Farewell, brothers…

On my way to Nacula

On my way to Nacula

This morning I left Mana for the remote Yasawa Islands.  It’s one of the most stunning regions consisting of a chain of 20 ancient volcanic islands.  Four of these have dramatic elevations with summits just short of 600m above sea level.  Pristine white sandy beaches & dramatic rock summits surrounded by crystal clear waters & colourful reefs provide a beautiful environment!  I didn’t know what island to choose, so I spoke to many locals and they all adviced me to go to the island of Nacula for ‘The Blue Lagoon‘.  There is a saying in Fiji that the further you go from the mainland, the more beautiful it becomes.  In a way, it’s true as the further you go, the less touristic it becomes.  But now that I’ve explored both Mamanuca & Yasawa, I would say they all are very beautiful in their own way although the Yasawas have huge rock summits & mountains and therefor magnificent views.

Nabua Lodge

Nabua Lodge

Once in Nacula, I found out that ‘The Blue Lagoon’ referred to a beautiful coral bay with white sand beaches & clear blue waters perfect for snorkeling but not a proper lagoon as we would imagine.  Furthermore this ‘lagoon’ is located on the neighbouring island of Nanuya Lailai, not on Nacula. But it’s only a 15-minute boatride away (25-30FJ)

At my arrival, I was welcomed by the staff of our resort, Nabua Lodge.  After a short introduction, we had dinner where I met Helen & Patsy, 2 sisters from New South Wales, Australia & Charles & Candice, 2 Chinese exchange students who met at the university in New-Zealand. They were travelling with 2 other friends, Fernando & Suki but they sat at another table.  We talked about the usual things of life over lunch.

Hiking Nacula with Jukka

Hiking Nacula with Jukka

In the afternoont day I didn’t do much on the island except having the famous ‘5FJ Tea & Cake’ with Joakim, Helen & Patsy at the beach.  At night we all played some silly games after dinner and each of us had to sing our national anthem.  The Chinese students Charles, Fernando, Candice & Suki were lucky as they were 4 of them!  I was alone so it was great fun to sing the Belgian anthem all by myself!

The next morning, I decided to hike to the top of the island and Jukka, a young Finish guy was eager to join me.  We enjoyed magnificent views at every turn & hiked along beautiful mountains & valleys.  All covered by lush green grass, it reminded me a lot of New-Zealand.  Magnificent to see the contrast between the green grass & the different shades of blue in the Pacific.  Finally, after 2 long hours of hiking, we finally reached the top.  Amazing views of the whole island, all around!

Leaving Nacula for 'The Blue Lagoon'

Leaving Nacula for ‘The Blue Lagoon’

Monday, June 24th 2013.  Seemed another beautiful day in paradise… Never thought this date would be etched in my memory forever!  Jukka had to take the ferry back to mainland with some other travellers, leaving just 10 people in the resort.  Charles & Fernando (their real names were Yugou Chen & Meng He), Candice & Suki, 4 exchange students from China who studied in Waikato in New Zealand,  Helen & Patsy, 2 older ladies from Australia, Joakim, a young student from Denmark, Carlos & Elena, 2 Spanish love-birds on their honeymoon & myself. We all had planned a half day trip (25FJ) to ‘The Blue Lagoon’ except for Helen & Patsy who had taken a full day trip and were already there.  I talked to Charles & Suki about the cave trip they did earlier in the morning when suddenly the Nabua Lodge crew asked us to hop on the boat for the ‘Blue Lagoon’ snorkel trip .

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

When we arrived at the Blue Lagoon, the boat stopped on 100m of the beach and we put on our snorkeling gear and jumped from the boat into the water. Charles, Fernando, Candice & Suki didn’t jump as we did.  They asked our driver to bring them closer to the beach and for life vests because they couldn’t swim that well.  Our driver told  them he didn’t have any life vests on board and brought them to the beach. They put on their snorkeling gear and snorkeled close to the beach in the undeep water where they could feel the ground under their feet.  We all enjoyed the beautiful white sand beaches, clear blue waters, beautiful surrounding islands in the lagoon and snorkeled to see the huge amount of fishes, coral reefs, …  It seemed such a perfect day till suddenly hell broke loose! A local who was ready to leave with his boat full of guests to their resort Coralview on the island of Tavewa, saw 2 people in distress & he screamed if there were ok but when he saw they were in deep trouble, he  ran to our empty boat and sailed as fast as he could towards them. At that time we were all lying on the beach except for Carlos who was snorkeling. I stood up & saw 2 people splashing in the water but didn’t realize what was happening.  Did they see something in the sea?  A few boats were at the scene & I was happy to see that they reacted so quickly and figured everything was ok.

