So we’d finally departed Oz after 2 wonderful months and now found ourselves in the Pacific island paradise of Fiji! If nothing else, dear reader, it gives you something different to cast your eyes over.
We arrived at Bamboo Backpackers hostel around 6am exhausted but thankful for the airport pickup with Elliott. The place was on the outskirts of Nadi, pronounced ‘Nandi’, and the area of Newtown Beach – essentially backpacker central for Fiji in terms of entry and exit. While not technically booked in until the evening we were still invited to enjoy the free breakfast which was gratefully consumed. As we sat there in a daze who should make their way down for checkout but Becka & Laura our friends from way back in Padangbai, Bali. In fairness this was not a complete surprise as we were in contact and intending to catch them up in the Yasawas for Becka’s birthday. We’d not expected to see them so soon after arriving though. They were catching the Yasawa Flyer – the monopoly mega-catamaran that services the island group after which it’s named – that morning and heading to Barefoot Island where they’d spend the remainder of their time in Fiji. Amidst the happy reunion we noted the name of their destination so we could arrange our way out there too. They kindly leant us their room key until checkout so after seeing them off we grabbed a couple of hours kip before moving to our booked dorm and grabbing a couple more.
When we surfaced around lunch time we sat with the ridiculously helpful staff at Bamboo who helped us in arranging our 4 day trip out to the same place Becka and Laura were. We spent the rest of the day hanging out with Sophie our friend from the Netherlands in a semi-conscious state and plotting to possibly cross paths later in our time in Fiji. In the evening dined at the hostel before falling asleep early.
A poor night’s sleep in uncomfortable beds was ended by an early start to catch the bus over to the Yasawa Flyer. We made it comfortably and while waiting to board met Danny, a chap from South England on his way out to a different island. The Yasawas is one of the main tourist destinations in Fiji and there are somewhere in the region of 20 different spots you can disembark to amidst the island group, each of varying degrees of luxury signified by their ‘coconut’ rating. By way of example, as comparatively scrimping backpackers we were headed to a 1 coconut property while if you were laughing all the way to the bank there were 3 coconut resort that look more like the Fiji from travel brochures.
As a quick aside, Fiji is not cheap. That is to say it is not cheap for backpackers or holiday makers anyway. There are most certainly ways and means to manage on a miniscule budget but that will doubtless involve home stays in island villages and while you’ll definitely get the authentic Fiji it’ll be no holiday.
We boarded the mega-cat and 3 hours later – after dropping people off at a load of other resorts – we reached our destination. We were met by a tiny boat with a chap called Abdul piloting having only just arrived to work there. We were also joined by the chef, coming in for his x days shift and fellow travellers Spencer & Amy, well-travelled & high-rolling English folk. As we reached the shore after some clever coral skirting we were greeted with a song and presented with our first coconut drinks. We were given a brief tour of the island and facilities by Joey before settling into our Bure. A Bure is essentially a hut built largely from materials at hand on the island (bamboo, palm leaves etc.) with beds inside – it’s basic but in many ways adds to the atmosphere of the place. We were on a desert island – it wouldn’t have been the same to be shacked up in a villa. It wasn’t long before we found Becka and Laura and wished Becka a happy birthday.
That evening there was a beach bonfire for sunset so we made our way over and celebrated Becca’s Birthday with plenty of Rum and Fiji Gold before making our way over for dinner and enjoying a few more beverages into the evening.
Barefoot Island Lodge was a pretty relaxed place. Three meals a day were included in the price of the daily rate and served at regular times. This was just about the only thing any of us had to worry about – it was entirely up to us how we spend the rest of our days and nights. There were a couple of staff who planned different daily activity lists – Jacob was our main man on this – but they were entirely optional and never in your face. The main activity the resort was known for was snorkelling with Manta Rays. At certain times of year – and as luck would have it the time we were there – Manta Rays swim through the small channel that separates the island from the next one over at least once a day to feed. This being their big draw for some tourists they go to great lengths to monitor the channel around the times when the Manta Rays were expected. On a sighting staff run around the island shouting “MANTA RAY SNORKEL!” over and over and those that want to take part have to make a mad dash for the snorkel shed and to the boat.
