I look for adventure that will make my blood surge, although the ocean has probably provided me with more terror than all other terrain combined. I have always wanted to go diving, and now, here in a pristine Fijian paradise, I have the chance. So I start in the resort’s pool, and dive off-jetty within the hour, sinking in my heavy equipment to watch the clouds of multicolored, flashing sea life — fish of a dozen varieties. When they disappear, and it’s just this murky, light-strewn three-dimensional world, I tell myself not to care that I feel seawater in my nose and can taste it in my mouth, try to slow my breathing and study the coral. I tell myself that this is fun. We are not that deep, and it’s mostly the fact that worst-case scenarios are running through my head. I had neglected to ask the dive instructor what happens if I start coughing so hard I lose the regulator, inhale water, and, unable to breathe, am rushed to the surface. Will my lungs explode at the top? I shut this thought out.
The last full day on the island, I go out on a fishing boat to try to catch my own lunch, but it is rather slow going. On a whim, I climb to the bow and dangle my legs over, close enough to the racing surface that when the boat lurches into the valley of a wave, my toes break into the sea. I lean over, grasping the rail, watching for the crests that will topple the craft down again so that I can bury my feet in the waves and feel the salt spray lick my skin — skin that I have covered these four days, though less than perfectly. But momentarily I do not care and I am lost in the sway of the ocean. I look back at my fishing companions. One of them has just lost a fish because his line crossed my unattended one. So I climb back, over the two-inch wide metal strip between the hold and the bow, and watch the lines with them. But I can’t help leaning over the side, and then dangling both feet over again, holding on with my right arm. I peer down into the water, closer than on the bow, but more obscured by the foam coming off the boat, and I see shapes through the water. Flat gray, and slightly smaller than me, though it’s hard to tell with the way the light shifts into the depths. Perhaps rocks, or coral. But they move with the boat. I point with my left hand. “Sharks!” I say. The water may smell of blood from our catch of a mackerel and what the guide says is some kind of sharp-toothed garfish, but I leave my toes in the water. They’ll just be reef sharks. My companions laugh at me. “Those are dolphins,” they say. I stare, entranced, as the creatures leap, arc, racing the boat, three of them, until they swim away. Too late, I realize I could have let go and fallen into their midst, perhaps touched one. I might have given my Fijian fishing guide a heart attack, but then again, probably not.
When I get back from fishing, I am so delighted I do not even want to stop for lunch. I don my Under Armour tights and a Nike long-sleeved running shirt to stave off sunburn and traipse down for a Hobie Cat lesson. Gus, the 18-year-old Fiji Youth Hobie Cat racing champion, whom the owner of the resort picked up off the docks of Suva as a loitering youngster and taught to sail, is waiting. He looks at me and goes to the Marine Center for a pair of harnesses. Gus shows me how to hook into the side of the catamaran, and we’re off, one hull up, leaning back into the harness and bracing against the side of the trampoline with our feet, so that when both hulls are down, we’re parallel with the surf. I have the jib, although I don’t do anything with it other than hold the rope for balance so hard I begin to get blisters. I arch backwards and drag my fingers in the water as we fly past, as the boat wavers up and down, so we’re almost vertical at times. Gus chuckles as he tips it up, until he goes too far, and we’re so far upright I lose my balance and plummet to the ocean, and the boat tips over, sail flat. Gus tells me to climb up on the hull with him and help him right everything. Only we aren’t heavy enough, so I have to climb his knees and lean on his chest so we form a counterweight.
When all is righted, Gus tells me to take the rudder and the mainsail, and we go slowly back as he shows me how to catch the wind and steer. Every time we begin to tip too much and I let the sail slack to bring us down, he chuckles again. He asks me where I’m from, and I tell him that back there, it’s snowing.
We sail for nearly three hours, sliding around under the boom, and I’m thankful for my Under Armour, especially when I discover red burns up to my ankles. We tip the boat again, and then I’m hungry for lunch, which consists of beer-battered fish and chips made from the Mackerel caught earlier — the best fish and chips I’m sure I’ve ever had.
When I arrive back in Los Angeles, I fill a Fiji water bottle from the drinking fountain and wait for my next flight. I try not to be picky when it comes to drinking water, but I can’t help being horrified at how bad it tastes. And, not for the last time, I miss the waters of Fiji.
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