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Photos by David Lansing.

Photos by David Lansing.

I should probably talk about my room at Likuliku. Actually, they don’t call them rooms here they call them bures, which Wikipedia defines as “the Fijian word for a wood-and-straw hut, sometimes similar to a cabin.” Well, I wouldn’t call my bure a wood-and-straw hut and it’s definitely not a cabin. Unless Fijian cabins usually come with limestone egg tubs set in front of wooden windows that open up over a coral reef lagoon. I had to take a picture of myself soaking in my egg tub yesterday afternoon just because it seemed so romantically ludicrous. I mean, Ivery or Lucy brings out a little canapé platter in the afternoon—little crackers with baby shrimp or cheese on them, that sort of thing—to tide you over before dinner, and I still had the bottle of champagne that was brought to my room the first night I checked in, so I opened the bubbly and ran a bath and sat there in the tub looking out at the lagoon where a couple of newlyweds were paddling in slow circles on their kayaks.

Fortunately my modest little wood-and-straw hut also has a hi-tech music system so I was able to plug in my iPod and listen to Glenn Gould playing Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” while sitting in my warm egg drinking champagne. It was as pathetic as it sounds. And that’s when I decided to climb out of my egg, dripping water on the lovely limestone tile floor, and set up my camera on the edge of the vanity so I could take my picture with the self-timer. I couldn’t figure out what sort of a pose I should have. In the first one, I just looked directly at the camera. But that looked dumb. Then I took one with me holding my glass of champagne and sort of grinning like an idiot—Look! I’m in an egg tub over a Fijian lagoon drinking champagne!—but that was even worse. I ended up slumped in the tub looking out the window like I’m thinking about some really heavy things but really my mind was as blank as the sky.

The other really cool thing about my over-the-water bure (by the way, if you’re reading this on the web site and you look at the banner photo at the top, my bure is the third one over from the right; if you have a jeweler’s loop and put it up against your monitor, you can probably see me taking a bath in my egg tub—just kidding)…the other neat thing is that at the foot of my bed there are two strips of thick glass, each about a foot wide and three feet long, embedded in the floor so you can hang over the foot of the bed at night and look at the fish swimming by. It’s like a piscine freeway down there with schools of bright blue fish jerking left and then right as luminous needle fish dart past. Sometimes there’s a school of squid and once I watched as a reef shark gulped up a damselfish like it was one of the chef’s tasty canapés.

A squid school, swimming beneath my bure.

A squid school, swimming beneath my bure.

This morning I overheard one of the newly-weds, a Nicole Kidman-like beauty from Sydney, tell our server, Ivery, that she’d stayed up half the night laying on the bed, watching the fish. “Tim kept telling me to come to bed but I just couldn’t. I’d start to but then some amazing fish I’d never seen before would glide by in the light,” she said. “It was like being at an aquarium, except the aquarium was the entire lagoon! And you could look at it in bed!”

Her husband, Tim, who was wearing a bush hat, said, “Bor-ing!”

I wish I hadn’t overheard them. Now I’ll wonder, when I’m lying on my stomach in the darkness peering down into the illuminated sea, if she’s doing the same thing while Tim sleeps. And I’ll wish that I was there so I could say, “Oh my god, did you see those angelfish? Aren’t they just the most beautiful things? Aren’t they?”

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An Indian magiti

Photo by David Lansing.

Photo by David Lansing.

Dinner last night was a “family style” Fijian-Indian feast called a magiti. Likuliku puts on a magiti once a week, partially as a tribute to the Indo-Fijian culture (I don’t know how many Indian workers there are in Fiji currently, but at one point they made up almost half the population) and partially so that the executive chef, Shane Watson, can have a night off.

The “family style” thing means that they bring big platters of food to your table to share—even if, like me, you’re dining alone. So just like all the newlyweds surrounding me, I got a large bowl of lamb curry, another bowl of reef fish curry, and a third bowl—just in case I was still hungry—of chicken curry. Which was a shame because I’m not particularly fond of curry. It reminds me of several months spent traveling across Africa, years ago, when we put curry on just about everything, from scrambled eggs to canned tuna, because we had no other spices.

This was in addition to the mud crabs (also in curry!), spiced grilled pawns, split pea bar, tandoori chicken, dhal soup, and the pappadums I had as a precursor to the multiple curries. You know, sort of an Indian amuse bouche.

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Snorkeling in the deep end of the ocean. Photo by David Lansing.

Snorkeling in the deep end of the ocean. Photo by David Lansing.

