Fifteen Days In Fiji: Part 1 – The Tour

I went to Fiji from the 31st of December till the 14th of Jan 2016 and had a very interesting time there. There were some pretty great moments and some pretty bad ones, and I wanted to share a few of those here with you. At most of the places we stayed, wifi was only available if you paid – at rates of 45FJD/day – so instead I just wrote everything up on paper and transcribed it onto my laptop when I got home – please forgive my delay!

The scenery driving around Viti Levu was spectacular
The scenery driving around Viti Levu was spectacular

I had booked The Fiji Five package with Feejee Experience, which was meant to go over 12 days from the 2nd-13th of Jan – only 4 days of which, I was surprised to find, were actually a ‘tour’ and the rest involved them just booking us accommodation and giving us the boat tickets to get there ourselves.

I was less than impressed and I’d strongly recommend not doing this – for 1985FJD I expected a little more – but most of the activities on the 4 ‘tour’ days were cancelled because of the weather, and for the bit after that, all the places we were put up at were ridiculously expensive, and all with compulsory meal plans (which I wasn’t told about previously) that cost from 80-120FJD (about 52-79AUD/day) for really disappointing food (think tiny portions, mostly deep fried, with very few veggies).

Having said that I still had a lot of fun – but if I could book it again, I definitely would not go with Feejee Experience.

Day 1: Robinson Crusoe

The Captains and Rachel

We had a lovely little tour group of 6 – Rafi, 22 from England, Rachel, 24 and Louise, 25, both from Northern Ireland (travelling together), Steffan, 24, from Wales, and Jade, 19, from Canada.

The staff welcoming us to Robinson Crusoe with a song
The staff welcoming us to Robinson Crusoe with a song

The first place we headed on the tour was Robinson Crusoe Island, where we found that we were lavished with attention from ‘Captain Mohammed’, who’d steered us down the river and across the tiny stretch of open water to the island. ‘Do you want some biscuits?’ Capt Mo asked us at teatime, offering to buy some from the guest shop (we declined). ‘Do you want some coconuts?’ (We said yes). He told us he’d take us fishing, and that we’d catch crabs and cook them at the bonfire that night – until later when he apologised to us, saying that he actually had to leave the island at 4. ‘But I’d love to have you over’ he told us girls, ‘you have to come for dinner. Give me your phone numbers.’

Captain Mo cutting coconuts for guys
Captain Mo cutting coconuts for us

That was the point at which we started making excuses – but poor Rachel, sweet girl that she is, gave Capt Mo her phone because he offered to point her to some other places she should visit on the map of Fiji. First thing he did when he got her phone in his hands was to put his number in there and get hers – and he then spent the next few days calling and messaging her repeatedly telling her to ‘come over’, and that he’d ‘cook her dinner’ and ‘take her shopping’ and that ‘I’ll love you long time’ – and some other messages that were a little more suggestive.

Not ideal weather for water sports
Not ideal weather for water sports

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Rach also had the misfortune of catching the attention of the other Captain there, who followed her around asking her if she likes to ‘sexercise’, suggesting they ‘do some sexercise together’, trying to convince her to stay for longer, and watching her at night from the shadows, then admitting it to her later.

The best bit? Our guide Emi told us that they’re both married. Fijian men, I tell you. Got to watch out for them.

Thomas Baker and the Cannibals

Because it was cyclone season and the water was too choppy, most of the usual activities Robinson Crusoe is known for – snorkelling, kayaking, fishing – had all been cancelled, but they did take us out on what was very misleadingly called a ‘bushwalk’ – it’s a tiny island with no bush to speak of, but there is a tiny little copse of trees on one side and they showed us 3 trees that they use for traditional Fijian herbal medicines.

Basket Weaving, which replaced 'snorkelling', 'diving', 'fishing' and 'riding a jet ski' as the afternoon's entertainment
Basket Weaving, which replaced ‘snorkelling’, ‘diving’, ‘fishing’ and ‘riding a jet ski’ as the afternoon’s entertainment

What was interesting was getting to hear the story of Thomas Baker, who Sean claimed – wrongly, according to Google – was the first white man in Fiji. Baker loved the look of Fijian afros and made the mistake of touching a Fijian’s head – which Fijians believe to be incredibly rude. So they killed him and ate him, including all his clothes and shoes – only the soles of his sandals survived, and are in a museum in Suva.

Part of the 'bushwalk' was along the beach
Part of the ‘bushwalk’ was along the beach

Interestingly, this happened in 1867 – isn’t it strange to think Fijians still practiced cannibalism less than 150 years ago? I googled this later and was surprised to find that the inhabitants of the village where this happened – keep in mind that they’re now hyper-religious – believed that they were cursed as a result of their ancestor’s actions and in 2003 made a formal apology to his descendants in order to lift said curse.

