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Nananu-i-Ra – the island idyll

20 Nov

Well, I decided that I had been in Volivoli for long enough and I fancied going somewhere nice for my birthday… so after getting my dive log signed and all the paperwork done, I called the island taxi service and hopped on a little boat to the island of Nananu-i-Ra, just a few miles north east of Volivoli beach.  I felt like an explorer finding a new land as we cruised across the strait to the island.

 

There are a few little resorts here – the Front Beach is separated from the Back Beach by a narrow isthmus, so if the wind’s in the wrong direction, change beaches…

I’m in quite charming accommodation in nicely tended gardens just off the beach.. Will be nice to take a walk tomorrow morning and maybe do some snorkelling.  Took a walk round the bottom half of the island today, throwing coconuts into the sea, surprising the little mud skippers that seem to be able to walk (well, run) on water, and marvelling at the leaping mackerel.. Water here is from rainwater, and there’s no power from 10am to 6pm, and then again from 10pm to 6am because the generator gets turned off.

Another nice little apartment – although I have burnt a hole in the bottom of the kettle…. Oops!

 

 

Tuesday

 

Well, today is my birthday..so I celebrated with a walk to the end of the jetty and a chance to just think and dream about the future.  I simply felt as if everything was going to be OK – more than OK in fact, and I had a real sense of being one with the universe

In the afternoon in a complete change of fortune, the sun came out. I hopped off the end of the same jetty with a mask and snorkel.. So much to see – the jetty is the end of the coral reef that surrounds the island – the coral is magnificent – branch and fern corals alongside the brain corals, largely because the bay is so well sheltered.

 

The coral is all shades of pink and yellows from bright lemon through to vanilla.  Bright blue coral lurks in the deep (if coral can ‘lurk’). And, curiously enough, ‘coral’ colour (whoever named that colour hadn’t seen the real thing).  In and around the coral are deep purple starfish, tiny zebrafish in black and white stripes (what else), minute electric blue fish that glow from within.  Giant parrotfish in iridescent colours with luminescent green fins, fish that are so artfully camouflaged they blend in with the ripples they make as they flee from danger, only becoming visible a they slow down There are little ‘Findin Nemo’ clownfish and clams on the side of the reef.  There are rainbow coloured wrasses, angel fish in various hues from yellow to zebra to half black half white.  There’s what looks like a distant relative of Hawaii’s ‘humu’ (please don’t make me spell it in full again). There are transparent fish that hide in the shallows until disturbed, fish that leap into the air but never when I am looking in that direction, so all I see is a splash, and a stripey black and white fish that I followed around for ten minutes because he looked as if he knew where he was going.

The evening was magical, somehow – lightning lit up the sky, and I stood on the same jetty and watched the island light up – until the power went off at 10pm.  Everybody goes to bed early here….

Wednesday

 

So, what to do today.  Both my Japanese friend who’s sharing the dorm and I are bored… so why not borrow a kayak and see how far we can get.  It’s quite interesting as the waves got decidedly more choppy on the way back… but at least my arms have had a good workout.

Me & Masi

 

Then, feed the fish off the jetty, some more snorkelling and an attempt to catch a few fish on camera.. And then back in the boat to Volivoli Resort again.

 

Thursday

 

Last day of diving today… so we rocket out to ‘The Passage’ for some of the most bonkers diving.. My head is still reeling from all thefish and coral.  Fields of soft coral waving in the surge, hiding little clownfish inside.  Huge spotted fish, giant shoals of electric blues, yellow tang, a moray eel hiding in the shadows, a turtle off in the distance.  Even the bubbles of air are a delight to watch as they drift upwards.

 

I’ve still not quite got breathing right – I’ve been trained for so long to keep deep breaths that shallow breathing is still not easy – so I get around 10 minutes less than anyone else out of a cylinder… but it’s all good. Now I just have to worry how to repair the budget after all this diving (well, it was my birthday)!!

Made a couple of cool diving friends too – Graeme, who’s an ex-pat Irishman travelling round Australia and NZ with his girlfriend Beatrice – and Michelle, who came up with a wicked subtitle for my book….she’s just come back from working at the South Pole of all places.. sounds so cool (!) – perhaps my next trip?!

