Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Fiji: A Two Week Adventure

Ahhhhh.... Fiji... A mash up of traditional and modern.  Where fresh fruit is available on the side of the road and some villages are unreachable by road, but where you can spend weeks in a luxury hotel and pay 13 dollars for a beer.  Where you can hear the sound of ukuleles and kava ceremonies around every corner and watch the sun set and rise over the sea. Where the locals are friendly and jolly and you have everything from white sand beaches and turquoise oceans to jungles and waterfalls at your fingertips. 

I can imagine it would be easy to visit Fiji and stay in your resort drinking cocktails by the pool and feel like you were anywhere in the world... but we didn't do that.  We got out and saw as much as we could see in 14 days and loved every minute of it.

Day 1

Flying somewhere new is always exciting for me.  We had booked our tickets to Fiji months ago,  but because of Nath's back injury we had no reservations beyond flights.  I hadn't even dared to research the islands for fear of getting excited about a trip we wouldn't be able to take and then be let down.  But here we are,  flying over the islands, a new adventure awaiting us...

Guitars and singing welcome us as we step off the plane and into the airport - the unmistakable sound of the islands that can't help but make you smile.  I love Fiji already.

We easily find a taxi which takes us to our accommodation, Blue Water Lodge in New Town, on the most direct route and for a reasonable price  (on the meter).  So far,  so good.  Our taxi is met,  someone from the lodge takes our bags,  we check in and head to the beach.

Beach,  beer. We are on holiday.

Day 2

Sleep in.  It feels good.  It's been a while.  Sort of.  Wake up slowly. Breakfast on the beach. Rude reminder (in the form of bread slathered with thousand island dressing)  to ask for no dressing.  Book  boats and cars and generally prepare for the next two weeks.  Pool work out + yoga session.  Drinks,  sunset,  dinner.  No hurry no worry,  we're on Fiji time now.  Home to pack bags ready for tomorrow's adventure.  Bed,  TV,  sipping wine out of the bottle...  We're classy,  we are!

Day 3

Apparently 13+ years of travelling in Asia has set my bar pretty low.  I was pretty excited today when the bus transferring us to Port Denarau arrived on time.  And wasn't overbooked.  And we didn't have to travel with our packs on our laps and someone's surfboard digging into our backs.  And we arrived at the port and it was clean and organised and they told us what to do and we did it and got it right the first time and then we were ready with time to spare but not too much time because the boat ALSO arrived (and left) ON TIME and wasn't overbooked and had comfortable seats. Hell,  just seats on the boat is a win! And wait, what do you mean the life rafts aren't tied down and rendered unusable? Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore...

The boat ride through the Mamanucas is magical,  but the Fijian music drifting through the loud speakers is a reminder that we are tourists on an island holiday - I feel like I should be wearing a patterned shirt and a lei of flowers around my neck.  The water is dark blue streaked with turquoise as the depth turns to reef below.  Islands in the Mamanuca group are small and ringed with white sand.  As we come into the Yasawas the terrain becomes steeper,  rockier and drier.

A long boat meets the Yasawa flyer to take us to our home for the next 5 days.  The two locals that collect us are friendly boys with broad smiles and good cheer. On the beach to welcome us are more guitars and singing.  Hibiscus flowers are tucked behind our ears.  We are briefed and welcomed to the family.

We settle into our room, an open,  breezy bure,  surrounded by garden, with ocean views,  then join the other guests for lunch.  Meals are taken together so we are able to meet other travelers and share experiences.

We spend the afternoon wallowing in the water and drinking beer.  There are far worse ways to spend the afternoon.

Dinner is festive and is followed by dancing and a kava ceremony. There is more singing and guitars and we take the coconut shell bowl full of the muddy liquid that tastes of roots and earth and leaves your tongue and lips feeling tingly and numb.  There is a bonfire on the beach and it smells like camping.  It is breezy and cool and people are happy and I am happy too.

Day 4

Breakfast is basic.  Cereal,  a scone like bread,  fruit,  coffee,  tea.  The table this morning is far quieter than lunch -  we are all waking up.  We have planned to go snorkeling with the sharks this morning,  though I'm not expecting much.

Shark diving is incredible.  We are not faced with sharks in huge numbers - maybe half a dozen -  and they are only white tipped reef sharks.  But they are tame and swim around us and let us play with them for hours.  My experience of swimming with reef sharks in the past is that they are timid and flighty and won't let you get close to them at all.   But these sharks have been fed by the locals,  probably for years,  and indulge us as we duck dive down to them and take photos and video.

