Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Fiji time

Newly arrived in Los Angeles from the Pacific, which was 10 days of extremes and no mistake. It all started pretty badly - the day after I landed, Cyclone Tomas hit the outlying islands to the east, and suddenly we were all grounded. I was safely tucked up in Nadi (on the west of the mainland), confined in what was after all a pretty nice place, albeit not what I'd expected.

Now, Nadi is not where you'd choose to spend a holiday, despite the most awesome and unexpected Hindu temple downtown, and when there's a curfew and everything is shut it's worse. But while being bored and having my sailing trip cancelled was the worst thing that was happening to me, over on the other side of the mainland people's homes were being destroyed; a few people were even killed in the waves. It was incredibly uncomfortable, being a tourist and in an incredibly privileged position while the people working (and being totally cheerful the while) were worried for friends and family. What was worse was that I was the only person who'd watch the news with the staff to find out what was going on.

I did manage to spend some of my tourist dollars at least, when the curfew was lifted. Not a lot was going on because of the threat of rain/wind, but I headed out to a village on the outskirts of Nadi to meet some of the locals. Mind you, this hardly lessened the burden of guilt, not least because I was the only person on this tour so they were spending all day looking after just me! A charming young man called Adam (missing most of his teeth but gorgeous nonetheless) was my guide for the day because his English is the best in the village, and after being fed breakfast - cross-legged on the floor, which was a test for my knees - in the chief's hut, we wandered round the rainforest and down to the waterfalls. Along the way we met one of the men, who was setting a trap for a wild boar that had been stealing their root crops; the villagers mostly live on chickens and eggs, as well as the produce that they can grow, but still go hunting with spears for meat on occasion, though it's a dangerous business. Then it was back to another hut, and more food - even I was struggling by this time; no one wants to be rude but I'd had three meals by 12.30pm and had NO IDEA how much of the vast spread before me they wanted me to eat! I compromised by eating something from every plate, while Adam and two old ladies looked on, laughing like drains when I was caught unawares by a wild chilli.

So, an interesting but not a cosy experience for a Westerner - the huts are clean but basic, with corrugated iron roofs and bamboo walls; there's one tap in the whole village; it's clearly a hand-to-mouth existence when it comes to eating, and there are 70 mouths to feed with very little. They really need the money the tourists bring (Adam was furious to hear that I'd been hassled by two blokes on the street the night before; Fiji needs a good reputation, he said), and it was little enough. I'm glad I went, though, and didn't just hang out with the other tourists.

However, for all that the second part of my holiday was your typical Western experience - the cyclone over, boats were again bound for theYasawas (islands to the west), and I spent six days in Botaira Resort on Naviti Island, the largest in the group (and it's tiny). This couldn't have been a greater constrast - I slept in a bure (a kind of bungalow) right on the beach - I could see the sea from my bed. There were never more than 10 people staying in the whole resort because it's off season - and for the last few days there were only two of us! Everywhere there were palm trees and hibiscus flowers, with nothing to do but go snorkelling right off the beach (literally - you could wade out to the coral and be right among all the glorious tropical fish). And in the evening we'd have dinner looking out at pink-and-orange sunsets from a bamboo verandah, while the crabs skittered over the sand below.

My fellow guests were lovely, and the staff were incredibly friendly. Though my favourite was the enchanting Cookie, the son of the chef (appropriately enough!), who turned three while I was there and whose big treat was to head out on the launch every afternoon when they were dropping off guests to the catamaran. He was terribly shy, but by the end of my stay he was saying "Bula!" (hello) and waving quite happily. As for myself I managed to subdue my guilt to a dull roar, and had a wonderful time - and who could fail to, really? And as it's likely to be my one and only luxury tropical holiday I'm glad I got to go!

Now I'm in the City of Angels and pounding the city streets, which is yet another contrast. More on that later, but I'm sorry to leave Fiji - like everyone, I have fallen in love with it.

1 comment:

  1. I'm very glad to hear that all is well with you - if you want recommendations for LA, drop me an email!