Don’t Walk Under the Coconut Trees
“When you get to Fiji, don’t walk under the coconut trees or you’ll pop your clogs.” This was the only advice given to me by my Kiwi friends and they were serious. Coconuts ripen, like any fruit, and when they fall, they do so from a very great height. Coconuts are heavy and dense and if they hit you on the head, they will kill you. “Pop your clogs” is like our “kick the bucket” in Kiwi. Tens of people, not just tourists, die each year from fatal coconut related incidents. It’s a helluva way to go, but like my friend Kristin says, it’s not actually a bad way to go, under a coconut tree on a warm, white sandy beach.
I left my new friends in Auckland on Tuesday morning and took the shuttle to the airport. It was just me for a while but then we picked up a couple in downtown Auckland so I got my city tour after all. There are over 30 extinct volcano’s in the city itself and its immediate surrounds, so it resembles San Francisco in topography and somewhat in architecture, with many old buildings right next to new ones. I actually would spend more time in this city next time I come.
A very cute couple got into the shuttle and said hello. The driver mentioned that they were on the same flight as me and the man introduced himself. “I’m Colum and this is Hannah” and we chatted the rest of the 20 minute drive to the airport. They were on an around the world trip for six weeks, and had just spent three days in Auckland. They would be in Fiji for a week, then LA, NY and back home. They had already been to Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and some other places I couldn’t remember. He looked older than Hannah and but I couldn’t tell if he was old enough to be her Dad so I didn’t ask if they were on their honeymoon or anything. When I was in my twenties, and Michael and I would eat out, the hostesses would say, “Where would you and your Dad like to sit?” and it simultaneously pissed him off yet made him proud that he’d caught a young one.
Hannah was very sweet but shy and Colum and I did most of the talking. I asked him what part of Scotland they were from and he told me Orkney. I knew exactly where that was because Michael and I took our last vacation in Scotland and were trying to figure out if we had time to go up to Orkney. They are beautiful islands in the North Sea above Scotland and you have to fly or take a ferry over. I was glad I’d spent time in Scotland, I had no trouble understanding Colum’s accent and loved listening to him talk.
He was in construction and spent a lot of time in southern England building hospitals and medical facilities and Hannah was a student. I was thinking father daughter now but still didn’t want to ask. We talked about their travels and mine, I told them I would be in Europe for a year and we talked about where I should go, how to get around and the time flew by. We got into the airport and said goodbye. After I got through security, I had over two hours until the flight left so I went to grab lunch. There sat Colum and Hannah, and Hannah quickly asked me if I wanted to sit with them and then she said, “This is my Dad, sometimes people aren’t sure.” Hmmm. The three of us spent the rest of the time together talking, finding our gate, waiting while the plane was delayed a little. It was wonderful, they were both so easy to talk to and I was so grateful to them for adopting me like that. Sitting alone at the airport is not as bad as eating alone but it’s not the greatest either. Before we got on the plane, Colum gave me his email address and I gave him one of my cards with my email and blog information. They told me to let them know when I was in Scotland, they would tell me what to see in Orkney. I love my life.
We arrived in Fiji about 7:40pm. We took stairs down from the plane onto the runway and walked toward the terminal, the air warm and damp, just like home. There were three men in skirts playing guitars and singing, greeting us, everyone saying “Bula”, welcome, with big smiles on their faces. Wow, I could get used to this. Colum and Hannah had a two hour drive to their resort, while I was staying in a hotel in town, so we waved goodbye in the tiny Nadi (pronounced nahn-dee, d’s have hidden n’s in front of them) airport.
Fiji consists of over 300 islands and I had just landed on Viti Levu, the biggest. The capital of Fiji, Suva, is on this island, but the International airport is in Nadi, and they are a three hour drive away from each other. I didn’t want to arrive at Kristin’s near midnight, so she had booked a room for me at a hotel near the airport. It was actually cheaper to fly to Suva, but my flight wasn’t until 2:30 the next day so I had all tomorrow morning to chill.
I couldn’t believe I was finally here, Kristin and I had been talking about this for nearly two years. She taught with me at Ocean Lakes until her husband got stationed in Suva, as the Defense Attache to the government of Fiji; he’s the prime minister’s US military advisor. She left Virginia Beach about a month before Michael died and after he passed, she wrote me and said “You really need to come here, it would be the perfect place to just relax and heal.” I couldn’t think about traveling that first summer, I was still so much in shock and fearful of going so far away alone. So I said how about the next summer and that was settled.
My hotel was everything I’d seen on movies. The lobby was open, no walls, and open walled stone walkways went off to the rooms. There were palm trees, ferns, flowers, vines, growing things of every variety everywhere I looked. A smiling gentleman took my bags to my room and I gave him all the coins in my purse, NZ and Fiji money all mixed together. I had changed my NZ money to Fiji money but only had fifties and that seemed a little high for a tip.
When I woke up the next morning, I saw that my room overlooked a golf course and mountains but I could see the ocean off in the distance. After my breakfast, I stayed in my room and worked on emails and then turned on the TV for the first time in over three weeks. There were Chinese stations, Fijian stations, New Zealand stations, lots of news on the English speaking stations, news which I had managed to avoid so far. I finally found a music station with a handsome young man with a beautiful voice playing the piano. The song had subtitles and it was a song of praise for Allah, absolutely mesmerizing. There were men, women and children of every color and race singing the refrain, their joy filled faces flashing for just a few seconds from one face to the next. I loved the song, it was so heartfelt and pure it almost made me cry. I couldn’t wait to hear the next one but this time it was an older man, traditional dress, voice not so beautiful and it felt more like the music you hear blaring from the towers when Muslim’s are called to prayer. I turned it off. One man singing praises from the heart, one man following the letter of the law, no joy at all on his face. It was amazing the difference in energy between them, the different message and feeling that was sent by each. I pray that there are more Muslims like the young piano player but fear that the ones like that old man are the ones with the power.
My flight to Suva was great, only about 25 minutes from start to finish, and I sat next to a young American college student from Long Beach. She was very outgoing and told me that she had been at a resort near Nadi studying sharks. She had done 18 dives among the sharks, this particular resort specializes in that. Now she was going to a much smaller island with a resort that specializes in general scuba diving on the reefs. She was looking forward to it because everyone that goes there goes for the diving, they all have that in common. It was a very basic place, sleeping in tents on platforms, community bathrooms, like fancy camping. What a great summer trip for her!
We arrived at Nausori Airport, even tinier than the one at Nadi, and there was Kristin waiting for me. We hugged and laughed and then she put a beautiful, complicated looking flower arrangement around my neck and said “Welcome to Fiji!!”