Prologue: This post is being written (off of notes I took during my adventure) from the safety of my home in California with forced air heat, running water, electricity, internet, no bugs…….all those things we take for granted. When you wish to be disconnected from the world and “find yourself”, be careful of what you wish! Read through and then enjoy (???) the video on YouTube available here or directly on YouTube. And don’t worry…my blog does not detail out EVERY day in Fiji; Just the days before and shortly after Winston hit…read on and please leave comments and ideas!
P.S. Tickets are REALLY cheap to Fiji right now! Under $1,000 round Trip Fiji Airways LAX to Nadi, Fiji!!!!!!
Twenty One Days in Fiji 2016
I have never been to Fiji nor had I imagined I would ever actually have a chance to go there. I am excited and anxious about the twenty-one days glorious days I’d be spending on this large island in the South Pacific. A chance to be nine thousand miles away from any responsibilities of my home life seemed very attractive to me. This blog documents my journey and adventure in a very foreign land. My friend Lara and her husband Marcus (known as Pinto here in Fiji), who’s house I’m staying at, sent me long emails detailing everything from who the people are to help me to what to wear when in town or at a village. The emails were both helpful and entertaining. Here are some snippets of her emails:
We would be delighted to have you. It IS raining a lot this week…for the record… Love you. Thank your whole family for trusting you with us, and just come when it is right for you. You can stay as long as you like.
yes, you are safe. The dog sees to it, but there’s no one that does that kind of ill here. The worst behavior has been break ins to steal phones and booze. And then they sit there and drink it.
I would not worry about it. A stern word from a female white …scary. Also, I don’t think they like our wind chimes. Noisy and odd….
No problems here. Relax and enjoy yourself. Keep a sulu handy to wrap up in in case the workers show up.
Oh, and geckos. Little peckers. They chirp and eat all your fruit. We store it in the
microwave. Styrofoam is our friend. We’ll leave a cooler in the house under the kitchen table next to the fridge. Or not if we screw up. Coolers make nice suitcases…cost a bit more because of their size, but impossible to buy here without ransoming your grandchildren.
Gotta go. Save these messages and print them out. Can’t always rely on internet in Fiji. Thailand, yes, Fiji, not so much.
Vinaka wakalevu, Barbara. Here’s my note I wrote while the internet was down.
Seems you may have a visitor to the smaller house. My husband invited a nice lady from Croatia to visit. Three neighbors could think she’s a squatter. Maybe I will get him to write the locals…
K bye love you.
I adore Lara and Marcus (Pinto); Really good people. So, having gotten a bit of a scoop on the situation I booked my tickets on Fiji Airlines and packed my bag, mostly with can goods, dried meat for Lara and Pinto, and art supplies (I will post a later blog on what to pack when going to Fiji during their summer months and Tips for getting through a Category 5 Cyclone).
Day One 2/17/16 Wednesday
The plane ticket was not as expensive as I thought at $1,362 round trip from Los Angeles non-stop to Nadi (pronounced Nandy like candy), Fiji and including the connecting flight to Venua Levu. Believe me you will get to know the person next to you and exchange emails etc. by the time the 11 hour flight is over. I was fortunate enough to be in a two seater row and next to a nice young man native to Fiji.
What a quick layover in Nadi! Got my bags off plane within 15 minutes, exchanged my US dollars for Fijian dollars, and then I heard my name being called over the inter-com. OH SHIT (that is a much nicer word than what really came out of my mouth) !!! Security whisked me through and then I had to run the 200 meter dash with all my luggage to catch the Twin Otter plane leaving in just 10 minutes for Vanua Levu. In the almost pouring rain I made my way to the tiny plane. Luckily I have no problem with small planes. The co-pilot came out of the cockpit to give his two second safety briefing to all five of us on board. And within ten more minutes we were whisking through the sky with only a peak here and there of the aqua blue water and many verdant islands below.
As I peered out the window I caught eye of where we were landing in Savusavu. Nothing more than a grassy lot with a little bit of pavement down the middle. The “terminal” was a little white shack. What more do you need?? And such a smooth landing!! I would soon find that everything in Fiji is simple.
Savusavu Air Strip
Getting out of the Twin Otter, I was hit by humidity, heat, and big mosquitos all at the same time. Bula! How bad can it be? I am in FIJI!!!! As I sat and waited for my ride, a nice Fijian native in uniform sat next me and started up a conversation as if we were long time friends. He was a fireman for the airport – I am guessing NOT too busy. It winds up he has a friend that lives in Atascadero, which happens to be in the same county I live in. Wow! Talk about small world. Liz (Lara’s friend) came on time. My plane just happened to be 20 minutes early! The Fireman and Liz had a good laugh when I went to go get in on the right side of the car……yep, that’s the driver side.
Savusavu Open Market
Liz gave me a lift into Savusavu for a quick tour, like blink of an eye quick. She told me which markets to shop at, what restaurants are good and bad, and the etiquette around villagers. My brain was still a day behind, but I guessed I would figure out what to do and where to go within 3 weeks. Before I got my groceries we went to check out a little craft and local wares fair on the street for the incoming cruise ship visitors. Last stop was a latte at the Copra Shed, a popular hangout for “Yachties” – people who cruise in on their yachts, and “ex-pats” now calling Fiji their home. As I went to take my Tuesday pills I then realized I literally flew by Tuesday and was on Wednesday pills! What a mind trip!
What day is it????
The talk around town seem to be the tropical storm forming up and getting ready to hit the Fijian Islands by Saturday. I did not think too much about it other than I would need some supplies in case water and electricity was cut off for a “short time”.
