Thursday, 6 October 2011

LA to Fiji - days 33 - 36


Days #33 - #35
Get up, pack and get to SF airport for my flight to LA. I get to stop here for a couple of days before my flight to Fiji. Get through security pretty quickly and chill out with a beer and a Mexican snack before my flight. Flight to LA is an hour long!

Arrive at LAX, grab my stuff, and meet Jonathon who is waiting for me outside. I was looking forward to LA as I was gonna be hanging out with a couple of mates from London who I haven’t properly seen since 2005. Jon was the chef at The Ship in Soho, and since moving back, now works for Gordon Ramsey! Jon takes us to Santa Monica and on a tour of a few bars and restaurants. The great thing about knowing Jon is he knows all the chefs – so every place we eat over the next few days, we get lots of extra free food! Eventually, we hear from my other mate Jeff and his wife Nicole, who invites us over to theirs for dinner. This was an added bonus, so we headed over to Venice Beach and Jeffs apartment.

The weekend pretty much flys by. Many beers are drunk, and I crash over at Jeffs for two nights. We go to a couple of cool restaurants for lunch in Venice Beach – Larrys and Cabo Cantina (which does bottomless bloody marys!). Venice Beach is a bit of a shithole to be honest, and kinda reminds me of Camden. But the beach is huge, and when the sun comes out its awesome.

Jon takes me out in Hollywood one night, we see High Voltage Tattoo, but not the Hollywood sign, as its too foggy. Check out another amazing burger joint called Stout Burgers (where they suggest a specific beer for each burger), and get taken to a mad Mexican bar in downtown LA.

On the Saturday night, we all head to the legendary Troubadour to see D-Generation, a band that Jeff has been raving about for years. The venue is pretty cool, fairly small, big stage, nice low balcony, and the band are entertaining enough. They play that glammy pop punk type thing – kinda like Social Distortion doing Johnny Thunders via Hanoi Rocks. It’s a great show and its cool to see another band before I leave the States. After the show, we try and grab a beer, but its heaving with people in the surrounding area, which also appears to be populated with gay bars. We convince Jeff not to go for a beer in a bar packed with guys, that has big muscle dudes dancing in red trunks in the window!

The guys drop me off at the airport on the Sunday (which is well handy), and I’m off to Fiji. I had a brilliant time seeing these guys again, it definitely didn’t feel like we hadn’t seen each other for 6 years or so, and was great to catch up and chill out for a few days. I really appreciated the lifts and crash space offered by the guys, and made this part of the trip a total no-brainer.

Got to LAX, checked in, got through security and was disappointed to find LAX is a terrible airport. Theres no shops and 1 bar, and no free wifi (or any wifi that I can tell!).

It’s a 10 hour flight to Fiji, and Air Pacific are a pretty low key airline. The tvs in the seats are the old school, wait-till-the-film finishes before you can watch them again type sets, and the decent films are reserved for first class! Watch Doctor Who on my laptop, then sleep for the rest of the flight. Or as much as I can sleep, as the guy next to me and the girl behind me are the most annoying space invaders ever. The aussie girl behind me keeps sticking her feet so far under my seat I can see them sticking out the other side (so I keep treading on them by accident), and the retard next to me obviously felt one seat wasn’t enough, as he spent the entire flight on my side as well. The plonker.

Arrive in Fiji at 5.30am, absolutely knackered, and its already hot as hell as I get out the plane. Get through immigration and am met at arrivals by the Awesome Fiji people, who take me to Smugglers Cove on the coast in Nadi. Luckily the hotel has a room available, so I get some well needed rest once I check in. One thing that smacks you in the face on arrival is how friendly the Fijian people are. Its almost overpowering at first. Everyone says hello (whoever they are), all the hotel staff want to know your name and where you are from, and they all want to shake your hand. Coming from the UK, it feels very intrusive at first, but after a while you get used to it. I don’t miss much of the day while I’m sleeping, as its absolutely pissing with rain for the most part. The room is small, clean and basic, with decent aircon and a fairly nice bathroom.

Once I wake up, I have a shower and check stuff online before I go downstairs to see what Fiji has instore for me. I’m feeling pretty apprehensive at this point. I feel well out of my comfort zone and don’t really know what to expect for the next month. Maybe this is an exciting thing to be feeling? Into the unknown and all that. Its stopped raining by the eve and has brightened up, so I bite the bullet and head downstairs. I’m pleased to see the bar is now busy, theres plenty of people, the rugby is on and theres a nice chilled atmosphere. I take a seat by the veranda and am leapt on by the nearest waitress, who wants to know who I am, where I’m from etc. I get a beer and start updating my journal. By the end of the evening, I’ve had 5 beers (she keeps making me get another!), an awesome plate of fish’n’chips (I didn’t have much fish while I’ve been Stateside!), and met an aussie couple who had just finished their island trip. They told me a lot about where they went and what to expect, and I felt a lot happier about stuff by the time I got to bed.

Day #36
get up at 6am to catch my bus to Denerau Marina. Get to reception of the hotel and the place is FULL of backpackers. I’m earwigging while I’m waiting for the bus, and its apparent theres quite a few single travellers, who immediately start talking to whoever is nearest, and by the time they’ve got on the bus, have more or less decided to travel together. Its pretty intense. One girl from the hotel sits behind me and is rabbiting ten to the dozen to a kiwi girl shes just met. Turns out shes from Redhill, and I basically listen to her life story from the hotel to the port.

