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First Few Days in Fiji

2008 December 2
by rob

November 20, 2008


Indeed! I was in Fiji! I stopped at the ATM to get some Fiji Dollars. FJ$0.66 is about CA$1.00. At least the Canadian Dollar is higher than SOMETHING these days.

I had arranged a pick-up from the airport. The hostel had sent a taxi for me. It was cool to have a guy waiting for me with my name on a paper. I felt important!

The hostel, Bluewater Lodge, wasn’t really that far from the airport. Other than the proliferation of ants in my room, it was really a fantastic place. Nice swimming pool, gardens, close to the beach, extremely friendly and helpful staff. It was kind of a quiet and small place. There were only about eight other guests there. I slept in a three-bed dorm, though there was never more than one other person sharing my room. The room rate is FJ$24/night (CA$16), which is about the average price I paid for all of my nights in Fiji. Pretty cheap!

I got myself showered, cleaned, changed, and chatted with a few of the guests. I needed to go into Nadi (the local city, pronounced “Nandi”), and had arranged with my taxi driver to pick me up again in a few hours and give me a ride there. There were a couple of English girls at the lodge, Chloe and Charlotte, who decided to come along. Generally, I don’t like using taxis (often too expensive for what you get), but Fiji is cheap, and splitting the fare is usually a good deal!

Nadi was not an attractive city, being kinda of dirty, hot and smelly. There were people trying to get you into their souvenir or clothing shops. I pretended these people didn’t exist, as always. I got a Vodafone SIM card for my cell phone, got some flip flops, sun screen, ice cream (it was super hot, after all), and went to the handicraft market with the girls. There was a mango tree there where the mangoes were so ripe that they were falling by themselves from the tree. It seemed very Newtonian. Charlotte and I picked up the fallen fruit and proceeded to eat it. Fiji was already amazing me.


We roamed around a bit more and met up with Charlotte and Chloe’s friend Jason, from Ireland. They met him on one of the offshore island resorts (there are MANY of them in Fiji) and were traveling in parallel for a while. It was with these three people that I would mostly hang out with for the two days that I stayed at the Bluewater Lodge in Nadi.

I did very little for the rest of the day. I spent time sunning myself and swimming in the swimming pool at the Bluewater Lodge. During sunset, I went to the beach and watched the show as the sea swallowed the sun.

That night, I ate dinner at the lodge with the other guests. The food was fantastic. We chatted, gossiped, and drank Fiji Bitter beers. The lodge had a little band come in and play some music for us on their acoustic guitars. Joe, who worked at the lodge, served us some kava (the same earthy-flavoured, relaxing drink that I had in Tonga) and sang along with the band. After a while, the band stopped playing music and some Fijian dance music started bursting out of the loudspeaker. What was going on? Was the band finished?

NO! Joe erupted onto the pool deck in traditional Fijian garb and did some crazy traditional dances for us. It was one of the most random things I’d ever seen. It was so cool! Joe was a good dancer!

What an amazing day! Fiji was going to be good, I knew it!

November 21, 2008

Today was an extremely lazy day. I did very little other than sit by the pool and listen to Bob Marley on the lodge’s stereo. I was supposed to be flying to the island of Taveuni tomorrow, and spent time trying to decide what exactly to do when I got there. It was supposed to be an amazing place to do some scuba diving, so I called around and ended up booking myself a few nights at an expensive place (FJ$75/night, ouch), that had the reputation of being a good dive operator.

The lodge kitchen was closed that night, so I went to a traditional Fijian restaurant with Jason and another Canadian girl that was staying at the hostel (don’t remember her name, though). The food was good, but I forgot my camera, so I couldn’t take any pictures *weeps*. Dinner was fun, though. Jason was a good participant in nonsense-conversations (one of my favourite kinds), and the Canadian girl was pretty funny.

November 22, 2008

It was time to leave the Bluewater Lodge. My next destination was the island of Taveuni (one of the many other islands in the country of Fiji). I had a flight that afternoon, so I got a taxi to the airport. On the way to the airport, I realized that I had lost my sunglasses. My expensive, prescription sunglasses! Oops. I called back to the Bluewater Lodge. Joe said that he had found them and would hold onto them until I flew back into Nadi in five days. Okay. Crisis averted.