Off to Lara and Pinto’s house in Oneva. Oneva is a little suburb of Savusavu about 6 miles in the hills and along the Hibiscus Highway. The house sits high on one of those hills and has a spectacular view that would be worth millions of dollars in other places around the world. Luckily I took pictures of the house and surrounding grounds before Mother Nature wreaked havoc on the island.
Lara and Pinto, location, location, location!! A very large house with thatch ceiling inside, wood beams, floors and walls. A very tropical feel to the house and million dollar view. Even with Pinto and Lara gone, I could sense the love and tranquility they experience with each other in their remote tropical paradise.
A bit of cleaning on arrival had to be done before I could settle in due to Lara and Pinto at this point had been gone over a month and there were a couple visitors Pinto and Lara were kind enough to allow to stay at the house before me. Also, there had been construction workers that had been working on a master bedroom/bathroom addition. Sawdust, trash, plumbing parts, wood, corrugated metal roofing was everywhere around the house. In my mind looking around I thought, “that all will be a big dangerous mess when the storm hits!”
View from Lara and Pinto’s place pre-Winston
Day Two 2/18/16 Thursday
I was woken by barking at the front porch door around 7am. And there was the pretty little neighborhood pooch, Feliz, who would be my companion and body guard every day on the island until I left Oneva. She and I decided to go for a walk on the beach.
The heavens were opening up on us, but Feliz and I enjoyed the cooling rain. Feliz enjoyed chasing the schools of fish in the shallow water and digging up crabs while I searched for seashells. The rest of the day was spent settling in and doing more cleaning.
Before the Storm
Feliz digging for crabs
Day Three 2/19/16 Friday
I received two calls from friends of Lara and Pinto’s warning me that the storm has formed into a category 5 cyclone approaching Vanua Levu by Saturday afternoon from the east. Yikes! Okay, it’s time to head into survival mode and prepare the house I am in as best to my abilities.
Into Savusavu I went for more supplies, water, food, and any more updates that I could get on the pending storm. I flagged down a taxi on the Hibiscus Highway and only paid one dollar. If you call a taxi it would have cost about twelve dollars. Since the unknown force of the storm was unknown, I figured I’d get all my shopping done for family gifts too. Who knows if any of the shops will still be standing by Saturday! Stopped at the Copra Shed and Yacht Club for breakfast and meeting of the minds with some locals about the approaching storm. The older natives said they have never heard of such a strong storm hitting the island in written history. Yep, just my luck!
Took some pictures of Savusavu so you could see what one of Vanua Levu’s busiest town looks like. Check out the boys uniform shirts! My grandson Ashton would love wearing those pink shirts! Apparently there is a huge problem with liquor in Fiji. Liquor is literally under lock and key.
Walking from Oneva to Savusavu
Savusavu, Vanua Levu, Fiji
Day Four 2/20/2016 Saturday
Today is THE day! I have no idea what I am in for as far as cyclones/hurricanes go, but I do know category five is baaaaad! Last night my new friend Kristina (from Croatia) came over to help me move all the heavy stuff in the house such as furniture, electronics, and such. Thank goodness!!! So, this morning I felt I had earned one trip down to the beach before it gets destroyed. I also wanted to try out my new GoPro camera. I still have not figured it all out, but it did take really clear videos (much better than my blinkity blink camera!) I have included the walk down from the house so you can see just how beautiful the area is by Lara and Pinto’s house (well, it was, and I’m sure will be again).
After all fun and games was done it was time to get serious. I pulled cushions, food, water, medical supplies, passport and money, and even the fire extinguisher (after making sure it was charged) into the bathroom. Bathroom seemed to be the safest place due to it being on side opposite the storm was to hit, and I could go to the bathroom if I needed to!!! I was definitely on a time crunch to get last minute things moved or covered in the house and outside. By 11am the wind started picking up rather dramatically. Never having been through a cyclone, but plenty of earthquakes, I assumed there would most likely be damage to the property and home. My goal…to make sure no damage came to me.
Filming what I could of the storm became my focus rather than cowering by the toilet in fear. Also, I am strangely calm amidst natural calamities. It’s human calamities that I cannot endure! Strangely enough, I thought to bring a book, postcards to write, and my laptop…like I was going to have just a jolly time in that bathroom while all hell broke loose outside. Now the cold beer…that was a great idea!
It’s 11:30 a.m. and I leave my cozy bathroom post to go check on the progress of the storm visually. I could already hear strange howling noises coming from what seemed to be overhead in the clouds. Peeking out carefully from the screen door at the front of the house, not daring to go outside for fear of being hit by some flying object, I took video of huge trees bending as if they were made of rubber. Oh Crap! I’m running back into the safety of my bathroom sanctuary! All this time I’m sweating like a pig (do pigs sweat???). I’m in for a long ride I think. And the storm has not officially even hit. Winston was due to make landfall on Vanua Levu by 12 noon. Originally the forecast called for 2 p.m. But, as Mother Nature often does, she changed her mind. In fact she did a 360 in direction. What was supposed to be hitting the front of the house (East), was now whaling against the back of the house (West).
I again zip out of the bathroom to the room where the night before Kristina and I thought would safely store electronics and other valuables. The door had slammed shut by the roaring wind now pouring through every window, nook and cranny. With all my weight I threw my body against the door to open it ;Not an easy feat when all doors are swollen from the humidity and now “inside rain”! As I busted into the room I was thrown right into rain and wind blasting through the bedroom window and taking everything down inside. The pressure created by the storm made it difficult enough to breathe, but 200 mile plus wind and rain knocked me right on my rump. “I…must…move…all this ….stuff..!!!!!!” I shoved and pulled stuff to the bedroom on the other side house while the structure shook as if an 8.o earthquake was occurring. Then I ran for my bathroom shelter just before……..
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