It's raining when we get into Nadi airport. We left Rarotonga at 23.59 Friday night. The flight lasts 3 and a half hours. We arrive at 2.30am, Sunday morning. Damn this international date line business. We haven't arranged accomodation. We're really tired. We decided before we left Rarotonga that we'd try to find somewhere to crash but if we couldn't we'd hang artound until day break then head for the beach. Luckily, the minute we're in baggage reclaim there's a huge board with all variety of accomodation and free phones to use. We call the closest hotel, Raffles Gateway, which is across the road from the airport and find they have rooms available for about £25 and they'll pick us up (to drive us about 200 metres!) outside.
After a good nights sleep we wake up to find the weather's still pretty bad. We'd been advised to get out of Nadi as quickly as possible. Its a pretty dingy town with lots of street hawkers trying to entice you into their shops. We wander back to the aiport to investigate the numerous travel agents who sell packages out to the islands. Fiji has 330 islands, predominantly volcanic in origin. Vitu Levu is the largest Island (Nadi is on the west coast of this island). We were suprised to read that, out of a total population of 825,000 people, 45% are Indian. When Britain ruled Fiji from 1875 they brought Indian labour to work on the sugar plantations (now the largest industry in Fiji). Fiji became independent in 1970 and the Fijians and Fijian Indians maintain very seperate traditions.
We spoke to couple of fairly pushy travel agents, all eager to sell us their package deals. We managed to escape to go through the various leaflets and work out our options.
We're too late to get the boat to the islands, so we catch the bus to Natadola beach, about 50km from Nadi, the most beautiful beach on the mainland. From the bus we jump into the oldest, crappest taxi in the world, and are dropped at the gate of the village. Villagers soon appear, and ask us who we are looking for. They take us to Asieri, who shows us our hut and bed for the night. It's actually his hut, but tonight he's sleeping in the shop. We head for the beach, under instruction to be back for 4pm for afternoon tea (a Fijiian institution.) It's cold on the beach. Sarah beats me at backgammon. We come back. Walking along the old railway tracks back to the village we meet 3 or 4 groups of villagers. They all stop us in our tracks, loudly greeting us with "Bula! Bula!" (welcome.) They all want to know everything about us...where we are from?, how long are we staying in Fiji?, is it our first time?, what do we think of the village? It's totally genuine, and completely charming.
After the worst, weakest tea ever "Yes yes, it's very nice", accompanied by a pile of bread and butter, we are instucted to go and rest (resting is very important in order that visitors train themselves quickly to run on 'Fiji Time', codeword for 'whenever I feel like it'. We sleep. Dinner is a peculiar combination of instant noodles and corned beef. There is enough food to build a new wall in the hut. Our host is insistent that we "eat lots". We look scared. Sarah cleverly does her "I'm a girl" thing. I eat, and eat, and eat. The pile of noodles never goes down. Every 2 minutes our host puts her head round the door and commands me to "eat more." Later on that evening, we are invited to drink Kava with some of the men of the villagers. Kava is made from powdered roots mixed with water, and the drinking of it is a big deal in Fiji. After a few bowls I am definately feeling a bit wibbly-wobbly, though it could have been the noodles.
Early the next day we head back to Nadi, and from there on to Lautoka to catch our boat to the islands. We are to stay in Waya Sewa, part of the Yasawa Group of Islands to the North West of Vitii Levu. The boat trip is truly horrible. The last time I spent such a horrendous 90 minutes was at Stamford Bridge.
The island is tiny, and consists of 3 villages. Many of the Fijian Islands are little more than expensive resorts, taken over by a hotel complex, charging huge prices, and promisiing an authentic Fiiji experience. By the pool. Now, I am not saying that what we did was better than visiting one of these islands. But it was. The resort of Waya Lailai is owned by the villagers. 10 years ago, there was no tourism on the island, and the villagers survived by travelling to the mainland and selling their crops and goods. Times were hard. Now, they have built a bunch of Bure's, 2 dorms, and cater all year round for the tourists. They offer diving courses, day trips around the island, snorkelling, trecking etc...and all the money goes straight back to the villagers. The results can be seen all around the island. New schools, churches and facilities are springing up in the villagers, It's good to know where our money goes.
We spend four days chilling out, meeting lots of world travellers like ourselves, reading, playing beach volleyball and rugby, getting slighty drunk on Fiji beer and soaking uo the sun, sun, sun. It's great. The people are seriously friendly, we enhance our tans, and do things like snorkelling on the reef (really, really beautiful.)
Friday. Time to go back to the mainland. We don't get to say goodbye properly, as the boat is about to go without us. We will miss Waya Sewa.
Next stop New Zealand