There are massive schools of anchovies schooling over the reef here as well,  hundreds,  thousands,  millions,  I don't know,  but more than I have ever seen before.  They dance around us,  darting away from each other then back towards each other in an innate choreography.  I could play here for hours!

We do yoga.  We meditate.  I sit on my yoga mat and look at photos on Instagram and see a massive fuck off spider hanging out by the window,  just taking in some breeze.  I don't even freak out.  Just kidding,  I totally freak out.  I say,  in a voice that's about 5% calm and 95% crazy "um,  Jambu, can you come in here,  there's a massive fuck off spider".  Jambu comes in and assesses the situation.  He gets a bowl so he can remove the spider to a more desirable location (away!) yes,  you guys,  a fucking bowl.  That's how big the spider is. He puts the bowl over the spider but that spider is so fucking big that his leg gets stuck under the bowl and the poor little spider (pft) is toast anyway. 2 other rooms find spiders and I become a somewhat paranoid person shaking everything and throwing it in anticipation of a creepy fucker scurrying up my arm or jumping on my face. But,  you know,  I'm cool.

We waste the afternoon island style again - reading books in hammocks, writing,  drinking beer,  sitting in warm, calf deep water to get relief from the heat.  The locals are preparing a traditional feast,  Lovo,  for dinner.  Clouds are brewing over head,  perhaps we will get some rain.

The sun sinks in the sky turning the sky pink and the granite rocks that make this island orange.  A man paddles a kayak along the beach singing,  filling the air with happy.

It's dinner time and everyone sits on a bamboo mat on the floor and eats with their hands and it tastes like fire and goodness and we listen to the island music and it feels like home.

After dinner the boys all dress up and demonstrate a traditional Kava ceremony. We share a bowl of Kava (low tide,  high tide or tsunami) and then head to bed with our lips and tongues numb and tingling.

Day 5

The alarm goes off at 5am. I tell nath I'm not ready to get up and ask him to tell me when it's 5:10. He tells me when it's 5:10 and I'm still not ready to get up so I ask him to tell me when it's 5:15. At 5:15 I'm still not ready to get up but I don't want to get up less than I don't want to be the asshole that runs everyone late,  so up I get and I'm getting on the boat.  We have booked a boat for a couple of hours to take us fishing.  The water is like glass and the sun rises in a hot pink ball and Nathan is fishing and I'm happy. I love being on the water,  even if I have to hold a fishing rod. We catch one Spanish Mackerel and deliver it to the kitchen to prepare it for lunch.

We swim,  we eat,  we read,  we nap.  I'll probably turn into jello soon.

There is a guy here who I love.  He works at the bar (needless to say he knows us well).  He calls Nathan "American idol".  He's a cheeky fucker.  He's also a giant islander who wears a skirt and looks like he could eat me for breakfast.  There's just something loveable about a giant islander who wears a skirt and looks like he could eat you for breakfast who calls your boyfriend American idol and who is a cheeky fucker.

We skip out on dancing and Kava in favour of a bottle of red wine.  We are half way through our Yasawas adventure.

Day 6

We're pretty well in holiday mode now.  We sleep in past the breakfast alarm, eat after everyone else has eaten,  come home and have a lie down.  Eating breakfast is hard work! I'm not quite sure where the time has gone but now it's 11 o'clock and we are getting a knock on the door to tell us it's time for our picnic + village tour.

The boat takes us along the gorgeous coast of Wayasewa to the thin slice of white sand that joins the island to its big sister in the north.  It really is beautiful and I can't stop taking photos.  We eat our lunch in the shade then swim in the turquoise waters on either side of the sandbar. The cool waters and sandy bottom make for a much nicer and more refreshing swim than what is available off the shores of Naqalia where the reef makes it difficult to do anything more than wallow in the warm shallows for most of the day.

The sun is hot and the sand is hotter. I burn my feet on my way back to the shade to seek shelter from the heat of the mid day sun. 

We walk from the beach to the village where we pay a quick visit to the school then stroll through the village centre.  Homes are basic but well kept.  Most of the villagers are languishing in the shade,  reluctant to move in the heat of the afternoon.  You know it's hot when even the locals are feeling it.

On the way back to Naqalia we stop off for a snorkel.  The coral bed is beautiful,  and we see lobster + a school of makarel that were lucky Jambu didn't have his spear gun!

