Around the World 1998; Fiji
Note; this post is recreated from the original wired2theworld website post with the dates below. The old posts were reformatted in 2018 for the 20th anniversary of wired2theworld. As much as possible, the content is unchanged and unedited from the original, only some formatting, spelling, and link errors have been corrected.
September 6, 1998 BULA ! US$1=FIJI$2
We arrived in Fiji yesterday morning after a long, tiring, uncomfortable plane ride. Fortunately, someone was there to pick us up as planned. It was about a one hour drive in the pre-dawn light to our “resort”. I use the term resort loosely because Tubakula is not much more than a motel with bungalows on the beach. But, I have to admit the view of the lagoon complete with coral reef and coconut laden palm trees is spectacular.
When we arrived, no one was awake to let us into our bungalow. We waited. Finally, the manager came and we were let into our room. Imagine an A-frame cabin for rent up in the mountains with the basic amenities like beds, kitchen, bathroom, mismatched utensils and beat up pots and pans. Now imagine it in Fiji on the beach with thin foam mattresses, bars on the windows and a sign in the lobby saying “Due to government restrictions, water will be turned off at 7 PM” (they have recently fixed the water problem). Ok, so we were a little let down and a little over tired. We bought some basics for breakfast from the mini market, ate, and took a nap. Things always look better in the daylight when one is properly fed and rested. And they did.
Around noon we walked down the road in search of lunch and a larger mini market. We found Raj’s cafe and decided to eat there. Since 44% of the Fijian population is East Indian immigrants we figured that the Indian food might not be too bad. David and I both had chicken curry which came with dal (soupy lentils) and rice or naan bread. It was very good, filling, and only cost us about F$10 total including two sodas. Afterward, we bought more snacks in the only slightly larger mini market next door.
Probably the best part of lunch was that we made two new friends while we were all waiting for our food. Monique and Derek are from Australia and are at the tail end of traveling on and off for the last two and a half years. They have spent most of their time living and working in London and traveling for months at a time from there. They’re now headed back to Perth Australia to work and finish school before heading out again. It was really interesting to hear all their travel stories and tips. They told us someone at their hotel offered them a trip to a better beach than we have here (more sand, less reef) for the next day. We invited them back to our bungalow later in the afternoon for beer when they would know all the details.
When they arrived, we sat a talked for a few hours and then went for a walk in search of dinner. We came across Le Cafe, obviously a restaurant for tourists, but it looked nice and it was. Someone had taken the time to create a very pleasant environment and train their staff in service. The owner of the restaurant is Swiss so maybe that explains it. The food was also very good, nicely presented, and good portions. The total bill for four came to less than F$30. We discovered that Monique and Derek had been working for a temporary agency that placed them as food service workers and domestic help on large estates. They actually had to cook entire dinners for 40 people (including royalty) at times. So, we had some things in common that we could discuss and it gave me an idea of where I could look for work if need be.
Today we took the tour down to this “special” beach. It was beautiful and had much less coral and rock in the lagoon which allowed for a better swim. Our driver provided us with snorkel equipment and we all went out. We only saw some small fish and the current was very strong around the rocks. After I swallowed a big mouthful of seawater it was time to go in. On the shore we found many hermit crabs roaming the beach.
Monique and Derek rented horses to go up and down the beach and were told it would cost F$5 for half an hour each. When they returned, the guy wanted to charge them F$10 each. After a small discussion, they finally just paid the guy what they originally agreed and walked away.
We went for lunch at the only restaurant around, at a private resort on the beach. The only table they had available was a large one outside and it had two people sitting at it already. We said ok, as long as they don’t mind. I thought they were Japanese tourists who probably wouldn’t even speak to us (Fiji is loaded with Japanese tourists). Turns out they are Chinese-American from Monterey Park near LA. The woman took one look at David’s Clearwater Seafood hat and said: “you’re from California!” She then asked if we were from Pasadena and said that they had just had dinner at Clearwater a few weeks before! When I told them that I had been the chef there we all agreed it was a pretty small world. I told them that they had to go back to Clearwater and tell someone that they had met me in Fiji so that my former co-workers would believe that I was really doing this. Lunch was good, I had Opakapaka (fish) but seemed expensive by Fijian standards.
