Monday, 7 December 2015

FINALLY FIJI. It's the place I've been most excited about and the place people are most jealous of when I reel off the list of places I'm lucky enough to be visiting. I think it just sounds enticingly exotic, doesn't it? I had visions of stepping into paradise and immersing myself in luxury for 5 days solid, and incase you're wondering in anticipation - that's exactly what I did. Completely guilt-free, might I add. It sounds pathetic, I know, but travelling is exhausting. Thailand was packed with viewpoints and activities, Singapore was a whirlwind 2 days on the back-end of recovering from a sickness bug, Australia was trip-heavy not to mention being on a bus every 3-4 days and New Zealand was one big cram of the North and South Island which meant 16 buses in 21 days all a minimum of 4 hours. The dreams of lazy mornings, lie ins and repetitive relaxing days on the beach for 3 months were just that - dreams. Don't get me wrong every single second has been worth it, I'm just trying to explain that it's not as glam as its cracked up to be at times. A lot of it is spent tired and sweaty with alarms ringing and a 13kg backpack on your back, in and amongst grubby hostels. So that's exactly why I was ready to be a sun-induced sloth in Fiji. Cue 5 days of relaxing in pure paradise. Our journey started by hopping on the Airbus from Aukland which dropped us right outside international departures. We entered the airport to find China's national cycling team which was pretty cool, and there were teams from other countries too so I'm assuming it was some sort of cycling event which meant the airport was pretty busy. 

We checked in to be informed that our flight had been delayed by an hour and a half due to it leaving HulaNunu in Hawaii late. It was obviously impossible to have a home run without any delayed flights so we took it with a pinch of salt and got comfortable in the departure lounge before getting a Burger King for lunch. We went to our gate only to be told to change gates, proceeded to get the Airbus to the plane and then were delayed even further as a passenger who checked their luggage in didn't get on the flight. For security reasons they had to unload all the luggage, locate and remove their bag and then reload the rest of the luggage on the plane. We ended up setting off at 15.50pm when our original flight was scheduled for 13.50pm - not an awful delay, but still slightly annoying. We flew with Fiji Airways and in all honesty I expected a little more. I think the plane was an old one and I tend to compare all flights to our initial flight from England with Qatar as it was so impressive. The in-flight entertainment came in the form of a screen every few rows accompanied with flimsy headphones, but we did get a complimentary meal and drink. We watched Paper Towns starring Cara Delevigne which was pretty average but made the time go quickly. The meal was a chicken and vegetable curry with a bread roll and crackers and cheese which was again - average. Despite the delay we made up time on the flight and landed smoothly just before 7pm. 

The change in climate was instantly noticeable and the humidity hit me as soon as I stepped foot off the plane. It was nice to be back in warmer weather even though I knew it was going to be unbearably hot and sticky. Immigration and bio screening was impressively quick and easy and before we knew it we were being hounded by taxi reps wanting to take us to our hotel. Very much a Thailand vibe. Oh, and did I mention that walking from the plane to the exit resembled that of a prison? Not something I'd have liked to have done alone. We'd already done our research and after buying a 2 dollar bottle of Fiji water, we went outside and boarded the public bus. It was a sleek and shiny coach with free wifi, a TV and air con which was amazing considering it was only 9 dollars 50 for a 2 and a half hour journey to Mango Bay Junction. It was so easy to locate and definitely worth the money considering a taxi would have cost 40 dollars each. The exchange rate is really good - you divide everything approximately by 3 so the journey worked out at around £3 each. Driving through the mainland was so interesting as parts were so derelict, neglected and dingy comprised of broken infrastructure, dimly lit back streets and dark intimidating roads. I was very happy to be confined within the luxury of a coach but I could immediately tell that parts of Fiji were predominantly run down and poor poor just from looking out of the window. The locals we came across including the staff at the airport and on the coach were all so friendly and welcoming and we even adopted the local word of Bula which means hello in their native Fijian language, while Vinaka means thank you.

Our accommodation - Mango Bay Resort - told us to phone them when we were 5 minutes from the bus stop so a driver could come and collect us which was ideal seeing as it was pitch black when we arrived. The coach driver kindly let us know when we were close to the stop so we could arrange our lift. A driver from Mango Bay arrived a minute after we stepped off the bus and Danny drove us to the resort. Before coming on this trip we decided to treat Fiji as a bit of a luxury holiday to wind down before going home for Christmas. We managed to book a 2 bedroom bude (a straw/wooden hut) with a garden view, private beach, restaurant and a pool for the bargain price of £86 each for 5 nights. Danny was fab and handled all of our luggage and directed us through to Mili at reception who checked us in; informed us about the resort and showed us to our bude - Garden Villa 2 which was offset against a well-kept windy path, infiltrated with lively little frogs. We imagined the two rooms to be fairly open plan but there were in fact two separate rooms accessible from outside. With a double bed and bathroom in one and 2 single beds and bathroom in the other we moved a single into the double room so we could all sleep together. 3 months, 24/7 joined at the hip - quite literally. Our driver kindly got us some snacks as it was gone 10pm and we hadn't eaten before we got an early night. The resort works on a tab system whereby everything is charged to the room, so we knew to keep note of who had what so we could settle up at the end of each day. We'd left the hostel at 10am and arrived in Fiji 12 hours later despite only having a 3 hour flight so we were all pretty exhausted. The beds did have a few bugs on and there were moths flying about but in the middle of a jungle-esque retreat we didn't expect much less. 