It is a quieter evening at the lodge tonight as many of the guests have left.  Nath goes out for an evening fish and I relax on the porch and edit photos and write.  Even in the evenings the slight breeze does little to ease the heat and I trade my position on the porch for a wallow in the water followed by a cool shower.

Dinner is quiet and we happily make our way in for an early night.

Day 7

The alarm goes off at 445 for our sunrise walk and if it wasn't in the next room I would have happily snoozed it and gone straight back to sleep.  But we have to get up to turn the fucken thing off so we might as well get dressed and go for our walk.  Nobody else is up so it's just us and we climb to the top of the island and sit on a big granite boulder and look out over the sea at the sky as it changes from silver to mauve to cotton candy pink to tangerine and then it's day time and the sky is bright and the sun is a big golden ball above the clouds and we walk down the hill and go back to bed because we are on holidays after all.

We wake again for breakfast and then spend the hours until lunch time planning for our week on the main island - we look at maps and research waterfalls and fishing and diving and different accommodation options.

After lunch we hitch a ride on a long boat over to the Barefoot resort at Kuata Island.  We talk to a guy at the scuba shop about their project to remove the Crown of Thorns starfish from the reef and then ask him if there's a bar and he says there is and that it's the "best bar you'll ever drink at" and we go there and we think he might be right. With sandy floors,  pebble mosaics,  thatched roofing,  polished wooden  tables + barstools and decorated with traditional Fijian artworks and war memorabilia the bar looks over the hotels 3 pools and then straight out to sea and Wayasewa Island.  We find it pretty easy to sit there all afternoon.  They make frozen margaritas which helps. We spend a lot of money on said frozen margaritas and decide that it's good we don't have frozen margaritas at our place!

Day 8

We have bed bugs.  Actually we have had itchy bites for most of the trip and thought it was stingers from the water but some of them are definitely bedbugs. We are both covered in red blisters and are as itchy as fuck. We put a tarp out on the grass and lay everything from our bags in the sun in an effort kill any eggs or live adults that might be hoping to hitch a ride with us when we leave. 

We spend the rest of the morning laying on the beach and having last swims and repacking our bags and taking photos and writing and generally relaxing. 

When it's time to leave everyone is sprawled on the floor of the common room watching the football.  We hug and say our good byes and climb on the long boat that will transfer us to the flyer.  The boys come out with their guitars and start singing their good bye song and it seems slower and sadder today than it has any other day and I cry because of their pretty voices and because they left the football game to sing to us and maybe a little bit because we are leaving but when the boat starts and we are driving away and they finish their song I stop crying and I'm ok again.

We sit inside the boat for the trip back to escape the heat.  I eat an ice cream and it still feels like we're on holidays.

Back in Nadi,  check in,  have a tub,  drink a Coconut,  dinner,  g+t,  sleep...  It's been a big week and we are just happy to have washed with hot water and be sleeping with AC... We feel spoiled.

Day 9

Sabeto mud pools and hot springs + the Coral Coast.

We wake up slowly,  have breakfast,  pick up our rental car and spend the next however long trying to track down a reasonably priced esky. A tiny cooler costs 100 bucks here,  which really doesn't seem worth it,  but we eventually find a grocer who is willing to sell us a broccoli box for 20 bucks so we take it and run.

We go north,  first,  to Sabeto.  The Garden of the Sleeping Giant is closed for the day (it closes at noon on Sunday) so we travel on towards the mud pools and hot springs.

Gimmick or healing? Jambu is dubious,  but knowing the way people travel for the Mud Festival in Korea I'm willing to give the mud here a try.  A bucket of sludge is provided and we are instructed to cover ourselves so there are no white spots.  We take a walk while the mud dries and laugh at each other and ourselves and I start to wonder if it's a Gimmick after all when the guy taking care of us tells me that the mud will make me look younger (but I still make sure to add mud to the tops of my toes because I don't want everything else to look young and my toes to look old, right?)  When the mud is dry we rinse off in the pool.  The bottom of the pool is soft,  hot mud that is knee deep.  It seems counter intuitive to rinse the mud off in a muddy pool but we do what we are told and then we climb into the thermal pool and it is hot and lovely and we float until we get too hot and have to get out. The source pool here is 70 degrees.  Our guy tells us they use the water to cook eggs and noodles and make coffee.  There is a sign that says "strictly no bathing" and I wonder  if someone got in there once and boiled themselves so now they have to have a sign and I hope not.  Either way,  the mud and the hot water has been nice and even if it is a Gimmick I feel good.

