Trip Start Jan 05, 2011
16Trip End Jan 05, 2012
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Where I stayed
First of all, I must ask you to forgive me for my tremendous, hideous and disposable lateness in posting on this blog. I would plead lack of Internet, but it would be a lie. I would plead lack of time, but that, too, is just a fib. The simplest explanation is that Fiji spooky me rotten, and therefore, the only way I can really explain why this post is late is to write the actual post. Oh what tangled webs....
Flying into Fiji was an experience in itself. The flight departed late, stopped over on some island in the middle of the pacific (Christmas Island, I believe), and proceeded to arrive later than even all the delays had lead me to believe. I was so worried about not being able to contact the couchsurfing family I was going to stay with that I totally missed the person they had sent for me at the airport. It was raining, the taxi driver had no idea where the a dress I had been given was and cars drove on the wrong side of the road. Not only that, but the farther we drove, the more it started looking very very much like the third world. It crossed my mind that maybe I shield have done some research about Fiji before coming here...
Finally, my keen owl night vision spotted the a dress, and I made a dash into the house with my stuff clutched to my chest to try to shield it from the vicious downpour. At least, I thought to myself, the mosquitoes won't be out in masses in this weather. How very wrong I was, but more about that later.
FijiHost was lovely, kind and good company, and she, along with the borders downstairs made me feel very at home very quickly. I got to take a shower, and was fed some absolutely excellent chicken curry and rice. That was when I was escorted downstairs to take part in the nightly Kava defining with the downstairs group. Kava, for those who do not know it, is a Fijian root crop which is dried, pounded into a fine powder and then strained into water. It isn't alcoholic and isn't illegal, and, while not quite getting you high, does produce quite a wonderful sensation of peace and contentment. There is also a ceremony that goes with it. The participants sit in a circle, while the leader of the defining mixes the Kava, straining it though a cloth sack. When the liquid in the bowl is a jurist brownish white, they take a half coconut husk bowl and begin passing the Kava around. Before taking the bowl, the participant claps one, says "bula." then drinks in one gulp, after which the whole group and the participant claps three times. The process is repeated with the next person in the circle. I happen to quite like the taste, a sort of earthy, just slightly bitter and very mild flavor which immediately numbs your mouth, but many visitors apparently quite dislike the stuff. Still, in my mind, I had found my sub stance of choice. It didn't dull the senses, hurt my body, create an addiction or risk my freedom. In short, Fiji was starting to look up.
That evening, while talking over the Kava, the folks downstairs suggested that I not waste my time in the mainland but instead head off to the islands as soon as possible. One of them worked for a travel agency, and, after deciding wether I wanted to trust someone who was so obviously using FijiHoast to acquire clients thought her hospitality,and deciding that, all things considering, it was a perfectly legitimate bit of system manipulation, I agreed to book my trip through him. We decided on the Mana island, since it was one of the few close ones where the village and the Backpackers (how the rest of the world calls hostels) actually intermingle. FijiHost also happened to know the cook at the backpackers, and assured me that if I asked, she would let me into the kitchen. I would remain on the island for five nights, no Internet, no phone, just beach and hammocks and coconuts. It sounded like the vacation Hawaii was supposed to be, and i would get a chance to experience some Fijian cooking too. I went to bed a happy camper.
Now, remember earlier when I said I'd get back to the mosquitoes, well, this might be the right time to do that, since by the time I woke up the next morning, I was reminded of exactly why I hate the tropics. But, naively, I believed that perhaps my 100% DEET mosquito repellant might be effective. Oh, how very foolish I was. Over the course of my week in Fiji I acquired a total of close to 100 bites between mosquitoes, sips and the creepy bugs that went bed bugs but did live in the beds (way too big for bed bugs). So please, remember that when telling you about the rest of my time in Fiji, there is a little part of my, the negative, snarky part, which is just remembering the agony of the itchiness that colored my every waking hour. If not for the bites and the sunburn i will explain about soon, I think Fiji would have been quite wonderful. Unfortunately, my legs bare the evidence that it really did happen, and, sitting comfortably away from Fiji, I find no particular desire to go back there.
But enough complaining, let's proceed to Mana.
My journey began in the same unrelenting rain of the day before, and let me tell you, nothing makes you less keen to get on a rickety speed boat headed towards a distant tropical island though shark infested waters than torrential downpour. By the time the eleven passengers crowded onto the boat, we were all soaked, and our gear was, while fairings better, still quite damp. I was, quite bravely, wearing a dress. A white dress, which, I had thought, as i watched the sea, might be a big mistake. However, it exes up being a rather good move on my part for two reasons. A. The captain insisted on treating me like a lady since i looked like one, and gave me a seat under the rain cover, and, b. Since the skirt only reached to my knees, I did not have to immerse any article of clothing into the sea, and therefore was mildly less soaked than the others on board. I learnt my leash, always dress inappropriately, because you never know when it might turn around to your advantage.