Next crisis. My flight on my Pacific Sun airlines to Taveuni was delayed for many hours due to mechanical problems with the De Havilland Twin Otter airplane. Finally, like three hours after the originally scheduled departure date, the ten-or-so passengers boarded the tiny plane and the pilots took out us for a little spin. Literally. They started the tiny propeller-driven plane, we taxied around in a little circle for about two minutes, returned to the terminal, and they told us that the mechanical problems (something to do with the hydraulics) were not successfully repaired and the flight would be cancelled and rescheduled for the next morning at 7 AM. An Australian on the plane who was going over to Taveuni for business said he wasn’t surprised… Pacific Sun frequently has problems like this. Lovely.

The airline put the passengers in the hotel across the road from the airport over night. It was actually a fairly decent hotel (certainly much more expensive than any of the hostels I was staying at in Fiji). The airline also gave us vouchers for dinner and breakfast. So, I was going to lose a day in Taveuni, but I got to stay in a decent hotel and eat well for free. The penny-pincher in my couldn’t complain, really.

That night, I made a few new friends. Barbara, a girl from Austria, and a couple from the USA (though I can’t remember their names, now). The Americans were spending a month in a very rural village on a remote island. They were staying in the chief’s house and contains many bags of donated medical supplies.

November 23, 2008

Up at 5 AM in order to have breakfast with the other stranded passenger and to make out 6:15 AM pickup time to return to the airport. The plane actually took off on time and soon we were flying over the hilly and forested central highlands of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. After a short while, we were flying over turquoise reefs and gorgeous arcing coral reefs. My flight was an hour-and-a-half long, and it was one of the most beautiful and dramatic panoramas I’ve ever witnessed.

My ear was hurting (I think it was from all the swimming I did the other day) and I decided that going scuba diving wouldn’t be a very wise idea. The other thing that attracted me about Taveuni was the wealth of opportunities for trekking. The island had mountains, jungles, and waterfalls that I could visit. Talking with Barbara on the plane, she had very similar travel ideas for Taveuni and was staying there the same length of time as me, so we decided to travel together while we were there. I cancelled my booking at the scuba diving place.

Today was Sunday, and the already infrequent bus services on the island were even more infrequent. Luckily, one of the Australians on the plane, Murray, was on Taveuni for business and gave us a ride to the village of Waiyovo for free. Nice!

The village was small and very quiet, since it was Sunday. Barbara and I split a twin room at the otherwise deserted First Light Inn (FJ$50 for two people). It was the low season in Fiji, and we were the only travelers staying at the inn.

The guy who seemed to run the inn suggested that we visit the natural waterslide, which we could reach by walking. It was pretty close by, and our Lonely Planet guidebooks said it was pretty fun. The weather was very hot and rather humid, so it seemed like a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The book suggested that we watched the local people go down the natural waterslide first. It was a wise suggestion, because, when we got there, it wasn’t really clear what part of the water way we were supposed to slide down. Parts of it looked pretty dodgy and rocky and we didn’t want to break our necks. There weren’t any other people when we got there, though, so we ended up swimming in a waterfall (the first of five waterfalls I visited in my four days on Taveuni) rockpool for a while. The water was very cold, but very refreshing!

After a short while, some local people showed up and showed us the right way to enjoy the waterfall. Some hotshot guys slid down on their feet, but we didn’t do that. Since the water levels were low, about five people at once would sit side-by-side to block the water flow and let it build up behind them. Once they had dammed enough water, they would let it out all at once and slid down together. It was very very fun!!

After the waterfall, Barbara and I continued our walk down the other direction. One of the other neat things about Taveuni was the 180th meridian. The island was on the exact opposite side of the world from Greenwich, where the system of measuring longitude begins. The International Date Line doesn’t pass through the island, but jogs by the side, so that the whole country of Fiji is on the same day and time zone. But, it was cool to have one foot in the Eastern Hemisphere and the other in the Western Hemisphere at the same time. Sure, I could do the same thing in London, England, but this was way cooler (and much harder to get to!).

We continued walking through the village of Wairiki and sat beside a church and listened to the villagers practice their choir singing while kids were playing rugby on an adjacent field. There was a big Christian cross on a nearby hill and we made the trek up to it and were rewarded with fantastic views.

We went for dinner at a restaurant in the village. We were the only guests of course and the place stayed open past its closing time just because we were there. It was very weird being the ONLY travelers in the village, especially on Sunday in a traditional Christian country where the place seems to just shut down.

The next day, we wouldn’t be seeing any waterfalls, but were going to walk up a mountain instead! But, more about that in my next post.

Oh, and here’s a tip for anyone in the domestic terminal in Brisbane Airport. If you sit outside of the business class lounge for Virgin Blue airlines, then you borrow the free wireless internet that seems to be leaking outside the lounge. Tee hee.

Rob Szumlakowski
Brisbane, Australia

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