Tuesday, July 21, 2009

MJ, Meet Fiji. Fiji, get ready for MJ.

Wake up: 8am. Shower, repack, put the Tim Tams (yes, all 5 boxes) into a paper bag to smuggle into Fiji. Check, double-check, and triple-check the apartment before we leave, before we officially lock ourselves out.

Stop and get gas for the rental. Drive to the pump on the wrong side of the car. Drive to the wrong pump on the right side of the car. Pull up, aligning the correct pump with the correct side and the gas tank. "3rd time's a charm!", Mel laughs at me.

Turn in the rental car. Check in all 4 bags, carry on 5 more. You'd think, after mailing 4 boxes to the States, that we'd have less luggage. The lady who checks us in chides us for not printing out our e-ticket itineraries, saying she cannot let us check in until we do. "I have it on my laptop, will that work?" "Yes, I suppose so." We both thank God, once again, that we brought our brilliant Macs along.

We go talk to Elizabeth, the nice Air Pacific lady, who promises to seat us together. "You wanna meet two nice boys? I just sat two boys together in row 64. I asked them, 'why do you want to sit together? You should be sitting with two pretty girls!' You two check them out and re-arrange seats." We laugh and certainly agree to do so.

Go through border control/customs. Next, security. So many steps to get out of Sydney!

Of course, Mel gets "randomly searched". Right. She tries to hide from me, but hears my loud laugh as I see her behind the glass partition. She always gets 'randomly searched.' It's only happened to me once. It's because I'm white. They've forgotten the Irish are just as dangerous.

We head down to the gate, gate 32. We're early, despite the 3 checkpoints we had to maneuver. We sit down for a minute and watch "What Happens on Tour" from the "I Heart Revolution" Hillsong DVD that Mel bought at our last church service. We laugh and laugh at the goofiness of Jad, JD, Joel, Phil and the other people on the United We Stand tour. I tell Mel that if we were famous, people would definitely think we are as funny as these guys - basically, they are just video blogging like we always do, being silly. I find them entertaining. We laugh and make comments for a good 15 minutes. As we leave to walk around, Mel whispers, "That guy over there has been laughing at us for the past 15 minutes." "He probably knows these guys, and is thinking we're ridiculous." "Maybe they will be on our flight." "Maybe they'll be in row 64. I already know what line I'll use. Excuse me, but you're in my seat, Jad. Yours is right here (as I hand him my own boarding pass.)"

Mel rolls her eyes at me - a common occurrence.

But alas, as we board the plane a bit later, no Hillsong boys. The boys in 64 are a bit young for us, I think. We settle in and sit on the plane for another hour. "We've had to load an extra 1000 litres of fuel, because there are thunderstorms in Fiji. We're all set to jet, but we've just got to recalculate the balance of the plane."

Mel falls asleep, and "In the Skin of a Lion" falls out of her hand, jerking her awake. I, reading Shantaram, laugh at the sequence of events I see out of the corner of my eye. "Fall asleep?" "Yeah. The book woke me up, just like Salvatore Dali's keys." "Did you have any dreams?" "Um, I think so? I thought we'd have been in the air by now."

Sooner or later, we take off. I have found myself lately more engrossed with watching people and thinking about them instead of reading or being in my own mind. The guy next to me, across the aisle, is an Indian man. I later peer across the aisle to see his customs form, and find out he's actually a resident of Australia. He's got a hat on with the American flag and an eagle, and it says USA on the back. I catch him looking at me every now and then, but I never talk to him. I wish I had.

There are also two kids in the row behind him, who have apparently never been on a flight. There are a TON of kids on this flight! Anyway, as we take off, the little girl is chanting "I'm scared, I'm scared!" as her mom replies "Hold my finger." Both the little boy and the little girl have massive grips on their mom and dad's fingers. "How cute", I say to Mel.

We eat dinner, have bourbon and cokes, and then they come around with tea. I look at Mel. "Tim Tam Slams". She holds my entire tray of food, balancing her own tray and both of our tea cups as well, as I scoot out of my seat and retrieve the half-finished tray of Caramel Tim Tams from the luggage compartment above. We celebrate our imminent arrival in Fiji with 3 Tim Tam Slams each, and we marvel over the fact that they are far better with tea than hot chocolate.

As we land, it seems as if every Fijian who works at the airport lines the outdoor walkway to the inside. "I feel like a celebrity", I say to Mel. She nods her agreement. We hit our first queue of the Fijian Airport: the passport control queue. It takes forever. Luckily, 'the tank' and 'the pumpkin' and all of our other checked bags arrive quickly thereafter. We hit our second queue: the customs declaration line. We successfully make it through, and a man sends us to our taxi, to bring us to the Radisson at Denerau on the main island of Fiji.

