March 20th, 2003

Fiji recap

No I wasn't kidnapped. I wasn't trapped in a bottle of rum. The internet is perfectly legal in Fiji. But its slow and expensive so I again need to fill in a big gap.

I arrived in Nadi (nan-dee) and learned that the next flight to the island I had to get to (Taveuni) wasn't until the next morning. I arranged a room at a nice little hostle, the white house inn, with thoughts of war while watching a few minutes of tv for the first time in weeks. Early the next morning I get to the airport and happy to discover lots of old friends from the Cozumel dive trip are waiting as well. In fact the 15 of us end up being the only ones on the flight to taveuni. Which makes it that much easier to jump from window to window oogling the reefs blue water and islands below.

[explosions have begun in Bagdad]

Taveuni is called the garden island. Its steep slopes are 80% covered by a protected park, and its adopted eco-tourism so development is minimal. A mud and rock road encircles 3/4th of the island, so its impossible to see it all in one loop. Power is provided only by private generators, out of the reach of most residents. I'll be posting photos from its amazing waterfalls (I hiked to them and saw no one for the entire 3 hours) and a natural waterslide where a group of us went out and played with 2 local kids who showed us how and where to ride it.

Despite its historic fondness for canibalism, missionaries have had quite an impact on Fiji's development. Fijian is still the primary language, but most people speak enough english to have real conversations. When words failed I more often found problems to be conceptual, than difficulties finding the right word. For native fijians christianity is followed quite strongly. On Sundays the island shuts down.

[ bush is speaking ]

But during the american civil war, a large population of indians were brought over as indentured servants. They've become 50%+ of the population. but they've never been fully integrated into fijian culture. They tend to run shops and drive taxis, but not otherwise mix as much as you might expect. Recent politics have often played the indo-fijians against fijians and its gotten ugly enough to drive a large migration of indo-fijians to AUS, NZ, and other nearby countries. Later in my trip, on Beachcomber Island I met some of those recent emigrants who still chose to vacation in Fiji.

Our days were spent diving in rather plush rooms that looked out onto the Somoso Strait, where we did 2 or 3 dives daily. While much of the island showed major signs of storm damage (the nearby road section was being rebuilt after being entirely washed away) the reefs were in good shape. Above 15 feet, the hard corals had been broken off in some places, but below that depth there was really no evidence. Since most of our dives were well below that point (I hit a new max depth, 112 feet) there was really no problems to speak of. Dive highlights included seeing a 4+ foot parrot fish take a huge and deafening bite out of a coral, some blue ribbon eels and numerous white tip sharks. On my very last dive I saw 6 white tips, and one of them passed only 5 feet away. It was easy to see his eyes, which really did look pretty damn fierce.

However the best moment under water wasn't about plants or animals. 2 more cyclones were in the area during our trip and had been bringing lots of rain, even delaying one day of diving. For the first dive of the 11th I had been one of the first divers in the water, and so I was doing my safety stop with lots of divers still circling a large coral head below. Millions of bubbles drifted up all around me, and continued up to the surface. But the surface wasn't smooth and glassy, it was rocking back and forth under large waves, while a hard rain pounded the surface. I just laid back and watched this for ages. Rain drops, water surrounded by air, coming down. Bubbles, air surrounded by water, rising up. It was beautiful, and oddly anti-parallel. I felt like I was on the wrong side of the looking glass, watching the universe trying tp put everything back in order, one tiny bit at a time.

more, but I'll save this now.

Fiji part deux

I was never able to get as close to whatever the real Fiji is, as I felt I was in Myanmar. People were friendly, the place was beautiful, but they had seen a lot more tourists come and go. More than once I was asked, "will you come back?" all I could say was, its wonderful here. But its beautiful lots of places, and I want to see more of them before I start repeating the highlights.

[ it may have been a single strike to take out saddam or one of his sons, not a full start of war. With a little luck the war may have just ended ]

I attended a rugby game between two of the university teams on taveuni, and the once a month dance to raise money for the team to host the province championship. The game was on a rugby field directly in front of a church. On a hill above the there is a huge cross visible from miles away. It was built to thank the french missionary who advised the fijians on a fighting strategy against the tongans. It worked beautifully and the tongans were eaten. In front of the church is a virgin mary statue. She has the best view I've ever seen. The game was won by the green team, with a player who worked at the resort I was staying at. His name is George (Jiorgi) and he played a mean version of Marley's "No Woman, No Cry" which I particularly enjoyed, especially when he gets to the the line which uses his own name.

