Hi, everybody. Remember me? That guy who had at one time been maintaining a travel blog about his experiences in faraway places? Well, I know it´s been a while, but, at long last, here´s an update. As you read, I think you´ll understand why it´s been so long since my last entry. I´m writing from Peru. During the last four days, I was hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the most physically challenging thing I´ve ever done. I´ll fill you in on that trek in a future entry. But you won´t be surprised to hear that there were no internet terminals high up in the Andes Mountains.
When I last wrote, I was about to board an overnight bus back to Sydney from Byron Bay. While in Sydney, I walked across the Harbour Bridge again and poked around zany Luna Park. Here are some shots from the latter.
When I left Sydney and flew away from Australia, I envisioned an entourage waving goodbye down below. In it were Paul Hogan and Scott the Ayers Rock tour guide and a bush ranger and the surf instructors and Kidman and her friends and family and the ghost of Steve Irwin and the Coober Pedy bus driver and a kangaroo and a koala (uninfected) and an aborigine and an Australian Rules football player and the two Aussies from the sailing trip and the Adelaide church group. The Down Under chapter of this global spree–the longest chapter of all–had come to a close.
My plane landed in the middle of the South Pacific, in a city called Nadi on the main island of Fiji. I´d booked a hotel online for one night and a representative from the small establishment was there waiting for me at the little airport holding a sign with my name on it. She said “bulah” (similar to “aloha”), placed a shell necklace around my neck and took me to an office where I considered my options and decided where I´d stay for my remaining three nights.
No one stays in Nadi itself longer than necessary. Rather, everyone heads for one or more of the luscious smaller islands. My plan was to head for one of the island groups to the west of the main island. This was for two reasons. First, this was the wet season, but the weather (allegedly) improved as one moved westward. Second, there had been incidents of civil unrest in the past year in the capital city, and that city, Suva, is on the southeast edge of the main island, far from the island groups in the west.
The Mamanuca Islands are the closest to Nadi and can be reached by boat in under an hour. I chose a hostel called Ratu Kini on the island of Mana, one of the Mamanucas. Another island group, the Yasawa Islands, lies just to the north of the Mamanucas and is reputed to be more picturesque. I considered splitting my short time between the Mamanucas and the Yasawas. But it seemed prudent to stay closer to Nadi since I´d have to catch a flight in just four days and I had doubts about the reliability of the boat transportation system. The islanders operate on ”Fiji time,” a pace that exalts relaxation over efficiency.
When we had finished in the airport office, we drove to the hotel. A big cow sat on the lawn next door. I settled into my room and noticed I wasn´t alone. A gecko clung to one wall. A few times during the night, he demonstrated his chirping skills with impressive volume. In the morning, I awoke to a light tapping on my door and the words, “Your tea is ready, sir.” My “tea” consisted of toast, peanut butter, coffee and tea, which I ate on a plastic table on the patio outside.
I was supposed to be picked up and taken to the boat to Mana at 8:30 a.m. The driver arrived instead at 9:20. Fiji time. On the way to the boat, we picked up two girls from Montana and one girl from England.
The self-contained hostel was one of four places offering accommodations on Mana. Upon arrival in the transport boat, the Fijian staff greeted us by singing local songs. A group of local children played in the ocean nearby. I later discovered that just over the hill behind the hostel sits the abandoned set of one of the Survivor TV series, essentially a row of thatched-roof huts and a foux temple. The hostel grounds blend imperceptibly with the surrounding little village where the staff lives. A generator provides electricity from the early evening until morning, enabling the all-important fans to run while the guests attempt sleep in the humid climate. The shower water is not heated and doesn´t need to be. Our canteens can be filled at one of the huge vats that catch rain water. There is only one computer and if it is up and running at all, it is for only a few hours each day and must be shared by all of the guests. (A set-up not conducive to blog writing.)
The activity, to the extent there is any activity at all, takes place on and around the front deck. That´s where all of the meals are served. The meals are necessarily included because there´s nowhere to go for food otherwise. At low tide, there is just enough dry sand in front of the deck to play beach games, especially volleyball. But inevitably, half the players on the volleyball court find themselves standing in the ocean and drenched in salt water after a few plays. The hostel guests can occupy themselves with snorkeling, walking around the island and sunbathing, but most just plant themselves on the deck and read or talk or play cards or fall asleep until the next meal or round of kava drinking. Kava is a native drink, reputedly ¨narcotic,¨but only in the sense that coffee is ¨narcotic.¨ It´s about as flavorful as rice cakes mixed with water in a blender, and in my experience, no more narcotic.
When I first arrived at Mana, I began to reconsider moving on to the Yasawas. But after I got to know some of the guests and the staff, I decided to resist my normal practice of trying to see as much as possible and to just stay put at this hostel on Mana and practice Fiji time living. As at most hostels, the crowd was young, single and very international and I gained some new friends–the two fun-loving girls from Montana, a brother and sister from Holland, a woman from Germany, two girls from Canada, a good number of Brits, four girls from Ireland and a whole host of Scandinavians, including two beautiful Swedish girls, two Swedish guys and two Danish guys. One night the Scandinavians changed the name of their drinking game to ¨Captain Spence¨in my honor. Brings a tear to one´s eye.
Unfortunately, we had lots of rain and wind. Trees fell over and muddy puddles covered the path around the island. On one or two days the transport boat never left the main island, leaving several people stranded on Mana and unable to catch their flights out of Nadi. I was considering taking a helicopter if necessary, but the weather cleared and the transport boat came as scheduled on my last day.
As we pulled up to the shore in Nadi, we cruised past the bobbing upside down hull of a boat that had been completely overturned and had sunk in the storm. The water was so full of dark debris, disembarking and walking to shore was like wading through Turkish coffee.
I got to hang out briefly with the Scandinavian girls when we arrived in Nadi, and then for a few hours with the girls from Montana and Canada. Then I caught an evening flight in the direction of my next destination–South America.
But my flight from Fiji stopped in LAX, where I´d catch another flight to Peru about 10 hours later. So, my parents met me at the airport. I hadn´t seen them for five months and the reunion was sweet–all beaming smiles and hugs. We had lunch at one of my favorite spots and then visited my apartment, which was now full of the feminine belongings of my female houseguest. There, my parents sat patiently while I purged my backpack and replaced some things. Then we went back to my parents´house. I did laundry and used the computer to finalize plans for Peru, then we ate one of my mom´s delicious home-cooked meals and watched episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Flight of the Conchords. The time flew by.
Being back home with my parents felt surreal, more divorced from reality than the string of destinations I´d visited and had yet to visit. There was so much to tell them and so much to ask, but the conversation just jumped from topic to topic in headline fashion without sufficient time to dig deep or complete a line of thought. Then, at an hour I would´ve preferred to have crawled in between the sheets on the bed in my old bedroom, it was time to drive back to the airport and fly off again.
So we parted in much the same way as we had reunited, and my parents drove away. I took my place in line at the airport, waiting for a departure to Lima, Peru on a flight that ended up being delayed until 2 a.m. Fortunately for me, I would be greeted in Lima by my brother and a close friend, which would help take the sting out of the goodbyes I had just said to Mom and Dad.
Tags: Australia, Fiji, New South Wales, South Pacific, Sydney, Travel