Travelog: Fiji, A Trip to Paradise
When you think about going to Paradise, you generally just think of being in Paradise. You don’t think about the going and coming part. This is the story of being in Paradise, but includes the going and coming too, as that is part of the adventure. In early March, our daughter Kate sent me an email inviting us to come to Fiji to spend 3 weeks with her family. Her husband works for the Peace Corps, and as a result of his extensive travel, they were able to offer us his air miles and bring my husband Tom and me there with no cost to us. Well, what was there to think about? In early March it was generally cold and rainy or snowy here in Richmond, and Fiji is blissfully warm and sunny. Of course, we said yes!
First on the list was our flight arrangements. It is no small thing to travel more than halfway around the world. We had done it before and knew the trip consumes at least 48 hours of travel time. This time was even more. Using free air miles is a tricky thing. The airlines will only book on certain flights and at certain times. We left from Dulles, changing planes at Dallas/Ft. Worth and finally to LA, with a long layover until the final leg to Fiji. Once in Fiji, we still had a 4-hour taxi ride to the capital city of Suva, where our daughter and her family live. Sounds easy – right? Right!
The drama started when we arrived in Dallas/Ft. Worth, where we found that we needed to travel via their rail system to about the 4th terminal from our gate. And only 40 minutes to get to the next flight! We made it with about 2 minutes to spare. In LA, we had an eleven-hour wait. So, we wandered around the airport and found the International Terminal with no problems. The Fiji Air desk was there and all we had to do was change our boarding passes that had been given to us at Dulles (Fiji Air requires a Fiji Air boarding pass – not one issued from American – their affiliate company). Hmmm…no one at the Fiji Air desk. We eventually found that the desk wouldn’t be manned until around 7:30 that evening. The flight was taking off at 11:30pm and it was just noon. 11 hours is a long time, but not really long enough to leave the airport to play. So, we decided to see LAX. Found some $20 burgers and KFC. Decided on $15 Chinese instead. Found a lovely seating area and rested up for a few hours. At some point, airport personnel began bringing in extension cords and sound equipment, obviously setting up for some kind of musical extravaganza. Finally, a keyboard player and a percussionist arrived. They played 2 sets of beautiful new agey music – not too soft and slow, not too fast and loud for the space. It was very entertaining, and time moved along. So now it’s 7:30 and we decided to go see if the Fiji Air desk was finally open for business. Had we stayed at the desk and waited, we’d have been the first ones in line. But then we’d have missed the entertainment, so instead, we were about 50th in line. But eventually we got our new passes and boarded, and at 11:30 the plane pushed away from the gate and we were off – or so we thought. After about 1.5 hours of taxiing and sitting, the pilot announced that there was an unruly passenger who’d threatened some actions and she was being handed over to the authorities. We just needed to be patient while they found her luggage and filled out lots of papers to finish things up before flying off to paradise. The flight was almost full, and it was a big plane: lots of luggage to sort through! It’s a BIG deal to kick someone off an airplane! But we were finally up and flying on and in 11 hours 20 minutes we would be in Paradise. Sunrise while flying over the Pacific Ocean is spectacular!
Our flight landed in Nadi (pronounced Nandi), 2 hours late. The International Airport is in Nadi, which is mostly a tourist destination. I haven’t yet mentioned our last leg of this marathon travel was a 4-hour drive by taxi (auto) to the capital city of Suva. By the time we arrived at Kate’s house, we’d been traveling for 52 hours.
Where were our daughter and her family?? They weren’t in Suva, Fiji! They were in Australia! Well, let’s be fair. We knew in advance that they would be on the last few days of their vacation in Australia when we agreed to all the time slots. Clancy, a friend, was waiting for us with the keys to Kate’s home and instructions on how to enter the 4 different entrances to their home as well as how to set and cancel the home’s alarm system. After 3 days of traveling with minimal sleep, what could possibly go wrong? Kate and the family would be home on Monday and in the meantime, Tom and I had 3 days to adjust to the new time zones and recover from the jet lag. With only one rather loud error, we managed the alarm system and the various doors and keys just fine.
The first thing that greeted us when we got inside was a BIG bouquet of tropical flowers. Kate’s maid, Chelli, had been there the day before and prepared a traditional Fiji welcome for us! It was truly lovely. Then at 2pm Kate’s cook, Anna, came in and prepared a Fijian lasagna along with salad and bread, for us to have for dinner that night, and snack on for the next 3 days. See? I told you it was Paradise!!