We took off across the gray waters at a breathtakingly fun sped, and spent a good hour being bounced about every which way and having a whole lot of fun. Well, i did at least, isomer i had anti nausea bands and was the only one not drinking, I don't really know how the others felt, but they were smiling, which must either have been genuine or an attempt not to be sick. I really couldn't tell.
After one very confusing stop off at another island, we finally got to Mana in the early afternoon. Our room was as basic as it gets and, since the rain was still coming down, no one really felt like exploring. We spent the next few hours dealing with the problem of no lock on the door, something that the swarms of children running around were well aware of (although their parents routinely made them return anything they stole), and getting the run down about the island. It was, basically, divided in tow, on one side was the village, the backpackers, and the wilderness. On the other a multiple million Japanese resort which, we were repeatedly told, we were not to set foot in, since they could and would kick us out.
Finally, after my first conversation with the chef, mostly about what gluten free means, although we did briefly discuss me shadowing her every once in a while, the rain finally began to ebb and two of the boat goers who came with me, Chief and GuessMyCountry and I decided to go swimming and exploring along the beach. After twenty minutes of walking, the two of them decided hey wanted to explore inland. The way they chose was though a chest high field of grasses. Maybe I'm just a paranoid person, but I make a point of avoiding places whee i can't see things creeping along the ground or things coming towards me. I waited on the beach. Paranoia never killed anyone.
Finally, they returned, and we finally went swimming.
This was the point when I remembered i hadn't put on sunscreen.
That night, I was not a happy camper. My back and arms were lobster red and all i could do pretty much was sleep and drink water. I decided right then and there that my paranoia should be extended from nearly covering potential dangerous situations and foods to also cover sunlight of any kind, I would become a vampire, I would no longer complain about my lack of tanning ability, I would repent of my evil ways, really, I would, I would beg forgiveness to the sun for any offense I might have cause, for surely this pain was punish mention for something? Right? Right?
Needless to say, when i woke up in the morning, opened the door and saw the sun shining, I wanted to do nothing but curl up in a corner and weep. However, I bravely faced my breakfast of bananas (the only breakfast I ever got while in Fiji. As a side not, the original cure proposed for celiac disease was a diet of all bananas, maybe the Fijians were channeling the Greeks, but I propose another theory altogether: sadism, pure an simple. Teasing me with pancakes and fresh baked bread while feeding me a measly banana and a half. Grrr), applied copious amounts of sunscreen, brewed some very strong black tea to treat my sunburns with later, and spent 90% of the day reading in the shade on a hammock listening the GuitarGuru, a meditating-fasting-musical-genius-French-man play his twelve string guitar.
After a dinner of gluten containing soy sauce covered vegetables and rice, Wichita i picked at despondently, wondering if I had made a very big mistake in thinking I could study food around the world with this damn disease hanging over my head, I joined the group of backpackers over at the much posher Ratu Kini Backpackers down the beach.
It was Fijian night there, and they were introducing Kava to the masses of tourists. What a different defining form the last I had experienced. It was loud, spirited and felt very insincere. I made it my goal, therefore, to boycott tourist activity for the rest of my time there, if possible, and try to see what I could just experience by watching and listening. My tactics payed off the very next evening, when I wandered in on a locals and long term backpackers only kava defining and, since i seemed respectful and quiet, was asked to join. Not that they really stopped anyone form sitting down, but when people started talking too much amongst themselves, the bowl just stopped being passed their way.
That evening I had much more kava than I had yet consumed, and in doing so had several insightful conversations with the locals. For example, I learned that women seldom drink kava, because they are expected to get up early int he morning to make breakfast, and kava makes you sleep too well. I also learned that the chest high grasses I had avoided were in fact cassava plants, and that Fijian pretty much lived on cassava and bread fruit, at least on this island. By the end of the evening i was sitting next to the defining leader and he was showing me how to mix Kava properly, and how to time the passing of the bowl.
In retrospect, that was the best evening i spent in Fiji, and although during the others I found out many interesting things about myself, such as that I'm quite good at limbo, I can pick up a flat piece of cardboard off the floor form a standing position only using my teeth and that, when it comes to drinking, I just plain don't like it, nothing quite compared to the calm and companionship of that evening.
In the end though, dispute the wonderful people, both local and international that i met, and dispute the fondness i have acquired for breadfruit, I was glad to board the boat and then the plain and head for New Zealand.
Fiji was just too much too soon. Too stark, too much difference between rich and poor and too little that reminded me of home. Only one week into a very emotional experience such as a trip around the world, it was simply too much of the things I usually love. One day, i hope to come back and have a better experience, or, perhaps just one that had less ups and downs.
But one thing is certain, Fiji confirmed in my mind that I could do this, that even when itchy and in pain and rained in, I can still learn and still keep going. It may not be much, but it's something.