I usually blog every Monday and it is Wednesday now, but I’m not late, I’m just still on FIJI TIME! No fuss, no rush, just sun, sand and Kava: the Fijian way, slowing down the day, softening your thoughts, relaxing your body, sedating life.
The traditional drink of Fiji is a natural sedative, and it really is quite relaxing…But as a whole, our five day trip to Fiji was far from the relaxing, sun-bathing, kava drinking, lazy-tourist-in-paridise kind of holiday that we were expecting. Instead, it was a giant wake up call.
Our eyes lit up from the sky as we gazed down at the beautiful green landscape of Fiji’s mainland for the first time. Miles of green, climbing up small mountain ranges, sliding over ridges and down into ravines. A landscape painted with texture and colour, lush tropical green with white and gold streaks fading into sparkling blue.
Thursday April 25 2013, 3:57PM: we touched down at Nadi’s international airport fifteen minutes ahead of schedule, excited, eager, and ready for the holiday of a lifetime. It took a little while for the Fijian workers to attach the walkway to our plane, but our pilot provided a play-by-play commentary for the wait,
‘Here they come now. Wait, nope, they are leaving again. Not sure what they are doing. Sorry for the delay folks… here they come again. No, sorry, false alarm. It may be a little while longer, hopefully not too much longer, but I won’t make any promises. Welcome to Fiji, you’re on Fiji time now!’
When we finally stepped off the plane we were greeted by a wall of thick, moist tropical air. Time to shed some layers! Everyone scrambled to undo and unzip. No more jackets, jumpers, or sweaters: at last, it was bikini time!
Of course, I had done my research and knew that string bikinis and other skimpy beach wear for women was not appropriate attire in Fiji, at least, not outside of hotel and resort’s beaches. So I refrained from changing into short shorts or spaghetti straps. I had actually tried to pack somewhat ‘modestly’ for the trip, leggings for under my shorts, shirts that would cover my shoulders, a one piece bathing suit with shorts etc., but my wardrobe generally lacks a section for ‘modest’ or ‘reserved’ so I struggled a little.
For the first couple of days I was a little paranoid about what to wear or more accurately what not to wear- like, was it okay to walk around in my bathing suit at the resort, and sunbathe by the pool? Or wear shorts to the restaurant? I didn’t want to offend anyone. And I was especially paranoid about looking ‘gay’.
Before we left Australia, I googled LGBT tourism in Fiji and after reading a couple of horror stories about gay tourists being imprisoned in Fiji, my girlfriend and I had made the informed decision to leave all of our ties and fedoras at home. Anything too dykey had to stay in Melbourne.
“To anyone that asks we are just friends! No kissing, no hugging, no hand holding! No ‘babe’ ‘hun’ ‘love’ ‘honey’ no signs of affection at all!”
My partner may have rolled her eyes at my paranoia before we left, but from the minute we arrived in Nadi she obliged. We agreed that to anyone that asked we would be just friends, best friends, with boyfriends waiting for us back home, finances even… big strong military men that killed people for a living-yeah okay so maybe that was a story I made up in my head and didn’t really share until now, but I was definitely experiencing some serious paranoia about travelling to Fiji with just us two… girls. :S
The driver that picked us up from the airport warned us not to trust anyone, not to go with anyone in Nadi. He told us everyone in the markets and on the streets would be really nice and friendly towards us because of our “lovely white skin” but would try to scam us and get our money in any way they could. And we were warned again and again by the resort staff that taxi drivers would turn off their meters and overcharge us if we didn’t demand them not to and let them know that we knew it should only be 8 dollars to town and not 20 or 30 or 45!!!
I felt like we were ready for anything.
The night we arrived at Club Fiji was kava night and we were able to try kava for free! It was a really cool experience. We seemed to be the only guests that wanted to try it. Everyone else looked wearily at Tiki when he offered it to them. They turned up their noses at the dirty, murky, muddy looking water. “No thanks” “No thanks” “No thanks” “YES PLEASE!”
It was actually the only thing on my Fiji checklist before I went there, try kava. And I wasn’t going to turn down the free stuff! My girlfriend and I had three bowls each. Not full bowls though because Kava Mixing Master, Tiki, would pour himself ‘high tide’ and give us ‘low tide’ half-a-coconut bowls half-full for the newbies. Very sensible.
