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Published: November 18th 2009
BulaSun, sea, sand, tsunami warnings, high winds and sideways rain. What more could you ask for?!
As we fly out of Auckland the pilot informs us that the weather in Fiji is quite simply perfect. However by the time we arrive in Nadi we are told that the weather has somewhat deteriorated. In fact it is raining so hard when we step off the plane that we begin to wonder if we had actually landed in the right country! We join the world’s longest queue for immigration and wait the best part of an hour for the two officers to clear two plane loads of people before collecting our bags. The traditional Fijian band in the arrivals hall do their best to brighten the afternoon bur the persistent rain is making their job a difficult one. Our hostel in Wailola beach is only a short hop away (literally - you can see the end of the runway from our room!) and only a ten minute bus ride to downtown Nadi. It's a pleasant enough place and by the time we arrive and check in it is dark and the rain is still pouring, so we eat dinner and call
it a night.
We are woken around six am the following morning by blazing sunshine streaming through our window and a quick look outside gives us our first glimpse of the Fiji we were expecting. It's dry and hot as hell - this then is the Fiji we read about in our guide book! We spend our first day struggling to work out where we want to go and failing completely in finding someone to help us get there. After a frustrating few hours in the tourist hell that is Nadi we cut our losses and head back to our hostel. The next day we set out to catch the bus when a British guy pulls up and offers us a lift into town. The drivers name is Paul and we soon find ourselves chatting about various places in Fiji that he recomended visiting. Seeing as we have six weeks he suggests that we head out to some of the further islands that are far less touristy. Paul also asks us is we had considered doing a home stay in a traditional Fijian village and we tell him that we would love to. So Paul explains to us that
when he arrived in Fiji twelve years ago he had made his way out to Taveuni Island where he had been invited to stay by a Fijian family in a small village. He enjoyed it so much that he stayed there for two months and became very close with a lot of the villagers. In fact Paul tells us that the stay had changed his outlook on life so much that he decided to move to Fiji and set up a business, always keeping in touch with the village in Taveuni. He tells us a few more tales of his time there and then tells us that if we want he will call the village in a couple of weeks (when Taveuni's weather improves) and see if he can arrange for us to go and stay. We tell him that that would be amazing and agree to call him in a week or so.
After stressing ourselves out in Nadi we discover that we are able to easily discuss and book island accommodation through our hostel. After spending the last few months zooming about in campervans we were exhausted and desperate to find somewhere cheap and quiet to stay
View from lunch
for a while and recharge and so we arrange to stay at a backpackers resort for ten days on an island just an hour off the coast. Easy peasy!
After walking the vast 20 metres from our hostel to the beach we were finally whisked away from Viti Levu (the mainland) by a tiny boat. The weather was scorching, the water was that indescribable shade of South Pacific blue and as we whipped past tiny tropical islands our troubles suddenly seemed far, far away. An hour out into the ocean we arrived at Mana Island to be greeted by all of the Ratukini staff singing the Fijian welcome song. We waded out of the boat with the one other couple (who we had befriended on the trip) and quickly settled into our island accommodation. Finally it was time to relax! The 10 days were spent sunbathing, reading, snorkelling and little else. The local staff were lovely and the food was great, the only downside to Ratukini's backpackers resort was the seriously over pushy and slightly ridiculous dive staff. After one too many nights of being forced into doing the "Bula" dance, we learnt to escape down the
Abandoned US survivor set
beach after dinner! We were gutted when our new Irish friends Anthony and Nicola left Mana Island before us but we were entrusted with Anthony’s beloved fishing rod and promised him that we would find it a good home. The weather held out for most of our stay until one morning when the heavens well and truly opened. It seemed impossible but as the day wore on the sheer wall of rain became heavier and heavier until eventually it was coming at us horizontally from every angle and the staff had to shut us all in the bar! Unfortunately boredom set in all too soon and we found ourselves building houses out of every card that we could lay our hands on!
Strangely from the beach we could see the island were the Tom Hank's film "Castaway" was shot and after a short walk across our island we found something even more surreal. The abandoned set from a U.S. reality TV show called survivor that was filmed in 2006. The crew must have literally upt and left leaving the twelve bures (small thatched huts,) stage, crew room and enormous fake temple to slowly decay over time. The whole site
Another Ex TV Set
The Beachouse (correct spelling!)
felt strangely eerie in it's fake-ness but it does make you realise just how un-abandoned the contestants of these reality shows really are seeing as there is a luxury resort a ten min walk away!