 

Had a minor panic attack on the boat though… wondering if I can face the time away from home, missing my friends, missing my family… but it had passed by the time I got off the boat!

And then a final bus to Lautoka and a minibus to Nadi airport.  Overnight on a very uncomfy chair in the airport… and then time to go – time to find another adventure.

 

RakiRaki – Welcome to paradise

14 Nov

Friday.  Friday morning.  Friday morning early.

I’m awake at 3:30am for the bus to the ferry.  The sky is pitch black, but the stars are out – my favourite constellation , Orion, is clear in the sky – but the wrong way up for someone from the northern hemisphere.  The Southern Cross is low on the horizon, and the rest of the stars blaze out from the deep black velvet of the sky.  There is no trace of dawn invading the blackness of the sky..

Back onto the bus, wishing that the seats had been designed with the more amply proportioned Fijian in mind – I’m perched half on half off the seat bracing myself against being thrown off.. And unable to drift off to sleep in case I slide off the seat instead.

An hour later, we’re on the ferry, and the sky starts to light up.. Fortified with a cup of coffee, I spend the next hour on the ferry watching the sky change into varied shades of purple, then orange, shading beautifully – and just when it seems like the show is over, the sun appears and blazes deep shades of fire over the receding island.  And that was worth visiting Ovalau for, worth the early start.. Just for those few minutes of kaleidoscopic beauty.

Into Coravou – it’s only me getting off the coach in this little junction town – a brief wait for the local bus to Rakiraki.  The trip takes me past the river and through the mountains for another eye catching trip of incredible beauty and bonejarring transport.  The roads under construction, but they don’t bother diverting the traffic – we just travel over the roadworks.  And it doesn’t matter: I’m captivated by the views as the Kings Road follows the river through mountains, past waterfalls and tiny villages..

Until finally the bus dumps me at Volivoli junction.  Lonely Planet is mistaken… the junction isn’t 1.3km from the resort, it’s more like 4km.  So Tigger, Snuff and I set off up the hill – but Fijian hospitality takes over – first the local farmer gives me a lift, then the local fire brigade let me hop aboard, delivering me into a beautiful little resort in the middle of gorgeous islands, beautiful bays and turquoise seas.

I’ve not been upgraded this time, but that’s OK – I’ve got a dorm room to myself anyway.  I’m the only person in the resort now the three girls have left (after imparting some useful advice about the steps on the dive boat). The only thing likely to disturb my tranquillity is the sound of ripe mangoes bouncing off the roof.

Oh, apart from ‘Club Feejee’ who have just arrived.    Think ‘Club 18-30’.  Anyway, diving is sorted, and it’s beautiful here… just time to do some washing and write this blog entry, while the wonders of the day are still fresh in my mind, and still vivid in my memory – images of breathtaking scenery, the coruscating sunrise, jade islands and warm water…..

Saturday

The rain has arrived… in torrents.  Bouncing off the roof.  Thudding into the surface of the swimming pool.  But it adds a strange beauty to the landscape, a soft mistiness to the hills.  Fortunately, it’s died down before my dive lesson. A quick review in the pool, and then out into open water.  It’s fascinating out there, little fish darting around (loving the zebra fish the most), strange mounds of sand that obviously conceal something we can’t see.  I get some of the skills wrong, panicking because I am being observed… but it all becomes easier moment by moment.  After the dive off the beach, Nick and I head off in the dive boat to dive a deeper reef off shore.  The visibility is poor, and it’s easy to lose track of Nick in the murk, but it’s still fun… I have a few problems staying at neutral buoyancy, it might be the fact that I have a huge lung capacity, or I might just be crap at breath control – but it’s crazy down there.  Two more dives tomorrow and I’m certified.  Or certifiable.

More rain in the evening, but it’s great to sit out on the veranda, coffee in hand, and write this blog….