At this point I started to get a little kink in my neck, mostly because my head was bent at an odd angle while trying to swim and stare at Heidi’s hini at the same time. I dog-paddled, pulling out my snorkel and lifting the mask off my face. We’d really drifted. Abel was standing up in the dive boat, whistling and waving his arms over his head to get my attention. The wind had come up and the ocean was rolling. I couldn’t hear what Abel was saying but I knew he wanted us to swim back towards the boat. I waved back to let him know I got the message, then cleared my mask and stuck my head back under the water looking for Harry and Heidi.

They were nowhere in sight.

My mother had this rule when we were children: If anyone gets separated from the rest of the group, stay where you are. Do not get clever and try and figure out where the others are because you’ll only get more lost. Instead, stay put. And that philosophy has always worked pretty well for me (although there was this one time on a train in Switzerland when I fell asleep and when I woke up, everyone was gone so I just stayed where I was and next thing you know, the train had crossed into Italy).

But what do you do if you are in the middle of the ocean a good 15-minute swim from an anchored dive boat that seems to be getting smaller and smaller as you drift away in a strong current and your diving partners, who, you imagine, are somewhere up ahead of you—even farther from the boat—have disappeared completely? Staying put did not seem like a good option. So I started swimming off in the direction I figured Harry and Heidi would have gone, following the reef wall that curved gently to the left farther and farther until…it just ended. And there ahead of me was an outerspace of deep green water.

Which is when I remembered something Abel had said just before Harry, Heidi, and I slipped off the side of the dive boat: “There are strong currents in the passage running into the open ocean from the reef. Do not follow the wall into the open ocean. You’ll end up in Samoa.”

He was right about this current. It moved like a river. And the swells were getting bigger. The dive boat was nowhere in sight.

I’ve only gotten seasick once in my life. That was in a storm off the Canary Islands when I was strapped into a theater seat in the hold of a cargo ship that tossed and turned so violently that, while I vomited, the strap from the restraining belt cut deeply into my skin. That was bad. But I’d have to say that throwing up in the open ocean is worse. For one thing, there’s nothing to hold on to. For another, it seems to attract a sudden crowd. I would never have guessed that barracuda like regurgitated bananas, but evidently they’re game.

Harry was the one who pulled me by my arm back to the dive boat, but Abel said it was Heidi who spotted me. “I was thinking not good things, Mr. David,” Abel said. “But Miss Heidi see you soon enough.”

She smiled at me and patted my pale arm. “You gave us a scare,” she said like a reproachful mother. “That’s why you need a dive buddy when you’re snorkeling.”

I smiled weakly and put my head back on Heidi’s lap. She smelled of coconut and citrus. Harry pulled a red beach towel out of his backpack and spread it over me. “You’re shivering,” he said. Then, noticing me gazing at the lettering on the towel—their names along with what I assumed to be the date of their marriage arranged inside a white heart—shook his head sheepishly and said, “I know. Hokie, huh?”

“Not at all,” I said, closing my eyes as Heidi placed a cool hand on my forehead to shade me from the sun.

That night the three of us had dinner together. Heidi wore a cute white top with NEWLYWED spelled out in silver sequins across her breasts. I thought it was charming.

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Snorkeling with Heidi and Harry

Photo by David Lansing.

Photo by David Lansing.

This morning, Abel, Likuliku’s dive master, took me and a newly-wed couple out snorkeling along Castaway Reef. Let’s call the newlyweds Heidi and Harry, just because you never hear those names anymore.

Heidi and Harry, who look just like all the other newlyweds at this resort (they’re young, cute, and ridiculously fit—what else do you need to know?) were not exactly thrilled to see me climb into the dive boat. I went and sat in the stern, next to Abel and a rusty red can of smelly petrol, while they took up positions in the bow. Once settled, they shifted their bodies in unison so Abel and I could get a good look at the backs of their heads. As Abel pushed off from the dock, the young couple started whispering to each other, as if all the fish in the lagoon were sleeping and they didn’t want to wake them.

“I hope I didn’t eat too many bananas for breakfast,” I blurted out, apropos of nothing. “They make me gassy.” I have a habit of saying stupid things when I’m uncomfortable. It’s a lifelong curse. Heidi glanced over her shoulder at me as if I’d just explained that Tourette’s syndrome ran in my family, which maybe it does. Harry got up and shifted seats so that he was now between me and Heidi and 15 feet of boat. Then he leaned over and whispered something in her ear while shrugging a shoulder in my direction. I imagined that he probably said something like, “He’s not a newlywed. Shun him.” Or something to that effect.

