I’m in Nandi airport, waiting to return to the Land of the Long White Cloud after a week-long sojourn to Fiji. When I initially planned my South Pacific gallivanting, I hadn’t really considered much other than NZ, Australia, and the Cook Islands. Then, a few months ago, my friend asked, “Hey, want to go to Fiji?”
Against my better judgement, perhaps, I agreed.
We booked ourselves onto a tour promising adventure, culture, and beach time. The one snag was that scheduling conflicts left us with one day in Nandi by ourselves.
Culture shock is putting it mildly.
Nandi is a huge tourist town, but we stood out like the proverbial sore thumbs. We couldn’t walk more than a few paces without offers of more tours, souvenirs, souvenirs for all our siblings and friends, taxi rides…Add to that the fact that we really hadn’t given our free day much thought other than, “Fiji! Whooo!” and you have one incredibly exhausting and stressful day.
But, after three bus rides, two nights in a tiny hostel, and an impromptu kava ceremony, we finally boarded our tour bus. There were thirteen of us, mostly from various parts of Great Britain, Canada, and the States. Our guide promised that we would get wet every day, which sounded fine by us.
Day One was mostly a beach day. Day Two was nothing short of amazing. We trekked through the jungle to swim in waterfalls. Fijian jungle, as it happens, is full of rich, reddish mud. At first, we daintily hopped from dry patch to dry patch, but by the halfway point, we’d given up. River crossings became nothing more than a opportunity to wash your shoes…temporarily. Cleanliness and jungle don’t really mix.
But oh, man, that waterfall was worth it.
Day Three was our culture day. We visited a secondary school and spent some time chatting with the kids (one was quite impressed that Justin Bieber grew up about two hours from my hometown). Then off to Nausautoka village for kava and dancing – I have never experienced such a warm welcome.
I do apologize for the tone of “then we did this, and then we did that,” but I think I’m still trying to process everything. Fiji is a poor country. Looking at the school, and looking at the village, I was struck by what was lacking (water sanitation comes to mind), but also by what they had. The high schoolers kept asking us to add them on Facebook. People, in general, looked happy and healthy.
I think the most striking image, and perhaps the one that best captures the day, is that of two boys playing rugby at Nasautoka. They were around five, and ran up and down the road, tossing a half-filled plastic water bottle back and forth, and occasionally tackling each other in a fit of giggles.
Kelly from Ireland summed it up well: “Kids will play anywhere, with anything. These kids don’t have much, but at least they have the chance to play.”
Certainly an experience that will stay with me…
As it was a hop-on, hop-off tour, we then bailed for a few days of snorkelling and poolside relaxation. I needed it. While I lay in a hammock, under palm trees, watching the sun go down over the South Pacific, I finally breathed a sigh of relief.
It was a long road to get there. And when I get back to Canada, I hit the ground running and don’t stop for even longer. So it was nice to lie in that golden, addictive sunlight, and store up some rest for the months to come.
And as soon as the weather clears, WELLINGTON!