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Fiji

Fiji - Mana Island

32 °C

Weather wise it's been an interesting few days. Fiji is still in its rainy season and if it wasn't obvious on the mainland it certainly is now. The weather the past four days has been so extreme - one minute it's scorching hot with no clouds, the next there's thunder and lightning going on. A few minutes later, back to the sun and then vice versa. Worse than Ireland!

I left Nadi (pronounced Nandi) on the 6th heading to Mana and it lashed rain throughout the journey. To say the boat ride was bumpy is an understatement. It's just as well I don't suffer from sea sickness easily, otherwise I'd have been throwing up my breakfast. I must add that the boat itself was about 90 minutes late, but then it's Fiji time right? I booked myself in for four nights at the Rato Kiny resort which is essentially a flashpackers hostel and I'd highly recommend a stay here. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is included and they always have activites going on, most of which are free. I decided rather than do four nights on four different islands, it would be better to spend it at the one place and actually do something. As soon as I arrived I booked myself in for the Advanced Padi course. I had gotten my original Open Water cert last November in Australia and wanted to get further qualifications as diving is something I really have a strong passion for now.

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I got a private room at Rato Kiny which had an ensuite and apart from the fact there was no air conditioning (again) and cold showers it was really very comfortable. In fact the cold showers were sort of a blessing as it has been so humid, despite torrential rain on and off. That day I chilled out and started reading up on the chapters in my divers manual. The following day (Thursday) I took a trip to Mamanuca island where the film Castaway with Tom Hanks was filmed. I've still not seen that film for some reason but I definitely will when I get home.

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Anyway, we spent a good morning touring around the small island being shown various spots where scenes of the movie were shot. After that we got to snorkel for about an hour before a severe uphill trek to the top of the island for a fantastic view. They didn't warn us very well in advance though. I ended up practically climbing up the island in flip flops with a wallet/passport/camera in one hand and the other trying to cling onto almost anything that was stuck there. Out of six of us that did it, only three made it to the very end (including me, I wasn't giving up, I've had worse on those Glaciers in NZ). The good news is all this outdoor activity has finally given me a bit of a tan again - there weren't many opportunities to get one in New Zealand and I'm not a fan of sunbathing. If I'm going to be in the blazing heat, I need to be moving around doing something, not sitting there waiting to cook like a roast chicken.

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Friday morning was an early start. We had three dives that day to do. The first one was a Deep Dive where we went to 30 metres. My previous lowest dive was only 12 metres so there is a big difference. If you can do 12 though you can easily do 30, it's not that much harder and you barely notice it until you're down there. We had to a few skill tests including a maths one - I was twice as slow competing it 30 metres underwater as on the surface which is meant to show you the signs of nitrogen narcosis (the feeling of being a little bit drunk, or slower to think). The other diver doing the course with me was the same. The next dive we did as a Buoyancy Dive where you have to learn how to balance and steady yourself in the water without using your arms or legs. It's all about the breathing! It's quite difficult actually and takes a lot of practice to get it right. I got there in the end.

That evening we did a Night Dive. I was quite excited about that as I've wanted to do one for a while now. I felt like James Bond going out on a speed boat in the dark with thunder & lightning going on in the torrential rain. I did question myself at one point 'am I crazy?' but the answer came back as a no so I continued on. Jumping into dark waters with no visibility is a weird thing. Your only source of light are your flash light and the other divers around you. It was real interesting swimming 15 metres underwater against a coral wall - it was very empty as most fish were tucked up in their beds. Only a few cool fish remained and I wondered, does their mother know that they're out? Everything looks completely different at night time. It definitely had an eerie feel about it, especially when you point your flash light into the darkness away from the coral. It's pitch black.

The next morning we did a Wreck Dive. This is the one I most wanted to do. I'm a bit of a Titanic nerd and love watching any programmes related to it. We got to dive 25 metres deep to the Saramanda, an old transport ship that had been purposely sunk after being de-commissioned 15 years ago. I can't describe the feeling of gliding over the bow of the ship, it was just awesome. It's the closest feeling to flying I've ever had. Gliding past the rooms with your flash light was so strange yet thrilling. My dive instructor brought her camera with her on this one so you can see some cool shots of it below.

