Tunes Played On A Tropical Piano

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:

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 on the water just offshore, and ran up and stopped 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 azure-and-white coast, the verdant mountains, the kaleidoscopic 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 Diving.

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.


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 the divemaster shows 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”.

The dive plan that the divemaster shows 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 bottom 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 collects 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 about lives 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 outpaces 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 as 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.


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 back to 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,


24 thoughts on “Tunes Played On A Tropical Piano

  1. Love it. To really enjoy life, be somewhere nice, with nice people. Stop listening to the news, turn off the outside world. The old hippy mantra (not a drug thing), tune in and drop out. Be here now.


  2. Magnificent. I have many worse commercial airplane stories that you do not want to know. Right up to partners refusing to fly with this then senior partner. Wow, a small trip down memory lane.


  3. A really tough life,mate; but then, someone has to do it,eh? Great read Willis. You have grabbed life by the nuts!



  4. Thanks for the post Willis. My vicarious thrills and experiences were as great as I knew they’d be. Your pic of the Golden Gate Bridge almost showed my apt bldg. on Hurricane Gulch in Sausalito. I miss the mountain biking, but not some of the inhabitants, but that’s the way it is everywhere I guess.


  5. Great adventure. thanks for sharing.

    The next time you dive and if a walu bites you in the ass you will know the karma that you should have treated it to the same discriminate courtesy you gave the sharks! LOL

    I still don’t trust a copperhead or a rattlesnake, damned be the karma!


      • Willis,

        I’ve given more thought from your comment with regards to trust. I now trust a hive of yellow jackets more than anything. They will always swarm and sting you if you run a mower over their nest and will chase you half a football field to do so!

        So many ways to view things. Life is a relative point of view.

        Just for fun and to protect a remote wooden shed, I will be launching an assault on carpenter bees (e.g. wood borers) soon. Previously (years past) Used tennis rackets and a couple of 12 year-olds to play the game of “swat ya.” The once kids are now concerned with girls and no longer offer needed help and I’m getting a little slow with age.

        So I gotta do what I gotta do, break out the firearms. .22 revolver with snake/rat shot and a 20 ga. for back-up. Will be an interesting day. Only other taker is an older (than me) gentleman who wants to join because he has never heard of such a thing and figures it’ll be fun! Everyone else thinks it’s nuts! So that is just a relative thought I thought I would pass along!


  6. W,
    As with all your stories, you have a way with words that I only wish I could emulate. Happy belated birthday and best wishes to your daughter and son-in-law.


  7. Willis, Great story & as always – an excellent read. My wife and I are just back from Maui & I tried to satiate my craving for ocean snorkeling time – but it didn’t happen. I am a former diver… but am now more a snorkeler who patiently leads a couple of lovely ladies around navigating the shallower reefs. I thoroughly enjoy the rhythm of the ocean currents and the expectation of meeting new reef residents – esp. turtles or moreys or octopuses.

    As a former Ultralight enthusiast myself I had a question about the craft you described. What was the final engine selection/replacement made that resolved the intermittent run time problems. What was the mfg. of the ultralight. Most of the the ultralights I’ve flown (both fixed and flex wing) were Rotax powered & had traditional run time, fuel & air filter maintenance problems.

    As a scuba diver, I’ve had a lot of experience diving in the Red Sea – accompanying my professional engineering work – as a side benefit. The sections of the reef that I’ve dived in were defined by more of a shallow tidal basin 3-5 m – immediately followed by a sheer wall descending 40 – 100 m – quite pristine with vast coral & reef buildup but also quite wild in the sense that there was NO backup help in case something went wrong. I wasn’t real anxious to attract or encounter sharks. But I did encounter several reef sharks which still caused me to suck more air than I wanted- all the while trying to remain calm & relaxed. I just wanted to be aware of where they were and their swimming movement through the water.

    But I really enjoyed your rendition of your diving experience… there’s nothing quite like it – as well as the boggie boarding, kite-sailing, wind-surfing, whatever. Thx Again


    • Thanks, Homihomi, for your kind words. I want people to feel like they are diving or flying or dancing right next to me. Sometimes I succeed.

      Shiloh’s plane is made by M-Squared Aircraft out of Alabama. Can’t remember what engine and fuel and all combinations were on it when. It has a new Rotax on it now.




      • Hi Willis, I read thru the Fiji Shark Dive website & looked at their videos….pretty amazing. Never seen anything like it. I’m sure that 17min bottom time went by real fast. If it were me, I’d probably sucked my tank empty anyway. You did a great job describing the experience. I’d love to take the dive myself along with my oldest son who progressed thru PADI to Dive Master.


  8. Thanks, Willis, for the ride of the century. I’ll most likely never have the opportunity to go to Fiji, much less feel and do what you did. At least not “first hand.” After reading this, I think I can say if I did go. it would be my second trip, having just completed the first! Long life and great love.


    • Thanks for your kind words, Tom. When I got out of high school I went on the road. When I came back, I told my friends the stories of the things that I’d done. It was then that I realized that in part I was traveling for all of my friends who for any number of good reasons might never have the chance to ride a freight train, or face a storm at sea, or go to a tropical wedding.

      So I write of my adventures and my wanderings in the hope that folks will take it exactly as you have taken it—as an invitation to wander at my side to some places you might never visit.

      Best regards,



  9. Willis,
    That shopping precinct/centre at Pacific Harbour was built over a period from late 1978 to early 1979. We knew a Samoan lass who kept a shop there for a while; but the point is that, in the roughly 38 years since it opened, it has either been re-conditioned a few times, or, like most things in the tropics, it will have suffered some “run-down”. It was a nice spot in those days, but, also, in those days, a little off the regular beaten path. Nice to see a recent photograph of it though; takes me back to when I was much younger.


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