In the summer of 2003 I made a two-month trip to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, with a stopover of a few days in Singapore. Below the fourth part of the travel-log that I wrote.
If you don’t have the time or money to go to Fiji, it’s better NOT to read on !!!!
New Zealand is breathtakingly beautiful, even in the rain, but Fiji is paradise!
From the moment I arrived at the airport until I left 9 days later, I have only seen smiling faces, nice, happy people who take all the time for you. “Bula! Bula!” Everyone welcomes you kindly. Most men wear a plaid or ‘men’s skirt’, even in combination with a shirt, tie and jacket which looks a bit bizarre.
Both men and women wear fresh flowers in their hair. I even saw two men ‘argue’ with the manager of the hotel where they worked. They had wanted to pick a hibiscus flower from the hedge along the driveway. The manager said “I told you not to take flowers out of this hedge? This is where people pass by, it has to look nice”. While they stroked the beautiful red flower in the hedge with their fingers, you could see the regret in their eyes. “But look how beautiful this flower is! It just asks to be picked!” Can you imagine hearing such a discussion elsewhere in the world?
The ladies from the tourist information desk at the airport advised me to spend a day at the cultural center. Although I normally never do such thing, they were so nice that I thought, “why not?” In the center I was received by all 15 employees, who happily sang to me. I was the only guest that day, and everyone went out of their way to make me happy. Cup of (herbal!) Tea? Homemade muffin?
The activity manager was a big, bald, dark man. Although he was young, he no longer had teeth, but he still smiled a gentle smile. As a player of the national rugby team, he was a local celebrity and a welcome figure in the small community. ‘Ace’ explained that he would arrange everything for me.
I didn’t know what was happening to me. I had just arrived and a day tour was organized explaining the various Pacific islands. Singing, dancing, building huts, weaving, culture, legends etc. I was dizzy with all the information and friendly people.
Or was it from the ‘Kava’ ceremony, where you are officially welcomed and have to sip a mild narcotic drink served in a coconut shell? The roots of the kava plant are ground and the powder is mixed with water. It looks like, and tastes like, muddy water. It makes your tongue and palate tingle. Everyone in Fiji drinks this all day. They say it is an antidepressant. Maybe that explains the smiles? At least I felt great!
Lunch was a traditional ‘Lovo’ lunch prepared in an earth oven. During the meal, the staff sang and danced, all very informally. To make a long story short, in the day and a half that I was there, I was completely pampered and spoiled. When I finally left, everyone sang and wished me a good trip. With a lump in my throat I traveled on.
A small plane took me to one of the islands: Ovalau. Although the airport was no bigger than a large living room, they clearly did their best to ‘belong’. When my flight was announced, it was stated that it would depart from ‘gate 3’. I looked around and saw that there was only one door! There was a real metal detector that everyone had to go through. The device squeaked that it was a sweet delight, but everyone walked on. Apparently the scanner was there just for show, nobody monitored it …
Ovalau is a paradise on earth. A beautiful green hilly island with small beaches, 3 shops and a sort of faded colonial atmosphere. At the Royal Hotel that was recommended to me, I had the feeling that I was entering a Hemmingway novel. Everything was decorated with antique (or just old) English colonial style. The salon, the rooms with thin wooden floors and walls, the corridors etc. Every evening at 8 p.m. a movie was shown. The garden was beautiful, with a swimming pool. I immediately adjusted to the pace.
During a walk through a village (which takes longer than you think, because you are asked everywhere into the houses to drink Kava …), I met two American guys and an English couple who traveled around the world on a sailing boat.
At the end of the day they asked if I wanted to join them on the boat, to visit another island. Although the sailing voyage in Australia (seasickness!) was still in my mind, I did not have to think twice. I will never again have such a chance to experience what it is like to travel to an even more remote island by sailing boat!
That night I spend in a coma induced by 2 seasickness pills, sleeping somewhere in someone’s bed, while the other four sailed on all night. I only woke up when we were almost there and felt guilty, but was glad I didn’t get seasick this time.
The following days we explored the island, snorkeled, ate on board and ashore and had a great time. This time I got to experience not a house on wheels, but a house with sails. It is really fantastic to be on board with a bunch of young, like-minded, relaxed people.
The last day we made a campfire on the beach of a deserted island. We had delicious food: bread dough on a stick, roasted in the fire, fresh-caught fish, roasted potatoes, coconuts that we turned into fresh piña colada etc.
To get the campfire going, we unfortunately had to use all the gasoline from the inflatable boat, so we had to row back to the ship. When I arrived there, I didn’t want the evening to be over. On my computer we watched the comedy movie ‘Liar Liar’ on the deck. Under the shining starry sky it felt a bit decadent, I must admit.
There was fluorescent plankton in the water. With every movement, such as a wave, gust or fish, it looks like sparks were forming in the water. I had seen that phenomenon before, but never as clearly as now. It was as if I was dreaming and a magic fairy waving her wand underwater. A few of us kept talking and laughing on deck until 3:30 AM.
Then we saw something floating in the water. “What is that?” Someone cried. “A corpse?” stuttered another. “A garbage bag!” cried the third. “MY BACKPACK !” someone suddenly called … We had taken the backpack to the campfire at the deserted beach and apparently we forgot to bring it back. The rising tide had finally swung the backpack off the beach and sucked it into the sea. While we watched, the current pushed the backpack to the boat. The owner stooped, put his hand in the water and fished the extremely heavy, water-filled backpack out of the water.
What is the chance that 5 people forget a backpack on a beach of 3 by 3 meters? What is the chance that it will be taken by the sea and then exactly 4 hours later, hundreds of meters away, will be delivered to the boat? And what is the chance that you are still awake at that time and JUST at that moment shining a flashlight in the water ? We were amazed as the chance seems very small !
This bizarre incident somewhat eased the pain that the digital camera of the American guy was in the backpack …