps us immediately and completely forget about the not-so-comfy, 11-hour, knee cramped, coughing-and-sneezing effervescence saturated air, and not unexpected, completely full flight from Los Angeles. We are again in a truly familiar place, having last been in this exact spot only 18 months before.
|Close up of eels and peppers | Photo: K. Ellenbogen|
The 2013 installment of the Monterey Bay Aquarium/New England Aquarium ‘extended family’ Fiji diving reunion has a roster sporting 13 of 18 Fiji veteran participants. Those returning veterans verbally paint pictures of what to expect once aboard the spectacular 124-foot motorsailer NAI’A, and point out that somehow the stamina will indeed be summoned late in this very long day for our 1st dive of the trip.
|Bountiful baggage beyond belief | Photo: K. Ellenbogen|
Once the enormous pile of dive kit, camera gear, village-visit gifts, and oh, yes, clothing, has been moved out of the airport’s confines, we will head into Nadi (pronounced nan’ dee) town to explore the market, purchase Fijian postage stamps, stock up on Bula shirts, and procure those last minute items mistakenly left behind in the States.
|Nadi town makete, Shed #1 | Photo: K. Ellenbogen|
Saturday in Nadi is big. Seemingly everyone possible comes to town, making the streets, makete (Fijian for open air market), shops and food stalls very busy. Nadi’s makete is an amazing place, as it contains everything from live crabs, to kava root (ingredient in a mild buzz-inducing drink), to the exotic breadfruit and jack fruit, to very aromatic spices, and has friendly and welcoming Fijians throughout inviting you to discuss their wares. It has become a first day ritual to immediately immerse ourselves in Fijian culture, get something to eat, stroll through the handicraft vendors’ cubbies, and check out what the local fisherman are catching in the surrounding waters.
|Diverse offerings on one blanket- fish, vegetables, clams, spices, fruits, and live crabs! | Photo: K. Ellenbogen|
Our team includes marine biologists, educators, scientists, entrepreneurs, I.T. specialists, medical professionals, photographers, a robotics expert and, as Garrison Keillor would say, an English major. Uniting us all is the desire to be in this special place that extends our public aquarium connection to the blue planet’s soul—the coral reef.
|Carefully stacking kai (freshwater mussels) | Photo: K. Ellenbogen|
Stay tuned to this blog to follow the team as they dive to collect data on the health of the coral reefs, pick up trash where they find it, check in with the villagers to see how some conservation initiatives are faring and further develop connections with the people that live on these beautiful Pacific islands.