I woke in the night to the sounds of a deluge of Biblical proportions; I thought something dreadful was happening as the water was making a hell of a racket, like fire hoses.
Carefully I opened the door to my room and looked into the big 4-storey courtyard that formed the inner part of the hotel building.
It was raining, not in a small way, more like a million Elephants, who, on drinking 473 pints of Lager each, had decided to use the hotel as a piss-pot.
It was hammering down, the heat from outside hit me like a wet dog as I ventured out of the air conditioned luxury of my mouldering room to take in this spectacular display of nature in the raw….and suddenly realised that I was in the raw too, what deep trauma might have been inflicted on the local female population were they to catch a glimpse of this naked white dude?
Fearing the therapy bill I might get slapped with I retreated into my room and fell asleep musing on the synchronicity of numerology, here I was, time-served a.netter and they give me room 320…….being an Andy I was toying with the idea of signing my bar tabs “A320” when sleep overcame me once more.
In the midst of some random dreams a terrible noise ripped through my consciousness once more…..WTF????? ….it was my alarm….07:30, time to face the day.
I wasn’t required until 14:30 so had the morning to myself…I threw open the windows and my glasses fogged over as the humid morning slipped through the opening and slapped me about the face with all the vigour one would expect from a new day.
I looked up and down the street,
breathed in the warm scented air and decided that a big, fat breakfast was needed to get me fit for the walk into Suva.
Bacon, eggs, fruit, juice, toast and a drink of hot vegemite had me sweating with the effort of it all, this meant a bit of a lie down was in order but after a 15 min power nap I was on my way down, in the small and rather random lift, to head out into the great unknown, armed with only a photocopied, hand-drawn map of Suva Central, a fist full of dollars and a bottle of water…….
Walking down into Suva
I became immediately acquainted with the state of the roads, many potholes and broken bits to contend with, this accounted for the seemingly random courses steered by the many taxis to be seen careering about the roads.
But this was Sunday morning and all God’s children were in church, being the spawn of Satan I had a free pass and Suva almost to myself....myself and the rest of the sinners that is.
I was looking for a particular restaurant in Caernarvon Rd, the famous “Old Mill Cottage” does the best breakfasts in Fiji but I couldn’t find it, I did however find a shocking amount of rubbish,
not just in this street but all around and it dismayed me to find the darker side of what is a popular holiday destination.
Much is said about how the recent Coup has adversely affected tourism revenue but I think the problem is not just confined to politics. Nowadays tourists have an environmental conscience to a degree hitherto unseen, not only that but the whole “Lonely Planet” mindset has moved apace with the ageing and increased wealth of the backpackers of 20 years ago, they now like to look beyond the resort façade of smiley waiters and freshly groomed beaches, to “go native” and find the “local colour”.
But what a disappointment to find that the local colour is a mosaic of plastic bags, plastic bottles, smashed beer bottles and Styrofoam takeaway containers…sorry Fiji but on your tourism report-card I shall have to put (in red ink) “Must try harder…see me” because it is very sad to see these Island Paradises drowning in their own filth while well heeled tourists party away, singing the praises of the country, oblivious to the realities just around the corner.
Down by the waters edge, I was looking to find some relief from the heat and the litter, a Fijian Dude caught up with me, complaining that it was rather cool today (WTF?????) he proceeded to give me the low-down on Suva, pointed out some good places to eat and told me how to find the markets.
After about 10 mins we were walking through a secluded area and he suddenly gave me a present, a carved warrior mask with some decorated wooden horns, he quickly carved the names of Mrs Jafa and The Boy on the horns…….and then said I had to pay for them…..
Bugger! For once you let the cynical white man guard down and you get mugged….damn! I was pissed off with myself and angry at him for tricking me, I had nothing smaller than a 50FJD note on me but at the time it was worth it to feel safe again. I turned on my heel and walked straight back to the hotel in a mood as humid as the air around me, I growled at anyone who tried to talk to me and burned with embarrassment and foolishness.
To soothe my soul I took some pics of flowers along the way
and made friends with a couple of mongrel dogs who, sunning themselves on the porch, decided that going walkies with the pale grumpy dude would be a decent sort of mission.
By the time I had circumnavigated Suva I was in less of a funk and really hungry, just time to eat and shower before Ms Roko picked me up in her Ute to take me to the govt offices for ordeal by photocopier.
That night I upgraded my room to a Deluxe Suite on the 4th floor, the best rooms in the hotel and although only what you’d expect from an average motel room in NZ
, it was a considerable improvement on the previous room so I made my mark by leaving crap lying around all over the place…as us blokes are prone to do.
The rest of the week was a raging success, I used every training method known to man, pulled out all the stops and eventually got used to being called “Mr Andy” and treated with a degree of reverence, we even made the papers and the radio!!
