Monday, July 27, 2009

Finding Our Island

"Do you think we should call someone to bring our luggage down? It's almost 11," I ask Jeanne. It's our second day in Fiji and we are leaving the Radisson at the main hotel for one of the smaller islands to the west. One thing I love about Fiji: all the men eagerly carry your bags and absolutely refuse tips. Apparently you can contribute if you feel strongly enough, but all contributions go directly into the staff Christmas fund.

Like the efficiency-disciple that I am under Jeanne's keen tutelage, I have helped her formulate a plan for the day: Check out is at 11, and we've scheduled pedicures at noon before our boat departs at 3:15 to take us to one of the Manamuca islands. We forego breakfast and decide to just eat lunch somewhere between 11 and noon.

"Sure, do you mind calling the concierge? Concieeeerge." Jeanne has this endearing habit of saying things either in French or with a French accent every now and then.

"Nope." I phone the front desk. "Do you mind sending someone to help with our bags? Thanks."

Two minutes later, we hear a tentative knocking and a "Bula!" outside of our door. That was fast.

I open the door and a large, smiling Fijian man greets me with "Bula! Do you need help with your bags?"

He confidently piles all of our bags together on the trolley, and cheerfully strolls us down into the elevator. He gestures us to go in before him into the elevator. I thought he would follow us in with the trolley and our suitcases, but then the elevator door begins to slide shut. "Wait! Wait!" Jeanne and I fumble around with the elevator doors, as there is no clear arrow or "Open Door" button. The doors slides back home and he is looking at us with a puzzled look on his face.

"Do you want to come in with us?" Jeanne asks him.

He hesitates. "Are you sure? Is there room?"

"Yes, yes, plenty of room!" His face brightens.

We ride down the elevator together, and he begins to lead us to the lobby in a cheerful, casual stroll. He introduces himself as Livai. He tells us that we need to go to Samoa, where his wife is from. He stops in the middle of the hallway. He says that in Samoa, there is this a crazy place where you spit down into this long dark hole and, then your spit explodes when it hits the bottom.

"Wow, that sounds crazy."

"Yes. Crazy thing," agrees Livai. "Which island are you going to?"


"Ahh, Matamanoa. You must try the coconut there. Best coconut in the world."

He takes our baggage to storage and our laptop bags to reception. "It's safer there," Livai assures us. "I will give you my address later, that way you can come visit me."

We say goodbye to Livai, and he tells us he will see us in a little bit, when we return to pick up our luggage. Next objective: lunch.

We take the long, winding path around the pools and restaurants by the beach. "I like how they call the rooms here 'garden views.' In the States, I'm pretty sure it's a euphemism for a standard room," I say to Jeanne. "You might as well call them 'landscape views."

Jeanne laughs. "Yeah, it's to make the people without a "beach-view" or a "pool view" feel better." This is probably true, but I'm starting to think I prefer to think of it as simply drawing attention to what's actually around us, rather than lamenting what's not there.

We approach the buffet. It's closed. We check the pizza place. Closed. We picked a grand time to eat lunch. Finally, one of the waiters directs us to the one menu in the whole resort that actually serves food between 11 a.m. and noon.

We sit down to lunch, a club sandwich with fries, then decide to kill some time by sitting by the water and read more of our books, Shantaram and The Idiot.

"If you could travel anywhere in the world next, where would you go?" I ask Jeanne. Terrible. We have just spent four months in Australia, are currently in Fiji and are still planning our next getaway. We joked earlier about how we are not going to be able to get a job anywhere, not when we have huge three or four-month chunks of time each year that we spend traveling.

"Honestly, Australia is still at the top of my list!"

With a pang, I know what she means. "Mine, too."

"Good thing we're going next year," she smiles. "But no, seriously, Egypt is still at the top of my list. What about you?"

"Maybe parts of Europe? There's still so much I haven't seen," I say, thinking of Italy and Greece. "I definitely want to see Greece. And New Zealand. But I'm not sure."

We discuss the Caribbean. How despite living in Florida, neither of us has actually been there, and how it's so close that because we COULD go there anytime we want. South America. Costa Rica. Brazil. I see a South American/Central American trip in our future. I wish I could take Jeanne to Africa, particularly Tanzania. Jeanne remarks how Australia feels like a second home, and she wishes she could simply pick up all of our friends and move them to Sydney.

After some more plotting, it's almost noon. Pedicure time.

