Published: June 18th 2010June 2nd 2010
Meeting the locals at Long Beach
We were greeted at Long Beach, tucked into a sheltered bay at the southern tip of Matacawalevu Island, by Andy, Kate and Helen, who were lounging on the beach as our boat pulled in. Their promised welcome dance didn't materialise... apparently they'd exhausted themselves on a school visit and needed more down time. Also there was Andrea (a Canadian girl who we simply called Canada) and a group of British girls - Charlotte, Ella, Victoria and Laura). Long Beach was a small, unassuming resort, comprising a small huddle of beach bungalows, hammocks and a volleyball court set on the longest beach in the Yasawas - a sweeping curve of golden sand, looking out over a wide shallow bay. As with most backpacker places here, food was included so we all ate whatever was served. After checking into our dorm, Tash went for a basket-weaving lesson with Kate and Helen while I chatted to Andy on the beach, then dinner and a few games of cards. Being only a small place, lights went out at 11pm, so we made sure we were back inside our mozzie nets in time.
The next morning, we walked with a guide to a nearby village,
Tash hunts for beach life
through local bush and some of the numerous crops grown by villagers... including pineapple, cassava and coconuts. We also passed a sizeable spider, which Canada was more than impressed by! Villagers shouted 'bula' as we passed through the small village on our way to the school, a catholic mission school used by children from a number of neighbouring villages and islands. As a result, some of the children were boarding, and we arrived for morning break and a chat with the headteacher. Thankfully there was no pressure to donate money or any equipment, so we had some time to wander around the classrooms, chatting to kids and playing with the local dogs. But I think the kids and teachers were so used to having visitors (the trip runs every day) that they weren't too interested, so we were ready to make our way back to the beach after half an hour or so. Deciding that it'd been a hard day so far (remember, this is Fiji... a fifteen minute walk is classed as exertion here), I booked in for a massage after waving off Andy, Kate and Helen... who we hoped to see again on our last island, South Sea.
Kate ('but I can't afford it can I?!') at cards (photo thanks to Tasha Munns)
The massage was given by the owner's wife, an elderly but chatty lady whose bed I sprawled across while she applied copious amounts of coconut oil and tried to remove knots that weren't really there. I left smelling fantastic, but with a bit of a shine as I joined the others for a coconut demonstration by Sam, a local. We tasted both the green and brown coconut, and Sam cracked one open with his fist (and the aid of a breeze block)... very impressive. Just before sunset, Tash and I went for a stroll along the beach, joined by our new friend, a young dog from the village, who seemed to guard everyone walking this particular bit of sand. Tash delighted in picking up every hermit crab we found, but I don't think they were terribly impressed.
After dinner (an impressive buffet with sausages, chicken curry, jacket spuds and some other unidentified meat which I thought was aubergine!), we were joined by two Norwegian guys and the British girls for a few hands of cards, after which we retired to the dorm in time for lights out. But none of us were tired. All eight dorm beds were taken,
Fire dancing at Mantaray
it was hot and sticky and still early, so we all decided to have a game of 21. 21 is normally played with drinks, and lights, but we decided to play it in the dark, in bed. It ended up taking us an hour to finish, as we gradually replaced the numbers with animal noises and catchphrases from Little Britain... the thought of 'computer says no' and 'I'm a lady' ringing out around a pitch black Fijian resort still makes me chuckle. The following day was our last at Long Beach, so we lazed around in the hammocks waiting for the Big Yellow Boat.
Our next resort was well and truly a resort. Named Mantaray for the masjestic beasts which feed in the channel just off shore from Nanuya Balavu Island, it's slightly more expensive than other backpacker joints, and is justifiably popular... it was booked out for both nights we were there. The resort sits on a small, golden beach which provides access to a rich fringing reef, now protected as a marine reserve at the behest of the resort's owners. After suffering mediocre food at Long Beach, we were both chuffed to learn that Mantaray had a
One of Fiji's ubiquitous purple starfish
top class kitchen... for lunch we had the choice (which in itself was novel!) between 15 dishes! So our first afternoon was spent digesting a lovely meal, and the evening brought a massive Fijian buffet and fire dancing (and knife dancing, all done by Junior, the resort's do-it-all entertainer, bag carrier and guitar player) on the beach beneath a starry sky. One of the main reasons I'd wanted to come to Mantaray was to swim with the rays. When spotted, a drum would sound and a boat would whisk people to the spot, but sadly none were sighted while we were there. But it wasn't all bad. The snorkelling from the beach was top quality, with an abundance of the usual tropical fish, plus a few octopus. And I'd decided that this was a good place to do an introductory scuba dive. I'd refrained from diving due to the cost, but while I was here I thought it would be too good an opportunity to miss. So instructor Meg got me kitted out with a tank and mask, and took me for a short dive in the reef. We walked in from the beach and gradually swam down to a
Sunset at Mantaray (photo thanks to Tasha Munns)
depth of twelve metres. Within ten minutes, Meg had spotted her favourite animal... a white-tipped reef shark, which sat on the seabed about ten metres in front of us, slowly swimming away as we approached. The rest of the dive brought a beautiful lionfish, a tuna and for me, a whole new perspective on seeing marine life... I knew I wanted to dive again! On a high after the dive, and joined again by Canada who'd arrived on a boat that afternoon, we enjoyed a four course a la carte dinner, then drinks and tunes at the beach bar.
Our last morning at Mantaray was a quiet one, as we both felt a bit delicate, but I got in some more snorkelling before it was time to move on. We'd both miss Mantaray, but there was something about it that just wasn't very Fijian... it lacked the character of Long Beach and Coral View, and for a while we felt like we could be in any Mediterranean resort. We'd miss the food, but I think we were looking forward to getting back to Fiji. Our next stop would be the rocky island of Wayalailai - our last stop in
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