Back in Nadi
We arrived back at the Skylodge for a restful evening before making our way overland to our next destination, the miniscule offshore island of Nananu-i-ra. Being thoroughly sick of curry (being as it was the staple foodstuff of our meal packages in the Yasawas) we were overjoyed to discover that Fish and Chips was on the menu for dinner. As we gleefully tucked into our meal, we began to notice something of a proliferation of rather sizeable Fijian gentlemen dining at the next table. Several minutes passed with us curiously eyeing up this collective landmass of humanity, before Dunc saw someone he recognised. As it turned out, we were sharing the hotel with no lesser a light than the Fiji international rugby team, making final preparations for their trip to the Northern Hemisphere.
Thoroughly impressed that we'd managed to stumble across this gathering of Fijian sporting talent, we began to discuss their potential chances in the upcoming tour. Although we didn't reach a wholly positive conclusion, we certainly concurred that being on the recieving end of a full-blooded tackle from many of the sturdy chaps would not be a pleasant experience for our boys back home, so we wished them luck before retiring for the evening.
It was an early start the following morning to catch our transfer to the Nananu island lodge, so inevitably, we were slightly grizzly when we met our driver, an impossibly chirpy Indo-Fijian called Davin. Despite missing several of his most visible teeth, he still managed to maintain an almost permanent gappy grin as he chattered away to us about life, the universe and everything. We gestured that we needed to stop and purchase some groceries for our upcoming stay, and this seemed to throw him into something of a fit of exitement, as he knew "just the places for us to go".
Pulling up at a small local fruit and veg market, we jumped out to inspect the traders wares and possibly pick up a bargin or two. All the while, we were closely followed by Davin, seeming to take great pleasure in recommending to us some of the obscure goods in front of us, and helping us to check the quality of said goods before purchase. The measuring system was somewhat less exact than we were used to, and essentially seemed to be limited to "1 dollar for 1 heap, 2 dollars for two". Having great fun at this, we eventually jumped back into our van complete with a heap of tomatoes, a heap of bananas and a pair of broad grins.
The 3 hour drive to Nananu took us along the northern coastal road of Viti Levu, through some wonderful scenery and very rustic looking villages, all the way being kept awake by Davin swerving wildly to avoid the multitude of goats, horses, cows, chicken and pedestrians, who seemed to casually leap out into our path at any given opportunity. Before long, the in-van conversation turned to the upcoming celebration of Diwali, a prime event in the Indian calendar, during which Davin was explaining to us all the fantastic food they were set to be having. Seemingly chuffed that we were registering an interest, he proceeded to reach into his glove box before thrusting a suspicious looking newspaper wrapped package into Duncs hands, before passionately declaring that it was his lunch that his wife had made for him, and we should really try it. Any attempted protestations on our part were falling on thoroughly deaf ears so we eventually aquiesed to his impassioned pleas, and made to inspect the foodstuffs within. Vickie was more than pleased to discover copious amounts of very tasty looking Roti - a kind of wrap-style sandwich - and loudly announced that she had tried lots of this before during her time in London. We eagerly tucked into the feast before us.
Stomachs full and feeling relaxed, we settled in for the rest of the journey, returning to admire the scenery. Duncs marketing brain began to drift towards the billboard sites at the side of the road, and he found it all rather fascinating. Apparently, we had gone back in time to 1950's marketing, where all that was required was a shouty slogan along the lines of "Fiji bitter - The sportsmans choice", "Bates Tuna - The best choice, the only choice", and his personal favourite, "Maggi - The best tasting thing ever". He found it all rather quaint and endearing, and idly wondered how much an advertising agency would charge for campaigns like that and whether he should start one up.
Empire building antics to one side, we pulled up at the RakiRaki marina about midday, before boarding (yet another) small boat to take us on the short hop across the bay to Nananu. All the signs seemed positive as we disembarked onto a pristine little beach, flanked by palm trees gently swaying in the cooling sea breeze. We checked in and were taken up a hill to our accomodation, the affectionately titled "Treehouse". It was quite literally a treehouse, being loosely constructed - In fact, we hesitate to use the word "constructed", maybe "cobbled together" fits better - out of bits of corrugated iron. It exuded a rustic charm, and the lack of any water coming from the tap, and the fact that the toilets were a hazardous downhill trek to a small outhouse, did little to dampen our spirits.
Then, the bugs came. Clearly distressed at these two new encroachers in what they saw as their rightful domicile, they made their presence felt in the most visible way possible, and we were soon overrun by spiders the size of bread plates, cockroaches the size of small cats and swarms of bitey little ants. Our patience soon began to wear thin, and Dunc casually "procured" some bug killing spray from reception, allowing us to wage a most grisly 4 day chemical warefare campaign against the insectoid hordes.... more on that later.
