Tunes Played On A Tropical Piano

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach. Crossposted from my blog, Skating Under The Ice. Contents: Adventure, plus minimal science. Feel free to ignore this if you wish.

After I wrote my last piece about my trip to Fiji, things have just been moving too fast to write. I’ll just take up where I left off, at Janice’s Skinny Bean Cafe in Pacific Harbour. It’s in a large complex of shops and apartments called “Arts Village”. I used to live in one of the apartments, so was old home week for me. The Arts Village is kind of shabby and rundown, but we love it. There’s Kundan Singh’s grocery store, a bank, several restaurants, apartments, a kind of Fiji Theme Park, and lots of folks.

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Wandering around, I found an old piano in one of the hallways. Always curious about musical instruments, I opened the lid on the keyboard, and broke out laughing.

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It was so joyously emblematic of life in the tropics. You know the old saying about karma, “What goes around, comes around”?

In the tropics, I used to say, “What goes around … stops.”

But here’s the beauty part. Despite our faulty instruments, both wooden and human, somehow, someway, the lovely tropical tunes just keep on playing …

The next couple days I was involved with business and my various schemes for the honeymoon couple. My daughter Talia married a great guy last September. Kegan is a good man, interesting and fun to hang with. This trip to Fiji was to be their honeymoon, and I’d sworn a big swear to myself to make it not just memorable but totally over the top. So I got all that lined up.

The first part of my devious plan, for the day that they arrived, had to do with my mate Shiloh. Back in the nineties, another friend and I tried to introduce ultralight aircraft into Fiji.

We were too far ahead of our time, though. The administrative rules for light sport aircraft weren’t yet in place. We weren’t able to get official permission and eventually we gave up the effort.

So in 2003 when I moved back to Fiji, I was stoked to find out that Shiloh was an ultralight pilot, and he was bringing his bird to Fiji. Of course, when it arrived I gave him a hand getting it together.

Unfortunately, on one of the first takeoffs, a protective strip peeled off of the leading edge of the propeller, causing the engine to vibrate strongly. He was flying low and slow and tried to turn back to go around and land. But the plane stalled and dropped in from about fifty feet or so. YIKES! The pilot was fine … the airplane, not so much.

So Shiloh and I spent about the next six months painstakingly putting the bird back together. We replaced the broken parts, straightened the bent parts, sewed up the rips in the wing fabric, and got it running again. At the same time, we removed the wheels and replaced them with Full Lotus airplane floats. We ground tested the engine and the prop, checked the balance and the pitch. And one day, hearts in hand, we pushed it out on the water and fired up the engine, and it flew like … well, a bird.

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The floats were a huge improvement since there is a fringing reef all along where Shiloh lives. This meant that if there were problems, you were almost always over the runway and could land anywhere.

Of course, there were problems. The radiator wasn’t really large enough, so it tended to overheat when taxiing. And there was a problem with the fuel system that led it to start missing once when we were flying outside the reef. Shiloh managed to land it outside the reef, running with a medium swell. But then we had to get back in. We got it restarted and then had to taxi in through the channel, with a short steep chop running from behind and trying to bury the nose of the floats. We’re all still here, so it worked out. Trial and error is the only way to get something that works reliably. They say that good judgment comes from experience … and experience comes from bad judgment …

Once it was up and running, here’s what we used it for:

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Lash on the surfboards and go …

Now, more than a decade later, the plane has a new engine, new wings, a much larger radiator, a remodeled fuel system, the works. And Shiloh now has about 2,000 hours on it, so it’s been shook down until it’s solid and skookum.

So to return to the honeymoon, as planned and discussed with the newlyweds and my gorgeous ex-fiancee, we stopped at Andrew’s lovely little Beach House Resort for lunch on our way to the villa that we’d rented for the duration. And to my surprise, it turned out that the spirit wind had blown a half a dozen old friends that I hadn’t seen for years or even decades to the Beach House on the day we arrived. Here are some of their kids at play:

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Of course they also knew my daughter, so Talia got to introduce her new husband Kegan around. He’s a fun decent honest good guy, as is she. They are both very lucky.

And as we were sitting and chatting with old friends, a small plane appeared over the horizon. My daughter asked if that was Shiloh’s plane. I said it was, he’d been flying it lately.

Then the plane turned, and landed and ran it up on the beach … and I told them that he was there to give them each a ride. So they both got taken into the sky and given an amazing view of the coast, the mountains, the reef flat, the surge channels, the surf breaks …

My daughter started out by saying she didn’t want to fly, but Megan said she should go, and it’s never been her style to hang back … here’s how she looked after she landed.

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I tell you, dear friends, that look on the good lady’s face made the entire trip worthwhile … and we were just a few hours into Fiji, we were just getting started.

Of course, I had to take a ride myself. It was wonderful to be back up flying again with Shiloh, just as we had so many times in the past. Only this time, it’s in a solid bird with no worries. Up in the air, we looked at each other and just busted out laughing. It was that kind of a day.

We said our goodbyes and went on to the villa we’d rented from my friend Jeff. It had the main requirements: walking distance to everything, a pool, and flowers.

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In this case the flowers were the tallest orchid plants that I’ve ever seen, stalks six feet tall with blossoms that matched the blouse of Ellie, my gorgeous ex-fiancee for thirty-eight years now.

tropical piano 6Then on Tuesday, I’d set it up for the four of us to go on the shark dive with the Beqa Adventure Divers. It’s one of the premier shark dives in the world. Typically you see five or six different species of shark. Occasionally there’s a tiger shark as well, but I’ve never seen one there. My friend Mop did one time, though. There are no shark cages, you’re just in the water with any shark that wanders by. Mop came back with the photo for the non-believers …

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The guys from Beqa Island (which is pronounced Mben-ga) are the ones who run BAD, Beqa Adventure Divers. They are the BAD guys, our protective guards with the round ended aluminum poles like the one you see above. The shark is the traditional tambu of the islanders of Beqa, so they never fish for shark or eat it. They are allied with the sharks and say that the sharks don’t attack the Beqa people.

