Swagman #2 – Expect Nothing, Accept Everything
The flight alone could prompt a rational person to change their mind about a visit to the South Pacific, and Australia happens to be one of the places that fits into the “You can’t get any farther before you start coming back” category. I decided the best way to deal with the journey was to make a brief stop in Nadi, Fiji. And even then the total traveling time was around 24 hours, not including the 16 hour time difference from EST.
After a six hour flight to Los Angeles from New York I had a five hour layover that I spent in the bar. It was obvious that everyone at the bar was preparing themselves for a long journey. For awhile I drank with a Kiwi who was on his way back from business in Portugal. After two beers he explained the New Zealand government to me, taught me which wine pairs best with each meal (it was his line of work), and told me about how he met his wife. A British man sitting a few stools down overheard the story and told us he was going to the Cook Islands before moving onto New Zealand so he asked some questions about the region.
Then, to my left, a man in a Hawaiian shirt began asking about New Zealand, he was from San Francisco and was on his way to snowboard in Queenstown with his sister, who was already there waiting for him. He asked how the Kiwi women felt about American men, and then confessed to me that didn’t understand why he was not having any luck with American women. Then he showed me a 3D picture of a naked woman. He had something green stuck in his teeth but I didn’t have the heart to tell him. So we all talked, and we drank.
None of us were on the same flight, but immediately upon finding my seat on the plane I had made friends with the woman sitting beside me. She was from California but loves New York and just happens to have a friend that had recently moved to the town I am from. We drank wine out of tiny airline glasses and discussed everything. When our dinner came she took one bite and pushed it away, disgusted, and I felt like a savage because I ate everything (Air New Zealand has good food) and most likely would have eaten hers if it was offered. But soon the lights were shut off on the plane, and everyone slipped into the dark silence that accompanies overnight flights.
I slept, and somewhere over the Pacific lost a day of my life. Small price to pay, of course, but strange nonetheless. We left Los Angeles around 8:30pm PST and arrived in Nadi, Fiji at 2:00am after a 12 hour flight. So I had slept through the night, but awoke to find out that I now had another night.
Sunset on the way back from South Sea Island.
Customs was simple, getting to the hostel was not. I had booked a room at the Horizon Beach Resort, which provides 24 hour airport pickup. When I found the shuttle driver though, he was confused and told me he didn’t think there was a room for me. He said the same thing to the dozen other backpackers who were all standing around confused. He broke everyone up into smaller groups and sent them off with different drivers, then took me, an Aussie named Colin and Scottish girl named Eleanor to Horizon. We arrived at 3:30, discovered we did in fact have rooms, and crashed for the night.
Up at 7:30 and downstairs everyone was congregating outside around picnic tables for the free breakfast, which was toast and coffee. Hostels can be intimidating for any first time traveler, especially if you are alone. But despite any initial assumptions that everyone knows each other, the truth is that everyone is in the same boat and are all very open to meeting new people. I saw a group of guys laughing and joking in the manner of old dear friends, only to later find out that they had only met that morning. This is just the way it goes – no matter where you are in the world, no matter who you are, there are a group of people who despite different nationalities and cultures have the same want and love of travel and are open and kind to everyone.
Within an hour I had met six other travelers from all over who were passing through Fiji on their way to or from Australia and New Zealand. I found out where to go in any city I could think of, where to eat, the best internet cafe to use. Everyone sat around and joked and laughed and had different accents and talked about where they had been, where they were going, and how long they had been on the road. Their was a couple in their 40s traveling with their young son. There was a young English couple, the woman was six months pregnant.
George and Acetera, wonderful Horizon Beach Resort employee and kava connection.
And the staff were terrific, like foster parents. We could joke with them and ask them advice about the Island and they fed us and made us kava, a traditional root that is ground up and mixed with water. Everyone sits around a large wooden bowl full of the brown liquid and when it’s your turn you clap once, say “bula”, drink a small bowl of it all at once, then clap three times. After four or five bowls you slow down to Fiji time, as they say, and all is well with the world.
And this is how it went for three days in Fiji – everyone meets, pairs up, hangs out and talks. I explored the outer Islands with two guys from California who were on their way to Melbourne to study, we will meet up in a few months when I am there. Two Aussies met at the hostel and are going to sail to New Zealand in a month. Two girls, one British and one Swedish, met in Thailand and are traveling together in Fiji for a month. I, unfortunately, had to eventually move on. I caught a taxi with a nice young English couple who insisted I give them no money for the ride to the airport. We shared lunch and talked and boarded the same flight to New Zealand, parted ways there, and I continued on to Sydney where Joe was waiting for me at the airport.
“Isn’t this great?” he asked.