For me, it looked a lot grosser than it tasted. I had been told by other tourists that it was extremely disgusting and with my quick gag reflex I was worried I would spew it up straight away, but it was quite mild in flavour. Low tide was a breeze. I think I could handle more. As for the effects, it started with a little tingling on my tongue and in my lips and then gradually intensified and spread across my face. My lips actually swelled up so much overnight I had to take out my lip piercings the next day. Other than the tingling, and swelling and numbing of my mouth and face the effects were pretty mild. I just felt really relaxed and then really tired and ended up falling asleep reeeeeally early and having a really long deep, deep, deep sleep. Definitely not a party drug, but it eased my anxiety a little and helped me settle into holiday mode.
The next day we engaged in another one of the free activities offered by the lovely club Fiji resort: kayaking! We took the two-seater yellow banana boat out to sea and paddled and paddled into the calm silent blue. It was beautiful and serene! An overcast sky but still really hot, and even though I was lathered in sunscreen, I burned within the hour. Here’s where things start to get a little weird. I didn’t just get burned, I got marked. A little white hand print on my arm. I burned all around it, like someone with a little hand had been holding onto me all day while I was kayaking, only no one, at least no one that I could see, had been touching me!
After kayaking we took a taxi into Nadi to do some grocery shopping and check out the local markets! We were both overwhelmed by all of the people staring at us, and all of the attention we received from the second we stepped out of the cab.
“Bula girls! Bula! Bula! Ladies! Where are you from? How do you like Fiji? Come this way, come try kava with us, come get local Fijian art. Where are you staying? Come in here, come in here!”
The locals would grab our arms and try to pull us into shops or away from shops, into alleyways. I was determined not to let my girlfriend talk to anyone for too long. She’s the friendlier one. Too friendly sometimes, I had to play the bitch because my paranoia was acting up again- Come on! I yelled at her. “We have to get going! We’re in a hurry!” And I had to act like I knew exactly where we were headed when I really, I hadn’t a clue. Some of the Fijians would tell us not to go into the Indian stores: ‘you want Indian, go to India’ they’d say. But Fiji is made up of half indians and half aboriginal Fijians, and there seems to be a lot of animosity between the groups. But one thing that we could tell for certain was that was that no matter what we did, we could not blend in. We stuck out like two little sore white thumbs. So exploring Nadi was rather frightening and frankly quite draining so we vowed we would not go into the city again unless we were accompanied by other people from the resort.
The next couple days rolled by, each morning starting out with a delicious coffee and Baileys (compliments of Melbourne’s dutyfree!) in our cozy comfy bure, then continued with a hearty omelette, bacon and toast, a complimentary breakfast from the main restaurant at our resort. We passed our days swinging in the hammocks, collecting seashells and sand dollars along the beach
and splashing about in the insanely warm ocean, then cooling down by swimming laps in the normal-tempetured pool. We went boating, and fishing, and snorkelling and had cocktails on the beach, then when the storms came, we caught frogs in the rain, then cuddled up in the privacy of our bure to watch movies, listening to the tink-tink of the raindrops on our tin roof. It was perfect- well, except for the ghost.
There were definitely spirits around the resort. If my hand print was not evidence enough, I was constantly feeling like I was not alone and there was someone there with us, not bad or negative energy, just something or someone. At one point a pair of my partner’s pants lifted off the shelf and plunked onto the hardwood floor. And it was not the wind.
We were not scared, just a little creeped out. We actually went to the front desk after the pants incident to ask if anyone had died at the resort recently, or ever. Of course, all the workers looked at us like we were totally bonkers and assured us nothing bad had happened here. But when we googled it we found out there was a crematorium right beside the resort. And later the waiter at the pizza restaurant told us that a young Fijian boy had drowned right there in the bay (where we had been kayaking!) four years ago. But the details seemed fishy, it was said that the boy had got stuck in the mud during low tide and they couldn’t get to him in time when the tide came in… but the mud wasn’t even sinky around there. So, who knows what really happened to him. I’m pretty sure the hand print burnt into my arm was from the ghost of that little boy. I wish I knew what he was trying to tell me, or ask me, or warn me…
On our fourth day at the resort my misses paid for me to get a full body massage from one of the resort’s masseuses. It was only $40 dollars Fijian for an hour! I’ve never actually got a professional massage before because normally they’re too expensive for me, but this was absolutely beautiful. I swear to God she worked every single muscle in my shoulders, neck, back and legs. It was amazing. I’ve never felt so completely relaxed. And as she was massaging me she told me all about herself and her life in Fiji. She admitted she only got two dollars an hour, below the Fijian minimum wage of 3 dollars 50 cents, and she would only get three dollars from the forty I paid to the resort. I made a mental note to tip her generously at the end of my massage! She went on to tell me about her 3-year old daughter, and how she was a single mom, but her aunt was taking care of her daughter now. The three of them lived together at her aunt’s house. She stroked my back, and kneaded her slender yet strong fingers into every knot in my back.
