Being as most flights from the west coast of the states across the pacific travel overnight, we arrived bleary eyed and fuzzy around the edges at Nadi airport at the distinctly ungodly hour of 5:30am. We had naivly assumed that the unsociable hour would have meant that Nadi airport would be something of a graveyard, however much to our pleasant surprise, we were greeted off the plane by three Yukelale playing locals, singing to us and welcoming us to Fiji in a most cheery manner. Heartened by this clearly well rehearsed hospitality, we queued at passport control with tired smiles and happy hearts.
Airport security was slightly lacking though, which we realised when we ambled through customs control unnoticed, before realising we were still clutching our visa entry paperwork. We decided to help the laid-back staff out a touch by backtracking through security and nonchalantely handing the forms to the virtually asleep security official. We were going to like it here!
Tourism has apparently been slickened up in recent years in Fiji, especially with it now being on so many backpacker routes these days. This newfound professionalism was typified by the grinning chap waiting for us in arrivals to take us door-to-door to our hostel. No stress involved here, we thought, in stark contrast to the irritants we incurred getting in and out of the USA.
Unfortunately, our room at the Skylodge would not be ready for us for another 7 hours or so and, feeling too thrifty to part with any money to book a room on a "day rate" inbetween, we plopped our bags into storage, before adjourning to the side of the hostel pool to grab a nap while we waited to check in.
Later, safely ensconced in our room and feeling refreshed by our poolside 40 winks, we headed over to the hostel travel desk to solidify some onwards booking and travel arrangements. We ended up with six days in a couple of places in the Yasawa Island group, a four night stay in a tiny island called Nananu-i-ra off the northern coast of the mainland, climaxing with three nights on a place called Malolo Island off the west coast. A good mix of travelling, island hopping and general relaxation, we thought. Satisfied by this calendar, it was time for early dinner and off to bed.
We awoke eager to explore the nearby town of Nadi and see what it could offer a brace of pasty faced Brits by way of entertainment. Catching the local bus into town was a most entertaining activity, as we clambered onto the rickety structure, realising that to all intents and purposes, it had no sides to it. One bouncy, smoky trip later, we clambered off and made our way to the town centre.
To say that downtown Nadi is trying its best to capitalise on Fiji's new found tourist successes is quite the understatement. We were slightly let down (although in no way surprised) to realise that we became the focus of an irritating amount of attention from the local vendors who at first threw us with their polite and rambling technique to try and get you into their shop. The process usually began with an introduction, where were we from, and what did we think of Fiji so far. Our in-built "British-ness" precluded us from telling these earnest young chaps to bugger off, and we quickly found ourselves struggling to gain extraction from a number of distracting sales pitches, when all we wanted to do was explore in peace.
A couple of hours was all it took for us to get sick of the pestering and, after grabbing lunch in a very pleasant little cafe, we decided enough was enough, and more "by-the-pool-time" was neccessary. Back to the hostel it was. Still feeling quite active when we returned, we decided to have a go at table tennis and darts using the comlimentary facilities. It soon got a bit hot for even that limited amount of physical activity so we sweatily made our way to the bar to cool down with the local tipple, a not unpleasent lager rather ostentatiously known as Fiji Gold. For only the second time since we'd been away, Vickie was almost overwhelmed to realise that the purse strings were being loosened up just enough for her to enjoy a glass of white wine. Detox had proven difficult on her, and Dunc thought it only fair, being as she'd earlier saved us the best part of $45 by rummaging around in the hostel book exchange before returning with a big grin and a copy of the Rough Guide to New Zealand. This rather volumous tome would doubtless come in most handy for our travels ahead, and the discovery was all the sweeter when she pointed out that she had swapped it for a well thumbed copy of Jurassic Park, which we'd procured second hand in the first place. A wee tipple was definitely in order.
The Oarsmans Lodge
A grumbly early start later, and we were picked up by a coach and delivered to the nearby Denerau marina to board the awaiting Yasawa flyer, which would be our main form of transportation to the awaiting Nacula island. The flyer was quite a sight to behold. A 60 metre-ish, three story catamaran painted in a truly billious shade of yellow, which gave us the passing impression that we were boarding the world biggest floating bogie. Nontheless, our bags were carried to the vessel, and we took our place in the comfortable surroundings of the air-conditioned main deck for the four hour sail to our desination.
