Bula! (Hello!) from Fiji -
6 Jan 12 - We were up at 6.00 am after a sticky night's sleep and managed to sort out the packing so that our main suitcases weren't over the limit of 23 kg (quite a feat I can assure you!). Our extra new cases proved their worth and we looked much more like proper travellers rather than refugees!
Caroline very kindly drove us to Sydney Airport - the drive took fifty minutes which apparently was a good run, probably because it was the summer holidays and a lot of the usual road users were not around - so we were in good time for our flight to Fiji. The Air Pacific flight was delayed by half an hour whilst we waited on board for a couple of passengers who were in transit from elsewhere, but eventually we left and had a good flight lasting three and a half hours.
The only problem was the noise generated by twin girls aged around fifteen months who screamed practically non-stop for the entire trip! There were a lot of gestures of a hand coming down hard being made around the cabin by ladies of a certain age! Neither parent seemed to have any idea of how to cope with them - they didn't appear to have brought any toys or books with them to entertain the children - and seemed to expect them to sit quietly in their seats for the whole flight!! It wasn't that these two were their only children - they had two older boys who also didn't seem to get much attention either but were obviously used to it and were immersed for the entire flight in their games consoles.
Mike was impressed with the B747-400's landing at Nandi Airport which was was smooth as silk despite the torrential rain! We landed at 7.00 pm and it took nearly two hours to get out of the airport - the children were still screaming! Eventually we got our cases and got through immigration and were met by the representative of the company scheduled to take us to our resort and, after more waiting around, our luggage was eventually loaded into a trailer towed behind a minibus. We boarded the bus and set off on an hour and a half's trip in the pitch dark and through pouring rain along roads that had more potholes than tarmac! The driver was obviously very used to them and raced along at breakneck speed, with the trailer bouncing along behind him. He spent quite a lot of time on the wrong side of the road whenever he thought that the surface there was better!
Mike saw a very young foal standing all alone by the roadside in the pitch dark - I don't want to think what might have happened if it walked into the road and a car came along...! To say the trip was an experience was an understatement! We stopped en route to pick up two more passengers, a lady and her mother and, by the time we got to our destination the 'Outrigger on the Lagoon', the mother was looking decidedly shaky!
Amazingly the trailer stayed attached to the minibus and our luggage arrived intact. The resort was fabulous, all the Fijian staff were unbelievably welcoming and our room was big and luxurious. We just had time to dash to the main restaurant for a late meal before it closed - the only food we had had all day was a rather sad hot chicken roll on the plane and we were quite hungry, particularly after the recent adrenaline pumping road trip!
After a very welcome shower we stood on the balcony and watched the rain pour down relentlessly in the warm night air - fabulous! As Fiji is two hours ahead of Sydney we went to bed quite late, around 2.00 am, and found the bed to be blissfully comfortable....zzzzz
7 Jan 12 - We had a great night's sleep and when we looked out of the window in the morning we found to our delight that our room overlooked the beach, it looked like a picture postcard - shame the sun wasn't shining! We had had the air conditioning on in the room so stepping out onto the balcony was a surprise as it was so pleasantly warm - the rain had stopped although everything was still dripping from the previous night's deluge and it was still very overcast, with more rain threatening.
After a leisurely start to the day we walked around the immediate area and found lots of tropical plants and flowers and beautifully maintained gardens. We sat and enjoyed coffee with muffins as a late breakfast in the café. Then we decamped and walked just twenty yards to the bar where we found a table under a palm umbrella by the pool and sat down for the next few hours, enjoying the general ambience and watching the small Miner Birds flying and running around the pool bar - one of the waitresses told us that these had been imported from India many years previously.
The pool area was quite crowded - Mike commented that it looked like Benidorm on Diazepam - I would say it was a very upmarket Benidorm! It was extremely pleasant sitting and chilling out, listening to the live Fijian music being played in the bar and watching the children enjoying themselves in the pool. The rain held off until 4.00 pm when it bucketed down, the prediction was for quite a lot more until the following day when the sun would reappear and hopefully last until our departure.