Sunday

I’m told that I am late for diving.  No-one told me it’s an hour earlier.  This time we rocket out to the far reef… and it’s fabulous.  Visibility is great, and there are so many incredibly beautiful fish out there huge shoals of silver fish swimming in concert like something out of Finding Nemo, beautifully coloured angel fish, electric blue fish that are larger than any I’ve seen like that before.  We dive some simple caves, I complete my skills review, and that’s it.  It takes me a few moments to work out what the instructor wants me to do as we ascend.. I’ve been so engrossed in the fish that I’ve forgotten.  What’s dive sign language for ‘what the bloody hell do you want me to do’?  Ah yes, a CESA ascent. Why didn’t you say so before?  Well, now I’m a Certified Diver (certifiable, if you ask me).  I confess to the instructor that I’ve yanked the dump valve pull off my BCD. Anyone want to go diving?

Did I mention that it’s raining?  Perhaps I actually AM a rain god.  Perhaps I should rent myself out to drought ridden lands for a small fee.  Perhaps I should find a different way to dry my clothes!

Oh, when I say ‘raining’ then you need to understand that the concept of ‘rain’ here makes England look like drizzle.  This is basically like taking the ocean and making it breathable.  If I go out in this, it will be like taking a bath. Estimated time to total saturation – approximately 0.3msec…

May be a while before I post again… I’m off to an unspoilt tropical island for a couple of days….

Levuka – something’s fishy….

13 Nov

Monday

So, down to the local bus stop to catch the bus to Ovalau, an island on the east side of Viti Levu.  Busy today, so they’ve laid on three buses – but only four tourists.  After a couple of hours bus ride through wonderful scenery and fascinating villages, the bus drives on to the roll on roll off ferry for the hours trip to Ovalau.  The sea is at once invigorating and peaceful, and as Viti Levu recedes into the distance Ovalau appears out of the mist.  The bus draws of, and we are subjected to a bone jarring ride round the island – the road is due to be sealed next year.

Now, one slight problem – I’m on the wrong bus.  My guide – and, more importantly, my bags, are on the other bus.. So I am paying REAL close attention to where to get off f- and the bus stops at ever little village on the way (several times).  But a smiling Emosi is waiting for me at the other end, and shows me to his daughter’s little lodge, my home for a few days.  It’s a charming little place right on the seafront in Levuka town, with a nice veranda to watch the world go by.  And since there’s only one street in Levuka, most of it does!

(I will learn to take photos where the horizon is horizontal.. but in my defence, I didn’t want Tigger or Snuff blowing into the sea)

Levuka was the original capital of Fiji, and it’s a lovely little old whaling town with old clapperboard stores and little old churches (and a burned down Masonic lodge – apparently the Methodists got over zealous in the 2000 coup).  The town does smell fishy – there’s a tuna cannery south of the town. Apparently they had a thriving pigeon post here to Suva on Viti Levu.. The bus takes four hours, the pigeons manage it in 30 minutes.

So, I’m here to finish my dive course.  Only one snag – the Dive Master is in Germany.  So no course for me.  Time to rethink my plans…

Anyway, the rain is back, so nothing much is happening anyway.  Explore the town, with the church where the bells strike twice – once to warn people on ‘Fiji time’, so they say, the second for the rest of us. The clock is five minutes fast, anyway.  The sea is stormy and rough, the skies dark with threatening rain.  But the fish and chips is the best I have ever had, and everyone greets me with a smile and cries of ‘Bula!’

Wednesday

Of the four tourists that arrived in Levuka on Monday, three of them are in Mary’s Lodge. And it’s not raining! So we decide to take a trip into the interior of the island with the legendary Epi… after another bone jarring ride (on the same road) we walk up and over the rim of the volcanic crater, hearing stories of natural cures for asthma, toothache and cancer (including many of Epi’s family – his wife was cured of cancer through natural plant remedies, while his cousin was discharged from hospital after being cured of hepatitis when the hospital couldn’t treat him (they had to discharge him – the use of natural remedies in hospital is illegal in Fiji)).  Along the way we were introduced to the mandarin and lemon trees, to yams, taro, ironwood trees, edible ferns and more – vines, trees and plants that are used to create natural remedies – and a disappearing knowledge.