At the end of day 5 there was a closing ceremony, I was presented with a Fiji Bitter “Stubby Cooler” and a loud “Bula Shirt”, they got my colour and my size right!
I was stoked and moved, training events are always a bit stressful, all one’s insecurities and fears have a habit of surfacing to torture and taunt but even though I re-wrote each day the night before to take into account what I had learnt about the trainees and to ensure I gave them what they both wanted and needed, I managed to get through it all without any sleepless nights or undue worrying.
High point for me though was the bush day, which I didn’t organise, I just sent a plan and my Fijian colleagues put it all together, so it was a bit of a holiday for me, rambling about in the jungle, swimming in forest pools beneath pure white waterfalls, sharing a laugh and a joke with the Fiji Posse…all good, all good mate.
I had the day to explore on the Saturday as the flights meant either a very early or a very late, departure from Nadi.
First stop was the “Old Mill Cottage” for a business breakfast with Ms Roko, (I found it eventually) and the food was everything it was cracked up to be….marvellous!
My mate Charlie didn’t turn up to show me around, he apparently got a flat tyre out in the bush on a caving trip and was stuck there for nearly 48 hours (these things happen) so I spent a few hours sitting out on the big rock breakwater at Suva Point (built during WW2 to provide a flat area for flying boats to take off and land) getting all Zen with the bright green crabs, watching the local fishermen and doing nothing in particular.
I walked most of the way back to the hotel but when I felt myself turning into powder with dehydration, caught one of the many and very cheap cabs back to the hotel where I bumped into another Fijian member of our organisation, he took me back out for a sight-seeing trip, we saw Parliament House,
fishing boats, an old run-down hotel, now an Army Barracks as I found out just after I had taken this pic,
I told my mate to “Drive and keep driving, I’m not sure if what I just did is allowed and someone saw me do it!”
So we went to see a local Rugby match for a while
Saw some nice things
It was good to see the positive side of Suva before going back to the hotel to shoot the breeze until Ms Roko came to take me to the airport.
The drive to Nausori was one of those bitter-sweet times,
I had fallen in love with the Fijian people, I had come to accept the litter and even acclimatised to the heat, having slept the last two nights without the aircon running but I was ready to go home, Sydney, Nelson, Christchurch and Fiji, all in a 3 week period had me dreaming of home cooking, no matter how good the restaurant, mass produced food just doesn’t cut it. I had phoned Mrs Jafa the previous night and declared a need for one of her home-made meat pies on my return, she graciously decided to comply, I now had the motivation I needed not to miss my flight out.
A final chat with Ms Roko and I strolled out into the night to my ATR, where, due to the following day being Mother’s Day (this is a big deal in Fiji) I found I was one of only 4 pax on the flight!
So getting sorted to take off took seconds, I spent the flight chatting with the older of the two FA
’s, it turned out she had taken part in our programme back in the 80’s, so we had a good chat on the 20 min flight.
We crossed the NAN
runway at about 3 or 4 thousand feet, below I could see one the Air Pac 747’s on approach, it looked rather large from that height, all flashing lights and stuff.
Banking to the left over the water I saw a brightly festooned restaurant ship and a resort or two, the bures (cottages) sitting on stilts over the water, ring fenced by a breakwater to keep it all smooth for the guests.
And then it was back into the heat and bustle of NAN
, there were a lot of people checking in for LAX
the check-in for NZ47 to AKL
was open so I joined the queue behind a shifty looking man who seemed to have developed a knack for both appearing to be in a hurry, yet holding the queue up at the same time, he did this by standing really close to the person behind him, a long way from the person in front of him and his body positioned such that he didn’t appear to be in the line, enhanced by the fact that he was looking everywhere except in the direction of the check-in desk. I decided he was a bit loopy and tried to pass him and join the line but he stepped across me to block me…I thought there and then that he a: drove a BMW b: had an “important job” and c: was a bit of a wannabe Alpha Male….but without the necessary balls and security to be a proper one.
I christened him “Mr Nearly Queueing” and consigned him to a.net history as a grade 1 tosser.
My turn at the desk came after watching Mr Nearly Queueing complete his formalities while not actually standing in front of the counter, he stood to the side and handed his paperwork over like he was expecting a relay baton and was soooooo important he was in a hurry (for a flight that didn’t leave for 3 hours), he shot me a strange look as he strolled slowly away from the desk…….you meet some random geezers in airports, you really do.
The desk guy asked me for 50FJD excess baggage…”What? I asked, “it was only 35 in AKL
and I now have less stuff”.
He explained how Air Pac and Air NZ
calculate the fees differently and then said “But it doesn’t matter anyway as I’m waiving the charges”…choice!!! I added him to my “new best friend list” and skipped away to spend up my FJD’s in the duty-free shop.