We decided to eat at the 'Sundowner Bar and Grill' in the evening and were lucky to get a table as apparently one has to book - we hadn't! Our table was overlooking the beach and, more importantly, the sunset which was absolutely magnificent. We both had fillet steaks done to perfection and Mike had some garlic prawns as a starter. To get the table we had had to promise to have a swift meal as the table was booked an hour later, so we couldn't linger as long as we would have liked.
The staff were so friendly and chatty, as we had found everywhere. Nothing was too much trouble - it certainly seems true what we were told that the Fijians are the friendliest people anywhere. We strolled around the resort for a while after the meal and then went to the bar where the cocktails were half price from 9-10 pm each evening, so we both indulged a bit!
There was live entertainment, a singer and a band, they were very good and the evening was a fun one. We staggered to bed around midnight and I read till 2.00 am!
8 Jan 12 - Apparently there was a huge storm during the night but I slept through it and didn't hear a thing - this may have had something to do with the champagne cocktails I had drunk during the evening. Woke to sunshine and blue sky! Spent the day by the pool, gently steaming in the shade - it was far too hot to lie in the sun - drinking iced water and reading and watching the children playing. There was a bit of a scare whilst I had gone back to our room when a small child nearly drowned in the pool - by the time I had come back said child was screaming and back with his mother, fortunately he had been spotted by one of the other fathers and pulled out quickly. The parents of the little boy were so grateful that the rescuer was given free drinks for the rest of the day. Thank heavens he saw the child when he did.
It was pretty hot, temp was 29°C but it was officially "feels like" 39°C and it was a relief to get back to the room and have a shower. We had decided to return to the same restaurant to eat as the food there was so good and so we booked a table this time to make sure we would have a more leisurely meal. This proved to be so, the meal was equally as good with another great sunset to enjoy as a bonus. We sat in the same seats as the previous evening and so had the same fantastic view over the seashore!
We chatted to two couples, one was leaving in the morning and one had arrived last night, everyone enjoyed their evening very much. We had had a bottle of wine with the meal so decided to give the cocktails a miss and had an early night instead.
9 Jan 12 - Another glorious day scheduled! Neither of us was at all hungry when we woke up so we decided to miss breakfast and have a coffee by the pool instead. It was lovely and fresh and we spent the day enjoying the sun and the pool. I even (shock, horror) went in the water and swam, mainly because it was very hot, even in the shade. The water, I have to say, was gorgeous. We had a very good lunch at the pool-side and then whiled away the hours watching the children playing and swimming and jumping in the water - I wish I still had their energy!
This was our last day in Fiji and we had booked a special meal that evening but first we went for a drink overlooking the water at the Sundowner Bar where we both chose the cocktail of the day, which we sipped as we watched yet another spectacular sunset.
We had dressed up for the occasion in our finery (we did have to iron this after all the weeks it had spent in our suitcases!). We then walked to the 'IVI Restaurant' (pronounced 'Eeh-Vee') where I was presented on arrival with a flower to wear behind my right ear and we sat and enjoyed a very traditional Fijian meal of fish and lobster - delicious! A superb singer/guitarist played throughout the meal and we chatted at length to our waitress who told us she was looking for a husband - watch out any young men aged thirty-five upwards!
At the end of our meal we were given the traditional send off of the Fijian farewell song 'Isa Lei', sung by three women and three men in harmony unaccompanied - it was beautiful - it would be good to have them in the choir! We have now come to the end of our holiday, tomorrow we head for home, so this is almost the last instalment! I hope you have enjoyed hearing about our travels, I have really enjoyed writing about them! We are not looking forward to the twenty something hour flight back via Los Angeles but that will be a small price to pay for the most amazing holiday ever!
10 Jan 12 - Woke to another beautiful day. We packed our cases and went across to the Sundowner Bar for an excellent breakfast served by the lovely Lowata.
Back to the room for final check around before we were picked up by one of the hotel golf buggies and were taken, along with our luggage, up to Reception.
After we had checked out and our bags had been secured in the Porters' store, we went back down to the pool area and settled down for our final few hours to enjoy the sun and relax before we finally had to leave for the trip to Nandi Airport in the early evening.
All too soon it was time to take a shower and get ready for our departure and, after drinking in the view one last time and taking a final few piccies, we boarded a minibus to head to the airport.
