Fiji, if I have remembered correctly, is a collection of 333 islands floating around in the pacific, one of which, Tavenui, actually lies across the international date line, which is pretty cool. It’s a postcard perfect paradise, once you’re out of Nadi (pronounced Nan-dee) at least. It’s a playground for the rich, which of course leaves you with the question of what the fuck I was doing there, but as it turns out, the backpackers have discovered it too.
What a lot of people don’t realise is that Fiji is a third world country. The inhabitants believe in whatever religion pumps the most money into their local economy. Once you leave the resorts, it becomes a very different place, and most people who have been to Fiji will never experience this. On one island I visited – Mana – at the border of the resort lay a massive sign stating it was dangerous to leave and that the locals would try to steal from you. Of course my hostel was well beyond that sign. I feel so privileged to have seen both sides of the country.
The story starts with me having to redirect a flight between Brisbane and Stockholm (which is a very long and complicated story) as my credits were due to run out and I was not prepared to waste that inordinate amount of money when I could have yet another holiday (I didn’t choose the backpacker life, the backpacker life chose me (actually, that’s bullshit, I chose it)). I’d purchased a flight to New Zealand to see my family for Christmas, and then had a fair bit left over so decided to go to Fiji, because why the hell not. Before flying out I spent a night with a family friend in Auckland who told me about his sailing buddy who owned a place in Fiji or something along those lines. He gave me his contact details and then we got on the plane. We spent a couple of nights in Nadi to get past New Year and then got a tiny boat thing out to Mana for our first real glimpse into real Fiji.
What follows is a series of unfortunate events that have resulted in my inability to make jokes about “island time” anymore, and are unfortunately not narrated by Patrick Warburton. As much as I loved my time in Fiji, some things were fucking dire, a phrase which, in this context, means downright awful.
Now our protagonist, a word which should not be confused with “hero” although often they have one and the same meaning, but in this context simply means “main character”, Tom, was well known for his efficient punctuality and, although being a rather relaxed human, despised wasting time more than anything else in the world. Little did he know, that he was venturing into enemy territory. This particular trait he possessed really augmented the trauma he endured.
The first really shocking event transpired after agreeing with his travelling companion to visit the location where the famous movie “Castaway” featuring a wilson soccer ball and Tom Hanks was filmed. He was told to wait at a very specific place at a very specific time for the tour to start. There they waited, for fifteen minutes, and then for fifteen more minutes, and then for half an hour more until, over an hour late, the evil man in charge decided to show his face. The man, whose identity shall remain anonymous, offered no explanation or apology and began the tour.
Now the tour returned at the time it was originally stated to therefore shortening the entire excursion to a certain degree. Tom understood the reasons for this; the weather was beginning to turn, and in a desperate attempt not to end up cast away into the ocean and stranded on a beach talking to a soccer ball for an undetermined amount of time the boat driver had recommended a swift return. The waves swelled and threw the tiny tin can around, bruising everybody’s rear ends and causing an unimaginable amount of discomfort for all the passengers onboard. He was aware, however, that the tour would not have been cut short had it had left on time. He complained, but didn’t realise that once any money has left ones hands in Fiji, it will never be seen again.
He emailed his friend’s sailing buddy who, as it turned out, possessed a rather luxurious resort elsewhere under the name of Musket Cove, and offered a room at a very reasonable price. The problem was that the only way to travel there would be on the same boat that had delivered him to Mana, which was not really an official route for the company. With a little persuasion in the form of additional money, they agreed, and showed up half an hour late to take him and his companion across the ocean.
When he arrived, Tom did not believe his eyes. The place was way beyond anything he could, at least under ordinary circumstances, afford. He was treated like monarchy, and was most pleasantly surprised when a jar was replenished daily with home baked cookies.
So anyway, we fast forward a few days.
It is at this point in the story that things really begin to go downhill, a metaphor which in this context does not involve the travelling motion of somebody or something in a declining manner, but in fact means the degradation of positive emotion for the protagonist.
The company who ensured their safe delivery to Musket Cove had offered a return trip to Nadi for a marginally cheaper price than that of the main ferry, and upon a diminishing budget, Tom and his companion decided to agree. Again, he was told to wait in a very specific place at a very specific time. He stood in the burning midday sun and waited. And he waited. And he waited. His core body temperature began to rise. He began to panic that perhaps he had the wrong location, or the wrong time, or the wrong date even, but after checking the details on his portable telephone he confirmed he was in fact correct.
The boat did eventually show up, although in excess of two hours late. Tom was livid, but again, was left without explanation, apology or discount. He ordered himself a coffee to cheer himself up, which took an hour to come. This was also upsetting, but the flavour exceeded expectations, and so, therefore, was not as awful as it could have been. It was at this point, upon reflection, Tom had realised he had waited roughly an hour for almost every meal, and a rather long time for everything in fact.
Island time, was in fact, not just a rumour.
He spent a few days at the Coral Coast, a small area in the south of Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji which should have been a lot more pleasant for him had he not realised that something was wrong. Upon returning to Nadi, he confirmed his suspicions, but too late to do anything about it.
He had acquired heat stroke from being left waiting in the sun at Musket Cove. He was completely exhausted from doing nothing. He felt like vomiting with every step that he took. He couldn’t bring his eyes to focus on anything. That night, he lay underneath the ceiling fan in his room wearing nothing but his undergarments to try to cool his body back down.
In retrospect, that was a mistake.
When the gentle morning rays kissed his sleeping cheeks he realised that the heat stroke was miraculously diminishing, but something else had invaded his body in the night. He had caught a cold, and something else he couldn’t name or comprehend. As he found his seat on the plane back to New Zealand he was coughing and sneezing and shivering and probably causing a lot of unpleasant premonitions for the unfortunate soul who had to sit next to him. He was not a happy bunny, a phrase which here means he was rather upset.
Upon his return, his friend in Auckland informed him that he would take him up to The Bay Of Islands for a few days. He agreed, needing a distraction and a reason to cheer himself up. While there, one morning he woke up unable to seperate his eyelids from each other. They had been physically glued together by gunk and shit (an unpleasant word one should not use in the vicinity of their mother) that had leaked from the tear ducts of his eyes during the night. He could barely speak, and his temperature was absolutely abnormal.
Eventually his condition did improve, but not without infecting his travelling companion who complained a lot more on the morning that she couldn’t open her eyes than he ever did. Tom, feeling miserable, vowed never to make jokes about “Fiji time” or “Island time” again, realising that it was far too real and far too terrible to be humourous.
And thus concludes our story. Let’s go back to first person now.
As much as I had a shitty ending to my time in Fiji, it is a fantastic place that’s well worth a visit. I would just recommend that you decide what you want to do and how you are going to get there before you get on the plane to go, as planning excursions and internal travel out there is chaotic, inconsistent and a bit sketchy. The main island has nice parts to it, such as The Coral Coast, however Nadi, where the airport is, is essentially a shithole. I would recommend getting out to the islands to look around; there are island hopping tours which cater well to backpackers. Also, be aware that things do take longer than expected, learn to eat coconut, and be aware that breadfruit is the food of satan himself but you’ll more then likely have to eat it. Most island hostels will cost a little more than you expect because they also include a meal plan as there’s no supermarkets in such isolated places. Sunscreen and bug repellent will be your best friends, and sunglasses aren’t a bad idea either.
And very lastly, when they ask you if you want Fiji Bitter or Fiji Gold, don’t order Gold. It’s fucking terrible.
– Tom @ indieroad