My mood leaving Australia was a black one (though the extent of this foul mood was unknown to me at the time). Leaving Australia in general and Sydney in particular was harder on me than I expected it to be. I've always wanted to come to Australia and had been planning this trip for so long that the beginning of the end was beginning to take it's toll..
I got my first glimpse of mood as reflected back to me by those in my company when I departed the bus I took from the airport to the marina where I was to catch the ferry to Castaway Island. The ride over was uneventful and short and I spent it chatting with two couples from Australia who were on holiday. After I got off the bus and it was departing one of the other passengers on the bus began tapping on the window. I didn't notice but someone else did and they alerted me that someone on the bus wanted my attention. When I looked back the person on the bus was flipping me the bird (giving me the finger) and with both hands to boot.
Not sure what I did to deserve that nor what his beef was but he was obviously he was upset (and a pussy for waiting until the bus pulled away). I vowed not to dwell on this or to let it negatively impact me or my time in Fiji. So after a few minutes I stopped thinking about it after coming to no conclusions on what I might have done to get him angry. Upon hindsight I realize that while I did not do anything I had been giving off a edgy vibe the entire day and this was just one of the responses to my vibe.
The other indication that I was in a bad way when I landed in Fiji was when I arrived back at the airport on the way out.. There was a luggage restriction on the seaplane I was to take on the way back to Nadi from Castaway Island and I was over the limit. The girls in the tour office offered to let me keep a bag in their office. When I went back to get it they said "you look great, very relaxed and happy. TOTALLY different than when you were here last time." We had a big laugh at this and then another one when I told them the big bird story.
My time at Castaway Island was mostly uneventful. Each of my three days I did and activity or two and then spent the rest of the day reading at the pool. The activities I did were water skiing (highlight was crashing while attempting to get up on one, losing both contacts, finding them on my cheeks and inserting them while in the water!), snorkeling (absolutely amazing fish and coral and underwater life - as good or better than the Great Barrier Reef), scuba lessons (I did very well as was complemented by the instructor but I did not like it - the weight on my shoulders and waist was very disconcerting) and catamaran lessons (lots of fun and was best when I asked the instructor to take the controls and make us go fast!).
Each night at sunset I went to the outside lounge for drinks and sunset watching. This was really fun because most people on the island stopped by for a drink and it was very social. The sunsets were amazing. The first was the real deal with the big ball of fire dropping into the ocean. The next two days were obscured with clouds but the colors were amazing.
Another really amazing event that occurred each night is feeding time. Just before and just after sunset the reef sharks, barracuda and other predator fish come in very shallow and feast on the sardine schools. When this occurs it looks the water is boiling and spreading over the surface. This boiling is due to the sardines all scurrying away from the predators by jumping out of the water. Each series of boiling ripples is concluded with a splash as the predator fish jumps to catch the prey and return to the water. Each of these occurrences last about 5 - 10 seconds (just long enough to get your camera out and get yourself to the edge of the balcony but not really long enough to get a good picture!). Sometimes there are 3 or 4 going on at a time and just at sunset they re-occur very frequently. The local people say of this "big fish eat little fish, that's the way it is") and I guess that sums it up pretty well.
Each night sat the Sundowner Bar and Terrace I met people and shared a drink and travel tales. One of the couples I met were friends with the owner of the resort. He showed up the next day and we had drinks and dinner with him. He is a very wealth man and had wonderful stories about the island and the re-building of the resort. The best story he told was of the four month ordeal he went through in advance of a one day visit by Prince Charles (who they were not allowed to call him as anything other than "the principal."). The best part of the story was when Chuck, as down under people refer to him as, asked one of the native chiefs (who are the "traditional owners of the land") who was greeting him if the resort owner paid his rent on time!
One of the things you experience in Fiji is a phenomena referred to as Fiji time. Fiji time is very, very, very slow. No one rushes on Fiji and posted time tables and signs are really for show as they rarely get adhered to. On other islands I've been to this can be very frustrating it takes forever to get anything done. On Fiji they tell you about Fiji time and have a big smile and laugh. By acknowledging it, at least for me, everyone is enrolled in the way it is going to be and so no one gets frustrated.
