Chapter 5: Cruising Fiji in a catamaran.

Trip Start Oct 01, 2003
Trip End Nov 2004

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Sunday, October 26, 2003

I completed my 'round-Rarotonga cycling trip without incident after stopping at a grocery store to find some dinner. I thought I should give my arteries a break from fried takeaway, so I picked up... pesto sauce (a personal fave)! At 99% oil & cheese, it's probably the one thing even less healthy than deep-fried food, but I wasn't sure if I was liable to find it again for a while, and making pasta was about as much effort as I was willing to put into cooking for myself, so dinner (and lunch Thursday) was pesto spaghetti. Wednesday night involved another trip to a local bar - the Banana Court, which is famous for offering a cooler of free orange/vodka drink (pretty nasty) to the backpacking hordes at the beginning of every Wed night. At least the music was better than at the RSA Club, although it's all relative in the South Pacific. I'll take Kylie over Marley any day.

Thursday was the ultimate hangover day - it poured rain all day, so we sat around the dorm whining. I decided that at some point along the way I need to pick up some tiny little speakers for the i-Pod, as one of the guys in the dorm had some that he lent me, and everyone was very thankful for the music. Friday the rain was gone, but the sun was still elusive. A number of people were heading out for LA or Fiji that night, including myself, so it was a slow day of packing and hanging around waiting to go to the airport. I was dreading arriving in Nadi (say: NAHN-dee) at 1:30am with no accommodations booked (or any idea what my plan for Fiji would be), but I wasn't dreading it enough to do anything about it. Rarotonga had that effect on me.

Turns out everything worked out fine... the flight was easy, and I was able to book 2 nights in a dorm bed from the airport info center. It was an odd feeling getting on the plane at 10:45 pm on Oct 17, and getting off a few hours later on Oct 19. I felt cheated by time, since I'm generally not aware of the hours I'm slowly making up by traveling west, and anyway, those hours would be a whole lot more useful if I got to use them all at once.

The hotel I stayed at in on the beach outside of Nadi is called Aquarius, and it just opened this year. The place was fabulous - brand new bunk beds in primary colors, a swimming pool, hammocks, cheap & yummy chocolate-orange ice cream bars, and an engagingly friendly staff. Actually, "engagingly friendly" is a good way to describe almost ALL the Fijians I met! Coming from the States where no one says "hi" on the street, it was a big adjustment for me to get used to constantly smiling and addressing strangers with a bright "Bula!" ("hello" in Fijian).

When I woke up Sunday morning, I went to the travel desk at Aquarius and formulated a plan for the next 10 days. On Monday I would board the Yasawa Flyer ferry and head off to 4 backbacker resorts in the Yasawa & Mamanuca Island chains for a few nights each before returning to Nadi on Oct 30. It was a drizzly Sunday, so the hammocks & pool at the hotel were useless, and I also had no money and needed an ATM. Downtown Nadi has a pretty awful reputation among travelers as being a dirty city where you're constantly hassled by touts, but faced with no other options I decided to brave the trip into town to have a look around. I shared the cab with Allen from Ireland, who is one of my favorite people I've met on the road so far despite the fact that we only had the day to hang out. The combination of rain and Sunday (read: many closed shops) meant that we weren't harrassed much in Nadi, so we were able to wander around for a few hours checking out the Hindu temple and various tourist stores selling cannibal utensils and kava powder (more on that later). Nadi was reasonable enough, I thought. Certainly not pretty, but not as awful as I'd expected. Plus the bathroom supplies I needed were cheap, and the Indian food was good due to the large population of Indo-Fijians (almost 50% of the population of Fiji is Indian). The tensions between Fijians and Indo-Fijians is a fascinating subject that's too complicated to go into here, but I was happy to talk to people on both sides of the issues during my stay, and I learned a lot.

On Monday morning at 6-something AM, the woman from the travel desk burst into the dorm waking the room and scaring everyone half to death shouting "Timothy! Timothy!" I looked at her with mild terror and waved, and once she found me she continued: "It will only rain hard today and tomorrow, and then there will be sunshine again!" I wasn't even aware it was raining at that moment, since I'd been asleep, but it was indeed coming down in buckets. I'm not sure what I did to deserve the pleasure of a personal bedside weather forecast, but I smiled, said "thanks?" and then looked around the room and shrugged helplessly.

