There was a real snafu with a travel agent. We talked five times on the phone making arrangements to leave for Kadavu Island on the 9th. She called the airline to see what time I could fly out. She made reservations for a boat once I got to the island and reservations at the diving resort. After all these calls she forgot to make plane reservations and the plane had filled up. It's called Fiji Time. It means that things don't always happen as they should. This is part of the way Fiji works. If you don't like it, don't go...it's not going to change. I would be going to Kadavu on the 10th instead. Time was starting to run short for diving.
The Beachhouse has bikes and the three of us wanted to go to the village of Korolevu to get some fresh bread and post some mail. We didn't get very far when we determined that we only had one bike between the three that actually worked. So I went to Korolevu by myself on the one functioning bike. It was seven km to town. Everywhere I passed, people would be say to me, "Bula!" (Hello). When I say 'everywhere', I mean everywhere and everybody. Some people would come from inside their house to greet me as I went by. Fiji is 100% different than suburban America. It made my ride extra nice. The bread was hot and fresh out of the bakery oven and I shared it with everyone when I got back. We goofed off in the common room late into the night, talking about whatever and playing the card game, Last Card, that Corinne had taught me many months ago.
Sunniva and I went for an early morning swim. Everything was quiet and no one was around. We swam in the warm water in a beautiful place in the South Pacific. This is why I came to Fiji. I've never been in such warm water before. In the afternoon, the Vikings and I sat on the sand for a while. I guess I'm just as happy sitting under a coconut tree as I am on the beach. Well, maybe I shouldn't say sitting right under a coconut tree as a falling coconut is a genuine hazard to one's well being. The hostel cut away coconuts that were hanging above the hammocks. Well, anyways, we sat on the beach for a while and later Sunniva and I went out walking at low tide to what creatures we could see. It was quite fun and colorful to see all the creatures that call the ocean home.
I managed to get some of the bikes repaired so that the three of us could go to Korolevu and get more bread. People Bula'ed us all the way there and the bread was fresh out of the oven when we arrived. I'm used to riding a very expensive bike and the cost of the bikes that we rode to Korolevu were less than the cost of the spokes on one of my wheels. It really didn't matter, it's always pleasant to ride a bike in a beautiful location. That evening we played Pictionary. It was Shannon and Sunniva against Even and I. In my diary I wrote, "Got beat real bad." It wasn't that Even didn't speak English well, but he and I were from different cultures and had different native languages. The things that we drew reflected our cultural contexts and we didn't view the pictures in the same way. Shannon and Sunniva didn't have such a problem and won easily. I was really enjoying my time with the Vikings, they're great fun. However, I would soon be leaving as Kadavu Island beckoned.
I made arrangements for a mini-van to pick me up, which never showed up. Fiji Time #1. I sat out with S&S and waited at the bus stop. Even though I would see them soon in the U.S., I was still going to miss them. I caught the bus into capital city of Suva. The bus was late, ok, these things happen. Fiji Time #2. The bus is supposed to stop for a 15 minute break and they stopped for 30 minutes because the bus driver had some shopping to do. Fiji Time #3. I was getting worried about the time. I got to Suva 40 minutes before my plane leaves and I find out the airport is 22 km outside of town. So instead of catching a city bus, I got a taxi. I paid the guy more money than I should have, but I told him, "Just get there on time." He drove below the speed limit and kept turning around to talk to me. I tried to keep him quiet telling him that I had to make the plane at 12:45. He says, "No problem. The plane boards at 12:45, but it doesn't leave until later." I told him that I wasn't so sure, so "please hurry." "Oh, here is my village. I must show it to you." I agree that it must be nice, but I don't have time to see it today. "I must show it to you." he insists. I tell him that I don't have time, but to no avail. Fiji Time #4.
The previous night some explosives had been discovered near the Presidential Palace and the police were on alert. There's an armed checkpoint manned by the army on the road. The driver says, "Whatever he asks, I'm your friend and I'm taking you to my village. You're not a passenger, ok?" If he were caught, he would be in trouble for running an illegal taxi. I was a bit annoyed with him and wouldn't mind seeing him busted, but it would surely make me late for my plane. The soldiers look in the van and wave us through. I get to the airport exactly at 12:45 and see a plane taxiing away from the terminal. I said, "There goes my plane." His friends riding along with him ran into the terminal and make sure that the plane hasn't left. They come back and tell me that I can still board, so I gave him my money and I go inside. It turned out that the taxiing plane was mine after all. I was very annoyed with the taxi driver at this point, but he still wanted me to come to his village. I don't mind Fiji Time, as long as everybody works on it. Unfortunately the airlines weren't aware of it.
