Friday 21 September
All you can eat breakfast buffet.
For some people, they hear these words and delight at the idea of fresh fruits and yoghurt. They might even consider getting a bran muffin, I mean, when one is on vacation, one can relax a little.
The woman looking at my plate is definitely one of those people. She’s sipping green tea and is nibbling on a piece of watermelon. My plate tells a different story. When we arrived at the buffet this morning and I saw the variety of food available, I didn’t see options, I saw a checklist. In front of me sits scrambled eggs, fried sausages, bacon, baked beans, spicy potato wedges and toast. The toast is hanging over the edge of the dish, as I ran out of room. I think running out of room is the ceramic’s way of telling you ‘this is enough food for a human being’, but I have taken it to signify ‘this is probably enough for the first course’.
I shovel it in as quickly as possible so my stomach doesn’t have time to register that it’s getting full, and spring out of my chair to get more.
When I return, Green Tea is clearly shocked, but has the good manners not to say anything. My second course is a thing of beauty. The syrup and melted cream have overrun the pancake stack and are pooling together with the chocolate sauce and vanilla crème that’s dripping off the deep-fried Fijian doughnuts. Don’t worry, though, I’ve planned ahead, and a piece of banana bread is there to soak up any excess glucose.
I guess you could say I was ‘full’, after this. To be honest, I think my brain receptors are working overtime to fight through the layers of sugar and lard, and the concept of feeling any emotion other than ‘sluggish sick’ is too much.
It’s Annie’s birthday today, and to celebrate, we’ve booked in a full-day snorkelling trip. You could argue that my carbohydrate spree is just “fueling up for the day”, but given that I know that snacks and lunch are provided, that’d be a transparent lie.
I’m considering if maybe I should get a muffin for the road, when Annie stops a passing waiter. “It’s my birthday today,” she tells him. “Can the band sing for me?”
This is the kind of audacious thing I would only ever do after six drinks, but Annie manages it sober at 8.30am.
An hour later we’re sitting aboard the sun deck of a catamaran, which serves to get as many tourists into the middle of the Pacific Ocean as fast as possible. Along the way, dinghies putter up from little islands and the catamaran stops. The crackly loudspeaker announces a colour, and small groups sporting matching wristbands all clamber aboard their new boat to go off on the specific adventure they’ve pre-booked.
Annie keeps her eye on a man with well-defined arms and a Johnny Bravo jaw and she’s miffed when his orange wristband takes him away. I make a half-hearted attempt to put on sunscreen then spend my time watching a little boy swinging from a bar, convinced he’s going to hurt himself and figuring out what injury be ideal to teach him a lesson about boat safety (without causing serious damage).
I’ve settled on “a grazed knee and an public telling off by his mother while everyone stares at him” when our blue wristbands are paged, and we climb aboard our new vessel.
All Annie has told me is that we’re going on “a sailing trip”. I’ve interpreted this to mean I’ll have to secure the jib mast to the starboard deck, probably shout ‘heave’ while tightening ropes, that sort of thing. When we are handed a glass of bubbly immediately upon boarding, I consider that maybe my services are not going to be required.
A crew-member jokingly hands another passenger half a bottle of bubbly instead of a glass. He’s embarrassed, looking to his girlfriend for support, but she just laughs awkwardly. Always one to help a fellow human being, Annie takes the bottle from him, immediately pouring some straight into her mouth.
It’s barely 11am. This is clearly going to be a large day.
We sit in the sun, me sipping from my glass, her guzzling from her bottle. The crew bring around a platter of fresh fruit and a tray of cookies, just in case we needed to replenish our energy for the strenuous ten minutes we’ve spent sitting. We’re then told that there is unlimited beer, wine and fizzy drinks on board, and that we can just help ourselves.
Unlimited. It’s a dangerous word. Much like my reaction to the breakfast buffet, Annie has taken this new information to be a dare, a challenge, a waving red flag to her bullish tendencies. She’s up and rummaging in the ice bin for two cans of Fiji Gold before I’ve even bitten into my second cookie.
After a half hour, Annie has already made it through three beers. Fearing a situation where we both need our hair held back at the same time, I’ve switched to diet coke.
We already have a reputation, I can just tell. Annie’s indoor voice sits in a decibel range usually reserved for when you are speaking to a large crowd and you notice that the ones in the back are fidgeting. I bet you money that people on the other end of the boat would be able to tell you that Annie is from New Zealand, it’s her birthday today, she won this trip, lunch is going to be amazing, with a million dollars she would travel, and that beer is “definitely the BNE”.
BNE, short for “best news ever”, has accidentally become a catchphrase. You know how it is, you say something a few times, you like the way it sounds, and you continue. Soon you realise that it’s punctuating almost every sentence, but by then the habit has stuck. Over time, the frequency of use has led to us getting sloppier. We don’t enunciate properly anymore, turning the acronym into a even more nonsensical “being-e”. I sit and wonder what the other passengers imagine the ‘e’ stands for. I hope for ‘ebullient’ but imagine they’re leaning more towards ‘ear-splitting’ or ‘exasperating’.
Our host Ben tells us that we will be snorkelling around an uninhabited island, the very same one that Cast Away was filmed on. I’m not sure what reaction he’s expecting, but it’s probably not fifteen blank stares. I feel bad, and so I feign that I am deeply honoured to have this privilege. He takes this to mean that I am some sort of crazed Tom Hanks superfan, and singles me out for the rest of his presentation. That is where he caught the fish. That is where he found a cave. That is where he built a fire.
Annie turns to me and says, “is he talking about that one with the ball? I hate that movie”.
We’re handed flippers and snorkels, and Ben tells us that we have an hour to swim and explore before being brought back to the boat for a BBQ lunch.
We’ll take you over in the dinghy, he says. Of course, if you want to just jump off the side of the boat, you can do that too.
Leaping from the ship is clearly the only option for adventure and proving that we are the most hardcore people on this vessel – a title no one else has any interest in claiming, but that we are competing for regardless. Annie downs the rest of her beer, grabs another for the swim, announces that this is the BNE, and we launch ourselves off the side.
To be continued…