Bula everyone! Welcome to our first blog on the sunny isle of FIJI! :D
Our trip began slightly more eventfully as we planned; due to an accident on the highway, we ended up just missing our connecting flight from Wellington to Auckland. However, with the very generous help from our uncle, we managed to get ourselves onto the next one to Auckland in time to catch our 1pm flight to Fiji, after some big farewell hugs to the Laws. We were going to miss their great company!
Our flight to Nadi airport in Fiji took just under 3 hours whilst we entertained ourselves with a film, and we were welcomed by the Feejee Experience office in the very small Nadi airport. We were given a complimentary shell necklace along with our vouchers and guide books, then taken by taxi to our first accommodation, the Nadi Bay Resort hotel. It was a big change from the backpacking hostels we'd been getting used to in NZ! It felt like luxury, with big air conditioned rooms, 2 restaurants and 2 pools, surrounded by towering palm trees and beautiful wooden carvings.
We met an Australian girl sharing our dorm and we all took a stroll down the road into the town, checking out the places to eat and stocking up on bottled water - it's a bit dodgy to drink the tap water around here. There were many stray dogs running around and it was around 28 degrees. We did feel slightly vulnerable walking around as 3 very touristy-looking girls, and we were careful to keep out of the way of any dodgy looking men - one tried to befriend us and lead us into his shop down the road to have some of his recently made Kava drink, a traditional tipple for Fijians, and smoke some pot, which we slightly forcefully refused! However, there is definitely a more friendly feel about the place, each local greeting you with "Bula!", the Fjian hello, and smiling at you. We walked back to the hotel whilst the sun set over the town, and sat by the pool, chatting through the night and disturbed only by the occasional low-flying jet landing in the nearby airport. After realising that our NZ sim cards weren't working here, we queried about getting a Fijian one to the lady on the travel desk at the hotel, who informed us that the only place to get one was at the airport. However, realising that we weren't going to be going back there for 3 more weeks, she offered us a spare one of hers, which she said we could borrow until we came back! She was so generous and helpful, which seems to be the representation of most of the inhabitants of this island :D
The next day we intended to take the 30 min walk down to the beach, but decided against it when the receptionist warned us that it wouldn't be too safe to go as 2 girls on our own... It was too hot for any form of exercise anyway, so we spent the day chilling by the pool and catching some rays - we really need to get going on our tannage, we're looking way too English at the moment! We had a beautiful meal on the veranda that evening, served by a gorgeous Fijian lady dressed in a long flowing floral dress and flower garland around her head in the typical tropical style of wear on this island. She tucked a little flower behind our ears and scattered them all around our table, which was a really nice touch. After dinner we played cards into the night with a couple of girls heading onwards tomorrow with Awesome Adventures, another travel company, and a few other people we'd befriended at the hotel.
Wednesday brought our first day on the Feejee Experience bus, an add-on to the Kiwi Experience one, to take us around the island in the same fashion. After a big continental breakfast, we were picked up by our crazy Fijian bus drivers, Samantha and Jerry, along with a lovely Dutch girl, Nadja. We travelled on to pick up 2 other girls, Lottie and Nikki, both English gappys, and we were taken into the town to allow the girls to buy their sarongs needed to visit a small local traditional village later in the day. We took a stroll around the local market with many stalls selling various kinds of exotic fruit and veg, along with the Kava root used to make this drink (though we've sadly been advised by our Feejee bus not to drink any as a precaution whilst we're here as apparently there's a typhoid epidemic spreading around the water sources in the North of the island which go into the making of it...we'd rather not risk it!)
Our guides were hilarious; 21 year-old Jerry had managed to coin the nickname "the horny goat" as his tribe is reknowned for working with goats and he's pretty flirty with the ladieeeees! Sam, our other bubbly guide, is training to be a full-fledged Feejee guide so is just getting a hold of the ropes, but she giggled constantly and there was never a dull moment with them!
After our visit to the town, we stopped off at Natadola beach where our guides cooked us a BBQ feast and we caught some rays and swam around in the gorgeously warm ocean - such a contrast to UK and NZ waters!! We were joined by a few local Fijian's offering horse-back rised along the sand, and although I was offered mine for free if I rode behind one of the guys, I felt too sorry for the poor horse who already looked too small for him anyway, and in the heat! Sam then gave us a little lesson on how to wear our sarongs before we were transported to a small traditional local village, covering our shoulders and legs in respect for their culture. The village consisted of small shacks separated by tribes: a fisherman, warrior and carpenter tribe lived here, surrounding the Chief's bure (hut) in the centre made traditionally out of bamboo and thatch. It was pretty quiet as the men of the village were out fishing and the women were working in the fields. Jerry led us around, showing us the small community centre building that Feejee Exp donations had built, and explaining the methods used to kill and eat their ancestral enemies back in the day when Fiji was named by it's first discoverer, Captain Cook, as the most cannibilistic isle in the world - it was pretty gruesome! We were taken into the Chief's hut after removing our shoes, and sat around whilst Jerry and Sam explained the Fijian village's cultural traditions and way of life. They had both come from these kind of settlements so it was interesting to get their perspectives of this, and see how "the other half", so to speak, lives.
After donating a bit of money into their little box to help with various projects they're trying to set up, we left the village and headed off to the sand dunes - we were going sandboarding, Fiji style! By this time, the sun was high in the sky and it was B-oiling! After hopping and leaping across the grass to dodge the millions of ants swarming the ground, we struggled up the huge, steep dune with our boards. It was pretty high! Sam gave us a quick demonstration before we lay on our fronts and launched ourselves over the scorching sand down to the bottom. After a good 2/3 times, we hopped back into the van, exhausted, sandy, but exhilarated.
