Bula Vinacka from the Island

Trip Start Dec 09, 2009
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Trip End Dec 10, 2010


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Where I stayed
Mana Lagoon Backpackers

Flag of Fiji  , Mamanuca Islands,
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

After an endless 11 hour flight over the Southern Pacific, crossing the equator and the date line, the flight landed smoothly at 5am at Fiji international airport.

One long room at which you enter one end and make your way past passport control and baggage collection and further baggage screening to make sure you aren't bringing in any farm produce then finally out into the main reception area at the other end!

Our smiley driver was there to meet us and help us load our baggage onto a hot, rickety, white minivan.

Although the transport was a little scary it was more than a relief to have someone actually turn up to meet us.

The hostel was only a 25min drive from the airport through the darkness and we arrived at the hostel for around 6am.

The hostel is right on the Main Street of Nadi, so main in fact they named it Main Street!!

Although we had booked for one night here on our arrival the gentleman behind the tour desk in the hostel was fairly insistent we check out the islands rather than stay in the hostel only for breakfast.

So we hastily booked up a trip to neighbouring island 'Mana’ part of the Mamanuca group of islands.

The pickup bus for the boat left at 9am, which left us two hours to check out the centre of town.

As we had just left hurricane central in L.A. we were a little lacking in the hot weather dept. So we needed an urgent shop for essential items such as suntan lotion, after sun & flip flops.

By 7:00am we were wandering up and down the main street in and out of the only shops we could find which were open.  We looked around some shops resembling the Fiji 1 shop and chemist which only sold imported sun cream which cost 59.99 per bottle.

Time was running out so it was a quick dash up some stairs to a first floor haven of all things crap.

I found a pair of flip flops for $3.00 which is roughly 0.90p and some sun screen for a bargain $12.99.

On our way home we got molested by the typical pushy shop salesmen who will try anything and everything to get you in their shop.

We unfortunately obliged being that it was still very early in the morning.  We managed to escape with only a minor defeat - a sarong each.  But we had been treat to a bowl of ‘Kava’, our first of the trip and probably not the thing to be drinking at such an early hour.

By the time we returned to the hostel it was just before 9:00 and our lift was ready.  We were leaving along with a Canadian couple bound for the same place.

The lift was just the back seat of someone’s car and only took about 10mins.  Of course in countries like Fiji it is never unreasonable to expect the unexpected.  So despite my wishes for a pristine white catamaran yacht docked in a marina with servants willing to fan you with palm fans and feed you grapes while on board.   What we got was ...the ‘Mana Flyer’!  A small wooden boat big enough for 15 passengers and the driver which arrived 1.5 hours late at Wailoulou beach, a long grey beach baking in the midday sun.  No jetty to help us aboard, we had to wade out into the sea and throw our bags aboard the boat before being hoisted up after them by two burly Fijians.

But this is backpacking and to be honest I probably preferred it this way!  We weren’t alone either as during the wait three other couples joined us as we sheltered under the shade of a wooden beach umbrella.

The boat ride took a further 1 hour 10mins over the choppy windswept reef and we arrived on Mana Island by around 2pm.  

All of the islands in Fiji are paradise islands, surrounded by golden sand and shallow turquoise waters, only the accommodations differ dramatically so we were already more than impressed with what lay before us.

 The boat guys helped unload our things into the backpacker resort and then left again heading back to the mainland.

We were met by a group of Fijian lads a little younger than the boat drivers who showed us inside and to an open plan dining and seating area.  The floor was still beach sand and the tables like long picnic benches covered with floral tablecloths, with a bar at one end and a decked reception/info section at the other.

We all sat down quietly on one of these benches while the locals explained the island and what we could and couldn’t do, where things were and how to get around etc. All culminating in a traditional Fijian welcome song to which everyone joined in, even some of the other backpacker residents.

Once that was all over and done with we allowed to retire to our bedrooms. 

As the price would have been the same we treat ourselves to a private triple room with plenty of space to unpack and unwind.

The room was situated in a building out of the back of the dining area and into the village a little more.  Our room was at the end of a corridor past the other rooms and directly next door to the bunk house we would have had.

The buildings in the village were made only of plaster board with chicken wire windows and no door.  The toilet block was the only fixed structure, made from breezeblocks painted blue.

We unpacked and went back to sit with the others on the beach.

Given our very long day it wasn’t long before I couldn’t keep my eyes open and thought it best to just head off to bed.

As the room was set back from the beach front there was very little air and although I slept well until around 6am once I was awake the heat was just too sticky to get back to sleep.

I got up and hauled my little blue blanket out to the beachfront and spent the rest of the morning watching a crab digging a hole on the beach and one of the locals rebuilding the beach front wooden/palm leaf umbrella.

In with the island package were three huge meals per day.  As there was no means of buying anything other than beer and water this was a necessity.  Breakfast was served at 8:30 so I met up with Julie Burns again over some banana bread and home cooked donuts on the dining tables.

Our first day was slow to get started as we liberally applied the sun cream to hide the very red and sore bits from yesterday’s unexpected exposure and threw the newly purchased sarong’s on.

