When you see this photo you think of absolute paradise, pristine sandy beaches, beautiful clear blue sea and friendly locals shouting “Bula” (Hello) in Fijian.
Unfortunately my Fijian experience was far from heaven. Back in 2009 I was living in Australia and was able to easily visit the South Pacific islands. I’d already been to Tonga and Samoa but probably the most famous island is Fiji, so before I came back to the UK I wanted to make one final trip to the beautiful South Pacific island.
After finding an extremely good deal via Expedia I immediately booked and started to get really excited about the prospect of visiting the “friendly islands”.
My journey had only just begun when a problem occurred. I had arrived at the airport, but too late, though not through my own fault. I hadn’t been informed that the flight time had been changed due to daylight savings, therefore Expedia were legally required to put me up in a hotel and transfer me for free to the flight the next day. Although I was relieved I’d not booked with a budget airline, this was a considerable inconvenience as I’d lost a day of my holiday.
At the time the airline was called Air Pacific, although recently this has now been changed to Fiji Airways. I was quite amazed a 747 was flying the route, although I understand this would then go onto the U.S.
When researching in guidebooks and online, it became obvious that there wasn’t much to do or see in the capital Suva, so I decided I would look for a nearby alternative. I came across a quirky small town called Lautoka, famous for it’s Sugar Mill and Highlands nearby it looked like a great friendly place to stay.
My hotel, the Tanoa Waterfront Hotel, did exactly as it says on the tin. It was just a short walk from the centre of town and was opposite the “beach”. When you’re in the South Pacific you must buy some of the local fresh fruit, I decided I wanted to go check out the local market, which was probably my favourite part of the whole trip.
In the South Pacific islands many people are genuinely friendly and will say hello whilst walking down the street and ask you where you are from and then simply say “Welcome”. This is how my conversation started after leaving the market I noticed a man walking directly next to me, after chatting for several minutes whilst walking, without realising I’d now stopped walking and was surrounded by three huge Fijian men.
Thankfully as I’d only planned to visit the market I only took a small amount of cash out with me. This was a smart move as all the men wanted was money, because I’d been shopping all they took was only worth about £3. As with many other Pacific islands, many men carry axes around with them, so it’s not a daunting feeling when you see this. However after I realised what they wanted, it then became a scary potential!!
It was the first time on my travels I’d ever encountered anything like it, and I’ve visited several war zones! I was quite shocked and scared from the ordeal but it certainly wasn’t the last negative surprise Fiji was going to throw at me.
Back in the early days of my travels I would regularly arrive at a Tourist Information centre and book all my tours whilst visiting the country.
One of the recommended day trips available was to spend the day at a local village and explore the community. This sounded like a great opportunity to see the “real Fiji”.
We were collected on time by the chief of the village, a huge man who’d scare the living daylights out of any bodybuilder, he must have been at least 6ft 5″!
As part of the tour, his family were making us lunch, prepared in the traditional way and laid out on traditional tapa maps, these are famous all over the South Pacific.
After lunch we were told that his children would take us for a walk up in to the highlands for fantastic views. After about half an hour every one of the chief’s six small children had disappeared, thankfully I wasn’t alone, I was with a fellow Brit who I didn’t know before the tour. It was at this point where we realised we’d been deserted in the middle of nowhere!!!
The scariest thought what on earth do we do now?
Somehow we managed to find our way back to the village, by this point fed up, hot and concerned at what had happened, we confronted the villagers. The chief apparently had “other business to attend to” and wasn’t available anymore. This did not go down well with neither me or the other tourist, it’s safe to say you do not cross a Scottish woman who’s angry!
We demanded the chief return to his village, collect us and return us to our hotels as we had paid for. When he arrived he was extremely angry. We thought this was very odd given that he had abandoned us in the middle of nowhere. However it later became apparent that it’s the most disrespectful thing you can do to speak down to a chief, so he’d probably never experienced it before!
After eventually being returned to my hotel a mere four hours later, I decided to write an email to the tourism board of Fiji complaining about what had happened.
Before you visit paradise, make sure you’ve read up on the history of the island as Fiji is not all it’s cracked up to be!
If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.