I made reservations to fly the next day, but I would have to fly out of Nadi, about 4 1/2 hours by bus. I decided to go back to The Beachhouse, which is about halfway between Suva and Nadi. That way I could spend more time with Shannon & Sunniva. I got back to Suva, where I met a Fijian named Matthew. I expected him to try and sell me something, but he wasn't carrying anything, "Perhaps he is just being friendly to me" I thought. He walked with me and we talked about whatever. He heard my Tale O' Woe about missing my plane. He offered to drive me to Nadi, but I declined since I wanted to go to the hostel. He then offered to help me get to The Beachhouse. At a certain point I became uncomfortable as he was being a bit too friendly. I told him that I would get there by myself. He says, "No. I'll get you a minivan. It will be faster." I said, "A bus will be fine." He was starting to pester me. We walked by a grocery store and I said, "I have some shopping to do here, so goodbye." It didn't do any good. He followed me through the store, "Do you want some beans? (as he picks up some beans). Or how about some bread? (holding up bread) It's healthy, you know." It goes on like this for a while and I continued to ignore him. He asked if he can carry my pack and I tell him, "I've been carrying it for five months, I can manage for another day." He asked for my address and I decline. He asked my name. I tell him my name was Mike Brown. He was starting to annoy me further. As I walk to the bus station he is trying to give me a ride (no), get me a minivan (NO), carry my pack (for the last time...NO). I got to the bus station and he asked me for my address and offers me a ride. I still say:
I took off my pack and he grabbed it out my hands. This had gone too far. He wanted to help me get it into the luggage compartment, but he was only making a nuisance of himself. I got on the bus and settled in for the ride. When I got back to the hostel, I saw Shannon and Sunniva. They were surprised to see me and I told them what happened in Suva with the plane and Matthew. Shannon and I were walking across the hostel yard when to my surprise, a Fijian approached me saying, "Mike, it's good to see you again." It was Matthew. He paid a minivan driver to follow my bus for 2 1/2 hours. He pleaded with me, "Spend the night with me in my village! It's a wonderful place. I'll drive you to Nadi tomorrow. Please come with me!" I told him, "I'm with my friends and I'm going to stay here." He asked me again and I tell him the same thing. This was really, really getting annoying. This guy just didn't understand that he wasn't going to be getting at my goodies.
Eventually Matthew gets a clue and leaves with these sad puppy dog eyes. Before he left, he gave me a note with his address on it. I asked a worker to translate the note. She said, "It's an affectionate way of saying goodbye and hello at the same time. What's this doing on the same piece of paper as a man's phone number?" All the staff got a big kick out of it. Shannon said to me, "Craig, he was a cutie. You should have went for it!" I've learned something from today. I've been relentlessly pursued by a man...I know what it's like to be a woman!
Think about this, three people wanted me in three weeks...not bad, huh? Unfortunately, two of them had wieners.
The next morning I left for Nadi with plenty of time to spare. Not surprisingly, the minivan never showed up, so I caught a bus and then took a small plane to the Island of Kadavu. The one hour boat ride around the island to the resort was nice, with plenty of flying fish flying through the air. I never imagined that they would be so neat. It was low tide and they dropped me off about 200 meters off shore from the Nukubalavu Resort. I looked at the shells and everything in the shallow water. I took a good five minutes to reach the shore. It was a relaxing way to begin my stay. I would hardly call this place a resort; I don't mean that in a bad way. It had thatched bures (a traditional Fijian hut) with a small reception area with a thatched roof over the eating area. The only electricity was from solar cells that ran a small radio. Perfect. I loved the place from the moment I arrived.
My time on Kadavu was going to be a bit shorter than I wanted because of the travel snafus so I had to start diving right away. That night the divemaster, Joel, took me out on my first dive. It was really something. There were staghorn coral as large as cars. The coral was of all sorts of shapes and colors. I saw a giant sea slug, as big as the lower part of my leg, gliding across a fan coral. It was so cool. It was so big that I could see every detail on it. It was my first real dive and it was everything that I ever wanted it to be. Wow!
Since their was no electricity, they put a lantern by my bure and gave me one at the main hut to get back to the bure. I remember how it looked at night to see the lanterns go off into the distance. This place was great. I had the dorm bure all to myself and fell asleep to the waves gently lapping at the shoreline ten meters away.
I went diving with Andrew and Leslie. He was a marine chemist and she was a marine biologist and both were part-time underwater photographers. Not only were they nice people, they were the perfect diving companions, as they knew so much about the sea. After a dive I could say, "Do you remember that yellow thing?" Then they would be able to answer my questions. I'm the curious sort and they were good to have around. Ten years later, I was watching a biology documentary called The Shape of Life and they had a marine biologist who was studying nudibranchs. I look at her and thought she looked familiar. She surfaced and was helped on board a guy with a walrus-like mustache and I thought, "Yep it's them!"
