Adventures in Fijis Qamea

To Fiji! Waiting for our 4:30pm flight to Nadi, Fiji from Auckland in the airport debating on what our last NZ dollars on. We decide Sushi and casually walk to our gate. The Screen still saying, ‘boarding in 5 minutes’, so we thought we had time. For the first time in our lives, we were shocked to here our names being called for the final warning! Air Pacific hadn’t updated their screen, and now suddenly we were really unrelaxed. Running to the gate with a pack of sushi and green tea, the staff must have though we were a right pair! “Where have you been?” the staff demanded. Taking our green tea away from us explaining that we could not take hot drinks onto the flight then raidoing through for our bags not to be taken off of the plane. Yikes, that was a close one. Recovering from our 10minutes of stress, we were the last on the plane and on our way to Fiji. Despite a bad reception as we entered the plane, this ended up being one of the nicest flights we have had with our around the world aliance so far. They served a good lunch and were happy to refill Al’s rum and coke, whilst they actually came to offer me another gin and tonic. Why not? We landed in Nadi airport on time. Our very fist port of call was duty free. We had been requested to Adam to buy as much Bounty Rum we can manage. I had been in contact with Adam prior to arrival via emails. He is incharge of the Earth Repair project we were going to be heading to on a remote island called Qamea. Al was well up for this. Bounty Rum, a pure sugar cane variety with a picture of a pirate ship on it’s label was double the price outside of duty free. So once we were through the customs and their checks that we din’t have any shells or animal products (which was extremely easy compared to Auckland) Infact they didn’t even put our bags through x-rays this time. Al’s necklace is becoming more of a worry with his rocks and penguin vertabrae being sentimental as well as difficult to hide under his shirt! They did not blink an eye lid though.

We arrived just in time to catch the express bus to Suva, 4 hours on the other side of the Island. A busy but comfortable a/c bus should have been an easy ride compared to what we had got used to, but it seemed to really drag. We were both tired and just wanted to get there. The bus had a couple of films to accomodate for all. The first one, a western hollywood romcom, the second a bollywood musical that we had seen and heard the music from a lot when we were in India. The reason for the bollywood film…there is a huge Indian influence in Fiji. Many peoply are 2nd or 3rd generation Indian, but now completely accepted as Fijians and own Fijian passports. Throughout our time in Fiji we began to recognize how the Indian cooking and culture is ingrained and flows nicley intertwining with the Fijian culture and cuisine. This combination of film choice was our fist lesson in this! Arriving in Suva, a main port for Fiji it was a little grimey, like all port towns seem to be. However, walking with our backpack down the main road in the dark din’t feel dangerous.Seing as we didn’t have anywhere booked and nobody seemed to understand what a hostel was, we were directed to a hotel that was out of our budget. This was a no go, so we piled into an internet cafe and found some addresses of hostels listed on hostel bookers. This was a winner and with a short cheap taxi ride later we found a reasonable bed to rest our headsat the South Seas Hotel. I crashed, but Al stayed upto sample the rum we had bought and spoke to the security guard for a fair while, getting an overview of Fiji and what to expect. The guard was extremely softly spoken, something that we noticed was common in Fijians. Al got a good feeling from his first real encounter from Fijian. Calm, very relaxed, friendly and unimposing; these were qualities became clear that were a given with the majority of people in Fiji.

