8th May, 2017 – 13th May, 2017
“When I look at you I can feel it. I look at you and I am home.” Dory (Finding Nemo)
I landed in Nadi, Fiji’s airport city and entered the long, snaking immigration queue with a huge grin plastered on my face. Why, you may ask, would the thought of queuing in uncomfortable, humid heat for many minutes on end make me smile? The answer lies in the infectious good nature and positivity which forms the basis of the Fijian culture. As we stepped off the plane we were greeted with a hail of “bula” (hello) from every direction, as every staff member smiled at our arrival. We stepped through the doors of the terminal and were greeted by a three man band playing uplifting Fijian acoustic music. I felt like I had arrived home and it was with some sense of embarrassment that Chris kept me company in the queue as I swayed to the music and grinned at him like a loon!
Our first stop for the night was Nadi (pronounced Nandi) on Viti Levu (one of two largest islands, the second being Vanua Levu, further East). This is one of only three Fijian cities (the others being Suva, the capital, and Lautoka) and despite its draws for other tourists, it was not the ‘Fiji’ that Chris and I had come to see. My overall impression may be rather biased against it, but it is hard to reconcile my previous experiences of authentic Fijian paradise with the urbanised, McDonalds-owning Nadi. This lack of authenticity is mainly due to its sole purpose as being the airport city, and it is therefore set up for the flow of in-coming and out-going tourists.
We therefore set off the next day to Suva, where Chris had spent a month during his medical elective, but where I had never been. After a long bus ride, we arrived in busy Suva and caught a taxi to the Holiday Inn (one of the nicest hotels in Suva, which accommodation wise offers classy hotels, or backpacker dives). The front desk was struggling to find our booking, and I left Chris to sort it out while I popped to the loo. When I returned to the front desk, Chris was gone, but the receptionist told me with a sympathetic look that Chris had managed to book us in for the month of March, not May. She also warned me that Chris had gone white when they told him. NIGHTMARE. I rounded the corner to find Chris sat in a bar chair with his head in hands and a panicked look on his face. It was then that I suggested it might be time for a beer. As I had a look at the menu, Chris returned to the front desk to see if their sympathy would extend so far as to help him out with another room. Several minutes later, Chris returned looking relieved and told me that upon explaining that we were here to celebrate our 4 year anniversary and that we met in Fiji (both true), they relented and let us have a room at a discount!
Our relief however, was short lived, and later that very evening we heard news of the possibility of an impending cyclone (named Ella). This would potentially ruin our plans as it was due to hit the straight between Viti and Vanua Levu on the very day we had planned to cross over via ferry to Savusavu. We therefore spent much of the following day researching forecasts online and attempting to find out any news from the ferry company. Unsurprisingly, they replied to our queries with “we will wait and see”. With this, we decided to do as the Fijians do and tried to chill out (difficult for the un-spontaneous, spreadsheet fanatic travellers that we are). Luckily we had a delicious meal of Japanese teppanyaki that evening to take our minds off things. A new experience for me, this is where the chef cooks your food in front of you with much fanfare and entertainment. If you ever get a chance to visit one of these restaurants I would fully recommend it.
The next morning, I awoke with much excitement because it was our 4 year anniversary, and we were in Fiji, the country where we met. I was overwhelmed by how lucky I was to be in this situation. After breakfast, Chris and I headed out for a walk. Chris had a plan that was based on vague memories from when he was here 4 years ago. He was determined that if we walked along the embanked coast for long enough we would come to a lovely little beach. Although I was sure that if we walked for LONG enough, this would indeed become true, the blisters forming under my flip-flops led me to make tentative complaints after fifteen or so minutes of fruitless walking. It was with a sense of resignation that Chris eventually gave in and gallantly flagged me down a taxi so we could return to the Holiday Inn and I could change into my trainers.
After the re-start, with a sense of déjà vu we headed out of the rotating doors once again and Chris decided we could walk to the botanical gardens, in the middle of which nestles the Fiji Museum. Being a history graduate, I was keen straight away! As we walked down the garden path towards the museum I pointed out the Fijian workman taking a nap in the gazebo – Fijians are world class at taking things slow, and napping. The museum was fantastic, although I would recommend to them to advertise the different sections more effectively. You enter into one large room and learn about the fishing culture and handmade boats. While this is interesting, the gem of the museum is actually unsigned, through the doors to the back of the gift and souvenir shop! Here they had many displays on the history of Fijians, including political issues and cultural artefacts.
By the time we had absorbed all the information the museum had to offer, we were both a bit peckish so headed to the café to grab a smoothie each. Here, looking out from the veranda I laughed when all of a sudden the rain came plummeting down. We sat and watched it for a while, marvelling at the density of water of which only tropical islands are capable. I suggested we “learn to dance in the rain” and run back through it to our hotel but Chris insisted we wait it out. Eventually it lessened and Chris acquiesced. We headed out into the drizzle and I followed him across the grass. It was here that Chris found a secluded spot of the garden and got down on one knee to propose to me. With tears in my eyes and a grin on my face, I of course said yes.
As we walked out of the gardens, newly engaged, Chris explained to me about his various ruined plans throughout the morning, much to my amusement. The secluded beach was Chris’ first choice of proposal location; however I had clearly and truly, put my foot in it and ruined that option! His second option was going to be the gazebo in the garden, and he explained that he only just managed to contain his frustration when the napping Fijian ruined that plan. The rain had almost stopped his third choice, but he defended his decision to go ahead with it anyway on the basis that “a little bit of rain isn’t going to stop me wanting to spend the rest of my life with you, so why should I let it stop me proposing”. Safe to say that I spent the rest of the day walking on clouds and we had a delightful couple of hours later that evening (when morning had begun in the UK) ringing friends and family with our news. I will say that due to Chris’ excellent year long planning and the fact that he had asked permission from my Dad, Mum and Twin, that none of my family were overly surprised!
Fortune continued to smile on us, as a few days later the cyclone had changed direction and we were safe to get on our 16 hour, overnight ferry (how delightful). We therefore waved goodbye to Suva and headed off to Savusavu (on Vanua Levu) with much excitement to begin our tour of more remote Fiji, and to head even closer to the island where we met.