Leaving New Zealand didn't make me happy. As I sat in the plane, I felt in limbo and never wanted it to land. As much as I didn't want it to happen, there wasn't much I could do about it. I was the first person through customs and had to run the gauntlet of hotel owners waiting for me. "My friend, my friend, stay with me!" echoed through the terminal. I chose a place called The Nadi Beach Hostel. The fact that it was absolutely nowhere near the beach really didn't matter.
I met Roland from Switzerland, Derrick from Scotland, and a French and Irish couple named Karine and Paul. We lounged around the hostel and had an all-around good time. The hostel was pretty slimy. The mattresses were so thin that it was more comfortable to sleep on the floor with my sleeping pad. I can't really complain--what do you want for $2?
I had to do a little shopping and went into town. I bought myself a large, colorful towel to make up for the small towels I 'traded' for in Turangi. We were getting ready to leave and the hostel owner said that storage was available for $.50 per day. Derrick and Roland agreed, but I declined to do this, as there was something wrong with this place. Something I didn't like about it. I stored some of my colder weather stuff at a slightly more upscale place in town. The group took off for Mana Island, about 30 km off the main island of Viti Levu.
The ferry consisted of a small motorboat with a sixty horsepower motor. There were twelve people in the boat, so I think the word "underpowered" would describe the boat well. It took quite a while to get to island. No problems with that, I was here to forget about time. When we got to the hostel, we were warmly greeted by the owner who said, "Welcome to Mana Island. Take all of your troubles and throw them into the sea!"
I met Paul from Canada. We kind of looked at each other funny until he said, "You picked me up hitchhiking in the Coromandel Peninsula." Later that day I meet a Fijian, Joseph, who was working as an electrician. He was quite nice to me and wanted me to sponsor him for a visa, though he wanted to overstay the visa and work. I told him repeatedly that I couldn't do it. Only when I said to him, "If I use my security clearance again at work I will have to list you as a foreign contact and the FBI might question you. Do you want this?" Even though I'll never use my clearance again, it seemed to be the only way to get him to understand. I went swimming, dried off with my snappy new towel and put it up on the line to dry. That was the last I was ever to see of it.
About every four years I get a headache and I started to get a mild one in the evening. There was a limbo contest and they were looking for someone from every country. They asked, "Who's from the U.S.?" I was the only American so people were asking, "Where's Craig? Where is he?" A limbo contest and a headache don't mix. I hid under a picnic table so no one could find me. However, Roland basked in the limelight as he decisively won the contest. Later they passed a kava bowl. Kava is a gritty, mildly narcotic drink made from the root of a local plant. It makes the mouth numb and tastes like water that had been used to wash your socks. Oh yeah, this description is from someone who likes kava. A person who doesn't like it isn't quite as generous. I decided to pass. They had a dance where everyone put their hands on the hips of the person in front of them and danced all around the room. Headache or not, I couldn't pass this up. The hostel really did a good job of keeping us entertained at night with Bosco, the entertainment director, leading the festivities.
For some reason, I wanted to leave Mana Island. I don't know why--I think I missed New Zealand and everything I experienced. Something was telling me to go. I got ready to leave on the 9:30 ferry and waited on the beach with a few others. The ferry was late, as things usually are in Fiji, and I wandered away for a bit. By noon the ferry still hadn't come, so I ended up snorkeling with Karine and Paul. They persuaded me to stay, even if they didn't know it.
I was sitting in bed that afternoon as I still had a slight headache. A Fijian woman approached me and asks why I'm there instead of out on the beach with the others. She sits down and talks with me for a while, making sure that everything was ok. This happened two other times that afternoon. They just wanted make sure that everyone was happy on their island. These are good people.
Things started to get interesting when I met a South American woman named Stella. The Hale-Bopp comet had just become visible in the Southern Hemisphere and at 2:00 a.m. I went out to see it. I could clearly see it in the nighttime sky. She asked me where I went and we started to talk. We ended up fooling around a little bit, just a little bit. It wasn't exactly what I had planned on, but how many things on this trip went as planned? Not very many.
I lounged around and did a bit more snorkeling with Karine and Paul. I really liked what I saw underwater and knew that it would be even better when I went diving. However, diving would have to wait until I was feeling better.
I saw Stella again that night. She said that she wanted romance, just being close to another person. She said, "I've been sleeping with any man I can find [except for me, of course]. Last night I realized that I can't be with men like I've been doing. You made me understand this." She tearfully told me why she did this and resolved, "I will not sleep with another man unless I care about him." I told her that it would be best if I wasn't with her that night, so I went to my building on the other side of the island to sleep.
At 3:40 a.m. I was awakened by a bottle leaking from the bunk above. Water was pouring down on me. I woke the person above me and asked him, "Do you have a water bottle that's leaking?" "No" he responds. "Dammit!" I thought as it dawned on me. I said, "You peed on me!" It was very annoying as the guy swears up and down that he didn't piss in his bed. I said, "I'm wet from above. [pointing my flashlight at the ceiling] The ceiling isn't leaking and it's not raining. [pointing my flashlight at his crotch] And your mattress and pants have big wet spots on them. Where did it come from?" He still says he didn't wet his bed. If the guy had just said, "Geez, sorry about that." I would have said, "No problems, Mate. Happens all the time" and all could be forgotten, but he gave a flat out denial of all the available facts. It's no wonder that I don't like drunken people.