When we arrive at Levuni village, in the heart of the (inactive, for once) volcano, Epi’s wife has prepared a wonderful feast of traditional Fijian food based on the plants we’ve encountered.  Joanne is from Newcastle, England – when she married Epi the story made the papers, and is still hanging in their bathroom. The chicks were brought indoors during the bad weather, and haven’t worked out they actually live outside.

After hearing tales of the Levuni villagers’ exploits in battle, and their treacherous betrayal, we get back in our SUV for the ride back down rocky tracks, across rickety bridges, to the accompanying tales of flash floods washing away cars down the valley.

Thursday

Time to organise diving and the next step on the journey… an early night tonight because the bus leaves at 4:30 am.  Eek! But time to climb the 199 steps (actually I make it 188, Lonely Planet suggest 185) to overlook the bay…

Suva… life in the city

11 Nov

So, on board the bus to Suva, after the nicest milkshake ever in tha irport, of all places.  Four hours of trips through luxury hotels, palm tree fringed beaches, Fijian villages, mountain scenery..and into Suva, a boisterous town full of crazy shops, noisy night life – and the Colonial Lodge hostel, a hotch-potch of rooms with a lovely family.

Sunday morning I went to church.. A Fijian Methodist church, of all places, where the congregation, the men dressed to a man in their traditional Fijian skirts, gave it their all.. And so did the preacher.  I have no idea what he was saying, but it sounded good.

And then some time to catch up on email, Facebook and blogging in the shopping centre before going out for a Diwali Bollywood movie. Well, I’d seen ‘RED’ and it sounded like fun! English subtitles though… which reminds me – next time I download catchup TV, I must make sure to avoid the ones that have Dutch subtitles….

And some great sunset pictures over the harbour – they even make this rusting old boat look good!#

And, by the way, my prediction is coming true… I’m getting a New Zealand accent and I haven’t even GOT there yet, hey?

Up in the rain forest – Nadi, Fiji… – dogs, frogs and time to rest

7 Nov

So, first stop in Fiji is at Stoney Creek resort, up in the mountains above Nadi.  I took a cab up there, the driver complaining bitterly about the low price of the fare on the meter.  I’d booked a dorm room, but already I had been upgraded to a double room, the hostel’s ‘Love Shack’ rooms.  Best not to ask.

It’s beautiful here – out in the middle of nowhere, in the shadow of the Sabeto mountains.  My room has a veranda that looks out across the mountain range – and apart from a couple of frogs and the ever present mosquitos… it’s completely tranquil.  Every now and again a bird calls out, not sure whether to imitate the light sabres from Star Wars, or the blip blip sound of a car remote lock.

Monday & Tuesday

A couple of days spent getting myself back together – dealing with the jetlag, and a sense of displacement caused by leaving my friends, my family and my home, for this crazy adventure.

On Tuesday evening I am the only person at the resort.  The owners decide that she might as well upgrade me to their top suite, with private facilities and hot water.  I accept, delighted, reminding myself to continue to expect God’s blessing on this trip.

Wednesday

After a morning conversation with Gary, a Kiwi pilot who owns Stoney Creek and (until it truly gets established) is also its resident pool cleaner, odd job builder and source of finance – Gary offers to take me to Lautoka, the nearest town, in his beat up Toyota MR2.   Gary’s a bit of a car nut, having shipped a Porsche in pieces from NZ to Fiji.

Lautoka is an interesting town – it’s principally Indo-Fijian, and reminds me a lot of Leicester in the UK,  Lots of Bollywood DVDs on sale, saris and other Indian garments prevail.  But you can definitely get a good curry (the Sea View restaurant provided a vegetable curry, all the accompaniments and a beer for £3).  It’s Diwali, and it reminds me of Christmas – the shops are decorated and everything is on sale.

Lautoka (Sugar Town) is the centre of their sugar cane industry, lorry loads of cut cane barrelling down the road every few minutes.  It’s entertaining enough, but without anything to really set it apart.  But it has shops.. Allowing me to buy the essentials that I need:

  • mosquito repellent because, no matter the fact that the active ingredient in all of them is Deet, the local brand is the one you need to get rid of the local mozzies. And Jungle Formula is next to useless.
  • Flip flops because I am getting fed up putting my sandals on to go to breakfast
  • A belt, because after 3 months on the road, I have lost so much weight my shorts keep falling down.

