Bula from Fiji!!

Trip Start Jan 22, 2006
Trip End Aug 17, 2006

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Where I stayed
Sunrise Lagoon Resort

Flag of Fiji  ,
Friday, March 24, 2006

Bula from Fiji! It's been a while but we're finally updating as, alas, we've come to the end of our stay in Fiji. We're in Nadi (pronounced Nandi) Airport at the moment waiting for our flight to New Zealand. We've just been delayed 2 hours and they've handed out meal vouchers straight away. Now I know I'm cynical and ungrateful but this makes me suspicious that we might be here for a while longer if they're giving the vouchers away this early. Or maybe they just like looking after their customers. Yeah, that's what I thought too. Anyway we've put the vouchers to good use by buying internet time and chocolate, both of which always come in handy.

We're both really sad to be leaving Fiji (although grateful to be alive after the taxi ride to the airport which was certainly an experience!) as we've had 2 weeks in paradise. Not just because of the crystal blue water and lush green islands (one of the which we found out was slightly smaller than our garden at home) but also because of the beautiful people. Once you get used to "Fiji time" - I've finally found what time zone I've been living in!! - you can't help but love the friendliness and cheerfulness that these people have. Every person you pass shouts "Bula!" (their greeting, which means anything from 'hello' to 'life' to 'come on board' depending who you ask) and you can't walk anywhere without having a 10 minute conversation with the nearest stranger. Not once did we ever come across someone without a smile on their face, happy to help and delighted to welcome you to their island. They're so proud of their heritage and go out of their way to preserve it. They might have a simple life compared to the more developed places we've visited but I admire them for it.

Over the past 2 weeks we've visited 6 islands ranging from very basic but traditional huts (called bures, pronounced boo-rays) on an island with only 15 other people, to air conditioned (albeit still basic) huts in the same resort that hosted Celebrity Love Island. What an experience we've had! And it didn't take long to get started.

We landed in Fiji at 5am having lost a day somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Getting through customs was fairly smooth if you ignore being the last through everything with our skill of choosing the slowest queues around. We had absolutely no idea where we had to go so headed to the visitor centre for advice. We were ushered into a small office and I was asked to hold the door open for Dan who was wheeling our bags in behind me. The door handle came right off in my hand and smashed me right between the eyes giving me a rather nice bruise and bump that I could moan about for a week or so. Could only happen to me!

Once I got over my concussion (who am I kidding? I dragged it out for days!) we wandered in the vague direction of the bus stop and had to avoid the rather sneaky taxi drivers who almost managed to trick Dan into getting in at one point. We eventually found our way out of the airport and across the road to the shelter and sat for several hours in the damp heat. You know you're somewhere tropical when it's 80 degrees (about 26 degrees to you celcius people) at 5 o'clock in the morning. Although it felt like ages sitting there, particularly when you're not even sure you're in the right place, it was brilliant watching the crap drivers dodge each other and beep at everyone they knew. Which, apparently, was everyone.

The bus eventually turned up and we got to the marina without much trouble. After checking in and getting our itinerary and tickets, we boarded our catamaran the Yasawa Flyer and headed to our first destination - Bounty Island. We were soon told that this was where Celebrity Love Island had taken place and as soon as they said it, we recognised it. In fact we were rather spoilt as the bures had been updated for the crews staying there over the 4 months of production and we had air conditioning which we didn't have again for another 10 days.

The island was beautiful and was shared on the first night by Fiji University's tourism students (ie 99% of their student population). They held a karaoke competition that night and it was absolutely fantastic getting up with 30 or so Fijian girls and singing Dancing Queen at the top of our voices. We followed it with Living Next Door To Alice which wasn't so successful apart from the immortal "who's this alice woman then?" line (obviously rather less politely) being shouted by everyone, delighted that there was a bit they knew. Then it was the boys turn (only 5 of them to our 30+) and after a miserable rendition of La Bamba they tried again. The host put the number of their next song in incorrectly and ended up with a song with the words in Chinese. Following 20 seconds or so of startled panic from the boys they all, including Dan, launched into singing a series of rather politically incorrect "ching chong ching chong, sweet and sour pork!" and other such sentiments for the next 5 minutes of music. I don't think I've ever laughed so much and the Fijians had tears pouring down their cheeks. The best part was that the computer gave you a score at the end of eeach song and the Chinese one got the best mark of the evening. Definitely a moment worth cherishing but perhaps one you had to be there for.

