19th December, Fiji, Coral Coast
It was another early start for us today - an 8 o'clock pick-up, meaning we had to check out at 7 and have ourselves our complimentary continental breakfast. The thing is, though, whether it be because of ever-changing time zones and jet lag or whether it's down to ultra-bright mornings (even when it's cloudy), we seem to have no trouble waking early. There's definitely something in the air here! Manda woke at 5am, and while I tried to keep sleeping for longer, I found it difficult. Normally you'd have to drag me kicking and screaming into the land of the living before 7am.
The coach was taking us to a place called The Beachouse on the Coral Coast. This place had been recommended by STA Travel and also came highly recommended by other people we had met in Nadi Bay Hotel. The coach took about two and a half hours to get us to our destination, taking us through miles of verdant scenery.
Along the way I noticed some oddities that are worth sharing. Oddity number one - a sign that proudly announced: "Chicken Sale!". Oddity number two - a car, sat on someone's 'driveway' with a for sale sign in the rear window. If I thought seelling my car was difficult before I left, this was something else - the front of the car was completely missing. Not just an empy engine bay, but literally no front half. I don't think he'll have many takers. Oddity number three - big burly Fijian blokes wearing a flower behind one ear. This is very common, and I had seen it before, but somehow it was magnified during this journey just how common this was, and how weird it looked to these western eyes. After all, when a man puts a flower behind his ear normally it's just taking the piss: "Does it suit me?".
When we got to the Beachouse, we were led to our accommodation for the next five evenings. We had booked a room to ourself, but in the end, it was not quite so private - a hut divided into four units, we had one of the upstairs 'lofts' which was separated from the next one almost to the roof (there was a two-foot gap at the top so that, if desired, we could peer into next door). After the luxury of aircon in the last place, the fans would never match up. It was also hot, and there were many flies. Finally, the people in the adjoining loft were a couple of German girls whose idea of fun was talking incessently and loudly. Manda was dubious about the prospect of staying here for five nights. She was even less sure about the next place and what that might be like (where the electricity would not be on all night, thus not even a fan at night to keep cool). Paradise comes at a price - and in this case it's cool air and easy access to toilet facilities (down the stairs, across to another block, hope there's not a queue).
We took a walk over to the Coconut Café - the area where everyone congregates that has the great view over the ocean. It really is an idyllic spot, with palm trees lining the beach, including one tree that grows out from the ground almost horizontally and out across the beach (they have put it to good use by hanging a swing off it!). We took some time looking over the various excursions on offer and then I went for a dip in the ocean - the first time during this trip that I'd been able to get my mask and snorkel wet. The water was clear, but there was not a great deal to see - some colourful fish, but no coral (what was this place called again?). The reason there was not much to see was understandable - the coral reef is further out, and there is a sudden drop in depth. Like a sheer wall. As such, you can see waves crashing in far out to sea, and that's where it starts to get interesting. However, it's also where it starts to get dangerous, and there were numerous warnings around the Beachouse blocks warning people to stay clear of the strong currents that form in channels out near the reef. Regardless, it was a good place to swim, and on a clearer day it would no doubt be even better. If nothing else, you could get a great view of the Beachouse from the water, as this photo shows (or rather it would do if it weren't so tiny):
After my dip I joined Manda at one of the tables outside the café. We got chatting with a South African called Clint (I could have sworn he was a Kiwi at first). Jeanette also joined us at the table and then suddenly we were on our own again - there had been a mass exodus for the 4pm tea and scones ("You watch, everyone will come out of the woodwork at 4 o'clock," Clint had told us earlier). We followed suit and joined the queue for the freshly baked scones - 2 per person - margerine and strawberry jam optional.
Manda was feeling happier about this place having met some nice people and had a chance to take in the scenery down by the beach. The problem here, I think, is that everyone wants to tell their story, and the more dramatic the better; the more hardy they appear to make themselves, the more impressive it is. So, whenever people talk about being bitten by mozzies it sounds more like they were set upon overnight by some kind of flying shark ("Yeah, you'll get eaten alive up on the islands!"). Impressive it is not, it just makes Manda worry about whether she's gonna wake up with patterned arms and legs (that pattern being red polka dot).
In the evening, after a brief rest in the cabin loft, we went back out to the beach-side café and had a couple of drinks over a game of cards. I am useless at remembering games, and can only ever recall the rules to 'shithead'. Trouble is, everyone seems to have their own variations on the rules, which usually causes some kind of argument at a crucial point in the game! I learnt a new one too, called 'arsehole'. There's a theme going on here - new card games must have offensive names. Well, apart from the one other game I learnt - 'Dave'. That's not really offensive (unless you know any idiots called Dave in which case you may beg to differ).
We picked up a couple of free anti-mosquito incense coils then headed back for a sleep. [And next morning, both of us woke up without a single bite!]