Get to Denerau and its utter chaos. The Awesome Fiji people try and explain what’s going on, but they can never seem to make up their minds on what’s properly happening. All I know is, theres a massive yellow boat on the port that I need to catch to the island. As I’m asking the AF person for more details, someone else comes up and is as lost as me. Random meet up #1 – this is Jenny, a girl I briefly bumped into at LAX while we were changing money. Turns out she’s as confused as me. Eventually we work out what’s going on, get checked in and wait to board the boat. Its about 7.30am now, and I’m sweating like a pig.

Get on the boat, and relax. Got a 5 hour trip to my island. Redhill Girl sits behind us with her gang of travellers. Throughout the course of the journey (which is incredible, even when the weather goes a bit shitty), me and Jenny meet various different people and find out whos going where. Jenny meets a French girl called Jeannie and they decide to go to the same islands together (they are doing the cheapo backpacker thing). I get my photo forcibly taken with a huge tattooed Japanese tourist who likes my tattoos! I stand on the front of the boat for an hour while its bashing through the sea, and pretend to be Leo Di Caprio from Titanic (or maybe its Kate Winslet).

As it turns out, you book where you are staying on the boat at the AF travel desk. This is where I realise my “highly recommended” Bula Pass is pretty much a waste of time (thanks STA!). The resorts I want to stay at are fully booked (or so they say to the AF people). Blue Lagoon was a place I definitely wanted to go to and was the main reason I came to Fiji. I manage to get my first and second nights booked only. I can’t get ANY bookings for Octopus Resort, and I’m gutted.

Eventually the weather clears up again and I’m being dropped off at Blue Lagoon with 6 chinese tourists and one Israeli guy. Met on the beach by the Fijian staff singing and playing guitars. The sea is crystal clear and its flippin HOT. Get checked in, dump my stuff in my wicked little room (massive double bed, ceiling fan), meet two of the happiest hotel staff ever (what’s your name, where are you from, nice tattoos!), and get told to go and get lunch. The restaurant/bar is awesome – a centre square bar surrounded by various sets of tables and chairs set on a sandy floor. Grab myself a coke (after the barman introduces himself and goes through the usual questions), and decide to sit down on the only populated table. Here goes…

Theres a fella about my age sitting opposite me, waiting for his lunch. We get chatting – he’s a scouser called John who’s on a 2 year trip. He’s 3 months in, having done 2 ½ months in the states. Like me, he had a similar type job and decided to call time on it. Has been in Blue Lagoon for two weeks, and he looks as chilled as anything. We chat about the states, he tells me what things you can do at BL, and what everyones like. He does a hill walk every morning and invites me to come along. Food turns up, and its AMAZING. Now, you know how much I hate food right? This place was incredible. If I could eat here forever, I would. I get a massive fish’n’chips (I couldn’t resist it again), and its one of the best meals I’ve had so far. After lunch, leave John to it and go wandering – up and down the beach. Every so often a random Fijian will shout “Bula!” at me, including a couple of little kids who want to know all about my tattoos. Its hilarious. At this point I’m paddling up and down the beachfront and the sea is flippin warm and there’s fish swimming around my feet (which is a bit freaky at first). Eventually decide I need to go and sort my stuff out, so come out of the sea and am confronted with a massive pet hate of mine – wet sandy feet. Decide theres nothing I can do about it (and the rooms have water bowls outside so you can wash your feet anyway) and get on with it. I don’t wear shoes again for the entire week.

Evening comes around, grab myself a Fiji Bitter, am grabbed by a Fijian and told I have to go to the welcome ceremony, which is just outside the bar on the sand. I’m the only one sitting there while three guys play Fijian songs on guitar and ukulele. Its kinda weird, but I quite like the music. Its like the most chilled out Ska ever. Eventually, the Chinese group are dragged over, along with some other randoms who wanna join in, and they get on with singing songs and making us drink Kava, their local drink. The Kava ceremony consists of a confusing amount of claps, weird sayings, more clapping, drinking the Kava, and more clapping. The Kava really isn’t good, like drinking muddy coconut water. Makes my stomach feel weird so don’t drink anymore. The band down the stuff like Ribena, and are dozing and out of it by the time we finish dinner.

As for the evening – were all called to dinner by someone banging a big wooden drum, and 48 people start milling about trying to find somewhere to sit. I spot John sitting on the first table, and theres a spare seat. “So what happens at dinner then? Do I just sit anywhere?”. “Pretty much” comes the reply and plonk myself down with these random strangers, who all turn out to be pretty cool. Introductions happen immediately in a dizzying flurry – the girl next to me is Patricia, from Czech Republic and is on holiday with her boyfriend Ladislav (who is insane). Opposite are Dom and Emma, a couple from Buckinghamshire who’ve been travelling for 10 months. Next to me are Will and Carole, a mid 20s Colorado couple who are just starting a year of travelling. Wills got a bad back and has been doing nothing. Carole is doing her open water PADI course. Chat to these guys a lot, and they are pretty interesting. Will has done some mad stuff over the years, including numerous round the world boat trips. They are both hammered on rum and are pretty funny. Patricia and Ladi are also pretty chatty and promise to take me snorkelling. Ladi is pretty tiddly too, and has a habit of being totalling inappropriate and not giving a shit. I like this guy immediately, he has me in tears.

Dinner consists of a ludicrously massive curry, including a whole fish, tail and head, over a foot long. Its AWESOME, and I eat a shit load. I manage a couple more beers, but the Kava has made me feel weird so I stop drinking, which feels pretty good. After dinner theres a quiz night. Only three tables enter. We win the quiz – the prize is a champagne breakfast on the beach the next day. WTF??? My first night in Fiji, and I win something as random as this with complete strangers. My head is blown and decide I should go to bed. Its 10pm.

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