I asked her if she knew of any good restaurants where we could try traditional Fijian food (because the resort only offered a very limited variety of Fijian and Indian and the rest was really americanized like burgers and fish and chips!) she said she would love to take me and my friend to one of the seafood restaurants in Port Denarau. But all of the restaurants were attached to the hotels, so none were really that ‘traditional’ per say. She said her and her aunt had brought guests from the resort to her aunts home before to cook for them, but the resort found out and she had got in trouble. She said if she had the money she would love to cook us traditional Fijian food too. As the wind blew through my hair and my full body was exposed on the beachfront massage table glistening with massage oil, I was feeling completely comfortable and relaxed and safe, and I made my first big mistake. I offered to pay for groceries for a home-cooked Fijian meal at her aunt’s house.
Just don’t let anyone from the resort know that you’re coming with me because we’re not allowed to invite guests back to our homes…
I agreed we would come meet her at 4:30 at the local McDonald’s and we’d go with her on the bus from there to the local markets.
I have to admit, there were little warning voices in my head, but because I deal with a lot of irrational paranoia and anxiety on a daily basis, I just chose to ignore them. My girlfriend liked the idea too. We planned to give all the extra food to her and her aunt because hey, we could afford it right? So at first it was all really nice and lovely, we chatted about what she usually cooked and what she wanted to cook for us tonight. We took the local bus to the market. We bought coconuts and tarot and ginger and garlic and herbs and five full frozen fish from a fish market. At first she seemed timid and we kept telling her to get as much as she needed, we’ll pay, it’s okay, but soon she needed everything in larger and larger quantities.
‘I need a big bag of sugar, and salt too, oh, and oil. We need juice for with the meal. And chips for after we drink the kava. And peas for my aunt, she likes these ones. And milk for my daughter, but not liquid milk, she can only have powdered milk…’
The bill got higher and higher, oh well, I thought, she needs this, they need this. we can afford this. After shopping at three different places, we had our hands full carrying five heaping bags of groceries. We’ll take a cab from here she told us, and added hastily, if that’s okay with you?
She made eye contact with a man standing beside a nearby car. They did not say anything to each other, just looked at each other and nodded. We all got in the car. Fuck, I thought, this cabbie is one of those sketchy cabbies, the one they warned us about, he’s going to charge us up the ying-yang I just know it because he doesn’t have a meter!
My girlfriend looked apprehensive too and I figured she must be thinking the same thing as me, not quite, later she’d tell me she was starting to freak then because she didn’t think he was even a cabbie at all. We drove through some back roads until we reached residential areas. When we got to the house, a little baby blue house, the driver only asked for five dollars, phewwwwwwww, relief! But what happened next was when my fear really started to kick in. We were unloading the groceries out of the back of the car and the maseuse took out not one, but two cellphones from her purse. She dialled a number on one and started talking in Fijian, there was some yelling then she hung up and said, “Get back in the car. We’re at the wrong house.”
“What do you mean we’re at the wrong house!?! You have more than one house??”
“Yeah, we have two.”
“Umm, okay? But which one do you live at?”
“Well, we’re sleeping at the other one.”
We are driving again, a blur of houses and street signs. I look at my girlfriend, we are both freaked now, things are seeming very fishy, but we don’t even know where we are, or what we should do.
“Sorry about this, don’t worry they are waiting at the other house where we’ll cook dinner and have kava.”
Another turn, another bend, another road, then “here” she tells the taxi. We pay two more dollars and get out. There are houses on both sides of the street but none of them our her aunt’s house. Instead there are five people and a kid waiting for us in a van. Three big burly looking Fijian men two large Fijian women and a child who doesn’t really look like anyone, and doesn’t seem particularly phased let alone excited to see “her mom” the maseuse.
At this point we don’t really have a choice. We are in the middle of who knows where, in the back streets of Fiji. It’s going to get dark outside very soon. And there are six of them and two of us. There doesn’t seem to be that many people around even though there are houses. If we refuse to get in the van they might make us, or worse…Plus if we refused to get in the van here we wouldn’t even be able to to tell a taxi driver where to come to pick us up. Realization occurs… We are royally fucked.
