02.07.2009 - 05.07.2009 27 °C
I have always been dubious about Fiji, never seen it as my kind of place - I don't really do lazing on the beach or get into aquatic sports. Then there is the suppression of democracy and truth by Bainimarama, which doesn't make me think any better of the place. But when Air Pacific proved to have the cheapest fare home, I thought it would be churlish not to take a few days to look at the place as I flew through. The flight over was uneventful, I even managed a bit of sleep, and was in Nadi International Airport on time at 5:10 a.m. Things went wrong from then, basically. I was booked into the nearby Blue Water Lodge, and they had agreed to collect me from the airport. When there was no sign of them, I approached the airport helpdesk: they sold me a $5 phonecard so they could phone the Blue Water Lodge to find out where they had got to. I was told to take a taxi, that they would pay. I decided not to share this information with my taxi driver until I reached the Lodge, not sure why. When I did, he immediately became very anxious, saying "they will not pay". More like that they would not pay the punitive fare he was obviously planning to charge me, because they did pay him, and paid him pretty much the same as I paid later on to get back to the airport.
It has to be said that the Blue Water Lodge was pretty nice (it gets a 91% approval rating on hostelworld and is #1 on tripadvisor of all 28 hotels in Nadi): very clean, friendly, with an outdoor bar, dining and lounging area where it was very pleasant to down a Fiji Bitter or two and read. There was a fellow who would come and sing, which made me feel obliged to pause my reading and clap every so often. I was even upgraded from the dorm to a proper room on my last night. Breakfast was a bit minimal but the one dinner I had there was great. It might be thought to be a downside that it is quite a trek to Nadi, but it is very close to the water's edge and Nadi is, without being too unkind, a dump. Walking to Nadi, some guy in a beatup station wagon kept hassling me, wanting to take me to Nadi - saying, among other things, that he worked at my hotel (it didn't seem to matter which one I was staying at) or was a taxi (without the special licence plates I knew all taxis must have).
In Nadi, there were a couple of nice souvenir shops, one I was quite tempted to buy stuff from, would have done if I ended up liking the place, but otherwise it was pretty rundown and very little special to see. So much as looking in the door of a shop would bring someone out, pressing business cards on me and insisting that I come in and see what he had, no matter how unlike your typical purchaser of fluorescent pink sari material I look. Random guys would stop me as I walked down the street, wanting to take me somewhere, to sell me something, to take me for a drink or just to extract money from me. It didn't matter what he wanted, every such fellow would start off by saying "You don't need to worry about me, I'm not Indian, I'm Fijian" and then if they found out I was a Kiwi, make some big claim to a connection with the Maori. The best thing I found in all of Nadi was in the back of a small arcade of grotty shops - an Indian cafe selling proper Indian (in the sense of "yowser, that's HOT") curries.
I decided that I couldn't handle any more Nadi and didn't really want to sit at the Lodge all day, so decided on a road trip - out to Suva. I flagged down a grotty looking mini-van which was heading to Suva, according to its sign, and I was off. At least, I thought so - turned out it was just running the feeder operation - I was transferred to a very comfortable mini-van for the actual trip. Every so often there would be a wee town, but the journey was largely countryside, sometimes farmed, sometimes bush, which was punctuated by the occasional sprint along the coast. Most bewildering, every so often I'd spot a New Zealand Police car (although the New Zealand had been painted out, everything else stayed in place, down to their vapid catch-phrase "safer communities, together").
Suva, as the capital and twice the size of Nadi, was a bit better. I was largely left to myself to wander around, with only one tout hassling me. He, however, was a doozy. I was thinking of looking for lunch, so peering about for somewhere to eat when he latched on to me. I said I'd like a curry, he was all "I know the place, I'll take you" and then "Maybe we could eat together" - as we walk past the one curry place I'd already seen. He took me round the back street, by this time he had produced a "traditional" factory made (possibly in China) Fijian face mask and wanted to give it to me, and starts carving my name on to it, assuring me that since we're going past the Police station, I must be safe. Then, when he has my name carved on to the mask, he starts demanding money for it - starting at $50 and working his way down. By the time he gets to $10, I've decided I'm done with this pest, so make it clear that I don't want his mask, that his way of doing business is wrong and storm off - to find we have returned to just around the corner from the curry place. Luckily, the food was delicious so I regain a happy frame of mind.
I head back to the bus station - a large open compound, with beautifully painted buses, all of them much older than they seem at first sight, and find a bus heading my way - a big noisy old Hino, but with a gorgeous paint job. It is quite a slow trip back, but I found it really good - we had to stop at all the wee towns, so I could get a bit of a look at what's happening. It was slow, so well after dark before we hit Nadi and my tum's grumbling. There's a very nice looking Indian restaurant I'd noticed so, since it was my last night of my journey, I decide to splash out. Unfortunately, they put me in a corner and forgot to come back, so no posh dinner for me - I decide to have it at the Blue Water instead.
Since it is a 5 k walk, I was going to catch the bus, but there was none in sight. Right on the town edge, a couple of young guys stop me, asking me for money. When I say no, one says "you will give us your money" and pushes me to the ground. I've never been mugged, so don't really know what to do - at first, I protect my pockets then think "he's really quite small" and lunge to my feet, and whack him fair and square on the nose. He's evidently taken aback, because he asks "what did you do that for" in a high-pitched voice. "Because you were f*cking mugging me, you bastard". He starts digging in his pocket and his mate is still there - I kind of realise the danger of the situation and yell for a taxi: they both flee. It was in the fracas that my camera was taken, with photos from the last couple of weeks not yet uploaded to my laptop, which is why I have no photos of Natchez, Huntsville, Austin, El Paso, Mexico, Los Angeles, Fijian buses...
I was just outside a hotel, so went in for help - they were very kind, said that they'd had problems with louts robbing guests and had the Police there within 10 minutes. The Police took me for a drive in their SUV, we found where the guys had gone but were too late to find them. So, I ended up having a random Chinese dinner at that hotel and had them call a taxi to take back to mine. Interesting way to finish a seven month journey abroad.
I have to say that I was quite proud of my wee country as we flew over Great Barrier Island and into Auckland airport - it was a fine sunny day, so land and sea were delineated in sharp blues and greens, as beautiful a sight as any of the many I'd seen while I was away.