The Coral Coast and Suva
After ten days of relaxing we were pretty glad to escape the relentless dive pushing and themed evenings at Ratukini's (needless to say - we didn't dive with them!) and hopped back on the boat to the mainland. Nadi was no more pleasant the second time around but we managed to quickly buy our supplies and meet up with Paul to discuss our village visit in Taveuni. Everything fell into place pretty quickly and we soon found ourselves on a local bus heading south to The Beachouse on the coral coast for a few days before catching the ferry to Taveuni. The Beachhouse was a fun easy going back packers which apparently had also originally been built for a reality T.V. show called celebrity Love Island! After three days of chilling out, eating scones and drinking frozen daiquiris we continued east to Fiji's capital city - Suva.
First port of call (literally) was to the Bligh Water shipping
office to book our seats on the ferry to Taveuni. We had heard various rumours as to how long the ferry would take and our fears were soon confirmed when we found out that we would be on board for 16 hours! On the plus side we managed to get chatting to a guy called Jim who turned out to be the head chef on the Suliven so at least we had someone to chat to on the journey. We spent a few hours in Suva and quickly learnt to like it only a fraction more that Nadi. 4pm saw us on the ferry and settling into the rather cramped and ropey seating in economy. However our new friend Jim came and found us and happily upgraded us to the much more comfortable first class lounge and fed us for free! The only downside to this arrangement was that we were now seated at the very front of the boat and an hour in saw us feeling the full force of the rough sea conditions! At 6am after a couple of hours sleep we stopped in SavuSavu for an hour before moving on to Taveuni. At 11am we were docked
and wondering what on earth we had let ourselves in for. All we knew was that we were being met by a lady called Merieni and taken to the Fijian village where she lives, to stay for 5-7 days. We certainly knew that we were lucky to be given this opportunity but suddenly we realised that we wern't really sure why!
Taveuni, Wiwi Village and the Waqa Family
Merieni (or Mimi as we soon came to know her) found us before we even had a chance to get off the boat and after a brief introduction she helped us with our bags and led us to a waiting 4x4. Once off the ferry she introduced us to her sister Ana who was waiting with the taxi. Ten minuets later we were all chatting like old friends as Ana and Mimi pointed out all the things they thought might interest us and explained about general day to day life in Taveuni. Before we knew it we had arrived in Wiwi village, our home for the next week.
The week that we spent in Wiwi village with Merieni and her family is pretty hard to convey in writing. It
Mo on the farm
was undoubtedly one of the best weeks of our entire trip but also one of the most surreal. Taveuni itself was easily the most beautiful part of Fiji that we visited, It is know as the 'garden island' and it certainly lives up to its name. The village was small, set on a hill that overlooks the sea and a jaw droopingly beautiful beach. The houses in the village were incredible basic, mainly made from ply and corrugated iron with simple ply divisions and curtains for doors inside. We were given the Waqa family's guest room which was simple but beautifully decorated with a view to die for. Once we had unpacked we hit our first cultural difference - meal times. Mimi called to us that lunch was ready but when we got to the table there were only two places laid. We then discovered that it is traditional for guests to eat before the rest of the family while somebody fans the food - This understandably was a little hard to get used to!
Our week was spent almost entirely in the village with the odd excursion to nearby waterfalls or to watch Mimi playing netball with her
team. Taveuni also boasts one of the only on land sites where you can stand on the International Date Line - leaving one half of you in yesterday?! We became engrossed in the Fijian daily life, learning about traditions and trying to master the language. A lot of our time we spent playing with the 30 odd children who ranged in age from two - sixteen and ran around the village together like a pack. We became very attached to certain village members including Uncle Charlie who taught us how to build a traditional Lovo oven and Mo who spent hours talking to us and showing us his plantation. We learnt how to husk, open and scrape coconuts and tasted many delicious traditional dishes that contained the Lolo (coconut cream.) In the evening we were often to be found outside singing and playing guitars under the moon with kids jumping all over us! I'm not sure I can do our stay any justice because during our time in the village we were not just having great experiences but we were amerced in an entirely new culture and way of approaching life. Slowly we found it seeping in and we truly
began to understand what 'Fiji Time' really means. When the time came to leave it was simply heart wrenching, as though we were leaving our real families behind although without knowing when we would ever make it back. The Waqa family had so very little and yet they had spoilt us rotten. Nana, Mimi, Ana, Cata and the kids Delilah, Sa Beta and Paulo will always have a place in our hearts.