The diving was really great. The color and forms of life that I saw are part of the reason I'm so impressed at life on Earth. Bright yellow sponges, fan corals as big as me. The color that I remember the most was blue. The iridescent blue on the fish is beyond belief, it almost glowed. The patterns on the giant clams were also impressive. I saw sea snakes and a reef shark. Leslie said, "Oh, that wasn't a big one." But that didn't matter to me. It swam so gracefully. Joel would position the boat over a location where the reef came within a meter or two of the surface. This shallow portion would be circular and about 50 meters across. On the edges were vertical walls all the way to the bottom. The coral took so many forms. Some looked like brains, some very spiky, some were smooth, but all impressed me. I did two dives in the little seamounts that day and later dove in the area where I had done the night dive. It was interesting to see the same area during the day. It had a much different feel as I could see a lot better and there were more fish around during the day. All in all, it was a great day.
The next day I got up early and watched the sun rise as a heron fished nearby. It was so quiet. That morning we went back to the seamounts. Leslie and Andrew had told me that they had been getting jaded about diving since they did so much of it, but this diving made them feel differently. It was that good.
That evening I was asked to partake of the kava bowl. I said that I would be willing to try it. I was told, "You have to drink until the first bowl is gone. It's ok if you don't take part in the second bowl, but you must finish the first." I said that I would try it and if I didn't like, I wouldn't continue. They said that this wasn't their tradition and I opted out. I respect people's traditions, but if they make me uncomfortable, I might not try those traditions.
I awoke before sunrise and walked on the beach and swam in the ocean for the last time. The water was so warm. I watched the heron and saw the sun rise. It was wonderful. Since I was skinnydipping and there was a giant clamshell on the beach, a picture was in order. I set up to take a self-timer picture, but I put it on the wrong setting. I wasn't aware that my camera had a setting that would take three pictures instead of one. So I take the first picture with the clamshell strategically placed. I drop the shell and start walking for the camera and hear a 'click' and then another 'click'. I decided it would be a bad idea to send my film home to have Mom develop it.
Kadavu was a really great place. It was so relaxing and quiet I could have stayed much longer, but time was marching on. We gathered for breakfast and I cracked open a coconut. I liked the idea of grabbing something off the ground to eat for breakfast. I was getting pretty good at it as I could husk and crack it open in one minute and twenty six seconds. A boat was scheduled to pick us up at 10:00. The boat arrived very early. This actually happened in Fiji, but I'm sure it was the first time ever. The driver pushed us to get moving, but we weren't going to leave until 10:00 sharp. We wanted to enjoy ourselves as long as we could. Time waits for no one and eventually the time to leave rolled around. Leslie, Andrew, and I got to the airport and waited for our respective flights. It was interesting to see the reefs from above and to see the rugged hills of the islands.
The plane landed and I tried to get a taxi into town. The taxi driver wanted to charge me $10 and I said, "When I took a taxi from Nadi the other day, it was only $5." I walked away because I didn't want to deal with this. They took this as a bargaining ploy, which it wasn't. The whole group of taxi drivers followed me saying. "Ok, ok, $7". I said "$5", they reply, "Five dollars is too cheap and Nadi is far away." I walked away. I really didn't care about the $2, but I didn't feel like playing games. For 50 cents I could take a bus. Finally they agreed on $5 to take me to the Nadi bus station. The driver dropped me off at the near side of town and the bus station is on the far side of town. The bus station is a 15 minute walk away and I told the driver that he agreed to take me to the station. He says that he wouldn't bring me there and I had to get out. I told him to take me to the bus station as agreed. He gets angry with me and says some things in Fijian that I really didn't understand, though I had a vague idea what he was saying. I dropped $4 on the seat and got out. He took me 4/5ths of the way and he got 4/5ths of the agreed fare. On the way to the bus station some guy approached me trying to get me into his shop. I waved him away and he starts yelling at me. I'm not impressed. I took care of my business in town, went to the hotel where I stored my stuff, and got ready to leave.
I took a minivan to the airport for $2. When we got to the airport stop, the driver takes my $5 bill and doesn't give anything back, saying, "I don't have any change." I grabbed the money out of his hands and said, "I'll walk to the gas station down the block. You can wait while I get change." Given that he had a van full of people and I was serious about making him wait, he managed to find change. The people of Fiji have been really good to me, but these last three encounters made it easier for me to leave. I don't like people playing games with me. I don't care how rich they think I am. In some ways, it's a bad way to end a trip, but that is part of what I remembered of my last day. I guess we all have to deal with leaving in our own way.
I was early for my flight and sat out on a grassy area of the airport. I could smell the frangipani blooms in all their glory. There have been several stages in my trip where I could say something was coming to an end. I felt this way when I said goodbye to Valerie and later when I left the South Island. I felt this same way when I left New Zealand. Now I felt that way again. I knew that before long I would be back in the U.S. I had met so many wonderful people and experienced so many great things in the last few months. I thought back to my first night in New Zealand. I looked up at the sky and saw Orion, upside down. I said goodbye to Fiji.