We had the luxury of a mosquito net which me and Abby found particularly amusing as it felt a bit like one of those princess nets you drape over your bed as a child. After a fairly unsettled sleep, we woke early for our complimentary continental breakfast. It was lovely to see the grounds in the daylight as they were so grand and beautiful. Every groundskeeper we walked past was trimming or tidying the gardens and greeted us with a friendly Bula. Manners cost nothing and within hours of arriving we noticed that it's a value strongly embedded in Fijians. We enjoyed toast, cereal, fruit and juice underneath the large shack-like bar and restaurant area which was a lovely start to the day. It was already 30 degrees by 10am so we grabbed a lounger each and flitted between sunbathing, reading and dipping in and out of the pool. What I'd desperately hoped for from Fiji was right in front of me and I was so content laying in the sun with a pool behind me, a beach in front of me and the sun beating down on me. I had a ham and cheese toasted ciabatta for lunch followed by chicken schnitzel and fries in the evening for dinner. We took advantage of happy hour (always a bonus) and got ready before settling down with monopoly and more drinks. The resort was very quiet as they had been closed for 2 weeks while Australian 'schoolies' came over for their annual break. Business was slow kickstarting off from that so there were only a handful of other guests and a group of high school students from America on a trip studying for their finals. They had all disappeared by the time we returned to the bar for drinks, although we did hear them performing sonnets in front of each other which was mildly amusing. 

I hadn't played monopoly in ages so I was a little rusty and didn't end up winning. Kate being a monopoly master took the title before we settled down for the night. After a hectic and drink-heavy few weeks in New Zealand it was nice to just relax with a couple of drinks. That night we had the intention of waking up at 1am to go skinny dipping, because why not when you're in a secluded resort in Fiji, but all rolled over and went back to sleep as soon as the alarm rang. After a better nights sleep we followed the same routine of breakfast, sun loungers and reading until lunch. Mid-afternoon we decided to treat ourselves to some ice cream which we'd already been craving but it was unfortunately very disappointing. The texture was powdery and not the good kind of Ben & Jerry's cookie dough powdery. But when shitty ice cream is the worst part of your day you can't really complain, can you? At dinner we opted for the buffet which consisted of chicken, fish, lamb, pasta, jacket potato and salad. We met a lovely waitress called Tina who was an absolute hun. She was so cute and cheery and would always greet us so enthusiastically. The dinner wasn't great and to be honest, the food was probably the most disappointing thing about the resort. The best part about the meal was probably the frozen margarita we drank before the buffet was even served. That evening Taboo was on the cards and I reunited with Baileys which I'd been craving for weeks, which also got me in the Christmas spirit. We also played the guessing game where you think of a person for someone and they have to ask questions to find out who they are which was actually hilarious, especially after a few drinks. 

The following morning we were again greeted by all the happy workers which is never a bad way to start your morning. They're always sweeping, chopping, trimming or doing some kind of maintenance which means the grounds always look immaculate. They're at it all day long, although we have caught them napping in the hammocks a few times, so it's no surprise the resort remains beautiful at all times. That morning after breakfast we went horse riding which we'd booked the previous day. Our ride time was at 10am but because of Fiji time, we didn't end up riding until about half past. One common trait in Fijians is their lack of time keeping - they all swam about saying 'Fiji time' which in short means whatever the hell you want kind of time. I appreciate how they embrace the laid back approach but after spending my whole life pretty much based on routine and time-keeping (something which I actually pride myself on) it's a little weird when another culture has a completely approach. Although we were basically on holiday so we weren't in a rush at all meaning Fiji time became a thing for the entire 5 days. An hour ride along the beach was 40 dollars which works out at about £13. My sister and I used to horse ride when we were younger but after our stables shut down, we didn't like the next nearest one so we both quit. Seeing as I hadn't ridden in over 10 years I was so excited to be back on a horse, especially in such a beautiful setting. There were 3 horses, 2 men and 1 child. Abu introduced me to my horse - 5 year old Habbana who was a gorgeous chocolate brown. Tom showed Abby her white horse called Bett and Messie, a 13 year old school child who is working with the horses in his 7 week school holiday, was with Kate and her horse Blackie. Abu had to lift Kate on to her horse as she was too short to reach, and he also had to shorten the stirrups so her feet could rest on them which was the first entertaining part of the ride. We rode along the beach and it was so nice to leave the resort and explore a little. 