That evening, we noticed that the wind was getting up. Naively thinking this would be great for windsurfing - one of the prime activies we'd planned to do during our stay here - we were more than a little taken aback to find out that the windsurfing instructors had all gone home for the rest of the season, due to it being unusually calm right up until our arrival. "No matter", we thought, and retired back to our Treehouse to prepare dinner, a delectable feast consisting of beans on bread (bread being neccessary due to there not being any toasting facilitites on the island other than precariously balancing your slice over an open flame with a fork). The kitchen was proving to be a tricky obstacle to this exercise however, as we began to be overrun with ants. Tiring of this, we gave a sizable, eye watering blast of the bug killer all over the kitchen, expecting it to clear out the little sods.
Not a bit of it, as it turns out. Clearly, word had gotten out in the ant community, and now any bug with working set of legs began emerging from the woodwork to gallantely drag their fallen bretheren to safety (or take them back and eat them, one of the two). We decided that enough was enough, and left them to their fight as we headed into another room to bed.
It was not a restful night. We were woken on a couple of seperate occasions by some cockroaches of monsterous proportions skittering about under our bed, neccessitating some more zealous use of the bug killer. Following this, Vickie became insistant that she sleep with the torch next to her, and equally insistant that she wake up every 10 minutes before frantically scanning the room for any more insect activity, before being irritably told by Dunc to "Put the bloody torch away!". 5 nights here was going to be a bit much, we felt, so we vowed to chat to the reception guys the following morning, and shorten our stay by a night to get us back to the mainland quicker.
However, the sun was making an attempt to shine the following morning, so it didn't seem all that bad as we awoke and headed to the kitchen to grab our cornflakes for breakfast. What greeted us on the kitchen floor was nothing less than a massacare of biblical proportions. The floor was thick with ant bodies. The persistant little fellows were clearly not planning on giving up on their kin so easily, and they had kept coming during the night, only to succumb themselves to the screen of noxious chemical defence we'd laid down previously. It was like an insectoid version of the normandy landings scene in "Saving Private Ryan" only this time there was no handsome group of gung-ho crack ant commandos to break the enemy lines and claim victory. Grimly satisfied by the carnage wrought, we swept out the bodies into a sort of mass graveyard near the bins, and returned to our breakfast..... we would fight them near the sink, we would fight them by the cupboards, beds and windows and never give in.
It was time to head out and explore our new island surroundings. We began by trekking over to the other side of the island to sample the deserted One (pronounced On-ay) beach. A brief but faintly arduous hike over the mildly mountainous terrain - along the way stopping to appreciate some of the commanding views of the surrounding area afforded to us by the relatively clear skies - eventually brought us to our destination. And what a pretty little destination it was indeed. The beach was completely deserted but for us and impossibly serene. We spent a thoroughly contented couple of hours laid back on the sand, staring up at the sky and casually speculating on how long it would take the ferocious Fijian sun to burn through the hazy cloud covering we still had from the previous night. All too soon, tummies began to rumble, necessitating a slightly reluctant return trek to our Treehouse.
The walk back over the ridge gave us slight cause for concern however, as some fairly ominous looking cloud cover could be observed off in the distance, and the picking up of the offshore breeze was going to preclude us from going Kayaking (especially when we saw the panicked look on the receptionists face as she presented us with two hefty disclaimers to sign before we were allowed to take the boats out). Therefore, the afternoons activies primarily consisted of us practicing a newly thought out system for achieving comfort and balance in double beach hammocks. This plan, although solid in theory (involving Dunc lying across one edge of the hammock and Vickie lying with her head on his chest at a 45 degree angle, to hopefully deny any "You're heavier than me" misbalancing antics), was proving rather trickier to execute than we would have liked. Vickie's level of hammock co-ordination was still in the very early stages of development, resulting in some most undignified sprawling and complaining, as she lolled about the string device, legs and arms akimbo and generally causing "Hammock havoc". Getting in and out of the hammock was proving especially awkward, a fact that was giving Dunc much merriment as he stood and marvelled at the impressive lack of dignity being displayed by his usually graceful other half.
Returning to our treehouse later that afternoon, we were greeted by one of the more surreal sights we've witnessed since we had come away. A large snoring Fijian was lying prone on the veranda directly on the decking in front of our door and, more worringly, almost directly over the top of our water tank. This dribbling south pacific hulk bearly stirred from his revere as we tentatively stepped past him, exhanging moderately confused glances with each other.
