Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Kiwi Chronicles - Chapter 1, Part 1: Fiji

Note to reader: this is a the 2nd part of a continuing series entitled "The Kiwi Chronicles". To read the prologue, go here.

There's always something romantic about airplanes. It may be our infatuation with flying. Maybe, at one point in our evolution, we wanted to sprout wings and soar above the clouds. Instead, we decided that remaining earth-bound and flinging feces at each other was a more responsible evolutionary choice for our species. Not much has change, considering we still fling crap at each other. We just do it dressed in suits and housed in very impressive buildings while letting the poo-flingers play congressman or president. You know...nothing too important.

Regardless, flying is awesome. You're harboring all this excitement for the new places you're about to see and all the new adventures you're about to embark on. If you're flying over the ocean, you can see for hundreds of miles without seeing a single light. The earth seems so far away when you're up here. Left alone with your thoughts for 10 hours like that is enough to drive anyone mad. Thank goodness for international flights, because after two fairly strong vodka cranberries (I was 19 and naive and only now realize that it was a poor choice for my first legal drink) I was out for the night.

The next morning our pilot politely woke us up as we made our decent into Nadi, Fiji. It was still very early in the morning, so there wasn't much to see. It didn't matter...I was excited to get off this plane and be all touristy. As Emma and I made our way off the plane, the tropical air hit us like a brick wall. I had been to Hawaii when I was a kid, but the heat and humidity in Fiji was absolutely absurd. If you've never been to a tropical climate before, here's how you can acclimate yourself: crank your shower to as hot as it can go, and then lock yourself in the bathroom for a couple million years. To tell you the truth, I kinda liked it.

We grabbed our bags, made our way through customs, and headed for the taxi to take us to our hostel. Inside, I noticed the date and time on the meter. It read Tuesday at 4:30am. Whoa...wait a second. That can't be right. I left Sunday night, what the hell happened to Monday? I mean, I know we all hate Mondays, but I'm pretty sure we can't control time yet.

And you thought time travel was difficult...
As it turns out, we crossed the international date line overnight, and in turn lost a day. I know, it's weird, but here's a quick geography lesson to help the geographically impaired:

The International Date Line runs down the middle of the Pacific Ocean and is the imaginary line where the calendar resets for the next day. There are two boundaries like this: the date line, and wherever 24:00 local time occurs. The International Date Line is stationary and is responsible for keeping our calendar days moving. To put it in simpler terms: the countries directly west of the line are the first to experience the new day, while the countries directly to the east are the last. So, if it's 4:30AM in Fiji on Tuesday morning, it'll be 2:30AM in Hawaii on Monday. It's crazy, I know, but you learn quick when you're trying to call back home.

Anyways, after mourning the lost of Monday, we arrived at the 4:45AM...a good 5 hours before we could check in. Our plane was the only plane of the morning, and so there was a dozen other people there waiting to check in as well. The town was shut down and there was not much to do, so most of us locked up our luggage in the back room and lounged around on the deck.

5AM rolls around, with the sun just over the horizon, and I notice on the deck that one of the gentleman working there was opening up a stand inside. The entire lobby is open to the beach outside, and the deck and lobby combined was no bigger than a normal classroom, so we all noticed what he was doing. I noticed on the wall behind him that there were two beer taps, and immediately pieced everything together. This was the bar...and it was opening at 5 in the morning. Holy crap...

Now understand, I was 19 at the time. I wasn't legal age in the States and had never ordered a beer before, let alone drank one in public. But I was a new Ryan, full of adventure and excitement. And frankly, it doesn't get more exciting than drinking at 5 in the morning. Without hesitation, I dropped a whopping $1.50US for a pint of Fiji Bitter on tap. The legal age of drinking being 18 never tasted so good.

Within 15 minutes, Emma and I were sitting at a table with people from all around the globe playing King's Cup. Sharing cultures and making friends became exponentially easier with alcohol. That's when I also learned part of the reason Americans are hated so much. As it turns out, most of the Americans that travel are rude and obnoxious, and it only takes you a couple moments to pick out the Americans in the crowd. They're the group of kids with the giant neon-pink luggage and demanding service and attention from everyone. They also flash money around and say "like" alot, and once you notice that you can't ever un-notice it. Nails on a chalkboard...

