so here we are.
half past 2 in the morning 3 in the morning. half past 4 in the morning (yes faithless insomnia reference)
tannoy: "you may now collect your bags and proceed to your hotels"
confirming without ever actually saying that flight FJ253 to Apia has been cancelled.
it looked sure to leave, planes were rumbling overhead all day and the flight to LA went out at midnight
i used up my fiji dollars on snacks and souvenirs in the airport shops to get rid of the cash
but have now had to cash a travellers cheque to get money to use the motel laundry
ironically finding the required $5 whilst checking shorts pockets.
so now i have $80 to burn, but the hotel and food is already paid for by the airline.
just had a shave after nearly 2 weeks. first had to tape together my razor which had become the latest thing to disintegrate in my bag
ok now will try to think back a bit and go in chronological order.
starting with return from mamanuca islands, cos i think i wrote about those already
free night in bamboo hostel. its practically free anyway at $12 (4GP) including breakfast and free wifi
they make their money on food, beer, and funneling backpackers to their other owned and partner resorts (which are somewhat more costly)
paying an extra $3 gets you a nice mattress and aircon.
so it was off to the north, "go north combo", consisting of a day on ferry, 3 nights in taveuni (tavanunu? guest house), 4 nights maqui eco resort on gamea
initially confusing pronunciations here
d is pronounced nd, so nadi is said nandi
qu is pronounced ng, so maqui is said mangi,
death defying mini van ride from nandi to suva, 3 hours of overtaking on blind bends in hot hot heat,
with only the breeze from the open window to cool the 10 of us, luggage and surfboards wedged into the little van
i left what seemed like 2 bags full of unneeded luggage behind at bamboo hostel to lighten the load, but i think ended up just redistributing the heavy stuff into one bag.
a useful lesson in what is superfluous. i would ditch a load of stuff now if it wasn't for feeling so close to going home that it seems worth lumping it a bit longer.
and the rumours that australia is cold, worst summer in decades
so on the bus ride passing numerous high walled resorts, shut off from the real world like they could be anywhere,
perculating between local villages. in some cases requiring or containing a local village just to supply the labour.
a few hours in suva before the ferry sails, passing a crazy bus depot full of ancient colourful buses, schoolkids, old people
the open market full of fresh fruit and veg, all stalls essentially the same
some food stalls with awesome $1 roti and samosas, and cakes (i got coconut sponge, massive filling chunk but feels weird on the teeth!!)
past the fish market, currently empty, but allegedly overflowing in the mornings
and into an air conditioned western style mall, up escalotors to an american style food court.
saving grace is no multinational fast food chains in it. however, mcdonalds is in town with big restaurant
someone told me that here (or was it samoa?) mcdonalds is seen as a special treat. horrible example of how pacific peoples are being sucked into desiring all that "american dream" disposable crap, when their local stuff (especially food) is better and cheaper
i got a chicken chow mein (which i've been eating a lot recently).
onto the ferry. it's a new ferry to fiji, recently sailed down from canada where it has served many years for BC ferries.
However, the locals say its a wonderful improvement, and glancing around at the other shipping in suva harbour i can believe that.
arriving at 5, due to sail at 6, departed 7.30 i think. that's what you call FIJI TIME. things happen when theyre ready.
but that is the culture, so no one cares if you turn up half an hour late, no worries.
the ferry contains a double decker car deck, a lounge deck, a cafe and an absurd amount of crew only areas.
difficult to say if there are more passengers than seats because there's a large 1st class section which looks pretty deserted.
i spend the evening up on the rear deck, getting to know some of the people i'm spending the week with:
Barbara, a 22ish german lass who is learning to surf before starting teacher training back home
Cillian, a 26yr old irish auditor who is like me taking a year off for starters, but unlike me has a long term lawyer girlfriend and has already had several other exciting long holidays and diving history.
