Non-stop to Fiji
Fiji was part of a three-nation, Thanksgiving vacation for me, and was the flight hub for me to see both Tonga and Tuvalu as well: a total of three new countries and I was so ready to clock-in on island time as 2017 wrapped up. I knew I was going to enjoy the overnight business class flight on Fiji Airways as soon as I was served their signature cocktail: a sweet and tangy concoction made of banana run, cherries and lime slices. I’m not a big drinker, but a couple of these were a nice way to get me relaxed and settled in for the twelve-hour flight across the Pacific. The hospitality aboard was nice and I arrived in Nadi just after dawn and ready to hit the ground running…or sailing, actually.
A Three-Hour Tour. A Three-Hour Tour…
I’d actually make two stops in Fiji on this trip. This first stay would be for less than a day–a layover really–as I’d leave at 11PM that first night for Tonga. I’d stay three nights in Tonga, two nights in Tuvalu, and then circle back to Fiji for three nights there; that’s when I’d really have a chance to unwind.
I wasn’t keen on wasting a full day sleeping or hanging at the airport. To make sure my full-day layover was more than constructive, I booked a full day sailing tour on one of the major tour boats of Nadi. The real treasures of Fiji lie off the mainland in dozens of tiny islands accessible only by boat or helicopter. The day’s boat trip would commence at 9AM and dock at 6PM, just in time to make it back to the airport to head to Tonga.
First stop: Modriki Island. You may have never heard of Modriki Island, but I assure you, you have seen Modriki Island…it was the “deserted” island Tom Hanks found himself stranded on in the movie Castaway. Now you can picture it!!!
Modriki Island was super cool, and the clear, emerald green waters surrounding the island were stunning. Sadly the clouds were out, it wasn’t very warm and we were even getting some rain–so I bypassed the opportunity to snorkel (others jumped right in) and substituted the swim with a short walk around the island. Not snorkeling killed me (I am a snorkeling fool!), but I didn’t feel like shivering for the rest of the day. I hope to go back one day and snorkel the pristine waters of Modriki!
The Village People
Next, we shored up at Yanuya Island for a tour of a traditional village. Our guides showed us the island’s houses, the school, church and soccer field. There were no roads or hotels or cars or power lines; it seemed super cut-off from the rest of the world and I loved it. Villagers waved, children played. I even got picked as a volunteer to represent our group, where I’d meet the “chief,” exchange real tribal greetings and drink some kava with him. Legit!
Oh how I enjoyed the afternoon stroll and tour of Yanuya, but soon enough we were back on the boat, heading back out for more sailing and a delicious lunch as we cruised over those beautiful green and blue waters.
Lunch was fantastic aboard the ship: delicious fried rice and chicken, pastries, strawberry soda. Liquor and beer was there for the taking if you so chose, and most of the passengers did. I had a flight that night and certainly didn’t want to get snookered at this moment in time, so I stuck to the kids’ drinks. The crew of the ship was super friendly–three guys that enjoyed joking around with their passengers as bottles of liquor were passed around. A good time was had by all.
The only thing I didn’t like was the revolting site of cockroaches crawling all over he kitchen. Luckily I only stumbled upon this after lunch, while heading down into the ship to use the head. It really grossed me out and I wondered had those nasty buggers been crawling all over the sweet bread that was now in my belly. Yuck! It was a stark reminder that health and sanitary standards in other countries aren’t necessarily (and usually aren’t) on par with the U.S.; another thing we tend to take for granted.
After lunch, some of the clouds had cleared and I decided I’d finally take “the plunge,” and join some others for a dip. We were far from the shore this time, so there wasn’t much to see below the deep blue waters, plus I soon realized the “sea lice” were out, as I fell victim to a series of tiny stings that felt like electricity. Yup, I was back on the boat in less than 120 seconds! Sea lice: Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat!
Cockroaches aside, I would be remiss if I didn’t brag a little bit on just how fun the crew was! They joked, they laughed, they smiled; and most importantly, they sang! That was a very nice touch: cruising the islands with your own trio strumming guitars and ukuleles, belting out traditional Fijian songs.
I hadn’t had a full night’s sleep since I left home, so by the time the ship had sailed back into Denarau Port at 6PM, I was pretty wiped out. I headed over to the airport and hung loose until my late night departure to Tonga. I’d be back in Fiji next week.
Tonga and Tuvalu were fantastic, but I was in and out of those islands in breakneck speed without much time to really relax. I’d saved three nights in Fiji for the end of the trip, so I could really unpack, rewind and decompress. I was so ready!
So Many Islands, So Little Time
The one thing about Fiji that was tough to get my head around was just exactly where to stay. Not which hotel, but which island. Apparently, the mainland isn’t where it’s at–the best places to stay are the surrounding islands; and there are more than 300 of them! Deciding which one to visit was really tough.
Fiji has two main cities: Nadi on the west, and Suva on the east. They both have their own airports, seaports and resorts; and are the jump-off points to see some incredible islands like Qamea, Mana, Malolo, Tivua, Yasawa, etc. But which one to choose? It was no easy task, as there are so many choices, but I decided on Tokoriki Island, located off the coast of Nadi.
My flight back into Nadi (from Tuvalu) arrived too late to make it over to Tokoriki that same day (the boats leave during the daytime only), so that first night I stayed on the mainland. I arrived at my big hotel/resort just before sundown and enjoyed a walk on the beach and some room service before passing out. It was a beautiful property, but sadly I was just there to sleep.
