Be Careful What You Wish For – Tavewa, Fiji

Be Careful What You Wish For
Tavewa, Fiji

Having survived a year of backpacking in a two-dome tent around Australia, I’d journeyed onwards to Fiji, intending to spend a few weeks indulging in the Southern Pacific sun before surrendering myself to the harsh cold, working in a Colorado ski resort that winter. I was eager to escape the crowds and explore the 330 islands in the Fijian archipelago.

I was headed to Tavewa, 45 miles west of mainland Fiji, just one of 16 volcanic islands scattered across the Yasawa group. Bobbing along by boat I was excited by the different shades of shimmering blue in the crystal clear waters. The fact that the boat had inadequate seating, no life jackets and one small dysfunctional toilet was the furthest thing from my mind as we gently cruised the 5-hour voyage. The skipper sat dangerously close to the gas container cheerfully chain smoking away, steering us expertly around the islands, occasionally picking up and dropping off passengers.

At last jumping out onto dry land the sand felt hot beneath my bare feet. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as the palm trees swayed gently in the salty breeze. A friendly old man, his dark face weathered by wind, time and the scorching sun, greeted me. His family earned their living by providing bures (pronounces boo-rays), small wooden, straw roofed huts to wandering travelers.

I followed the man through the palm trees to a grassy spot where I quickly pitched my tent {it was a few dollars cheaper then a bures.} An idyllic afternoon was spent exploring the mystical caves of Saweilau, where the 80’s movie Blue Lagoon was filmed. Snorkeling the balmy waters with brightly colored fish, I made friends with fellow travelers from, Australia, New Zealand, England, Spain, North and South America, all looking for fun in the sun and traveling on a shoestring like myself.

We arrived back at sunset to the musical sounds of the old man energetically ringing a bell announcing dinner. A merry occasion with everyone gathered around two large well-worn wooden tables.

To my horror we were served cold, lumpy rice and bones. Someone to my left whispered that breakfast was cold rice with fruit and cold rice with bones was usually served for lunch then again at dinner. Being a vegetarian this was less than appealing. The island was remote with no vehicles, roads or stores and barely any electricity; I didn’t want to contemplate what kind of bones they might be. I was told you got what you were given and dinner was when the bell rang. I loved the fact that the island was so primitive. Everyone was in good spirits, sharing stories, grumbling about the food and planning the next day’s activities.

I felt blessed to be here, getting down to basics on this naturally beautiful island in the middle of nowhere. Sharing the experience with new friends from around the globe. With a happy heart and rumbling belly I flopped onto my air mattress, weary from the day’s excursions. My head was swimming with blissful thoughts, as the ocean surf sang me to sleep.

A few hours later I was rudely awoken by the pitter-patter of raindrops on my canvas ceiling. It soon transformed into an almighty downpour with the wind picking up, urgently tugging at my tent. Goose bumps prickled over my skin as icy water seeped in at my feet. I sat up, attempting to pull my blanket away from the steadily growing wet patch. I had rain dripping in from all angles, while the wild wind seemed determined to take my humble home.

Shivering uncontrollably in my wet blanket I reluctantly resigned myself to battle it out with the elements till morning.

A flash of light suddenly appeared outside the tent. I heard a heavily accented voice and poked my head out to investigate. There stood the old man who’d greeted me earlier, waving a flashlight. He had woken in the storm and sympathized with me stuck in my sodden tent. I was touched that he had ventured out from his own warm bed to help me. He led me to a bures, empty aside from a wooden bed adorned with mossie netting that swung as the gusty wind whistled through the badly fitted shutters. A mouse scurried across the floor, but at that point sharing a dry place with a mouse didn’t seem that bad.

I slept for about half an hour before sunlight filtered in on my tired eyes. Longing for a hot steamy shower I ventured out to the toilet block. The toilet wasn’t much more than a hole in the ground, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to find my shower was a pipe in the wall that dribbled cold salt water. I stumbled bleary eyed into the dining hut for my succulent meal of congealed rice. Neglecting the rice I opted for a cup of tea, the hot liquid boosting my wilted spirit. The other travelers had not fared too good either, so we all had a good old grumble that made us feel much better. After breakfast someone brought out a pack of cards, and so the day was whiled away playing games, chit chatting, waiting for the storm to pass.

Four days went by but the wind and rain were relentless. We had little protection from the elements as we restlessly waited in the drafty bures. The wind whipped through the palm trees, sending the waves hurtling towards the shore. With the seas being so rough, the little boat that had dropped me off had wisely not ventured out, leaving everyone stranded. With no means of communication or weather report, no one knew how long we would be stuck in this ‘tropical paradise.’ All my worldly belongings were wet with no means of drying them.

Now I must admit, I had often dreamed of being stranded on a tropical island. Living in tropical paradise, drinking coconut milk, dozing in the sun. Now my dream was coming true and I was cold, damp and very hungry. What is the saying; be careful what you wish for? The chilly, salt water shower wouldn’t have bothered me if the days had been spent under the sun’s warm rays, but now I was aching for a hot bubbly bath, a good meal and a dry comfy bed.

The Fijians attempted to keep the spirit up by saying optimistically, ‘Tomorrow the boat will come.’ I think they were secretly glad that spoilt Westerners were suffering the insufficiencies that are part of every day life for them.

On day number six the rain was having a well-earned rest and the wind was losing its gust. News came that a boat had been seen on the other side of Tavewa. A few of us scrambled across the island; through the hilly vegetation, slipping and sliding with our wet, heavy loads in the slick mud. Twenty minutes later, puffing and panting, we arrived but the boat had been and gone. Slightly relieved as I was apprehensive about boarding the boat in rough seas anyway, we stayed another night.

The next morning dawned cloudy but calm, as I eagerly scanned the shores. To my relief around noon I saw a boat chugging towards the island. Five hours later I thankfully set my feet on mainland Fiji, damp, tired and hungry. I checked into the nearest hotel and headed for the local pizzeria. The aroma of mozzarella and spices made my mouth water, as I filled my empty belly before returning to the comfort of a soft dry bed.

My whimsical dream of being stranded on a tropical island turned into a nightmare but was a great learning experience. The kindness of the Grandfather coming out in the storm, drenching himself by helping me is something that often comes to mind. I learnt to appreciate the simplicity of their lifestyle in what can be a beautiful paradise and not take food, shelter, hot water and electricity for granted. Be careful what you wish for, because it might just come true.

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