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Trip Start Jan 19, 2005
Trip End Jul 29, 2005

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Thursday, April 28, 2005


We ended up having a nice final week in LA, despite the city itself not really being up to much (unless you have an obsession with concrete stars with unknown names written on them and a bus service where the buses ignore people waiting at the bus stop!).
The highlight for me was going to the Lakers v Knicks NBA basketball match at the Staples centre on the Tuesday night. We must have been a lucky charm for the home team, since they won their first match having lost eight on the bounce, so there was a really good atmosphere. We were sat right at the top of the arena - I could have touched the ceiling if I wanted - but since we were in the seats next to the aisle, we had a perfect view down to the court and of the whole stadium (and of the Laker Girls...)
Other high points in LA were a stroll down Rodeo drive in Beverly Hills, a day at Universal Studios and a nice walk up into the Hollywood Hills just below the 'Hollywood' sign.

Our flight from LAX to Nadi went smoothly, especially since the overly camp Fijian air steward with Air Pacific took a liking to us (in hindsight, it was probably a liking to me) and kept serving us with free Champagne until we fell asleep. Having taken off at 10.30pm on 2nd April we touched down in Fiji at 05.45 on 4th April, and like that, we'd lost a day. We were greeted at the airport building by a group of Fijian men singing along to guitar to welcome us, and the stories we'd been told about dodgy locals clinging to you and trying to con you, were off the mark, and stayed so for the remainder of our stay.

Having pre-purchased a Fiji Experience bus ticket around the main Vita-Levu island of Fiji before we left, we felt obliged to do that, but after a long discussion with the info rep at our hotel, we decided it would be time better spent to visit just a couple of islands and relax after our arduous few months. Especially seeing as the bus looked like a 1950s school bus, only left 3-4 times a week and took 4 days to go around the whole island. Alternatively, we (randomly) selected one of the better looking islands and chose to rent a higher quality room for 4 days. We chose Mana Island, part of the Mamanuca set North West of Vita Levu, south of the Yasawas. The boat trip out from the mainland heightened our expectations, as we swept past beautiful, deserted, tiny islands, which look as if a small wave would engulf them single handedly. After an hour we approached Mana and it didn't let us down - clear aqua waters, sandy beaches and palm trees. Again we were greeted by locals playing and singing and helping us with our bags.

The four days we spent on Mana were great and much more in line with the backpacker stereotype lifestyle we'd imagined before we set off. Having spent most of the first 3 months either in hotels or motels we'd distanced ourselves from 'backpackers' but here we met lots of nice people and couples with whom we drank and played cards in the evenings. We have been snorkeling, kayaking around the island and on the penultimate day we took a boat trip to the island where the film Castaway with Tom Hanks was filmed. We went there with a younger but nice enough Irish couple, although it is impossible to understand what they said, we just nodded and got the majority of the responses right!

Another great feature of Mana island was that we got free food included in the deal, and so we've eaten loads - 3 meals a day, including bread fruit, baked bananas, freshly caught fish, sweet potatoes, papaya fruit, water melon, pineapple, chocolate bread and local stir fries and curried vegetables. Each night the local Fijians put on a couple of hours of entertainment, including local tribal rituals, native dances including fire juggling, and crab racing. We had to name a crab then bid for it. There were 11 hermit crabs, ours cost $7 Fijian which is about 2.50GBP, and we named it Evan after Claire's nephew. They drew 2 circles on the floor, a small one and a large one. The bucket of crabs is turned over on the small circle and the winner is the one who reaches the edge of the larger circle first. Amazingly, ours came second and I won a Fijian massage which I quickly let Claire have

For the second week in Fiji, we went to an even more picturesque island called Nananu-i-ra to the North East of Vita Levu. Here we paid the same money we'd paid for room and food on Mana but just for the room so we were expecting good things, and we weren't disappointed. We had a beachside cottage with full kitchen, lounge, dining room, literally on the beach. We did similar things on Nanunu-i-ra including swimming, walking and kayaking, but we also took a boat trip out to go coral snorkeling, which was unbelievable. It was like a flower show underwater, and we had even bought a waterproof camera which we're only now getting developed, so will have to show you some other time. We also took part in a Cava evening. Cava is the local 'poison', preferred to alcohol and nicotine by the locals, and is made by crushing the root of the cava plant, wrapping it in linen, and soaking it in water, the longer the stronger. It is a narcotic, served in a coconut shell, and looks like dish water. You have to clap your hands, say something in Fijian and down it in one whilst everyone else watches. Unfortunately it is an acquired taste, which no-one other than the locals seemed to acquire - it is DISGUSTING! Even after 10 cups, the only thing I felt was numb lips, so we had to politely take our leave!

We reluctantly left Nananu-i-ra on Thursday back for a final night on Vita Levu before flying off to Auckland on Friday morning to meet up with friends.

Hope all are well.

Ben and Claire.
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