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The final dive was a Navigational Dive. We were brought to a site where the visibility is very poor and you had to swim in a rectangle only using a compass for navigation. I had done somthing similar before on the Openwater Cert so it was quite easy. In addition to doing the five dives we had to complete a lot of coursework over the three days. I got it all done and I'm now qualified as an Advanced Diver! The final evening was spent getting drunk (as you do). There was a Bula Special of a jug of vodka and orange juice for 30 Fiji Dollars. That's roughly about 12 Euro and when they give you six shots it's a pretty good deal. A late night of singing and taking part in Bula games was had.

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The return journey from Mana to the mainland today was even worse than on the way over. It arrived almost two hours late (Fiji time) and it was like travelling in a washing machine. About 15 of us were squished onto this tiny boat where your main worries are: am I going to get sick, sunburnt or saturated? Or all three? The highlight was getting off, where I was given the honour of carrying my suitcase over my head in deep water as the boat couldn't dock close enough to shore. Anyway, today is officially the longest day I've had the pleasure of living. Seeing as I'm flying to LA tonight at 10pm Fij time, I will in fact have a 41 hour day. I'll get to LA at 2pm (which is 3 hours ago as I type this, weird eh). I'm just hoping now I'll get an aisle or window seat as it's not letting me book online...

Posted by mattld 22:22 Archived in Fiji Comments (0)

Fiji Time! Viti Levu

sunny 32 °C

I’ve been in Fiji now for six nights now and I must say the time is going by quickly. I was worried it may be ten nights on my own reading books and wishing the time away. It was originally twelve nights but I it reduced by two so I could spend more time in San Diego (30 Euro flight change, nice one). Thankfully though, boredom hasn't been an issue. I used Friday to do some much needed laundry and to figure out what I was going to be doing during my time here. After a bit of research I came to the conclusion that doing a four night tour around the main island (Viti Levu) followed by four nights on one of the smaller islands (I picked Mana) was the way to go.

Before I get into what I’ve been up to, here’s some information on Fiji:

• Fiji is made up over 320 different islands, the two main ones being Viti Levu and Vanua Levu
• Cannibalism used to be rife on the islands – however since the British paid a little visit a couple of hundred years ago this has all stopped. Thank you neighbours!
• Fiji’s climate is very warm and tropical – temperatures in March reach up to 35 degrees but it always feels hotter due to the humidity. I've heard that awful (but funny) phrase 'sweating like a paedophile in a sweet shop' by more than 1 person since I've arrived.
• Bula = Hello. This word is used all the time, and I really do mean ALL THE TIME. Fijians like to use it for plenty of other phrases instead of just a greeting. For example it can also be used to say cheers over drinks, goodbye or just generally any form of celebration or after a song. Most hotels seem to have a ‘Bula Hour’ in the evenings. You cannot spend one day in Fiji without saying this word at least forty-fifty times (give or take). They just love it. Bula!
• Vinaka = Thank You
• The currency is the Fijian Dollar, with a lovely oul pic of the English Queen on the front. A teeth whitening job beforehand wouldn’t have gone a miss I’m afraid…
• Mosquitos are absolute bastards here. Forgive the language, but they are relentless. You end up spraying yourself at least four times per day and you still get bitten. If you leave any part of your body without spray they’ll get you. Forget the toes, one lad on the trip had a nice big bite on his eyelid. His feckin eyelid! I’m at the stage now where I’d probably buy a can of 100% deet if I come across one.
• The water in Fiji is like a bath – I hate getting in cold seas. In fact I just refuse to do it, so… LOVE IT.
• Fijian roads = not good. Not good at all. In fact, they’re the worst/most bumpy roads I’ve ever experienced. It makes the roads in Laos and Vietnam seem like brand new motorways. If you like the sensation of potholes, you’ll love travelling in a bus here! If not, you’ll just have to deal with it.
• Fijian people are so friendly – whenever you drive by or pass them on the street, they’re always waving, smiling or greeting you with a Bula. The kids in particular are the cutest – they seem genuinely thrilled to see a bus full of us tourists. At one point my arm was soar from all the waving.
• Giving the two fingers to someone else is a giving a symbol of peace. I was wondering what all the kids were doing on my first day.