Emma and I had a sound strategy, however, and it worked to our advantage: hang out with the Canadians. We were never like that at home, so we didn't fit in with those people anyways. And, since our accents are nearly identical, from far away we could blend it. It worked, and by the time we checked in we had a new group of friends to travel with for the week.

Our first stop was to go inland and have a Fijian 'spa' treatment (it's ok to laugh. You're just jealous). It was midday by the time we left the hostel, and we could finally see the island we were staying on:
You can see Tom Hanks and Wilson out there if you squint really hard
This place was crazy beautiful. Rivers and ponds were everywhere, and your eyes couldn't get use to the amount of green on everything. I mean, I did grow up in a desert, but regardless...there's a reason why people go to an island to escape. In the distance, you could see tiny islands everywhere. At one point, we stopped on a vista and try to count them all. I counted somewhere around 20....insane.

We were on the big island for the first couple days, and to get to our 'spa' we had to travel towards the mountains inland. Our taxi/landrover was plowing over rivers and plants at a very uncomfortable speed, dodging traffic and people with a beautiful finesse. Driving in the 3rd world is a demented sport, and I often caught our driver laughing as he narrowly missed school busses and ran stop signs. 
Someone should have bought a Landrover
Leading up to the 'spa', we turned off on this mud road. Yes, I typed that correctly, it wasn't a dirt road: it was mud. Mud that, when you stepped in it, your legs disappeared to your knees. Apparently it rains on an island....alot. We had a couple stuck cars on the way, but we didn't stop. We had a strict 'spa' appointment, and we weren't going to miss it.

There is a reason why I've been throwing 'spa' in quotations this whole post. Our car stopped in the middle of the forest and we were instructed to get out. Ahead of us was the 'spa': an old guard shack about 10' x 10'. The driver honked his horn and a very nice Fijian lady and her daughter came out. They lead us on this muddy path into the forest. Everyone's all excited, and I'm thinking "Oh great, I've been out of the country one day and I'm already getting kidnapped."

This is what heaven looks like. Ahhhh....
As I am here and not floating face-down in the Pacific Ocean, it is safe to say that I wasn't kidnapped. Far from it....I was lead to paradise. In the middle of these plains was this pool of crystal-clear water. We were instructed to hop in, and I was immediately greeted with the sensation of the most-perfect temperature of warm water. It turns out that this is an active volcanic area, and the springs in this area are all thermal-heated, and insanely healthy for you to boot.

The Fijian women then proceed to take mud from the bottom of the pool and coat you from head to toe in this volcanic soil, all while massaging your legs, arms, back and shoulders. You then wash off in the pool and relax for 20 minutes, enjoying the tropical air and the wonderful feeling of extreme relaxation. We chatted with her for a little bit before going back to our hostel.

Now, what would you pay for a treatment like this? $50? $100? And that's without the volcanic soil?

No joke, at the end of the 'spa' session, we each handed the lady $5.00US. Five dollars! I tried to tip her like 10 more, but she said no. It must be a pride thing, and you can tell when you're in the pool. Hand-lined rocks are all inside the water. The trees right next to it are planted and irrigated with precision. Everything is done with care and attention to detail. That's hospitality at its best. There's some lessons to be learned here, America. (I'm looking at you Red Roof Inn)

On our way home, all the exfoliation made us pretty hungry. So what do we do? Why, we go to McDonald's of course!
Nothing says "I Love You" like a Big Mac
The Big Mac I ordered tasted fresh...which is unheard of from the Golden Arches. More importantly, they were promoting their Valentine's Day 'Candle Light Dinner'. You're reading that right...McDonald's has a Candlelit dinner with a free sundae on Valentine's Day. I'm sure if any guy here were to take their date to McDonald's, they'd be promptly single the next day. Then again, this was a different country, and this burger was pretty damn good. Are the Golden Arches finally considered fine dining? Let that seep into your head for a bit.

Our first day in Fiji was pretty remarkable. I made some new friends, and came off that plane searching for memories to create. Not to mention, including hostel, taxi, food, beer, and a spa treatment, I only spent about $35. Fiji's definitely a bang for your buck. The people are very friendly, and to this day it is the only 3rd world country that I felt remotely safe in. The nit and gritty is pretty bad, but the people are good people. Generally, anywhere you go you're bound to meet good people. Sappy, but true. 

My next stop in Fiji would be the Beachcomber, an island that lives up to the reputation as 'party island of the Pacific.' Stay tuned!

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