Now, I am entranced by the underwater world. I learned to scuba dive old school in Fiji in ’84. My mates strapped a tank on me, said “stay with us, don’t go deeper”, and told me never ever to hold my breath when I was coming up. That was the extent of the instruction. I made dozens of dives with nothing more than that and a set of dive tables.

Then in ’87, in the Solomon Islands, both me and the gorgeous ex-fiancee got certified. Boring, but they were starting to crack down on filling my tanks, and she wanted to learn to dive. Since then we’ve dived a lot, and I’ve gotten additional tickets, Openwater II and Rescue Divers.

In 2004 Clan Eschenbach, which was me, my gorgeous ex-fiancee, and our 13-year-old daughter, were living in Fiji once again. The girlie got her certification, and we went on the BAD shark dive. It was just starting up back then, and after having dived for years, I wanted to go. But the ex-fiancee said no way she’d go shark diving with me. She said she was perfectly content with the exact number of sharks she’d seen, and saw no reason to increase that number.

Rats.

So I took an end run. I asked the newly certified young lady diver if she’d go with me on the shark dive. She said sure, Dad … kids are immortal.

But of course, there’s no way that any mom would let her daughter go shark diving unless she were diving too, as I knew well. It wasn’t gonna happen, uh-uh, forget it.

So we all went diving with the sharks. And did I mention eels? Moray eels. But I digress.

Since then the shark dive operation has grown, as have the number and variety of sharks you tend to see. It’s very professionally run, and they do extensive data collection, tagging, and shark research. The noted shark researchers Ron and Valerie Taylor have dived repeatedly with BAD.

Now, the bull sharks are not as big as the tiger shark shown above, but then nothing is that big … still, the bull sharks we saw were maybe 300 pounds (135 kg.) and eight or nine feet long. They are broad and deep, like they swallowed an oil drum. They move with a slow but implacable power, masters of their element. The dive plan that they show before the dive is below. It’s drawn looking at the reef wall from the deep water, with the dive boat shown moored at the top under the “R” in “RESERVE”.

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At the bottom it says “Beqa Channel”, the deep water. When you go in from the boat, you go down the reef wall to 30 metres (100 feet) on the far side of the red area marked as the Arena. Red means shark turf. On the drawing is a low coral wall about a foot tall or so (300 mm) just beyond the red area. This is the imaginary wall that all the guests kneel behind. Standing up behind the guests with their backs to the reef are the guys from BAD, each with their magic aluminum shark pusher. As you saw in the photo above, they don’t poke the sharks. They use the rounded end to push them away.

They feed the bull sharks by hand in the arena where the triangle is marked on the dive plan, wearing a butchers glove of stainless steel mesh. I counted fourteen massive sharks circling the food. The sharks come cruising down the line of spectators after gulping down an entire big tuna head. The tuna blood is streaming out of their gills, but because of the depth the blood is colored green, giving it an unworldly quality … here’s a typical scene.

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Then we went up to the area at 10 metres depth (30′) at the top middle on the dive plan. There, they fed white-tip reef sharks and gray reef sharks. Reef sharks are smaller than bulls and other deeper water sharks. The white-tips are somewhat sinuous, and they moved in and out among the guys feeding them. In the last part of the dive, we went up and hung on a rope right at the edge of the reef flats. There we saw the smallest sharks, the black-tip reef sharks. Still, they are a metre and a half (five feet) long …

That was all as it had been a decade ago when we first dove. Then after lunch, we went on the newest addition to the shark dive. This was a second dive up at the upper right side of the dive plan at fifteen metres (50′). There, they had laid out a row of flat concrete slabs that we all laid down on facing the deeps. I liked that, it felt safe. We were back in the territory of the bull sharks, a dozen or so were circling around. A friend of mine who used to dive commercially for sea urchins in great white shark territory said that’s what he did when a white approached in the wild. He laid down flat on the bottom. I was glad to be doing likewise.

First, they again started feeding by hand. One by one the bull sharks would come around, following some order clear to them, the biggest female first, never showing aggression toward anyone, human or shark, just efficiently disposing of available food.

Then they stopped feeding by hand. One of the BAD guys swam overhead, with a plastic trash wheelie-bin suspended by two ropes. It was set up so he could open and close the door of the wheelie-bin with the two ropes. So he swam in a straight line about twenty feet (6 m) above the guests and a slightly towards the deep water we were facing … and he dropped fish chum, fish heads and guts and the like, out of the wheelie-bin a bit at a time all along the line of guests.

Zowie. That made my eyeballs get wide.

And of course, it meant dinner was ON for the monsters of the deep. This time, though, they came right in next to the line of us folks lying doggo on the bottom. As always, the BAD guys were behind us with their magic poles to keep us out of trouble, but the sharks were in so close that much of the time we could have reached out and touched them. A pectoral fin of a huge bull shark almost hit my mask as it glided by. I could understand why they had said no snorkels, the sharks were coming too close.

And in the middle of all of this majestic madness, with literally tons of sharks roiling around, a sea turtle with a shell maybe two and a half feet across (750 mm) across came swimming up and settled to the bottome between my daughter and her husband. Now, Kegan just got his dive ticket for this trip. He was on his second open ocean dive after pool training, and the first clear-water tropical dive. I can’t imagine what that would be like … but he was right with it, so … they petted the sea turtle. It looked at them. They looked at the turtle. And after a bit, that lovely creature flew off, with the slowly waving fins that make sea turtles look like graceful underwater birds.

Amazingly, rather than hug the bottom it swam right through the middle of the milling bull sharks, poking along and eating mid-water tuna morsels, I guess. Why don’t the sharks eat it? Hey, what do I know, I was born yesterday. I could only lie there and marvel at the astonishing wonders that the spirit wind had blown my way.

That second dive had to be shorter because we’d dived earlier and our blood nitrogen levels would still be elevated. So all too soon, they rang the departure bell by hitting something metal against a dive tank. The sound carries underwater. We started for the surface … but the sharks did not. They stayed below, regal bull sharks, masters of the deep, still circling, still crossing and questing, and slowly fading underneath me. First they darkened to gray-green shadows full of hidden menace, and then gradually they vanished in the black depths below … dear friends, I have no words to express the awe I felt upon leaving that strange planet.

