Return to Fiji

When we stayed in Fiji in 2005, we struck up a friendship with a young member of the staff of our hotel. He has been quite a good correspondent over the years, and we arranged to spend time with him as we passed through Fiji this time. He met us at the airport. Our late arrival was further delayed because the record of our car rental was in their notebook, but the actual car wasn’t there, and it took about an hour to round up another car from someone else. We climbed in the rickety little station wagon, and drove to the Outrigger resort near Sigatoka, arriving just after midnight.

These resorts are a lot like cruise ships which don’t move. There was a special rate on Expedia, stay two nights, get the third free, which would not have happened if there wasn’t a global economic downturn hurting tourism just generally. But once you’re there, everything is an opportunity for additional charges: the restaurants are expensive, the Internet is expensive, the shops are expensive. In general, we’ve found the fancier the hotel, the worse the breakfasts, and this is no exception. Our dinner here was all right, particularly the appetizers. There’s a spa. Mostly, we’ve just spent time relaxing. We haven’t snorkeled in the lagoon because it’s been windy but today we will anyway; at least it’s sunny and anything out there will be well illuminated. And snorkeling is free (though the extra four hours of delayed check-out time aren’t).

A highlight of the trip was when we took our friend back home to Nadi so that he could get to work at 7 am Monday morning. He lives near the beach with his family in a cluster of four houses (his father’s, and one for each of his three uncles). Currently his house has four rooms for five people; he shares a room with his brother; he’s working on building a room for himself. The entire house was ruined last year by neck-deep water when Fiji had the worst floods it had seen for a long time, but they’ve made it quite livable since then. His living room was full of relatives and neighbors drinking kava. We had a few bowls of it ourselves, with no adverse effects. Normally, they’ll drink for a few hours, and have a late dinner. Since we had to get back to Sigatoka, we had an early dinner with our friend around 9 pm, and what a dinner it was: absolutely delicious home-cooked Indian food that was better than anything we’ve had anywhere this entire trip. A spicy chutney and an onion chutney; rice, rotis, and dal; green beans; a dish with some kind of not-hot peppers; and delightfully spiced beef from a cow that had been slaughtered that morning. We ate all we possibly could (Ray ate it correctly with his fingers; I was lazy and used a fork) and then said our goodbyes. With the late kava-drinking, I don’t know how our friend makes it to work at 7 am.

It really validates the Young Lonely Planet philosophy: if you want the best possible food while traveling, it really is worth the trouble to meet some locals and get invited to their house for dinner. (Rich locals don’t count, because you’ll likely end up at restaurants with them.) Especially if they’re Fiji-Indian or Romanian. Maybe not so much if they’re from California.

Today we woke up, snorkeled a bit in the reef by the hotel which was really too shallow at low tide to snorkel in, and saw very little live coral and very few fish — it seems you have sign up for a tour to some little island off the coast to see Fiji’s famous spectacular sea life. Then we got into the rickety rental wagon and drove across the island through the traffic of Suva, the South Pacific’s largest city with a population of 200,000, and to the airport where the guy was waiting for it to drive it back to Nadi. A 42-seat turboprop awaits us for the two-hour flight to Tonga.