FIJI, CHAPTER 1: The Mists of Beqa

I should have written sooner about Fiji but every time I thought about it, the nausea came. I didn’t think it was possible to have such a strong physical reaction to the mention of a popular Pacific paradise. *In breath* Fiji *out breath*…so far, so good. I’ll try to remember it as best as I can without gagging. 

My adventure began like any other…by slapping a scopolamine patch on the back of my ear the night before my departure. (This time, however, I washed my hands vigorously afterward so as not to blind myself a la Galapagos). I called Brad over my concerns about Cyclone Josie passing over Nadi, where the main airport was located on Viti Levu. People died, roads were closed, towns flooded. Brad’s only response was that we were “all clear.” I persisted with more questions, and he repeated, “I’ve been told it’s all clear.” When a man says anything is “all clear” when he clearly has no idea, I should know by now to run away. But, I had two choices:  1.) Lose my money and for sure not get to dive, or 2.) Try to get my money’s worth and maybe get to dive.

I boarded the Fiji Airways flight at LAX and plopped down in an aisle seat next to a little, ancient, wrinkled Fijian man. At first, I thought I had hit a gold mine: Nice old man would sleep the whole time, and the man in front of me was preparing to sleep, too. I popped my ear buds in and scrolled through the movie options on the screen attached to the seat in front of me. Suddenly, the man in front of me dropped his seat back until the screen I was watching hit my lap. I sat in shock, puzzled that seats still had that capability. The little old Fijian man next to me (Joe) turned to me and laughed, “So much for a movie. But, you can talk to me since I don’t watch movies anyway.” I cracked a surprised smile, “Oh, great!” 

Joe said he was going home to Suva on Viti Levu. He is a janitor who lives in Houston, Texas. He is already married, he patiently explained; otherwise, he confided that he would marry me, but his little brother is 40 years old and owns a shop in Suva–and I could marry him instead. He would take me to Savusavu, his favorite place, and we would eat pickled mangoes on the beach. He said no matter what I should not go to Beqa because there were big sharks there. I laughed and said “good.” He said instead I should go to a big white sand beach in Sigatoka. He would take me there as well. He was so happy.

I realized I had 12 hours to kill, and I should learn as much as I could from Joe, since I clearly was not prepared. I received a crash course in the Fijian, Hindi, and Sikh languages. I learned how to pronounce all of the names of the islands. He asked me, “Do you want to know how to say, ‘Will you marry me?’” I said, “Sure.” He said slowly, “na beka ni o vakamautaki au. Now, you repeat it back to me.” “Oh, okay, that’s a tough one…na beka ni o vakamautaki au.” A huge smile crept across his face and he laughed, “Yes!” I realized my error as he accepted my butchered proposal, “No! I mean, Sega!” He continued to giggle and told me to work on my pronunciation while he slept. 

Suddenly, a man’s head appeared at my feet. I was instantaneously transported back to a dive boat off of Maui when I watched my friend perform CPR on a man for 2 hours. This time I was ready. No one on the plane acknowledged the fallen man. I unbuckled and kneeled over him checking for his pulse. No, not again. A man poked his head out from a few seats behind me and assured me, “He’s just drunk.” All clear, yeah, right. I called for help and prepared to perform CPR. A flight attendant ran up to him with an oxygen kit and told me to go get his wife and find out if he needed any medication. I ran up the dark aisle and found his wife. I shook her for what seemed like an awkward amount of time before she finally woke up. “Ma’am!” I yelled, “Your husband has fallen! Is he on medication?” She sleepily rummaged through his bag. I led his wife to him as the flight attendants propped him up in my seat. He was alive and breathing oxygen on his own. I went back to his seat, and then it came—the nausea.

I couldn’t shake my memory of the dead man on the Maui dive boat. Every time I closed my eyes, I was right back there again hurling my guts out. I went to the back of the plane with my credit card in hand, and I asked a young Fijian flight attendant for some wine. He shooed my hand away, “No, you helped us.” He poured me a large glass and said, “vinaka” (thank you). I could feel my face turn red; my hands shook, and my eyes welled up. He said old people pass out all of the time on these flights. He finds them in the aisles because they can’t handle the altitude. He continued to bring me wine; even though I insisted he take my credit card, he refused it. “Vinaka,” he smiled. “Binaca,” I smiled back before I realized I was calling the young man the same name as a ‘refreshing spray that blasts away bad breath.’