The next day there was another part of my devious honeymoon scheme. It came about like this. Last time I was in Fiji, the vagaries of the spirit wind blew me to the following scene that I described in a previous post:

Anyhow, Eric and Geeta were having a potluck barbecue, so naturally the Dogs rounded me and Mike up and took us to the BBQ. There, we had one of Geeta’s famous Indian dinners that she learned to make from her mom, full of tomato chutney and rotis and whatever else. My great thanks for their hospitality to wandering miscreants and minstrels …

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So this time, before the others arrived I went to Geeta and offered to pay her to teach my dear ladies the secret arts of the Indians. To my joy, I was able to get her to agree, albeit reluctantly. So I sealed the deal by giving her some money to buy the prawns for prawn curry and the other foodstuffs and spices. That meant there was no way she could back out.

Then I sold the upcoming experience to my good ladies by saying I’d gotten them into one of Geeta Singh’s famous Indian Island Cooking School classes. As indeed, I had. The “famous” part is true about Geeta’s Indian Island cooking, her food is legendary. As for the “Cooking School” part, that was a mere temporal incongruity. The Indian Island Cooking School I enrolled them in actually existed.

It just didn’t exist yet.

Then I invited our dear friend Megan to take an afternoon away from her two kids and improve her Indian cooking at my expense. When she said OK I checked with Geeta, she and Megan are great friends. When I talked to Geeta that time, I named a price, $50 per person. If you want to take a class it will likely cost twice that, this was what they call “mates rates” in the islands.

And at the appointed hour, the ladies went over to Geeta’s famous Indian Island Cooking School, $150 in hand. I had no idea how it would all play out. I wanted to be a fly on the wall. I wondered what was going on.

Of course, my deception was revealed immediately, and apparently to great hilarity. Geeta didn’t want to take the money until afterwards. But to their eternal credit, my ex-fiancee and the two others said no. They’d told her they’d paid for Geeta’s famous cooking school, and they were proud to be her first students, and here was the money for the class. A master stroke on their part, I bow to the three of them and thank them. Here’s the teacher in her element, my thanks to her for sharing her knowledge and skills:

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And by all accounts, it was a wonderful class, including my own part in the matter. That would be the eating part. When the class was done, us guys joined in to eat the results. So Eric and Paul and Kegan and I all showed up and loaded up the plates with the results. Prawn curry. Coconut chutney. Pumpkin something. And half a dozen other dishes, each one of them tasting better than the previous one. Delicious food, good stories and laughter, with the warm tropical air redolent as always of flowers, of endless decay, and of the correspondingly eternal regrowth …

The next day we drove to Lami, on the outskirts of the capital, Suva. Like too many island cities, there are far more cars than road space. So I didn’t want to try to drive there. Plus we wanted to stop in Lami. For several years we lived on a houseboat in the bay there. At that time, we paid a lovely old Fijian grandmother who took care of our very young daughter during the day. Her name was Bubu Katia. Bubu, pronounce “mbumbu”, means “grandmother” in Fijian. Bubu Katia was a lovely, warm, caring woman. Every morning she’d walk down from her house up in the Fijian village on top of the hill. We’d go over to the shore in our dinghy, and bring her out to the houseboat. Then we’d both go to work.

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So Bubu was one of the family. And most times that I’ve gone through Fiji since then, I’ve gone by to see her and I’ve given her a US hundred dollar bill. She loved our daughter with an encompassing passion and fearlessness as one of her own children, and I’ll always be in debt to her. Her youngest son was older every time I visited, first teens, then twenties. Her husband died. I kept coming back.

But by now she would be very old, and I had heard nothing of her for five years. So we decided to park by the bay and walk up the hill from Lami to her place. The trail up to the village is as old as the village itself. As always, there are houses on the sides of the trail. If the door is open, someone is at home. If the door is closed, there’s no one there.
At the first house, we asked a man about Bubu Katia. In the village everyone knows everyone. He was sorry to tell use that she died two years ago. But he was walking up that way, so he’d be glad to walk with us to her house on the hill.

Of course, I asked him about his life. Crazy world. He’d been a sailor on a historical replica South Pacific catamaran that had sailed from Fiji to the US and back by way of the Galapagos Islands … and I thought myself a sailor?

After that, he’d become a UN Peacekeeper. There are a lot of Fijians in the UN Peacekeeping force. Good pay, they are noted soldiers. And now? Now he was the skipper of a replica sailing craft I’d noticed in the bay as we had driven in earlier. It was quite distinctive, and clearly an early Fijian sailing craft. I’d wondered about it at the time. And now here was the skipper, the man running the afternoon cruise for the tourists.

The South Pacific collect the most unusual people. You gotta be lucky to be born there, you gotta be strange to visit there, and those that live there? We said goodbye to a most interesting man, and hopped the bus into Suva. No traffic jams for us. US$0.35 per person to downtown.

We had some old Fijian money that could only be changed at the Reserve Bank. How sports mad is Fiji? They are legendary seven-a-side rugby champions. How legendary? After they recently won the Olympic 7s and the Hong Kong 7s tournaments, the Reserve Bank just issued a new $7 note, with pictures of a player and the coach on one side and the Olympics team on the other. A seven dollar bill. Go figure.

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From there we walked to the Suva Museum. It has been totally rebuilt since I last saw it. As a sailor and a fisherman, I’m always fascinated by how they did it in the old days. There are lots of artifacts of both: boats, masts, nets, fish traps, net stones.

After that was the Suva City Market, a riot of vegetables and fruit and herbs and spices, everything priced by the “heap”. We got food for the next planned event, that evening’s potluck Honeymoon Dinner at our villa. My daughter cooked our pot of food, people began to arrive.