On the way I had to pass through customs and an x-ray machine, the x-ray crew where really chatty and sweet, the customs guy treated me like a piece of dog-poo and I feared that maybe my shirt was causing offence but it was too late to do anything about that right now.
During the long wait for boarding I decided to convert my few remaining FJD’s into claimable expenses, I bought a last Fiji Bitter and a Spaghetti Bolognaise.
The food took ages and ages, I supped my beer, took a pic of a man who looked like a child-molester
But is probably an accountant really and noted the impressive scar on the cheek of another guy, drinking nearby, who looked like he could be Earnest Hemingway’s Rhino Hunting guide…steely blue eyes, tattooed forearms and the look of a dangerous man.
He would have difficulty being more dangerous than the Spag Boll, which was truly revolting and tasted like road kill mixed with a surfeit of tomato puree, I nearly gagged at the taste and left it on the table to inform the alleged chef of my displeasure.
After a while freshening up in the loos I braved a different food place to try the Steak Dianne Pie…yum, a lump of steak trimmed to fit a pie, with yummy sauce poured round it before being sealed with a lid of buttery pastry, even the loud American woman next to me, discussing her toilet issues, at that volume that seems to be peculiar to Menopausal American Females, couldn’t detract from my enjoyment of this pie from heaven.
As the last mouthful lingered around my tonsils the call to board through gate 3 came, I was off like a ferret up Fred Dibnah’s trousers, passport clamped in my teeth, duty free’s clinking like Marley’s Ghost out onto the walkway, eager to be in a 737 and homeward bound.
NZ47 starts in Rarotonga, and this a/c ZK
-NGI is one of the few NZ
737’s to have been refitted with the new and rather flash seats, I got caught by the FA
’s taking pics of them and they gave me that “Oh no! an a.nutter!!” look, I could imagine them mentally rehearsing the restraint procedure and phoning through to AKL
to keep a padded cell free.
It was pissing down by this time (rains a lot in Fiji but more so on the east side, Nadi is on the western “dry” side) and a bit blowy, the refitted 737 seemed to be dimly lit and very cosy, if a trifle cramped. 111 on board, back rows reserved for FA
’s (and a sick child) meant that we were pretty much stuck with our seats. I had an aisle set at the back, 21C, so was in a reasonable position.
Pushback came, we trundled out in the rain to the end of the runway, I have been through over 100 737 take offs but always NZ
domestic, none of the short run and away, this was a full flight with 3 times as much fuel on board, we had a long, long run and eventually rotated, struggling into the skies through dark and turbulence.
Food came round, I was not really hungry but the ice-Cream went down well, that and a new world Cab-Sav put me into a relaxed space but I was desperate to be alone, I had been with people far too much of late, I needed some personal space, I had an idea, I locked myself into the lav, leant over onto the sink and slipped into a semi-come, happy to be alone at last, even if only for a few minutes, no demands on my time or energy, solitude, cool air and tap to wash off the grime of travelling.
Conscious of my earlier “outing” as a bit of an a.nutter I decided to go back to my seat after about 8 mins, before anyone noticed I wasn’t there. The Cab Sav had kicked in and I was back in the land of nod, woken regularly by trollies hitting my knee and people barging into my head as I lolled about in a state best described as “Moribund Whale”.
After a while I was too awake to sleep and acutely aware of how uncomfortable a full 737 can be after a couple of hours, my neck hurt, my arse ached, my back was sore and I was unsure how I would be able to drive the 65kms home at half past 1 in the morning but hoping the cool temps of an AKL
night in May would revive me.
Presently “my special willy” (see Pt 1) told me that the descent into AKL
had started, even from the aisle I could see through the window, getting a bit of a shock to see we were actually right over my house as we crossed the East Coast on approach….cool that, always wanted to fly over my house!
It was a clear night in AKL
, the views were excellent, banking over the west coast now to line up for the runway, usually on a WLG
flight, the approach is much lower, so I got to see AKL
much as one sees other cities, from on high.
A bit of turbulence, a few lights in the distance, the reflection of gentle waves in Manukau Harbour and a lumpy landing brought this trip into its final act but at 01:15 it was a very short act, being last flight of the night it was all cakes and pies through the passport control, customs were very pleased that my souvenirs were all stamped to say they were properly treated against bugs and that I had cleaned my tramping boots, this inspection allows you to cut into the final x-ray line so I was outside the terminal in under 30 mins from docking with the airbridge.
Walking to the car in jandals, boardies and a loud tropical shirt I was expecting to feel freezing cold after the excesses of Fiji but no, it was a gentle, caressing breeze, just the right temperature for everything to feel like home again.
I crawled into bed at 02:30, Mrs Jafa didn’t stir but was that a faint smell of pie-making in the air?? Bless, that’s what I call a good woman!!
[Edited 2007-05-24 11:44:05]
We, the undersigned, do hereby consent.....