Thoroughly toasted, but much calmer, I stumbled off the plane and joined my dive group. I met all thirty plus of them and instantly forgot their names. There were a few people that I recognized…one of my dive instructors (Barry) and his wife (Joan), a couple from my previous trip, (Nick) and (Jennifer), a single man (Tim)–who was already following my every move–and Brad, of course. It was pouring down rain in Nadi, as we waited for our bus to take us to the ferry at Pacific Harbour near Suva on the opposite side of the island. From the bus window, I first noticed how electric green Nadi was. The forests and grass were not manicured, but absolutely wild and tangled together. There were endless palm trees that grew tall every which way and all smashed into each other.

There was so…much…land. Then, I noticed how wet it all was. Every rickety wood bridge we crossed was over rushing rivers exploding into the ocean. I tried not to think about what would happen if the bus accidentally slipped a tire over the edge of the bare and side-less bridges. When we passed by the first village, I could have sworn I saw a burning body on a funeral pyre, and people gathered around it. I shook my head and blamed the wine. I noted the Hindu temples, Sikh mosques, and Christian churches, one after the other and often right next door to each other.

The Fijians were in the familiar process of rebuilding their homes; these concrete boxes and cinder blocks looked as though they were intentionally built with the idea of being knocked down, so that they would be easier to prop back up. After an hour on the bumpy and windy 1980s-Road-to-Hana-esque highway, my nausea grew worse, and I stuck my face out of the window. Suddenly, the bus stopped in Sigatoka in front of a store where its workers were all singing and playing music. We shuffled off the bus and herded into the store. I was on the hunt for food but saw only curry signs. Airport security confiscated my emergency bag of beef jerky, and I realized I was in trouble. Curry didn’t agree with my stomach, and the smell of it exacerbated my nausea. I shopped instead and learned all about Fijian cannibalism, which was starting to make peculiar sense. Between my lack of sleep and hungry stomach, I decided it was a good idea to buy a large mask that cannibals wore to terrify their enemies. Just in case. 

Back on the bus, we continued the increasingly bumpy, windy, painfully slow journey to the harbor. Another few hours of my head sailing out of the window as I focused on the jungle, and we arrived at the Pearl Resort. Separated into groups, we boarded the 3 dive boats. Fittingly, I was placed on the Beqa Bull Shark boat. I joined Nick and Jennifer on the top deck as we waited for our luggage to load. A staff member handed us each cards to fill out with our lunch and dinner options for the day. We all joked whether we were more tired or hungry. As the boats took off into the mysterious gray mist, I enjoyed the rain battering against my face. All that mattered was that I was back on the ocean. 

During the two hour trip and finally free from the mist, the 3 dive boats raced each other towards Beqa Island. In the middle of the channel, my nausea returned, and I skittered down the ladder and sat on a bench towards the back of the boat. “I’m just focusing,” I mumbled in answer to worried looks of the other divers. I focused on the horizon, and a few other divers tried to distract me from getting sick. It worked. An hour later, we arrived at the emerald waters of Beqa. The hotel staff was singing and playing music on the beach. They ushered us to the dining room, and we shuffled to the tables.

Once I received my room key (an actual key), I scampered off to find my bure (hut), so I could take a sorely-needed hot shower. My bure was pretty far from the dining room, but it faced the ocean: I had my own backyard pool and access to the beach at low tide. There was a living room and another bedroom with a big bed and a bathroom with a shower window that stretched from floor to ceiling. It…was…awesome. Feeling better after my shower, I scampered back to the dining room to find a diver yelling at Brad. “This is not what you promised us! This place is terrible! The shower fluctuates between scalding hot and freezing cold! This is not what we paid for!” Brad offered him his room instead, and I didn’t see that diver again until the end of the trip.

After I ate lunch and signed up for the max number of dives possible, I walked back to my bure and realized just how isolated I was in such a remote island. Other than the hotel, which was made up of various sized huts spread out over some grounds, the rest of the island appeared to be an untouched, impenetrable jungle. It was just the hotel staff and us (and a few Australian families that arrived on their own). I had the ability to text off and on, but there was no TV, no access to Internet, and absolutely nothing on land to do. I stupidly failed to bring entertainment with me. The only escape was underwater, which was the one thing that I was prepared to do as the rain continued.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s