Well rested, we ventured to the other side of the city to find the port and book our SOFI boat tickets to Taveuni. We wanted to get to Qamea as soon as we could to maximize our stay with Adam, helping him with the Earth Repair project. The ticket office was not easy to find. We walked along the coast taking in the blue sky, blue sea view. It was much hotter than we were used to after cold New Zealand. It was humid with an intense sun. I had forgotten what that felt like. After winding through some back alleys around the market and industrial port we finally arrived at the booking office. With our boat departing at 3pm that day we had a few hours to kill. Resting in the shade under a tree in a park in town was about all we could muster with the midday heat, as well as deciding on our lunch before beginning a 20 hour dea voyage. The streets were lined with fish and chip shops which was unexpected. It was apparently one of Fijian’s favourite meals. Funny that Al had eaten fish and chips in Auckland thinking it would be the last chance he would get until we set foot in the UK. I guess the English occupancy had left behind a gem which was easy to keep up in an island surrounded by fish abundant waters. Nevertheless, we opted for a cheap Indian thali before heading to the boat. With the large Indian influence it lived up to expectations and was the perfect meal for the hot day. The last thing we neededwas a heavy deepfried fish and chips in that kind of heat!
Waiting for the boat to dock Suva,Viti Levu, took some time. People, cars tucks loading on to one of the two boats weekly that makes the 20hour trip to Taveuni. The boat was delayed further when a thunderstome went straightover the boat. It was great to watch the lightening from the top deck. The top deck got very wet, but it was possible to pull down plastic sheets around the periphery which really worked pretty well. Eventually the boat left the port and we tried to get comfortable onthe lower deck. The lower deck was meant to be air conditioned and had slightly padded seats, however the doorsto this enclosed space were left open and it was like an oven down there. Famillies set up camp by spreading out there straw mats and unpacking their picknics, understanding what they would be entailing in the next 20 hours. This really reminded me of the Indians settting up camp in train stations,realising they would be there for the long haul. I wondered whether this way of carrying bedding and hot food was something they had picked up from the Indians who had settled here, or if it was just something you ‘did’ in countryies where things could take a while. After all we were now definately on ‘fiji time’.
Asthe boat left the harbour we sat on a higher dock and watched the beautiful sunset, drank a little rum and ate sausage and chips, the meal being served that evening. The boat was a little more rocky than normal apparently. This was a combination of the passing storm and the fact that we were leaving this reef into deeper waters. Al and I didn’t suffer from sea sickness, but one Asian lady was having a bad time. Made worse, I am sure by her husband who was walking her down the ship to the toilets at the end of the boat. Not only was it impossible to walk straight, he was directing her passed the other passengers, so if she vomitted it would have been all over an unfortunate soul, not over the edge of the boat. I also wondered what the logic was in going to the toilet in the first place. They were really dirty and stankof urin, there was no way she would not throw up. She was so pale and wretching as she passed us, I was a little scared that it would be us that ended up with the vomit! Luckily she made it to the mens toilets, which were ruined for the remainder of the journey.
When night came and people beganto settle for the night we tried to lie in the lower deck hoping it had cooled slightly. It was still like an inferno, ridden with cockroaches with a loud black and white Japanese film on repeat. Not really sleepworthy. Instead we moved to the top deck, which was cool and quiet with relatively fewer people. The boat swayed throughout the night, but imagining beingrocked to sleep helped avoid sea sickness. The wooden benches were incredibly uncomfortable and as we came completely unprepared we did nothave any bedding at all. Only our hand luggage, a small rucksack and some food. We ended up using our loaf of bread and bag of crisps as one pillow and rucksack as another. Hardly having slept we were woke by people speaking loudly and listening to music on their phones. A rude awakening was soon forgiven as we were lucky enough to see the most beautifull sunrise. An orange sky with a calm sea and little black dots on the horizon where islands sat.  It was an exciting moment. I hadn’t seen sure what to expect of Fiji, but I was happy that we were on this voyage. It was an adventure just to find Adam and reach Qamae!

A couple of hours after sunrise the black dots got closes and we docked at Savusavu, Vanua Levu for breakfast.

A lot of people disembarked and a some got one. We had enough time to get off the boat and buy a piece of cake and some juice from a street vendor. Then, just sat on the top deck watching the port activity for the remaining time untill we headed for the final destination; Nagala, Taveuni. Jerry, a localon top deck chatted to us for hours. Explaining about the geography of the Islands, the pearl trade in Fiji, that his mum was Irish, what he did for work. He was another friendly and open Fijian who was a pleasure to hang out with. He pointed out mansions on the beach and higher into the jungle on Vanua Levu. Each plot of land was around US$1000000.
 We soon realised that beaches were private resorts and it was almost impossible to use a beach without paying a huge sum to stay in an upmarket resort- the type you would image honeymooners go to. In the last couple of hours of our journey our view was fantasctic, we were travelling along the outside of the reef. The shade of blue created by the depth of water and the clear sky was breathtaking. We were lucky enough to watch a large schoolof dolphins swim by too. It was the first time I had seen anything like that in the wild, and it was truly mezmerizing. Near the end of the journey we were accosted by a load of backpaskers, all on their way to Qamae, but the other side to where we were heading. A backpacker hostel in Nadi, Bamboo, owned a place on the island which charged 55 Fiji dollars for full board and dorm room. We were sectretly relieved that we had managed to find somewhere away from the main backpacker trail but curious how Adam’s would compare to the Maqai Eco Beach Resort.