September 9, 1998
We’ve spent the last three days doing our PADI SCUBA certification through Sea Sports Ltd. here in Fiji. While our instructor, Junior, has been wonderful, the company itself leaves a lot to be desired. We have become increasingly more frustrated by their poor organization. It is not uncommon for them to make us wait hours to complete our instruction for the day (we had to wait two hours yesterday to return by their bus because we were waiting for two other divers). Their equipment (wetsuits, SCUBA vests (BCD’s) are all in poor maintenance. Nothing is included in the course but the instruction and the dives (i.e. we don’t even get to keep the PADI instruction workbook).
Today, however, was the worst. We were supposed to have our first open water dive this morning after a small amount of instruction. When we were finished, we had to wait an hour to go out because one of the other instructors took our masks that had been set aside for us. The company didn’t have any other masks we could use so we had to wait. We did our two dives and then it was time to go back to the pool at another resort to finish some confined water work.
When we got there, one of the other instructors was using our tanks! So we had to wait again. We did, waiting an hour and a half. Then the two Japanese tourists he was instructing used up all the air! Poor planning! At that point, we weren’t going to wait anymore. Now we have to finish that part tomorrow morning. The worst part was that the owner’s wife got mad at our instructor for spending too much time with us (except that it’s their fault we had to wait) and for not bringing his tanks (which he did and the other instructor she had sent there used them instead)! It just seems that they just care about profit and not the customer’s experience. Ok, enough of my complaining. Buyer beware!
The dives themselves were great. Our first two days were classroom work and then work in the pool. It’s very tiring. Today we got to go on two dives out in the lagoon down to 12 meters (38 feet). We spent most of the time doing tests and exercises but Junior also led us around down at the bottom to look at coral and wildlife. It was truly amazing. We saw coral that changed color when you touch it, coral that sucks back down into the rock it’s on, giant brain coral and dozens of other types. We saw schools of brightly colored fish, some that were black and white striped (called sergeant majors), puffer fish, clown fish, small mackerel, and many many more.
It was exciting and scary at the same time being so far down. At one point I looked at my gauge and realized I was 50 feet under water!! Not bad for someone who’s afraid to swim. I must admit I had a momentary panic when I first started to descend. First, I smacked my head on the water when I jumped in. Then I was too buoyant and couldn’t sink. Then my regulator kept pulling out of my mouth. All this combined just made me not want to go “down there”. But I managed to conquer my fears and go. And I was fine. David held my hand the entire time and that really helped. The bottom of the ocean in the lagoon feels like sawdust instead of sand. It must be made up of tiny pieces of broken coral. Tomorrow we have our final exam and our last two dives out into the ocean down to 18 meters.
We had to say goodbye to our new friends and dinner companions Monique and Derek last night as they were headed back to Australia. We were sad to see them go but we are hoping to meet up with them again next June in either Switzerland or Italy (where they might have another job lined up in a villa in Assisi).
On to more practical matters. We took a look at our finances and realize that we have to budget back a bit or we’re going to run out of money quickly. We may even have to (gasp!) stay in some youth hostels! We are currently debating whether or not to do this in New Zealand before and after we have the motorhome. As long as we can get phone/internet access somewhere, I don’t really care, since we are unable to get access from here.
Fiji reminds me of the islands in the Caribbean- sort of a cross between St. Martin (French and Dutch), and Tortola (B.V.I). There are cane fields everywhere, although the El Nino drought has left them in sad shape compared to the cane fields on Kauai. There is something very beautiful about watching the cane fields burning in hours just before dawn. Our driver explained to us that after tourism, sugar cane represents the country’s primary cash crop. Given that other countries have a much healthier looking cane crop, and that Fijian agriculture appears to have most of its eggs in one basket, it is no wonder their economy is struggling.
We met an Australian woman at the dive shop who is married to a Fijian man in one of the local villages. Her husband works in the cane fields from dawn to dusk, for wages around ten dollars Fijian per day. The wages are based on the tonnage of cane that is cut in a field each day, not on an hourly basis, making one’s earnings dependent on hard work and a good crop.
On the other end of the stick is the Kava root, a local plant with an ancient tribal history in Fijian culture. Used in village ritual and consumed socially in the open markets, Kava is a mild narcotic with a range of pharmacological applications. The root is dried and crushed into a fine powder, then steeped into tepid water through a sort of fine cheesecloth, making a cloudy beverage with a slightly bitter taste.
When drinking Kava, it is proper custom to clap your hands once, loudly, then drink the portion (served in the half coconut shell) in one shot. After you drink, you must smile as broadly as you can manage- kava is an acquired taste- lest you offend your host. The drink is reported to aid digestion, cure headaches, prolong sleep, ease muscular tension, and induce general relaxation, but I can only testify to its anesthetic qualities. My mouth became instantly numb, especially my tongue, and remained so for several hours. I confess that after spending the entire morning at a depth of 50 ft. or 16m. below the ocean surface, my entire body was already in a state of total relaxation. If the Kava contributed to my feeling of total well-being and inner peace, I was not aware. Scuba diving seems to have a similar effect on me.
