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Fiji Finished

2008 December 20
by rob

November 27, 2008


The story picks back up again at the bus station in Nadi. There were lots and lots of buses puttering around and various crowds of people waiting around, mostly Fijians. I bought a bus ticket. The taxi driver who brought me here suggested that it would probably cost FJ$20 (CA$14) and I’d have to wait two hours for the bus. The reality was different indeed, though. I only had to wait about a twenty minutes and it cost only FJ$7 (CA$5). Just more evidence that taxi drivers around the whole world are pure, simple, inbred scammers.

Unlike the bus system in Samoa, the buses here were very normal looking. No flashy colours. No block rockin’ beats. Boooring.

There were lots of stalls selling Indian sweets, which is probably one of my weaknesses, but I didn’t get any. I was hungry, though, so I grabbed some french fries (though they called them chips!) and sausage for FJ$3.50 (CA$2.40) and a Coke Zero for my lunch. They didn’t have forks, so I had to eat with my fingers, which was somewhat messy, but as least I got to wash my hands in the bathroom after!

I sat at the back of the bus and spent some time talking to the Fijian kids back there. It took about two hours before the bus driver dropped me off at The Beachouse, on the southern coast (advertised as “The Coral Coast”) of the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu. About five minutes before I had to get out the heavens erupted in a torrent of rain. No time to get the rain cover on my pack… I made a mad dash with my 15 kg pack and also-heavy laptop bag to get to the reception. Good thing it was close to the road.

The Beachouse is a backpacker’s resort. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s got a nice beach, stuff to do, but at a backpacker’s level of budget (i.e.: dorm rooms and shared facilities). Yes, it’s true that Fiji is more developed and touristy than other Pacific islands like Samoa and Tonga, but that results in a full range of accommodation options… from backpackers to five star luxury resorts. Fiji is, however, a more expensive country to stay in than Samoa or Tonga, but cheaper than Australia, Canada or Western Europe. I guess that’s why lots of backpackers come here.

Not so many at this time of year though. Yes, it was the rainy season and it was raining out. I was going to stay at The Beachouse for five days (the remainder of my time in Fiji), and it rained almost every day I was here. So, there were only a handful of other travelers when I got there.

I was staying in a six person dorm room, but there was only one other person there: Stefan (from Washington DC). He had a laptop computer, too, but he was running Linux on his. He was a geek! We both had geeky conversations for a while. I didn’t want to get out of practice, of course.

It seemed like most of the other dorm rooms were similarly sparsely populated. When I got to the bar during happy hour, there was only about ten other people there. There were five kids from Sweden, who spoke enough English and were generally chatty with the other travelers. One of the guys, Mattias, had a very low and monotone voice, shaved head and tattoos. We got him to pretend he was Santa Claus and say, “What do you want for Christmas? Come sit on my lap and tell Santa” in his low gravelly voice. He sounded evil and it amused us. Heh heh, evil Santa.

There were also a couple of other Americans there, Annie and Will. They were were studying in Australia for several months and were stopping over in Fiji on their way back to America. A couple of Scottish people were there, Kirsty and her boyfriend Neil. They used to work in vodka bars in England and we got to talk about vodka. It turns out that they’re as big fans of Krupnik and Żubrowka (a couple Polish vodkas) as I am! There was also Tasha from Timmins, Ontario. I asked her if she knew Vince’s wife and sister-in-law, but I guess everyone in Timmins doesn’t know everyone else.

It was mostly these people (and a few other people that came and went) that I spent my last five days on Fiji at The Beachouse. It was chilled. It was relaxed. It was good.

November 28, 2008

Today was a big do-nothing day for me. Reading. DS. Email. Sitting in hammock near beach. Oh yeah…

I finished reading “A Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Marcia Marquez. It’s a book that I picked up when I was staying in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney near the end of my first big trip. I didn’t really get very far into it before I got back to Canada and didn’t read another page until I got on the plane to Los Angeles on my way back here. From then, I had read it voraciously. It’s a great book. I highly recommend it. There was another Marquez book on the book exchange bookshelf there, but it was in Dutch, so it wasn’t for me to enjoy.

I also finished playing “The World Ends With You” on my Nintendo DS. I’d been playing it on and off since probably about July. It’s a good game, I also highly recommend it. Next game: Dragon Quest IV.

It seems like Kirsty and Neil had gone to the neighbouring town of Sigatoka that day for shopping and had brought back some packets of dried kava powder. Yes, it turns out that the drink I had on Tonga was much more popular here in Fiji, at least among the tourists. Neil had devised a drinking game based on the game of Kings where you had to drink the kava (which is non-alcoholic, but still special), and whatever alcohol you had, too. Good times.

