Friday, November 10, 2006


The plane ride to Fiji was mercifully short, especially given that we were sat next to a young family with a kid that screamed most of the way. I resolved to book myself into the vasectomy clinic as soon as we return to the UK. We had exit seats but, perhaps fortunately, I wasn’t called on to demonstrate my door opening skills. The immigration officers in Fiji had all paid attention to lessons at the international school for stern-looking officials, it was slightly surreal being looked up and down with the jolly strains of a band in the background.

We’d pre-booked at Nomads Skylodge, a backpacker place near the airport. Normally anything with the word backpacker associated with it gives me the shivers but this place wasn’t bad at all. If I had to guess I’d say it was a resort that was finding it hard to compete with the better located and more up to date places, so reinvented itself and began targeting the budget market. The service was excellent and we got upgraded to a better room so we definitely weren’t complaining. The ride from the airport was enlivened enormously by a crazy honeymooning dutchman, who was whacked up on painkillers and aeroplane wine. He seemed much more subdued the next morning at breakfast. With his wife he was visiting 6 countries in just over a fortnight!

Our stay at the Skylodge was a limited one. In the morning we took a cab to the Westin on Denarau island. The Westin is one of three Sheraton owned hotels in the same complex on the island, and the poshest of them. We don’t normally go for such budget-blowing luxury, but we had decided to treat ourselves for Gemma’s birthday. Being the scruffy looking oiks that we are, we attracted some odd looks when we arrived at the hotel, spurning offers of help from the porters. The room was lovely and we very quickly made ourselves at home, using the specially designed shower and loafing around in bathrobes and slippers. Gemma sat on the bed and opened the cards that we’d picked up from Christchurch.

The first day was spent just chilling out, walking round the resort and generally being lazy. As evening draws in the hotel has a fire-lighting ceremony where drums are banged, flaming sticks are twirled and large braziers in the pool are lit up. Gemma had to ring her Mum to be wished happy birthday, so after a couple of drinks we went back to the room and she did so. By the time we got off the phone we were both pretty hungry so we made for the nearest restaurant, The Steakhouse & Grill. Again treating ourselves, we had a nice meal. Gemma had a shock when she saw that the wine had cost as much as the food, but when I related the whole thing to being less than the cost of a night out at home she calmed down. The wine was very nice.

Breakfast was a quiet affair with my hangover beginning nice and early. I tried to be healthy by sticking to fruit and yoghurt, but failed when I saw the croissants. The hotel had many activities organised, but active wasn’t how I was feeling at that point so I sat by the pool with a book, occasionally jumping in to cool off a bit. We ate lunch in one of the restaurants at the adjoining Sheraton Fiji resort. The exertion of this was such that we immediately had to have a bit of a nap. Our bed was so comfy and inviting that I had trouble tearing myself away from it, I had visions of being stuck there forever. The mattress was thicker than my head. That evening we watched the fire-lighting ceremony again having a couple of beers. Neither of us felt hungry at all so we didn’t bother with dinner.

In the morning after breakfast we jumped on the first boat across to Akuilau Island. The resort owns the island just over a small stretch of water from the beach and runs an hourly shuttle boat over to it. We took a quiet walk along the beach, peering in pools at the wealth of crawling, swimming, wriggling and squirming life in there. Lizards and crabs dashed around on the rock as we approached them. I found a couple of hermit crabs that were either mating or fighting. It was hard to tell. Back in the main grassy part we met a man who lives and works on the island. He led us on a path through the trees to a small chair and plucked us fresh papaya and coconut.

Back at Denarau we jumped straight in the pool for a bit of a cooling dip and then lazed around for an hour or so, occasionally looking up to order a cocktail or something to nibble on. The highlight that evening was the crab racing. An auction was held at the start for various crabs named for sports personalities from various countries. We bid for and won, for $27, the Fijian crab, named after a golfer I think. I think Gemma enjoyed the excitement of the bidding, although it was very restrained compared to that which happened for the Canadian entry, with a couple of Canadians bidding madly against each other. David Beckham crab was also a hit, going for about $120. All the contestants were sold and a bucket produced full of hermit crabs with numbers on their shells. This was dumped rather unceremoniously on a mat with the aim of seeing which crab made it off the mat first. I have an inkling that our crab was over the line first, but in the end it was fudged up so the kids that bid won. Fair enough, although what would they do with a cocktail (the prize)?

Another day of lazing by the pool started with the fish feeding. I’d seen this on the activities board and was quite looking forward to it, so was dismayed when a guy came up shouting, ‘Fish feeding, feeding of the fish.’ to then throw a loaf of bread in the water and walk off. The fish seemed to like it though, the bread pieces jumping around on the water and disappearing chunk by chunk. In the evening we were treated to a magnificent sunset as we walked along the beach to the Sheraton. We had dinner at that resort before walking back with Gemma nearly dying of fright at nearly stepping on frogs and having fruit bats fly out of the trees next to her. They grow the bats big in this part of the world.

The luxury was over with the next morning, although we waited until just about the last moment to check out. We caught a cab up to the Skylodge, where we had stayed when we arrived to sort out our remaining time in Fiji. When we arrived, I thought again, that the place wasn’t bad for the money, especially as we’d been upgraded to a better room again. Our taxi driver had been mercilessly touting for the business of taking us touring around the main island of Fiji, we put him off by taking his card. Instead we sat around the pool again, soaking up the heat and reading. Very relaxing, despite the surroundings being a bit less luxurious that we’d become used to over the previous few days.

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