The lady in the customs line had told me to make sure that the taxi driver charges us per the meter, instead of a flat rate. The taxi driver refuses, saying that the hotel is outside of the meter zone. Our bags are already neatly packed in the back, so what can we do? I mumble a few comments under my breath (I so hate feeling like I'm being taken advantage of), and then simmer down once I realize he's charging us only $25 in Fijian dollars - a mere $12.50 USD. It reminds me of part of the book I'm reading (Shantaram) where he says that he pays $6 a day for the hotel when he knows he can get it for $4, because it helps the deskman to feed his family. If he only paid $4, the hotel owner would be the only one who made money, and the deskman barely survives on his salary. I'm a spoiled American.

We are heading towards our hotel, down a dark road. I look out the window, entranced by the beautiful stars. It's very, very dark, and I can see them well. It reminds me of being along the southern coast of Australia (between Sydney and Melbourne) in Bermagui and also of being in the Outback. I love it. Suddenly, we make a sharp right turn down a deserted dirt road. My cautious side is a bit suspicious, and I think of a book I read by Jeffery Deaver about a serial killer/taxi driver who removed all the locks on his door before killing his airport victims in Hell's Kitchen. I instinctively look to check the locks, but I can't see anything. I shake off this ridiculous notion and feel easier when I see a sign on the side of the road with the word "Denerau" written on it.

We pass a car only about every two minutes, and we keep passing Denerau signs. We are in the middle of nowhere, on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific. We pass farms of banana trees on both sides. There is a small wooden structure that looks like a bus stop. Suddenly, we pass a black man in a bright white shirt, standing at the end of this driveway, looking for someone or something. I think to myself, "Good thing he's wearing white, or nobody would see him.", and we pass another car.

We get to the gates of Denerau - I had no idea it was a gated resort area - and we pass through easily because we're in a taxi. Mel and I laugh out loud as we drive past 3 native Fijian men who yell through the cracked windows, "BULA! ULA-ULA-ULA!" which means welcome (and maybe goodbye, also). The taxi driver laughs, too.

We pass the Westin, The Sofitel, and other random hotels. Mel says later she was thinking, "I hope the Radisson is as nice as these." We pull into our hotel, which seems pretty rad from the driveway. The lobby is all open-air (just like Hawaii) and they greet us warmly as we check in. The man who insisted on pulling our luggage out of the car and up the stairs rejoins us with a smile to accompany us to our room. "Is this the first Fijian face you've seen?" He asks. I have to ask him to repeat it at least twice because his voice is soft, his accent lilting, and he's a bit far from me. "Yes, I think it is." But Mel corrects me and tells him that our flight attendants were Fijian. He smiles. "On holiday? Done with school? Finished working?", he fires questions at us. "Kind of", I say. Mel replies, "We've been on holiday in Australia for quite a while now. We're taking a last holiday before we head back to the States." "You'll love Fiji!" He exclaims.

He leaves our luggage on the second floor as he escorts us up the stairs to our hotel room. He pulls out the key, opens the door with a flourish and insists we hurry in. "If anything is not perfect, if anything is missing, please tell me." He says, as he rushes back down the stairs to bring up our luggage. "Oh my gosh. LOOK at the SIZE of that bed!" I say to Mel. "Look at the bathroom!" "The Chaise! "The balcony!" "The TV!" We go back and forth for a while. You'd think we've never seen a nice hotel before. We stayed at the Novatel in Cairns with my mom when she came to Australia, and we thought we hit the lottery back then. But we had no idea.

Our concierge smiles at us as we beam towards him, "This place is lovely!" "Thank you. Now, come on, I want to show you the restaurants. You must be sure to see the entertainment - it is starting now. It's only on Tuesday and Friday, and you will not be here on Friday." He takes us to one of the five pools and says, "Follow the footpath." We almost walk right into the show itself, then backtrack to the far side to avoid disturbing such beauty. We order a Margharita pizza and go to watch men twirl fire. They are all between the ages of 18 and 24, I'd guess, and they are fantastic. We stand there a while, forgetting entirely about our pizza. Eventually we wind back to pick it up and head back to our glorious balcony to eat it. Somewhere near the fourth pool, I look at Mel and joke, "Australia-who?" She laughs, in reference to a joke I made about America the first time we were in Cairns.

We eventually locate the ice machine for our Cokes - it simply must be here for Americans - and gorge ourselves on lovely $10 pizza.

After we finish, we head back into our room and I say "How the heck do you turn this fan off? It sounds like it's about to lift off our room!" Mel and I play with all of the buttons, but no luck. I keep trying to forget it, but it's driving me crazy.

I ring the front desk and ask the receptionist this question.

"Do you see the switch to the left of your bed? What room number are you in?" He asks, as if he's going to come personally show me. "Oh, never mind, I see what button you mean!" I laugh loudly into the receiver and he chuckles back. I can sense this is not the first time he's gotten this question from a tourist.

"If you want to turn of the light, just give us a call back. Haha! Good night ma'am."

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