'Evans Above

Trip Start Dec 14, 2012
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Trip End Feb 20, 2013


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Cyclone Evan

Flag of Fiji  , Viti Levu,
Friday, December 14, 2012

Ahhhhh Fiji! After leaving the Land of the Long White Cloud we were more than ready for the Land of the Lovely Islands, Beaches and Sunshine! With only 4 nights there, we'd booked ourselves onto a remote set of islands called the Yasawas, only accessible by a five hour boat ride from the main island, with fab opportunities for snorkelling, kayaking, and generally sitting on our own tiny little scrap of tropical island...

Then a couple of our more observant kiwi friends mentioned Cyclone Evan to us... hmmmm... after some thorough research (thanks google) and some discussion with our insurance company (thanks mum) we worked out that the predicted path of the cyclone would probably not affect the Yasawas TOO badly (our lives wouldn't be at risk), but would potentially prevent us being able to get our five hour boat ride back, thus messing up our complex onward flight arrangements (LA - Mexico - Havana - so the Americans didn't know we were hitting up Cuba)...

After a Friday night sleeping (or worrying!) on it, we decided to catch our bus to the Marina and see what the locals made of the conditions. A quick question to our hostel owner on the mainland - did he have a room if we decided not to go because of the cyclone - was met with a quizzical look, cyclones being such a frequent occurrence that why would you bother changing your plans?! Our fellow passengers all with a myriad of different trips and dates for heading back seemed blissfully unaware of the cyclone, and with a throwaway remark and gesture to an A4 piece of paper from booking staff ('you do know this is the current predicted path of a cyclone, is that ok with you') made us wonder if we were overreacting, but after some thought, we decided it probably wouldn't be the relaxing holiday we'd hoped for as we'd spend the entire time wondering if we'd be able to get our boat and therefore flights back. Cutting our losses and seemingly much to the bemusement of the booking office staff, we opted against our islands trip and decided to go on a sailboat cruise for the day as our boat ticket money wasn't refundable... just as the sail was confirmed for us, the flustered clerk told us it had been cancelled - as they were bringing the boat back to the mainland to protect it from the cyclone. Booked onto a day cruise to a nearby island instead, we felt increasingly confident that we'd made the right decision, despite the still blasť attitude of some of the locals!

We spent a day on the lovely Treasure Island, with some fish feeding from a glass bottomed boat (tropical fish apparently like entire bread rolls lobbed at them), some fab snorkelling (parrot fish are the favourite), some hammock lounging, turtle spotting (in a tank, not out in the ocean alas), and of course the usual 50 layers of suntan lotion and sun avoidance by Amy. We also spent a lot of time debating where was going to be the safest place on the main island to go, as well as somewhere where we might get to see some more of Fiji.

Returning to our hostel that evening, we weren't the only ones who'd changed our plans. A few people had self evacuated from the outer islands and were waiting in close proximity to the airport (a 10 minute drive from where we were) to see if their flights would go ahead or not. With a lovely swimming pool and deck, as well as being reassuringly sturdy looking, our hostel was definitely not the worst place in the world to be. After deciding we would head to the south coast the next day, as the centre of the storm was currently heading straight for us/Nadi, a quick chat with our fellow guests and hostel owners changed our minds. With the storm approximately 500km wide, there was no such place as 'safe' on such a small island (the same storm while only category 3 had killed 9 people in Samoa, and was now category 4) and the place we had looked at going to had its bridge destroyed in the last major cyclone, with people unable to get access to the airport for 2 weeks afterwards. Our decision essentially made for us, we settled down with the 8 other hostel guests and the reassuring hostel owners to wait out the storm!

We made the most of our last night of freedom by taking in the free entertainment and traditional dances at a bigger nearby hostel. Particularly impressive were the fire jugglers, with one of them managing to set the other ones outfit on fire. Easily done!

Waking up on Monday morning with the storm due to start seriously at lunch time, there wasn't a lot we could do. The predicted path of the storm had changed overnight, with the centre of it, including "phenomenal seas" passing directly over the Yasawa islands we should have been on... Grateful not to be staying in a palm roofed hut only metres from the sea, we just hoped the local people, who apparently don't get evacuated, would be ok. Then *pop* the internet and electricity went off, the wind started to pick up, and the rain started to fall. Apparently in a cyclone the real problems come if it's moving slowly, changes path and comes back again (as had happened in the capital in Samoa), happens mostly at night (no one can see how bad it is) or rains excessively causing flooding (particularly because we were fairly close to the waterfront. The hostel where we'd watched the entertainment had had the army in to put in some flood prevention i.e. three blokes and a shovel put some sand in a heap in front of the hostel. Reassuring.)

If you're ever going to be stuck in a cyclone in Fiji, I would definitely recommend the Bluewater Lodge. Our hosts were hardworking, reassuring, gracious, and fabulous at cooking on a gas camping stove (veggie option anyone? No problem!)! After battening down the hatches, they worked tirelessly in the baking heat to keep us fed, watered and safe from the storm. We sat back and watched the mesmerizing winds dragging the branches from the palm trees, the swimming pool rising to the brim, and getting into some serious book reading! The only sign of the magnitude of this cyclone compared to others was when the hostel owner rang the met centre (tourist areas have underground phone lines) and asked if the eye had passed yet. The high winds that usually took an hour to pass in normal cyclones had continued for 8 hours during cyclone Evan, one of the worst in 20 years. We slept surprisingly well that night, evacuated upstairs after a leak in our room downstairs, and woke the next day to survey the damage, and cross our fingers that our flight to LA would be going ahead! A taxi trip to the airport revealed some places hadn't done as well as ours, with trees down, advertising billboards felled, a minor fire at a posh hotel, and the roof ripped clean off several houses, as well as the brand new roof of a hotel now lying several hundred metres away across a main road. Scary stuff.

Our flight was scheduled to go ahead, although with a delay predicted, and it was amazing to think how quickly Fiji had started to function again. It was hard not to get annoyed with some of our fellow irate passengers who were ranting at a 3 hour delay: at least we were just flying away and carrying on our holiday, some people would have to rebuild their businesses and homes, something our taxi driver told us would take months.

So Fiji - beautiful place, shame we didn't get to see more of it, amazingly kind people.
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