…So last night I landed around 7pm (2 hours ahead of Australia, 16 hours ahead of home) and was ushered through customs. On the way to customs a band was playing ukuleles in their Bula shirts (brightly printed floral patterned) to welcome guests. There was a health and bio-security portion, a revenue portion, and a general immigration portion. It was actually pretty thorough! As soon as I retrieved my bags and exited the gates I was surrounded by many different drivers who all asked if I needed a taxi. I found a help desk to locate my shuttle to Smugglers Cove for me, and patiently waited for the rest of the group. It actually feels very exotic here, and it was a little stressful alone. The people are very nice, but I can imagine (since they deal with tourists all the time) not all of them are nice. On the drive over to our hostel (located on the beach at Nadi Bay) it was already dark, so I really couldn’t see a lot of scenery.
I was so happy to see a friendly face, and I think Laura was really happy for me to finally get there. We split a vegetable pasta dinner (that was delicious) and then sat down at the bar all night. We did some meeting and greeted- we talked to a big group of golfers staying at Smuggler’s Cove to do 16 days of golfing! We also got friendlier with the staff, and were really taken care of. We had a private room at Smugglers, with two twin beds, a flatscreen television, a mini-fridge, and a private bathroom (booked on expedia for USD$92/night). I slept pretty well there. Continental breakfast was included in the stay, and consisted of rice crispy cereal and toast.
We checked out around 10am and they called us a taxi, and a black Mercedes picked us up and took us into town. Our driver, Mr. Ali, a cute little older Muslim man, was very nice, and apparently was the boss of the company. He took us to a really nice souvenir store in the city called Jacks (I bought a Fiji t-shirt and a Fiji oven mitt, and this little granite dolphin that I broke-oops). We walked around a little though (against his advice), and really stood out like sore thumbs. I thought we would see a lot of tourists shopping in the city, or at least getting out to look, but we were the only ‘white’ people that I saw. I noticed quickly that the Indian population is pretty dominant; all the clothing stores sold the traditional Indian outfits (shirt and pants set lavishly decorated with rhinestones and glitter) right next to the Fijian tropical patterned shirts. There were lots of people on the street, and for the first time since I have left to study abroad, I actually felt a bit of culture shock. It feels very exotic…
Mr. Ali was so great- I told him I wanted to get a couple of cucumbers to take to the resort to snack on. He immediately took us to a Fijian food market. He told us to sit in the car while he ran in to get the produce (painfully ironic, that the two little Americans sat in a black Mercedes while their driver ran into the market, in the middle of a poor and dilapidated city).Women sat under tarps selling their few organic fruits and vegetables. There was no ‘big’ company around; it seemed like the ladies selling the fruit also probably grew the fruit in their own yards. He brought us back two of the biggest/thickest perfect cucumbers I have EVER seen. He also got us some fresh cut pineapple, skillfully carved with the stem intact so that it can be eaten kind of like a lollipop. On our way back to Smugglers Cove he pulled us into a market so we could grab some peanut butter and crackers. He probably drove us around for two hours, so when we got back to the hotel we were prepared to pay for it, but he only charged us USD $12 (FJD $18). It really reminded me of how cheap the labor is in this country, and how little the pay must be.
Before Mr. Ali left we arranged for him to take us to the bus station, so right around 1:00 he came back to get us. The bus station was back through town, and was really typical of what you would imagine a bus station in a third world country to look like. At this point, the heat was starting to get to me (and the insane humidity), so I got myself a popsicle for USD$.60 and a Fiji water while we waited for the bus. That was one of the biggest surprises for me when I arrived in Fiji- the Fiji water sold in grocery stores at home actually comes from Fiji, and is actually the most popular bottled water here (it really does taste better). I had always imagined it owned by Coca-Cola or something, because of the nice looking bottle and high price. It is cool to think that even when I am home and far away from Fiji, I will be able to run to Kroger and grab a bottle of Fiji water for a little reminder of the country.
Anyway, the bus station was full of people on benches; women, men and children patiently waited for their buses. Some of the buses were open air buses, and all were pretty old. We took a Sunbeam public bus, and sat near the windows so that we could feel the air coming in. There was a television in the front of the bus, and random movies like one about a wonder-dog came on. The movie that played after we passed thru Sigatoka was an obviously Fiji-made film about an Indian women who gets mistreated by her high roller Indian boyfriend, and falls in love with a Fijian man who goes to church, helps old people, and is just an all around good citizen. It says a lot about the culture here, that what is important to a lot of people are someone’s values. The bus ride was a teeny-bit miserable, but we survived and finally got to the Beachouse!
Upon arrival we met up with a few other Americans who had already gotten here, and quickly settled into our dorm. The dorm is really nice; it is right near the bathrooms, has clean-feeling tile floors and good fans, and only holds 6 people (all girls in ours). The way the resort is set up also feels very Fijian. We walk down a little dirt path thru beautiful green gardens past blooming tropical flowers to reach the bar area and pool, and then the beach is just a green lawn away. It truly is PARADISE.
Before dinner we participated in a welcome Kava ceremony with a man from the local village, Navula. The kava was made in a big bowl that was carved out of solid mahogany. The kava is made from the powder of the stem of a special plant; it is put into cloth and strained into pure water, so the water looks sort of muddy. Each person then downs a bowlful after clapping once, and everyone else claps three times. It is a very interactive tradition, as everyone watches everyone else and claps for everyone. The kava is a mild narcotic, but only if you try to drink more than 5 bowls. It makes your mouth numb for a few minutes after one, though. Then, dinner is served around 7pm, but is ordered off a list of 3 specials around 4pm. I dined on stir-fried veggies with potato, or ‘cassava,’ chips. The rest of the group arrived about 3 hours after we did, and everyone had a delicious dinner. One thing that is really conveinient about The Beachouse is the way you can put almost everything you do at the resort on your tab, just by using your name and room number (could be dangerous though, haha).
With nightfall, the stars were absolutely unbelievable- I felt like I was looking out into the solar system. I can even see the REAL milky way! In the southern hemisphere you can’t see the Big Dipper or North Star, but you can see the Southern Cross. I have never really been good at picking at constellations, but the Southern Cross is really prominent and easy to find.