Lesson of the story? Bad things happen when you touch a Fijian’s ‘fro without permission.

The Buffet That Wasn’t A Buffet

Given that we had to pay 79FJD for a compulsory meal plan, you’d expect Robinson Crusoe would have decent food (compare this to the rest of Fiji, where you can get a good meal for around 10FJD). We were told that we’d be having buffet meals – but this was only true to the extent that when they had, for example, fish and chips and salad (what we got served for lunch), everything was in chafing dishes rather than served to us on a plate. I don’t think it really counts as a buffet if there’s no choice. The salad incidentally was literally mostly lettuce, with a few tiny slivers of cucumber and onion, and no dressing to speak of.

The food wasn't great but at least we got some nice coconuts
The food wasn’t great but at least we got some nice coconuts

The best part? One of the staff controlled the fish, so that when we went to get served, the first time she gave me a tiny piece the size of the bottom of a takeaway coffee cup. When I went back and asked for seconds, she glared at me, then threw a piece of fish into my plate barely larger than a dollar coin. I waited expectantly, hoping for more, but she just looked at me angrily until I walked away.

I thought I’d put on weight in Fiji, but with the amount they give you, I came back exactly the same size despite doing barely any exercise. Guess in a way that was a good thing.

Bucket showers

You know what sounds really great in theory but is less awesome in practice? Bucket showers. These were literally buckets that you had to fill up from a tank outside, then bring back into the cubicle, lift above your head, hang it up, and then use it as a shower.

Sean doing a coconut toffee demo - literally just melting sugar and adding coconut - but still delicious
Sean doing a coconut toffee demo – literally just melting sugar and adding coconut – but still delicious

It looked very quaint, but when it was raining and I was going to get wet filling it up outside, couldn’t even reach to where it was hanging, and didn’t think I’d be able to lift the full bucket up to hang it again, it seemed far less fun. I opened the door of the cubicle, had a little feel around, then decided that I was clean enough that I’d just skip my shower for that day.

Bed bugs

There is nothing to make you regret all of your decisions like realising your room is infested with bed bugs. I’d checked my mattress cursorily, and went to bed, but Jade, seeing what I was doing, went and checked hers and found a very happy, thriving colony of bed bugs – although we weren’t 100% sure that they were bed bugs and not some other bug, and there wasn’t free internet on Robinson Crusoe for us to be able to check.

Jade was freaking out, Rafi didn’t believe they were bed bugs and was contentedly sleeping, and I didn’t know what they were and was pretty lethargic, while the others were all out drinking. But Jade couldn’t fall asleep and eventually I went out, asked Sean to check them out and he confirmed our worst fears…. they were bed bugs.

Captain Mo climbing a tree to get us coconuts
Captain Mo climbing a tree to get us coconuts – he would have done anything to get in with Rachel

In most places I’ve stayed, they act immediately when they find bed bugs. Not here – ‘you can switch to another bed’ Sean suggested. Jade and I made a huge fuss and insisted that they put us in another room until they acquiesced – good thing we did too. We didn’t have any more problems with bed bugs the rest of our trip, and nobody got bitten after that so it looked like we got away scot free – all except for poor Rachel, who had just sat on one of the infected beds earlier that evening. Her butt and thighs were covered in angry red dots that made her whole bottom half look like it was thoroughly polka dotted. Thank goodness we got out of there.

Of course Robinson Crusoe did not offer to wash and dry our laundry to ensure we killed any bugs that might have gotten into our things. The worst thing was that when I asked Emi about it, she said that it had happened with a previous group and that Robinson Crusoe had said when that had happened that they would fumigate…. so why were we dealing with the exact same problem again?

Some unusual shells found along the beach
Some unusual shells found along the beach

The upside of it all was that we spent that night lying in bed bitching and moaning and talking about all of the worst experiences we’d had travelling and it was hilarious and a great bonding experience – nothing like going through something terrible together to create a sense of camaraderie! Best line was Jade’s, delivered in a perfect Valleygirl accent about the island when we were wishing that we hadn’t come there ‘it’s not even that pretty!’ It probably doesn’t sound as good reading it – one of those things you just had to be there for I guess….not that you’d want to be.

Day 2: Uprising Beach Resort

Backflips, Broken Toes and A Beach Fitness Session

The second day, we’d gotten to Uprising Beach Resort to be told once again that all the activities that were meant to happen that day were cancelled due to the weather and that instead we should ‘just chill’. It could have ended up awfully, but at least Uprising was a much nicer resort than Robinson Crusoe, and it was actually pretty here.