Mentioning the water tank allows us to digress here for a moment. We (apparently) had two primary sources of water in our domicile. One was from a large holding tank just outside, which was not to be used for drinking, and the other needed to be pumped up from a well, which was not to be used for washing or cooking. This rather confusing state of affairs was made even more odd by the fact that the tap in our kitchen wasn't working anyway, thus rendering the whole "Use this water for that" argument rather moot. This tap, we were eventually informed, was not to be used for washing, cooking or drinking, leading us to curiously wonder exactly what it was for.... water fights perhaps?
As if to make the situation a gloriously ironic one, that evening, the heavens decided to split wide open, and deposit their watery contents directly on the small island we were staying. The tropical downpour was torrential, only adding to the frustration we were feeling at the fact that, despite there being tonnes of fluid being deposited directly on our rooftops, we were apparently unable to get any of it to use through our taps. Water, water everywhere sprang to mind. The rain continued all night, the noise being amplified via the tin roof we were fitfully attempting to sleep beneath, thus rendering us unable to grab more than a couple of hours that evening.
The following day was not much of an improvement, as the rain continued in sporadic bursts throughout the day. Stubbornly, we decided to return to the hammock to read when the rain was at its lightest, resolutely refusing to acknowledge the large blobs of liquid occasionally dropping onto our pages and faces. We eventually decided to retire back to the bar and console ourselves with a couple of their highly delectable home made milkshakes. Just as our spirits were beginning to lift, it was downpour time once more. As if to prove that the previous evening was no fluke, it came down with a malevolant vengence and somehow even managed to get us wet from underneath the covering of the bar. This was rapidly becoming tedious, so we elected to simply brave the elements and climb back up to our treehouse. What we weren't prepared for however, was the torrent of water currently flooding down the steep path towards us, turing the surface into something akin to a fast flowing water slide. Barefooted and almost on all fours, we squelched our way upstream like a couple of grumpy salmon, before decamping in our treehouse and wringing ourselves out.
It was around this time that Dunc had a massive roller-coaster in his feeling of manhood. First up, it hit something of a low point when he noticed a very chunky spider speedily crawling across their bedroom. An over-zealous volume of insect spray later, and he had to wait for Vickie to trap it under a cup to wait for it to die prior to him being able to dispose of it. Just as he was feeling quite the big-girls-blouse, an opportunity for redemption presented itself. We had no tin-opener in our house, which ordinarily necessitated a trip down the hill to the bar to get our tins opened for us. However, the weather was far to fierce for that, so Dunc stripped down to his shorts and armed himself with a tin of tuna and a large knife. Several enthusisatically caveman-esque moments later, he returned to the kitchen, grinning and clutching a thoroughly butchered tin and a knife covered in brine and tuna flakes. Nontheless, the food was now accessable, and Duncs manhood had been restored.
Just as we were starting to really look forward to leaving, the sun decided to make an appearance on our final morning. This was indeed a pleasant occourance, and it threw the island into a whole new perspective as what were once grey and lank surroundings suddenly became bright, cheerful and welcoming. We spent a relaxed morning in the hammocks and the sea, before the skies once again darkened and began to spit just as our boat turned up to take us to the mainland.
One soggy boat journey, and another hair-raising bus trip later, and we arrived back in Nadi to be greeted by an ant-free hostel with solid walls, much fewer biting bugs and good food.... just what the doctor ordered. Dunc had been wanting to sample the amusingly rickety local buses one more time, so we went on a trip into Nadi, feeling much better prepared for the inevitable hassle we would recieve whilst ambling around. During a lengthy trip around one handicraft shop in particular, Vickie managed to essentially furnish any future house we may or may not posess, regardless of size. A three piece suite would apparently be "really nice in our conservatory". Some locally made pots would "Look lovely next to the fireplace" and a decorative coffee table would "be a really nice centrepiece for our servants quarters, but the dog might chew it up a bit if we weren't careful". The fact that we had nowhere to live (or a canine of any kind) when we returned did nothing to dampen her enthusiasm for that most female of fascinations, soft furnishings.
Walu Beach Resort
Our final Fijian destination was to be the Walu Beach resort on Malolo Island just off the mainlands east coast. It is part of the Mamanuca group of islands, which have been active in the tourist industry for a much longer period of time than anywhere we'd stayed at previously, so we were looking forward to a hopefully hassle-free experience.