Suki @ The Blue Lagoon

Suki @ The Blue Lagoon

But when one boat came back the driver screamed for help.  I couldn’t understand what he meant because he was alone in the boat.  It’s only when he arrived at the beach that I saw Charles lying on the bottom of the boat, blue & unconscious.  I realized then that we had a very serious incident and couldn’t believe this was happening!  We put Charles immediately on his side to empty his longs and it was scary to see this huge amount of water & foam come out of his mouth. A German women from the Coralview boat came immediately to apply CPR on Charles and he started breathing for a few seconds but stopped after a few breaths.

Looking desperately for Fernando

Looking desperately for Fernando

Candice ran to me and said she couldn’t find Fernando.  I grabbed my snorkel gear and so did Elena who had informed her husband Carlos of the events.  We jumped into the deep blue waters and Carlos informed  2 other tourists that happen to snorkel closeby and we all started looking for Fernando.  The locals stayed on 3 boats and were looking for Fernando from there.  I screamed we needed more people to look for Fernando but nothing happened.  We were only 5 people looking for Fernando with snorkels.  After a few minutes a local told me to climb on board of his boat.  He would bring me safely to the beach where the others tourists were.  But I answered I would not come out of the water before we found Fernando.  So I looked all around me in the deep blue sea, realizing it would take a miracle to find Fernando in this huge massa of water.

Looking desperately for Fernando in the deep blue ocean

Looking desperately for Fernando in the deep blue ocean

I couldn’t see much around me!  I was desperate and prayed to God to see Fernando appear although that idea scared me too.  Anyway, a local guy joined us snorkeling and as the minutes went by, I realized it would be too late for Fernando.  Even that I heard of some people being re-animated, even after lying several minutes in the water so I could only hope we would find him quickly!  Time seemed so long and it was only after 15 endless minutes that I saw someone of the guys wave… we all swam to him, the boats came as well and we pulled Fernando all together out of the water into the boat.  He was unconscious, totally blue and it really looked not promising.  The locals took his feet and held Fernando upside down while all the sea water and foam came out of his longs.  Horrible to see Fernando like that… In the meantime a boat had left with Charles to a small care center on the island of Nacula. A 20-minute boat ride… Way too long!

Looking desperately for Fernando

Looking desperately for Fernando

Patsy, Suki & 2 other women had gone along.  Now that we found Fernando, the second boat left immediately and brought Fernando to the local care center as well.  Helen stood by Candice and they followed the boys by boat for 20 long minutes to the care center.  Once Charles had arrived in the care center, a local doctor had to search with a flashlight for his gear and tried to reanimate Charles with an oxygen mask.  Charles tried to breathe 3x times during the long 20-minute boat trip but stopped always after a few breaths.  The local doctor seemed to have done his best with what he had in the care center, but failed to reanimate Charles.   By the time Fernando arrived, the doctor realized he was unfortunately already deceased.  Carlos, Elena, Joakim & me were back in the resort, waiting for news, hoping for a miracle.  After 3h long hours, Helen & Patsy came with the horrible news that the boys didn’t make it.  I was so angry that the safety measures in Fiji are so bad, especially in this case.  No life jackets in the boat and none of the locals knew how to practice CPR!  If only they at least lifeguards at the beach or people who know what to do in such cases… the boys might have survived.

Me, Helen, Patsy, Joakim, Elena & Carlos... bound for life!

Me, Helen, Patsy, Joakim, Elena & Carlos… bound for life!

We were all in shock, not believing what just happened.  The locals couldn’t believe either that such tragedy just had happened in their small community as the small local care center was not equipped for such emergencies neither.  We all felt so terrible and I can’t imagine how terrible it must be for the parents and their family to lose such young fellahs, full of life being in their early twenties.  We all tried to be there for Candice & Suki too and it was a good thing that Helen & Patsy were there and could give the girls comfort & a motherly feeling in those difficult times.  It must feel terrible to lose 2 best friends like that on a stupid snorkeling trip being on holiday in an idyllic place.  Seeing those 2 young boys ripped from their life when we got them out of the water will leave a deep scar!  ‘The Blue Lagoon’ will be a bitter sweet memory for all of us present… This tragedy will bound us forever.

Kristel & Sibel

Kristel & Sibel

The next morning after a terrible night, Suki & Candice flew back to the mainland to join their deceased friends.  I left Nacula too and it was a good thing to set my mind on other things.  Hard to say goodbye to Helen, Patsy, Joakim, Elena & Carlos after sharing such an horrible event.  On the ferry back I met Kristel & Sibel from Australia and it felt good to talk about the event with them and about normal, daily things.  Later that day, I also met Save again and his family.  He had invited me for dinner and for a church ceremony afterwards in their humble home with the whole family and some other people from the village such as Aseri, Apisalome & Filmoni.  I prayed for the soul of those poor guys & I realized again that we have to enjoy every freakin’ second of our precious life!  It can be over in just a few seconds…   May your soul rest in peace, brothers.

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