We stayed in an 8 person bure at Uprising, along with Emi and our middle aged driver Mohit
We stayed in an 8 person bure at Uprising, along with Emi and our middle aged driver Mohit

Steffan and I ended up spending our afternoon doing backflips into the pool – until poor Steffan actually broke his toe on one of the flips. He was a champ though and powered through it – he, Rafi and I ended up going on a run after our pool time, down to Uprising Beach, and did a little fitness session there. Imagine this: a whole bunch of only Fijians playing at the beach, all wearing shirts and shorts because it’s considered inappropriate in Fiji to wear just your swimmers, and then the three of us, me in my pyjama shorts and grandma Skechers because I had nothing more appropriate to run in, doing bicycles and v-sit holds and crunches on this tiny little beach that was only about 3m deep from shore to water. We got more than a few strange looks, but it felt really good.

The waves after that were amazing – the beach at the resort was completely swallowed up by the water, so it was a stroke of luck that we ended up finding the local beach. There were some beautiful huge waves, and we whiled away a fair portion of the afternoon just playing amongst them.

Kava ceremony

That night at Uprising we got to join in in a kava ceremony that a few of the staff put on. The way this worked was that you’d say ‘Bula’ (hello), then clap with cupped hands once, drink the kava, say ‘vinaka’ (thank you) and clap with cupped hands thrice, then everyone else would say what sounded like ‘muthasucka’ but was probably spelt differently and meant that the bowl was empty. You could ask for ‘low tide’, which meant the bowl was only filled about one third, ‘high tide’, which meant it was filled about two thirds, or ‘tsunami’, which meant it was full to the brim.

We of course went for ‘tsunami’ every time, and all had at least three rounds of the kava, which they said was really strong – although I’m pretty sure it was weaker than the stuff I’d had at New Year’s Eve, which I’d felt the effects of much more strongly. All of us were fine, but I think the Fijian staff drank way more than us – one of them looked completely out of it, with bloodshot eyes and a blank look on his face.

Louise, Jade, Steffan and I ended up getting around of tequilas – which we were surprised to find, after we’d already downed them, were 13FJD each because Uprising considered tequila shots ‘cocktails’ because of the lime and salt. It definitely felt like tourism in Fiji was a bit of a money grab from tourists sometimes! Poor Steffan made the mistake of asking one of the staff if he wanted a drink, and after he’d bought him a tequila shot too, the guy tried to get Steffan to buy all the staff tequila shots – luckily Steffan made a joke about how expensive they were and got out of it – the staff were too scat from the kava to make a fuss (I think they managed a couple more tureens full between themselves).

When they tell you that Fijians like kava, they really mean that Fijians like kava!

Day 3: Suva, Nasautoka Village, and Tanoa Raki Raki

Suva

We had to go into Suva to buy tsulus, the Fijian version of sarongs, which you have to wear when you visit the villages – Jade and I got away with our sarongs, but I enjoyed helping Steffan and Rafi pick out ones for themselves (Rafi: ‘I want one with flowers!’). Suva did not impress us though – it was hugely overcrowded and dirty and constricting, and when Rachel and Louise popped into the pharmacy to get something for all of their mosquito and bed bug bites, they were charging 60FJD for antihistamines, and the only thing they had to soothe the bites was Vicks VapoRub! Bit of a poor effort for a large chemist in a major mall in the capital city.

Taking a photo with the ceremonial guard outside the Presidential Gardens in Suva
Taking a photo with the ceremonial guard outside the Presidential Gardens in Suva

Our poor impression was improved when we went past the Presidential Gardens and Emi asked if we’d like to get a photo with the guard – who, ceremonially, cannot talk or look at you and just stands there looking impressive and occasionally marches back and forth across the entrance.

Jade had a great time taking selfies with him while he pretended she wasn’t there but nothing beat the story from Emi about coming there with a British backpacker who had a selfie stick. ‘Emi guess what colour underwear he’s wearing today’ she’d asked Emi, then ran to the guard, put the selfie stick between his legs, and snapped a photo ‘He’s wearing blue today!’ she’d informed her. Talk about ballsy!

Nasautoka Village

There’s a few villages in Fiji where they let visitors come in, participate in a traditional kava ceremony, and cook you a traditional Fijian meal. The one we went to was Nasautoka Village, where Rafi got to be our appointed chief, and we chanted and went in and sat in a circle, were made honorary members of the village, offered a whole kava root as tribute/gift, drank kava with the villagers who were all in costume, and then sat down to a cutlery-less meal on the floor, as per tradition.

