Fiji, 15- 25th July 2010
Sorry this has taken a while but finally got there.In all honesty this is starting to feel a lot like homework which was of course always put off til Sunday night (not really dad :)), although as I don't have anyone checking it now it's starting to get later and later. But hey - better late than never right, so here goes ...
Bula! ('Hello' in Fijian),
Wow, wow, wow! There is a saying on this gorgeous Fijian island in the beautiful South Pacific - "Fiji's not perfect, it's paradise" and they ain't lying! Tropical blue waters, sunshine, diving, drinking, lots of little islands, super friendly people and non-stop laughing = Paradise.
So on our first day we were completely jeg lagged as we had crossed the International Date Line and skipped the 14th July. It was easier to think we were 5 hours behind the US but a day in front, rather than trying to work out 19 hours in front - sounds confusing but it was the only way we could work it out. We landed in Fiji about 4.30am and had a private transfer to the hotel. The transfer was long and took 2.5 hours, but was all on one road, which loops around the whole island hugging the coastline most of the way, so no getting lost or stuck in traffic over here. We saw the sun rise, along with picture postcard scenery and even though we were feeling completely zonked we were gobsmacked at just how beautiful it was.
As we got to the hotel so early we were expecting to be told we couldn't check in til that afternoon, or we could but would have to pay an early check in fee. Nope - they gave us the key, wished us a pleasant stay and off we went. We then went for breakfast but it wasn't included in our stay that morning as we had got there so early so were fully expecting to have to pay for it. The lady who greeted us 'Lemba' asked us which room we were in and when we said we had to pay she looked at us like we were mad. They all said don't worry, just sit down, eat as much as you can and feel free to take fruit and cakes with you. So no 'food must only be cosumed within the designated area and cannot be removed' signs then. This place and the people are the most chilled I have ever come across. The restaurant boosts a 270 degree view of the sea and a river, as it also has a river running down one side of it. After breakfast, the resort orientation tour and booking our spa day (this was even given a higher priority than a cocktail!) we went back to our hotel room to unpack. Now you're probably all wondering why I'm mentioning this very boring fact. Well I cannot explain the absolute luxury of being able to unpack all my stuff, hang my clothes in the wardrobe and lay all my toiletries out in the bathroom. No I've not had too much to drink, but after 2.5 months of constantly moving around and living out of my backpack that is now packed in record time, with military precision and everything into the smallest possible spaces, it was an absolutely luxury to be able to unpack. Of course for the next 2 days I then couldn't find anything as it wasn't in it's allocated spot in the back pack, but I got over that soon enough. It actually went more like Selena telling me where I'd left it rather than me finding it, but I got there in the end. :)
So after unpacking we went for a walk along the beach and even though it's over 2km long I don't think we saw more than 10 people on it. We ended up in a beach bar at the other end of the beach called the Uprising (hey it's not my fault, it's like a homing beacon), and we ended up staying here for the rest of the day, getting to know all the locals, the bar staff and of course drinking. Now Fiji is currently in the middle of its winter so it gets dark really early and it's pitch black by 6.30pm. Mix that with the flight, and jet lag and we were ready for bed at 7pm. We managed to stay up til 8, but it was a pretty early night for the pair of us.
We also realised that we were so used to staying in hostels, that the natural reaction now is to take a quick look around and then head straight out. However, we were now staying in a 4* hotel, so it might be a good idea to actually spend some time there - maybe tomorrow. :)
We decided to treat ourselves (cos a week and a half in a 4* hotel in Fiji wasn't quite enough ;)) as we were both in desperate need of a back massage from carrying our backpacks. We picked the Island Journey package which included a facial, 1 hour 20 minute all over body massage, body scrub, manicure and a pedicure - ahhhh bliss.
This was absolute paradise in paradise. We got to the spa and tried out all the Pure Fiji lotions, and once we picked which one we both wanted that's what they used for all of the treatments. We were then taken to a double massage room for our joint treatments - awwww how romantic! Seriously the situations Selena and I manage to get ourselves into, we didn't have the heart to tell them we weren't 'together'.
