The Rose --Inside a whale
13 July 2014 | Yanuca, Budds Reef, Fiji
24 June 2014 Dear Family and Friends,
Waitui Water King Today, as sure as Jonah, I went into the belly of a whale. We are anchored at Yavu Island inside the lagoon of Budds Reef. The island is steep black lava sloping into a coral fringing reef. When I say "coral" most people think of something solid. But coral is actually more like a crocheted blanket which knots and weaves itself over, under and around the substrate creating a whole other world beneath its ceiling. This is the world where the reef fish live and sleep-some by day and others by night. It is a world which usually remains unseen by us humans.
We started our day with a dive on a big coral head rising up from the deep blue about a half mile out to sea from our anchorage. We had nearly bumped into the uncharted coral head sailing into the anchorage the day before and now wanted a chance to explore. As we approached in our dinghy I pulled on my mask and snorkel and slipped my face into the water to peer into the world beneath. There rose the balmy right out of the deep seemingly endless blue like a high rise city thrusting up from a wide open prairie. As I looked out at the surrounding blue something echoed in my mind, something someone had said about aggressive sharks on the north end of Taveuni. I've never been quite comfortable when the bottom is out of sight-never quite sure what might come up for me. But in Fiji where the visibility is over 150 feet that concern hadn't arisen lately. I redirected my gaze to the solid, tangible balmy.
Quickly suiting up, we slid over the side and down to the base of the balmy 110 feet below to start a circumnavigation. Small fish abounded peering out of the coral lattice and small caverns. Two varieties of giant clam added purple to the fluorescent orange brain coral, golden fans and thick leathery green cabbages. Schools of fish swooped along the contours like cascading water and a large moray eel placidly watched me drift by. We made our way around spiraling slowly upward until we arrived back at the dinghy "Rosebud". Having almost half tanks remaining we decided to finish the air with an exploration of some coral crevices we had noticed the day before along the point at the north end of the bay. The tide had been high and we had snorkeled over the shallow reef. Looking down through the catacomb-like filigree of coral we had caught glimpses of shadowy spaces below. With Scuba gear we could look for an entrance and explore further. Now free to breathe beneath the surface, I dropped down to investigate a promising looking ledge and moments later glanced up to find John gone and only a tiny puff of disturbed sediment at the mouth of a narrow black hole as a clue. I waited patiently for his return hoping he would be able to turn around somewhere in the convoluted tunnel. Then to my relief I noticed his bubbles seeping through the porous coral roof which formed his ceiling. I kept my eyes on the bubbles thinking that if they stopped I would need to rush in to the rescue. But that didn't happen. Instead John soon returned to the entrance and waved me in. The dark narrow mouth required a little twist to enter but then became relatively spacious. The winding tunnel folded down and back onto itself in a most "esophageal" fashion. Overlapping coral woven into a mesh overhead allowed just enough light through to illuminate the way. The water was strangely warm perhaps from some geothermal activity and I recalled the boiling hot springs of Savusavu which are used for cooking. I decided then to feel my way along slowly hoping to avoid a sudden scalding hot current. The undulating contours, twilight and warmth brought to mind the whale's belly as I slowly made my way along the entire intestinal transit. It was solemnly quiet within, kind of sleepy and I found myself wanting to stay there between the rock and the reef in that warm and dusky world of intestinal villae. I felt myself sort of dissolving into unconscious mineral suspended in brine.
Just in time, the whale belly dumped me out into a steep walled pool 25 feet deep and decorated on all sides with a rainbow of colored corals and small bright tropical fish. Prominently displayed as centerpieces in a grand entry room stood three upright formations like large golden vases or sculpted and gilded oyster mushrooms or perhaps an arrangement of moose antlers. Sun rays streamed into the crystal clear water. The effect was magical. Reef fish turned and stared up at me as I drifted ever so quietly past. I wonder if my eyes look just as big behind my mask staring out at them. A large paisley caterpillar-form sea cucumber with flower petal appendages about his mouth reared on his hind legs like a giant inch worm searching for his next juicy leaf. I didn't want even to breath for fear of disrupting the spell of the place with my bubbles.
Leaving this dreamland, we swam back to the boat to attack a few projects and have lunch. By late afternoon, my work done, I hopped into the dinghy and paddled along the black volcanic cliff-line and backdrop of palm, pandanus and breadfruit jungle. The beach hosted a vast collection of giant clam, conch, cowrie and cone shells piled deep one on top of another. Some beaches just seem to be the place where things wash up and this was such a beach and just perfect for a "thing finding expedition". Along the tree line, a large and perfectly intact giant clam shell, bleached exquisitely white sat grinning at me. With a gasp, my first instinct was to grab it but I soon realized it belonged right here on this perfect beach. I moved her to a grassy ledge of black lava rock beyond reach of high surf and surrounded her with colorful chocolate spotted cowry splotched with violet and a large chunk of softest sunrise peach conch and left her the better to survey the sea from which she came.
We haven't seen many incredible sunsets this time of year but of course this day came to a spectacular close with a fiery display of crimson and tangerine exploding from the mountainous horizon of north east Vanua Levu. What a perfect day! Tomorrow we hope to climb to the top of Cobia to view the reef in its entirety and peer into the blown out crater of the volcano which is the heart of this formation. But right now I'm sure the moon and the stars are arguing over who will tuck me in tonight so I best get ready!
All is well (as might be expected).
Always, Pat and John s/v The Rose at Yanuca Island, Budds Reef, Fiji