Within five minutes of leaving the marina, we were treated to a truly entertaining spectacle, when the crew strode to the front of the cabin before launching into possibly the most enthusiastic and animated safety demonstration either of us had ever had the pleasure to witness. They even went so far as to demonstrate jumping off the deck of the boat wearing a lifejacket, by springing forward several feet in our direction whilst holding their noses and placing their feet together in the correct technical manner before loudly blowing the life-jacket whistles, just to prove they work ok. The demonstration was delivered with such huge smiley commitment, a small part of both of us was partly willing the boat to sink, just so we could try out this clearly fun procedure. A rousing round of applause followed this suberbly unexpected piece of professionalism.
Allow us to briefly backtrack here for a second, to put something into context. When we first arrived at the airport, our driver informed us that Nadi had been without rain for the previous two months, and everything was looking rather parced because of it. Given our nationalities unique ability to seemingly conduct rain dances just by ambling down a street, we glanced at each other nervously.... was this a portent of doom, or were we being silly? Fast forward to us sat in the Yasawa Flyer. It had been frankly chucking it down all morning, seemingly getting heavier with each passing minute. This wasn't the tropical haven we'd seen in the brochures, what was going on? Before we had a chance to call the Fiji tourism board and complain about this unsatisfactory weather front, the anchor was lifted and we were on our way, all the time chuntering to ourselves about the ominous grey-ness of the skies above.
Along the way, we briefly stopped several times at different islands to allow passengers on and off the boat to get to their respective resorts. Due to the relative size of the Flyer and the shallowness of the waters, this little adventure was conducted via "Water Taxi", which is to say, a small boat with a big engine strapped to it was enthusiastically piloted out to us before rushing back to wherever it was headed, with pale tourists clinging on for all they were worth, and wondering if their life insurance was paid up.
When the flyer eventually pulled up in a bay surrounded by several resorts, we were greeted by a highly amusing sight, as a large fleet of water taxis suddenly emerged from everwhere and headed purposefully towards our boat, before hovering around it like a bunch of aquatic flies around a large yellow piece of trash. Seeing tourists attempting to hop on and off of these tiny vessels whilst maintaining a shred of dignity kept us amused for several long minutes before we realised it was our turn.
Island destination number one was to be the Oarsmans lodge, and pulling up to it was in itself an experience to remember. To say this place was a little piece of paradise is doing it a disservice of some proportions. The scalloped, powder soft white beach was being gently licked by a crystal clear azure sea, and once we'd eventually managed to peel our eyes away from the scenery, we noticed that we were being "sung" into the resort by a large group of fijians with various instruments. They sang a couple of verses of a doubtless tradtional song before ending it with a hearty "Bula!" (The Fijian multi-purpose word for "Hello", "How are you?", "Alright mate?" and any number of other variations).
Eventually, the sun deigned it suitable to make an appearance, and we wasted no time after checking into our cosy wooden Bure - A Fijian beach hut - before heading to the beach. But first a moment on the Bure. It was a lovely, cosy little domicile, full of rustic charms such as the toilet only having a badly fitting curtain for a door, which neccessitated one of us to go for a stroll along the beach whenever the other one had to "Contemplate the events of the day" (as it were). Vickie was also most impressed by the abundance of flowers liberally scattered all over the room, albeit slightly less impressed by the fact that they seemed to be attracting a large volume of ants. It was indeed a glorious place to be.
Dunc rapidly took root in a sun-lounger to soak up some rays, while Vickie busied herself with wandering up and down the shoreline bare-footed, pausing regularly to giggle to herself and shout back to Dunc about how wonderful the sand felt underfoot, and how she wanted to take some home with her.
Our new found happiness was very briefly interrupted for a short, but notable second, when Vickie returned from a toilet trip ashen-faced and pointing at her chest. It seemed she'd grown another mole, possibly due to our previous sunbathing. She glanced fearfully at Dunc and explained the situation, before briefly poking at said mole. Just as Dunc was getting out of his seat and working out medical plans, she returned his gaze with a sheepish grin, as she realised that this previously unaccounted for skin-blemish, was nothing more malignant than a piece of the Chocolate bar she'd been filling her face with on the boat trip over, and cack-handedly dropped down her top without her realising. Dunc flopped to his seat having aged a good thirty years, as Vickie flicked off the sweetmeat and chuckled her way back into the sea.
