Partying, relaxing and kava-drinking
18.09.2008 - 05.10.2008 34 °C
One of the first things you notice with the people in Fiji is the sheer size of your average Fijian. The Indo-Fijians (Indian immigrants) are pretty normal, but the native Fijians are just huge. Even the women are really big. You notice it when shake big, tough hands, when you see the size of their footwear while standing in a queue, and simply the height of men as you walk down a crowded street. Fijians are big people. They're happy too, and generally very easy-going. I'm always getting a "Bula!" (Hello) from across the street. People often ask where you're from.
"South Africa," I say.
"Ah.....! Ah! The world cup!!"
"Yep, we won."
"But Fiji almost beat you!" they exclaim.
"Ya I know, best game of the tournament, that quarter-final."
Fiji did almost beat the Springboks in that game, and if they had, we wouldn't have won the World Cup. Most Fijians will bring up rugby when I tell them where I'm from, and its obvious that that game did a lot for South African rugby here. I've seen more Fijians wearing green and gold replica jerseys than any other nationality, including New Zealand, who currently have a number of star players from Fiji. Rugby is big here, and on one day, I joined some guys for a game of touch rugby on a battered field near the beach. The guys played an immensely fast-paced, exciting game, and I could hardly keep up. My fitness was lacking too, I think. But eventually I stopped playing because of the field - there were gaping holes all over - twice I almost sprained my ankle. I asked one of the guys later why they don't put sand in the holes, to prevent injuries.
"We all know where the holes are - we just run around them. Its fine like that."
"So no one gets injured? Haven't you been injured by one of the holes before?" I asked.
"Oh yes, two months ago. I couldn't walk and didn't sleep that night, but its fine now."
Hmmm. Island life - perhaps it makes you idle.
Island - hopping and kava -drinking in paradise
A mate of mine in London recommended that as soon as you get to Fiji you should book a trip out to the Yasawa's and Mamanuca's island groups. Ferries go every day, dropping people off at their preferred island and then they hop on again for a few more days at another island.
So I took the Yasawa's Flyer ferry, getting off at the second stop - Bounty Island. Its quiet and chilled there, and the chief (I think) greets you wearing a floral shirt and a guitar in hand as you jump onto the beach from the transfer boat. I spent loads of time reading, and doing very little other than kayak and snorkel. One night, the chief decided it was time for some kava. Kava is the drink of the south Pacific, its available on most island groups from the Solomon's to Tonga. Its ground up from roots and mixed with water inside a large kava bowl, and looks and tastes like very dirty dishwater! The correct way to drink it is to clap your hands before receiving the kava cup, to thank your host after downing it ("Vinaka!"), and to clap three times afterwards again - to show appreciation. It has a fierce reputation. Although, in Fiji, it is a mild drink. It does not contain alcohol, but instead is a form of hallucinogenic. Although I had quite a few cups on several occasions, I never really felt much of an effect. What you DO feel is a dullness of your senses and a dead mouth and tongue - sort of like the feeling you may get after you've been to the dentist and had a local anesthetic injection somewhere in your mouth. Its not like beer, but it does leave you very relaxed and not too keen to do anything really. Perfect!
Two days of relaxation and I headed to Beachcomber Island, the so-called 'party island.' What you can do here is tan, tan some more, tan again, and then party from happy hour each night. Standard routine. It simply amazed me how much time some of the girls spent in the sun - perhaps 6 hours, through midday, and often until the sun goes down. There were a lot of pink people there. The sun in Fiji is as fierce as I've ever experienced.
Since I don't tan very well, I started reading again during the day (shady spots only), and hit the bar in the evening. I walked around the island in five minutes - its tiny. There is only one dorm, and it takes 130 people, boys on one side, girls on the other. If you had cash to spare, you could stay in a bure, complete with hammocks and a patio looking onto your own little section of the beach. I splashed out and went jet-skiing, since I hadn't done it before. Over-rated, I reckon. I got chatting to the manager of the island, Vince - a local Fijian of British descent, and it was fascinating hearing his stories of the filming of the Tom Hanks' film Castaway. He recommended the island that they ultimately filmed on, met Steven Spielberg during filming, and even baby-sat Tom's kids.
After blowing the budget on over-priced beers for 2 days, I decided it was time to head to Mana Island - which I had heard so much about from my Irish mate Gary in New Zealand.
Mana is the perfect destination for "chillaxing", one of the Irish girls, Siobhan (pro. Chevon) told me. I stayed at Mana Lagoon Backpackers, and what a classic backpacker place. The crowd was awesome, the food filling, the drinks cold, the beach straight out of a postcard, and the hill views at sunset - unbeatable. On one of the days, a big crowd of us - from Maryland, Holland, UK, Ireland, Sweden, France, Germany and all sorts of other places - headed up and witnessed the most amazing sunset. It was a champagne moment - but where do you get champagne in a place like this?! The sun set not far away from the cliffs of Hanks' movie, and it was a perfect setting. (In the movie they make out as though there are no islands in view of castaway island, but there are in fact half a dozen all around it).
The MV Sophie, aka Noah's Arc
After lazing about about for days, and literally missing the boat a couple of times (its that chilled out) I decided it was time to focus on diving. So I headed back to Nadi, amidst sad farewells and many facebook promises, and booked a trip on the MV Sophie from the capital Suva to Savusavu, on the other big island, Vanua Levu. Little did I know that the trip would be classified as my worst after 8 months of travel. Luckily, I shared a cabin with Brits Holly and Rachel. We took first class - basically you get a cabin. Anything less, and its the big seated area with screaming kids, indoor picnics, and snoring old men everywhere. We got into our cabin, and there were cockroaches crawling out of the beds. We moved cabins. Still cockroaches in the beds. We then saw that there were rust holes linking all the cabins, and that one way or another we would have a couple of friendly little cockroaches sleeping with us tonight. Then we departed, and the boat started to roll about in the rough seas. A few people spewed on the deck outside the cabins. I needed the toilet later, and came across the most decrepit, unhealthy, uncared for, men's bathroom I have ever seen. The toilets seats could not even open because the doors blocked them (difficult to explain). Sleep was difficult - all the lolling about gave Rachel and Holly sleepless nights.
In the morning I bade them farewell - I would continue with the ferry to Taveuni, and the Brits got off at Savusavu. Little did I know that downstairs in the cargo hold, there was a problem. The construction loader had fallen off its transport truck and was preventing all the other trucks from getting off. They literally had to squeeze through a small gap to get out, creating nice little dents on each truck.
I asked one of the cargo guys: "How long til we go?"
"One hour perhaps," came the reply.
One hour later and no progress. I picked up my bag, bade the MV Sophie a tearful goodbye, and headed into town. I met the Brits again, and 2 hours later during breakfast, the MV Sophie departed. Incredible ship that.
While in Savusavu we headed out to the town of Lembasa, home of Lonely Planet's highly-rated Monolithic Gods site. After a 3 hour bus journey (average of 10km/h) we got to the site. I must admit, its times like these you want to wring Lonely Planet's neck. Why on earth has this place received so much coverage in their guide book???!! It was quite literally a long rock sticking out of the ground, and a few other rocks showing evidence of ancient cannibalism, and what must have been a stone village once, but resembled someone's nicely laid out rock garden. Pathetic. Anyway, the villagers were friendly enough. We then had a 3 hour bus journey to look forward to again...
After a couple of days I headed over to Taveuni, where my dive courses began.
I'll try update with some pics soon - don't hold your breathe though, this internet cafe can't even load up facebook.