We sat for a few moments talking to bloke called Mateusz as he recalled stories of growing up on the island, meeting the Queen and attending the school owned by the British and run by strict nuns.

He also told us about the last recount of cannibalism on the island – A story of a British missionary who unwisely removed a comb from a Chiefs head, thus causing great offence and meaning him and his faction were clubbed to death and boiled.  The National museum still holds the leather sandal he was wearing which wouldn’t boil away.

As the islands are so very isolated from everything the hostel would leave a blackboard hung on the wall in the dining area each day to advise the residents of the daily activities and meal times - today we had planned some beach volleyball.  So at the hottest part of the day we all trooped off to the grass volleyball court within the boundaries of the island school.  Locals and backpackers joined in the game with five team members on each side all running in random directions across the hot spiky grass.

Never has a volleyball travelled in so many different directions.  Only one local boy knew the true rules of the game so he attempted to keep score as balls flew through the air, some barely making it over the net and others nearly making to New Zealand!

No one could stand still for long either as the earth under you feet grew hotter and hotter hence as the game grew to a close, with six people per side, we were not only haphazardly throwing limbs at the ball but also hopping around to prevent the soles of you feet from scorching.

We called it a day shortly after and I still have no idea of the score or winning team.

We needed a long cool shower after this and by the time that was done and we had redressed we only had time for a short stroll up the beach to the wooden pier before dinner.

We were served typical Fijian dinner with lots of fish, rice, banana, chicken and bread with gallons of orange squash to reload on the fluids after our high tempo volleyball workout!

Later that evening we sat with some of our new found friends who kindly offered to share some of their duty free Bundaberg Rum along with several litres of beer and some overproof Fijian Bounty Rum.

The Fijians dragged some of the BP’s up for some good old party games and some dancing but before we knew it everyone was too drunk and it was time to go to bed.

After last night’s hotpot bedroom and with my newly found out truth that the other rooms had fans in, before bed I had to go in search of one of these fans.

I asked several Fijian boys all of which pointed me to another but I was resolute that I was not going to bed without one of these precious wind makers!

I sat for a further 20-40mins drinking more of their Kava and pestering the locals before I kindly man called Sam finally returned from who knows where with a half working white fan.

After some tinkering he finally made the thing work and we got a much better night’s sleep almost missing breakfast – nothing to do with the rum – obviously!!

On my was out for breakfast we met our friends from Canada who informed me a boat would be leaving at 9:30 for a day of island hopping.  The time was 9:10 and we were fresh out of bed and completely unprepared but were keen to get on the boat and go exploring.

We needn’t have worried of course with the wonderful thing that is Fiji Time – a term everyone who visits this country becomes all too familiar with.  If the time to leave is 9:30 this actually means 10:45 and not until everyone is ready and happy to leave.  Nobody minds of course because there is nothing else to be doing and after a while you learn to accept that everyone is on Fiji Time really!

So we managed to pack a bag with our sarong’s some water and a snorkel each and blag our way onto the boat despite having no money to pay for it!

Again in my dreams we would have been courteously shown aboard a large white yacht captained by a smartly dressed Fijian guide with comfortable leather seats and free champagne.

What we got was a small wooden speed boat with no seats and a tarpaulin to sit on! But again it was far more fun this way.

The boat was full with eight passengers and three crew and we powered off away from the island bouncing over the waves out into the Pacific.

As the boat grew close to the passing islands our guide for the day – Bosco; would give a running commentary of who owned the island, who had stayed at the island and why where we were staying was way better!

Our first stop was on a sandbank in the middle of the sea.  Due to the reef conditions on which Fiji is based there are many sandbanks which rise up out of the deeper water to form tiny little deserted islands.  The boat grounded itself in the sand and we all jumped out into the warm water and dumped the bags and things on the sand.  Bosco gave us all a shout to say he would be back to pick us up in an hour and a half later.  Then they sped off to go and set up the BBQ lunch on a neighbouring island.

We spent some time splashing around in the shallow water around the sand for a few minutes before we got too hot and had to go swimming.  So we put on the snorkels and swam out to the reef about 10meters out.  The sand dropped away to reveal a coral reef with hundreds of tropical fish, starfish and seahorses.  We floated around for the full hour just watching other snorkelers jumping in from passing boats and throwing bread in to gather the fish around them.

After the hour we slowly swam back to meet the boat which was circling the slowly decreasing bank of sand.

Once we clambered back on board and sunk down into our life-jacket seats we were at the next island.

This time a large resort island with a petrol station, mini-supermarket and a huge five star resort.

We sat in a remote bar while we ate our BBQ and drank a few beers and then split up to go and explore the island on our own.  There was a vast swimming pool with a fountain in the middle which we took full advantage of as well as the hammocks, sun loungers and even the brand new toilets.
But we couldn’t stop all day and got back aboard to visit a few more luxurious islands as we headed towards home.   Our last stop was a small rocky island by the name of Honeymoon Island.  Not as glamorous as you might think with no inhabitants or any ability to build anything on the jagged rocks but perfect for a last bit of snorkelling.  We flopped over the side of the boat with our snorkel gear already fitted, this time into much deeper sea which offered more brightly coloured coral and starfish.  Less tropical fish more reef shark and eels! The water was a mixture of hot and cold currents and the occasional bigger wave would crash off the cavernous rocky cliffs of the islands east side.

