Bula from Fiji! Before I get into our Fijian adventure, I’d like to share a story with you.
Every time we go the pool Ben practices holding his breath. It was something he did in Mexico to be able to dive deep while snorkeling. His personal breath-holding record is three and a half minutes – not too shabby. Several days ago we were swimming in the ship’s pool. I heard a man say, “Watch out for the big fish.” The lady he spoke to laughed and continued swimming laps. Curious, I looked around for the big fish the man was referring to; and, sure enough, Ben was sunk to the bottom of the pool. I told Ben about it, and he laughed, but it didn’t interfere with his practice sessions. A couple of days ago, Ben was in the pool without me. He had been under the water (shallow, along the edge this time) when a woman rushed over and pulled his head out of the water.
“Are you okay?” she asked. “I’ve been watching you, and you were down there for ages!”
“Yeah, I’m okay. I was just practicing holding my breath,” Ben replied.
He said it was obvious that she was upset with him.
“Well, you shouldn’t do that without telling anyone!” she grumbled as she swam away.
I asked Ben how long he had been underwater before she pulled him out. “Oh, just two minutes or so,” he said.
Fiji was our final and, perhaps, the most anticipated port. How many photos of Fiji have you seen? I would guess most have portrayed pristine white beaches, with inviting aqua water. For the beach-lover, Fiji represents paradise. I hate to break it to you, but those photos are slightly misleading.
The day before we docked, Ben and I were watching the port talk on the ship’s TV station. We were trying to get an idea of where we wanted to go once we got there when we heard the host say:
“Now, if you’re expecting pristine, white beaches with clear blue water, then you’re going to be disappointed.”
We both looked at each other – dumbfounded.
“What did she just say?” I asked.
I had to ask it out loud, because I didn’t believe what I heard. Ben heard it, too. She went on to say that there are over 300 islands in Fiji – only a little over 100 of which are actually inhabited – and most of the photos we’ve probably seen of Fiji did not come from our port and capital city, Suva. I still didn’t believe her. I mean, it’s FIJI! It’s an ISLAND IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC. How can it not be beautiful? Plus, this is the same woman who, in every port talk, said “Don’t expect the nice accommodations and transportation like you’re used to back home.” Evidently, nowhere compares to Great Britain.
Despite Debbie Downer’s claim, we kept our spirits high. It’s FIJI. We woke up that morning, ran to the top deck, and this is what we saw:
Okay, so we didn’t see any beaches, but we were in the capital – that’s expected. Plus, it’s a really colorful capital surrounded by an intensely green landscape. It’s not ugly. We stepped off the boat into the chaos of port. There were several excursion vendors, and they didn’t heckle us like the last port. A point goes to Fiji. We quickly found out that it would cost us over $100 to get to the closest beach. Take away a point from Fiji. We politely declined the legal robbery. We were contemplating our options when a couple from the ship approached us.
“Do you want to go to the beach?” the man asked in an Italian accent.
“Yes!” responded Ben.
“Okay, well I found a cheap cab driver and the four of us can split the fair. It will be $25 each.”
“That’s great,” Ben said.
I was a little leery of a “cheap cab driver” in a foreign country. Come to find out, the cab driver was a friend of a port policewoman who offered to personally escort us to the cab. I was still leery, but she seemed like a sincere woman. We followed her through the crowded dock, out of the secure port area, and into a parking lot. There, a man named John invited us into his cab.
John was wonderful! He drove us to the closest beach resort with a guided tour along the way. Our Italian companion, Rico, sat in the front seat and asked a ton of questions.
John was a local soccer player and his team had recently competed in New Zealand. As a cab driver, he made enough money to take care of his family and take them along on his soccer-related travels (he had already visited several places in the world with his wife and young son). In addition to pointing out various sites and towns, he explained the current Fijian political climate. He belonged to the Fijian Indian “faction” as opposed to the native faction, known as the ethnic-Fijian nationals. The factions have historically butted heads, though he said there has been peace since the most recent government overthrow in 2006. While explaining local politics, he pointed out Fijian Indian houses. “How do you know those are Indian?” Rico asked. “Because of the Indian flag flying outside the house,” John replied. Then we started noticing that every house had one flag or the other proudly displayed. It was hard to accept his admission of peace between the groups with such an obvious display.
The drive itself wasn’t that impressive. It was green, flat and we couldn’t see the ocean. At one point, John mentioned how much he loved the local coconut water. Ben and I perked up at this and relayed our love for coconuts (in case you don’t remember). John pulled over at the next roadside coconut vendor and ordered us each a coconut. He even paid for the drinks (we paid him back), since none of us carried Fijian money. He was right – it was delicious.
As we topped a hill, John pointed out the local maximum security prison. It looked like a farm surrounded by a six-foot barbed-wire fence. He had started to tell us about the workings of the prison when Ben asked, “Why is it called a Mexican security prison?” I almost spit out my coconut water. John didn’t understand the question, so I just waved it off while he continued to tell us about the sustainability efforts of the prison. The inmates are responsible for growing, cultivating and preparing their own food, hence why it looked like a farm.
After a 45 minute ride, we arrived at the resort.
The beach was, funny enough, a little crowded with Arcadia cruisers who were on an excursion. Granted, their excursion included lunch, but I doubt it warranted the hefty price tag they paid for the same trip.
There were too many people in the water at the resort to get good photos, so Ben and I took a long walk down the beach. Now, this is what I expected of Fiji…
That last photo was taken with the camera behind my polarized sunglass lenses. The water and the clouds definitely pop!
We walked back to the resort, where our loyal cab driver was waiting. He drove us into town so we could do a little shopping. Ben and I bought postcards and went straight to the post office. We’ve been trying really hard to send postcards back to friends and family. We stopped at an ice cream shop before we headed back to the ship. The town was clean, friendly, and much more inviting than Apia.
Once at the pier, we saw a performance by the local police band. This group performs for incoming and outgoing cruise ships as a welcome and goodbye. They were really good; and with their traditional island attire, it was a fun show to watch.
We got back on board only to discover a British pride sail-away party complete with Pimm’s No. 1 cocktails (if you haven’t tried one, you’re not really missing much).
We dodged the party and went to the front of the boat. We were greeted with a storm front creating the most spectacular photo opportunity. The colors above the clouds are not a trick of the camera.
Look at that bird cloud in the front!
As we pulled away from port, we saw two guys in a raft racing the ship…
Then, we saw another somewhat familiar site: surfers. The unfamiliar part was that these surfers had to take a boat a half mile or so offshore to surf an artificial break. It looked like fun.
Fiji wasn’t a bust – not at all. We had a wonderful day on a pretty beach. And while it wasn’t what we were expecting, I wouldn’t mind visiting again. Perhaps next time, I will visit one of the 100 other inhabitable islands that are featured in the photos like this one.