The Barely Rich Project
Trip Start Nov 08, 2003
74Trip End Oct 22, 2004
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Our driver, Jone, was waiting for us in Hideaway's reception at the un-holiday time of 6.30am. He was to take us back to Nadi where we'd catch the Yasawa Flyer boat that would take us out to the Yasawa Islands.
At 8am Nadi was enjoying its own little rush hour as we battled through the High Street and on to Denarau Marina just outside town. Once dropped off at the marina we headed for Cardo's Café for egg and bacon rolls while waiting for the check-in counter to open. After checking in at 9am we boarded the 'Big Yellow Boat' and took a couple of seats inside ready for the 9.15am departure. To begin with the boat's route would take us via the nearby Mamanuca Islands with stop-offs at the tiny one resort islands of Bounty, Beachcomber, Treasure and South Sea before heading north to the Yasawa Group via the islands of Kuata, Waya, Naviti, Tavewa and finally our little island of Nanuya Lailai some 4 and a half hours sailing time away
The boat left a typically cloudy Nadi on time and every seat was taken with families, couples and backpacking island-hoppers. At each island the boat would come to a standstill just offshore, whereupon the local resort would send out their speedboat to drop-off and pick up guests and supplies, leading to an unsteady mid-ocean rendezvous between the two vessels.
As we made our way north slaloming through little islands the clouds thinned along with the tourists who were hopping off at the various resorts, and finally at 1.45pm we arrived at Nanuya Lailai island, scene of the 'Blue Lagoon' movie and we immediately saw why. Other islands we'd seen on the way had long stretches of palm-lined sandy beaches, beachfront thatched huts and deserted island feels to a certain extent, but Nanuya Lailai was the epitome of picture perfect paradise with its calm lagoon made up of a spectrum of blues, an outlook across to three other islands and small enough to warrant the title of desert island.
A little boat was sent out to pick us up along with a honeymooning couple from Italy and after a one-minute transfer from the Yasawa Flyer we were setting foot on dry land ready to be castaways for eight days
Nanuya Island Resort was a new resort recommended by our Fiji travel guru, Lynne, back in Nadi, and before long we had met the brother/sister combo of Lance and Terri who looked after the place for their Kiwi-Fijian family. Having opened on 1st August, Lance was counting the days and told us the place was 53 days old which could spell teething problems. We shall see.
The resort had eight bures in total, four large ones on the beachfront at a backpacker-alarming $300 (£105) per night, and four treehouse bures perched on the hill at a more manageable $175 per night of which one was ours.
We were shown to bure number 8 at the far end of the resort via a steepish walkway while a handyman worked away on a much-needed handrail. Our cottage looked very smart from first impressions, painted in camouflage shades of green and brown with a nice rustic thatched roof. Inside was a very contemporary affair with big plain IKEA-ish bed draped in mossie nets taking up most of the floor space and a darkish little washbasin area that led into a semi-alfresco room with solar-powered shower and toilet. All windows were sans-glass, instead using mossie screens and big solid wooden blinds, and a double-door led out onto a verandah promising a sensational view of the blue lagoon which was sadly hindered by a dense jungle scene
We made our way down for a much-needed lunch and sat under the large 'taba' as they exotically call it, or 'main open-air building' as we ordinarily call it. Half the area was taken up by the restaurant with a bar area dividing the lounge area with a big L-shaped sofa set-up and small boutique selling jewellry, clothes and toiletries. After delicious chicken burgers and wraps were demolished we went off to explore the area.
Large two-person string hammocks were dotted around the resort grounds and pairs of wooden slatted sun loungers were positioned at intervals along the beach looking out onto a lagoon speckled with yachts and catamarans that bobbed around adding to the area's air of paradise. The actual 'Blue Lagoon' section was a ten-minute walk along the beach and before setting off Terri explained to us that it was actually a private property owned by 'Blue Lagoon Cruises', and when a cruise ship was moored in the bay, we wouldn't be allowed on its hallowed sand. Blimming cheek!
We walked up to the beach undeterred and were met by a sign saying 'No Entry Beyond This Point - Private Property'
. . . time out to conjure up and fantasize over the image
. . . and continue.
We weren't really taken with the thought of being grappled to the ground by a large Fijian security guard to have sand kicked in our faces, so we opted for a quick waggle of our toe over the boundary before performing a U-turn.
