Bula from Fiji
Before arriving in Fiji I had a lot of ideas about how it would be. I've heard several people rave about Fiji, especially scuba diving. I pictured resorts and white beaches everywhere. Though it's been on my scuba bucket list for a while, Fiji was somewhat of an after thought that I tacked on to my move to NZ. I figured why not make a stopover for a week and try some diving since I'm going to be in this hemisphere anyway? However, I had SO many things to do and additional adventures planned before I left the US that Fiji didn't get much attention in the planning department so a lot of this trip was flying by the seat of my pants...moreso than usual.
Luckily I was able to talk my friend Paul into coming with me. Fiji has been on the top of his list for a long time and thanks to a helpful nudge from his sister, he joined the Fiji bandwagon. Now, we are both trying this whole budget thing since I am unemployed and he has been targeted by the Dave Ramsey cult. So we decided to use Air BnB and friends of friends for accommodation and this decision made the trip the adventure that it was.
We arrived in Nadi (pronounced "nandy") and opted for the local bus (cheaper) to Luatoka where we would catch another bus to Rakiraki village and then an additional taxi to our home stay. It was hotter than Hades but I got a thrill of excitement that we were in Fiji, listening to islander reggaeton music on a bus with no air conditioning and a ton of uniformed kids heading to school.
Our first place we stayed at was the home of Jioji and Alisi. The family welcomed us into their home graciously. Now by the end of the stay I really enjoyed being here. But this bit day was a bit overwhelming. I was tired and spending the entire evening with the family and many young children as they said their devotional, ate dinner, talked, and went to the local carnival was somewhat overstimulating for day one. Fiji in some ways initially reminded me of other places I've been where I had to be suspicious of people's motives. Without a phone or wifi, I felt uncomfortably dependent on people I didn't know.
Their sons, Jesé and Masé, and Jioji's sister Meré work at the dive shop at Wananavu resort so our first day of diving was a family affair. The diving was fun, especially the second dive. There was a wedding going on at the resort that afternoon but we didn't want to go back to the house that early so we discreetly hung out afterwards at the resort and then made our way back to the house pretty late. I was kind of dreading going back to the house. It was fine of course. They were so friendly and accommodating. I started feeling guilty for my attitude. We ate a delicious dinner, hung out with the family for a bit and went to bed.
I don't know what happened but all of the negative feelings went away the next day. I think it was a bit of a culture shock and my own suspicions and unfounded bad intentions I was attributing to those around me. I realized that I was kind of being a brat. The second day of diving was BEAUTIFUL!!!! The soft corals were amazing and so alive! Paul and I hung out at the pool and on the beach before heading home for dinner. The sun was shining and life was good!
I have not spent adequate time giving all of the accolades to Alisi that she deserves. She charged $15 FJD per person per meal (about $7.50 USD) which was a steal for the amount of superb food we received in return. If it wasn't for her I would have thought Fijian food was blah. EVERYTHING she made was good, even stuff with ingredients I never would have touched at home. At the hotel, Paul had ordered this traditional meal called kokoda (a salad where raw fish, coconut milk, and lime juice are main ingredients). It was DISGUSTING! We were nervous then when Alisi made it the next day but didn't want to be rude. Hers was SO good!
I was sad to leave Rakiraki now that I'd begun to enjoy it and get over my bad attitude. We said our good byes to the family, the kindness, and the room we dubbed the "Love Den" (picture below explains it all).
Alas, we hopped the bus to Suva the next morning. Oh Suva. Its a busy city and the first day we wandered around, got groceries, and went to a park bordering the ocean. We also stopped at McDonalds like true Americans, and while there, we ran into some LDS missionaries. This was great because they let us use their phone to confirm the river rafting reservation we made via email but had not had wifi to confirm. In return Paul bought them lunch. Isn't he generous?
Our housing situation in Suva just made us laugh. A friend of a friend reserved us a room (via Facebook Messenger) at a homestay that students often use. We arrived and no one was there but a cleaning lady who had no idea that we were coming. I showed her the FB conversation that had this guys number in it but she didn't seem interested in calling it. She said one room was reserved for a couple (...I'm pretty sure that meant us...) but said we could take another room. There were probably 30 or so beds in this huge house and no one else was there. In fact no one else was there at all the entire time after our first encounter with her. We were given no keys and no instructions for our stay. There was no contact person other than this lady who had no clue (again, I had no phone to call the FB guy and she wouldn't call him). One day we found a key in the kitchen door and locked everything up when we left and took the key. But the next day the gate to the property was locked so we had to scale the fence (with great grace and decorum). All we could do is laugh at disbelief with how strange this was.
We didn't spend much time in Suva though as were were just there for the cheap (and bizarre) accommodation. Excitedly, we headed for Pacific Harbour to hit the reportedly amazing beaches there. We made it onto an air conditioned "aircon" bus this time which made a world of difference! I'm pretty sure the beach we arrived at was a resort beach but there was literally no one on it! Ask forgiveness later became the philosophy of the day. It was such a perfect day. It was sunny and warm and the water felt great and we didn't have to share with anyone!
The next day we was rrrrriiIIIVVVEEERRRR RRRAAAFFFTttttiiiiinnngggg!!!! The tour company is called Rivers Fiji and the rafting trips are a main source of income for the guides who live in the local rural village and a portion of the profits also goes to the local school there. Our trip was along the Upper Navua River and it was beautiful! It was about 4-5 hours of rafting magic....preceded by an 1.5 hr bumpy dirt road bus ride to get to the starting point. The water was fairly low so the rapids weren't anything crazy but the views were stunning and were were able to swim and have a ton of fun. We almost got paired with this incredibly ANNOYING lady and her nice daughter. This lady kept talking about Trump and the NRA--barf. But when the group leader looked at us to pair us up, I shook my head and mouthed a loudly silent "no!" He was like "...um...ok...uh...you guys and...uh you guys over there (points to nice British couple)...you are group five...." Thank you, thank you Moses for saving the trip. I would have pushed that lady in or tipped the raft to make my escape.
And then all of a sudden it was our last day. We headed back to Nadi on the bus from Suva. In Nadi we toured this really colorful Hindu temple before heading to the airport. The resident peacock housed was a sight to behold as was the cat that played dead on the shoe rack (don't worry it was breathing, I checked).
...And then it was time to say goodbye to my last piece of home. I cried and cried. Paul got me a big bag of peanut butter M&Ms as a goodbye present. I told him I was just going to emotionally eat them all once he left.
It's the most surreal thing to not board a plane home after a vacation. As you can see from even just this short week in Fiji, traveling (like real life) is full of both highs and lows and every transition into a new phase or new place is bittersweet. Its so hard to say goodbye to my life in Utah but I am also excited for what lies ahead in New Zealand.