OK, so I’m not really in Nadi (say Nandi) right now, but it’s the first chance I’ve gotten to upload some of these blog entries with free wireless I find it quite detestable that a city like Sydney harbors such an unsuitable environment for wifi. You’d be hard-pressed to find a coffee shop in the US that doesn’t offer free wifi with your morning coffee. Yeah, some of them require you to pay for it, like those T-Mobile/Starbucks nightmares, but usually those are few and far between. In Sydney, however, *if* they have wifi, it’s usually tied to one of the big service chains, like Telstra. I finally slapped my head and realized that the library has free wifi. After 5 minutes of signing up for a membership, I was given the password.
So you’re probably wondering what Fiji was like. The answer? Fantastic! In fact I wish I had spent more time there, or at least with the time I had, that I had spent more time on the islands. The first day I met a Frenchman named Manu (short for Emmanuel; say Man-you) and together we went to downtown Nadi. “Downtown Nadi” was pretty much what you’d expect: one street, a bunch of shops, and alot of natives trying to get you from the former into the latter. Manu was looking to buy some souvenirs and Christmas gifts, so we stopped by a lot of the handicraft stores and stretched our haggling legs. Manu was able to talk them down considerably and finally settled on a Kava bowl (more on those later) and some cannibal forks (yes, cannibal forks; back in the day, they were used … well, you know). By the way, Manu had been on the island for nearly a month and was even in Suva when they declared the coup. He said that had he not been reading the newspapers, he would never have known something was amiss.
I was really interested in trying Kava. Although, according to one of the retailers at a small market, the preferred intoxicant in Nadi is marijuana (in his words, “Kava? No, we don’t drink and drive in Nadi, we smoke and fly”), I was determined to partake. Manu and I found a small Kava station and went in. It was dark and some young Fijians were shooting pool inside. The landlord was behind a steel cage on one side of the joint, so I approached the window and asked for some Kava — the drink, not the root (which they did sell). Large or Small, he said. Definitely small, and happy I was in my decision because I found out the small was about 1/2 a litre. He took a bag of ground Kava root in a pouch and put it into a large bowl. Under running water, with his hands, he soaked the pouch and rung it out continuously, producing a murky, light brown liquid in the plastic bowl. Ever the modern American, I asked if I could get it “to go”. No, seriously, I really asked him that. He looked at me like I had just asked him for his sister’s phone number, but after some creative sign language, he brought out a plastic funnel and poured the Kava mixture into my spent water bottle.
It was bitter. If any of you have ever tried Pan, it made your tongue feel the same way — a little furry and slightly tingly. I didn’t feel any of the disorienting effects that had been advertised (sadly), and I certainly didn’t want anything more to do with the stuff.
Later, accompanied by Marianne — a true Aussie world traveller, of whom I suspect volumes could be written — Manu and I had dinner at the hostel. The two of us had tried to plan a trip to the Nausori Highlands to do some hiking the next day, but I had also wanted to take a trip to one of the Mamanuca islands, and if I didn’t leave at certain times, I’d end up paying more than double in ferry rides.
The next morning I departed for Mana island, where I had a room booked for one night. A “ferry” was supposed to pick me up on some beach and I waited at the hostel for an included taxi to take me there. A taxi picked me up and drove me — completely serious here — around the corner, about 100 feet. I thanked the driver for the short ride and asked him and his buddies where to catch the ferry — all I saw off the shore were a bunch of small boats. The guys kept shouting “Boat!” and pointing out to the water. I mimed them, except asking “Boat?” and pointing. I was confused because the nearest boat was about 40 feet offshore and there was no pier or dock nearby. They kept yelling “Boat!” at me so I made my way into the water and hoped to God I’d figure it out before my wallet got wet. About knee-deep, I saw a boat full of westerners slowly backing up to the beach and a Fijian waving at me. I waded out until I was wasted deep, threw my sandals overboard and got on. The “ferry” fit about 8 people not including the two drivers. The ride through the waters of the Pacific to Mana was beautiful, and the skipper pointed out all the notable islands along the way. I met a couple next to me, Hunt and Nikki. Hunt is a landscaper from Vail, CO, and takes about 6 months off every year during the winter to travel. He met Nikki a couple years ago in Thailand during one of those journeys and they’ve been together since. Halfway across the channel, the driver had to refill the fuel tank, so he took a spare tank out, put one end of a hose in the spare, the other in the active tank and siphoned the gas out with his mouth. He looked up at us and gave us a big grin, “Tastes good!”. Here’s a shot of them dropping us off:
The island was beautiful. Everything you’d imagine about a tropical island and more. The backpacker’s where we were staying was pretty nice, and the staff — as usual in Fiji — was very friendly and accomodating. The view of the beach from under the patio:
Sidebar: the term “backpacker’s” above isn’t a typo. You see, I’ve learned it can refer to the hostel at which such a traveller would stay. For example, “Did you manage to get a bed at that backpacker’s in Chinatown, or were they all booked up?”. The term “hostel” or “accomodation” is implied.
