WHO: Jan Arabas, 46, and her husband, Rick Ochberg, 54, of Melrose
WHERE: Kadavu, Fiji
WHEN: Two weeks in July
WHY: ''We wanted to take a fabulous scuba driving trip, sort of the trip of a lifetime," Arabas said.
FINDING KADAVU: The couple considered several spots known to scuba divers. Kadavu (pronounced kahn-DAH-voo) ''got rave reviews, both the island and the place we stayed," she said. ''We're not resort people. Kadavu is an undeveloped island of traditional villages. Emerald green mountains rise up out of the sea [that] has that tropical blue color. There are no roads. Everyone gets around by boat."
TROPICAL TREAT: ''We stayed at Tiliva Resort (www.tilivaresortfiji.com), owned by Kemu and Barbara Yabaki," Arabas said. ''Kemu grew up in Tiliva village, one bay over. The village has about 200 people, no stores, no electricity, no phone. The main economy is barter and some fishing. Kemu lived in England for 38 years. That's where he met Barbara; she's Irish. They started going back for vacation and Barbara fell in love with it. They also wanted to go back and help the local economy." There are a few other places to stay, she said, but most cater to backpackers. ''Tiliva is a little more Westernized. It's gorgeous and very comfortable. It's built into the hillside. It's like being in a tree house. All the meals are in the central bure," or cottage. ''There're only five bures. It's very cozy. There were couples from New Zealand and some Americans. We ended up feeling like we were friends."
FOR FUN: ''In the day, you could get dropped off at your own private beach for diving or fishing or picnicking," Arabas said. ''The diving was unbelievable. The reef off Kadavu is called the Astrolabe Reef. It's like a pristine, untouched reef. They'd just voted to make it a marine park to protect it. The places we've been before, there's a lot of divers and the reefs maybe have gotten a little beat up. The dive master, Filipe, in his 50s, from two villages up, he's just the most amazing dive master we've ever had. He showed us so much stuff. We saw sharks on every dive. We saw eels as big as me, sea turtles, a fish called a lion fish that's really dramatic with these fins they can fan out. We saw clams the size of basketballs and oysters like dinner plates. We saw all these things we'd never seen in the Caribbean. The scenery was much more dramatic than anything I'd seen." (Arabas is a professional artists whose latest prints depict tropical animals.)
VILLAGE LIFE: ''In the evening everybody gathers in a big bure and they were singing and they drink kava, [made from] a pepper plant root," Arabas said. ''I have to say I wasn't thrilled about the taste of it, kind of like soapy dishwater. It's supposed to relax you. And there was an incredible band of guitarists and singers. You're in one big room sitting on a mat in candlelight and people are singing and harmonizing. We walked there by walking along the beach. The stars were just amazing. One thing I liked about Fiji is the land is owned by the villages. Tiliva has a boarding school of 200 children from neighboring villages, and a rugby team. We went over to visit the school one day and then watched them practice for a rugby meet. It was so special to go somewhere and feel you could be part of the place."