Onboard Fiji airways, there was a video ad for an eco-resort in the Yasawa Island chain that had a marine biology lab that encouraged guests to plant coral gardens and study sea life, ahh right up my alley! I couldn’t forget the quirky name of Barefoot Manta and the image it brought to mind; a manta ray without its flip flops?
Their marketing worked and here I find myself in a cool glamping tent, with nothing between the screen door and the sea but a hammock nestled under coconut palms. Equipped with my favorite kind of bathroom, open to the sky! Nothing like an evening shower with only Venus as my witness.
At the briefing they said when you hear drums beating and the staff shouting MANTA, then grab your snorkel and head to the boat! I was never very far from my snorkel as I was hoping for a manta meeting.
As if on cue, the first morning I heard the shout, ran barefoot and jumped onboard with a handful of other eager sea life lovers. The narrow channel between Drawaqa Island, where the resort lives and Naviti Island is a popular spot, seasonally for these magnificent creatures to feed. Lucky for us, they don’t seem to mind a respectful audience. My first sight of one right below me, felt as if I was hovering over a black, stealth aircraft as I tried to hold still and silent. Then it started flapping its wingtips ever so slightly and gracefully, and suddenly performed continuous barrel rolls as I peered down it’s gaping mouth each time the giant spun by.
My joy of savoring the special moment, to be one with these majestic beings, making eye contact with at least one of their widespread eyes, was not at all diminished by the girl with the GoPro on a stick who was trying to shove swimmers away for a shot, the manta seemed to roll its closest eye at her, as if to say “really dude!”
That was a tough act to follow, yet Barefoot Manta does an awesome job of blending respect for the natural surroundings, marine education and a bit of frivolity. The resident marine scientist gave a presentation on manta rays, an interesting fact is they have the largest brain to body mass ratio of any cold blooded fish. They are smart enough to avoid predators…and annoying tourists!
Being one who doesn’t like to miss much, I met at 0500 for the sunrise hike to the peak on the island with Saki, resort manager, leading the expedition. A humble and humorous man, who’s feet I don’t believe have ever met a pair of shoes, ambled up the rocky trail while spinning stories of his youth, growing up on a nearby island.
Saki also led the traditional, etiquette oriented Kava ceremony in the evening. No visit to Fiji is complete without a taste of this “earthy” beverage. Customary to sit on woven mats on the floor and drink out of half coconut shells, the mildly mouth numbing blend of water and ground up pepper plant roots has a relaxing effect and people are encouraged to tell stories of their homeland. When asked before being served if one would like their coconut shell at low tide, high tide or brimming at tsunami level, of course I exclaim TSUNAMI, much to the bemusement of the primarily young crowd.
One of the very cool aspects of many resorts in Fiji is having accommodations suited to all budgets. From beachfront bungalows to shared dorm rooms, it’s been fun meeting travelers of many nationalities and ages. One being a woman from Norway, named Ramona, who after raising her son, sold her house and belongings, quit her job and is floating where the wind takes her. Nice to meet a like minded person trying to re-live youthful, carefree backpacking days.
Snorkeling off Sunrise beach was good enough for boats from neighboring islands to drop guests on “our” reef! I would snorkel early enough to bond with my fish friends alone. One afternoon I kayaked to a beach inhabited only with hundreds of hermit crabs. They were so adorable, I found myself talking and singing to them. Some may find this behavior a bit odd, but it seemed perfectly natural in this delightful setting.
Fortunately I’ve been active enough to thoroughly enjoy the abundant and fresh veggie food. Deliciously spoiled to say the least. So glad the mantas beckoned me here.