Gemma ruddock, 27yr old lass from near middlesbrough, youth development worker, has spent a month or so hanging around samoa with this company before
Chris, 37, miami, a marine biologist with thousands of dives under his belt cos he does it for a living. he loves getting involved and nature spotting. unfortunately for him, he's travelling with
Kim, age unknown, new york, a nurse with obsessive dieting habits, and clearly used to more comfortable and predictable surroundings. at one point she said "really, i don't have DIVA stamped on my forehead". no, it wouldn't be necessary. high maintainence, highly strung, etc
erica and ? two austrian girls who had a different itinerary
alex, allegedly 37 but looking much younger, brazil, and inga? irina?, celebrating 23rd birthday, dutch girl. a highly romantically involved couple!
konsta? a russian backpacker with his elderly father. konsta looking exactly like a russian version of that group leader from camp
and Pa, our local guide, well, holiday rep.
everyone is lying down on deck for a warm night under the starry cloudless sky
i wake up at midnight to find theyve all gone inside due to a light drizzle
walking inside is an eerie experience - prone bodies cover every surface, floors, tables, chairs. no space.
people sleeping under the "no sleeping in corridors" signs. i'd love to take photos but dont dare, theres plenty of grumpy not asleep locals around also.
in the main lounge a large tv plays dvds of the worst films ever conceived. blaring machine gun fire at 2am whilst everyone tries to sleep.
i go back on deck, this time to the front of the boat and grab a few hours more rest, not entirely sleep due to the hourly painful awakening as another body part has enough of the steel mattress.
finally it starts raining properly and i head back inside to find some floor space.
docking in suvasuva, offloading half passengers, then on to taveuni
here we get the first indication of how annoying kim will be, as we wait in the hot bus to set off
tuvununu guest house is pretty nice, hammocks overlooking an inviting strait.
but we can't go swimming! the village chief just died, and the water is tapu for 100 days. no one can fish or swim there.
so we have to go down the coast a bit for a swim. its rubbish anyway, loads of sea grass. chris finds a baby pufferfish so small you can't see it, and then runs around looking for parrots in an amusing fashion.
evening of volleyball and kava. i'm cajoled to play guitar and sing having earlier admitted to playing, but refuse saying i will tomorrow. and they hold me to that.
next day, off to see some waterfalls, a nice trek through the rainforesty jungle, freshwater crabs underfoot and in the trees.
3 idyllic waterfalls, jumping off the top into deep fresh pools. nice. i don;t land very gracefully though and i think i twisted my knee a bit.
more kava. its a different sort of drunk, and different sort of hangover. you don't get hyper like boozing, and not spaced out like getting stoned, just subtley chilled out and drowsy dreamy
its pretty much the national pastime, i even saw a tv advert for i can't remember what, where the "lads" were sat around the kava bowl.
i guess they don't have american tv on satellite yet which is good. i think theyd get addicted to x factor and stuff instead of playing songs themselves
these islands don't have mains electric, each place has its own diesel generator which they turn on for the evening and theres a mad rush to charge camera batteries and check emails. later its candlelight. its nice.
day 3? snorkelling trip to so called "honeymoon island". i'm losing count of islands with this name. this one isn't big or spectacular particularly
me, cillian and gemma walk around the perimeter, slowed down by uneven volcanic rocks and some very angry birds, protecting eggs gemma finds half way round.
these birds are swooping in within a foot or two of our heads.
the coral is pretty nice, colourful, usual fish. saw an eel exposed in a rockpool which is unusual.
really strong current around the island, made it very hard work to get back round.
and it rained which wasnt a problem comfort wise but ruined visibility.
then we sat on the beach annoying hermit crabs and throwing rocks at the birds.
billy our local guide found a coconut, smashed it open and we had a snack.
out in the bay, a spear fisherman was futily trying to alert his mates in the boat that he'd caught a pretty big fish. we could see it from a couple of hundred metres away.