I wash off and look for another (i.e. dry) bed and had to go across the island to the other building. I notice that Stella's bed is empty. About 10 minutes later Stella is walking back with a guy. She sees me and wonders what I'm doing there. I tell her what happened and we both laugh. The next day I heard that Stella had slept with Bosco in the middle of the village. They were so loud that they woke many people up. People came to investigate because they thought someone was being raped. Bosco had been on thin ice with the hostel owner and lost his job over this. This isn't the sort of thing you do in the middle of a small Fijian village.
About six backpackers get together and wanted to help Bosco get his job back. Paul said to me, "You're pretty articulate and write a lot, will you help us write a petition?" I'm not particularly enthusiastic about this, but say, "Ok, I'll help." One line I wrote was, "Bosco brings us backpackers great pleasure." I decide 'pleasure' might not be the best word to use. So we wrote the petition and about forty people signed it. They brought it to the owner and talk him into giving Bosco another chance. Bosco came to the common room and said, "Thank you so much for caring", etc. He played us some music and genuinely looked happy to have his job back. There really aren't a lot of employment opportunities on an island with one village of 200 people.
I finish writing my letters at 2:00 a.m. and go to bed. Bosco is sleeping in the same bed as Stella. We get him his job back and now he's sleeping with the same woman on the same night. I'm not sure Bosco is dealing with a full deck upstairs or is probably more interested in what is downstairs. Worse than this, Bosco is snoring and snoring very loudly mind you. I can't sleep and go back to the building where they guy peed on me. I can't find a place there so I got a cushion and slept on the floor. Joseph, the electrician, noticed me and said, "You can come to the worker's room and sleep. There are a few other people up there, but it's better than the floor." So I go up there and he gets out a bedroll. He places his bedroll right next to mine. I pretend to be asleep, but he shakes me wanting to talk. I say to him,
"Look, I have to get up around 6:00 in the morning to write some letters. They have to be posted with someone who is leaving on the 10:00 ferry, so I really need to sleep."
He asks, "Are you going to write letters to your mother?"
"Are you going to write letters to your friends?"
"Do you have a girlfriend?"
If a strange man ever, and I mean ever, asks this, you say, "Yes." It doesn't really matter whether you do or not, but "yes" is the operative word here.
He looked at me funny and said, "Oh, I thought you were a homosexual because of the way you look."
He apologized and took his bedroll to another room. I wasn't offended by him being interested in me, but I was offended by what he said. That's just great. This isn't the sort of thing I really wanted to hear.
That afternoon Karine and Paul left as they only had a few days in Fiji. They had a video camera with which they would be filming as they left, so they wanted us to make their filming worthwhile. I asked Roland and Derrick to do something with me, but they seemed reluctant. So I ran into the water after the ferry screaming, "No! You can't leave...we can't live without you!" As I was running through the water I was tripping on the coral and floundering in the weeds, not entirely on purpose mind you. The locals who were watching thought it was very funny that the tourists behave so silly. As I was waist deep in the water I throw my hands up to the heavens and cry out, "Nooooo! Take me away...I am old!" I've heard a rumor that coral can be quite sharp and cut one's feet. I had just proven that. In addition to that, when I tripped I jammed my finger pretty bad. Eventually I healed. I hope it was worth it and they got it on film.
I left Mana Island today. The ferry was late, but that is to be expected. The boat was, once again, underpowered and we got soaked from the spray, just the like ride over. Roland and Derrick went back to the Nadi Beach Hostel and found out that a robbery occurred. They both lost a lot of stuff and worst of all, they lost their film from the past months. Everything suggested that the hotel staff was responsible. There was something about this place that made me nervous a few days ago. I'm lucky I paid attention to my instincts. The three of us went to the police station. The place was a bit chaotic, but their uniforms were very sharp, and they were as helpful as they could be given their resources. I wished Roland and Derrick the best for the rest of their trip. I did a bit of shopping and bought another towel, hoping this one would stick around more than a day. I headed to The Beachhouse on the Coral Coast. It had a different feel than Mana Island. I'm not sure how, but it did. It started to rain that night. No biggie, I was used to this from New Zealand (or so I thought).
April 29-May 1
It rained and rained for two days. There might have been brief periods where it let up, but suffice it to say that it rained the whole time. Shannon & Sunniva were supposed to call The Beachhouse to make arrangements to get together, but I never heard from them. I knew that they were on Fiji as their flight got in a few days ago. I was pretty disappointed, but that's the way things go and I guess I wasn't really surprised. Unfortunately, there was no one that I really spent much time with, so it was pretty boring.
It was raining again the following day so I took a day trip to the capitol city of Suva. Not too impressed. It rained there most of the day too.