The dance later that night was a Fiji version of a very familiar event. It was essentially a small town mixer, with a few local differences. Folks sat on the floor in circles of 10 to 20 people, drinking kava. kava is a mild opiate, tastes like wood, looks like muddy water. a couple of girls who owned the boombox, played dj putting in new cds and tapes. But they would play one song, then spend five minutes working out what to play next. So couples would stand up, dance one song, then sit back down. The dancing is no lambada, even missionaries would approve. Kava's effect is quite mild, I managed 11 bowls that evening, with no effect more worrisome than being a bit full. It leaves your mouth numb, but has the same effect on your mood. Between songs the place was rather quiet. It was nice to see this little event, but it had a certain mood of people who had all known each other too well for too long, and were out of things to say. Plenty of times I watched groups of boys or girls egg one of their own on enough to go nervously ask someone across the room to dance. Except for being the only non-fijian in the room, I could have been anywhere. At 11:00 it shutdown, since sunday was coming.

The next morning I went to a church service. Not that I've done to many of those in the US, but it was perfectly familiar except that it wasn't in english, and every sat on the floor instead of in pews. But there was a cleared central aisle, a cross, beautiful stained glass. At the right moments everyone would cross themselves, respond with the equivalent of a 'peace be with you', "And also with you", or turned and shake hands with their neighbors. A couple from Oxford that had just moved to NZ has also attended and we talked for a while.

Most evenings I ate with the other divers in my group, and a few others staying at the resort. The house band would sit around a microphone and play a bunch of guitars, and maybe congos on a few songs. They played a mix of western covers and their own originals sung in fijian. The kava bowl was constantly filled and drained throughout the evening, and most nights I'd sit and listen to them until the place was empty, while watching the stars, the frogs, the bats, and quite often the rain.

Towards our last day of diving I was beginning to develop a case of swimmers ear. I suspect it was a combination of water, cold AC, and wearing earplugs while sleeping. This was necessary as my roommate Ken a cop from San Jose is quite a snorer. On the day I went swimming in the Bouma waterfalls it got a bit worse. That night as I sat around with the resort staff, telling stories, goodbyes, and (of course) drinking kava I could tell it was getting worse. My hearing was getting difficult, and chewing was excruciating.

The next day I was flying to a new island. I felt guilty leaving the friends I had made behind, but beachcomber promised a younger backpacker crowd, and is considered one of the first places to disappear if global warming continues. Its small enough that you can walk around it in 20 minutes, and the only thing there is one resort which covers the entire island. It promised new dive sites, I was already worried enough about flying there with an ear that was getting worse.

The flight was on a 6 passenger plane. My ear was not behaving like a healthy ear, but seemed to be able to equalize at altitude.

Beachcomber stories coming soon.

beachcomber

[Island]

I felt shallow going to beachcomber. Its a little white sand resort. disneyland for 20-somethings. The first 24 hours didn't do much to ease my mind. There were 50 single New Zealanders who had all won a beer contest. I waivered between looking forward to when they leave, and imagining the ghost town that would follow. I got some drops for my ear from the dive shop, started taking the leftover anti-malarials (an antibiotic), and tried to sleep in a large open air dorm with 84 beds. Since my bed was right next to the front door every person who walked past could see that there I was still in bed. Later that evening the bar fueled curious gawkers to try to rouse me to go out and have a good time, or at least stop sleeping all the time. I fought it for hours, but eventually decided I was here, and wasn't getting any sleep anyway, thanks to the constant interruptions, so what the hell. I went out and danced for a while, the second song was "Oh Mickey, you're so fine" which I took as a good sign. I showed up, shook my ass enough, and went back to bed.

The next day I laid low until mid afternoon and then joined a volleyball game. I didn't rule the court, but I felt like I knew what I was doing, and doing it pretty well. All those company picnics finally pay off. It all kind of snowballed. I met a few folks, who introduced me to folks, while talking to them, more joined in and in a few hours I was settling in nicely. I was the last night for the contest winners, and they were all drinking like there was no tomorrow. They had been given lots of free drink passes, and tonight they all came out. When they knew they couldn't drink them all they started to share. Now everyone was in the game, and the whole thing escalated.

That night, like all the others that followed, I danced, I drank and I had a good time. It was a really international crowd, and I was meeting folks from all over the globe. Never really locked in with one particular group. I think most the folks I spent my time with never met one another but it was great to be able to bounce between stories like I was surfing tv channels. During the evening we had a small rainstorm, and I decided to head to a (not very hot) hot tub on the back side of the island. I sat in the tub, watched the waves and the distant lightning, listened to the rain on the water, thought of my dive with the rain and drank water to fight off the impending hangover.

