Craig's Travels


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Difficult to Leave

The first aspect of life in Fiji I noticed is that the entire population seems to be on "Island Time." Perhaps this is inspired by the crystal-clear blue waters identical in color to the artificially dyed bodies of water at Disneyland. Perhaps the inspiration comes from the dizzying patterns of coral that surround each of the tiny Islands. Whatever the reason for this Island Time mentality, it is important to remember that nothing will happen fast in Fiji. The response to every question seems to be "No worries," as in "What ever you n will be no problem to get, as long as you are relaxed and not in a hurry." Even more to the point, the word "urgent" seems not to exist in the Fijian language. For the last four years, the one complaint that my boss had of my work was I lacked a sense of urgency. Not only would Fiji be a place for me to unwind, the irony of lacking urgency did not escape my attention. This seemed like the perfect place for me to begin my six-month, around-the-world adventure.

Upon arrival at Nadi airport, I quickly located the transfer point to Beachcomber Island Resort. This is one of the closest island resorts to the mainland of Fiji, a mere 20km from the airport. Because of its proximity, Beachcomber has become known as a "party island" and is filled year-round with Ausies, Kiwis, Brits and Canadians who want nothing more from life than a sandy beach and copious amounts of Fiji Bitter, the local beer. The motto for the small resort is "Beachcomber, easy to get to, difficult to leave." Life on Beachcomber consists of a series of confusing choices. Namely, you have to decide how to spend the day between snorkeling, SCUBA diving, reading, lying on the beach, playing cards, having another beer, taking a nap, writing in your journal or staring blankly at the crashing miniature waves. A decision such as this takes just about your entire mental capacity, so the decision to read your book might actually use up enough brainpower that you won't be able to fully comprehend the words coming off of the page. If you have ever witnessed someone who is taking mind-bending drugs try to make a simple decision, you will start to have an idea of how difficult decisions are to make on Beachcomber. Even a simple task such as finding your shoes can take a few hours with Island Living. Every small action becomes a chore that requires almost more effort than it is worth.

That is, of course, unless you are watching the sunset. Then any amount of effort will be spent to traverse the entire island (which can be circumnavigated in 15 minutes on foot) to watch the sun sizzle into the Pacific. The views are worth every exertion.

All this said, the management of Beachcomber runs a near-perfect model of efficiency. They have all sorts of activities during the day, including fish-feeding expeditions in glass-bottomed boats, solid SCUBA instruction and all-you-can-eat meals that are to die for. They have a band on stage every night, which spews out mumbled songs by Bob Marley, Rolling Stones, Elvis and Stevie Wonder, as well as the famed Bula Dance. I'll show you the moves when I return.

After three days of being sun fucked (a new term given to the state of mind and body when you are drained from spending too much time in the sun), it was time for me head onto Sydney. My Air Pacific flight was to leave Nadi Airport at 8:25am Sunday morning, meaning I could take the shuttle back on Saturday and stay the night near the airport OR I could pay for a special water taxi early in the morning, giving me one more hedonistic night to spend on the island. This is the start of my vacation; I couldn't deny myself the pleasure of the gluttonous buffet or the Rugby World Cup games that were to be broadcasted in the dining area. I chose the morning taxi.

I was told to come by the office after dinner the night before my departure to set up the taxi and the wake-up call. Being that I had no time-telling devices on my person (part of the unwinding, you see), I was thrilled to learn the resort had wake-up calls. Especially since I was living in a large 100-bed dorm room. The woman behind the counter (who, incidentally, had helped with the long shoe search earlier in the afternoon) assured me that someone would come by bed #95 at 5:30am so I could catch the 6:00am water taxi. "No worries, someone will come by to wake you up."

When I crawled into my top bunk at 2:30am, I was just slightly nervous about over sleeping. That might explain why at 4:30am, I bolted out of bed, waking my bottom neighbor to ask the time. I thought about staying up for the next hour, but when my head hit the pillow again, I was still assured the wake-up call was coming in an hour. When my eyes flew open, it seemed like 5 minutes had passed. However, in that 5 minutes, the world had managed to turn the lights on pretty quick. Again, I bolted out of bed. Seeing no one awake, I ran down to the office to check the time. I let out a premature sigh of relief; it was 5:50am and I ran out towards the beach, but was baffled not to see a water taxi waiting. I quickly stumbled back to the office, where I explained to the woman sweeping sand in slow, clear English that I had ordered a wake-up call for 5:30am, I was supposed to take a 6:00am ferry to catch an 8:30am flight.