Added to the love arranged from Australia was the view from Kate’s porch and deck. So incredible even in the rain! The first 3 days of our stay, it rained on and off the whole time. Actually, more on than off. We were jet lagged, so who was really paying attention to the rain? That first night, it was all we could do to stay up until dark at 6pm. The next night, I made it ‘til 8pm. It did get better each day. And I even decided that I could drive their car to the closest market about a mile away. What’s unusual about that? If you know me, then you are aware that I love to drive and I’m always bustling about in my car. Now, their car has the steering wheel on the right side and in Fiji, everyone drives on the left side of the road! I think I scared Tom half to death! But we got to the market and purchased some Fijian milk, bread, and other necessities and then back home without killing anyone or damaging anything.
On Monday, when Kate and her husband Warren and our two grandchildren Andie and Zoe were scheduled to come home, tropical cyclone Keni was blowing and coming to visit the Island as well. We didn’t know if they would even be able to fly in before the storm hit. Luckily, the cyclone took its time getting organized and waited until the next day – Tuesday, to make its fly by. We got thru that day and the next day, we packed up and went to our first resort, Leleuvia.
Leleuvia (le-lu-ve-a), is an eco-resort on an Island to the south of the main Island. You travel by boat for about 45 minutes to get there. Warren wasn’t able to get away to go with us, but Kate, the girls, and Tom and I went. It was drizzly the first evening and actually rained the whole first night, but when day dawned the next day, it was windy and beautifully clear! There are no cars on Leleuvia. You may not bring plastics to the Island unless you plan to depart with said plastics. There is no air conditioning. The electricity is turned off from midnight to 6am daily. Until the weekend before our arrival, there were no bathrooms in the bures (tropical cabins). The girls went native while we were there. We always knew basically where they were but didn’t have to keep an eye on them every second. No way for them to wander away. And Fijians adore children. As a result, kids on the Island have freedom to roam around without having to check in every 5 minutes. All your meals are provided by the resort as there are no villages or other inhabitants on the Island. It is, in short, Paradise! We spent 3 days in a natural Paradise and we were in heaven.
We circumnavigated the Island in about 45 minutes one day at low tide. Kate and I slogged through a seaweed path about ½ mile to a sandbar at low tide – then turned around to make it back to the Island before the water rose again. Blue starfish, many varieties of small fish and starfish. Glad to see NO sharks! Everyone fed the fish from the pier. Parrotfish, and many different varieties of tropical fish got some of the bread provided by the resort. Here, we were able to see some of the damage inflicted by the storm. When you looked up at the roof of many of the buildings, you could see right through to the sky. All the roofs are palm-thatched, and the winds of the cyclone tore through the thatch in some places. Frankly, it was amazing that more of the thatch wasn’t torn away. And the resort was restoring things to pristine normalcy as fast as they could. If you ever go to Fiji, be sure to include a visit to Leleuvia!
Later that evening we were all invited to a friend’s home for a Lovo meal. This is a meal cooked underground much like a Hawaiian luau. Everything except the salads is prepared in the ground. There is always pork, usually chicken, and various local veggies (I always forget their names). We weren’t the only ones there either. Laura and Villie and their 2 girls also invited some of Villie’s cousins and his uncle. Laura is from Australia, and Villie is from Fiji. They work in some offices of the Fijian government. It was a wonderful meal, and we had some wonderful discussions about the upcoming Fijian election and the healthcare processes in Fiji and Australia and the USA. Very interesting. Also, the cousins made Kava (aka Grog). There was no warrior dance. But some of the drinking customs were followed. Everyone got to at least taste the Kava – some had more than a taste! No one was overly affected by it, so it was all fun!
Wandering over Warren and Kate’s property – btw, they don’t own the property, but the Peace Corps rents it for them, you can see all kind of tropical vegetation. They have banana trees (shrubs?), coconut palms, breadfruit trees, birds of paradise plants, a pineapple growing, and basically many of the tropical plants you purchase here in the states to “green up” your home. They also have a pool which gets plenty of use! They may not have the very best view in all of Fiji, but it’s close! They are situated on a hill overlooking Suva and Suva’s bay and to the west are the volcanic mountains. The main Island is about the size and shape of Connecticut. I really don’t believe I could ever get tired of the view!