We were not to be dissapointed. The first sign we had that we were not on the traditional "Backpacker routes" was when we boarded our transport vessel, the palatial Tiger IV. It is the sister vessel of the previously mentioned Yasawa Flyer, but by contrast was a much more sophisticated and reserved shade of white, and was manned by older more professional but still highly enthusiastic crew. One crew member in particular seemed to revel in his role as the ships commentator, reeling off a plethora of obscure facts and figures about each island we passed, sporadically punctured with a frantic display of over-exuberance when something tickled his fancy. The prices of coffee on board and the island beaches appeared to be two subjects that arose a worrying degree of passion in particular, as each sentence was often lavishly enhanced with lots of "Wow, wow, wow!", "Whoa baby!", "Yeah man!" and "Whoo hoo!". This man clearly was a frustrated radio jockey, and seemend to be an odd cross between a tour guide and Smashy and Nicey of TV fame.
This man, along with the crystal clear skies and beautiful scenery were keeping us hugely entertained during our two hour steam to Malolo island, so it was with some surprise when our destination was called and we were required to disembark. The now traditional jumpy water-taxi ride took us to Walu Beach where we were greeted by a large posse of Fijians gleefully strumming guitars and singing to us before presenting us with free welcome fruit cocktails. A good sign, we agreed. We headed over to reception, to be quietly informed by the formidable looking check in lady, that as they were a bit on the quiet side at the moment, we'd been upgraded into a beachfront bure from our previously booked sea view accomodation. The beachfront bure would have cost us an extra F$200 a night (roughly 80 pounds) so we were more than chuffed at this little development. We were even more chuffed when shown our accomodation as it was frankly, palatial. A luxurious, clean, nicely decorated studio flat steps from the beach awaited us, with silk sheets and fresh flowers liberally sprinkled around the surfaces. After a brief look around, we were beginning to expect to get the bums rush but then we figured that even if they did have bums in this relaxed little haven, they probably wouldn't be rushing anywhere anyway, so we settled in before hitting the resort pool.
What impressed us even more, was that at meal times, we were actually given a choice of dishes, all of which were prepared to a very high standard. Weight gain was probably going to be our major concern for the next few days. Deciding to stave off obesity for a while, we decided to keep physically fit with a few games of table tennis, and mentally fit with a brief but bloody chess battle by the pool. Satisfied that we'd earned our dinner, we headed to the bar. At this point, Vickie spotted the cocktail menu and immediately morphed into a 5 year old child in toys'r'us at christmas. "Oooh, i want that... oooh, i want that too.... well she's got one over there!" were all well worn arguments designed to wear Dunc down and relent to the purchase of a multi-coloured, flower decorated beverage for her.
An intense period of negotiation followed, and the eventual result was that she could have one during happy hour, as long as Dunc was allowed a Fiji gold and a Diet coke as well. Somewhere along the way, the budgeting had turned from "Well if we have this, we can't have that" to "Well if you're having that, then i want this". Probably not the best method when traversing the globe, but the sun was shining and we were feeling jovial, so decided to let it go for now.
Sitting down for our meal, which was a buffet BBQ, Dunc noticed that our food had been prepared for us by possibly the campest chef in the world. He pointed this amusing chap out to Vickie as he sashayed past their table, flicking his wrists and tossing his locks in a most flamboyant style. A brief period of awed silence followed, before Dunc began laughing so hard his eyes welled up and he turned slightly purple. Upon enquiring as to his condition, Vickie learned that all he wanted to do was walk up to the chef and ask "Hey chef, hows the 'mince' tonight?". This bolt of comedy genious rendered both of them incapable of conversation for several long minutes, as they childishly guffawed into their dinner.
Walu Beach was most definitely a wonderful place in almost every way. However, as they say, every silver lining has a cloud, and this particular cloud took the moquito shaped form of an abundance of little packets of flying, biting malevolance, which seemed intent on eating us at any given chance, day or night. They had a ferocity unmatched since our time in Venezuela, although with one slight but significant difference. Apparently, they were rather fond of Welsh flesh, as Vickie became quite the walking buffet. Duncs tougher, more gamey "essex" tang was clearly not as much to their taste, and Vickie subsequently suffered the brunt of their attentions, leading to a most uncomfortable couple of days on the itching in socially awkward places front.
We had settled into a now daily routine of getting up, travelling ten yards to the poolside, and pretty much staying there for the day, pausing only to cool off in the water, look out over the delightfuly picturesque bay, eat, or play table tennis. Siestas became commonplace, as our lives once again slowed right down to crawling pace. Our final night brought one last cocktail for a very chuffed Vickie, and another pleasant meal before retiring back to our bure to pack to reluctantly head back to the mainland.
We both agreed that we had definitely saved the best place until last, and were leaving Fiji with a very good metaphorical taste in the mouth. As we headed over to Nadi airport, we were sad to leave this little slice of island paradise behind us, but were now looking forward to heading to the Land of the Long White Cloud, home of small flightless birds, amazing scenery and worryingly talented rudgy players. New Zealand was waiting for us.