next day its off to maquai eco resort on gamea (not sure how thats spelt)
this was a 25 minute speedboat ride, which we shared with our dinner (frozen chickens and rice) and various other provisions including chairs, rakes and toilet seats.
the resort turned out to be on an isolated beach, hemmed in by reef and jungle.
very idyllic and cut off from the world. lots of hammocks, and a swing over the ocean on a convenient bendy palm tree.
evening crab racing, ping pong with dodgy lighting and broken balls, more kava and guitars, although only one out of four guitars had 6 strings, the others sharing 6 between them.
snorkelling very good here, a big drop off with lots of coral and a range of the usual fish.
one day we were taken out by boat to the outer reef, which had some different fish including cornet/trumpet fish, and a couple of white tip reef sharks.
fair bit of dead coral though.
sunday i went with gemma and kim to the local village to see their church service and have a look round.
church was very badly attended, probably about 10 adults and 20 kids. the service started with us having to introduce ourselves and them apologising that the service would all be in fijian.
no problem there, but sadly they only sang one song, which was good so a shame just the one.
it was reallllly hot and stuffy there though, when we stood up after i had probably the worst head rush of my life, i thought i would faint.
also somewhere on this trip i lost my penknife. i KNEW i should have taken it out of my pocket before leaving the resort dammit.
the village gemma described as cute which doesn't seem tthe right word but definitely picturesque. very tidy, mown grass!
these people really dont stress, they have plenty of fish in the sea and fruit all year round in the trees. most people were sitting around their houses cooking.
we were given some fizzy cold drinks and sat on a table, which suddenly erupted as two dogs started fighting right under kim's legs. hilarious!
then we walked over to the school, which looked well kitted out. gemma arranged to work there after we left.
and then much reading in hammocks and snorkelling and kava. and listening to chris moaning about kim being so self centred that she couldn't enjoy sex. which she wasn't providing despite him paying for most of the trip and demanding his attention all day.
i read Money by Martin Amis, a book about a man who indulges (over indulges) vices all day and night whilst being conned.
then holes, that book about a kid at juvenile prison digging holes in the desert with its parallel history etc, short but good. i think i read that before at home
and robert ludlems bourne supremacy, which contains a lot of hard to swallow plot twists and action, and stuff missed out of the movies.
and the loneliness of the long distance runner (alan stiltoe?) i liked these short stories of 80's working class mainly because of identifying the nottingham settings.
then the speedboat, minivan, ferry back to the mainland. a few hours in suva failing to find penknives, and sorting out my visa interview in an internet cafe, then finding a local bus down the coral coast
recommended to stay at beachouse, which is billed as a backpacker resort. certainly seemed that way, apparently they filmed celebrity love island or some other reality shit here. anyway, it was cloudy and rainy and full of a tour group of american kids,
which wasn't entirely what i had in mind. dinner menu was expensive so i walked to the villages either side to look for some food
to the west 10 minutes there was just a roadside fruit stall, and a rugby match in the rain. i didn't dare wander deeper into the village, aside from the main road they turn into higgeldy piggeldy pathways and houses.
so i rejected the fruit stand which i later regretted, (all local food stalls are insanely cheap) and headed to the other village to the east
in this village i asked the locals chatting near the road if there was any food available (i was thinking of roti and cake) and they led me to a shack which turned out to be a shop
but not much in the shop, mainly packaged goods and potatoes. so i just bought cookies to be polite and walked back to beachouse via the beach.
the beach walk afforded some interesting rocks.
i then rolled up some of the dubious looking fijian weed and hit the beach hammocks. it wasn't very potent stuff, but enough to enjoy the movie "how high"
next day i caught a local bus to sandigaki???? 20km west, a bustly market town with large indian population.
then i walked along the sugar can railway tracks to an historic hill fort
the railway is interrupted at the river where the bridge evidently collapsed, leaving bent tracks diving towards the water like a theme park ride.
