For this post, I will guest write with Tunesky B.K.A Ariel.
As you already know my comrades and I are headed west to New Zealand. In transit we stopped over in Fiji for 20 hours- The following is a recap of those 20 hours.
Flying in, the first thing I noticed was the clear baby blue water surrounding every little island as far as the eye could see. It also appeared that there were white sand beaches all over the place. We got off the plane in Nadi and were immediately met with a Fijian band playing music. Their style was very similar to that of a traditional Hawaiian band. Well-traveled Jeff, for whom Fiji was his first 3rd world country, let Ariel and I know that we didn't have to pick up our checked bags as they were "in transit" straight to New Zealand, so we went right through customs to celebrate our new passport stamps. Next step was to see how we could rent scooters to tour the island a bit. It turns out that you need a massive deposit on a scooter (about $300) or a car. We were actually considering a car since it would be more cost effective than three scooters each. After hearing that a cab was a $20 flat rate into town from the airport, that's on what we decided in the end. (Note: As is common in other less organized countries, there actually is a structure- in this case a taxi meter- that is willfully ignored by the majority of people. Even the clerk at Eurocar, a well established business, went along with this.) As optimists, and firm believers in the feeling that Fiji was on first impressions hands down one of the nicest and most welcoming places on the planet (to a white foreigner), we joined the school of thought that Fijians handle tourism in a way that will benefit their fellow countrymen instead of trying to take advantage of the foreigner. This was even later explained to us later by- Enter Nazir, our driver.
We left the airport and one of the Eurocar workers showed us where the taxis were. As luck would have it, we linked up with Nazir, a Muslim Fijian man who's family dates back to Kerala, South India. There is such a large population of Indians in Fiji, whose families emigrated years ago for farm work. Ariel tried several times to use his rusted HIndi-while it did earn us some brownie points, it turned out easier to use English, since it (along with HIndi and Fijian) is a national language as well. Nazir told us that town wasn't really that exciting, it was getting late anyway, and that the nice white sand beach was 45 minutes away. We asked him where he would go for food and he brought us to a local curry shop with an outdoor deck, a small homestyle kitchen, and food so fresh that by the time we got there they had run out of the fish of the day. We washed our hands, had some water, and in minutes were silent, using our hands to shovel delicious prawn curry, lentils, squash, and home made roti into our mouths. It was intense, flavorful, fresh, authentic, and delicious. Especially in the food (and traffic patterns), the deep rooted Indian influence is very present. Over lunch we got down to brass tacks- Nazir told us that he could take us on a tour, ending back at the airport, lasting about 4 hours. This included a hike to a cave and rivers, fresh sugarcane, fresh pineapple, a cava session, and dinner at his wife's family's house. We agreed on a price. He explained to us that with the price of petroleum and the way the meter worked, that he wasn't profiting that much. I know that this sounds quite sketchy, but he said it in such an earnest way that he made us believe that an off-the-books deal was not a stupid tourist move. None of the three of us are fools, but call us suckers if you want. We each converted $50 US when we landed, and spent it all- we gave ourselves a cap, exhausted it, and made the absolute best out of 20 hours.
As is customary and generous, we wanted to arrive at his family's house with a gift- we ended up bringing passionfruit ice cream for his nieces and nephews- their favorite. We paid for most of Nazir's lunch, so he in turn bought us the cava powder. Jeff and I went into the store with Nazir as Matt watched the car. During this, Matt got approached about buying weed, and about what we were doing.Some guy pretended to be a military official who in the end was just looking either to cause trouble or for a bribe. He said that work outside of the taxi meter was illegal- yet he never even asked for Nazir's license- the first step an actual official would take. We saw the open market, school children walking home, a Hindu Temple, and the closing stores of Nadi- the closer, more touristy city to the airport on the main island of Vitilevu. Sevu, the capital- was too far.
The drive back to Nazir's in-laws was beautiful- vast fields, goats, sugarcane- and it was refreshing to be in another country. We passed the paved roads and started off into the country side, where the cab had to take it a bit easy over the rocky roads. Finally, we pull into a quaint tin-roofed home with wild chickens and roosters, multiple species of wild orchids, cows, cats, dogs, papaya and so on. Hawaii was tropical and beautiful, but the reminder that we were still in America was almost impossible to escape. Nazir's brother-in-law, Ayshan, is a sugarcane and pineapple farmer- you could see the spiky pineapple leaves in neat rows in random patches of open hillside. We were invited in, took off our shoes, has some water, and were off in the pick up truck with a machete. The five of us took a drive to a hollowed out cave fabled to be where ancient fairies would spend time- the holes in the rock side were where they would hold on to climb. Next, we were taken to a few streams, where the men fish for prawns during some nights. Upon seeing a few wild ducks, Ayshan lamented about how he didn't have his shotgun- duck makes for great curry. The air was sticky and humid, and they sky was overcast, but the breathing was clear and refreshing in that way that all country sides are. On the way back home, Ayshan cut a few fresh sugar cane stalks for us, and we smiled like kids when we chewed the fibrous stalks and swallowed the pure sweetness. The chewing and spitting of what's left over makes sugarcane one of those treats you can eat when you're bored or just want an involved food.