Our trip back took us by a number of well heeled families sunning themselves and taking up valuable sand-space were their little motorised launches ready and waiting to take them back to their floating villas. Scattered around the self-made millionaires were society-made backpackers sampling the good life. On the eastern windward side of the island were a number of budget resorts located on rocky tidal beaches facing a stiff breeze, whereas the Blue Lagoon faced west on the leeward side and was sheltered from any wind
We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to relax on hard wooden loungers, and with the resort still being in its infancy, the foam cushions were yet to be delivered, leaving our pale torsos with nice char-grilled imprints. That evening we were introduced to the two waiters that would be looking after us come dinnertime, and you couldn't have wished for a more perfect double act. George was the straight guy, a six-foot tall bear of a man with a lumbering demeanour, while Clive was the funny man and five and a half feet of happy-go-lucky gayness with a 'Bula' greeting that could shatter a wine glass.
The menu was a communal blackboard affair perched next to your table that would have to be read under a single candle's light with the prices nigh on impossible to make out, which was no bad thing. In fact the lighting was atmospheric to the point of being dark with our witty repartee being exchanged between faceless silhouettes, which funnily enough, was again no bad thing. There was no wine list, instead George brought all available bottles to the table to create a 3-D menu, and each had the same $40 price tag independent of quality.
We chose crab ravioli and pappadoms(?) to start and for mains I had a superb smoked chicken spaghetti dish while Soph went for the honey-glazed pork even though Patch the Pig was still a very vivid memory, and all was flushed down our throats with a crisp Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc with hints of melon and lime and an underlying underly of underlay
After we'd finished giggling at George and Clive's impromptu comedy act we retired to bed early to store away the mossie nets and switch on an ingenious gadget that sat in the corner of the room. Commonly known as a Mozzie Zapper, it's a little electric hotplate on which sits a tiny blue lozenge that burns away throughout the night letting off fumes of which only the mossie can smell, thus sending them buzzing for cover into the thatched roof for the night, leaving us to our nice firm bed and eleven hours sleep.
We woke at eight in our darkened bure and gaily tippy-toed over to the blinds.
A quick flick of the release clip would send shards of golden sunshine filtering through our room like a Corn Flakes commercial, whereupon we'd both dress from top to toe in flowing white linen and skip hand-in-hand down to breakfast to greet our fellow guests with sickeningly happy 'Good Mornings'. We couldn't wait.
Overnight the weather from the mainland had crept offshore, made its way along the islands to sit waiting for us this morning. Fijian weather was just about getting on our chuffing nerves. Still, we did go down to breakfast to greet everyone with dreary 'Mornin's'.
Continental breakfast was included in the rates so we did our best to bloat ourselves with cereal (not Corn Flakes), muffins, toast and fruit, and once sufficiently inflated we wrapped a couple more muffins in napkins to save on lunch costs. Cunning. With the hope of a meteorological miracle we headed ten-foot to the beach where we chose to collapse on sand instead of the wooden barbecues that were the sun loungers, and by mid-morning the cloud had actually thinned a little and faint shadows were being cast. We'd settle for that at the moment.
The morning was spent engaging in sandy horizontal activities (and we're not talking post drunken Club 18-30 pub crawls), reading, sleeping, bit more reading, another 40-winks and finally another little read.
Every so often a launch would glide onto the beach to check out the new resort in town dropping off Medallion Men, Pearly Women and their newspaper-round ignorant kids for a spot of lunch. Their collective term was 'Yachties' and we'd be seeing, and more annoyingly, hearing a lot more from them. They'd then announce themselves to Lance or Terri letting them know which 90-foot cruiser bobbing in the lagoon was theirs, making sure everyone in a 200-metre radius could hear.
We soon became Anti-Yachtie.
Our two pilfered muffins from breakfast were never going to see us through til dinner so we lunched on spring rolls and samosas, and pushed our imaginary boat out and ordered another bottle of last night's Sauvignon Blanc.
By 4pm we'd seen enough of the lagoon for the day so we went back to our bure to find a sheet of paper on the bed informing us that tonight at 6 the resort was holding a 'Lovo' and 'Meke' night. What's a Lovo and Meke night I hear you say? Or was that 'Oh no, not more useless facts that will neither add value to or help us in our day-to-day lives'.
Either way I'm going to tell you, alternatively close your eyes . . . now.
'Lovo', meaning earth oven, is a traditional Fijian banquet. A hole is dug in the ground and stones are put inside and heated by an open fire. Food is then wrapped in banana leaves and placed on the hot stones where they're buried for three hours to cook slowly. Whereas 'Meke' is a dance performance that enacts local stories and legends and is usually accompanied with music, handclapping and complementing whoops of approval from the audience.
OK, you can open them now.
Wearing a vest all day was a bad move on my behalf as what sun there was had reddened my neck and shoulders leaving me with a 'Brit Abroad' vest mark, which meant I couldn't wear an off-the-shoulder number for tonight's special meal. Still, at six on the dot we made our way down to the unearthing of the lovo along with other residents and a large party of amphibious yachties who had crawled onto shore. Three leather-palmed locals using their bare hands expertly performed the unearthing and Lance was on hand to add a running commentary to the proceedings. Once everything was excavated we waited an hour for the food to be prepared while slowly quaffing gin and tonics.