Sunday and the next week, we pretty much roamed Suva and some nearby resorts. Fiji is loaded with resorts of all flavors. Everything from very expensive, 5 star quality with every amenity to resorts with shortened electric hours, and no bathrooms in the non-air-conditioned bures. Some have bunk houses where, for example, the world-class Fiji rugby team can blow off some steam while practicing their plays. We also went to the Grand Pacific Hotel (GPH), one afternoon for tea. We didn’t actually have tea, but instead a nice tropical cocktail. GPH is a restored hotel that is from the colonial period of Fiji. Fiji was colonized by Great Britain around 1874. The hotel was built in 1915. And while it isn’t India – you can almost see the elephants marching around the building – well, that’s the wrong continent, isn’t it? Maybe you can instead envision the sugar cane being prepared for shipment to The Continent by the indentured workers! In any event – no more indentured workers anywhere to be found. The hotel is beautifully maintained and a joyful place to relax after a hard day at the beach or shopping!
Speaking of shopping, Tom and I ventured downtown to the center of Suva one afternoon to the vegetable/fruit market. There were hundreds of small farmers businesses selling all varieties of Fiji vegetables and fruit. Interestingly, they don’t grow tomatoes or green beans or anything that is a cool weather item, like Brussel sprouts. But they have some veggies that you’ve never heard of like taro and dalo. Anyway, I bought 3 pineapples at the market for $5fjd – that’s $2.50usd! What a deal! Pineapples in Fiji are a different variety than we have imported here in the US. They are smaller and because they are allowed to ripen before harvesting, they are deliciously sweet and not so tart as our pineapples are here. So tasty!!
This week was also the week that Andie and Zoë began school again after their break. Kate also began her parttime counseling job at the school. We visited the school on Friday for an assembly. The school has 47 different nationalities enrolled. It’s an International school – obviously. And it’s a very fine learning center. Really wonderful to see and hear what is different about such a diverse environment. But make no mistake – kids are the same the world over! Some are fidgety, some are attentive, some are mischievous – kids are kids!
After the assembly, we went home to pack up for the weekend at a new resort that is small – very small, and made up of small villas. It took 3 hours to drive to “the villas”. The coral coast road follows the coastline pretty much all the way, so you can imagine the number of twists and curves we made during this drive. Also, the speed limit in Fiji is no faster than 80 kph (about 50 mph). Most of the time, it’s not possible to travel that fast. There are few stop lights along this road, also known as Queen’s highway. But there are many, many villages with many, many speed humps. Fiji has slowed down the speeds by using speed humps as you enter any new village. Very effective and while I don’t have any statistics to prove it, I imagine there are fewer accidents and dead pets and people as a result.
When we finally arrived at the Villas, everyone was ready to get out and explore. We spent the entire weekend playing at the beach, at the pool, and at the villa. The vistas at the ocean were unbelievable – really! One of the pools was an adult pool that was an infinity pool overlooking the ocean! Nirvana! There are 2 larger resorts just across the road, so we sometimes went there to have a few drinks at sunset or for a meal. What an incredible way to close out our trip to Paradise!
Then we were faced with the reality of the 3 flights home. We took off from Nadi at 9pm on Monday, April 23rd and arrived in LA 11 hours later at noon on Monday, April 23rd! Seriously, we arrived in LA before we departed Fiji! It’s that International Date Line thing, folks! And let me just say that I will NEVER, EVER again sit in the 3rd airline seat by a window. Can you say Claustrophobia – with a capital C? Luckily it was the middle leg from LAX to Chicago and not the flight from Fiji! By the time we arrived in DC, we were done in. But we had to catch a taxi, and it was raining. And it was rush hour. UGH! Jet lag is real. When you travel over the course of 3 days and go through 16 time zones, there is a real effect on your body and brain. In addition, a cold that I almost escaped overtook me and now I also was trying to get through that as well. But, I have to say, I’d do all of it again. Our grands are getting so big and we miss seeing their accomplishments and sweet faces. Just seeing them was worth everything! And there was so much more. Our stories will be embellished and remembered for the rest of our lives. Thanks for reading along. I heartily encourage you to travel as often and far as you can. It’s worth every second!