The guys kept telling us to whip the horse with a stick we were given but I refused as I said it was mean, so I just pretended to when he wasn't looking. Poor little Habbana only wanted a relaxing stroll up the beach and so did I, so there was no way I was hitting him to make him walk faster. Abu told me how his brother passed away 3 months ago from an unexpected heart attack and how he wants to travel the world because life is too short. He asked me whether I'd met any Fijians in London (not quite sure why) and picked up a shell off the beach and gave it to me. What a QT. Abby's horse did a poo right in front of my eyes and proceeded to run her into a tree which was quite a sight, before Messi ran ahead, climbed a tree and pulled down 3 coconuts. Abu peeled them with a wooden spear-type instrument built into the ground and cracked the top off with a rock. The fresh coconut juice was so lovely and sweet and we shared it between us on the way back. We were all left to our own devices holding the reigns and Habanna was pretty well behaved, routing his way through the water and along the beach. Despite the fact the insides of my thighs were hurting from sitting in the same position for an hour, I had so much fun. It was a little overcast which was a blessing in disguise else we'd had been profusely sweating. Horse riding along the beach in Fiji isn't something you do every day so it's definitely something I'll always remember. After the ride we stopped at the little activity shack off the beach and bought a little Fiji bracelet as a momentum. Mine's a black plaited fake leather bracelet with a red and orange surfboard saying Bula Fiji with a shark tooth chipping either side. We were going to get more sun cream from the nearest supermarket but when we found out we'd have to walk to the bus stop as all the drivers were out, we decided to scrape the remaining contents of our existing one and use my small face cream seeing as we only had 1 day left. 

By that point the morning was gone and we ate lunch, lazed around the pool and read before dinner. I had vegetable in white wine and cream sauce tossed in pasta which was actually really tasty, despite the fact the portion size was HUGE. That night we played Yahtzee which I won, while some of the staff played instruments and sung in the background. One couple were enjoying a candlelit dinner on the beach which made me a little jealous. Seeing happy couples makes me miss my boyfriend even more but realising we only had 3 nights left made me even more excited to go home and see him, as well as my friends and family. Our final morning was Friday and after breakfast we had an obligitary beach photoshoot as the weather was gorgeous. A chip butty was on the menu for me as Abs for lunch before after lazy afternoon reading my book, napping and dipping in and out of the pool. I had a grilled chicken breast stuffed with spinach on a bed of rice and vegetables in a white wine and cream sauce which was named Mango Bay Fantasty. Fantasy it wasn't, but it wasn't bad. After dinner we sorted our bags ready to check out the following morning and went for a drink while we played Heads Up. We had black plastic headbands and a multitude of cards to choose from - some goods ones were Elvis (because it's also the name of my dog), Ronald McDonald and a stapler. We headed back to the room around 10pm, having an alarm set for 4am, but all struggled to sleep due to the American kids singing Britney, crying (maybe they were reinacting her 2007 meltdown) and a rather spooky knock on our door. When the alarm went off none of us were ready to get up but we braved the dark. The Australian hockey team were coming  the following day which would have been pretty cool, but we had to get to bus stop for a 2 hour ride to airport. Danny had offered to get up early to take us which was so kind, so at 4.45am we met him outside reception and by 4.50am we were sat in his car waiting for the bus. We'd have been screwed if we'd have had to make our own way up to the stop as it was pitch black and the gravel roads were all uphill. 

5am passed but we thought nothing of it other than 'Fiji time', but when it got to 5.30am and we couldn't reach the office on the phone, we had to think of a plan B. With the bus taking at least 2 and a half hours to get to the airport we were cutting it a bit fine for our 9.20am flight so Danny drove us to Sigatoka which is the biggest town inbetween Nadi and Suva. It was a 45 minute drive which he did out of the kindness of his heart and he was our little saviour. We would have struggled to find a taxi that early in the morning and we ruined his planned fishing trip so we felt awful, but without him we may not have made our flight. In Sigatoka he dropped us at a taxi rank and arranged a 100 dollar fare to Nadi airport. The bus would have cost us 9 dollars 50 each so it wasn't ideal, but it was also only 33 dollars each which is the equivalent of around £11 which isn't bad for a 2 hour drive. We saw some sights on the way in, mostly drunks staggering down the side of the dirt track roads trying to flag down a taxi, and we all managed to sleep for a little bit. We made the airport in plenty of time although the queues were big so the by the time we grabbed some food and popped in the souvenir shop (I promised my dad before coming away I'd get his friend a key ring from Fiji - turns out he'd been asking for a fridge magnet all along so sorry Dad!), the flight was on its final call even though it was only the start of boarding time. Luckily what could have turned into a nightmare was rectified by Danny who was incredibly kind-hearted and generous with his time. In terms of our 5 days away, I can't even explain how beautiful Fiji is. Even though we stayed in the same resort for 5 days the climate is gorgeous, the scenery beautiful and the locals endearing. I'm eager to come back and island hop because I'm certain the rest of the country is just as beautiful, if not more so. There's also a little idyllic bar in the middle of the sea called Cloud Nine that rather takes my fancy. Although I'm sad to wave goodbye to Fiji, the next stop is Hong Kong for a whirlwind 24 hours before making our way back to London. It seems like 5 minutes ago I was writing my introductory travel post and now look at me. A hell of a lot wiser and browner. 

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