There is feck all to do in Nadi. If you’re heading to Fiji do not spend more than two nights here, one just to arrive and another to plan out your trip. The main town itself is not very nice – I’m trying to be polite about it as I know Fiji isn’t exactly a rich country but walking through it wasn’t very pleasant. By Saturday morning I was ready to head off on my trip – only I accidentally switched off my alarm clock by touching the screen (my alarm is now a Nintendo DS thanks to my mobile breakage at the NZ Glaciers).

Anyway thankfully there’s another common phrase in addition to Bula over here. It’s called ‘Fiji Time’ and it’s said really quickly in a strong Fijian accent. It basically gives every Fijian or anyone working in this country the civil right to be late. And not just five minutes late, but up to an hour late. Maybe two. Fiji makes Laos look like the most punctual country I’ve ever visited. I woke up ten minutes before I was due to be picked up, but somehow I managed to shower, finish packing, check my main case into the luggage room, have breakfast and check emails before the bus eventually arrived. I’m loving Fiji Time now.

The bus company I had booked with was the Feejee Experience – sister to the Kiwi Experience. I know I had moaned about that in my NZ blogs but there is very little choice here and being only four days I didn’t really mind who I was going with, once there was a good recommendation or two. The crowd ended up being older than I expected. There were about 15 of us on the bus: five English, two French, six Danes travelling together, one Dutch, one Australian and little old me from Ireland. Wes, Rochelle and Fiona (three of the English) were staying in my hostel in Nadi so we got talking quite quickly and formed a nice little group for the remainder of the trip. That’s the thing about travelling, you must such cool people but unfortunately there’s always a goodbye at the end of it.

Our first day was spent travelling to Mango Bay on the south of Viti Levu. On the way we stopped off at Natadola Beach which is apparently ranked as one of the top thirty beaches in the world. It was beautiful but having seen so many beaches over the past six months they’re starting to all look the same. Or maybe I’m just spoiled. I think it’s the latter, especially after visiting Whitehaven Beach on my Whitsundays trip in Oz (still the best beach I’ve ever visited). Anyway we spent a couple of hours here, had a swim and then a BBQ afterwards. Nom Nom.

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Our next stop was the Sigatoka Sand Dunes for some sand boarding. I was bit weary of this one. My last and only encounter of sand boarding was in Mui Ne in Vietnam and it turned out to be a load of rubbish. This one though was far better. Apart from the painful walk up through the hot sand and steep slope to get there it was great fun. The board I got to use was a proper one this time and it flew down.

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That night we stayed at the Mango Bay Resort. Initially I had booked myself in for private rooms but having gotten to know the group I thought it would be rude not to share and I was saving cash too (very important at the end of these long trips I tell ya). You would think that Fiji given its heat would have air conditioning in the rooms. Apart from Nadi, not a chance! Therefore the only solution is to get drunk. And this is what we did for the last few nights. There was good entertainment on too with a Fijian show featuring dancing and singing. Afterwards we were encouraged (or forced, however you decide to look at it) to do a Fijian dance with the locals and then randomly, a good Congo around the room. We looked like ejets but it was good silly fun.

The end of the night ended with a few hardcores joining the driver and our tour guide for some Kava and more alcohol. Kava is Fijian plant roots mixed with water. It looks like mucky water or dirty dish water and tastes, funnily enough, like mucky plant roots. We were told it would get you a little bit high or chilled out in a similar way to smoking weed. I’m not a weed smoker now but that was enough to sell it to me and a few others. So we downed four cups of the stuff. Rotten.com! The first thing you notice straight away is that your tongue goes numb. And then nothing. After a few cups though you do feel more relaxed and chilled out – not in a complete stoner-ish sort of way but you do feel a bit buzzed off it. Or maybe that was the drink. Either way it was great night and I had the best nights sleep in ages. In a dorm with 14 other people and no air conditioning. Who would have thought. Nice one!

The next morning we were up early. After breakfast we drove to the rainforests. From there we embarked on a three hour trek which included a stop at a secluded waterfall for some fresh water swimming. They told us to bring an old pair of runners as ‘they may get dirty’. They were definitely having a giraffe. My poor white pair of runners got destroyed! We walked through dense forests, sections of wet muck that were up to our knees and rivers filled with water that wasn’t exactly taken from the local health spa. It was one of the muckiest, dirtiest and filthiest days I’ve had but also a lot of fun! Once you got over the fact that you were going to be covered in crap you could enjoy it. I’ve since tried washing my shoes out but they’re still filthy. I think my next idea is to put them in a washing machine and let them dry out. If that doesn’t work, they’re going in the bin because they stink.