Naturally I got sunburnt as soon as humanly possible, when we went snorkelling on the second day. We actually went sailing - my kind of trip as the free champagne started pouring the second we arrived on board - and visited a village on Yanuya Island (fantastic experience) and a few more of the nearby Mamanuca Islands. We stopped for a while at Modriki Island where Tom Hanks filmed Castaway and spent a few hours snorkelling in the clear waters. I loved it up to the minute one of our friends told me they saw 3 sharks and, despite being assured they were only reef sharks and so friendly you could "give them a bula kiss", I decided a shark was a shark and retreated to the beach to top up my burn. Had an absolutely divine BBQ on the ship - the fish here is to die for - and drank enough champagne to satisfy even the thirstiest of alcoholics. Not a bad trip considering it was included in our island hopping pass. We finished the day off with a kava ceremony where we got the chance to try their local drink. They make it from crushed plant roots mixed with water and that's pretty much how it tastes. They have a whole ritual surrounding how you accept the drink and then swallow it which is almost distracting enough to stop you gagging.

The next island was Kuata, a volcanic island in the Yasawas about an hour north west of Bounty. We were meant to be doing a kayak trip from here the day we arrived but we decided to give it a miss for the sake of our sunburn. We enjoyed the ice cold shower instead (the only time you'll ever hear me say that) and relaxed in the hammocks. The second night we were treated to a Fijian night where we had proper food eaten with our hands and watched the locals sing and do some traditional dancing. I thoroughly enjoyed myself until we all had to join in and I ended face down in the sand during a rather furious conga. I really am the most ungraceful person on Earth!

The next morning we were up at 5am and got ready in the dark for a sunrise summit walk. We probably should have guessed it would be fairly strenuous seeing as it involves climbing to a summit and all but we weren't quite prepared for the trek. The paths were steep and trecherously slippy after a night of serious rain and after 15 minutes or so I gave up trying to keep up with the group. About 1/3 of the way up I thought there was no way I was going to make it and regretted not bringing my inhaler. It was boiling hot and my lungs burned from being so embarassingly unfit. I decided just to try to make it to the next tree, then the next and eventually an hour later we made it to the top. Despite almost being sick (I know, I'm so pathetic) I was finally able to enjoy the views. They were wonderful, allowing you to see for miles around over the nearby islands. I wish we'd had a lot longer to enjoy them but as the others had arrived a good 20 minutes before us (and actually witnessing the sunrise we long missed) they'd been there long enough to almost immediately start back down again. I was rather peeved but not nearly as much as when the guide rushed off down the path leaving us to find the way for ourselves. At one point Dan and I went the wrong way entirely and I was convinced we were going to be stranded in this forest with no one to find us. We had to re-climb most of the mountain to find the original trail and eventually we made it back down. No sign of the guide to even check we made it back. I wasn't happy.

Later that morning we checked out and re-joined the Yasawa Flyer to take us to Long Beach on Matacawalevu Island. The boat was seriously choppy and quite a few people including a staff member became closely acquainted with white paper bags. The "air conditioned" lounge was hot and stuffy and after a while I had to lie down and sleep to try to keep the nausea away. 2 hours later we arrived and climbed down into the tiny boat to transfer us to Long Beach. The tide was out so far we had to get out and wade 300m to the shore. The water was shallow and had been in the sun for a few hours making it as hot as a bath. It was gorgeous. We were met, in Fijian tradition, by the hosts singing their welcome song and were handed coconuts with straws. We were shown to our bure which was the most traditional of the lot so far and was arm's length from the waters where the Blue Lagoon was filmed. The island had a few resident kittens and puppies so I was in my element and invited one of them to try out our bed. He didn't need asking twice. We lay in the hammocks overlooking the lagoon and I had one of those glorious moments where you can't help but smile to yourself as you think how lucky you are. It doesn't happen often but I knew right then how amazing this all was.