Getting to Tokoriki
Sigh. Though the islands of Fiji sure are amazing, getting to those islands from Fiji’s mainland is not cheap. Candidly, it’s highway robbery. Let me explain: If you want to go to any of these outlying islands, first you have to spend a mint to get to the main island of Fiji, landing in Nadi or Suva. Then, you have to pay a fortune to get from the mainland to your island of choice, either by boat or helicopter. And the prices are absolutely ridiculous–over $150 per person! But it was what it was–so I ponied up the cash and just tried not to think about it!
The ferry from Denarau to Tokoriki was a big boat with three decks, with seating both inside and outside. There was a small bar inside serving drinks and snacks. In a little over an hour, we arrived at Tokoriki, boarding a small tender to bring us to shore. The water was breathtaking. I had arrived at paradise!
The next couple days were just awesome and I was blessed with near-perfect weather! It would be such a shame to spend all this money and travel all this way, just to be shut in the entire time due to rainstorms (this happened in Roatán and it sucked!) But luckily it was almost all sunshine during my time on Tokoriki.
My bungalow was beautiful and sat facing the water, right on top of a small sand bank in front of the beach. The unit had its own small pool on the patio and all the amenities you’d expect from a four-star resort including a beautiful bathroom and shower. The grounds of the hotel were stunning as well–a beautiful infinity pool right in front of the sea, gorgeous outside restaurant terraces, and even a little ice cream stand which I may or may not have visited every day. I had one of the best piña coladas of my life on day one, and just enjoyed being lazy and lounging around, both inside and outside my room.
There was some awesome snorkeling just a few hundred feet from the shore. I swam along this enormous reef with a steep drop off into the abyss; lots of of underwater plants and sea life and then everything just stopped at the ridge where the clear waters just turned to darkness. Kinda cool, but kinda creepy. After I was out of the water, I was told reef sharks are common in the area and harmless–but had I been surprised by one while I was way out there by myself, I probably would have pooped myself in the water. Another kind of scary element was that I was floating out there all by myself, hundreds of feet from the shore. The hotel had employed staff who’d taxi guests out to the reef on boogie boards that were attached to the back of their jet skis. They’d drop you off way out there and then head back to shore, and would come pick you up when they saw you waving to them. It was a cool system but nonetheless a little scary to be out there in the sea bobbing around like a cork with no where go if you got into trouble.
The Not So Itsy-Bitsy Spider
Sadly, I think I experienced my first heart attack on night number two on the island. I have a severe case of arachnophobia. It’s pretty bad. I hate spiders of all shapes and sizes, but of course the bigger they are, the more they scare me. Nice hotels usually aren’t prone to host a lot of spiders, but there was that one time in Machu Picchu where I discovered spider the size of my hand inside my room and had to call staff to remove it. To make it worse, I discovered it in the morning–meaning I had unknowingly shared a full night with this ginormous beast. This incident scarred me for life.
Then there was the time I was at The Westin La Paloma in Tucson, Arizona. I was standing underneath the overhead “rainfall” shower head, in the confines of a tiny glass, square shower. I was as vulnerable as anyone could be: completely naked, soaking wet and trapped in a small box. No spiders in sight (I have 24-hour “spider sonar” that is constantly and subconsciously scanning 360 degrees for any sign of spiders); but unfortunately, this sonar does not have the ability to see “through” things, so it missed the giant crab spider who was hiding under the soap. Needless to say when I grabbed the bar of soap and this f*cker came flying at me, I nearly slipped and broke my back as I came flying out of that shower and across the wet tile ay 60mph.
So yeah, those were my two most horrific spider “incidents” while traveling, and unfortunately I experienced the third one on Tokoriki Island. It was after 10PM and I was (again) half-naked, lying in bed, just minding my own beez-wax, watching TV. All of a sudden, with all of satan’s fury, like a bat outta hell, sprints this gigantic spider from out the draperies. It wasn’t just the sheer size of this guy that was concerning, but his aggressive and erratic movement–making so much commotion, so suddenly and so fast, that for the first second I thought this giant black flurry was a bird or a bat! Talk about a ferocious entrance!
Of course I backed my ass up as close to the opposite wall as I could and called for help immediately, like the p*ssy that I am. What seemed like an hour later (it was maybe five minutes), two strapping Fijian groundskeepers finally arrived to apprehend and the intruder. The bastard wasn’t easy to catch, and the guys ended up having to move furniture out of the way before they were finally able to scoop him up WITH THEIR BARE HANDS and take him outside. I would have preferred to see the little monster smashed, but whatever. The whole experience was just so stressful and and I couldn’t believe that I’d slept the previous night with this guy in my room. Yuck!
I’m a Survivor
After surviving that uber traumatic episode with the giant Fijian spider, it was time to enjoy my final day on the island. This time I headed out on a boat for a special excursion to a tiny sandbar in the middle of the ocean. This was one of the coolest experiences ever: just one, lonely, brilliant-white sandbar sticking up out of the blue. It took us about 40 minutes to reach the piece of land. When we got close, the boat dropped anchor and everyone jumped in for some snorkeling and eventually to paddle to the sand. The sun was out and lit up the sea floor with brilliance so I could take in every color and shape of coral, landscape and fish below. The temperature was perfect and it was just a fabulous morning of swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing.
Every Vacation Has Its Last Day
Sadly, just as I was finally really truly relaxed (and had gotten over the spider incident), it was time go home. I loved that the resort sang to its guests at check out time. The staff on hand all gathered around to sing their customary “goodbye” song; a slow and sad song about saying goodbye and wishing their guests a safe journey, an invitation to come back and a request to never forget Tokoriki. Okay, I’m guessing that’s what the words were–they weren’t in English, so I had to assume! And I never will forget beautiful Tokoriki. Whether it be the beautiful waters, fantastic beach, all the amenities, or the giant spider, Tokoriki will be remembered!
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