Food was then laid out buffet-style and Clive led the famished onlookers on a guided tour of the strange looking fare, especially the vegetables that were not of this world or the western world at least. All the usual meaty and fishy suspects were on parade with thankfully no unusual creatures making a roasted appearance. The vegetables, however, were a peculiar assortment of shapes and colours with only the potato looking familiar. We were led through an array of chopped and mashed taro, cassava, rourou, lolo and other funny-sounding delicacies Bob Geldof might name his children after.
We filled our plates with a bit of everything and ordered our third bottle of wine in 24 hours (actually, I think we may be slacking). The meats had been slow-cooked to perfection and the vegetables were also perfectly done, although we wouldn't have known any different, as each of the 14 types of root vegetable tasted the same. Nevertheless we gorged on two heaped platefuls each and it was 'lovo'ley.
After finishing our wine we settled down for the 'Meke' and soon a 25-piece troupe from a local village made their way out into the spotlight to the slow beat of a drum, the women in two-piece flowery outfits and the men in one-piece grass skirts. A number of the women were holding flowery necklaces which they hung around the necks of all the ladies, and Clive.
A thirty-minute performance of war dances acted out by spear-wielding men and fan dances delivered by the ladies followed, played out to a soundtrack of clacking bamboo and thumping drums.
As is the way in all resorts, even the boutiquey type we were now residing in, the audience weren't going to be let off lightly and suddenly we were being pulled out of our seats to engage in a spot of Fijian disco. Obviously the brunette and I can cut a rug with the best of them, but what followed was the easiest dance known to mankind:
Stand shoulder to shoulder with a partner or two and entwine arms around each other's backs.
Now jog forward four steps.
And jog backwards four steps.
Repeat steps two and three until everyone gets fed up and/or is ready for another gin and tonic.
Things really picked up though by the end of the night as the worldwide favourite that is 'The Conga' reared its snakelike head. This being our favourite dance of all time, we joined the jigging queue of people somehow finding myself at the front. The heady combination of wine and gin went to work on my dancing bones and soon I was leading everyone on a mutant Conga ride incorporating 'Ooops Upside Your Head' flailing arm moves. This wasn't what I was expecting on a desert island, I blame the vegetables.
We all then Conga'd to bed.
Today's weather forecast? Cloud.
After a continental breakfast the size of a small continent we decided to pay the other side of the island a visit. There were two ways to cross over to 'The Other Side' to peer at 'The Children of the Dorm', one was a 20-minute overland walk and the other was a 45-minute round-island route only possible at low tide.
It was low tide so off we went clockwise around Nanuya Lailai, clambering over rocky outcrops and treading gingerly through swampy sand. We finally arrived at the backpacker hell of Sunrise Resort with its sidekick establishment Gold Coast next door, and were met by the sight of hung-over zombie-like island-urchins who sat hunched smoking roll-ups outside their 'Dorm of the Dead' accommodation. The wind howled through the thatched roofs and the stench of a $30 a day mealplan wafted through the rafters. It was horrible.
Suddenly the sound of dragging feet was heard as they picked up the scent of our secreted breakfast muffins still warm in our pockets. That was the cue for us to leave and so ended scene one of the 'Barely Rich Project'.
As we began to walk back round the skies grew grey, and soon it began to spit with rain until we reached the shelter of the Blue Lagoon where we spent the early afternoon stretched out on the sand scanning the cloud cover for any visible breaks, but with no luck.
By 3.30pm the skies were bursting with black rain clouds that looked as though they could rupture at any moment, and that moment came a quarter of an hour later as an odd growling sound reverberated around the lagoon as if the thunder clouds were clearing their throats ready for the onslaught, followed by an instant tropical downpour and a mad dash back to the treehouse. Over the next two hours the deluge and the forked lightning built to a crescendo until the biggest crack of thunder we'd ever heard shook the island like an earthquake. It was by no means the longest crack but more like a gunshot from a fifty-foot long rifle. If someone had been hit by it they'd now be a small pile of smoking ashes lying in an empty pair of shorts.
At 6 it was still sheeting down so we dug out our tiny umbrella and legged it down to dinner where we were met by Lance who was still in shock after the 5.15pm thunderbolt, especially as he'd been messing around with a couple of bare wires in the kitchen at the time. Electrical work during an electrical thunderstorm?
By 7 the rain had finally eased and we ate a delicious White Snapper dinner while listening to a local band knocking out Fijian favourites on their bongos while sipping bowls of Kava.
Coming soon . . . Return to the Return to the Blue Lagoon
The Brits Abroad