Long Beach generally served us relaxation time reading and sleeping in the hammocks and eating and drinking to our hearts content. There were only 7 other guests the first night and 13 the next and it really felt like your own little island. The last day we walked into the island to a village where we paid $3 (about 95p) for tea and cake with the locals and some of the other guests. The children were so much fun and one wore a very worn and much loved Newcastle United shirt. It was a shame we didn't have anything to give them.

We spent a bit more time in the hammocks until I felt something land on my leg and found it was a jumping spider. I almost had a heart attack but managed to hide some of my fear from the passing locals. Thankfully after some coaxing it jumped off my leg and onto the hammock and I was out of there before you could say "change of underwear". Soon after we then saw another massive spider in a massive web just outside our bure which then meant me taking a 1/4 mile detour to get in and out. It didn't actually move the entire time we had left which was good because I'd have rowed myself out of there if I hadn't known where it had gone.

The next day we left and after the Yasawa Flyer arrived 1/2 hour early we hurriedly waded back out to the transfer boat (a description I use generously - more like a tin can with a motor). The water was much higher than when we'd arrived and I managed to get my skirt soaked while I tried to keep all the bags out of the water. I needn't have bothered though as the moment we got in the tin can the heavens opened and drenched us in seconds. I've never seen rain like it, it tore the banana leaf necklaces the locals had given us to shreds. I, of course, was wearing white and thrashed all other competitors in the wet t-shirt competition. We got to the main boat and was asked by some of the passengers in the air conditioned lounge and oblivious to the weather whether we'd actually swum to the boat. We may as well have! It was fanastic though and not even a moment you had to look back on to laugh. You can't go to Fiji in monsoon season and not expect to get wet.

The next island was Nanuya Lailai and we stayed at Sunrise Lagoon resort. We played loads of cards, mainly a version of Spoons (for those of you who know it) but with tree nuts, therefore renamed "Nuts". Great fun but was a brave choice of one of our friends who'd broken his arm. We also did some hermit crab racing (we named ours Tony Blair and would you believe it he just ran round in circles!) and one Australian fella about 50 odd bought 4 or 5 crabs determined to win. Most of them went out in the first round. The same crab won all three heats and I heard the Australian guy rocking in the corner and muttering "That crab was just outstanding!" in a consolatory manner. It was brilliant.

The next day we got up early as we'd arranged to visit the Sawailau Caves and were being picked up at 9am Fiji time. At 10 we climbed aboard 'Joe's Crazy Water Taxi' and sped off into the horizon. The speedboat was an experience in itself, essentially a round piece of metal with a plank of wood to sit on, flying at great speed over the waves. It was great fun! We arrived 30 minutes later soaking wet with sore bums but unanimously agreeing the ride was worth the trip alone. We climbed down some steep steps to the first cave and swam around for a while getting used to the cold water. Eventually the time came to swim into the cave accessible only by swimming underwater. In fact, if you watched Celebrity Love Island you'll have seen Jayne Middlemiss and Lee Sharpe do the same thing. It was quite frightening to begin with actually but the locals shine a torch at each end and urge you to "go toward the light". I think the irony was lost on them but it made me and Dan laugh. The cave was tiny and pitch black but worth going to. Never heard an echo like it and it was cool to see the graffiti from the locals (probably the closest they have to cave paintings...) which was dated from the 50s. We swam back through and I managed to simultaneously graze my elbow and kick the guide right in the goolies. Whoops. I don't think I hit him right where it hurts but he did have a rather amused (albeit pained) expression on his face when I surfaced.

The next transfer too about 45 minutes and took us to Manta Ray Island Resort on Nanuya Balavu. The resort is only just over a year old and was shiny and new. Our bure wasn't quite as traditional as previous ones but we had a ceiling fan and a light so we were happy! We had a beautiful BBQ for dinner where we met some Scottish ladies who invited us for a drink. We had a rather heavy night - for intensive care nurses they sure knew how to drink and smoke! Remind me not to try and keep up with the Scots again. I might have Irish blood in me but I don't think that could even begin to compete with pure Scotsman. I was rather ill that night from all the wine, although later on we met up with some people from Sunrise who were also ill and decided it was the fish soup (which tasted like salty bathwater) to blame so I decided to agree. We had a good night though playing drinking games but it unfortunately ended badly when one of the Scottish girls got bitten on the face by one of the dogs. She wasn't too hurt, bit of a scratch, but was a hell of a shock. Maybe the dog just thought it polite and customary to give her a Glasgow kiss.