We head south to the Coral Coast.

We expect,  given the name of this stretch of road, that we will have ocean views for the majority of the drive.  But this is not the case.  Still,  the promise of beautiful scenery stands true and we are not let down in this regard.  The entire trip is through gorgeous undulating hills of green.  We wonder what grew here before it was cleared for farm land,  but even farmed it is a beautiful patchwork of green and gold and rust and we are never short of something beautiful to stare at through the windows.

We can see on Trip Adviser that the number one attraction on the Coral cost is Natadola beach.  We sneak into the Intercontinental to have a peek.  We tell them that we want to have a drink at the bar and they welcome us with open arms.  We take a peek at the white sand beaches and turquoise waters,  but upon seeing the beer prices decide against staying for a drink and head, instead,  straight on to Sigatoka.

We think,  at first,  that we will check into our accommodation and then head out to the Sand Dunes National Park.  But we check in and have a beer and then another one and we are cool and comfortable and we decide to stay to watch the sun set over the Coral Coast which we can finally see and now we know how it got its name.   The tide is low and patches of coral pop up all over the waters surface and the sun sets in shades of yellow and gold leaving the clouds pink and every shade of purple and then it starts to rain and we are happy because it's pretty and it's cool and we are here and isn't that enough?

We eat Italian for dinner then take our bottle of wine home to bed and fall asleep with happy tummies and happy hearts.

Day 10

We wake slowly for breakfast, take a swim,  and check out at 10am. We head inland for a drive,  towards Navala Village.  We don't plan to head all the way in today as we will do an inland loop on our way home from Kings road,  but we are keen to check out the scenery for a few hours. The road takes us through villages, valleys and farm land,  and along the river at times.  It is gorgeous and would be easy to drive for a day. But we head back to Sigatoka town for some lunch supplies before continuing on our way.

The lonely planet told us that the stretch of road between Korotogo and Korolevu was one of the most scenic stretches on the island and it wasn't kidding.  The road follows the coast and we have views of turquoise waters for most of the way.  Very healthy frangipanis line the road,  the foliage deep green,  the flowers' milky petals turning outward from their lemony centres and up towards the sun.  The coast is lined with coconut palms and the sky is bright. Everywhere you look is gorgeous.

We make our way to Biausevu Village where we intend to walk to the waterfall. We pay a local 25 FJD each (stung? Maybe.  We were expecting it to be 10 FJD each) and he points us in the right direction and away we go. The walk takes us through beautiful trees and along the river (and across the river 9 times)  for about 30 minutes until it opens up with a cascade down the rocks and a beautiful cool pool.  We swim and Nath goes under the waterfall and I try to but I can't because it's too strong and the wind and the water pushes me down and away so I just swim near it and that is enough.

Then it's on to Pacific Harbour and we are checking into the Uprising Resort and we have a villa and it's lovely including air conditioning which makes us feel very spoiled after our week on the island.

Day 11

Bull shark dive day.

When we found out about the Beqa Adventure Divers shark dive out of Pacific Harbour we were keen to give it a try. But after learning more about it and reading the reviews we decided to give it a miss. At best it sounded not that great,  but at worst it sounded down right dodgy.  However,  the day before driving to Pacific Harbour a friend messaged me saying I must do the shark dive at Beqa Lagoon so we thought fuck it,  better do it.  We tried,  from that moment,  to book a trip but were totally unable to connect with the dive company.  When we woke up this morning we decided to just show up and cross our fingers that they had room on the boat for us.

And they did.

And thank goodness.

It was one of the single most incredible dive experiences of my life.

After the dive we take a trip to the chemist to get an antibiotic for my sea ulcer because, yup,  I have a sea ulcer now. What started out as an insect bite then a sore then an infected sore is now an angry red throbbing puss filled ulcerated hole on my fucking leg. It's pretty gross and obviously I don't like talking about it but it's becoming a fairly big part of my days now so my journal won't be an accurate account of my 2 weeks in Fiji if I leave it out. At the very least I have to say don't scratch your bug bites!

We spend the afternoon hanging out in our flash for us villa because I don't want to put my sea ulcer in the pool and we are tired from our big day and nothing will be as good as our shark dive anyway!