I don’t know if the food was really traditional – it was all deep fried, but it did lack salt, pepper or any other seasoning, which I guess is kind of traditional – and while everyone else was cautious about eating it, I was starving and dug right in – and regretted it later when my stomach was aching and I had to take a handful of tablets to feel better.

But the best part of it all was getting to go bamboo rafting – unlike when I’d done it in Thailand, this was on a picturesque river, with the hills peeking out ahead of us, all topped with fog, and not a soul around. This wasn’t touristy at all, there was nobody else around, and it was ridiculously good fun. We drove up the river then rafted down, and when we got to the point in the river that was next to the village, we swam around and played games in the water for ages – my favourite part being when one of the Fijian boys suggested we make a tower 4 people high with Steffan on the bottom, and I got to be the second one from the top – we only managed to hold it for a second, but it was awesome while it lasted – and it was spectacular when we all fell.

Getting bitten at Tanoa Raki Raki

My second ‘I just want to be home’ moment came at Tanoa Raki Raki, where we were staying that night. Steffan and I had just done another little fitness session, and we were ending it by practicing handstands, when I got bitten by something sharp on the inside of my left wrist. I don’t know what it was but it burnt – and from one swollen bump, it multiplied to 6 little bumps very quickly, and then they grew and became one huge lump on the inside of my wrist that hurt like hell.

I freaked. I immediately downed an antihistamine, and went and washed off in the shower, lathering up the soap generously on my wrist and hoping that there was nothing growing inside the lump and that this wasn’t going to be one of those horror stories where some little creature cut it’s way out after a few days.

Stefan used the opportunity to wear his sulu
Steffan used the opportunity to wear his sulu

It worked so far as I got no more lumps and it didn’t grow any further – but it didn’t go away, although it did go down a little. My wrist continued to be sore and swollen for a few days, although as with most things, I got desensitized and stopped worrying so much after that night. I tried asking Emi what it was and if I should be worried but she just shrugged and asked if it was a mosquito bite. Can’t expect your tour guide to be your doctor.

Day 4: Laloma Orphanage, The Waterfall, and Sabeto Hot Springs and Mud Pool

Mangoes by the road

Mangoes seemed to be in season in Fiji and on our 4th day they were being sold everywhere along the road. As soon as we saw some we called out to our driver to hit the brakes, and tumbled excitedly out of the car to the woman selling them.

‘Two dollars,’ she told us – which seemed like a great deal given that mangoes are 3AUD/each back home – but it turned out she was actually charging 2FJD for a whole bowl of mangoes. ‘How do you tell which ones are ripe?’ I asked, lost. ‘They’re all ripe’ she told me. I didn’t know whether to believe her but I didn’t how to tell ripe Fijian mangoes so I just grabbed the most orange looking bowl.

$2 a bowl for ripe Fijian mangoes
$2 a bowl for ripe Fijian mangoes

Fijians don’t eat mangoes by chopping them up. They just bite into them, and sometimes eat the peel – Emi said it was soft enough. I’m not a fan of mango peel, but I did bite into it to make a hole in the peel, and then pulled the rest of the peel off. The woman wasn’t lying – they were all soft and ripe, and the peel came off so easily.

We made a nice mess in our van, all of us eating mangoes and dripping everywhere until Louise came to our rescue with wet wipes. It totally made our morning.

Loloma orphanage

I’m not a fan of voluntourism and I know a lot of tours fit in an orphanage visit and it’s quite exploitative and demeaning to the kids, but this was different. Loloma is this awesome place which this woman, Laite, started, and they just take everyone in who needs care. They have lots of children, but also mentally disabled people, and Laite operates this place herself, as well as working and putting everything she earns back into it.

There wasn’t much fanfare about us coming. Emi had suggested we buy them some supplies, and we bought some food and toys and sports equipment (I bought a bag full of female sanitary items, which Rafi and Steffan thought was hilarious but I figured the girls probably don’t get a lot of).

Loloma Care Home
They have a random assortment of toys here that people have donated

They didn’t give us a big thank you or anything like that – the stuff we bought was actually just left to the side and forgotten until just before we left, when we helped carry it in. Instead we just went and played with the kids, which was great. They were so enthusiastic and excited, and we just ran around and caused mischief for ages. Some of the stories were really sad – there was a baby who had been born prematurely at 7 months, and the mother had abandoned the baby there as soon as she’d given birth. It wasn’t a sad place at all though, it was a really happy place and they definitely focused on what they had rather than what they didn’t.