The last 2 nights of the island hopping was on board a catamaran called the Wanna Taki. It had quite a party atmosphere but I missed out on it somewhat as I was still suffering from the fish soup. Had a great time though as I got to read 2 books and watch a few films (first TV in 12 days - how did I survive?). Attempted to explain The Hours to some Dutch girls and failed miserably. We basked in the air conditioned dorm, watched one of the many beautiful sunsets we've seen in Fiji (and have 1000 photos to prove) and it wasn't long before we were saying goodbye to all the friends we'd met and headed back to the mainland. The time has passed so quickly but it seems forever since we left America.

We had 3 nights in a hotel near the marina in Denarau. We'd decided to treat ourselves and had booked into a 4* hotel and were absolutely delighted by the air conditioning. Man Fiji is HOT. The hotel was gorgeous and we had a brilliant time.

Soon after we arrived at the hotel, the bellboy Joe (a 50 something Fijian built like a rugby player) drove us to our room in a golf cart. It was one of the most hilarious experiences of the trip so far. We freewheeled down a very narrow and steep path leading toward the pool area and I considered asking him if his surname was Schumacher. We went round the corner literally on 2 wheels (Dan and I both leaning into the corner to help aerodynamics) and bounced off the side of a bridge, ending in an emergency stop about 2 inches from a tree. Once our lives had stopped flashing before our eyes, we watched the torch lighting ceremony around the pool which was fantastic. Joe then reversed at a rate of knots, did a handbrake turn into a lamppost knocking it over and continued to reverse while wheelspinning as if determined to plough down the bin cemented into the ground. He was close, I'll give him that. We then lurched forward, did another emergency stop, Joe leapt out to straighten the mashed lamppost and off we screeched again. Thank God our room was just round the corner.

Joe jumped off again and grabbed our backpacks trying to carry one on each shoulder. Our bags do look quite small to the untrained eye but they're a good 40kg between them and are very awkward to carry if you can't put a strap on each shoulder. I should know, Dan's moaned about it enough when I've made him carry them both (only joking!). We walked to the lift and, after Joe rebounded backward after discovering a 25 stone man with a huge backpack on each shoulder can't fit through lift doors, I suggested we take one of the bags. Poor Joe was reluctant as he was so desperate to be good at his job but the sweat was pouring down his face and he looked like he was about to keel over! He hastily showed us round our beautiful room overlooking the pool and beach and when we became concerned he was going to collapse on our bed we gave him his tip ( - learn how to drive) and he left. Coming to this hotel was worth it for Joe alone.

We spent the next 3 days eating, drinking and sleeping. The buffet was amazing with a chocolate fountain that failed to appear again after the first night much to my disappointment. The time passed by in a blur (or maybe we were still recovering from Joe's driving) and before we knew it we were leaving this morning for the airport. The taxi driver was a maniac and overtook 5 cars at a time on blind bends at the bottom of a hill. We'd obviously found Joe's driving instructor! We were advised the journey from the hotel takes 20 minutes and to give it 30 to take into account the traffic. We made it there in 8 minutes flat.

So, as you can tell we had the time of our lives. It's funny because looking back it seems like we did so much but at the time I felt guilty for just lying around and doing nothing. Fiji is simply paradise and I can't wait to go back again.

Incidently, I should take this moment to issue apologies to Air Pacific who indeed did take off 2 hours after schedule despite my previous cynicism. We have now landed safely in Auckland and quickly found our way to the nearest bar.

If you managed to read all this I'm very impressed! I hope all of you at home are tickety-boo. Please keep the emails and comments coming, I may not have time to reply to them all but I assure you I read every single one. Without them I'd have come home long ago but you've helped keep the homesickness away. Just make sure I'm up to date with all the gossip!

PS - There's no fecking way I'm jumping out of a plane while I'm out here. I tried to convince myself knowing it would be fabulous but I never had a hope in hell.
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lynnetempleton on

Re: Skydiving
Not bloody likely!! :P

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