Some years ago my wife and I and another couple decided to take a vacation in Fiji. As always the anticipation of a vacation in an exotic island was unbearable for those weeks leading into the departure.
The planning , the shopping, the studying up on great things to do there and the demographics of the culture, the slow packing of the cases for days prior to departure and the fun dinners with our friends planning our itinerary once we did arrive. Such is the anticipation,
To make things really fun, the husband of the other couple whom I shall call Carey to keep his identity private and also because of his aspiration be like the famous actor, decided that he would book a stretch limo to take us all to the airport and also to pick us up and take us home when we returned. What a treat!
The big day of departure arrived and we all prepared for the limo each at their home, ready and waiting anxiously for the moment of arrival. The limo picked Carey and Celine up first and then brought them over to our home to pick my wife and me up. Talk about the life of Riley! As the limo pulled up and stopped, the driver got out and came around to the passenger door and opened it for my wife and I to get in, He immediately took care of our luggage and placed them in the trunk, closed the door behind us and proceeded back to his driver position in the front and pulled away from the curb. Some neighbors were peeping in a way that gave out a subtle disinterest at this obscene statement of opulence whilst trying to go about their chores in the front yard that they never normally did except when their neighbors were extreme showing off!!!!
The luxury was incredible, soft elegantly upholstered seating, a full bar with crystal glassware and even a mini refrigerator and two ice buckets each filled with ice and a bottle of champagne.
We opened one bottle and wished each other bon-voyage and guzzled on the wonderful bubbly nectar in our glasses and the trip passed all too fast, we were suddenly at the airport terminal for Air Pacific and due to our mode of transportation were given the VIP treatment by the skycaps at the departure terminal, where we were ushered in to the check in and waiting area for our flight. Of course once we had passed the entrance and were back to the real world we all checked in to economy seating and checked our own bags in with the clerk at the desk. Such is life, take it while you can is my motto.
Once checked in, we then proceeded to the waiting area for our plane to be brought to the terminal for boarding. As we all walked in to the area a voice from across the room said “I don’t believe it, are you guys all going to Fiji”? It was of all people, a friend whom we had all known in the City where we had all met many years before. It was George and his son Tim who were going on a father son vacation, but what a coincidence, here in the middle of the metropolis they call LAX we stumble on someone who we all know going to the same destination half way across the globe!
The plane was immaculate and the service just phenomenal and the staff on board were gracious and friendly, what a way to start a vacation. A long uneventful flight which took us across the dateline arrived at night on the island of Viti Levu and as we disembarked from the plane, things changed a little, it was as though we had arrived in one of those third world destinations where it was important to hang on to your wallet in your back pocket with one hand and use the other to pick up your bags off the carousel, or so it felt initially. We all retrieved our baggage and proceeded to find the hotel shuttle that was supposed to be outside waiting, it was but we didn’t know it because outside the airport was a bus terminal and a half dozen commercial buses were in line waiting to pick up passengers arriving on our flight and the one before us from mainland Australia. Chaos would be an understatement. As we looked around anxiously for a hotel shuttle, an Indian fellow came over to us and said “Fijian Resort”? We all said yes in unison at the same time with a tone of relief. He then beckoned us over to one of the commercial buses which was waiting in the line with others. “OH! DEAR!” I thought, if this is the shuttle what is the hotel like? Carey and I loaded our baggage into a hatch below the seating area and proceeded to lead the girls into the bus to find seating. Why was I not surprised, the bus was full of locals who obviously used the same bus to go back to their villages at night after a day’s work, it was chaotic and more than a little strange for us here in a foreign place expecting to go on a luxurious vacation in paradise. We scuffled our way about half way down the bus to the first empty seating and the six of us made comfortable, George and his son had bonded firmly with us since the departure lounge at LAX and was not about to be separated at this moment heading heaven knows where to a hotel in the middle of darkness somewhere miles down the island.
We were at last off and the bus lurched off at a fast pace, not unlike the starting of the Indy 500 bus style! We all glanced anxiously at each other and wondered exactly what we had let ourselves in for.
Twists and turns and occasional stops to let natives off and then away again at high speed, the scary part was not so much the speed but the overtaking of slow cars with traffic coming towards us or passing on blind bends with a faith that even the most devoted Christians have difficulty rousing even with the bible open in front of them. I remember thinking, if we make this trip, we will have to find a better mode of transport back to the airport on the return journey, still that was 12 days away and we may get eaten in a cannibal session somewhere before that!
The journey lasted about 40 minutes and the bus was all but empty by the time we came close to our destination where in the pitch black it made a right turn and slowed down considerably and chugged along the corrugated dirt road to what we all believed must be our destination, whether it be cook pot or hotel was anyone’s guess! At last we came upon a few dim lights in the distance and they got closer and out of the window I could see the reflection of other lights on what I thought must be the ocean. The bus slowed more and then turned a tight shrub hidden bend to reveal an enchanting sight, the portico of a thatched roof hotel entrance with a sign in front that welcomed all to the “Fijian Resort Hotel” we had arrived!