We arrive at Harmony Retreat, a shaded oasis in the middle of the resort. After checking in, we are soon ushered into an thatched hut, where two smiling ladies greet us with tubs of hot, soapy water for our feet. "Bula!"

By now, we are used to this greeting and we say "Bula!" in return.

This is exactly what you think getting a pedicure in Fiji would be like: you're in a hut, surrounded by flowers and foliage, and calm, soothing music that sounds like a movie soundtrack but with panflutes is playing from the background.

Jeanne chooses a bright, classy reddish pink color. I opt for something different than my usual light pink or purple. "I want the color of Fijian waters in my feet," I tell Jeanne, picking a bluish green.

One pedicure and a few chapters of Shantaram/The Idiot later, we find ourselves at Port Denarau, the main departure point on the main island to the outer lying islands.

We check in with the boarding crew and soon board our ship. We climb all the way to the top deck. Nobody is up here.

"Look, we're following Yella." I see where Jeanne is pointing as our ship pulls away from the dock. Our ship follows closely behind another large yellow ship. When Jeanne says "Yellow" it sounds like "Yella." I comment how it's lucky for us, in case Yella hits a rock and sinks, we can avoid danger and sail around them.

"You're ridiculous," Jeanne tells me. She tells me that a lot.

Soon we are out in open ocean, streaming away from Port Denarau and toward the first island, Matamanoa.

We are no longer following the yellow boat. Our path diverges when Port Denarau is far behind us.

"Goodbye, Yella!" Jeanne yells at the boat.

It's only an hour or so ride, so Jeanne pulls out Shantaram once more. I want to listen to my iPod. I think about turning on Hillsong, but since we've been binging on Hillsong music, I decide to give them a rest, and instead opt for shuffling my playlist.

First, Josh Pyke serenades me with his "New Year's Song":

And there are many ones that one can divide a life and I've got mine
I was flying home and I saw the sunset from the sky
I saw the dark come spinning down upon the land
And I thought about the distance we all cover and it made me sad

And as the old year took a bow and joined the setting sun
It comes around like a refrain
And we all sing along and think of things we should have done
til one year when the new year never came

Little comfort, little comfort I'm afraid you're not enough
I've had some learning, but unwelcome and unkind
And it's seems there's but one story told then reworked all throughout time...

Phil Wickham comes on. I've never paid much attention to this song before, but out here, in the remote middle of the Pacific Ocean, on a ship, sailing to a remote island, the song suddenly makes a bit more sense: Your love is deeper than any ocean/Higher than the heavens reach/Beyond the stars in the sky/Jesus Your love has no bounds.

Then, Ben Folds with his lilting piano and soft, insistent lyrics: I must give the impression that I have the answers to everything/You were so disappointed to see me unravel so easily/But it's only changed only everything I know/Even if the things that seem still are still changing... La da la da la da da da da da la da la da

Jeanne must have thought that I was sleeping, because I move slightly and she immediately asks me if I am awake. She promptly asks me for some of the sour rainbow licorice I have tucked away in my purse. We think about busting out some Tim Tams. Jeanne has a good point though: "It kind of seems like a waste to have a Tim Tam without the Slam."

It's okay though, because our ship is pulling offshore from the first island. It's a small stretch of white sandy beach lined with palm trees. There is one wooden building surrounded by large white umbrellas. It looks like a resort. "Is that our island?" I ask Jeanne. "This is OUR island," I growl at Jeanne, like Mr. Friendly from LOST.

"It must be."

I realize the first obvious thing: they're no dock, no pier. I see a tiny boat motoring toward us from the island. Oh. So THAT's how we're getting to the island.

We step into the tiny boat, where they've already loaded our ginormous luggage. Jeanne at first sits next to our luggage and I am sitting across from her. Then she realizes it might be better to evenly distribute the weight so as not to tip the boat. She sits next to me. Prays that our boat doesn't tip over, an account of our epic-sized baggage. Our luggages are so large, we've nicknamed them. Jeanne's is "The Tank" since I'm pretty sure it's a retired military vehicle. And mine is "the Pumpkin," on account of its large, orange qualities. I often wish it would transform into a carriage so we wouldn't have to pay to take all of this public transportation.

"Good-bye! Good-bye," our boathand shouts cheerfully as we pull away from our cruise ship in our tiny boat. He is holding a small plastic Einstein bobblehead. The ones that come in the McDonalds Happy Meals. And Einstein is waving good-bye to the cruise ship passengers. Huh, I think. I've got one of those too. How cute.

"Good-bye!" Tiny Einstein shouts.