Unfortunately, our new found island bliss was a touch too fleeting, as before too long, the rains started up again, forcing us to seek shelter in front of our Bure. As the rains carried on, we were soon joined by a friend. One of the local dogs had decided that we were suitable companions with which to weather the passing precipitation, and flopped down at our feet before falling into some sort of canine coma. This was all fine and dandy up to a point, but as pet owners will testify, the smell of wet dog is never a pleasent one, and he soon began to attract several flies.
Just as we were beginning to tire of his presence, we were joined by his slightly mangier looking mate, who looked as though he'd had a little too much of the Kava (a fearsome local beverage made from peppers, mixed in a washing up bowl with an old dishcloth and said to contain mild narcotic properties). This led to a moderately entertaining, if frustrating hour or so where we invented a new game, affectionately titled "Swat the dog". These pesky mutts were clearly both stoned and stubborn, and we were having to think of ever more ingineous methods to attempt to dispatch with their company as all the traditional methods of clapping and saying "shoo!" loudly only resulted in a brief lift of the head, a puff of the lips and complete ignorance.
Eventually, a combination of batting them with a half empty water bottle, flapping our towels and accidentally kicking sand all over them, resulted in their slow and reluctant departure. This would not be our first encounter with the local mutts as they'd clearly and strangely decided we were actually rather pleasent company.
Dinner time beckoned, and we were summoned to the "restaurant" by means of a man battering the hell out of a large hollow log with a couple of sticks. Easily the most characterful dinner bell either of us had heard for some time. It was "small world" time as we sat opposite a very pleasent chap from, of all places, Chester. Not only this, but incredibly, he was quite familiar with Bangor-on-Dee. This impressed Vickie immensly that this fellow knew the tiny village of her origin, as Dunc jokingly commented that he'd been there several times and had still never heard of it.
Post dinner entertainment took the form of an International night, which became a forum for some dreadful renditions of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot", "The Star spangled banner" - Which brilliantly precluded a heartfelt apology from the American performers for the shortcomings of their President, something that we'd both noticed just about all American travellers we'd met so far on our trip felt oddly compelled to do - and a slightly insane Swedish chap called Frank enthusiastically telling some dreadful jokes but still managing to raise a giggle by making up for the lack of humour with the animated and vocal nature of his delivery. It has to be said that the Fijians stole the show though, when they surreptitiously produced a large Fijian flag, before lanuching into a (well rehearsed, we suspected) rendition of their national anthem... the title was theirs (even if they did briefly lose points for artistic merit by holding their flag upside-down for the best part of the first verse).
Fortunately for our collective frame of mind, the sun was out in force the following morning, so we positively sprung the 20 feet from the Bure and onto the beach. Vickie tried her hand at snorkelling for only the second time ever, and was rapidly getting over any trepidation, replacing it with fascination as she and Dunc prowled the edges of the offshore coral reefs and gave the fish a good old investigation. During our underwater adventuring, Dunc spotted a sea snake, and began gesticulating wildy to Vickie to come see. Impressive though that sounds initially, the snake had clearly just had lunch and was having a watery siesta as he was doing absolutely nothing of note other than making Dunc tired with all the frantic arm waving.
We returned to the beach to dry out, and had not been there long when we were greeted by yet another of the local dogs. This one really looked like he'd had a rough night, as he stumbled towards us, before sitting himself right next to Dunc and using him as an impromptu leaning-post. It was like a surreal cross between Lassie and TrainSpotting, and you could almost hear the script being played out.
"Whats that boy? Timmie's fallen down the well?".
"Erm... yeah... i think... he's.... erm...".
"Well where is he boy?".
"He's... erm... over.... hey, are you hungry? Fancy some chocolate hobnobs and a pot noodle instead?... whoah.... my paws are huuuuge!".
This creature was becoming midly tiring, so we left him slouched in the sand and headed back out for some more snorkelling, spotting another wealth of tropical, brightly coloured marine-life and a rather chunky looking, if dissapointingly shy and inactive octopus.
A slightly excessive amount of time in the sun brought about a touch of "pinkage" to Duncs usually pale form, neccessating some serious "shade time" the following day. Vickie however, kept up the sun soaking with vigour, only reluctantly leaving the beach when meals were called or the rain briefly made an appearance. All too soon, our two days at the Oarsmans were up, and we had to jump onto one of "Joes water taxis" for our trip across the island to our second stop, Safe Landing Resort.
