Squid (and Calamari)

After a few days in Makogai we continued on our track west, first sailing 50 miles to an anchorage at Nanunu-i-Ra and the next day another 60 miles to the Yasawas, a chain of islands stretching some 90 km along the west coasts of Fiji’s two main islands. Resorts of the more basic type are scattered along the shores and serviced by the yellow Yasawa Flyer high speed catamaran that drops off and picks up the holiday traffic. Hollywood has been here – both Blue Lagoon (Brooke Shields) and Castaway (Tom Hanks) were filmed in the Yasawas. Did I mention that in 2005 Mel Gibson bought Mago Island in the northern Lau for US$15 million, one of the largest privately owned islands in the world?

Now we are on the dry side of Fiji and the volcanic hills are sparsely forested and covered with golden brown grasses as high  as my head. I’m always grateful that these South Pacific islands have no poisonous critters (like rattlesnakes) to hide in the underbrush. We revisited some old favorite sites on the island of Naviti, hiking through the tall grass across to a shallow lagoon where a WWII plane is sunken in the shallows (the locals rescued the downed pilot), stopping by to say hello to the quite elderly Fijian at his nearby homestead. We intended to visit the giant rays that inhabit a channel near Manta Ray Island, but learned from a local that after a resort (named Mantaray Resort) was built, the rays left for less crowded waters.

AVATAR was quite popular with a school of squid at our anchorage off Naviti. Fifty or sixty lingered in the shadow of the hull, most likely attracted by the plentiful schools of small silvery blue minnows that also swirled in the water underneath the boat. Determined to photograph the squid, I made several snorkeling attempts by easing myself into the water off AVATAR’s stern, trying not to splash and startle them away.

The squid hang suspended in the water, all facing the same way, but one sudden movement and the entire school vanishes (swimming backwards) in the blink of an eye. I wait patiently (it helps to have a spotter aboard the boat), and they suddenly reappear at the fringe of my visibility. By drifting innocuously near them, trying hard not to move or even exhale noisily through my snorkel, I would eventually find myself floating in their midst.

However all their caution went out the window when Rod tossed a squid lure on a fishing line into the water. The lure was shaped like a little rubbery red prawn, apparently a big favorite of squid, and they went for it enthusiastically, completely disregarding me as they tried to grab hold of the lure with their tentacles. All my hours of sneaky stalking were wasted; now I had a squid feeding frenzy literally inches from my camera. The only downside was that just as I framed up a good shot Rod would jerk the line causing my subject to fly up out of the water (and viewfinder) onto the boat, splattering hull, deck, and Rod with black ink.

Epilogue: Calamari appetizers at cocktail hour while watching another lovely Fijian sunset.

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