We started off with an all over body scrub and then had a shower to wash it off - thank god they didn't have his and her showers too! We then had our all over body massages and my god this poor woman certainly had her work cut out. My calves absolutely killed and I was seeing red it hurt so much, and when she got to my back - well I'm surprised she didn't just pack up and go home. For days afterwards whenever I touched my back I could feel where she had got all the knots out but my god it felt better.
We then had a facial, manicure and pedicure each and once all of that was done we took ourselves off to lunch in the 270⁰ view restaurant. Hey it's a hard life, but someone's got to do it.
Local culture & people
Even in the hotels everything is very reasonably priced, but as soon as you come outside the hotels everything is unbelievably cheap. We found a little restaurant over the road from our hotel (so still not out of the tourist area) and the average cost for starters, a main meal and a drink was £4 each, and the food was out of this world. We would walk to this restaurant almost everyday to get a mid afternoon snack. My favourites were the giant vegetable samosa which were 70 cents each, about 25p.
Wherever we went in Fiji it had a real local, friendly and relaxed feel to it. There were no big corporate companies, no notices with business policies all over them (I doubt they even have business policies), nothing is perfectly manicured (other than the hotels), everyone knows each other, everyone says hello, everyone seems to have grown up with each other, they don't care for rushing or stressing and no-one cares for rules. They have local fisherman walking into the restaurants with their day's catch selling it to the people behind the counter, the staff and owners can all get drunk together with the tourists, one woman even left her 1 year old kid outside with us when she went inside to order food - where in England would you ever see that?!
Fiji is just full of the most welcoming people I've ever come across. And I don't just mean friendly to locals, or friendly to tourists, or to friends or members of their family.I mean friendly to everyone - because why not chat to the person next to you whilst waiting for the bus or sitting on the beach or waiting for your dinner? I know it sounds cheesy but seriously I've just never experienced anything like it. The first few days we were there whenever someone would start talking to us I was like 'yeah get to the point, what are you after', and then nothing they'd just finish the conversation and go about their day. It really makes you realise just how cynical you really are, how much of a rush everyone seems to be in even when you don't need to be and it's really opened my eyes to just how closed most people tend to be. I know it's mainly to do with we live in a big city and everything's always bustling by, but it's really made me realise that if you don't stop to look at what's going on around you then you actually miss out on more than you gain. We get so conditioned into thinking that if someone starts talking to us they'll mug us or they're crazy and people in little white jackets need to come take them away that we've almost become scared of talking to people. I know that's a bit deep, but it's the first time whilst being away that it's actually made me look at how I interact with people and I really hope the hospitality of Fijians stays with me for a very long time. :)
Beach party - Uprising
Why are the best nights the ones that are not planned?
We went to the Uprising for a beach party but as it was raining everyone just stayed indoors. When we arrived they had a band serenading everyone and it was pretty dead. As the night went on the serenading was replaced with reggae music and as all the staff finished their shifts they all came to the bar. Everyone else including the 18-30's style Feejee experience group had left the bar by 10.30pm, so we ended up in a lock in partying the night away with the staff and owner. It was apparently one of the guys birthdays so a 'birthday cake' was brought out, but the birthday cake was actually a tray full of different shots that we all had to pick from. No idea what I had, but then I'd been drinking spirit & mixers, cocktails and that was my 3rd shot so actually who really cares by that point? Anyway the owner of the bar 'Rene' then went behind the bar and made a whole jug of mixed spirits, the music was turned up loud, I dragged everyone standing at the bar trying to watch the rugby onto the dance floor and Rene started handing out the shots all night long. I remember drinking 8 shots (but it was probably more as we did4 jugs of the stuff - ooops) and that was on top of the cocktails and normal drinks. We all danced the night away until people started passing out left, right and center. Selena was absolutely wrecked and had to be carried to the car, so imagine what fun I had the other end. We got back to the hotel about 4am, nearly had a falling out with the stairs and I woke up in the morning to find Selena had got into bed with me!Seriously after 3 months of living in each other's pockets there's really not much we don't know about each other, but that morning proved quite interesting! We finally got up about 1pm, were both still drunk and ordered $90 worth of breakfast on room service. God bless hotels.