The musicians all brought their guitars. We had four guitars and four good guitarists. We played songs, talked stories and told lies, and played another song. I sang the Teaspoon Blues:

Well, I’m only just a pillow, honey, I belong in bed
I need a little soothing, something soothing kinda mellow for my head
They say I should be productive … but I’ll just recline right here instead

Somewhere in there we ate dinner, lots of good food from all quarters. We poured champagne and toasted the newlyweds to much laughter, and played some more music.

Then for the afterparty, we walked across the street to Réne’s place, the Uprising. In addition to being a big-hearted man and a great father, he’s done an astounding job on what once was a marshy piece of beachfront land covered with impenetrable scrub bush. Now, it’s the Uprising Beach Resort. It has everything from dormitory rooms to lovely villas. And their own rugby field, rugby team, and rugby training center. And I’d picked the last Friday of the month for the Honeymoon Dinner because that’s “Final Friday” at Uprising and they have a live band.

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The band playing was called “Inside Out”. They were rocking out under the outdoor dance floor roof, no walls of course. My friends had assured me the band would be good.

In the event they were even better. The music was tight and well balanced, with good tunes for dancing. So the gorgeous ex-fiancee and I danced and laughed and danced some more. It was hot and close, feeling like rain. I was back to sweating not as just a necessity but as an art form …

And then the storm broke. First came the cool wind entrained by the rain, a vertical wind that spreads out when it hit the surface and out paces the storm. Then the rain, and we danced outside in the rain with our faces upturned to the coolness, and we stopped and sheltered when the rain started to sluice down … the kids walked back to the villa, and that good lady and I danced again until we could dance no more.

And as the spirit wind chanced to blow, it cleared up and stopped raining just after we’d decided to walk back to the villa, just another couple of suckers in love.

Then about all that was left was my own reason for the trip. This was the great swear I’d made when I had surfed Frigates Passage on my 60th birthday. which was that I would surf Frigates on my 70th birthday. My birthday was February, close enough. So we got up early on the day before we left Fiji. High tide was about 10 AM, so we figured to be out there by say 8:30, surf the last of the incoming and the first of the outgoing tide. That way the current wouldn’t be ripping.

We loaded up into Jeff’s boat. There were nine of us, so it took a while for the boat to get up and start planing. But once up on the step it ran along fine. On the way out we saw flying fish, a most curious creature that is surprisingly maneuverable in the air. Frigates Passage is way out in the ocean, just past the middle of nowhere. It’s a break in the Beqa Reef (spelled Mbengga on the map), nothing but sea, Beqa, and the main island in the misty distance. (You can see the reef as a blue line around Beqa Island on the map below, but it is all underwater except at low tide). It is a gorgeously austere place, just ocean, underwater reef, and waves.

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The surf break was good sized, occasionally overhead. The faces were rippled, though, by a north-west wind. My son-in-law Kegan wanted to learn how to surf. The guy has some stones to start learning at Frigates. So he and I set up on the inside, snaking smaller waves on the edge of the break. I told him to learn to ride laying down first, don’t try to stand up. Get the feel of steering by shifting your weight.

We both rode some and lost some. I got some screaming rides, but far too often I ended up on the rinse cycle in the Frigates washing machine. I was going to go out into the outer break, but it was big and not smooth, and I was having so much fun inside. Both of us spent more time getting back out of the white water than we spent on the faces of the waves, but then that’s surfing. And in between, we sat on the outside on our boards and talked story and marveled at the reef and the waves and the day, and caught just one more wave until we’d had enough.Then he and I swam back to the boat, grabbed a mask and a snorkel, and started exploring the reef. It was bright and brilliant, full of life and color. Fish both big and small were everywhere. Brain corals, staghorns. shelf coral, it was a riot of vibration and animation.

And this is what I had hoped I might see. Here’s the odd part. Just one year ago at this time, as the water got warmer and warmer, the guys said that the reef at Frigates first got incredibly brilliant. Then in a few days, it bleached snow white. Your typical bleaching event. Bear in mind that these guys spend a good chunk of their time out at Frigates, they know the reef like nobody else.

But now, just one year later, the reef is back in business, flourishing. Nor is this the first time I’ve seen a quick recovery from bleaching like this. Bleaching is a temporary event which allows the reef to survive by replacing one polyp variety with another variety that does better in warm water.

A coral reef can be thought of as an apartment house built and maintained by its inhabitants. The calcium carbonate skeleton is riddled with holes where the actual coral polyps live. These polyps are of many species and varieties, with differing levels of temperature tolerance.

The key is that when hot temperatures kill off one kind of polyps, the lovely snow-white apartment house remains. So any free-floating immature polyps that land there have a ready-made home. Since the reef structure at Frigates Reef was already built, after the bleaching they quickly repopulated their apartment house.

So we dove, and equalized our ears, and explored the canyons in the reef, peering under the shelves. At one point I found myself floating in the middle of an entire school of two-inch (50mm) bright yellow fish. I hung transfixed … Frigates at seventy. What an astounding universe.

As the tide dropped, we decided to shift the boat. I dove down the anchor rope and cleared the chain from the rope to the anchor itself. One of the guys hauled in the rope. I dove down again, cleared the anchor without damaging the coral, and swam it back up to the boat. We motored out into deeper water and moored at a permanent float.

Meanwhile, the other guys were surfing the bigger waves outside, winning, losing, and bouncing down the rippled faces of the waves. The wind just wouldn’t shift out of the northwest. Eventually we all ended up at the boat and started back in.

Now, the whole time we’ve been in Fiji, my son-in-law Kegan had been wanting to go fishing. I didn’t know that before he came down, and I’d failed to set anything up. So we’d been talking about doing some fishing on the way back in. We set up a pair of rods and started a slow troll along the reef. For the longest time nothing happened, and then one rod hit. Shiloh grabbed it out of the holder and set the hook. He said “Whose fish is it?”, and I said “Kegan’s” before anyone could lay claim to it.

So Kegan took the rod and started the fight. I laugh to think that in addition to the boat owner who was at the wheel and loved to fish, that two others and I had worked professional sport fishing guides. We’re accustomed to talking people through the process. So to the accompaniment of much advice, he brought it in, whereupon it fought back out, and he fought it in again. The first attempt to gaff it missed, but the second brought a beautiful three-foot (900 mm) walu on board.

