New Years Day we say goodbye to the Aussies and hop on a flight to Fiji. Our visit to Australia is a bit short, but both of us are anxious to get back to the tropics. We haven’t done much research about Fiji, but our hope is to find a little bungalow on a beautiful beach to settle down in for a few months so we can recharge the batteries and get some work done.
Our first day of the new year is kind of a disaster. When we check in for our flight at ten in the morning we are told we need an onward destination ticket in order to land in Fiji, and we had only bought a one-way ticket. We step out of line and scramble to create a “fake” itinerary out of Fiji, and we find an airport printer to print it out. We hurry back to check-in, and this time no one asks for our onward ticket. Oh well! We hurry to the gate to only realize that our flight is four hours delayed. So we chill in the Sydney airport and finally get to Fiji late that night. Not sure if it’s the late arrival or what, but the immigration in Fiji takes forever–about two hours from when we disembarked. It’s hot and we’re tired, but luckily Hari from the Beachhouse is waiting to pick us up. We’re off for the two hour drive to the Coral Coast. Hari stops at several ATMs for us to get money out, but for some reason our card isn’t working. This is frustrating because we are on our way to the middle of nowhere, and no Fiji currency is not good, but we have no other option. We finally get to the Beachhouse at 2am and Harry gives us a key to our room, which is ok but without a bathroom (supposedly we’ll be moved to a room with bathroom the following day).
It will have to do and we pass out, hearing the crashing waves in the darkness. We wonder what the beach and surf will look like in the morning, but are happy to finally be in bed.
The next few days are an interesting study in the Mark and Michaela dilemma. So here we are on a beautiful south pacific beach, with palm trees dipping into the sand and a surf break half mile out, warm 85 degree water and a bit of fish to snorkel around with,
but we can’t help but to compare it all to Akumal. It comes up a bit short. The water is clear, but not the brilliant turquoise of Akumal. There are a few fish to snorkel with, but nothing compared to Akumal’s turtles and Cozumel’s corals. The beach is pretty, but not as pretty… you get the idea. The accommodations are meager and not that cheap (actually the same price as what we pay for our lovely condo in Akumal), and we never get a room with a bathroom. It’s raining a good part of the day and night, and trekking through the garden mud to get to the bathroom gets old very fast.
However, there are a few positives. The local people are incredibly nice and friendly (Mark goes for a run on the road and estimates 70 different people called out “Bula!” (hello) to him, several of them stopping to introduce themselves and shake his hand). The food is good (lots of Indian food influence, which we love) and the vibe at the Beachhouse is really fun. It’s basically a backpackers resort with communal dining and we meet lots of fun travelers.
One couple who is making a travel film about Fiji invites us along with them to a local’s house, who has invited them to a Kava ceremony. We jump at the chance, and find ourselves that evening wandering down the dark road in the rain looking for Jiduit’s house. We find it (a few small children guide us) and he invites us in for evening prayer. He reads from the Bible in Fijian, and then his family breaks out into song. It’s amazingly beautiful.
Jiduit talks about how in other countries, people are “money rich,” which is good, but in Fiji, they are “life rich,” which is most important. We are both struck by the simplicity and beauty of the words. I had never heard that phrase “life rich” before, and it’s a nice way to put it.
Then he sends us out to the “party” where about 30 men and women are sitting around under a tarp in the rain passing around the kava bowl. Kava is a root that when ground up and drunk gives you a bit of a high. We both drink it and neither of us notice much of a buzz (it does numb your mouth), but we enjoy the authenticity of watching the locals hang out and enjoy it.
Apparently they’ve been drinking it for about six hours, so they are way ahead of us and many of them are nearly passed out. They all sit in a circle and the “DJ” plays songs on his ipod. The women get up and dance whenever a good song comes on, and invite us to dance with them, so we shake our booties for awhile (in the mud and rain).
Mark ventures off into a different hut and plays a few games of “pool”, which is a piece of plywood with holes drilled in the corners and people flick poker chips (which represent the balls and cue ball) with their fingers. Everyone is ridiculously nice and friendly.
Pretty fascinating night, and one thing is for certain, these are the happiest and friendliest people we’ve ever met. We had imagined that Fiji had a lot more, but in reality these people are dirt poor. Things here are more like Africa than Central America. That doesn’t matter to them though, as we’ve seen so much kindness and happiness, unrelated to us, just observing them interacting among themselves. Mark commented that he’d love to spend some time studying these types of cultures and see what it is that makes them so happy. He’s got his theories, but thinks a lot of it is cultural. For example, about 50% of Fijians are of Polynesian decent, and these especially seem ridiculously vibrant with life. There are already many books on the subject, so I guess that’s a good place to start since he’s rarely inspired to read.
Mark also finally gets his first encounter with a Fiji surf break. Here’s his account:
I paddled out and realized immediately that I was in waist deep water as I jumped off my board to confirm. I’m not much for going backside, but I caught a nice right that was head high. Got too cocky and got drilled on the next one that was a couple feet overhead. Problem was it was the first wave of the set and the waist deep water over jagged reef did not help. Luckily I was wearing booties and a helmet – I needed both those plus everything god gave me as I took the whole set on the head. Very humbling experience!
So surfing is not gonna be ideal for Mark here unless we find a much different break. Another problem is that we don’t have a reliable internet connection. There is internet in the bar, but the internet stick we bought doesn’t work in this remote area, and my iphone refuses to tether data (not sure why).
We know we can’t stay here, so we start talking to people and looking around for our ideal bungalow on the beach in Fiji. We slowly start to learn that this doesn’t exist. It sounds like Fiji offers two kinds of accommodation: backpacker hostels and five star resorts. No apartments or bungalows for rent, no ex-pat community, no cute towns with little restaurants and pubs. And the resorts are crazy expensive. Most are about $500 US per night. This is not going to work for the next four months!
We begin to feel a bit disillusioned, and I start to get desperate about getting a room with a bathroom (which the hotel keeps promising us in a day or two), so we leave the Beachhouse after five nights and head to Yatule Hotel at Natadola Beach. The accommodations are much better, and we enjoy clean wood floors, our own bathroom, plus a living room and kitchenette. Much better. We stay here for a few days and try to figure things out, but this is supposed to be one of Fiji’s nicer beaches, especially on Viti Levu, and it is nothing special. There are horses for rent along the beach, which seems nice at first, but comes with horse poo on every inch of the beach. There is also a lot of washed up seaweed which stinks. Man, are we picky or what?
After a few days the rain stops, and the sun comes out, and we start to see Fiji in a new light. We also find out that the Intercontinental Resort next door is available for our day use, so we spend a few days there using their pools, eating their yummy food, and enjoying “civilization” again. We rent paddleboards one day but my paddle is a canoe paddle, and I have a tough time getting around. We go snorkeling and the water isn’t very clear, but at least the reef has a few live coral heads and a few interesting fish. So, Natadola turns out a bit better than we expected, but still not where we want to be.
Mark does some serious research about the diving in Fiji, and learns that the best diving we can access is in Taveuni, an island north of us. We decide to book a week at a dive resort up there, in hopes of experiencing something unique and different before we leave Fiji for good. That’s where we are off to today. The plan is to stay there a week, then fly back to Auckland (perhaps via Vanuatu, which is an easy layover and another country we’re curious about) and then set-up shop in Auckland for a little while so we can both get some work done. We are looking at renting a place in Takapuna, a north Auckland coastal town that reminds us of PB, and also is where Erica and Rob live. Then….who knows? Maybe back to Akumal sooner than we planned! We’ll see how Taveuni treats us….