Auckland, New Zealand – Nadi, Fiji – Nadi Bay
My Air Pacific flight lands in Fiji in the middle of a crazy storm. It has taken three hours to get here from New Zealand; three hours to transport you to a totally different world. Who needs space travel. Four men dressed in sarongs greet our arrival with guitars, euchalilies and a welcoming song.
Customs and immigration all seems very casual, although I do need to prove I have an outbound flight from here to Samoa before they will issue me with a free one-month tourist visa. The thought of 17 nights in Fiji brings a broad smile to my face. A very broad smile.
The storm has brought everything to a complete standstill. I had no idea it rained with this intensity it Fiji. I’m not sure I can remember too many times when I’ve seen the skies open and dump that much rain in the space of fifteen minutes anywhere in fact.
By the time my ride arrives, the storm is already moving offshore. Craggy mountain tops appear out of the lifting gloom to the east; the light playing tricks gives the mist a rather strange blue glow as it rises from the fields below.
Previously on Lost.
On first appearances –which is something I’m always keen to remember before I become assimilated to a new country and no longer see it with fresh, innocent eyes – Fiji looks like a cross between the Caribbean and Indonesia. As we drive along the flooded, potholed road towards the capital, Nadi (pronounced ‘Namdee’), the ethnicity of many locals gives the urban scene an Indian subcontinent feel. I think around 40 per cent of the population are of Indian descent, many fifth or sixth generation, originally brought here by the British as indentured labourers when this was part of the empire. The indigenous Fijians have completely different facial features from their fellow Indo-Fijian country folk with those typical high-skulled Polynesian heads and flat noses.
There are dogs everywhere, some of them swimming(!) in the road, which is knee deep with flood water. “I have never seen the roads flood as quickly as that in twenty years,” the driver tells me as we reach our final destination. That’s not a bad shout for my first hour in Fiji.
By the time I haul my bag to the hotel, the storm is passing out to sea and the sun is giving the storm clouds a psychedelic afterglow. Aquarius is a boutique hotel with a couple of dorm rooms for those on a tighter budget. This is impressive. For 31 Fiji dollars (11 quid) you get an air conditioned dorm (with sheets so beautifully clean and fresh that I can only assume my mum must have been here), a cooked breakfast with coffee and juice and a wonderful view of the sea and, in my case, the dramatic storm passing out to sea. Still drunk from the plane, when I tried to consume as much free Grants as was humanly possible, I find myself congratulating myself aloud for being here (and scolding someone who isn’t) as I lean up against a palm tree on the beach, beer in hand, admiring the view out to sea.
“Is there anything we can do for you Justin?” Lozo, a corteous member of the staff, keeps enquiring. Nice.
Next door at Smugglers Cove I am feeling like a spare part sat all alone on a vacuous wooden bench and ask to join two Aussie girls. After initially acting all cool and arsey with me (as Anglo-Saxon birds of a certain age tend to do), they cut out the high and mighty crap and we have a decent chat. Bloody Aussies though. They have this uncouthed tendency to say inappropriate things. One of said birds makes a joke about me not having much hair. I mean, she’s known me for 15 minutes. Why would you do that? I just don’t get it. The thing is, these two girls are aged 22 and are both carrying around 85-90 kilos in weight, squashed into tight-fitting size 14 dresses. Each of them looks like someone has taken the entire contents of their supermarket trolley and squashed it all into one huge plastic bag, which instantly begins splitting at the sides. I mean, what should I say if I want to be all Aussie? Perhaps: “Gees luv, you look like you’ve swallowed a vat of margarine. How can you be twenty two and possibly that grossly overweight? And what the hell are you doing trying to squeeze all that lard into that pretty little dress? You need to get yourself to fact camp darling.”
But, of course, I don’t. I just thank them for their company and stroll home.
“Hi Justin! How was your night? Is there anything we can do for you?” the manager asks me upon my return.