As is my habit, I thanked the walu for giving up its life for us, and for choosing our boat. Life eats life to live, so we have to honor the beings that die so we can survive. At least that’s my style, so I thanked the walu out loud in a clear voice for its sacrifice.

From there we went to the island of Yanutha and anchored up in front of the now-defunct Batiluva surf camp. It’s a white sand beach with patches of reef in calm water near the surface. Some of us swam ashore, some snorkeled in the clear ocean.

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Finally, in the early afternoon, we pulled the anchor and headed back in. The tide was already dropping fast. The reef was starting to be exposed. With the tide so low, to get the boat onto its mooring, everyone had to jump out and push the boat over the sandy bottom. It took all nine of us to push it the final couple of metres. If we’d been fifteen minutes later, we’d have had to anchor out.

In the afternoon we went up to Ryan’s house. I tightened the neck rod in one of his guitars to make it easier to play, and we passed it around and enjoyed the lowered action. In the evening we all had dinner in his house on the ridge. We ate fresh walu pan-fried in butter, barbecued chicken, and killer salad with Megan’s great dill dressing, while the sun sank into the ocean on one side of the ridge, and the low tide exposed the reef on the other side.

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Anyhow, that’s the story of the combination honeymoon and 70th birthday trip to Fiji. My thanks to all of the people who were so good to us there, you know who you are. You are greatly appreciated.

In particular, my gorgeous ex-fiancee and my daughter were as fun as ever to travel and hang out with, and my new son-in-law fit right in. It was a great chance to spend time with Kegan. You can learn a lot by how a man handles himself in strange circumstances. Going shark diving and learning to surf over a coral reef instead of over sand qualify as “strange circumstances” on my planet, and how he handled himself earned Kegan big props from me.

For my own future, of course I had to swear another big swear. But I decided that ten years was too long. So I swore a big swear to surf Frigates at seventy-five. Ryan said I should make it seventy point five, not seventy-five. I said five years was a maximum, not a minimum.

And for your future, I can only wish that your life be full of laughter, and music, and sunlight far-reaching on the sea …

CODA: Due to my own foolish error, I flew back from Fiji with the others, but I’d wrongly booked myself for the day later from LA Airport on home. So while the gorgeous ex-fiancée flew back home last night, I had to spend the night at a hotel in LA. As might be imagined, I was brain-fried and jet-lagged. And as has almost never happened, I slept right through my 6 AM alarm. I woke up and looked at the clock.

7:13 AM

My brain froze. My flight was at 8:11. I piled everything into my suitcases and flew out the door. I caught the bus to the airport, and was there at ten of eight. I dropped my suitcase at the window, the baggage man looked dubious. I talked the TSA lady into letting me skip the line and go right up to the security, although she acted like I was a criminal idiot for not being on time. To be sure I felt like one … but once at security, instead of the metal detector, I got picked to go through the whole-body scanner. Then of course they had to test my hands for explosive residue. I took it as best as I could, meaning I didn’t explode myself. 8:03 AM. I get through security, throw everything back into my bag, the computer, put on my shoes and belt, how on earth can this take so long?

I get it all done, and I start sprinting as fast as I can trying to get to Gate 64A. The gate is off in some interminable hazy distance. I’m flying like some demented contestant in the famous Come-As-You-Are Forty Gate Geezer Sprint Race. I’m dashing past startled ladies with purple hair, dodging slow-moving wheelchairs, avoiding unseeing children, and weaving through the crowds. I finally get to Gate 64A, breathing deep. I see on the sign that it’s the last call for boarding. I come to a screeching stop, hand the lady my boarding card, and she says …

“I’m sorry, sir, but this plane is going to Cabo San Lucas”

Pinche cabrón, they’ve moved my gate! She tells me it’s 64B, all the way around the ring. I break into a sprint again, crank around to the far side and look at my watch.

8:11 AM. Departure time

I look around. Everyone is sitting down. Did my plane already leave? I race up to the lady at the desk, hand her my boarding pass, and she says …

“Have a seat, we’ve just found out that the flight has been delayed a half hour.”

Ah, the spirit wind. No telling which way that joker is going to blow … it did blow me home, though, over my beloved Golden Gate on a crystal-clear day to my house in a hillside clearing in a redwood forest.

tropical piano 17

The airline assures me that my luggage will arrive tomorrow.

Best of life to all of you,

w.

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86 thoughts on “Tunes Played On A Tropical Piano

  1. Willis you live life to the full and you’ve got a a brain, what a great combrnation. Live long and prosper!

  2. Willis: “The world’s most viewed site on global warming and climate change”

    Can you please explain what your post has to do with “climate change?”

    [Our host, as is his right as owner of the website, can post any thread he chooses to be of interest. That most topics are of interest to those who study climate change, does not preclude any other subjects. .mod]

    • Michael darby May 4, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      Willis: “The world’s most viewed site on global warming and climate change”

      Can you please explain what your post has to do with “climate change?”

      Sure. There’s a discussion of the effect of bleaching on coral reefs. However, this blog has always been about much more than climate change, which is why I’ve posted about twenty autobiographical pieces here in the past. It’s why there’s a “Categories” section called “Willis’s Autobiography”.

      It’s also why I put a warning at the top that the post contained minimal science and maximum adventure, and you were free to ignore it … but instead of ignoring it, you want to complain about it.

      Pass.

      w.

      • Your post is a waste of bandwidth. But, I guess we have to expect that from someone with an over-inflated ego.

      • Michael darby May 4, 2017 at 4:35 pm

        Your post is a waste of bandwidth. But, I guess we have to expect that from someone with an over-inflated ego.

        Medico, cura te ipsum …

        w.

      • Willis, with your extraordinary command of the English language, please instruct the person M-O-D-E-R-A-T-I-N-G this thread the difference between “right” and “write”

      • “Michael darby May 4, 2017 at 4:35 pm

        Your post is a waste of bandwidth. But, I guess we have to expect that from someone with an over-inflated ego.”

