Richard's Travels

Tales from the Southern hemisphere

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fiji Experience

Thursday 13th

After a fairly late night out for my last night in Australia with Nicky & Orla, I got up fairly early to pack everything together. It was at this point that I realised I had probably chosen the wrong hostel to stay at, as the other one I was considering was just across the road from the station I now had to walk to. Anyway, I eventually got to the airport and had a fairly uneventful flight to Nadi (which is pronounced Nandi - Fijians seem to pronouce the letter d as nd). As with all places this close to the equator, it was dark when I arrived in the early evening. However, not too dark to notice that there were hundreds of birds all around the runways - that would've kept the bird chasers at Heathrow busy for ages trying to keep them clear! The second impression I got of Fiji was the group of men singing in the arrivals hall to welcome us to their country. Singing would become a major part of staying in Fiji! While waiting at the baggage carousel, I saw a rather large pair of legs in a skirt walking towards me. Expecting a rather large woman, I realised that men seem to wear skirts too (actually called Sulus).

After collecting my bag, I left to try and find transport to my hotel. Everyone at this point was being directed to one of a few meet and greet people, who were putting shell necklaces on everyone as they arrived. Eventually, someone showed up to take me to my hotel. Which was actually called a hotel for a change, and not a hostel, although I was still staying in a dorm. When I got into my room, there were two Australian girls in there who had just got back off the Fiji Experience, which I was leaving on in a couple of days. As they were going out with some more of their group for drinks, and I was at a loose end, I tagged along. For the first time in a long time, the bars we went into were not mainly full of tourists. In fact we were distinctly amongst the minority, as although we were staying in the tourist capital of Fiji, we were not actually staying near many hotels. Still, it was an interesting night, finished off by talking and drinking with some of the locals in a park and on the beach.

Friday 14th

The next day brought with it a taste of what Fiji could be like- very wet. It started raining mid morning, and continued throughout most of the day. I decided to start making my way into Nadi town in order to have a look around and find something to eat. I didn't really know how far it was, but started walking anyway. As with other countries I've visited like this before, there are a multitude of little minibuses driving around, eager to pick up as many people as possible to pay for their journeys. Shortly one arrived, and for the expensive sum of 50c (about 17p!) I got a lift the rest of the way. On arrival in Nadi town, I found a variety of shops, from obviously tourist-only expensive looking department stores, to supermarkets and little shops frequented by the locals. Another trait of countries like this is the large number of people trying to get you into their shops. The natives of Fiji are a mix of Fijians and Indo-Fijians. The Fijians tended to be more friendly, while the Indo-Fijians seemed to try much harder to get you into their shop. As I didn't have anything else to do, I let one of the Fijians take me to his shop, where he talked with me for a while about Fijian customs, and did a mini Kava-ceremony. For those who don't know, Kava is the traditional drink of Fiji and many other Polynesian islands. It is made from the yaqona root, which is crushed up then mixed with water, so that it looks (and tastes) like muddy water. Apparently it has mild hallucinogenic properties if you drink enough of it, but it doesn't really taste good enough to try and achieve this. Kava ceremonies are a way of life for tourists as they are welcomed into shops, homes and villages. The natives also drink it a lot, mostly in place of alcohol. There would be quite a few more opportunities to try Kava on this trip!

Saturday 15th

Today saw the return of a big green bus as my primary method of transport - I was starting the Fiji Experience. Run by the same company as the Kiwi Experience, this was a similar idea, although it was a much smaller trip (due to Fiji being, well, much smaller than NZ!). A much larger emphasis was put on culture on the Fiji Experience also, possibly due to the lack of adventure activities to take its place. After getting up nice and early and being ready on time for the bus, it eventually showed up (Fiji time!). We met our guide Luke (Luk-e, who I'd met out last night already) and our driver Ray who proceeded to explain a few things about the trip. The term "Fiji time" was mentioned quite a few times, indicating that the locals aren't very good (or bothered about) timekeeping. That is, unless it involved us. If we ever had to be ready for the bus to leave, to check out of somewhere etc, then it would always be English time (I wonder, have they tried catching buses in Southampton?).

To show us some of the best Fiji has to offer, our first stop was a beautiful beach where we could spend some time sunbathing and going for a swim while Luke and Ray prepared our lunch - a BBQ. As the lunch got closer to being cooked, many people had drifted in from the beach, mainly because the sun was getting a bit too much for some people - this was a really nice day!

After lunch, it was back onto the bus to head towards our next stop, a Fijian village. There wasn't much going on at the village, apart from children running around and playing. This is because the adults, rather sensibly, lie down and do nothing during the hottest part of the day! As a mark of respect, everyone entering the villages must cover their legs up, and for some reason this is normally accomplished by a skirt, so we all had to wear these! Mine was just a sarong, but some people had splashed out and bought proper Sulus, skirts with pockets! At least it meant they didn't have to try and figure out how to tie a sarong. The kids were running around putting flowers in people's ears, probably to try and be nice to them so at the end of the visit we'd give them some money. For some reason I wasn't singled out for a flower in the ear, but an entire necklace made out of the things! Hmmm.

Back onto the bus, we started heading towards our final destination for the evening (Mango Bay resort), and the good weather started to disappear. By the time we reached our resort, it was raining heavily. And much of the resort was still being built, there was much soft ground getting waterlogged to walk over. The dorms here were cramped to say the least, but it wasn't too bad. Food and entertainment for the evening was presented in the form of a lovo (food cooked in an earth oven, a bit like a New Zealand Hangi) and singing and dancing from some locals. This went on for some time, and included getting the audience involved. After this, people stayed in the resort bar and nightclub.