One of the best Fiji-time stories was told to me by Mike, the husband in one of the couples I met and the best friend of the owner. On Mike's first time in Fiji he decide to go fishing. He dutifully went to bed early and showed up at the dock at 6 am. No one was there. After an hour some one showed up and my friend asked him about the fishing. The reply was "no fishing today, fish tomorrow." The next day Mike repeated the process and arrived at the dock at 6 am again. At 7 another person showed up and gave him the same response to his inquiry about fishing "no fishing today, fish tomorrow). The next day Mike gets to the dock at 6 am to find no one there again. At 6:15 someone showed up and told him "yes, fishing today but they left already because fishing good today."
The other Fiji story was told by Geoffrey Shaw the resort owner. He told us that he used to own and run one of the island cruises and had had a number of Fiji time experiences. The most telling one was that he would stared each cruise with a crew of 30. After the first week the crew was generally down to 15 because people would either jump off as they passed an island that had friends of theirs or would simply not return from shore leave. He had to start hiring more people than he needed in the hopes of maintaining enough of a view to finish the cruise!!
On my last day in the island I decided to walk around the island as far as I could. During low tide you can make it on the beach with minimal rocks or climbing. At high tide, which it was, you get forced to scramble over lots of rocks and so I didn't make it all the way round. I did however find the actual raft from the Tom Hank's movie Castaway. The island across the way was where it was filmed but the cast and crew stayed on this island and thus the name. I took lots of pictures of the raft and it was really disappointing due to the damage of people climbing on it over the years. From a distance it looked great but up close you can see the nuts and bolts holding it together and can see that the logs were pipes painted and covered to look like wood. It was still cool to see and I've got a picture of me sitting on it so that's special.
The island itself is really small; with the circumference being less than 4 Km and the inhabited part very condensed on the north eastern tip. Every building is open air including the eating halls, registration / office and boat house. The places in which guests stay are referred to as bure and are small huts with thatched roofs and very rustic furniture. No phones or clocks anywhere. The owners is even trying to pay Vodahpone to stop cell phone coverage of the island.
The island people are very warm and naturally giving and hospitable. They generally speak English well enough to get buy and will do what ever you ask them to. The Fiji greeting is "bullah" which is used in many ways with inflection determining meaning. The other key word is "vanacka" which seems to be yes, thank you, your welcome and please. Again, situation and inflection determining meaning.
Fiji is exotic and mysterious to us but to Aussies and Kiwis it is just where you go on vacation. Like Florida to us. The place was crawling with them and had very few people of other nationalities. A handful of Americans at best and as far as I could tell no Japanese people.
They did not know what to make of me as I was the only single person they could recall having as a guest in a long time. I got a big laugh when an older woman who dinners (which were amazing!) asked me if I was alone, to which I winked and asked that depends, are you interested?" It took her a minute to translate this mentally and then she smiled broadly and laughed. I knew she has told the other women who worked there because I heard the squeal of laughter followed by 3 or 4 waitresses coming over to check on me in a 10 minute span.
Checking out was a bummer because I was really just hitting my stride and finding Fiji time. That said, I am ready to be home and to see what comes next for me. Plus, I was flying out on a seaplane and that was exciting to me. My friends and the owner said they would be at the shore to see me off and to give me the finger as I left (they liked my story as well) but 10:30 is right in the middle of activities so they were not there (and I was not really expecting them).
The seaplane itself was totally cool. Really small and loud (even with the headphones on) and only flew at 500 feet. Seaplanes need to bounce on the waves as they take off in order to break the surface tension. This was bit rough but Gary seemed like a competent pilot and I was not worried. The ride took 15 minutes and afforded too many excellent views to describe. I took about 20 plus pictures and so hopefully some of this will be visible. The landing was really cool as usually in a place you only get to see out the side window. Seeing a landing from the front view was a new and neat perspective.