        It isn’t the author of the article showing any ego at all.

        It is idiot commenters, like yourself darby, whose excitement consists of porcelain throne trips and colorful magazines that are stuffed full of themselves and their ego.

        You certainly waste plenty of moderator time swollen ego head. You should post a significant sum of cash towards the mods; as they definitely do not deserve michael darby and his pantaloons ego!.

        Tell us about your achievements egohead darby? Got any that involve more than hating people?

      • Willis…you have no problem understanding that the love of science and the love of life can, and should be, joined at the hip. Many on the left and right don’t get it.

    • MOD: “Our host, as is his write as owner of the website”
      ..
      ..
      Please edit your remarks to read: “Our host, as is his RIGHT as owner of the website”

      • Michael, I’d already fixed that error before you even noted it.

        All of our moderators are volunteers working in their spare time. I don’t begrudge them any errors, they are generally going at warp speed. They have my thanks for all of the good work that they do.

        w.

      • Willis: “All of our moderators are volunteers ”
        ..
        This site is running ads. Take some of the ad revenue and pay your mods.

      • darby,
        You are a jerk, plain and simple. And you talk about Willis having an “over-inflated ego.
        And to Willis, thanks for the lovely and interesting story of your daughters honeymoon.

    • Try this: That no matter the obsession about what the weather is, the climate will be, or has been, life goes on and it’s best to focus on enjoying one’s life.

      • Wayne, this blog is about climate, but if you think Willis using it to enhance his ego is a good thing, then you are welcome to waste your time reading what he writes. ( not “rights”)

      • Michael darby, says “this blog is about climate”

        Actually no. That must be your blog.
        I have been reading WUWT since Sept. 2008.
        It has always been about anything interesting that the host wants to share.
        Think of it as you being his house guest with 6 or 8 others. Talk is easy and topics vary.
        If you carried on in my house such as you have done here, I’d ask you to leave.

      • “Michael darby May 4, 2017 at 4:59 pm
        Wayne, this blog is about climate, but if you think Willis using it to enhance his ego is a good thing, then you are welcome to waste your time reading what he writes. ( not “rights”)”

        Several things one can count on darby for Wayne;
        0,
        0²,
        0³,
        zero,
        2/0,

        In other words, absolutely nothing! There are few people as useless.
        Massively self induced ego fantasy where darby believes those foolish statements of his are interesting to anybody.
        I doubt maniacal or delusion dana would even read darby comments.

        And Wayne, darby is absolutely wrong, which again, is not unusual.
        This blog is all about science. And science is where and when you find it, not blockaded in some absurd consensus of haters.

      • Michael,

        Not only are you new here, you must also be reading impaired. This blogs mission statement is right up front. To wit:

        News and commentary on puzzling things in life, nature, science, weather, climate change, technology, and recent news by Anthony Watts

        I do believe this fits the puzzling things in life and nature part of the mission statement to a T.

      • I put forward a motion to block Michael Darby (unless he apologizes) from commenting for 30 days as punishment for being an ignorant jerk. I see since he started commenting, he is mostly trying to throw a wrench into the works and ruining the thread for absolutely no benefit to the rest of us who want to read something intelligent or interesting. In my opinion, this blog is much to lenient on the ignoramus of the world. While I appreciate that WUWT allows legitimate dissent on climate issues, that should not extend to ignorant comments like that of of one Michael Darby.

        I found Willis’s post to be informative and interesting. Makes me want to take a trip to Fiji and the South Pacific.

      • John F. Hultquist,

        In my neighborhood I wouldn’t ask darby to leave but once. Then I would smack him silly and toss his ass in the street.

    • Michael darby has a good point here. Dr. Michael Mann, being a solid state physicist, should not be allowed to publish anything about climate.

    • If Willis writes a post about chewing gum, I’ll read it. Feel free to skip it should you feel it inappropriate.

    • Obviously you missed the coral bleaching and resurgence lesson. Plus the consistency of Fiji across many years opposed to the computer models that say it would be gone by now.

      Great story, Willis. Another insight to a life lived well.

  3. Good story. I’m PADI certified, open water diver. North shore of Oahu. It’s a bit over-developed now but I went there first in 1972 it was glorious and pretty much third-world. Went for a glider ride at Dillingham and that was amazing. Plenty of hiking around the island particularly on some military reservations since I was in the Navy at the time. I’ve never been board surfing but went body surfing almost daily at Waimea Bay except in winter when the waves are much too big and the current too dangerous. The sea is always dangerous so I learned to keep an eye out for rogue waves even on a calm day.

    • Great story, actually. Your writing style is vivid and its like being there just to read it.

      • Michael 2 May 4, 2017 at 4:40 pm

        … it’s like being there just to read it.

        I’m glad to hear you say that because that’s my clear intention in this kind of writing. I want to take people along for an adventure that they may not ever take in real life, just as though they were right there beside me.

        Best to you,

        w.

    • @Willis
      I have, exactly ONCE, done the OJ Simpson airport run. I thought they’d wind up wheeling me off, coughing up blood. Assuming I didn’t stroke out first. Sadly, time, knees, and one hip (well, OK, and 90 pounds) now guarantee there will be no repeat of that event. Kudos that you can still move like the wind. Oh yeah, the story was pretty good, too. ;-D

  4. Thanks Willis for sharing another great part of your very eventful life….(ignore the troll above) LOL

  5. I enjoyed the post. Thought it was just great actually. I’ve spent the last 30 years going to and from Australia and various countries around there. Never Fiji though. Maybe this year.
    Loved the line about the aircraft turning around after encountering difficulties. That must be the number one cause of crashes. Probably having a “miss” in the engine is number two. Still he lived.
    I’ve done the shark dive on Osprey Reef in the Coral sea. As you say memorable.
    Please keep dong these posts.. Really enjoy them.