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That afternoon we arrived looking like homeless people at the Uprising Beach Resort. This also happened to be the best hostel I’ve stayed in over the past six months. It’s more like a hotel, with a few dorms attached. It cost roughly 12 Euro a night which included a roomy dorm, 1st class condition shower/toilets, a lovely pool and an excellent breakfast buffet. It was the perfect way to get clean and unwind after the rainforest trip. That evening another bout of drinking ensued (around a camp fire but minus the Kava) and I slept well once again.

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On Monday morning we went to one of the local schools for a visit. On the way we stopped off at a supermarket and bought a bag of school stationary as a gift e.g. pens, rulers, copy books etc. The school we were visiting was one where the families of the children do not have a lot of money to spare as most come from farming backgrounds. Therefore every penny counts and we were only too happy to provide some equipment for them – it beats cash donations any day. Every Monday morning the Feejee Experience bus pays a visit to this school and the children really seem to enjoy it. They get a chance to practice their English, talk to people who generally live on the opposite end of the planet and of course, get out of a few classes. We spent an hour here where they took us on a tour showing us the classrooms, common areas and dorms for those who board here. We were all surprised at their confidence and how outgoing and confident they were. It was great to learn a little about their daily and weekly school routines – in hindsight it’s not all that different to ours back home.

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Our next stop was a village visit for a Kava ceremony. I had been dreading this. Saturday night was all about the Kava for me but after four cups of it and waking up to a taste of stale plant root in my throat I decided I would have no more. However there was no getting out of this one. After a long ceremony with the chief and two assistants we were all offered (or once again forced) to drink a cup of Kava. You can see in the picture below I’m trying to look all spiritual but didn’t quite get it across. To top it off my tour guide asked me to be the spokesperson for the ‘visiting village group’ so I ended up having to make a fool of myself while trying to recite off Fijian phrases and perform some of the rituals as the Kava was being made. Thankfully there are no photos of that.

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The last activity of the day was Bilibili bamboo rafting. I had done some bamboo rafting in Thailand a few years earlier so I kind of knew what to expect e.g. sit or stand on the raft as someone slowly paddles it down a lazy river i.e. pleasant plus. However I was completely wrong. The Fijian style raft didn’t really float at all. It was like sitting into a bath as the water plunged into the raft. It sank several times too so we had to get out on a number of occasions and literally push the thing. At the time I hated it as walking in the river was like walking in deep poo but looking back on it now it was funny. At the end we all played a few games in the water and then headed back.

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That evening we stayed at Volivoli Beach, another excellent hostel resort. That night, well you guessed it, more drinking! Thank god I didn’t stay in dorms the whole way through the last six months – I justified spending lots of money on alcohol due to the saving I was making by not getting a private room. I’d have ended up getting drunk most nights in order to sleep and by this stage I’d be a raging alcoholic.

On the final day we had lunch with a local Indian family in their house (there’s a large portion of Inidian Fijians on the island so it was good to get an insight into their culture). I’m not a big fan of Indian food but the curry was really tasty and thankfully not too spicy. The Feejee Experience had one last stop for us, the Sabeto Valley Natural Hot Springs and Mud Pools. Basically you get in a dirty muck pool, get out, apply a load of mud on your body, get back in and then head to a hot spring which is at least 50 degrees hot (i.e. scolding). I decided at this point I was all mucked out. I wasn’t the only one but a few plunged in and it was fun to watch their squeamish faces in the muck and then the boiling hot water.

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That night we headed back to Nadi for a relaxing evening which involved a nice meal and a big bottle of water. Looking back on this trip we did a lot and had a brilliant time. We had a lot of laughs – it’s definitely up there with the Frasier Island and Whitsundays trips I did in Australia. Today I head to Mana Island where I’ll spend four nights before the big flight to LA. I've got my two day Advanced Padi Diving course ahead of me which involves ship, night and deep dives so I can't wait. However, with just two weeks of my trip left my thoughts are starting to wander back to home...

Posted by mattld 03:03 Archived in Fiji Comments (4)

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