September 11, 1998
We did our last two dives yesterday and just in time so it seems. The weather is starting to turn foul; windy and rainy. Yesterday the ocean was so choppy that we couldn’t dive outside the lagoon as we were supposed to. We finished our training, complete with 50 question final exam (I got a 47, David a 44, but he’s much better at the underwater stuff than I am) and two 16 meter (50 feet) dives. At one point the water was so choppy on the surface and I was so frustrated with being unable to competently complete one of my exercises (complete removal of gear and and weight belt while treading water and then putting it back on) that I told David, along with much swearing, that this was “his idea and I never wanted to do it in the first place!” At that point, I was just too exhausted to finish so we went in for a rest. I did complete it later in the day though.
We saw some amazing things on the dives that day. More beautiful fish that one can count, and incredible coral. At one point, we were on the bottom and I felt David lift me up about 5 feet of the floor of the ocean. He pointed downward and there was a six foot sea snake swimming right underneath me and away! Later in the day, we saw a small white tipped reef shark resting on the bottom.
Only one disappointing thing happened; we lost our disposable underwater camera. We searched for it, hoping it had floated to the surface, but the water was so rough it was impossible to find. Gone are some great pictures of us underwater and of fish and the shark. Oh well. Also gone are pictures of some of the cows that roam the roads and (golf course) of Korotogo, Fiji.
When it was time to go back to our bungalow, Dennis, the owner of Sea Sports gave us a ride. He wanted to stop in the town of Singatoka on the way, which was fine with us since we hadn’t had the opportunity to do so before. We went to a shop where he bought some dive booties for himself.
I asked him if he wouldn’t mind walking around the local supermarket so we could see the food. It wasn’t all that interesting, but then we walked through the local farmer’s market. Everyone there seems to know him (he’s a native Australian who’s lived there for 16 years). The produce in the farmer’s market looked much better than that in the supermarket. We saw kava root in its’ whole and powdered form and beautiful eggplant, cabbages, and bok choy.
We also ran across an old friend of Dennis’ who is a diver that now lives in Hawaii. He invited us to a cup of kava (as described by David, above). I declined, but David and Dennis had some. Dennis did say later that he would have declined also, but given that he had not seen this friend in ten years, it would have been impolite. It was very interesting for us to see the kava “ceremony” in such an unceremonious way. Most tourists try kava on a day tour of a village where it seems to be just a show for the tourists. This was just everyday life and therefore that much better in my opinion.
September 12, 1998
Our last day was spent not doing much, just re-packing and getting ready to leave. We waited at Raj’s to have lunch with our dive instructor, Junior, but he never showed up. We made sure to tell the owners of Sea Sports that he did a wonderful job and was very patient and thorough with his instruction. They both replied that he would be better once he was better organized and learned to speed it up. We disagreed.
We did buy one souvenir in Fiji, amid all the tacky coconut shell items, cannibal forks, and wooden masks. We bought tapa cloth which is actually made out of the pounded and treated wood bark of the mulberry tree. It is then block printed in black and brown.
Tomorrow we’re off to New Zealand. We leave at 3 am to go to the airport in Nadi.
Some lasting impressions of Fiji;
- Everybody says Bula! (hello) when you pass them on the road and they mean it.
- Cows and horses roam the roads, beaches, and even the golf course.
Burning sugarcane fields.
- Beautiful women with wonderful afros and big smiles.
- Never saw a local woman wearing pants unless it was under a sari.
- Bars on the windows of all the local houses, so crime is an issue.
- Local Fijian girls walking down the road in the dark one night, cheekily hooting and hollering at some Aussie boys.
- An Australian woman we met who left everything behind (including two teenage daughters) to move to Fiji, marry a much younger Fijian man and live with him in a traditional village with all its’ rules and restrictions.
THINGS WE DID TO SAVE MONEY:
1. Stayed in a budget backpackers “resort.”
2. Ate in local restaurants most nights for about $F5 per person
3. Avoided the expensive, touristy, sightseeing trips to a “real FiJiian Village.”
THINGS WE SPLURGED ON:
1. Pre-arranged transport to and from the airport very early in the morning.
2. SCUBA certification
The original post for this page can be seen here.
Links to the entire trip can be found here.