As we disembarked the boat onto the sun kissed beach, we were mildly dissapointed not to have recieved the same musical welcome as we'd had at Oarsmans, but nontheless Vickie was impressed to be lifted out of the back of the boat, firemen-style by a chunky looking local in order to save her feet getting wet. Safe Landing wasn't run with the same western-style slickness that had graced the Oarsmans, and had a much more haphazard, unplanned feel to it. It was still blessed with its own particular charm though, especially as we surveyed the glorious palm tree lined beach not more than 10 feet from our Bure.
A most satisfactory day spent on the beach was brought to a close with us joining a very nice Kiwi couple called Richard and Renee for post dinner Gin and Tonics right on the waters edge. The evening wore on as the drink was taken in ever more heroic measures, and the constellations we were picking out in the breathtakingly clear and starry night sky took on ever more unlikely names and descriptions. We spent several happy hours talking about increasingly irrelevant and amusing conversational topics, only being interrupted when one person would suddenly shriek that they'd seen a shooting star, causing the rest of the group to briefly pause whilst staring open mouthed (and possibly slightly dribbly) at the now calm sky. Life was good, and at one point, Dunc broke a rare silence by casually remarking that, if he was any more relaxed, he'd probably lose bladder control - causing Vickie to screw up her nose and pass comment that she'd never fancied him more.
A slightly disturbing consequence of the relaxed and informal atmosphere reared its mildly embarrasing head the morning after, when the door to our "Private" Bure was opened unannounced on two separate occasions one morning when we had decided to lie in (the gin from last night playing a substational part in this new found keenness to avoid getting up). Each time we blearily acknowledged the transgressor - One of the local housekeeping ladies who was clearly not the sharpest tool in the box - with an emphatic "We're still in bed!", before she sheepishly closed the door behind us, before neglecting to clean our Bure for the remainder of our time there (one can only charitably assume this was to avoid any embarrassment, rather than sheer bone-idleness).
Fortunately, the afternoon brought more agreeable pursuits as we boarded a water taxi and headed over to the world famous Blue Lagoon. Although chiefly made famous for having a naked Brooke Shields prance up and down its sandy beach in slow motion, it actually turned out to be a most idyllic spot. We decided that a place as beautiful as this shouldn't go uncelebrated, and joined our new found Kiwi friends at the bar for a round of most refreshing (and pretty potent as Vickie's light head and soon to be newfound snorkelling courage would testify) cocktails. Suitably embibed, we headed for the highly inviting Blue Lagoon waters.
Vickie was having a fine old time, and was spotting a multitude of fat blue starfish, sea cucumbers and other exotic sea creatures. Dunc unfortunately was learning that a weeks worth of stubble growth does not aid the water tight seal of a snorkel mask, and was having to resurface every couple of seconds as the briny fluid kept making a concerted bid to travel up his sinuses. We were having a rare time, and even ventured out to the coral reef drop off to see if there were any bigger fish in the area, especially once rumours surfaced that a reef shark had been spotted earlier by another person in our party. Before we realised how long we'd been at sea, we were called in as our boat was making the trip back to our island. The trip back contained much arm waving and descriptions of creatures sighted, and we rapidly took on the air of a couple of competing salty old sea dogs comparing the ones that got away.
Vickie's new found willingness to experiment with sea based activies was further borne out when, on our return, we decided to jump into a couple of the resorts kayaks and go for a paddle around the bay. Dunc was briefly hesitent, being as he'd been rather unceremouniously dumped in the drink on a kayak outing the previous day. He'd been idly looking over the side of the boat at some rather active fish, when before he realised it, his puny vessel was sideswiped by a rouge swell of at least 20 feet. He was catapaulted several feet from the kayak, and had to struggle against the raging surf to right his vessel, all the time having to beat off inquisitive reef sharks with his paddle and simultaniously avoid being lashed against the cruel, unforgiving rocks on the shore. To the grinning spectators on the beach, it looked rather more like he simply toppled over the side of the boat in a clumsy slow motion - Rather like those Grandmas who fall over on dance floors at weddings after a touch too much dry sherry - before ungracefully spending several minutes hauling himself back onto the boat like a novice horse rider. Still, that was his story and he is sticking to it to this day.
