Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Fiji was awesome! However, I can't really claim the credit for that. Here's how it all went down.
My flight left out of Honolulu at 12:35am. Picture me tired and down from the leave-taking from my family, squeezed into a window seat of a very full Air Pacific flight. But I did manage to sleep, so I wasn't feeling too rough when I got to Nadi (said Nandi). My hotel was supposed to pick me up, but they weren't there when I arrived. Evenutally, I bought a phone card and called, got no answer, waited, called again, was told they were leaving right then, waited... Two hours later I gave up and took a taxi which wasn't bad at all. Stupid hotel had made it sound like they were much further from the airport than they were. Then the taxi turns down a small road to what can only be an oil refinery and I start wondering where the hell I'm staying. Each one of these moments causes a rather unpleasant surge of adrenaline. I'm not very good at this traveling thing.
Eventually, though, I'm at the resort, and even though it's absurdly early and I don't officially have a room until that night, I get led by the very friendly staff to my garden bure (read little thatched cabin that does not have a view of the ocean). It turns out their one boat is booked on a fishing trip, but if I want to go snorkeling, they'll happily drop me off at "Beeshcombah" Island for the day.
Beachcomber Island is party central. I arrived at 10:30am and already the packs of 19 year-olds were well into the redbull and vodka. I don't understand how - it was too damn hot! I must be getting old. I snorkeled for a bit, and saw some nice fish, but not many. And the coral was completely trashed. So I lay on the beach for a while, trying to find shade and feeling meditative. Not speaking to anyone for more than two hours straight does that to me.
The buffet lunch was nearly the highlight of the trip. Turns out Fiji has a lot of Indian families who came in the 1800s as laborers for the cane fields, and the cultural influence is strong. So I had yummy fish curry with roti. I went out again for another snorkel and was just getting to a larger patch of rocks where the fish were congregating when I spotted a shark staring at me. Not a huge one, just 4 feet of terror-inducing lurkingness. I would probably have dealt better had I not just been kicked out of the water twice in Hawaii because someone spotted a shark at a beach a half-mile away. Anyway, I screamed like a little girl and got out of the water as fast a possible.
By then the fishing trip had returned to pick me up. I think the guy driving the boat felt bad for dropping me off like that, so he convinced the fisherfolk to chill in the boat while we took a 20-minute snorkel in deeper water. HOLY SHIT!!! For two reasons. 1) For those of you who know me, you know I DON'T like the ocean, or deep water (that's understating the situation considerably). And there I was, nearly calmly jumping into 20 feet of big bad ocean. It helped that the water was a crystal clear 85 degrees. 2)I've never seen anything like that snorkel in my life! Parrotfish and clownfish and coral, oh my! By then I'd abandoned the idiotic waterproof camera bag that I can't seem to figure out, so I'm afraid I have no photos. Just pick up a big glossy postcard, or a copy of National Geographic - that should about do it justice.
We headed back in to the resort, and that's when my trip had a very happy accident. I was dropping off the snorkel gear I'd borrowed from the hotel, and I saw two guys playing ping pong by the pool. This in itself is not noteworthy, except they were speaking French, which meant I had to say something to them. Can't let the chance to speak French pass me by! It turns out, my resort was next door to the local marina and yacht club, which I would never have realized if these guys hadn't explained that they were staying on their boats. So I got to spend a very nice evening hanging out with Olivier, who is French but lives in New Caledonia, and Eric, who is from Quebec, but is currently in year four of his around-the-world sail. It was great to hear about their adventures in sailing, and the next day Eric took me for a sail to prove I'm not nearly as frightened of the sport as I claim. Let me just state for the record: I like sailing. In Fiji. When the wind is not strong. And the boat never heels (sp?) more than 10 degrees. And the water is a civilized temperature. Under those conditions, I definitely like sailing.
Even better, I like snorkeling. I'm pretty proud of myself. In the afternoon, we anchored at the edge of a reef that was about 1000 yards from an island. And damn me if I didn't manage to jump into what was now 50 feet of not-so-clear water, and swim across an open stretch to the reef. Without hyperventalating, which is key while snorkeling, but hard when you're fighting off a panic attack. Ah machismo - I really think what saved me was not wanting to look like a wuss. Although my cover was blown when we got back to the boat and I had to use the restroom and admit that I'd been too scared to piss. (TMI, I know, but I'm trying to find ways to explain what a big deal this is to me.) Anyway, the snorkeling was mind-blowing. Me loves the colorful fishies.
So that was my Fiji experience. It was exactly the kind of happy-accident-opens-new-directions that I've always hoped for in my travels. Even if I wasn't quite spontaneous to stay in Fiji an extra week and learn to sail for real. So here's to what will hopefully be the first of many adventures and many awesome people I run into!