On our first morning on the island the call came very early and we made a dazed effort to reach the boat only to realise that we’d forgotten our underwater camera. As we were there for 4 nights we got to do the Manta Snorkel (once) for free whereas normally it was one of the few chargeable activities. We decided to leave it and try another day with camera so made our way sleepily back to bed.
We got into the chilled out island vibe for the rest of the day. I played some guitar while the ladies made coconut jewellery in the morning. Seeing their handy work I had a crack myself and ended up with a half decent ring though I’ll never be in the trade. After lunch the ladies took to the beach while Jacob trained me in the art of weaving baskets from Palm Tree leaves. Probably a ‘C’ Grade at best.
It was Becca & Laura’s last night on the island and aside from the after dinner crab race (third place yours truly, no prize) it was as relaxed as the day had been.
We missed the call for the Manta Ray snorkel again and after breakfast the ladies were back in full swing with the Coconut Jewellery. The transient nature of the place was underlined over the course of the day; by far the most common approach to visiting the islands is to ‘hop’ every 2 days so by staying 4 we were the exception. In the morning new arrivals came and in the afternoon we had to say a sad goodbye to Becca and Laura who were on their way back to the mainland in advance of their departure flight. We’ll no doubt see them again!
While we lost two dear friends we were to make several other new ones – we met Tom, Jeremy, Max, Flo & Nadine among the new arrivals and got on well with all.
The days in Fiji tended to roll by with little in the way of event which made them all the more awesome. Beach, sea, hammock, guitar, book, beer…an actual holiday compared to the traveller lifestyle to which we’d become accustomed.
The next morning along with our new amigos we actually made the Manta Ray call and saw a few of the big buggers. We got some ropey snaps on the compact camera that I agreed to get out to people but find myself only publishing now. What followed was a good sunny morning spent sunbathing and playing guitar. After lunch Tom, Fi and I got involved with preparing the Lovo. This is basically a traditional Fijian dish similar to the Maori Hangi where enough food to feed an army is buried in an earth oven and slow cooked for hours. The process of assisting involved weaving baskets & smashing coconuts at first – I got lumbered with the latter as I was considered (incorrectly) to be already proficient at basket-weaving. Smashing coconuts on a wedged, sharpened stick protruding from the ground is both exhausting & difficult not to mention on the dangerous side but I muddled through. We took our baskets over to the chef who proceeded to pack them full of chickens, pork and all manner of vegetables. We then took these and some coconut based dishes wrapped in foil and placed them on the open coals that had been warming since lunch time. On went palm and banana leaves for cover followed by further sacks and finally the whole pile was buried in soil, all to trap the heat in and cook the food. When we returned a few hours later and dug out dinner everything smelled divine and we could have dug in right there and then given the opportunity.
All the effort resulted in a fantastic evening meal accompanied by some traditional fire dancing and plenty of booze. As the evening wore on Tom & I joined Robyn & Brian dancing which evolved into Robyn, Tom & I playing a legendary game of sports charades. We were joined by an awesome group from Japan who got right involved as well as other guests and the games went on until the early hours. Tom’s bird-watcher was the single greatest drunken charade I have ever seen. When we returned exhausted and victorious we met new arrivals Anja & Tess when reunited with the rest of the group and had some rum before bed – as one always should.
Our final morning was very relaxed and we checked out before awaiting our afternoon departure back to Nadi. We said our goodbyes and hopped aboard the flyer with Tom who wandered straight to the onboard travel desk and arranged to return to Barefoot a day later. By the time we got back to Nadi it was pretty late so we wandered around to alternative lodgings – Beach Escape Villas – where we got a private double with shared bathroom for a reasonable price. We found pizza for tea.