The following day came, and it was time to say au revoir to our Kiwi friends, but not before we had exchanged details and been promised a couple of nights stay with them, including full use of washing facilities and a steak dinner thrown in for good measure. We kept their contact details very safe! Not only that, but they left us the remainder of the Gin and Tonic we'd been attacking a couple of nights before hand, providing us with a rather agreeable excuse to partake in a sundowner drink.
Before then, however, we decided to revisit the Oarsmans, which was an hour trek across the island through Jungle and mangrove swamps, and across beaches. Our scenic, if slightly sweaty walk was made worthwhile by the abundance of interesting little creatures we stumbled across, including copious land crabs and little skinks with bright blue tails. Eventually, when the trees parted, we were once again greeted by the magnificant tranquility of the Oarsmans beach. Feeling slightly green that we weren't still there, we spent the morning reaquainting ourselves with the staff and the stoned dogs, and partook in some more snorkelling before trudging back rather reluctantly.
On the way back we noticed a couple of interesting things. First up, many of the men seem to casually wander about the island brandishing rather intimidating looking machettes while announcing a hearty "Bula!" to you before waving said implements of torture casually in the air. Secondly, we discovered that falling coconuts are highly dangerous objects. We noticed this second point when casually strolling back to our Bure. We jumped close on 6 feet in the air when, not more than a few feet away from our surprised forms, a couple of coconuts the size of footballs scudded into the sand with the force of something out of a Bruce Willis distaster movie. Moving over to inspect the wreckage, we counted our blessings and decided to be highly judicious in our choice of hammocks and general resting spots from now on.
At the end of the bay we were situated in was a rocky point that provided a fabulous view of the setting sun. We had taken several pictures the evening before, but decided this time to head up there with our Gin and Tonics, and not take any pictures. This would be just our sunset. The tranquil mood was slightly undone early in proceedings when the barman, in a sudden and rare burst of soberiety, chased us up the hill after noticing that we'd procured a couple of glasses from the newly laid table in the dining area. Given that this was the only time since we'd been there that he'd been capable of any form of coherent speech or movement, we waved his protestations away, and, listening to him grumble his way back to his bar, settled in to watch the sunset.
And what a fine time it was. As the sun lazily sank behind the pacific horizon, we sat together drinking Gin and Tonics, and talking closely about everything and nothing. The day was slowly drawing to a close, and we couldn't have been happier.
Let us digress here slightly for a second to discuss the topic of drinking water. All throughout our time at Safe Landing, we had been provided with large jugs of fresh Fijian rainwater to go with our meals. Vickie had been turning her nose up at this offering, each day, instead preferring to tuck into the (very expensive) bottled water purchased at the bar. Dunc really couldn't understand her issues as the water was clear and tasted good. However, dinner on our third night was to provide a spectacle that would change not just our minds, but the minds of everyone on our table. Dunc had already downed one glass, and the issue of why exactly did Vickie have a problem with it when bottled water cost so much was being raised. Just as he was about to tuck into a second helping, Vickie began eyeing his glass with beady suspicion, before announcing to the assembled table that there were little fish swimming in it. Upon closer inspection, she was clearly correct. There were several small animals jerking and convulsing their way around Duncs glass, perfectly happy in their wet little world. Dunc blanched at the sight, and passed his glass around the table for everyone to see. A helpful Australian chap then pointed out that these little fellows were, in fact, Silverfish. He then went on to point out that they are not particularly nice to have swimming around inside you, and that they only reside in slightly stagnant water. Feeling both sickened by the sight, and glad that he'd managed half of a cholera innoculation prior to our trip, Dunc vowed to only drink the bottled water from now on, and hang the expense. Vickie meanwhile, couldn't even be bothered to hide the smugness from her face, and positively revelled in telling everyone that she had told them all so anyway.
The following day we decided to busy ourselves by feeding some of the plentiful fish that surround the bay before the gaudy Yasawa flyer came to pick us up and return us to the mainland. A mirthfull few minutes were spent at this activity, and Vickie in particular seemed to revel in dropping bits of bread around Duncs ankles, causing shoals of over-excited brine-dwellers to bump their heads surprisingly fiercely into his shins, causing merriment and consternation in equal measure before the bread ran out and the fishes interest in us waned. Vickie then returned to the sunbed to dry off, while Dunc amused himself by teasing the small land crabs inhabiting the beach, casually wandering in their direction which sent them scattering to their holes, before filling said holes in and watching them feverishly excavate themselves before rushing to the relative safety of the sea.