  6. Butch May 4, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    Thanks Willis for sharing another great part of your very eventful life….(ignore the troll above) LOL

    Thanks, Butch. Regarding the troll, and knowing one would appear, I had put this at the head of the post in bold type:

    Contents: Adventure, plus minimal science. Feel free to ignore this if you wish.

    It amazes me that despite that clear warning, people (a) don’t ignore it, and then (b) complain that it is adventure and not much science.

    Really?

    For me, the science is inextricably entwined with my sense of wonder about this amazing planet. As a surfer, sailor, and fisherman, I’m a long-time student of the reef and its wonders. Being amazed by seeing it from the air once again, this time noticing the interplay of the surge channels and the reef, gives me a whole different overview of what is going on in that astonishing region.

    I wrote about this relationship between childlike astonishment and science in a post called “Awe, Shucks“.

    Regards,

    w.

    • I appreciate your adventure tales because the only place I have ever traveled to was the frozen “Great White North” for some Muskie fishing….Well worth freezing my butt off for but a tropical vacation (yuge climate change) would be even better …LOL

    • Willis as ever a great read, as for not much science I thought you covered quite a lot of different subjects you have covered over the years.
      How tropical rains move heat about and keep things within certain temperature range.
      Coral bleaching.
      Reef biodiversity.

      And it was all such an adventure which is a great way to live life rather than as a chore that has to be done (it’s sad to see so many live like that) I view each day as a blessing and adventure.

      James Bull

  7. Congratulations. My 70th will be in the fall, but my son’s wedding will not be until June, 2018 (Yes, it is that hard to book a venue in at least one major American city). I don’t think they will be much interested in joining us on a trip. So, I am kind of jealous. If we take a birthday trip this fall, it will probably be to Northern Italy. I will toast you with a glass of prosecco.

    • Walter, in that case, I toast your son’s wedding, sköl … don’t know if that’s how it’s spelled. I just wanted an excuse to use the “o” with the funny dots.

      w.

      • sköl
        A few days ago I did a comment on a blog using the name Wladimir Köppen.
        The system did not know how to handle the ” ö ” and just ignored it, result: Kppen

        I wonder if the troll will accept that a comment with the name Wladimir Köppen makes it about climate?

  8. Willis, enjoyed your tale. Never knowingly been in the water with sharks, but did have an encounter with a barracuda attracted by my ring while wading in Magens Bay, St. Thomas.

    In January, my cousin changed his ticket to fly in to organize a surprise party for my 70th birthday. The day before my birthday he came to the front door holding about 15 helium baloons. (The last baloon just died a few days ago – industrial strength!!) My younger daughter was there to video my surprise when the balloons parted to reveal my cousin. It got even better the next day when my cousin asked me to drive him to a drug store to get a few things. (I thought we were going to go out to dinner when we returned and then have cake and ice cream.) I was totally amazed when we got back and there was my wife, family, and friends yelling surprise when I walked into the family room. It was the best birthday I had since I was a kid. I hope yours was as good as mine. Belated happy birthday. Hope you have many more, which is the secret to longevity. . . Keep having birthdays.

  9. Jeesh! If you want to read this article do so, if you don’t, go and do something else. Either way it costs nothing so why complain?

    I’m exhausted even reading about the exploits of Willis. Good on you Willis and your family.

    tonyb

  10. Wllis, You have a great life, visually and vividly described in a great post. Good for you, Ignore the miserable b*****d who, as you so rightly (or writely) say didn’t have to read it. Good luck to you and long may you continue

  11. Willis, you seem to have a lot of good ideas. You wouldn’t happen to have a solution to the biggest Fijian mystery: how did the iguanas get there?

    • tty May 5, 2017 at 12:52 am

      Willis, you seem to have a lot of good ideas. You wouldn’t happen to have a solution to the biggest Fijian mystery: how did the iguanas get there?

      Good question. My guess? Same way species get around today. Hitch-hiking with humans. There was a surprising amount of inter-island travel back in the day, by sailing canoe. Seems like a small pregnant female iguana might hitch a ride.

      Regards to you and yours,

      w.

      • Nope. There are three species on Fiji in a genus that is found only there. They have been on Fiji for a very long time. But how did their ancestor cross 9,000 kilometers from South America to Fiji? Iguanas also got to the Galapagos, true, but that is only a tenth of the distance to Fiji.

      • But, south of the equator, the currents flow north from Antarctica along the coast of South America, then turn and flow west towards the “general island areas” before gradually curving back down towards the Antarctic coast. Should those currents carry multiple iguani (iguanas ?) from South America out towards the island. Then, they’d have to move from island to island, but at least they are on the right side of the ocean.

      • tty May 5, 2017 at 12:59 pm

        Nope. There are three species on Fiji in a genus that is found only there. They have been on Fiji for a very long time. But how did their ancestor cross 9,000 kilometers from South America to Fiji? Iguanas also got to the Galapagos, true, but that is only a tenth of the distance to Fiji.

        Up until 2005 there was only one species, but the splitters triumphed over the lumpers. In any case, in the Pacific strange things happen. On Pohnpei, some samurai from Japan washed ashore something like four hundred years ago and built an insane city called Nan Madol … go figure.

        More to the point, I was brought up on the story of the Kon-Tiki, the balsa log raft that those mad Norsemen sailed from South America to the Marquesas … when they finally made landfall, it went up on the reef and broke up and disappeared without a trace.

        A few things about that.

        1. The technology was stone-age simple. Logs and vines, a square sail, some centerboards.

        2. In Fiji a similar craft, the bilibili, is a raft made of bamboo instead of balsa. Again, stone age technology.

        3. I doubt very, very much that Thor Heyerdahl and his crew were the only ones in human history to make that trip.

        4. The spread of people down the west coast of first North and then South America would assuredly have involved a variety of different boats. Boats for travel. Boats for fishing. Boats for crossing rivers.

        5. As the Kon-Tiki showed, because of the trade winds, if you start drifting in the Pacific, you’ll drift west. Out of the thousands of indigenous boats and rafts on the water, some would go drifting.

        6. Many of the outlying islands in the Solomon were settled in just this way, by fishermen who had been blown out to sea in say Samoa, and who then drifted a thousand miles or more to the Solomons. They still speak a language related to Samoan and their culture is very similar.