And then back to the resort.  I miss the stop on the bus, panic and then end up back at the airport.   Quickly getting on another bus in the opposite direction, I hope and pray that it’s the bus that takes the long loop past the resort.  It isn’t, and I face up to the long walk from the road to the resort.  The night, for the first time, is clear, and the star field is illuminated with a billion stars, with unfamiliar constellations.  The Milky Way threads its way across the sky, while my eyes enjoy the spectacular display, augmented by a lightning show a few miles away.  It’s a long walk back, lifted by the glorious night sky, and the cries of the mujahedin calling the Muslim faithful to prayer.

Time for a beer.. And a sleep..

Thursday

Decided I might go for a little walk up the valley and into the forest… up the unsealed road, watching the local buses and taxis bouncing around the potholes (mostly pothole with some road to fill the gaps in)… I get hailed by everyone passing “Bula!”.. The locals are washing clothes in the river, fishing in the river, swimming in the river, washing their hair in the river….. And it’s hot.  Really hot.

Friday

I’ve decided to stay an extra day, and then make my way across the island on Saturday.  It’s Diwali today.. I take a few hours to wrestle with my new book, my next leadership programme, and a special project that I’m hoping to write on Sunday, God willing.  It’s frustrating work, but a couple of slices of fabulous local sultana bread help the process.  And I’ve got special coffee in today from Hawaii.  Full circle!

We’re supposed to go to the Diwali celebrations tonight… just one fly in the ointment…all the taxi drivers are Indo-Fijian, and you can’t get a taxi for love or money.  Still, I can sit on the bar and watch the fireworks from on top of the hill… it’s strange to think that in 12 hours or so, exactly the same thing will happen back in England, for entirely different reasons…

 

Here we go again – next stop Fiji

2 Nov

Launching from Heathrow Terminal 5 – having had chance to say goodbye to my boys and had a tearful goodbye at T5 to my best friend and dance partner before she went off on adventures of her own.. I hopped on a plane to Los Angeles and into a new adventure.  I felt strangely emotional on the plane – almost a kind of claustrophobia, but also a fear of the unknown, of an uncertain future.  And then into LAX at 7:00pm local, or around 3am UK time… only to find that the flight to Fiji was delayed by 3 hours… so, arriving into Fiji at 8am (or 7pm in the UK).  I’d crossed the equator, and the International Dateline… so now a) I’ve got a whole new set of stars to look at and b) Sunday never existed for me.  Still trying to get my head around that – I think the deal is that I got far more Saturday than I was really entitled to… but I had to sacrifice Sunday altogether.

So, here I am, at Stoney Creek resort, up in the mountains just outside Nadi, Fiji.  It’s beautiful, and tranquil, and I just feel I need to take a couple of days to ground myself, to collect my thoughts, and to allow my energy that’s been chasing me round the planet to catch up with me…. Just, simply, to settle.  I feel far more relaxed now, far more at peace…

The resort have upgraded me to their Love Shack room at no extra charge (thanks, Michelle) which means I am on my own rather than in a dorm – but since there are only three other people, it’s very tranquil anyway.

Oh, yes, and you need to meet my travelling companions.  When I went round Peru I was accompanied by Jeremy the frog, the Inner Compass mascot, who got into all sorts of trouble and into all the photos. 

So this time, I am accompanied by Tigger, the (ahem) tigger, and by Snuff the seal.  Tigger is my personal mascot, a representation of some of the energy I bring, and of the attitude that ‘everything is going to work out fine’.  And Snuff was given to me by my son’s girlfriend, Alice.  Here are Snuff and Tigger in my resort room.  I hope they enjoy the adventure too….

(By the way, this is the view from my balcony.  Told you it was beautiful here)

Only slight fly in the ointment is that I can’t use my laptop… but with the use of a memory stick and Michelle kindly loaning me her laptop – here’s my first blog post from Fiji!

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