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Dear Fellow Diver,
"C'mere, I got a moray," signed Sio, my divemaster, 20 feet away from me at Jerry's Jellies.
"Nah, I'm good here," I flashed back. I love a good moray, but I was communing with a magnificent anemone full of tomato clownfish. I can see morays nearly everywhere, but I flew across the Pacific for anemone fish.
"Come here, now," signaled my travel companion, kneeling beside Sio. OK, I motated on over to a trio of ribbon eels, one black and yellow, the other two blue and yellow, doing their wide-open mouth thing. My dive buddy always has my best interests at heart.
We were diving at Jerry's Jellies, one of dozens of dive sites along the Rainbow Reef in Fiji's Somosomo Strait. It's a 35-minute boat ride from Paradise Taveuni Resort on Taveuni Island, southeast of Vanua Levu. This was my fourth trip to Fiji; the others were on liveaboards.
After a 10-hour flight from San Francisco to Nadi, I schlepped my gear from the modern international airport to the domestic third-world terminal, which included the sobering task of stepping onto the luggage scales with my carry-ons. Then it was a 75-minute flight to Taveuni Island, where our group of 27 Americans (some were on later
flights) were greeted by several
resort vans for the one-hour drive
to Paradise Taveuni, the last half a
bone-crunching trip over the unpaved
ragged road. While other resorts are
nearer the airport, Paradise Taveuni
is a 20-30-minute boat ride closer to
Rainbow Reef. Pick your poison.
The staffers gave us a big
Fijian welcome, serenading us with
guitars and beautiful singing. Here,
the Fijian people shine. While they were colonized 150 years ago by the British
who planted sugarcane, the Fijians didn't want to work the fields (why, when you
could catch a fish and get a coconut off a tree?), so the oppressors brought in
underpaid and illiterate East Indian laborers. I've been to plenty of dive destinations
where the bitterness among the locales simmers just below the surface -- I
get it. But the Fijian people have gone beyond that. Their joie de vivre made us
immediately at home. By day two, most of the staff knew
each person's name.
The resort buildings are almost new because owners
Allen and Terri Gortan had to rebuild after Cyclone
Winston leveled the place in 2016. The covered opensided
restaurant flows into a seating and small bar
area, plus a tiny gift shop, clothing boutique, and
dive shop, with an air-conditioned camera room. There's
even a bakery that provides cinnamon rolls for between
dives. The bures, which can accommodate 32 guests, are
generous, comfortable, and air-conditioned, with refrigerators
and lovely open-air showers. Most are spread
along the beach. There are hammocks and gazebos on the
grounds and a swimming pool front and center -- a nondiver
with a reading addiction could be very happy, as
was I. After four decades of diving worldwide, I'm at
an age and stage where I'm happy with two or three good
tanks daily, with leisure time to enjoy a good book and
take in the locale....
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