“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run…” – Kenny Rogers
Sometimes, even the best-laid plans fall to pieces.
It was supposed to be a vacation from our vacation — a quick, 10-day trip to Fiji, the jewel of the Pacific Islands. In truth, it was more like one long episode of Survivor.
We had signed up for a stay on Mana Island, just a short boat ride away from the island Tom Hanks made famous in Castaway. We were told we’d be getting the ‘true Fiji experience’: staying in the village and eating the same food the Fijians ate. At $55FJD a night, it was the best deal going in the Mamanucas. We had no idea what we were in store for.
The troubles started at the airport. We had a tight connecting leg in Brisbane, with just an hour to spare. Before boarding our flight to Fiji, we were required to show proof that we had booked a flight out of the country as well. No problem, we’d booked the flights months ago — only now, my booking details were nowhere to be found, and the clock was ticking. I had 15 minutes to provide proof of a plane ticket out of Fiji before the check-in counter closed. My visions of lying on a beach under the palm trees were fading fast.
I asked the check-in clerk if there were any other methods of looking up my flight details. No dice. Out of options, I made a dash to the travel desk to buy another ticket: $560AUD gone, just like that.
We had three days to spend in Nadi, Fiji’s main gateway to the islands, before heading out to the Mamanucas. Looking for a money-saver after an expensive start to the trip, we came across a food stand downtown selling chicken roti for $2.50FJD — an absolute steal. Warren and I pounced on it, wolfing one down right away and picking up four more for dinner and breakfast the next day. We were going to eat like kings.
We made it through dinner and slept soundly, blissfully unaware of the trouble looming around the corner. By morning, it all went sideways. It started with a whimper, but soon my stomach rumbled with a ferocity that could only mean one thing: there was a performance coming up, and I was pretty certain I’d be glued to my seat. To add to the problem, we were due to board our boat to Mana in two hours, and I wasn’t sure how many acts this play contained. I dreaded an encore.
I prayed it would all pass — and for once, it did. Now I could relax and enjoy the splendour of Fiji. I sat back and wondered what awaited us on Mana.
As it turns out, the answer was bed bugs — and lots of them. It started with one or two spots on a fellow traveller’s back, but soon it spread to dozens of bites, turning half of the hostel into an itching, red-splotched mess. It was like a scene out of The Walking Dead: once you saw someone had been bitten, you steered clear — they were a goner.
The food was another thing: pickings were slim, and seconds weren’t an option. Soon enough, time was spent counting down the hours between meals, waiting to appease our surly stomachs. We killed time by whittling coconuts and watching the days go by, finding strength in our shared hunger. By the time our boat came to whisk us away, I felt like a free man at the end of his sentence.
Just when I thought my Fiji adventure had come to a close, I got one last surprise: someone had tried to use my credit card and my account was frozen. I wasn’t alone: on the same island, someone else had their cellphone stolen and three others had their sandals stolen — all in the span of three days. (On the bright side, I went undefeated in table tennis one night, so the good-to-bad ratio isn’t totally shot.)
Tales from the road:
1. Fijians love their kava — a ceremonial root-based brew that, depending on who you ask, is either a cure-all for everyone from pregnant women to young children or a mildly-numbing drink with dubious stress-relieving properties. Warren and I were offered some on our first night in Fiji, served out of a coconut bowl. It goes down smoothly enough, but the taste leaves something to be desired. Mostly, you notice your tongue going numb.
2. A quick lesson in the Fijian language: “Bula” means “Hello,” and “vinaka” means “thank you.”
3. Slack lines are harder than they look. We met some Australian twins who had brought theirs along to Nadi — I tried it out and barely managed to take a step before falling off.
4. Two words you’ll come to hear often in this country: “Fiji time.” Think the opposite of a New York minute. Things operate at their own pace on the islands, schedules-and-itineraries-be-damned.
Things I’ve seen:
1. Islands in the sun.
It wasn’t all rainclouds and misery in Fiji: boating through the Mamanucas was an absolute dream. The hike up to the top of Castaway Island led to one of the best views of the entire trip.
2. Colourful sunsets.
It’s hard to stay too mad in the midst of beauty. Every evening, the sky offered up a new canvas for the sun to paint its brush strokes.
3. Village life.
This view greeted us every morning on Mana Island — often accompanied by a flurry of local kids running around and a quick “Bula.”
What I’ve been reading/listening to:
Dan Brown – Digital Fortress
Paul Keany with Jeff Farrell – The Cocaine Diaries: A Venezuelan Prison Nightmare
Gary Clark Jr. – “The Life”
BJ The Chicago Kid feat. Kendrick Lamar – “His Pain”
The Streets – “It Was Supposed To Be So Easy”
(Header photo by Warren Jones)