The morning sun shimmers on the swirling strands of the 8-foot cast net as a bare-chested young man, standing knee-deep in the shallows at the edge of the reef, unfurls it like a huge lasso.
I've never seen a cast net. I am mesmerized by the kaleidoscope of light sparkling off the net, off the rippling water and then, suddenly, off the scales of hundreds of tiny fish in front of him.
"What is that?" I whisper to my husband, Doug, who has come up behind me.
And so begins my free fall into memories of Fiji.
"Where do you want to go?" asks the travel agent. I don't know. I've never traveled outside the country. "What's this?" I ask, pointing to an irregular line on a huge wall map of the world. "That's the international date line." A grin spreads across my face. "And what's this?" I ask, pointing to a speck of land below the equator and left of the date line.
Doug stands in front of me at the exit door of the small plane, the air outside heavy with heat, humidity and the sweet smell of the tropics. "Thank you for bringing me here," he says, kissing me quickly. It is Aug. 8, 1976. We left our Portland, Ore., home on Aug. 6. I thought we would arrive on Aug. 7, our fifth wedding anniversary. Oops.
We take our glasses and half-full bottle of wine and walk down the deserted beach away from the lights of the dining terrace. We chose Castaway Island because we loved its name and because it was then the least developed of all the Fijian resorts.
The ceiling fan in our bura whispers a slow, hypnotic swoosh, swoosh, swoosh. Every bedroom I've lived in since has had a ceiling fan. It is the sound that helps me close my eyes and dream.
I love the potato chips, thick and crisp and warm from the oven, a perfect salty complement to our fruity tropical cocktails. I love the accent of our new Aussie friends, also celebrating a wedding anniversary, who sit with us at the small open-air bar.
It takes us an hour and 45 minutes to stroll the shoreline around our island. We see no one until we pass a group of buras where employees smile, wave and offer us drinks. It is our first foray into the rewards of cultural travel.
Eventually, I am able to settle my face in the water and breathe through the snorkel as I float above the psychedelic array of colorful fish and coral. What took me so long to learn how to swim?
I see a photo of myself on the beach, arms spread wide to embrace the sunset. Ah, so young, so thin. I see Doug, asleep, in the hammock in front of our bura. He hasn't changed a bit.