When we got back and the goats were herded and returned from their grazing grounds we met the father-in-law dressed in pure white Muslim robes. He gave us a firm and welcoming handshake, and his affect suggested that he was amused and thankful for these tourists who were paying his family. When we thought about it, we realized that when Nazir landed a deal like this- he got to "work" at home, hiking, talking, sitting, eating home-cooked food, not using gas. He told us that the last time he did this was seven months ago and that he could tell that we were fun and open guys. He had a very sweet disposition and tired eyes, and it was nice for us to help each other out. Frankly, we felt like rockstars having an authentic experience and dominating a layover that most would spend in an airport fast food chain. Their hospitality was very Indian and unrelenting. No one but Nazir ever partook in anything with us, as we were the guest, and he was out host and liason. They cut up the sugarcane for us, and we happily chewed and talked while their good friend and neighbor prepared the cava. None of the family drank cava because of Muslim guidelines, but as the neighbor was Hindu, he got down with us. He filled the coconut bowl and passed it to Jeff and told us to say "Bula!" ("Welcome" in Fijian) as we clapped three times. Jeff took a tentative sip since we were told it would be unpleasant, and they told him that we take it in one straight shot. Jeff downed it, and it wasn't that bad at all. So it went for the next hour- pour, Bula!, clap clap clap, and pass. We watched the sun burn a perfectly spherical lava red circle into the sky as pitch black snuck around us. We were too happy, comfortable, and relaxed to notice. If it weren't for the fluorescent porch lights, we wouldn't have been able to see our hand in front of our face. Nazir opened the door to let even more fresh air in, and we just talked and talked. At first, as most tourist interactions go, it was awkward, and then we settled into each other. We talked about infrastructure, political coups, tourism, Fijian v. Indian racism and class divisions, farming, renting land, religion and more. Contrary to India, Muslims and Hindus get along quite well in Fiji, says Nazir- BUT, that might only be if they are all Indian. As it seemed and as it was told, the native Fijians, from whom Indian immigrants rent land from, still hold and act on a superior position- no matter how many generations a non-native has been in Fiji.
Soon dinner was ready- beef curry that was slaughtered last week, home made lentils, roti, okra, tamarind chutney, rice, fresh picked chillies, and papad (packaged). The beef was cooked on the bone for such a long time that it was sitting in it's own fat and flavor and tender as ever. It was one of the most delicious meals I have had in a long, long time. Obviously our circumstance intensified the flavor- food is as much about what it means as how it tastes. Jeff was even compelled to try it- his first active meat eating in 5 years! Later on, he said it was just okay. Later on, I would say he doesn't know his ass from his elbow. When we thought we were stuffed, they brought out freshly picked papaya and scoops of passionfruit ice cream. Stuffed, satisfied, and tired, we said our thanks and goodbyes, exchanged emails and were off to the airport again. We paid the family $10 Fijian each for dinner (the exchange is .6 American to 1) and tipped Ayshan $15 Fijian. His english and dialect with us were near perfect, and he lived in Wellington, New Zealand studying electrical engineering for four years. Despite all of this modernity, he still had an arranged marriage like most of the Indian population in Fiji. What's weirder was tipping him. This is a man with a four year degree and a wife, and we tipped him about $10 American. Maybe it was self conscious, but there seemed to be some visible and unwanted embarrassment on his face. Nazir also seemed disappointed with his pay, so we gave him some more cash upon drop off. There is nothing cuter than seeing a grateful Indian man.
(Jeff eating meat for the first time)
Realizing the "International Lounge" was closed at the airport, we found a few benches and, you guessed it, slept...under them, on the floor. Fiji was welcoming as ever, but one can never be too cautious. We tossed and turned, holding shoes and covering zippers- changed positions when our arms fell asleep or our necks were stiff. When you're that tired, you'll sleep anywhere.
Matt woke us up with tea and coffee, and we went for our breezy check-in, to find out that our bags were being held and we were actually meant to collect them on arrival in Fiji. Jeering at Jeff the whole way, we were treated like VIPs as we were taken to cut lines and get our stuff. It turns out that it ended up being more convenient for us as we didn't have to take them with us, or store them. Returning to check in- we were shocked to find out that being an American and traveling wasn't as easy as we thought. Being from certain countries, some people have to work very hard for access to other countries. We were told that we needed a ticket OUT of New Zealand and that whimsical one-way ticket buying couldn't really fly. Tried as we did, there was no way to skirt this one. As we planned to go to Australia after NZ anyway, we ended up buying our Australia tickets on the spot along with an entry level visa. Three months in New Zealand it is. We were wondering if we'll be thinking "Are we leaving yet?", "We need to extend!", or "We're ready to move on, in a good way".
Finally, we went through, talked to some folks who have SCUBA dived everywhere in the world, borrowed our GoPro charger from them, enjoyed a Fijian Bitter Beer, and got on the plane. Here we are, on our way, with our World Travel actually started, sitting next to each other on a 737 to New Zealand. Our purposeful lack of heavy planning as has really worked out for us so far, and we're going to try to keep it that way. We firmly believe that the world can sense your outlook and purpose, and the type of attitude you exude, and so far we've been brilliant.
We got lucky through a friend of Ariel who had ANOTHER friend who lives in Auckland- he's going to put us up on a couch for a day or two until we can buy our van that we'll use to tour the country. Expect us to turn into crazy hermits who sniff glue and eat garbage. Oh, also going to a bar in the morning and not leaving until well into the next morning whilst watching the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
This is actually happening.
PS- We went skydiving!!!!!! In Hawaii, didn't have time to post it before we left Hawaii but here are some pictures.
This post read and approved by M@