We reached our accommodation, the Mango Bay Resort on the Coral Coast, in the afternoon, a gorgeous great establishment right on the beach, with a pool overlooking the ocean beside the huge open-sided bar and restaurant. We had a big Feejee Exp dorm to ourselves and that evening we all ate dinner as a group, winning the trivia quiz with a bucket of booze and chatting and laughing away about Jerry's relationship issues into the evening (!). As Em and I are staying in each place for around 4/5 days rather than staying on the 4-day round trip bus, we were to be leaving this group behind as they travelled on to their next destination, which is sad but we have a lot more time to spare here than them!
At this resort, they offer a variety of free activities for guests at certain times of the day, announced by the hitting of a drum beside the pool. Em and I joined in with coconut bowling the next morning by finding the roundest one we could, scattered under the palm trees and trying to get them as close as possible to an upright stick. It was good fun with a big group of us, and Em came in at a close second place! It was hilarious watching the lads get competitive as their coconuts strayed each and every way apart from their desired destination! We then had a big game of beach volleyball beside the sea, with the obviously very well-practised activity guides launching the ball over the net at each other and whacking out some massive serves! Later that evening we signed our names on the board to go on a Sunset Cruz, and we were taken out on a small boat to sip wine whilst we watched the sun sink over the horizon. It was pretty stunning :) We were then joined by 2 Australian girls, Nikki and Louise, here on holiday, for a few games of cards before sitting beside the pool on loungers whilst we all watched a film projected onto one of the huts to form an outdoor cinema under the stars.
The next morning, Em and I went to the activity hut to collect a sea kayak and paddles to cruise out over the clear water. We could see the reef below us scattered with blue starfish and small colourful fish, and we were able to go wherever we wanted for as long as we wanted, as long as we didn't paddle out to beyond the reef where the waves were crashing down. It was fun, but I was so weak from laughing at poor Emily getting splashed and soaked by the small waves hitting the front of our vessel where she was sitting! We soon got the urge to go for a swim in the warm water, then splashed around in the pool for a while before the drum was beat for the next activity: coconut jewellery making. We collected a coconut between 4 of us and set about sanding the hair off the outside of the shell to make it smooth. After choosing a shape for a necklace or bracelet, our favourite guide, Ili, carved it out intricately for us using a saw. They were really pretty and original, apparently selling for around $15 in shops! We then played a few more games of volleyball with the lads before taking an evening "punt" out on the sea with a flat board and long paddle, taxiing Emily around the reef :)
Saturday was our last day at Mango Bay. We decided to get a few braids put into our hair by the lovely masseuse in her hut, before we started our next activity that we'd booked ourselves on the day before: as this resort also offers a school for scuba-diving students, each guest is given a 1st lesson in the pool for free, so at 11am, we met our cool Kiwi instructor, Damos, and were kitted out with oxygen tank, flippers, mask and weight belt to keep us grounded under the water. We looked like pro's! Once in the pool, Damos taught us all of the basics - how to clear our mask underwater, breathe with our regulator, clear the airway and generally swim around! It was really good fun and Damos even put a few crabs and shells in the water for us to look at :) Emily was a little more shaky about the concept of brething underwater, but she soon got the hang of it.
That afternoon, the drum sounded to mark the start of the next activity, basket weaving. We were each given a large palm leaf and shown by Ili how to weave and plait the fronds to form a sturdy little basket used by locals to collect fruit from the plantations :) They were very cute but we sadly had to leave them behind as we didn't have any room to carry them (and we wouldn't have got them through customs at the airport anyway!). After another hectic game of volleyball in the sun, we ate dinner and played various violent card games with 3 guys from the UK that we'd met that day. The new Feejee Experience bus had arrived with a new group of people whom we were to be joiing the next day.
Saturday night blew a tropical storm. Although our dorms had shutters, the gales blew the rain up and into our room all night, leaving my head very soggy by the morning beside the window! It was torrential and we had our breakfast standing in a few inches of water as the open-sided restaurant was flooded whilst the waitors attempted to sweep it all away. We left Mango Bay on our next Feejee Experience bus and set off straight for the next resort, Uprising, in Pacific Harbour along the coast. Sadly we weren't able to do our scheduled rainforest trek as the creek was too high, but they offered us a cinema trip when we arrived. We're all staying in the Treehouse, a huge prettily thatched dorm fit with great showers and beds :) Once again the resort has a pool right on the beachfront, so after a big BBQ lunch we all had a game of volleyball before leaping in the pool to cool oursleves down. We all ate dinner together and got to know the bigger group a bit better, and our very camp guide, Cam, was hilarious! We were also joined by Lisi, an amazing Fijian who worked at the resort, and she told us all of her stories about her jet-setting husband living in LA and how she's eaten out with celebs (even Jessica Alba...!!). Em and I became really good friends with her and she treated us to ice-creams and beer, which is always good :)
Today the weather still isn't too great, but we may go for a stroll into the village and check out some fire-walking by a local tribe :) It's definitely been a big contrast to NZ, staying in one place for around 5 days at a time and chilling out mucho, so we're treating it more like a holiday than an a travel adventure, but it's a nice change and a good end to our trip. We're more "flashpackers" than backpackers in this country, no more cheapo dorms and cooking for ourselves!
We hope you're all well at home and loving the sun! (We'll get our tan eventually, just you wait...;) )
Coconut kisses, Stephanie and Emily xxxxxxxxxxx