"What bed number?" she wanted to know.
"Oh yes. I see right here. You were supposed to get woken up, 5:30am"
"Right," I explained, trying to remain calm, "I have a flight at 8:30, and I need to catch that ferry."
"The ferry?"
"The water taxi."
"Oh, yea. That boat left already."

Certain times require a little urgency. I felt as if THIS was one of those times. My host seemed not to share this sentiment. I asked if we could call the boat and have it turn around and pick me up. The broom in her hand seemed to denote that she lacked the responsibility and initiative to call the boat. Instead, she told me she would call the manager and he would be right down. Knowing I still had a couple of things to put in my bag, I used this opportunity to run back to the dorm to finish packing. After cramming my belongings into the pack, I ran back down to the office. The woman was calmly sweeping.

"What did the manager say? Is the boat coming back?" I quickly blurted out.
"Oh, I spoke with the managa. He is on his way down. No worries. Why don't you have a seat outside and wait?"
I felt the stomach acid slowly creeping towards my esophagus. "If we wait for the manager to get here, I'm afraid I might miss my flight," I said.
"What bed number are you?"
"What time is your flight?"

Luckily the phone rang, and I didn't have a chance to strangle her. She spoke some Fijian peppered with English words like "wake-up call" and "water taxi" then asked me who I spoke with. I gave her the description and she conversed in Fijian towards the receiver. After she hung up, she asked me a series of previously discussed questions, all aimed at determining who was to blame for this mistake.
I told her, "It doesn't matter to me who is to blame. What I would like to do right now is try to get a boat to take me to the mainland so I can catch my flight."
"What bed number were you?"

Finally, the woman from the previous evening, who had been so kind with the shoe finding escapade, came into the office, immediately contacted the boat via a two-way radio, and informed me he would be back in 20-minutes to pick me up. Why the woman with the broom wasn't shown how to use the two-way radio is a management question beyond my comprehension. However, I was starting to feel better about the possibility of catching my flight. True, I was now 45-minutes behind schedule, but that was manageable. Thinking that everything would need to run very smoothly from here on out, I asked the woman, "Can we make sure there is going to be a car waiting for me on the other side? Because everything needs to run perfectly from here on out in order for me to catch my flight." She assured me there would be a car waiting, no worries.

I was not surprised to see no car waiting on the mainland when the relatively quick water taxi landed at the dock at 7:05am. "No worries," said the boat driver, "the car will be here soon." Five minutes go by, then ten minutes… so much for the smooth transition. When the cab came around the dusty road, the acid in my stomach settled down a tiny bit. From the back seat, I handed the cab driver an extra FJ$10 and said, "Drive fast."

That he did. Careening around S-Curves at 90km/hour, I vaguely recalled a device we had in the States called a seatbelt. Fijian drivers tend to pay little to no attention to signs and traffic laws. This caused the government to put large speed bumps at random intervals along the highways. These "launching" bumps seemed to just make the ride to the airport more interesting. Apparently, in Fiji, FJ$10 buys an E-Ticket Ride.

When we (thankfully) arrived at the airport, I thanked the driver and ran into the building, only to be stopped short by a 45-minute line to run my bags through the scanner. I assumed the people standing in this line were, like everyone I had encountered that morning, still on Island Time and barely paying attention, so I snaked the line. I was correct. They either didn't notice this or didn't care. Do I feel good about skipping past 100 people to run my bags through the scanner? No, I do not. Did I feel better knowing this step would guarantee I would make the flight? You bet your ass.

I should have also guessed the official airline of Fiji would be on Island Time as well, but I didn't have that much foresight. While I didn't predict our tardiness, I was not shocked to see us begin to pull away from the jet way a full 45-minutes behind schedule. If I had figured this piece out, I wouldn't have been concerned about missing the wake up call. It really would have been no worries. Nor would I have felt the desire to cut in front of a security line. It also occurred to me during our taxi down the runway that any relaxation I had gained from my 3 days on the beach had been more than used up in trying to leave the Island. The Beachcomber motto never rang truer. It was difficult to leave.



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