        So I’m generally not surprised by strange creatures showing up in strange places.

        But heck, I’m always open to an alternative hypothesis.

        Best regards,

        w.

      • Ah, the species splitters, I believe, are fans of genus enlargers! I really enjoyed this story, Willis. You’re as evocative as ever! Happy 70th!

  12. I’m glad this article was posted as it gave an anecdotal piece of evidence about the resilience of coral if you just want to concentrate on climate ( personally I don’t see why a bit of variety and slightly off topic material is bad, it shows we’re not one trick ponies) and put sharks in a more positive light given the pressure on the species from over fishing.
    What really struck me was the amazing flying construction which looked great fun – I have some thought that the Wright brothers would have refused to go in it on safety grounds. But flying boats are fascinating. Anyway it made me smile.

    • Moderately Cross of East Angles a May 5, 2017 at 1:08 am


      What really struck me was the amazing flying construction which looked great fun – I have some thought that the Wright brothers would have refused to go in it on safety grounds. But flying boats are fascinating. Anyway it made me smile.

      Thanks, Mod. It’s built by M-Squared Aircraft out of Alabama.

      w.

  13. “”As is my habit, I thanked the walu for giving up its life for us, and for choosing our boat. Life eats life to live, so we have to honor the beings that die so we can survive. At least that’s my style, so I thanked the walu out loud in a clear voice for its sacrifice.””

    Mr. E., Thanks for such an uplifting, almost virtual experience.
    The above line you wrote says volumes about the man you are.

    Enjoyed reading about your trip very much, Thank You and your ex-fiance !
    ( I’ve always admired how you refer to your lovely wife)

  14. I’ve not visited WUWT for a few months, what a joy to see one of your adventures in the header! I was there with you, from diving the reef, to enjoying the lowered action on an old 6 string, many thanks for sharing, truly a joy to read, I will enjoy the space it fills in my thoughts for a long time. Maybe one day I will get to see the sights first hand, I do hope so.

  15. Willis, thank you. As always, your stories are captivating at the most basic level. Your intertwining observations and descriptions are the epitome of the generalist. I wish more people understood that how you see the world, and express those thoughts, are reflective of how you process any information, emotional, technical, etc. You see the world as it is, not as how you imagine it. The difference is whether your ego is subjugated by the world, or tries to be master of it. I distill this observation by a simple “test”: If the world presents itself to me in a manner different than what I might have expected , or simply something new, do I smile, do I laugh, does my pulse quicken? If so, then I know I can still learn.

    Your stories make me smile, make me laugh, and the magic of learning continues. I hope to be passing this test to my last breath.

    Best Regards,
    Ethan Brand

  16. I don’t mind seeing sharks in the ocean when I’m diving, but I don’t think I want to be there when someone rings the bell for an all-you-can-eat buffet. Siegfried and Roy were certain they had that tiger figured out …

    How does feeding sharks alter their behavior towards divers? They seem to grasp the concept of not biting the hand that feeds them — what about the hand that doesn’t feed them?

    • Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7 May 5, 2017 at 6:01 am

      I don’t mind seeing sharks in the ocean when I’m diving, but I don’t think I want to be there when someone rings the bell for an all-you-can-eat buffet. Siegfried and Roy were certain they had that tiger figured out …

      True ‘dat … which is why I was glad to have the BAD guys guarding us and turning the sharks away.

      How does feeding sharks alter their behavior towards divers? They seem to grasp the concept of not biting the hand that feeds them — what about the hand that doesn’t feed them?

      Good question, Alan. I tell people this about sharks. If you walk through some strange town the dogs will come out. They will bark at you, check you out.

      But if you want to get bit, just start taking the food from their bowls …

      The one human activity most connected with shark attacks is spearfishing. Other than that, it’s mostly mistaken identity. Sometimes fatal mistaken identity.

      So sharks in general aren’t interested in humans, and I don’t think that the shark dive is changing that.

      w.

    • This woman managed to get bitten while inside a shark cage and surrounded by protective divers:

  17. Really enjoyed your tale. When I was in the Marine Corps on Okinawa, the entire 3rd Division and the entire 7th Fleet took part in 1959 in an invasion of Taiwan.It was the largest sea invasion since WW2. The ship I was on had actually been the command ship during the invasion of France on D Day.

    On our trip the weather was great but the officer bunk room was hot, so we took our bedding up on the top open deck of the ship and slept every night. I can still see in my minds eye the luminous flying fish darting in front of our huge ship.

    Side note: The invasion was supposed to be a big secret. But when we went ashore we found booths set up by folks to sell the Marines trinkets, etc. There was also a rumor going around that some Chinese businessmen had imported a large number of ladies of the evening to ease the lives of the troops.

    Great story, Willis.

  18. The text keeps jumping down so I can’t read this article. very frustrating. Please fix this site.

    • Don, that’s likely a combination of a slow connection and a lot of graphics. Until the graphics all load it will jump. Give it a bit of time to load, and it should be good.

      w.

      • Or you just bail out and go to a less frustrating site.
        I’ve been doing that, FWIW.

  19. Thanks, Willis, for sharing that with us. I have always enjoyed reading about adventures on South Sea islands since a small boy reading Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson and others. My one and only experience of being on a small island surrounded by warm(-ish) sea was when I was sent to Malta in the RAF during the Suez Crisis, 1956-57. That climate was something I could easily get accustomed to.

  20. It’s too bad Fiji will be underwater due to climate change.
    And the coal reefs will be dead.
    Mr. Al Gore, the Pope of Climate Change, can provide an official date.

    • Dang, would not have guessed that.

      If you asked any fisherman from Seattle to Nome what skookum means, they’d likely tell you that if something is “skookum” it’s done properly and in a solid workmanlike fashion. It won’t come loose or fail in the first storm, it will stand the test of time.

      From the sound I’d guess it is an anglicizied Indian or Yupik or other local word. If you google “alaska skookum” you’ll find lots of examples.

      w.

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