This was our only real opportunity to see the island as it had been dark and raining when we had arrived and we had not ventured outside the resort at all during our stay. I was surprised to see that most of the houses were built using corrugated iron (admittedly very fetchingly painted in bright colours!) and felt quite bad that I had not realised how poor the average Fijian was. I did comfort myself by thinking that, as tourism is the number one employer, our visit had contributed to helping keep some of the lovely people who had looked after us so well in employment.
We had covered about half the 90 minute journey to the airport when we came across a broken down full-size coach filled with tourists who were also on their way to the airport for their flights back home. Our minibus driver shifted our luggage around and managed to squeeze three of the stranded people and their luggage in with us and we continued on to the airport. Apart from having to take to the fields to negotiate a short distance of unmade road just before arriving at the airport the rest of the trip was uneventful and we checked in for our flight to Los Angeles which was scheduled for later that evening.
Unfortunately, I was randomly selected to be completely searched/checked for explosives and the lady at the check-in desk also decided that our cabin luggage was overweight. So we had to redistribute half our cabin luggage into our main suitcases on the floor in front of the check in desk - just what we needed! Eventually she was satisfied and we were allowed to proceed through into Departures.
I was called over the loudspeaker, together with about fifteen other people who had also been randomly selected, and we all had to wait in a separate queue at a separate gate. Eventually I was told to go with my hand luggage into a very small windowless room, in which there were four US Homeland Security & Customs Officers standing there silently, none of whom said anything to me. One of the female Customs Officers told me to open my case and handbag and to stand with my arms outstretched. She then swabbed every inch of the outside of my cases, then did the insides, and also swabbed me all over, eventually putting the swab into a machine which bleeped and I was told I could go. I found the experience quite intimidating! I vowed there and then that I would never go back voluntarily to the States via Los Angeles unless I had been tranquilised beforehand!
The flight was delayed an hour but we eventually took off for the ten hour trip to LA just before midnight - sadly we were seated on the left hand side of the Air Pacific Boeing 747-400 aircraft in seats A & B which meant that we had to keep waking the person in the aisle seat when we wanted to get out and walk around. Travelling 'cattle class' is not the most comfortable way to cross the oceans as the seat room is barely adequate and trying to sleep is nigh on impossible! We finally arrived at Los Angeles and found that, although our cases had in theory been checked through to Heathrow, we still had to collect them all and go through Immigration and Customs before we could access the Departures area.
Amazingly, clearing Immigration was very quick - everyone had their fingerprints and iris photos taken and then we were through into the terminal itself where we were appalled to find several thousand people milling around all trying to leave but no-one knowing where or in which direction to go and none of the staff there having any idea either!
Eventually after more than TWO HOURS we managed to locate and join the correct queue and we and our luggage were at last cleared through Customs. We managed to find our way into the surprisingly calm and orderly Departures area and checked in for our final flight back to Heathrow. It was like a tranquil haven after the manic previous few hours. It was also very comforting to find that the flight back to Heathrow was with BA for whose service we had nothing but praise and, apart from being in the middle two of a row of four in the centre of the plane, the flight was uneventful although long and fairly sleepless.
We cleared UK Immigration and Customs at Terminal 5 extremely quickly and it was with a great deal of relief that we realised we were safely back on English soil. Mike had pre-booked a hire car with AVIS and we took the courtesy bus to their depot and were soon on our way up the M25/M40 motorway towards home. Neither of us had got much sleep in the previous 24 hours so we stopped at the Beaconsfield Service Station on the M40 for much needed coffees (with an extra shot for Mike!). He assured me that he was OK to drive and did a grand job, delivering us safely back home after an uneventful journey.
Amazingly there didn't appear to be any immediate problems with our house when we got in and so, after turning the central heating right up and doing a little unpacking, we both crashed out and were in bed by 7.30 pm! Bizarrely we realised that although it was the 11th January in England it was now the 12th January in Fiji, which meant that we had travelled for twenty four hours and yet had arrived home a day before we had left!! No, I didn't understand it either but apparently it was because we had crossed the International Dateline..?! I'm still not sure I understand but I suppose it doesn't matter really. What does matter is that we had had the most incredible and the most memorable eleven weeks holiday we could possibly have imagined. It had been truly the holiday of a lifetime!
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