Sunday 16th

Our second day of the Feejee Experience started with getting up early (must always leave on English Time!) so we could head out on a trek. We stopped off for a short food stop to get lunch, then parked the bus up somewhere and transferred to alternative transport, a big truck, to get us up the dirt roads to the start of the trek. Some of the people on the tour were clearly not expecting this sort of stuff and were complaining most of the way - fortunately most of these opted to skip the trek and meet us at the end. We'd been told that the trek would involve walking through a stream, and would last for a few hours. However, many of us didn't quite realise how muddy some of it would be - we were after all in a rainforest! Many of the group were wearing trainers, which I suspect would have been thrown out after the trip! The first part of the trek was only hard because it was in the direct sunlight for quite some time. However, we soon got to some cover, walking through the thicker parts of the rainforest. This is where we got a few more moans from certain members of the groups, as the ground turned very muddy. Eventually we reached the small "walking through a stream" bit, which turned out to be more like "walking along a stream for quite some distance"! Was good fun anyway. The route appeared to have been prepared entirely for Feejee Experience groups, as there were signs along the way pointing out which way, and warning us to beware of crocodiles etc. By the time we got to the end of the walk, I was glad there wasn't too much more to go. Getting back was much more fun - we jumped into big rubber rings and floated down the river. However, the river was slow. Very slow. For a while anyway, then it sped up a little. Just as it was starting to get to rapids level, they told us to stop and go to the bank. At this point we got to jump into a big pool where a stream flowed down the steep hills to join the river, where the water was pretty chilly!

After all this, a short boat ride took us back to where the bus was waiting, for us to get changed into something dry and proceed onto our next destination, which was a resort just outside Suva, the nation's capital. Apparently we weren't missing much by not staying in the capital - everyone I spoke to in Fiji that had been there said it wasn't really a place to write home about. The evening here was quieter than last night, but there was a small group of singers while we were eating, and this turned into a Kava ceremony with all of us being fed Kava (some less willingly than others) and being made to dance around the place! After this, bed was in a very large dorm, with about 20 people in!

Monday 17th

With regards to the itinerary, today was a bit of a let-down. To start with, we were supposed to visit a school today, but as it was Easter monday (and Fijians seem to regard Easter as more of a holiday than we do), there was no school. Instead, we got a sightseeing tour of Suva, which was fairly short and consisted of a few buildings.

Our next stop of the day was another village, where we were supposed to meet the village leader and have a Kava ceremony. Unfortunately, he wasn't available, so we met another village member. After lots of Kava was drunk, we made our way to a river to do Bili-bili rafting. These rafts were essentially a number of bamboo poles lashed together, and were fairly unstable when people were trying to stand up on them. As we were split fairly unevenly between the rafts, the races we were trying to have were quite unbalanced. In the end we just made our way leisurely up the river, until we started playing a game of girls-vs-boys catch with a rugby match in the river. The girls definitely had the advantage of numbers, but the Fijian men that were our guides seemed to have feet made of leather, as running around on the stony riverbed was not a problem to them. After we had finished the game, we had a bit of a race back to the start. We found that instead of paddling (especially as one of the other groups stole our pole), it was better to get someone to walk in the river and pull us along, as it wasn't that deep anyway.

After we finished the rafting, we headed off down a dirt road to our next overnight stop. At the time I was trying to finish a book, so was paying little attention to the road. However, I had registered that it would definitely class as a "white road" by rally standards, and that we were in a large bus. At some point, I was distracted from my book by the bus sliding sharply to the right, and ending up at an angle. Upon looking up, I realised that the driver had been driving along the edge of a ditch, and while trying to get past a car the bus had fallen into the ditch. We spent a fair amount of time standing around by the side of the road with many locals watching our plight, as the driver and a few intrepid locals tried making a towrope out of a few tatty bits of wire. The first few of these, predictably, snapped or untwisted rather violently. We were using other passing buses to try and pull us out, and after some of their attempts there was a heavy smell of burnt-out clutch in the air. Amazingly, one of the attempts worked, involving two long bits of metal wire twisted many times together, managing to hold long enough to move the bus along a bit. However, this did not get us out. More locals had turned up to have a look, and there were beginning to be long queues in either direction of the blocked road. The next towing attempts were in the other direction (down hill, so a bit easier).

Eventually the bus managed to get free of the ditch, although it sustained some heavy cosmetic damage to the front end! This put us a bit behind to reach our stop, Volivoli resort. This was possibly the best thought out hostel I've ever stayed in, with lots of nice little touches. The evening's entertainment, once we'd eaten, consisted of games that we used to play in primary school, such as passing a ball under and over to the back of the line!

Tuesday 18th

Today was the last day of Feejee Experience, and the first day that we didn't have to get up very early! We were allowed a lie in, as we didn't have to leave until 11 (English time!). This meant that I could go snorkelling in the very nice sea. The snorkelling wasn't that great until you got quite far out, at which point the water got very itchy (sea lice I suspected). We passed the time until it was time to leave. There wasn't really much left on the tour, apart from stoping at an Indo-Fijian restaurant for a curry for lunch. By the end of the day, we were dropped back off at our hotels. I opted not to stay at the hotel I had before, mainly due to it not being anywhere near either the town or the beach. I stayed at a beach hotel instead, with Jodie & Gabby, two of the girls from the trip. We stayed for long enough at the hotel to get some food, before getting a taxi back to the hotel where everyone else was staying in order to meet up for a couple of drinks. However, this wasn't like my first night here, and the post-trip night out was a much quieter affair finishing nice & early (probably a good thing as we were all knackered!).


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