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Three weeks since my last update and so much has happened. For a start, I'm now sitting in an air conditioned internet cafe in Suva typing this rather than scrawling it on a flimsy aerogram. So here are the highs and lows of the last few weeks outside of civilisation.
First of all of course is the diving. Two weeks of intensive surveying allowed us to gather all the data they needed. To survey, we went down in teams of 3; one person laid out the measuring tape along the 50 meter transect marked at either end by a metal bar implanted in the substrate then all three of us traversed the length of it twice. On the way out we recorded fish (to species level) under 10cm, between 10cm and 40cm and over 40cm respectively. On the way back two of us recorded the substrate under the tape at 50cm intervals while the other recorded any invertabrates within 1m either side of the tape. Then we had to wind in the tape and surface, all in under 45 minutes. It was tough and twice we had to come back to finish the substrate survey after running out of time, but we got them all done.
In other diving news, Adam and I continued our night diving, one of which was my 50th dive on the island; as is traditional for a 50th dive I was of course wearing fancy dress - Heidi very kindly lent me her pink bikini. And then of course there was also the naked night dive just because, well, when the water is a permanent 28 degrees, why not? And yes there are pictures and yes there are fins/dive torches placed in strategic locations.
In total I racked up 65 dives on the island; 4 of these were done on one awsome day (our second to last diving day) during which I saw 5 turtles, 4 of which were just on one dive (to give you an idea of how special this is I only saw two other turtles during all my other days of diving). On one of these dives I almost bumped in to the turtle; I was swimming along looking at a school of large snappers when I looked down and there not more than 20cm straight below me was an 80cm long hawksbill turtle. It didn't seemed concerned by me at all and just hovered there for about 30 seconds before swimming off at a leisurely pace, allowing me to follow closely behind for a while. Absolutely awesome.
During these last weeks I also got the opportunity to try some new activities. I went spear fishing twice with Tino, a man from the local village. The metal spear was about a meter long and fired from a gun powered by a very strong piece of elastic. Snorkling through the water and occasionally free diving down to around 5m, you had to try and creep up on the fish so you could get close enough to shoot accurately; it was pretty difficult as the fish moved so fast, especially when a metal rod was hurtling towards them through the water. I managed to catch a few lined bristletooth surgeon fish and a couple of parrot fish; very tasty. I also got to try a bit of bare back horseriding. Cantering up and down the beach was fun, if a little uncomfortable, and controlling the horse was slightly difficult at times - if it wants to go on to those rocks it's not going to let some inexperienced foreigner on top tell it not to!
With the last of the fresh fruit and veg going two weeks before the end of the expedition, everyone got a bit tired and run down in the last few weeks; I managed to drop my mask into the deep blue swimming back to the boat after a dive and while I could easily borrow someone else's for my remaining dives, none of them had my prescription fitted in them. I also managed to remove a nice line of skin from the palm of my left hand; I was hanging off the side of the boat holding on to a rope attached to the front trying to watch the dolphins swimming in the water just in front of me. When I let go, the carabina on the end caught on my hand and ripped off the top layer of skin, about an inch long and 3/4 cm wide. Happily, now I have returned to civilisation this is healing quickly.
For the last fundraiser at Navatu village however, I had a bit of difficulty as in a traditional kava ceremony one sits cross legged and claps loudly before and after receiving a bowl. My injured hand combined with a very unfortunate and painful rash on my rear side (which has thankfully almost healed as well) made both of these requirements extremely tricky (ibuprofen is my new god, I'd never have survived the evening without it!). I didn't have any problems playing volleyball with the villagers earlier though, although the torrential rain and sloping, muddy pitch with no boundries marked made playing an experience like no other (and yes I did slip over and get very dirty).
It felt like we'd only just arrived but, come last sunday, 9 weeks had passed since we first stepped upon Navatu island and it was time to leave. Emotional goodbyes were said on the beach and practically the whole village was in tears as we departed, not to mention a fair few of the volunteers and even the staff who will be back in two weeks time. Then after a few last lingering looks, we were taken across the channel to the mainland and loaded in to the back of a truck for an express trip back to civilisation which would see us go staight on to the overnight ferry from Savusavu to arrive in Suva early Monday morning.
So now it's time to look to the future and my plans have changed slightly from my original intentions. Oli and I will be going to New Zealand on thursday and there we will be parting, at least for a while. Oli has a new girlfriend (Mel) from our Greenforce expedition and he wants to join her on the month long trip she has planned , taking a Magic Bus tour around NZ, going from Auckland to Christchurch. After that he's got no idea what he's going to do. I'm going to be heading straight down to Christchurch with a cheap flight then heading further south so I can go walking in the stunning southern alps before winter makes then impassable with the gear I have. Then I'll be heading back up north, working my way back to Auckland over a period of about two to two and a half months. After that, I'll probably try and find a job in Auckland for a couple of months, but who knows? Plans are flexible and I'm still considering hopping over to Australia for a bit.