Canoeing on river
We thought we would get involved in some local activities and go for an 'easy and short' trip in a canoe along the river backing onto the hotel. We were only out for an hour and spent the entire time hysterically laughing, trying not to capsize and trying (and failing) to go in a straight line.
We were laughing so much we couldn't paddle let alone talk, kept going diagonally across the river and then back again rather than in a straight line, splashing each other and it was only after the guide said we should turn back that he thought he would tell us I was meant to paddle and Selena was meant to steer! If we were that bad coming down river imagine what we were like going back up! It was such a surreal experience. There were mangroves each side full of the very rude looking trees, there were loads of floating coconuts, plants that look like a floating Chillis and I was constantly trying to shout but was usually laughing too much 'coconut dead ahead', 'are we going under or around the jetty?' and 'watch out for the penis trees!' You know when you get to the point when you can no longer breath cos you're laughing so much.Well it was like that for an hour, but we were laughing so much it felt like I had cracked ribs for 2 days afterwards!
The 'guide' actually left us and when we ended up facing the wrong way, as we didn't know how to just turn it around we would end up doing massive circles to get back in the right direction. In the end we were finally rescued by our new friend Sam from the Uprising bar who was coming down the river on his boat. At first he just stood there on his boat laughing at us, and in the end I think he felt so sorry for us that he got us to hold on to the side of the boat and took us back up river in our canoe to the hotel - frikin hilarious! :) If you could have seen the look on everyone's faces standing at the side of the river you would have died laughing.
Islands of Fiji
Captain Jack sparrow or Paul as he is also known took us for the day on a 100ft sailing yacht called 'The Whale's Tail' around some of Fiji's 330 islands. We sailed past dozens of islands including the Malamala islands, South Sea, Bounty and Treasure island. We then stopped off at a deserted island called 'Schooner' where we had lunch and sunbathed all day.
This island was tiny and even doing the Jai walk I could get round it in 5 minutes (everyone else said they could do it in 2, but seriously what's the rush?!) We walked around the island collecting shells and taking photos. With crystal clear waters, merging into turquoise and deep blues you have to pinch yourself as you realise you are actually standing in the Windows dream screensaver, marooned on a desert island. And you all thought you hated me before! Hahahaha.
The water was so clear we even saw a blue star fish just under the surface and the shells are covered in really pretty red, purple and orange patterns - they're absolutely stunning and I severely hope they make it through customs! :)
The Shark Dives
I didn't manage to get any dive time in the US, so Fiji was an absolute must.I was rather worried as I had none of my own kit with me, that and the speciality dive out here is the world's number 1 shark dive!
I went to the local dive store who happened to be one of only 2 companies on the island that can offer this dive and booked my place on it. I managed to talk myself out of it more than once, and every time Selena talked me back into it. She also pointed out we wouldn't even get half way round New Zealand before I would tell her we had to come back to Fiji so I could do it.It did make me laugh though especially as she had no intention of even getting on the boat. I reckon she's secretly taken a life insurance policy out on me.
Thankfully I was so knackered from the island tour the day before the dive, that I slept like a baby the night before the dive - no Jaws related dreams for me. I got to the dive shop for 8am and started trying on all the kit. I really wasn't very impressed that my fins were coded 911 - I mean seriously, we're going on a frickin' shark dive and my fins are named after the American emergency services! So with all my gear sorted, and 2 of the dive masters arguing who was going to hold my hand on the dives we set off. I told them they were both more than welcome to hold my hands, because that meant a shark was a lot less likely to bite me and eat them instead! They laughed, thinking I was joking - ohhhh how I wasn't.
It only took 15 minutes to get to the dive site and they were doing the dive briefing and we were all kitting up whilst on our way out there, so we were there before we knew it. There were a lot of professional Photographers and Videographers on the boat, one of them even goes out there for a week once every 2 months to get footage of the sharks to sell to the Discovery channel and the likes.