Loloma Home
Loloma Home

Interestingly, I did learn another fact about Fijians – one of the children had just come back from getting circumsized. ‘Why was he circumsized?’ I asked ‘It’s just what’s done’ Emi said, ‘But why?’ I pressed. ‘Our forefathers did it and now we do it’ – it’s typically done, I was told, when the children are at puberty, during their school holidays. Fun fact for if you visit Fiji – you can tell if a child’s just been circumcised because for four days after the procedure they wear only a sulu and nothing else – I guess to keep everything away from the tender area.

The Waterfall

We had been meant to go on a serious hike at the start of our tour, but because of all the rain the trails had been flooded earlier, and by this point we didn’t have enough time, so instead we did an easy 30 minute walk through trails full of wild pineapples and ended up at a waterfall.

The other tourists at the falls included two American couples, who I first ran into in the bathroom, where the women had spread their things all over the counter, were taking up the entire space and talking about dieting. One of them was telling the other about her water fast, and how ‘every time I felt a hunger pang I just drank more water.’ ‘Was that hard?’ asked the other woman. ‘No – I really enjoyed it,’ replied the first. ‘I thought about doing it again -‘ and here she checked out her bikini clad body in the mirror – ‘but then I thought I don’t need to’.

We kept running into the two couples on the trail, where the women were walking in just their bikinis despite the fact that Fiji is super conservative and you’re not even meant to go to the beach in just your bikini, let alone go on a walk through the forest. Then when we actually got to the waterfalls, we’d line up to take turns trying to jump under the big waterfall, and I just happened to be jumping when they arrived, and they literally just cut in, and one of the huge American men literally just jumped over me and kicked me away so he could get there first.

This is not meant to be an indictment of Americans in general but man, some tourists really forget their manners when they go overseas. As Rachel said, these are the types of tourists who give Westerners a bad name.

The Mud Baths and Thermal Pools

We ended our tour with a visit to the Sabeto Mud Baths and Thermal Pools. The Mud Bath is really watery, so it just feels like you’re stepping into settled sewage water, and there are little fish in there too, so that it’s just kind of uncomfortable getting in there. But they’ve got thick, sludgy mud in containers outside of that, and what you’re actually meant to do is cover yourself in that, let it dry, then go into the mud bath to wash it off, and then into the thermal pools to open and cleanse your pores even further.

Louise and Rachel covered up all their bites with the mud, Emi telling them that it would help soothe them – and the really did look way better after the mud had dried up and they’d sloughed it off. I was too impatient though, and washed it off before it dried, then spent ages in the thermal pool, listening to stores from this guy who I’d assumed worked there but who Rafi later told me was just some local nutter.

‘Is this meant to be good for your hair?’ I asked him, expecting him to be some sort of expert on this. ‘Really good’ he told me, and I went ahead and dipped my hair under for ages. Anyway, turns out that was entirely false – there’s so much silica in the water and it made my hair really stiff and clumpy so that I couldn’t even run my fingers through it! For the next few days I had to shampoo and condition it a million times before it looked normal – albeit awfully unhealthy – again.

So that was an important lesson I learned – make sure the person you’re taking instructions from actually works there and isn’t just a random with a few screws loose!

The End of The Tour

That was it for the tour. Emi left us after the mud pools, and we spent our last night together as a group eating Korean food at Grace Food Kitchen in Nadi Bay, then buying wine and gin from the ‘Midwest Suprette’ to drink on the beach. Highlights included finding out that Louise’s nickname was ‘Sexy Lou’ because of an old email address sexylou42@hotmail.com, and having a police patrol come near, at which point we freaked, grabbed all our stuff and ran away to one of the resorts – all in about 10 seconds flat. Hilariously, one of us then asked the staff and were told that it’s perfectly legal to drink on the beach in Fiji and that we’d overreacted for no reason – but it was still very impressive that we’d managed to grab everything and clean up that fast!

Our little group plus a German friend, Daniel, who joined us drinking in Nadi
Our little group plus a German friend, Daniel, who joined us drinking in Nadi

Despite the bed bugs and expensive food and ugly dorms, those first four days were amazing, and I had a really good time with our little group. The bits I didn’t mention in here included me getting my phone waterlogged and then carrying around a bag of rice with my phone inside it for most of the tour, evenings whiled away chatting about our lives and dreams and hopes and telling sordid stories about Welsh rugby boys and strange initiation rituals at UK universities, and lots of funny moments teasing each other and generally just having a laugh. Even if the tour wasn’t great in and of itself, the company definitely made it insanely enjoyable.

Next up…. island hopping!

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