There is a lot of hype surrounding Fiji. All of the brochures describe the country as 'paradise' - a wondrous archipelago of around 300 islands full of white sand, clear waters, coral reefs and bikini-clad women. Naturally I expected much, and wanted to accomplish as little as possible before having to face the cold of New Zealand, and the arduous task of finding a job.
Upon arrival I was whisked away to the Skylodge Resort just outside Nadi where I had a much needed shower and put my bags into storage. When I could be sure that the shops were open, I ventured into Nadi with the aid of a shifty, weasely-looking taxi driver. Conversation consisted of England and inevitably, football, followed by numerous attempts to get me to buy weed, all the while honking his horn at anything with a skirt and a pulse. Thankfully the journey was not too long. I paid him $10 (it was supposed to be $6 but he rather conveniently didn't have any change) and proceeded down the street.
Looking around, I thought to myself 'Get some money, get some sunscreen and get out. Sharpish.'
The place is a complete dive, made to seem worse by the startling contrast of the colourful brochures describing the Fijian paradise islands. Rubbish lined the streets, tramps were in abundance (with 'Performers' nowhere in sight I might add. These were your run-of-the-mill, garden-variety tramps), stone-age cars pottered around spewing fumes into the air, PRs for local shops lingered on every corner. It's like a much smaller version of Tijuana, made worse by its location. At least some of my contempt for the place comes from the fact that I was screwed by one of said PRs:
Having heard about the legendary friendliness of the Fijian people, Bobby skipped down the street and was approached by a young man whilst waiting at the traffic lights. Thinking nothing of it, he engaged in friendly banter with 'Didi' about this and that - gosh Fijians really are friendly
- about what England was like and how Didi lived up in the mountains with his tribe. It was a traditional tribe - the men went hunting and made fire, the women did the cooking and cleaning. Bobby commented on how he would make it the same when he became king.
"You are a prince?"
"No, I'm just joking"
The men, women and children all indulged in the ancient art of 'making things' such as kava bowls, carved heads and pictures, and the money that they raised from selling such things went back to the village and allowed them to live their simplistic lifestyle. "That's a good idea" Bobby exclaimed. "Yes it certainly helps us along. Let me give you my card Bobby, that way you can find us when you have finished your travels"
Didi led Bobby along the street and across the road. Apparently he didn't have his card with him. Oh I see what's going on here. Where's the shop? There it is. You don't even have a card do you Didi. You swine. But you do seem like a nice chap so I will let you off
. Into the shop they went, where Bobby spotted two English people at the back drinking what looked like muddy water out of a wooden bowl, whilst clapping their hands and shouting 'Bula' every 5 seconds. Oh that must be kava Bobby thought, although not excitedly. He had heard of this 'kava' before from reports of fellow travellers, whose descriptions of the taste of the liquid included 'mud' and 'dirty wash water'. Still, you have to indulge in the local traditions of a country.
Didi sat down on the floor while one of his friends prepared some more kava, and to Bobby's dismay, the two English people had finished their ceremony and left. Just Bobby, Didi, a bunch of assistants and a quiet shop. Great.
I didn't really fancy a traditional welcoming on my own with some strange people but I thought it would be rude not to. Kava is a type of root that, it is claimed, helps to prevent different cancers. It is generally powdered or crushed then put into a kind of straw bag thing which gets dipped into the water and then rung out. It works in much the same way as a teabag and the water soon starts taking on that delightfully appetising mud-brown colour. Didi blessed the bowls and then got a couple of coconut halves for us to drink out of. Following a clap and a "Bula" I drank the kava and had to clap 3 times afterwards in "respect for the kava". We did this in turn until the whole bowl had gone. The stuff tastes like the travellers' reports, but with an added tongue numbing effect. I quickly realised that I was getting sleepy and before I realised it I had woken up in the back of a van going God knows where with two guys in balaclavas guarding me... Nah I'm only joking, calm down Mum. After we'd finished, some other guy persuaded me to buy some kava for $15 and give him $5 for suggesting a good beer. Cheeky bastard. Still, I learned a lesson not to trust everyone so easily and it only cost me £6.
After I got back to the hostel I booked a trip with Awesome Adventures for 4 days and 3 nights on 2 islands - Naviti and Kuata. It included all transport, accommodation and food so all I had to do was lie about on the beach until someone banged a drum for breakfast lunch and dinner. The evenings consisted of watching men in grass skirts performing the 'bula dance', and joining in with such innovative delights as conga dances, and the 'stick dance' where you have to get rid of the stick before the music stops. The generator went off at 10pm every night and bathed the place in utter darkness. One night I woke up thinking I could find my way to the toilets and ended up at the other end of the dorm, desperate for a piss and whispering for anyone awake to shine any form of light available so I could see where the hell I was. There was - rather predictably - no answer so I eventually managed to feel my way back and get a torch, all the while panicking that I was going to feel my way into some girl's bed and have her wake up screaming "PERVERT!" or "THIEF!".
When I got to Kuata I had time for some food and took some pictures of the sunrise, before some more dances and an evening of drinking beer and kava, and singing songs with the locals.
The last day when it was time to leave, the weather had become decidedly choppy. There were four of us herded in a little motorboat and taken into the middle of the sea in order to be picked up by the main ferry. So there we were, sat in this 7ft rowboat with a whole load of luggage, bouncing over waves last seen in 'The Perfect Storm' with about half a mile to the nearest land if the thing capsized. Finally the ferry appeared in the distance but not from the direction we were expecting.
"They sometimes come that way if the sea is particularly rough" explained our fearless boatman, standing at the bow with his feet on the edge as waves came rearing up behind him. Great,
When the ferry finally reached us we circled around and - after much crashing about - managed to attach the small boat to it, bobbing up and down 4 or 5 feet at a time while crewmen attempted to haul us aboard. An overwhelming sense of relief washed over me as I clambered aboard, but this was only the beginning. "Particularly rough"?! It would be a three hour rollercoaster ride back to Nadi harbour. Sitting down simply made my stomach churn. I walked over to one side of the boat and held on tightly to the backs of some chairs, allowing my knees to take the motion rather than my stomach. For the most part, the ferry chopped through waves speedily but every now and again there would be one large enough to send it crashing down into the depth of the next, throwing everyone out of their seats and intensifying the shade of green on their faces. Sea spray continually swept along the side of the ferry soaking me and encrusting my face and hair with salt, rendering the latter as pliable as that of a blonde toy Troll. Regular pickups from other islands resulted in severely wet and frightened passengers and a bag lost overboard. Needless to say we were all glad when it was over, and when we arrived back at the Skylodge I had my first hot shower in 3 days, played a game of cards, squashed a massive cockroach with a bin and slept like a baby.