November 29, 2008

Stefan and I had decided to make a bit of a day trip to Suva, the capital city of Fiji, today. We intended to catch a bus to get there, so we went and stood by the highway at the appointed time. Within minutes, however, a pickup truck stopped and offered us a ride instead. It was a guy carrying a load of brewer’s yeast from the harbour at Lautoka to the Fiji Bitter brewery in Suva. We offered the guy FJ$10 each for the ride. It’s a bit more than the bus, but he took us there much faster. Stefan, the driver, and I sat in the front together, with me in the middle. It was cozy and my knees got crushed a bit whenever the driver changed gears, but it was all good. It seemed that Fiji was an easy place to engage in hitchhiking, even if it was unintentional!

Suva itself was nothing special. It’s a big, stinky, dirty city. In fact, at about 300,000 people, it’s the largest city in the South Pacific region (other than the cities in New Zealand or Australia). Stefan and I wandered around the shopping district for a bit, bought some local rum, had really cheap curry for lunch, went to the Fiji National Museum, and saw a mongoose. We even ran into a Canadian girl who had been staying at The Beachouse but had left the day before. On our way back to the bus station we stopped at the market and picked up a cornucopia of fresh fruit to bring back with us. The food at The Beachouse was pretty lame, so we needed fresh goods!

The bus ride back was long, crowded and unpleasant. The road was very windy and the bus lurched and swayed from side to side. Ugh. It reminded me of Laos.

That night I watched the sunset with the Americans (Stefan, Annie, Will, and Ian (Annie and Will’s friend that had arrived earlier that day). It was a really good one. We sat on a rope swing that hung on a palm tree that curved out over the water as the waves lapped gently onto the beach. Beautiful.

There were a few dogs that lived at the resort, too. One of them was called Lucy.

Lucy was fun. She watched the sunset with us. There were some local people that were swimming in the water. Lucy would bark at them if they came out of the water, but would stay quiet as long as they stayed in. I was amused. I decided that Lucy was really called “The Bula Dog”. “Bula” is the Fijian word for “hello” and you get to hear it and say it very often since the Fijians are so friendly. It only made sense that this dog was really called The Bula Dog. No one else believed me, though.

More drinking that night. I think I drank too much rum since I felt ill. I don’t think it helped that I didn’t eat enough that day. Doh.

November 30, 2008

I wasn’t feeling great for most of the day, so I made it a lazy one. There was a bonfire on the beach that night, and we sat around drinking beers and kava.

It was the weekend now, and it seemed like there were more people had arrived. Our cozy little beachouse was getting more crowded.

December 1, 2008

Today was going to be a special day!

I got going early and caught a bus to Waidroka Bay (part way between The Beachouse and Suva) for my first scuba diving ever. My ear was feeling better compared to when I was on Taveuni. I was staying on The Coral Coast, so I certainly had to give it a go! Part of me wanted to go whole hog and get Open Water PADI Certification right away, but the rest of me was more cautious and prudent and decided to go on a single introductory dive first to see how breathing underwater agreed with me first.

My dive instructor that day was a lady from Pennsylvania. After demonstrating the equipment and practicing a few essential techniques in the pool (clearing your mask, equalizing pressure in your ears, recovering your air regulator if it falls out), we hopped in a boat and went to the reef.

When we got there, it was time to put on the BCV (Buoyancy Control Vest), tank, mask, put in the air regulator, and fall backwards into the water, just like in the movies! I took my instructor’s hand and we descended down a rope to a depth of 10 metres. I was breathing underwater! I looked up and could only vaguely see the surface! The boat was only a shadowy shape somewhere “up there”. I was surrounded by coral rock reef walls and all sorts of colourful fish.

I was thankful I had an instructor with me. She held my hand the whole time we were down there and lead me around and between the rocky walls made of living coral. When you’re diving, you suddenly have to deal with the third dimension of movement, and I really had no idea how to cope with that. I didn’t have control of my movement since I didn’t know how to move safely without bumping into stuff.

Anyways, it was not a problem since I had my instructor. She pointed out different features to me and communicated to me with hand signals (since it’s not really possible to talk underwater). I saw anemones with cute clown fish hiding between the tentacles peering out at us. We got to feel the underside of the anemone. It was smooth, soft, and slippery. We saw two octopii and one of them squirted ink at us when it tried to swim away. We saw a big ugly stone fish, but didn’t get close to it because it’s venomous. We saw little purple and frilly Christmas tree worms that would disappear into holes if you touched them. And, of course, hundreds of brightly coloured and oddly shaped fish.