so the track walk soon became impassible with undergrowth and i had to defer to the adjacent road.
the fort was interesting, a bored sounding girl called Mary gave me a tour, reciting a speech at each point of interest with all the enthusiasm of a tape recorder
great position for a fort, high above a bend in the river.
most enduring image being the killing stones, carfully arrange for decapitation and easy draining of blood.
the chief would get the brains and heart for wisdom, the warriors get the arms for strength, etc, eating each part to inherit the previous owners powers. a bit like the highlander. but with eating people.
my feet were hurting so i hitched a ride back to town in the back of a pickup truck. well, for $1 - thats the bus fare but buses are so rare that any motorist will act the bus.
now i made my mistake, walking to the sand dunes national park, alleged must see attraction. it looked close on the map but felt like 2 or three miles away in fact.
and i can tell, you, if youve seen a sand dune previously in your life, it wasn't exciting in the least. most of the sand is covered in vegetation to diminish the sand duneyness further. a bleak beach with big rollers coming in and lots of bleached wood washed up on the shore saved some drama.
several days later (in samoa) the blisters have nearly healed. (not quite)
now i needed to get back to beachouse to get my bags, and take the last bus to nandi for the night, do some laundry and catch my flight next day
couldn't find a bus or minivan labelled to suva. bought a bag of passionfruit.
so i started walking, thinking one would come past soon, it seemed like all day i'd been rejecting and waving away passing taxis and minibuses.
but now (6pm?) nothing was stopping. as i passed some roadworkers they offered to help get me a ride, and 10 minutes later i was climbing into a big red artic lorry cab. lol
got back to beachouse, woke up cillian, had a beer, caught the last bus to nandi
arrived back at bamboo at 9pm, just before the storm...
power goes out. candles appear, no worries
water goes out. have prudently stocked up on bottled water, and abundant rainwater for toilet flushing and showering
next day. i have nothing to do but wait. flight due at around 9pm.
other people due earlier. news and rumours fly, all flights cancelled, airport closed, road under 5 feet of water
but then hearing jet engine rumble overhead, whats true?
spend ages hanging around the office, on hold on phone to air pacific, swiss girls get through but then phone line goes dead.
trying to get 3g internet on a locals blackberry but no conclusive info
its already getting dark. russian max appears, he's walked to nadi with his camera. the flooding is real and severe.
all us flight watchers tramp to smugglers cove, the neigbouring upmarket hotel - theyve heard from a friend at the airport, no more flights.
i pay for my bed for the night. later grab the phone after the swiss girls spend an hour on hold and get rebooked for next days flight.
its the next day
nothing to do but wait - the flight goes at 2am the following night.
nothing to do but read, drink, smoke, watch films
the power comes back on about lunchtime and theres a mass rush to recharge laptops, phones, ipods, and get back on the internet to check flight status and the extent of the flooding and situation across the country
it seems nadi has it worst or at least most significant.
11pm taxi to airport, check in, security, wait. LA flight leaves. Samoa flight "on time"
tannoy announces 15 minutes delay. no worries, fiji time. then half hour delay. then another. then i fall asleep for a while.
4am i wake to an announcement "you may now collect your bags and make your way to your hotels"
its sunday 4am, the flight is now due to leave on tuesday morning
airport staff struggling to fit us all in hotels, as locals are being forced out of their homes and filling them up
6am i get to my air pacific paid for hotel room. sleep till 1pm
watch rugby sevens, try to eat as much as i can get away with in restaurant.
try to do laundry, theres a big queue. i'm eating a giant ice cream eclair at 8.30pm when the waiter asks me if i'm going to apia
yes i say, on tuesday. no now he says. 10.30pm. ???? i confirm at reception and hurridly pack. the other guests have already left
still get to the airport in bags of time.
and the plane does leave as advertised. chicken sandwich at midnight.
next day i'm waking up on a sunny beach in samoa.
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