First of all I must say to you all that it was absolutely charming, it was like stepping back in time to the days of grandeur in the British Empire, the reception was open to the elements with a light, warm tropical breeze sifting through the lobby. This was a huge, open room with a wonderful infusion of tropical plants and flowers in abundance, rustic, heavy, dark, carved wooden furniture with heavy oversize cushions that one sank into when utilized by weary travelers after a 12 hour flight from mainland USA. The furnishings and huge ornate plant pots were sitting on a magnificent stone slabbed floor under a ceiling which housed big, thick, carved, dark beams interspersed with large slowly turning fans mounted on planked ceiling boards which served to enhance the sheer magnificence of the whole ambience of this oasis like place in the middle of the pitch black night of the surrounding area.
As soon as we had conglomerated at the reception area with our camera bags hanging from our shoulders and cabin luggage trailing behind like some well trained puppy dog on a rigid leash, we then simultaneously fumbled for our reservation documents and credit cards to provide to the smiling Fijian ladies behind the counter. Once checked in we were assigned a porter and presented with a Leigh each and escorted off to our rooms which had been reserved close by each other both overlooking the bay outside the balcony. Our friends George and Tim were situated fairly close by on another wing.
The porter opened the door to the room and I really don’t know what I was expecting but all I can say was that the room was typical of these tropical locations. Fairly spacious, queen size bed with fresh sparkling white sheets, clean, tiled floor slightly aged wallpaper wood plank ceiling with a fan. No a/c but a well appointed bathroom with shower over tub and two sink vanity unit equipped with hair dryer and some freebie shampoo and conditioner and of course locally made coconut soap, without a doubt some of the best soap in the world. This accommodation was absolutely fine for a tropical island vacation, comfortable but not obscene.
The next day we explored the resort, located on a gorgeous tropical island about three or four miles in circumference with white beaches, turquoise waters and coral submerged reefs right in the surrounding ocean water. A picture from a travel brochure and nothing missing, palms, quaint tropical buildings, large sail boats anchored in the bay and beach bars located strategically to cater to any whim for beer, cocktails blended or otherwise and of course seafood hors d’oeuvres of various descriptions to sip or nibble on while absorbing the sun in ones canvas deck chair, whilst gazing dreamily out at the paradise like view over the bay.
Yes, I am sorry, I got carried away just thinking about that place. However the story cannot be concluded without telling you about the experience we had a couple of days after we arrived.
It was close to lunchtime on our second day there and Carey and I went over to the beach bar to get some cocktails and seafood delicacies which we had all decided to partake for lunch and as we sauntered up to the palm roofed bar sitting on the sand, we noticed that the Indian bar keeper was there as usual his name was Jaginda a pleasant forty odd year old fellow with a nice disposition. We placed our orders and while we waited there we got into a conversation with Jaginda about the great pleasure all of us derived from an Indian curry and asked him if there was such a restaurant anywhere on the main island of Viti Levu. He said that there was none that he knew of but he would investigate for us, because he had heard that one may be opening not far from where we were staying on the main island but he would first have to check and that he would let us know the next day, if we would be back for drinks the next day. I say is “the Pope German” of course we would be back.
After a busy night in the resort’s main dining room and bar feasting and betting on the outcome of hermit crab races, we showed up the next day, to be greeted enthusiastically by Jaginda. He told us that the restaurant would be opened especially for us, we had already recruited George and Tim for this experience if were to happen, so we made a reservation for six and Jaginda told us to be ready the next day at 7.00 pm sharp outside the front of the hotel where we would be picked up by a taxi.
At the prescribed hour we all assembled more than a little apprehensive but nevertheless enthusiastic to be having a prawn curry no less at this mysterious restaurant. Jaginda had told us that he would meet us there to oversee the event and that the taxi driver knew where to go.
The taxi arrived, an old white Toyota wagon with a dark complexioned Fijian driver, who greeted us with a friendly smile and opened all the doors for us to board on our venture into the bowels of Viti Levu in the pitch black of night the reality of which kicked in immediately after we departed. We crossed the causeway from the resort and Yanucca Island to the main road and proceeded left towards Suva where we had first arrived on the islands. This only lasted for about five minutes when all of a sudden the driver turned left off the main road on to a dirt road that obviously had not been manicured since the British left or so it felt, pot hole by pot hole we crawled in pitch darkness with the dim lights of the vehicle leading us to our fate or should I say destination.
We probably traveled about five miles like this, unable to see very much of anything except an occasional pig or goat or other such animal that would suddenly appear in our lights as we ambled along.