As soon as we get in the van, I can tell they’re not interested in getting to know us. They don’t ask us where we are from or what we do for work. The only question they ask us is- “are you single?” Because apparently they are all single, the men and the women- and now they’re all cousins…which one is “the aunt” who knows. None of their stories match up. Suddenly the maseuse is the only one not talking, not smiling. They are all big, and loud and intimidating. My mind is racing, my heart is pounding in my chest, I don’t have to look at my girlfriend to know she is just as terrified as I am. They start talking about the place where the Indian prostitutes hang out-
Wait- what? Why are they talking about the sex trade? Where are they taking us? Are they going to try to sell us? Are they going to rape us? Kill us? I can’t keep up with the conversation. My chest is pounding My brain is whizzing, bumping, honking, faster than we are driving. Mild paranoia has exploded into full-blown fear, it has taken over my body- it has hijacked my mind. How could I have been so stupid? So gullible! So fucking naive! I have no idea what to do or say. I start to imagine the worst. But I try to act normal, I don’t want them to know how scared I am.
“Can we stop and get some cigarettes on the way?”
It’s my girlfriend’s voice, but she sounds so calm, so collected, so genuinely eager to buy cheap Fijian cigarettes. We don’t even smoke anymore, we haven’t been smokers in over a year. I mean, besides the occasional drunken cigarette here and there… But for a moment she even has me fooled. Wow, I think, I am really just being oober paranoid and she feels fine about the situation, all this creepiness must just be in my head. And she still wants to go to an unknown destination with all these people and drink kava and smoke cigarettes! But then I think, oh my God, thank-you, you fucking beautiful, brilliant, brave creature, this is why I love you.
It’s a way out. It is a perfect way out. Of course, they all smoke. Right away they pipe up ‘yeah course’, ‘can you get us some cigars too.’ and ‘We need to fill up the tank anyway.’
When we pull up at the gas station the two of us jump out as quickly as we can. I know before we get inside we are going to call a cab because we cannot go with them. But there is still a little voice of doubt in my mind thinking, maybe, just maybe, she actually wants cigarettes and I am being paranoid and crazy…
“I had to get the fuck out of there- we have to call Johnny.”
To clarify: Johnny was a cab driver we had met through the resort on the second day, the only cab driver we knew we could trust to get us home safely. We handed the gas station attendant Johnny’s card. There was no way we leaving that gas station.
The maseuse came in after us, “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“My friend is just feeling really sick, we have to go back to the resort.”
My partner contorted her face in fake pain, asking the cashier if they had anything for an upset stomach. Of course, the maseuse didn’t buy our little escape plan. She apologized for their behaviour in the car.
“It’s all just in fun, we joke around. Just come back in the van.”
When we refused she started acting a little desperate pleading with us, saying we at least needed to come back to the van to say bye and give everyone hugs.
WTF!? We just met these people.
“She feels sick and we’re going back to the resort! Enjoy the food and the kava, really it’s okay.”
She finally left us and went back to the van. But they all waited in the van outside the gas station for about ten minutes, and it felt like forever… They didn’t even fill up the tank, probably because they were expecting us to pay for it.
I’ve never felt so relieved to see a taxi cab in my whole life.
Thank-Goodness for Johnny!!!!!!!!!!
We made it back to the resort okay. But I just wanted to hide away in our bure for the rest of our trip. I felt like we were so God Damn lucky to be alive. Stupid, but lucky.
This was definitely the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had in a foreign country. We had been warned again and again, don’t go with anyone, don’t trust anyone. But somehow it seemed okay to me, it seemed safe, it seemed fine, she seemed so lovely and kind, and a little voice in my head still says, maybe it would have been fine- maybe they were all genuine and would have cooked an incredible, traditional, Fijian dinner for us
but then again, I am sure as hell glad we didn’t stick around to find out.
Our last day in Fiji ended up being my favourite day, I won’t say it made up for the crazy scary experience of the day before, but we made friends with an awesome young German couple staying at the resort and we went with them to the mud baths!
Our saviour, (Johnny) drove us to the natural hot springs, a Fijian spa up on the mountain of the Sleeping Giant where a guide painted our entire bodies with mud and we got to cleanse ourselves in a giant natural bath. And sleeping just outside the large pool beside an old tree were six tiny week-old puppies that still had their eyes closed.
We watched them snuggling, and whimpering, and then nursing their momma
It was by far my favourite experience in Fiji.
We washed away our anxiety and our fear from the day before. We celebrated our luck, our lives, our wisdom, thanking the universe for an eye-opening experience that will definitely shape the way I live and travel and trust in the future.
VINAKA! (Thank-you for reading!)
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Heidi J. Loos