There was nowhere to plant the occasional tow here so we didn’t stay as long as the previous dive and had to haul ourselves over the side of the boat to set off again.

We were back on Mana Island in time for a shower, some relaxation in the hammocks and then dinner and bed.

Day four was the day for exploring our Island.  One of the bigger islands of the Mamaucas and quite separate from the others; Mana has sandy beaches, rocky coves, a five star resort with its own landing strip for small aircraft and even its own TV set.  So straight after breakfast we packed our essential cover all clothing and oodles of suntan lotion and set off along the beach.  We had chosen to turn left out of our resort and follow the beach as far as the first corner.  There was poked around in the rock pool for remaining coral and shells which we thought were extra pretty.

It took us around forty mins to get all the way to the opposite side of the island to our place, only recognising it once we got up close by the ruined buildings and half chopped palm trees which once made infamous Survivor – America’s reality TV show.

We drank coconut milk from a freshly fallen nut and rested with our bottle of water in the shade of some large leafy palm trees.

With the remaining husk of coconut we’d used as refreshment we attempted, very unsuccessfully, to knock down more juicy nuts to take home.  But really we spent about twenty mins throwing a coconut in the air over and over again!

Thankfully there was a shortcut on our way home; straight up and over the hill separating us from ‘Survivor beach’.  So we were back in the shower ten minutes later!

               

As the tides rolled in and out once a day the only opportunity for traversing the whole island was first thing in the morning.  By mid afternoon which it was now meant clambering over rocks.  So we decided to leave the other half of the island for tomorrow.

That night I decided it was time to we slept in the hammocks rather than our bed.  The wind which rushed in over the sea meant it was a much nicer temperature during the night. So once we had finished eating more coconut and making wooden jewellery out of the shell we collected our sleeping bags and lay them out on the double hammocks beside the sea.

We watched the massive fruit bats circling over head and the sun go down over the sea.

It was probably the best night’s sleep I had on the island and had to be woken up for breakfast and to move so’s not to get further sunburn!

After breakfast again we walked the other half of the island – this was our last day so we had to get the rest of the tour done before we’d miss it.

This time we headed in the opposite direction to yesterday towards the five star resort on the island.

Although we weren’t allowed in the actual complex it does have to its left hand side a landing strip for small aircraft, for those island hoppers who didn’t wish to risk the boat or had too much money!

We cut across this towards Sunset beach on the other side.  This was a secluded stretch of sand with less coral close to the beach.  So we left our bags under a tree and spent the rest of the day swimming.

During the summer the water here becomes hotter than the air temperature - Especially if it has been allowed the whole day to warm up.  So by 5:00pm it is like swimming in pure clear bathwater.

We swam up and down the beach until we were knackered and then lay under a shelter set back from the water until we had dried off a bit more and were able to walk home – back the way we came.

That night we had to pack and get ready for the boat out the next morning so after dinner again we set about folding our sweaty clothes into the backpacks.

Just as we were starting to fold and I was trying to persuade Julie Burns it would a good idea to pack my bag too I was having a quick thumb through the itinerary for the flight.

The first page said Nadi – departs 9:00.  We had originally read that the flight time was 10:30pm so I presumed this meant that the flight time was slightly different at 9:00pm.

Still nothing to worry about – then I realised that the flight time was actually written in 24hours.  So the flight time was in fact 9:00 the next morning!!!

With a very quiet and subdued "Julie Burns" – “I think the flight time might be 9:00 in the morning not at night”.

Julie Burns then threw down her folded clothes and grabbed the schedule from my grip with a look of terror we both realised that - So it was – the flight time was nowhere near were had first believed. 

Under normal circumstances this would have prevented no significant problem and we would have simply got an earlier transfer or even changed the flight times via the internet.

At this time however we were without a mobile phone connection, internet connection and the next boat to the mainland left at 11:30am the next morning (Fiji Time!). 

The only means of communication was via text as neither phone would allow outbound calls, and don’t even dare think there was a pay phone on this island.

Given the time was 21:00 at night and England is 12 hours behind British time we had to determine who wouldn’t be asleep or at work.  Or even who would be at work but would still be willing and able to help us out.

With a record breaking 7 texts we (or at least Carley) managed to rearrange our flight for the next available which left at the same time – 9:00am on 3rd of February 2010.

We regained our packing and got to bed by just after midnight! 

We did indeed jump on the next boat which left the island at around 12:00pm the next day and were back in the Nadi town centre about one and half hours later!

We strolled back into the backpackers hostel and re-booked another nights’ accommodation went upstairs and unpacked.

We now had to decide what to do with our remaining three days in Fiji!!
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