Abel, ever the Fijian gentleman, grinned largely at me, his teeth like Chiclets, and said, “Mr. David, you see any nice looking women in Yaro yesterday?”

Yaro is a Fijian fishing village on the north end of the island. Yesterday, Abel took me and two other newly-minted couples to the village, about a 15 minute boat ride away, where Abel took me around to meet all the available young ladies, at least two of whom were actually over 16, while the newlyweds drank kava with the elders and received gifts.

Anyway, Heidi and Harry and I hopped into the water and swam away from Abel’s boat, and as we’re making our way towards the reef, two things struck me as a bit unusual: Heidi and Harry were holding hands while snorkeling, something I’d never seen before, and Heidi was wearing a red bikini that had white lettering on her butt that said JUST MARRIED! Actually, the “I” was sort of stuck in the crease of Heidi’s butt and at first I thought it said JUST MARRED!, which made more sense to me, but when I got closer, I spotted the “I” hiding in her bottom like an eel in the shadowy recesses of a cave.

I found this so fascinating that I was having a hard time paying any attention to all the spangly, darting reef fish all around us. Was this a thoughtful bridal shower present from a best friend, I wondered, or did Heidi discover this little designer wonder on her own? Is there a ladies clothing store where Heidi lives that, in addition to selling panties that have hearts stenciled on the crotch, also carries swimsuits announcing your relationship status? FUN SINGLE! CONFUSED ENGAGED! SWINGER!

Or perhaps she’d found it online—you can buy anything online these days—at a nuptial store for clothing. What else might they sell? Matching bowling shirts proclaiming HONEYMOONERS; baseball caps separately labeled BRIDE, GROOM; flannel pajamas suggesting SEX TONIGHT? on the man’s top and NOT LIKELY on the woman’s?

There were a couple of reef sharks cruising beside me at this point but I didn’t have time for them, involved as I was in speculating on whether Heidi had a whole trousseau of JUST MARRIED! clothing in addition to the scarlet red bikini (which, at the moment, seemed to be attracting the attention of not only me but the little posse of ruffian sharks that had skittered past). Would I see her at breakfast wearing her JUST MARRIED! scarf to cover up her unwashed bedhead? Would she be donning her JUST MARRIED! cashmere shawl at dinner tonight? Did she, I wondered, have JUST MARRIED! bra and panty sets in appropriate South Seas colors: coral pink, cerulean blue, parrot green?

More tomorrow…

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Likuliku kokoda

Fijiana restaurant at Likuliku Lagoon Resort.

Fijiana restaurant at Likuliku Lagoon Resort.

It took me a couple of days to get Shane Watson to part with his recipe for kokoda (he kept complaining that he had to cook for a hundred guests and didn’t have time to sit down behind the computer and write out a recipe—slacker), but here it is. Frankly, I think he made it intentionally complex just so no one would actually make it. And, like most chefs, he probably left out a key ingredient. So the only way you’ll ever know how good it really is is to go to Likuliku. Which, I suppose, is the point.

Likuliku Kokoda

500gfirm, white fleshed fish fillet such as spangled emperor, coral trout, or rock cod

250gnama sea grapes, soaked in fresh water for 24 hours

100gtomato, deseeded and finely diced

1 bchcilantro, leaves picked and washed

1red onion, finely diced

4large red chilis, deseeded and finely diced

2red peppers, finely diced

100gpalm sugar, grated

500mlcoconut cream, made fresh or tinned

200mlbush lemon juice

100mlrice wine vinegar

100mlfish sauce

Trim and slice the fish, across the grain, into small bite size pieces. Marinate the fish in 100ml of the lemon juice and the vinegar to “cook” for several hours, covered, in the refrigerator. The fish is ready when it is no longer translucent and has a firm texture. Drain the sea grapes and pick through to ensure there is no sand in the grapes. Combine the grated palm sugar with remaining 100ml of lemon juice and stir to dissolve. Add the fish sauce and coconut cream and stir to combine, taste and adjust if necessary with a little more fish sauce. Drain the fish through a sieve and discard the juice. Place the fish in a stainless steel bowl and add the nama sea grapes and the remaining salad ingredients and the dressing. Toss well to combine. Leave to marinade for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator so the flavors can combine. Finally, taste again for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Spoon the mixture into individual bowls or glass ware, drizzle with a little red chili oil, and garnish with cilantro leaves. Enjoy with a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

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