After a while I started to feel somewhat uncomfortable. Some salt had gotten into my eyes and my ear was starting to bother me a bit, so I signaled to go back up. I had no sense of time underwater, so I had no idea how long we were down there until I got back to the boat. It turns out that we were down for forty minutes, and would have had about five more minutes anyways if I didn’t end it. So, I think it was a good first attempt.

December 2, 2008

If yesterday was special, then today would be an unnecessary drama. Crappity crap crap.

My flight from Nadi to Brisbane, Australia left the airport at noon. It would take about two hours to get to the airport from The Beachouse, so, in order to give myself sufficient time to make it to the airport, I got up early (6:30 AM). It was too early to book the hostel bus to take me there, so I decided to try my luck at hitchhiking to get to the airport. No problems. After only a few minutes of standing beside the highway, I found a minibus that would take me there for only FJ$15 (CA$10).

I got to the airport about fifteen minutes before the check-in for my Air Pacific flight was opened. There were only a handful of people in line ahead of me. Things had gone very smoothly, until I went into my bag and tried to get my documents in order.

I couldn’t find my passport.

Crappity crap crap.

I unpacked my bag and looked everywhere for it right there in the airport line. The friendly Australian girl behind me in line talked to me and calmed me down (she even invited me to her wedding on December 23 in Brisbane, but I don’t think I’m going to go). I was not freaking out. This sucked, but I had options. I called The Beachouse. It seemed that I had left my passport in the hostel safe. Ugh. I started avoiding those things because I always forgot things in them (like when I left my passport in Byron Bay). I guess I had forgotten my lesson after I had restarted my travels.

It’s these early morning wake ups! Let’s say I’m not a morning person and dislike them. I certainly used to be a morning person, but those days are past. If I’m not working, then why should I have to deal with these early morning wake ups all the time? Ugh. The curse of the budget traveler.

Okay. Thinking. I didn’t have my Canadian passport (the one with my visa for Australia), but I did still have my Polish one. The lady at the check in counter said I could apply for a visa for my Polish passport online and use that instead. I went to the cafe, ordered a cappuccino (I certainly deserved a treat by this point), and applied for another visa online. Thankfully, it was free of charge for European citizens. Yay. Canadians have to pay for their Australian visas. Suckers…

I waited for the rest of my half hour of internet time to wait up to see if the approval email would come. It didn’t, but I decided to go wait in line to check in anyways.

By the time I got to the front of the line, some time had passed but my visa hadn’t been approved yet. In fact, when the check-in lady looked at the computer, it seemed that it had been rejected. WTF. No explanation.

Okay. Thinking. Instead, I showed her a photocopy of my Canadian passport and said that I had traveled to Australia three times already on the same passport and I was a really nice guy if there was anything she could do, oh pretty please. She said would talk to her supervisor and disappeared into the back. I didn’t see her again for forty-five minutes. All the other passengers finished checking in and disappeared. The boarding announcements for the plane were read over the intercom. The last boarding call was made. I was getting very nervous and antsy. I asked some of the Air Pacific staff still at the counter if they knew where the lady went, but they were unsympathetic to my plight.

Finally, she returned. She said that had to call Canberra (the capital city of Australia) and they had granted me special permission to enter the country with just the photocopy of my passport. She gave me my boarding pass as the intercom named me personally and told me to board my plane.

I ran through the airport. Good thing it was a small one. Some of the Fijians laughed to see someone running through the airport. They must have thought it was funny since Fijians are never in a rush.

Immigration was somewhat of a hassle since I didn’t have my Canadian passport for the dude to put my exit stamp into. I showed him my passport photocopy, he typed some stuff into the computer and lazily put the exit stamp into my Polish passport instead. He was in no rush, of course.

Sweating and breathing heavily, I was the last person to board the plane. Yes, I was that guy who gets paged repeatedly on the airport intercom to hurry up and board their plane. I sometimes scoffed at such people in the past (“why would you be late for your plane? come on!”), but know I knew how they felt and I would scoff no more.

The flight was three hours to Brisbane. Thankfully, the nice Air Pacific flight attendants gave me a couple Fiji Bitter beers to ease my nerves. I didn’t look forward to the Australian immigration. I expected a full body cavity search. Rubber gloves. Snap. Bend over. Clench.

Thankfully, the hard part was behind me. Getting past Australian immigration in Brisbane was surprisingly easy. I told the guy I didn’t have a passport and he sent me to the supervisor’s desk. They looked on the computer and it did show, indeed, that Canberra had sent special permission for me to enter the country with just a photocopy of my passport. They gave me my entry stamp in my Polish passport and said I still needed to get my Canadian passport back since that was the one that would have to get my exit stamp. Yes yes sir, I would get it mailed to me. They were very civil and very helpful.

I was back in Australia!

Rob Szumlakowski
Surfer’s Paradise, Australia

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