The ferry quay at Port Denarau was miserable - 5 ferry companies trying to handle a few hundred customers all squeezed into a little shed unsuccessfully avoiding the rain and milling around in loosely-defined "lines." Eventually we got on the Yasawa Flyer (the "big yellow boat") and set off to the northwest. I'm still amazed by a few things: first, how efficiently the operation runs once you're on the boat. Basically every day the Flyer takes a few hundred backpackers up & down the Yasawa Island chain, dropping them off at any of perhaps 20 village-run "resorts." The resorts have their own tiny little boats that come out to meet the Flyer and shuttle their guests to and from land. What should by all rights be utter chaos actually works very smoothly and with a minimum of confusion. The second thing that amazed me is that the one company (Amazing Adventures) has such a monopoly on the Yasawas... if it was in America there'd be 10 companies competing for a slice of the action, but the Yasawa Flyer is essentially the only boat that makes the run.

On this particular Monday, that run was utter HELL! The rain was pounding and the ferry was rocking in big waves, so that probably half the passengers got seasick. I came close (the banana muffin was a baaad idea), but I popped a few Dramamine pills and found a place to lie down for a while, thankfully. Contrary to my weather report, things cleared up when we reached Oarsman's Bay Lodge on Nacula Island after a 4-hour journey. I met 2 American girls, Jeanette and Amy, on the little boat to the resort, and we promptly set up camp in the dorm and then jumped in the ocean. Most of the resorts in the Yasawas have some things in common: they welcome you with traditional songs & guitar/ukelele accompaniment as the boat pulls up to shore, all the meals are included in the price (US $25-40/night - a great deal), you hear "Bula!" every time you turn your head, and they offer activities such as village tours, hikes, snorkelling trips, and kava ceremonies. I had my kava experience at Oarsman's Bay on my second night. Kava is the traditional Fijian drink, and it's made by soaking a cloth filled with powdered kava root in water. There is a specific ritual to be followed when you're in the kava circle, but the principal thing you need to know about kava is that it tastes like dirty laundry water, numbs your mouth and throat, and has a mild (very mild) narcotic effect - somewhere between drunk and stoned, but not as noticeable as either. Fun to try once.

Spent most of my time at Oarsman's Bay lazing around on the most beautiful beach I've ever seen. On Tuesday while strolling along the water's edge I met a local 23yo local guy named Bill who was excited to chat and show me around his property. He took me on a 1/2 hour tour of his garden back in the jungle where he grows taro, kava, pineapple, papayas, yams, and bananas, and then he climbed a coconut palm (incredible!) and fetched us a couple of coconuts. Then he opened them both up and handed me one to drink from. It was very refreshing and slightly sweet, and I felt like I was on "Survivor" or something: standing there in just a swimsuit with no shoes on this remote tropical beach sucking a coconut!

Thursday I left Nacula and boarded the Flyer again (sunny this time!) for the short trip down to Naviti Island and Korovou Resort. Korovou was cheaper than Oarsman's and the facilities weren't as nice, but the people were great (as always) and the hammocks were perfect. I played some volleyball the afternoon I arrived, and made some new friends over card games after dinner. The staff at Korovou are very much into audience participation. I played a game of musical chairs, and had to take part in the "Bula Dance" (think: "Electric Slide"). They also put on a fascinating traditional dance & music performance one night... I was completely entranced by the handclapped rhythms and the fire dancers! Friday afternoon I went out on a manta ray snorkelling trip, which was pretty cool. I saw maybe 6 rays while fighting a ferocious current. When a big 10-footer glides by a few feet below you it's hard not to be impressed!

I'm rediscovering my childhood fascination with stars while I'm in the South Pacific. Nothing beats lying in a hammock by the beach gazing up at hundreds of stars through palm frond silhouettes. I'm obsessed with finding the Southern Cross, and I think once I'm in a big city I might try to buy one of those spinning constellation guides I remember from when I was a kid. Saw my first shooting star in years the other night, and for some reason it really excited me.

Today I left Naviti and headed south to Beachcomber Island, which is technically part of the Mamanuca Island chain just west of the main Fijian island of Vitu Levu. Beachcomber is more of a traditional party resort than the places in the Yasawas. It's not run by a village, the facilities are decidedly more modern, there's a band playing every night, and the crowd is mostly young singles (all seemingly straight, of course, which is the curse of the South Pacific). The dorm is huge - 100 beds arranged in bunks in a large open-air room - but nice & comfortable, with great showers, and lockers under each bed. Food here is amazing. After being served whatever the chef felt like at the other 2 resorts, it's great to have the options of a large buffet at Beachcomber! I'm about to settle in for a night of drinking with some people I met at Naviti, so thanks for reading this exhaustive entry, and I'll update again soon!

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