I spent the day at The Beachhouse. It rained again...all day. I can only write so many letters and read the same book so many times before I'm out and out bored.
One of the hostel workers noticed my backpack and asked me how much it cost. I was a bit embarrassed to say that it was about $450 Fijian ($325US). He was taken aback for a moment. I have a top-of-the line pack since I don't want a problem when I'm on a tough track. To the worker, it was surprising because this was over a month's pay for him. He raises a family for a month on what I've spent for a bit of nylon, aluminum, and padding. It felt funny to say this to him. He doesn't realize that back home I can spend twice that much on rent for a single month. However, by any measure, I'm a very rich person to him. I guess I don't have to apologize to anyone for this, but it still feels funny.
Most Fijians still live in villages. I think if you were to put the average Westerner into such a village, they would manage to be unhappy. Most westerners want their comforts. However, the Fijians seem to enjoy life to the fullest. They seem to be able to manage living in a one room house. I'm not saying, "Oh, look at the poor people. How quaint" rather they make you realize that money doesn't buy happiness and many of best things in life are free. I'm not going to say, "All the best things in life are free" in that travel takes some money. It did make me think about how things really are in this world.
When I woke up in the morning, it was raining and continued to do so the whole day. The locals were really surprised that it was raining so much as this is the 'dry' season. I still really hadn't found anyone that I liked, so I left to spend some time in Nadi. I wasn't sure what I would do there, but it couldn't be any more boring than where I was. I'm not entirely sure that assumption was correct.
It rained the entire next day also. Starting to get the picture? I wandered downtown and sat under an awning to stay dry, staring blankly into the distance. A man, seeing my bored expression, said to me, "I don't want to see anyone come to Fiji and be unhappy." He said he had a house on the coast and he invited me there. He wanted to introduce me to his family and bring me fishing. I really wish I could have trusted him. If this had been New Zealand, I would have gone in a moment. It was one of those "too good to be true" offers that every traveler dreams of. Caution won out that day.
I wandered down the street. I didn't even try to watch the world go by...I was too bored. I saw an English couple, Steve and Susan, at a cafe. I walked up to them and asked if I could join them. They seemed happy that I did saying, "You're only the second person in three months who has approached us as couple. It's nice to have the company." Boredom will drive you to do that.
We saw another backpacker who was on Mana Island and invited her to join us. We talk a bit of the island with Steve and Susan. We laughed about what happened between Stella & Bosco. This woman said, "I heard that Stella was fooling around with some guy from Montana, no, it was Minnesota." Steve and Susan looked at me...then everybody realized...that yes, it was me that she was talking of. I was kind hard to deny this as I was wearing my Minnesota shirt. Then I got my new nickname:
"The Slut from Mana Island"
That evening we go into town to see a movie. We had a choice of Star Wars or an Indian porno. It wasn't a difficult decision, though I guess if we had seen the Indian movie I wouldn't have to worry about understanding the dialogue. We took a taxi that evening as it was, yes, still raining.
I took a bus with Steve and Susan back to The Beachhouse, it seemed like a destination as good as anyplace else. Believe it or not, the skies were actually blue in the morning. The bus wasn't the express bus, rather it went off the main road and stopped at every single little village. This was a good thing. We stopped in places that that usually aren't seen by an outsider. However, before we arrived, it started to rain again. My flight out of Fiji was on the 14th and I found it hard to believe that I was almost looking forward to getting back to the U.S., so great was my frustration. I wasn't very happy. I wanted to go to the island of Taveuni, which has the best diving. However, everything there was really torn up from a storm. The other place to go is Kadavu Island. Time to start making arrangements.
Today I actually ran out of things to say in my letters. People who know me will find it amazing that I ran out of things to say....but it actually happened once, but don't tell anyone, they probably won't believe you anyway.
Today the sun was actually out for a good part of the day. We went horse back riding, make that bare back riding. These horses were very bony and every time that they took a step, my pelvic bones were very aware of it. I've never ridden bare back before and I think I prefer stirrups, which have been in use for a thousand years. It hurt too much and I gave up. Steve's horse bolted for home and headed for a little hole in the bushes that led to the stable. Unfortunately for Steve, the hole was only high enough for the horse. Everybody just about peed in their pants from laughing when he fell off. Well, everyone except for Steve. Later in the day, it started raining again.
It was raining again today...Now I was sure that I wanted to leave Fiji. Well, almost, as I walked into the hostel lobby and saw Shannon and Sunniva. The Vikings were back! It was so great to see them. They asked, "Did you think we had forgotten about you?" I said that I did, but all that mattered was that they had arrived. It turns out that they had called on the 4th, when I was in Suva, but The Beachhouse forgot to give me the message when I got back later in the day. People in Fiji forgetting...imagine that. Rain or not, I was so much happier. We stayed up late that evening, talking and playing cards. I had to get going pretty soon if I wanted to go diving, but with my friends around, I had to stay another day. We really had a good time together and I was so happy to be with them again. There was one more thing that made me happy. It was the last day that it rained.