Hunt, Nikki and I took a walk around the island soon after we got there. One of the stray/house dogs immediately came with us. I later found out his name was “Crazy”. We made it halfway around the island when one of the other backpackers (ah, see, here I’ve used the more familiar plural), passed us going the opposite direction. Crazy debated for a moment but soon decided he’d rather accompany the other guy back to the hostel. No love lost there, we had a great time without him. I’ve never seen such beautiful beaches, they were absolutely picturesque.
We passed the Mana Island Resort, which would be about 8 stars if our hostel was 3. We stopped for a drink and then continued around the island. We couldn’t have been more than a 1/4 of the way from going full circle when a gentleman with a shirt emblazoned “SECURITY” approached us, and in an American accent, asked us to turn around (OK, OK, so I didn’t mention that we had ignored several “DO NOT PASS” signs). Apparently, they were setting up to start filming a new reality show on Fox next year called “The Island” and they want to keep everything hush-hush. This means no one goes on the beach and definitely no pictures. We argued with the guy for a bit, saying that our hostel is literally over a small hill, but he gave us the “it’s not me, it’s my boss” routine. Nikki jokingly asked if we couldn’t go across the beach, could we wave through the water just offshore. The guy, Anthony, looked at the water, looked at us and shrugged, “Yeah, that’s fine.”. What?! You can’t be serious. But oh, he was, and had it not been for Nikki and Hunt’s fear of stonefish (and later mine, after they had described the nasty buggers to me), we would have waded through. Instead we turned around and found another path up the hill and into the hostel.
Those 3 hours out in the sun absolutely fried me. I had only been burned twice before in my life: once when I was young in India, on a white sand beach, in 113 F degree weather. The second, in Vegas when I fell asleep poolside for like 4 hours. Both of those times was just a little singing on my nose or cheeks and that was it. This time, though, this time I got burned. My arms, legs, my shiny bald head, cheeks, nose, forehead, the little part on the top of the ears, my shoulders, everything was on fire. I even got a “backpack tan”, where the straps of my backpack fell across my shoulders. It took me no less than 2 weeks to fully recover.
By the way, during some rock-maneuvering parts of the walk, the part of my flip-flops that nestles between the big toe and the-one-that-stayed-home popped out of the sole. And I managed to fix it using what? The multi-tool! Halfway around an island on rocks and scalding beaches with a broken slipper is bad news; man, that thing paid for itself.
Now I must spare some words for our hosts. By the time we got to Mana, around 12:30, the three dayworkers at the hostel had already started drinking. By the time Hunt, Nikki and I returned, they were w-a-s-t-e-d. To the point that they would just grab litres of beer and jugs of rum from behind the bar and start dishing out glasses to anyone who would stay for a chat. Sitting and chatting with them (freebie!!), I met other nice travellers such as Tom from Wales (who stole Crazy from us), Mark and Advaita from Sydney by way of Essex and Paul from London. Tom outlasted everyone by staying up until 3 drinking with some of the locals, but I cut out around 1-ish.
The next day Mark, Advaita, Paul and I decided to do a little hike over some of the hills above the “Forbidden Beach”. We walked along the coast for a bit and then, when the forest and trees seemed thinner, cut into the mountainside and trudged through the brush. We passed some small farm lands and trekked up the side of the mountain until we hit the highest peak and got some amazing views of the islands and surrounding waters, like the two below:
We walked along the ridges of these hills until we came to the reality show set. I snapped a couple sly pictures and we moved along. Mark suggested making a break for it and seeing how far we could get, but knowing Fox, they’d probably shoot us down, film it, then turn it into a show about “Man vs. Bullets”. When we took a small path down from the top of the show’s set, we ended up at very back of our very own hostel. We all slapped our heads, since none of us had realized there was such an easy path up to the hills, but we enjoyed the off-road adventure, so no one was too upset.
My boat back to the island was at 12:30, and at about 11:30, the boat came to drop off the fresh set of travellers. The skipper and first mate started putting back the Fiji Bitters, and my fellow future-passengers and I looked at each other with worried smiles. But it turned out OK, and we made the journey safe and sound. I met two other backpackers on the boat named Tom and Jim from England and told them my hostel was probably the cheapest in the area and definitely had beds available. That night, Tom, Jim and I listened to the hostel’s house band, drank Fiji Bitters and shot some pool. We also met Brock, an exchange student from Utah who was going home after 6 months in Sydney. The next morning I packed up and caught my flight to Sydney at 9 AM.
Stay tuned for New Year’s in Sydney. It was a doozy.