Sunset drinks at the bar and dinner in the restaurant and an early night because we have another big day of adventuring tomorrow!

Day 12

We are up and at breakfast at 6:30 in preparation for our 6:45 pick up.  We go first to the office to fill out paperwork and then onto a bus to drive through untamed hills to the upper Navua region where we will begin our rafting expedition.  The drive takes us through some of the most stunning scenery we have seen on the islands of Fiji,  and the river where we find our rafts  waiting for us is absolutely gorgeous. There isn't much water,  partly because of the time of year,  but also because it has been  particularly dry here. The rapids,  which can get up to level 7 + 8 don't get higher than a 2. The trek down the river (which  only takes an hour when the river is high and the rapids are strong) takes us almost 5 hours. And we love every second of it.  We swim down a gorge,  stand under waterfalls,  and the guide spins us through the rapids so it feels like an adventure.  And I only fall out of the boat once which is pretty good going for me. We would have liked a little more of a challenge in the rapids,  but the beauty of the river made it a trip worth taking even without the difficulty level. Nath didn't close the latch on his camera property and flooded it,  and my sea ulcer looks utterly ghastly,  but overall it was the best day.  Well,  second best,  cos we totally dived with the bull sharks yesterday,  remember?

Day 13

We wake up slowly,  eat breakfast,  check out,  and hit the road bound for Suva. It's a pretty drive. We learn quickly,  upon arriving in Suva,  that the town seems to have zero planning and navigating is an utter bitch. The lack of planning combined with the tendency towards terrible driving that Fijian's seem to have mastered means that at times we can't even tell how many lanes the road has,  never mind which lane we are supposed to be in. We hit up the museum (which has earned itself the number one ranked thing to do in Suva on trip advisor for good reason) and eat Indian for lunch (another win) and then get the fuck out of there. We have booked into an eco resort in the rainforest half an hour out of town.

Colo-I-Suva Eco Resort is set in a pretty stretch of forest overlooking  a quarry that is full of water lilies.  The restaurant is spacious and on the water.  It's very picturesque. Unfortunately, our room is not so crash hot.  It's poky and hot and smells like air freshener which it seems has been used very liberally to cover up the smell of mold.  We sit on our (sinking) porch with a gorgeous view of water lilies for a few drinks before heading to the restaurant where we eat a delicious meal of Fijian food (a local fern, sea grapes cooked in coconut milk,  tomatoes + onion, plantain and roast chicken).  I remember why I hate shared bathrooms and try to remember that it's ok when I'm camping at Splendour in the Grass and it should be ok now but I'm still pretty happy that we only have one night here.  We fall asleep drinking wine and watching pineapple express. 

Day 14

At breakfast I pay 3 dollars for half a tomato.  I don't know this at the time of ordering,  of course,  but when my tomatoes come it's not tomatoes it's tomato. Half a tomato.  I make sure to drink 3 cups of bottomless coffee to try and make up for it but I'm still a little shocked that someone could put tomatoes as an extra on a menu for 3 dollars and then have the gall to send the plate out with half a tiny tomato on it without being totally ashamed of themselves.  

Our experience at the Colo-I-Suva Eco Resort has been somewhat disappointing. 

We are driving back to Nadi along Kings road today.  It is everything we  heard it would be -  a shitty pothole filled road that crosses through gorgeous scenery - lush forests,  rolling green hills,  sprawling farmland,  and divine coast line of turquoise lagoons that disappear into inky seas.  It is a beautiful drive. We stop  along the side of the road for coconuts and watermelon.  We find the busiest corner in all of Fiji to pull over under the shade of a tree to make a sandwich and drink a beer. We see a sign for a waterfall and rest stop and pull in for a look.  It's the last day of our road trip,  and our second last day in Fiji and it's hot and it's beautiful and it's just us and the road and we are tired and happy.

The afternoon feels like a bit of a catch up. We check into our accommodation for the last night -  Smugglers Cove - clean out the car,  take laundry,  lay on the bed in the AC without feeling bad that we should be seeing something or doing something.  We drag our asses out for dinner and are very happy that we did so because the restaurant is excellent and there is a Fijian dance show that is wonderful.

It's our last night in Fiji and we watch the lord of the ring's because I've never seen it before and because why not? I fall asleep about 10 minutes in...

Day 15

We collect the laundry and pack up and check out and return the car then have a last beer at the beach before heading to the airport and off on our next adventure...

Next stop,  Singapore!

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