After an interminable time we arrived at a clearing in the darkness where there were little thatched huts in a village group with the dimmest of lights in some of the window openings, I can only imagine that they were candles as they flickered and gave out little light for any exterior illumination. As we all looked out of the car windows in virtual silence, the taxi suddenly came to a lurching halt in front of what can only be described as a larger hut with a few more candles than any other building around us. As I looked out I could see faces at some of the windows with wide open eyes peering out at us as we disembarked from our ride. Immediately my wife and Celine became anxious and demanded that the taxi remain there for the entire duration of our visit. The driver assured us that all was well and that he would be close by but would return in a couple of hours. As we walked up to the front door, a huge carved solid piece of wood that filled a slightly irregular rectangular hole in the wall it suddenly opened and there in front of us stood Jaginda.
He had a large beaming smile and proceeded to welcome us into the spacious candlelit room which housed a number of wooden tables with a larger one situated in the center of the room with six chairs pushed in around its circumference. There was a native person scurrying around placing silverware on the table and placemats made from palm leaves and glasses that can only be described as collectibles from the past British occupancy. The floor was a dirt floor and behind the table was a three quarter partition, just high enough to hide view of anyone behind it but not high enough to reach the ceiling it was made of palm leaves and had quite a rustic appearance to say the least. Upon entering the room, Jaginda gestured us to the table for six and started to pull chairs away from the table for the ladies and then motioned that he would be sitting at a table in the corner of the room during our visit and we were to let him know if there was anything we needed.
We initially all decided that we would drink beer that evening as it came from a sealed bottle and may reduce our chances of catching the dreaded lurgy by at least 30% if we stayed with the program. We drank and chatted excitedly for what seemed an age when I decided I had to check the restroom facilities as an advance patrol in case the women developed a need which I was 99% sure that even if they did, they would not exercise the option. Nevertheless I asked Jaginda where it was located and he gestured to the rear of the room. I proceeded there and exited through a doorway out into the night. There was however a pleasant surprise, a flaming torch lit a walkway made from thatched palm leaves towards a little out house about one hundred feet away. The door was made from thatched palm and inside was pitch black but it the flickering dark I could make out a bucket which I guessed was the spot.
As I returned to the other guys I was able to view what I can only describe as the kitchen,. It was located just behind our ding area and comprised of two big pots sitting on an open fire with a metal grate. Two natives dressed in nothing but loin cloths tattooed all over their upper torsos in tribal islander tattoos, were working the concoctions inside the pots with large wooden utensils and steam was rising into the night air in voluminous quantities. I opted not to say too much to the group as I thought it may not add to their ability to digest such delights!
After we had all been sitting for about an hour or maybe an hour and a half, we had all consumed enough beer to numb even the most delicate palate, Jaginda got up out his chair and announced that the curry was about to be served. Sure enough as he finished his announcement two natives carried out a huge clay tureen of steaming liquid followed by two more natives who carried another one equally steaming hot and then a fifth native arrived with Indian flat bread on a huge wooden platter. They were placed on the middle of the large table and a large wooden ladle was placed in the one pot and a large wooden spoon in the other. Clay plates were placed in front of each diner and then they all departed.
For the more faint of heart. the arrival of all these natives in one location, surrounding all of us, looking as fierce as any tribal warrior you have ever seen it could have induced an attack of indigestion, but not us curry hounds we were now way past caring, at least the guys were. The girls opted to serve up the gastronomical feast that was made from a recipe that even the most imaginative could not describe.
Prawn curry it was supposed to be and judging by the tails and heads that appeared in the soup like brew I believe that may well be what was in there amongst he remains of other visitors who had dared travel there before us. Just kidding! The rice was white and well cooked and the curry was flavorsome, I think only marred in truth by our imaginations. We ate our fills well almost and paid our tab thanked Jaginda and headed out into the night air where the taxi guy was already waiting to take us back to civilization.
I must recount one last story before I close this episode in my crazy life. It was a few days later, my wife Alexandra and I were snorkeling out in the bay in front of our hotel, we were looking down into crystal clear water floating with the tidal current we had been doing this for about forty five minutes or so when we decided to go out a little further to see what else could be swimming amongst the sharp jagged coral structures below. As we snorkeled our way out, my wife suddenly made a weird trumpet like noise through her breathing tube and started to swim aggressively out towards me, I was about twenty yards ahead and she got there in no time at all. Once she got her head out of the water and had removed her mask she shouted sea snake and pointed back behind where she had just been. As we looked back there was a Japanese man who had been snorkeling behind us and he was approaching the area she had just left. So we shouted to him that there was a sea snake somewhere near him, he looked a second put his head below the water and all of a sudden he jumped up and no word of a lie started to run to shore on top of the water, yelling something in Japanese as he ran. I think he holds the water walking record for Fiji to this day. Of course be aware that sea snakes have a very small mouth and whilst they are more deadly than a cobra the only place that they can actually bite you is between the thumb and first finger where it is thin enough for them to actually bite, or so I am told by the Fijian natives.
I must say that Fiji left us with so many great stories, I will recount on another occasion some more from our adventures to the islands.