[This was written my second day in Fiji.]
Having gone to bed around 7.30 last night (jet lag much?) we were up before the sun today. Breakfast at the hostel isn’t served until 6.30 (never before have I had to wait for breakfast) so we laid in bed a while longer til it was time. It was a gorgeous morning – the humidity not yet pressing down, the sun not quite up. The tables by the pool had been covered with bright, buttery yellow cloths and vases of fresh flowers. Soko, one of the native Fijians who works at the hostel, first brought us glasses of orange juice and each a half a papaya – my first, but the juiciest, freshest, most vivid shade of orange I could ever imagine. We were then served the regular breakfast – four buttered slices of toast, strawberry jam, and our choice of tea or coffee. Simple, yet we weren’t complaining.
A word about the two men who work at the hostel – I am overwhelmed by their gentleness. With every duty or request, they take such great care and are so sweet about it all. It is never rushed – Fiji Time, remember? – but each action is instead so deliberate. Despite the simplicity of the breakfast, it still took up to half an hour for it all to be served. This afternoon, Soko helped Fiona’s niece gather two avocados from the tree in the back, and later I watched the other man set the tables for dinner. Each placemat and coaster placed so gently, each plate of incense gingerly set beneath each table. One thing can be said of the Bluewater Lodge – you are made to feel incredibly valued as a guest – the workers and even Mark and Fiona (the owners) learn your name, feeling like you belong there – if just for a while.
Jessica, Ampi, and I had an extended breakfast, sitting for hours with our journals and laptops, recording the prior day’s events in great detail. Neither of them are native English speakers, but as they both speak different languages originally, they are writing their joint entries in English. Throughout the morning, they would ask me for help with certain words or ask for an alternative to another word. “What else could we say besides ‘fantastic’?” I offer up, “Magnificient?” “Ooh, yes, that’s perfect, darling!” Sitting there in the early morning, me with my journal, they on their laptop, all exchanging details and stories about the day before, I was filled with an incredible happiness. However painful it was to leave, it was worth it for this. The girls said they wished we didn’t have to part, that I could keep traveling with them – it’s amazing, isn’t it, the bonds formed in these circumstances? It seems to me to be the camaraderie of the road. Having left our loved ones behind, we are anxious to form new connections and new memories, to create new friendships to fill the void of the ones we left at home.
After our extended breakfast/writing session, I went for a swim and laid out while the other two went out on a walk down the beach. I relished the morning, having nowhere to be and nothing to do. After a rather pointless shower (my hair was back up after five minutes), I took a taxi into the “downtown” city center of Nadi. The only thing I knew to look for was the Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple, the largest Hindu temple in the Southern Hemisphere – as is usually the case, it was less impressive than the pictures I’d seen online. I still enjoyed the vibrant colors and almost fanciful designs of the temple roofs, but opted not to pay the entrance fee. For the rest of my time in town, it was the most interesting of looks into real, everyday Fijian life. I don’t quite know what to make of Fiji. To me, it doesn’t fully compare to the poverty level of the Dominican Republic (where I’ve been before on service trips), and the typical house certainly seems to be okay, but the main street of Nadi just struck me as underprivileged, or at least immensely backwards. All of the receipts are written by hand, all of the shops seem to sell only the cheapest products available. In the clothing and apparel shops, there are knockoffs – “Pamo” bags with the logo of Puma, and a logo based off Adidas, except with four bars instead of three and SPORT written where Adidas normally is. The men are crass like in Egypt, yelling out at you on every street corner.
I visited several handicraft markets where each stall displays the same wares – coral necklaces and beaded jewelry, wooden masks, bowls, turtles, clubs and the like – and each vendor jumped to their feet at my approach, except for one larger woman lying on her stomach in the center of her stall, cracking peanut shells. I was tempted to buy from her just because she was the only one who didn’t seem to care if I did either way. One man says to me, “You are my best customer. For you I give you half off. I give you good price.” I didn’t have the heart to barter with him, for “stuff” I didn’t want or need, and I couldn’t help wondering if I wasn’t so much his best as I was his only customer of the day. The tourists were few and far between in town – understandably so – and easily spotted from their white skin and their desperate attempts to stay cool by wearing as least clothing as permissible. They congregated mainly in the larger stores with functioning A/C units, drawn in by overeager sales associates draping them in beads and sarongs.
I kept it simple for lunch, dining at Mama’s Pizza on a surprisingly delicious mozzarella pizza. For an uncomplicated order, I again waited half an hour, but used the time to write a postcard home. As if by clockwork, the rain started just as I walked to the bus stop. The buses…what an adventure. There are no windows, just rolled-up panels of plastic tarp that can be let down when the rain grows too strong. And the bust stops work like this – pull the bell and the bus stops. There are no designated stops, rather every child riding home from school was able to be let off right at the bottom of their driveway. While this meant more stops than usual, I suppose the convenience is worth it. It was a bit of an off-road experience as well, with the bus even riding on the beach itself at times. It was yet another look into the real Fijian lifestyle, sitting on the rough seats among all the chattering school children in their various uniforms.
After a brief attempt at a nap back at the hostel (I don’t sleep well in oppressively humid environments), I went downstairs to enlist Fiona’s help with booking an island day cruise for the next day. I sat outside with a book while she took care of the details and I got to talking with an English girl named Michelle. She’s been traveling for two years now, she shared, going through nine countries in Africa, all over Asia (China, Japan, India, Southeast Asia, and everywhere in between), six months working in Sydney, road-tripping over Australia, now Fiji, with plans to go on to New Zealand, Japan again, South and Central America, the Caribbean, and finally back to the UK. It’s amazing, just when you think you’ve been a few places, you meet someone like Michelle who seems to say, “Honey, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” It’s easy to grow discontent and anxious to cross off another thirty countries by 2010, but I’ve got to remember to enjoy each and every place I visit – it’s not just about bulking up my “Been there, done that” list.
There was an exquisite sunset to close the day with. I walked over to the Smugglers Cove Resort to watch it from the beach and ran into Jessica and Ampi, who’d also been into town that day. The sun was half-obscured by full white clouds, but what shone through more than made up for it, spilling over in rich shades of gold and coral. The partial sunlight fell onto the ocean, one half of the water a dark blue and the other half burning alive with color. A couple walked out into this division of light on the water and Ampi, camera to her eye, said desperately, “Hold hands, damn it!” With or without the romantic cliché, it was a perfect end to the day.