It seemed to work. The next morning I felt like a champ, woke up early, and went off to the front desk to arrange for a different bed now that there were so many folks leaving. It required waiting a few more hours so I headed back to the tub to pick up where I left off. But this time I had to share. I was beaten there by Jean-Sebastian a canadian law student on a 3 month break to cope with a nervous breakdown during exams, and Ruth the traveling Irish radiologist with eyes and a smile I fell in love with instantly. We were all fast friends. As I went to complete the room transfer I was happy to discover (I swear I did not arrange this) that I was being moved up to a smaller loft area in the thatched roof bure, and that Ruth was my new neighbor.

Now all I had to do was kill Jean-Sebastian, dump his body in the currents, and I could have Ruth and the tub all to myself. (Did I say that out loud?). I grabbed 3 bottles of Fiji bitter from the bar, and headed back to the tub.

Within minutes were were joined by 80 indians (predominantly) from Australia. I suspect they would actually be a good example of that recent indo-fijian migration, but I didn't feel race relations were a good opener for a group here celebrating a wedding. Murdering a wedding party seemed so impractical so I put my murder plans on the back burner long enough to realize that there wasn't any sort of Ruth / Jean-Sebastian connection so murder would be completely unnecessary.

Instead I went to lunch, and met Gavin & Karen a married Xerox tech and a neonatal nurse from brisbane. They were here for the diving and continued to be a great source for all things diving for the rest of my trip. I joined them on one mediocre night dive where I spent most of my time coping with an ear that just wasn't yet ready. They had a great ability to see and enjoy the rediculousness around them, and everytime we sat down I enjoyed it immensely. While watching beachcombers version of a macarena with them a good lightening storm kicked up. An indo-fijian girl who was now a new zealander went nuts over the lightening. I must admit I'm a fan and I chatted her up and eventually walked off with her, only to become more interested in a young American couple who were here on a delayed honeymoon. Rolph and Stacie were out for a smoke, were happy to share, and while chatting we learned that we were leaving for Sydney on the same plane. And through these two I eventually met Derek and Joy. They are a young Irish couple who made me think happy thoughts of Sean & Caoimhe. Derek is 25 looks like Wes, my roommate from senior year of college, and Joy is 20 in love with the american day time trash tv, and thinks I remind her of John Edwards. They're heading to Hawaii & LA & NY soon and are thrilled to be seeing the states. She's been to Florida once when she was young and all she really remembers is how much she loved Key Lime pie. We talked past midnight, and then Joy pointed out that it had just become St. Patricks day. Everything was so wonderful I was just giddy. She made me a small green bracelet from a nearby palm, and I wore it for the next 24.

The next day was a down day. I laid in hammocks, listened to my CDs, wrote in my journal, and figured out my route for Australia, with lots of help from all the folks above, and many many more (hello Rene & Bev, enjoy SF).

[ seems to be a gas attack in Baghdad ]

And as nice as that sounds it kind of ruined it for me. As soon as I plan the next leg of my journey, it goes from being abstract to real. And suddenly I don't want to be where I am anymore, I want to be where I'm going. I wandered the island which now seemed too small. I'd seen everything, and walked every path. I went to my room and tried to sleep it all away.

The next day was my last full day on beachcomber. I would leave the following morning at 6am. So I did the logical thing. I drank. All day one rum and coke after another. 3 with lunch, several before, many after. Rum and coke during volleyball in the pouring rain. Rum and coke while snorkeling (OK: before and after, not during). A little after dinner came I switched to ordering and drinking beer by the pitcher. But the problem was I never hit the wall. It became 11, then 2. I could still stand, and hold a conversation. From seeing plenty of others I know they weren't watering down, so I don't know what I was doing wrong, but it never happened. At 4 am I was sitting around with Ruth and few others. Telling stories, quoting Goldmember, and doing anything possible to avoid the end. She was getting way too friendly with a Dane named Kenneth, but despite having talked a dozen times in the last few days I had never made even the slightest move. Nobody to blame but myself. Why I decided to worship from a far, I don't know. But here is was, 4am, and in 90 minutes there was going to be a wake up call coming to get me.

There is no dramatic finale. We all called it a night. in 90 minutes I got up, caught my boat, and took photos of a full moon in a pink sky over beachcomber while motoring away to catch my plane. I wasn't hungover. I wasn't even all that tired. On the plane I slept a bit, but when I got to Sydney I spent the day with Melissa a Canadian girl I met in the airport, and even went out for drinks before finally going to sleep. Since then I've gone to the beach and worked on my tan and this journal.

Fiji was amazing. Australia is shaping up well. In a few days I will start a 5 day roadtrip surf camp. The plans after that sound excellent, but who knows what will actually happen. Net access should be a little easier so maybe you can actually join me as its happening, instead of hearing about it after its all over.