After emerging from the sixteen hour return ferry journey to Suva (which unfortunately was spent in economy and therefore riddled with cockroaches!) we made our way North on a local bus to the Waindalice landing. This was apparently where we were to be picked up by boat to head out to Caqalai Island. We had both decided that to end our year away and before heading to the crazy westernised society that is know as the U.S of A, that we should spend two weeks somewhere very beautiful doing absolutely nothing! Therefore we had booked a cheap backpackers resort on a tiny island where we would be fed three times a day, have our own bure (beach hut) and have no activities available other than
sunbathing, snorkelling and diving! However when we got to the Waindalice landing we were a little surprised because instead of being at a port we were dropped by a small bridge over a river. We were soon gathered up with the three other arrivals, put in a tiny boat and rushed full speed down river. With the dense deep green foliage on either side of us and the dark green water we felt as if we had left Fiji far behind and were in fact travelling along the Congo. Pretty soon we shot out of the river mouth and out into the choppy sea where Joe the boatman more surfed than sailed us for the forty odd minutes until we arrived at Caqalai. When we got there quiet simply our jaws hit the deck and Mana Island disappeared from our memories. Caqalai was a tiny jungle covered island with pristine white beaches and beautiful beach side bures hidden amongst the trees, we were home!
Our bure was perfect and we even had sun loungers for the beach which was all of ten steps from our front door! The sea was unimaginably clear and the island was surrounded by reef
in shallow water which made for perfect snorkelling where sightings of sea snakes and turtles where commonplace. A conch shell was sounded three times a day to call us for meals but apart from that we were left to our own devices - heaven. The two island dogs Si and Rena soon became good mates of ours and would hang out with us and sleep outside out house. The owner of the dogs was Sharon an Irish lady who lives on Caqalai and is also the dive instructor. We spent many hours giggling away with Sharon sharing stories and bounty rum along with the two Swedish girls who were also residents. They were both architectural students who were helping to turn the island into an eco resort and appeared to spend all their time drawing computer images of what the compost toilets would look like! In fact the island is so small and there are so few bures that quiet often it was only the five of us, Sharon’s husband Jioti and the few Caqalai staff - perfect. There were only two drawbacks to our stay, first of which was the spiders. Now after being in Australia we had got
used to large unusual spiders but one night i looked up and saw the biggest spider that either of us had ever seen, it was easily bigger than Andy’s hand and dear god it could move! Unfortunately we just had to get used to them - even when one out witted our mosquito net while we were inside!!!! The second drawback was the Tsunami warnings. We had already experienced one of these while staying in the Village in Taveuni but even though it had come frighteningly close to us we had known virtually nothing about it until afterwards. So when we were told while happily sunbathing one morning that we had better pack our essentials and get on the boat - we were a little nervous. Caqalai you see is entirely flat and so little that it virtually disappears at high tide anyway so we had to be taken to the nearest large island with some higher ground. Luckily Elin one of the Swedish girls showed us the way up to the highest point which we stomped up to while all the locals stayed on the beach and hid knowing smiles. After a while we received the all clear and
eventually we returned to Caqalai but the pictures of the previous week’s tsunami still hung in our minds and it made the paradise island just slightly less appealing.
After two weeks of relaxing, thinking about the past year and about the brand new one about to be started in the U.K. we were desperate to get back to a world that took a little more than fifteen mins to casually stroll around. Yet again it was all too hard to say goodbye to new friends that we had made and with heavy hearts we jumped back into Joe’s boat and waved goodbye to our true dessert island experience. When we arrived back on the mainland we avoided Suva like the plague and instead headed back to The Beachouse where we had stayed three weeks previously. Here we sorted through our bags and finally parted with many travelling essentials to make our life lighter for the final leg. A few cocktails and a beach horse ride later and we were ready to head back to the westernised world.
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