The first dive was down to the 'arena' at 25 meters for the first shark feed. Seriously. I had a lot of trouble on the first dive equalizing my ears and it's really important not to push it and make sure you equalise properly otherwise there is a very real risk of perferating your ear drum, and that is especially something you don't want to do underwater. So after a lot of up and down I finally equalised them and I could descend to the bottom. The only time I was slightly unnerved was at this point because I was swimming around with the sharks as they were coming into feed and I certainly didn't want to get mistaken for brekkie! The Dive Masters were still with me though, so I just settled on the bottom and watched all of the sharks swimming past. There were 10 Nurse sharks (completely harmless - they're just bottom feeders), 10 Lemon Sharks (10th most deadly), 6 Oceanic White tips (4th most deadly) & 3 Bull sharks (No 1 most deadly!) A Lemon shark even swam right over me a couple of inches from my face and I saw the whole underside of it. It was absolutely stunning how a wild shark could be that close to me and I wasn't panicking trying to get out of the water.
We all then swam up to look a wreck and then hung out on the 5 meter safety stop line. I could still see the sharks swimming around and was amazed that there have never been any injuries. The Media would have you believe that every shark is like Jaws and it's main goal in life is to eat you for dinner, but there we all were with sharks even more deadly than a Great White and not once did I feel threatened.
The second dive was in a different arena at 18 meters, which was just as well as I was having serious issues with my balance because of my ears. I got chatting to 2 guys on the boat who both said they had had perforated ear drums from pushing it, so I got kitted up early and started descending down the line really slowly. I was absolutely fine on the second dive and the sharks came back for a second feeding.
Absolutely amazing - I still cannot believe I have had the opportunity to go on the World's number one shark dive and that I've dived with Bull sharks. That experience will absolutely stay with me until my dying day.
Our last day
On our last day one of the girls from the Uprising (Kuini) came to our hotel and we all just chilled out for a couple of hours before heading off to the Rugby match. The Uprising team were playing the league champions in the final so we all headed down there to show our support. They didn't do very well bless them as half their team were playing in another match, but their forwards certainly gave the other team a run for their money, and I'm surprised some of them didn't end up in hospital.
We went back to our hotel to pack and then managed to get a lift down to the Uprising by the Manager of the Pearl, in The Pearl branded car - which amused us immensely. You should have seen the look on the security guards faces at the Uprising. We all had a few drinks and then set off to a house party for one of the guys leaving drinks.Now we were expecting a fully banging house party, but they were still in the 'Kava' stage which means friends, family & neighbours all sitting around drinking a root crop. Kava is part of the Fijian society and is a ritual drink that brings everyone together to discuss issues, celebrate or just to socialise. It is a root plant that is grown for 5-6 years, then dried and pounded into a powder. It is then put into a muslin cloth and mixed with water to make a drink. There are many, many ceremonies surrounding preparing, mixing, serving and drinking Kava and we were lucky enough to be part of this.
The man mixing the Kava is always a highly respected man in the community, and he says a chant as he is mixing it. He dips the muslin cloth full of the root powder into a bowl of water and then fills a small bowl which he passes round.Everyone was sitting around him in a circle, had to remove their shoes and hats, and when the bowl was passed to you, you had to clap your hands once and shout 'Bula!' This is the Fijian greeting, but also carries meaning such as good health, cheers, or in this case 'I accept'. You then drink the Kava which tastes like muddy water (yuck!), and when you hand the bowl back you have to clap your hands 3 times and say 'Vinaka' (thank you). Then give it 5 second before your lips and tongue start to go numb. I drank 5 of these little dishes and my tounge was completely numb. Thankfully Kuini was sitting next to me and rescued me a couple of times, otherwise I doubt I would have been able to talk by the end of it. Selena suggested I stick it out and tap it to start getting the blood flow back, but as it felt like an almost religious ceremony I didn't think they'd appreciate a pierced tongue!
We stayed for about half hour and then headed back to the uprising for more drinking. However, someone (no-one was admitting it) put on the New Zealand vs Australia Rugby match, so that was pretty much the rest of our evening taken up. We were seriously considering extending our stay by another week as we loved Fiji so much, but when we called the flight office it turned out they weren't open at the weekend so we had to get up nice and early the next day to catch out flight to New Zealand.
I will really miss Fiji and I really hope that I am able to return there one day. :)