Finally we reached Taveauni. Whilst waiting for out bags to be off loaded a young man came up to us. It was Adam. Much easier to find him that we expected,we headed to Nagala town and sat in a cafe with a few beers and chatted about our plan of action to get to Qamea. Qamae was remote, an island off the north of Taveuni. Getting there involved catching a bus to the northern town, Matei, then a chartered boat for an hour. Adam had some business to do in Nagala, so we agreed to stay at his firends house for the night with him and do the journey the following day. Al and I enjoyed watching the world go by in this tiny town form the cafe balcony with a couple more beers while Adam did what he had to do. Sat there relaxing, watching this little things that you might miss in a rush, we agreed that it felt a little like Bahia, Brazil. It’s ethinicity and chilled out vibe with a tropical climate to match.
That evening we went to Adam’s friends house. A hawaian lady who allowed Adam to use her place and keep an eye on it for her when she was not there. The house was in a weird area where foreigners built there manions in a ‘safe’ community area. Several houses seemed to some with a security guard. The house we were staying in was bungalow overlooking the sea with a large porch and hammocks. To me and Al, it was a welcome change to the dorm rooms we were so used to now. Adam brought beer and a take away curry, so we got to know eachother and learnt more about the Earth Repair project. A highly enjoyable night, that made us even eagre to get to Qamae and spend as much time there as we could in our tight schedule.

Up early, Al and I went to do the bulk shopping for Adam whilst he finished off his other errands. By 11:am we were loaded up on the public bus with too much to carry. A great coastal route with stunning beaches and little villages, it increased our anticipation for where we were heading. Arriving in the north, we unloaded our stuff on the side of the dirt track road. Adam walked towards the coast to try and charter a boat. We stayed and minded the bags. After afair while, he came back with news that there were no boats available to take us across.

If we rushed back up to the last town we passed on the bus, we might catch another boat planning to make the cross. In our moments of deciding what to do, we had a comedy moment of Adam rummaging around in a box saying that he would make a call. Just for him to find half his phone set. No head pieace might be a bit promlematic in trying to make that call Adam!

Waiting in Matei for a boat took some time. We heard of a guy called Pat that could take us, but was collecting his kids from school. We would have to wait for him. Meanwhile, Adam went to try some other leads. He was gone a very long time and meanwhile Pat had arrived back and Al had single handedly moved all the shopping around to where his boat was. Eventually Adam cam strolling back, clearly much more in the swing of Fiji time than us. All on board we began the last legof the journey. Despite the delays and uncertaintly that we would even make it to Qamea that day, it had added to the magic of adventure for me. It almost shouldn’t be too easy just to get there. It definately had built up the apprehension of arriving on what sounded like the most beautiful place with a very interesting project to get involved in. It was a similar feeling that I experienced when we had to wait in Ubaitaba, Brazil for a night before finally reaching Pura Vida, Aguas Frias.
Pat drove the boat with his feet and sat on the top of his boat with this kids. We sat amongst the luggage and enjoyed an hour crossing t our final destination. We anchoreed up outside the reach zone and loaded onto a smaller boat that could managed the shallow waters. We were there. I incredibly beautiful stretch of white sandy beach. Beyond that it was thick lush green jungle and coconut trees climbing up a steep incline up into the centre of the small island. The water was clear and the view from the beach was shades of blue with Taveuni sitting on the horizon. I had never been on a truly tropical island, but it would be hard to beat this in my life time. It was unspoiled, no tourists and truly tranquil.

 

 

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