The boathand is waving Einstein around, as if it's the Fiji flag and it's Independence Day. He mumbles something about Einstein having fallen from one of the suitcases.

"Oh, it's Einy!" Jeanne laughs.

A shot of recognition through me. "No, it's Albi!."

While we were visiting Bondi Beach, Jeanne's mom bought each of us tiny Einstein bobbleheads from McDonald's (Macca's, as the Aussies say), since we both were tickled at how darn cute these little guys were in the Night at the Museum 2 movie. Jeanne named hers Einy, and I named mine Albi.

Of all the things to fall out of my suitcase.

I sheepishly laugh, stuff Albi back into The Pumpkin.

As we pull onshore, we are instructed to take our shoes off. No problem.

We jump off of the boat and are greeted by a smiling Fiji lady with a guitar strapped to her back. "Bula!" she smiles.


She gracefully lays a seashell necklace on each of our necks and says, "Follow me." We notice a handful of other tourists sitting on the pool deck, watching both us and our boat interestedly, as if this is the most exciting thing that's happened to them all day. She tells us to enjoy our welcome drinks--tall glasses of pink and white sweet frostiness, topped with fresh pineapple--and that she will brief us as soon as we are checked in.

Soon, we are surrounded by a half dozen Fijians that are singing a welcome song, something lovely about how happy they are that we are here, and that hopefully this is an island where all our wishes come true. I hope they've pre-ordered a Joel and a Sawyer, for Jeanne's and my sake.

After we settle into our little bungalow villa, we realize the sun is almost setting so we stroll around the beach, seeing if we can walk around the perimeter of the island before the sun sets in 10 minutes. It's that small.

"You know the best thing about this island?" Jeanne asks me, grinning. "No shoes."

We make our way onto the beach, stepping over pieces of coral and rocks. We sit on a rock, and look out toward the sun.

Somehow, we got on the topic of honeymoons. "My poor husband. The more traveling I do, the more picky I'll be," laughs Jeanne. "I don't know where my husband is going to take me that I haven't already been."

"Yeah, I mean, Fiji might have been one of those places I would've liked to go on my honeymoon. But now I've already been here. Scratch that off the list."

"Now Tahiti sounds exotic."

"Or Samoa."

"You know you're spoiled when Fiji no longer sounds exotic," we laugh.

Although it's true what my mom said," interjects Jeanne. "When you're on your honeymoon, the most important thing is that you're with your husband. The place doesn't matter so much."

As if on cue, a couple walks down the stone steps leading down toward the beach, greets us and asked us if we just arrived to the island today. This island is so small, the other resort guests know when you're new. Ethan Rom from Lost wouldn't have lasted a day.

We watch the sunset over Fiji. I try to dwell on how surreal this moment is, trying to stare at the water and the sun.

Maybe I shouldn't have stared too hard at the sun, because now I feel like I can't see.

"The sun burned my eyes out," Jeanne says.

We walk back and promptly get lost trying to find our bungalow. Guess the island isn't THAT small. I feel like we should send Sayid up the mountain with his transceiver to triangulate our position so we can go back to our room to change into jeans (with the sun gone, the air feels much cooler) before we head to dinner.

After a grand total of a minute of being lost, we find our room and get dressed and stop at the bar first, ordering half a carafe of white wine. The bartender smiles and pours us each half a glass of white wine. We stare, puzzled at the glasses. "I thought we ordered half a carafe of wine." Jeanne looks at me and shrugs and we take our glasses to to the deck to enjoy the view of the darkened water and sand before us.

After a few moments of silence, Jeanne remarks. "Where's Walter when you need him? We need him to talk about how we would, I don't know, escape this island if we needed to."

"Well, how would you escape the island?" We attempt to hold a candle to Walter's imaginative and random musings, but fail slightly. Or at least long enough for each of us to drink a glass of wine, the sand in our Fijian hourglass.

"I wish we had more wine."

"I thought a half carafe came with more than just two glasses."

"Well, we can always order more wine."

We trudge back to the bar, sad that we got scammed on our half carafe of wine. We are stopped by one of the waitresses who asks us if we are having dinner yet. It's 7 o'clock.

"I think we are going to order some more wine first." We head to the bar, trying to figure out what the next drink will be.

We see the bartender and she smiles at us. "Laaaadies," her voice rings out in a singsongy voice as she holds our gleaming carafe half-full of white wine. It's enough for a glass and a half each.

White wine, it is.

No comments:

Post a Comment