I was about 20 (2002) when I left on my first international trip outside of the Americas. My best friend invited me to share an experience in the Pacific Islands of Fiji. Eight years later and its hard to remember what I felt as I planned for the trip. I’m sure my mindset was on exploring and expectations leaning towards doing some partying. I do remember I was finishing up my last quarters at Cal State Hayward and was expecting to graduate the coming year which was 2003. Ronny which was the friend that I was going with, helped me organize myself to get a passport and everything else that would be needed in Fiji. My parents helped finance the trip by purchasing my airline ticket and giving me the support I needed to have the right mindset. Ronny’s mom would ensure that all of the documents and our safety were taken care of. Our trip was to take place during Christmas and conclude sometime after New Years. This was a big deal for me because I have never left the comfort of home during the holidays and especially not during Christmas and New Years.
We were dropped off by Ronny’s pastor early in the morning. Our flight schedule was set to take us to LAX, and from there we would be on our 12 plus hour flight to Fjij. (Direct flight from Los Angeles to Fiji) This was defiantly my first long flight that I’ve been on. I had flown short flights to Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas. Ronny was himself and tried to scare me about planes coming down, and that we will go through lots of turbulence. I got to admit I was freaked out at times but I played it off that it was no big deal. I did make my first purchase of a book. I bought Plato at the Airport. I remember during this time I was entering an era of reading and writing.
When we landed in Fiji I remember the heat coming off the plane. Actually it was probably the first time I had felt humidity. The mixture of hot air and moisture in ones face was uncomfortable yet intriguing at the same time. I didn’t understand how people could live in this type of climate. We were greeted by Ronny’s family. As we walked by a crowd full of people I remember observing and realizing it was the first time I had seen people holding up signs with last names, hotel names, and other messages for the people arriving. (Or at least the first time I noticed) I remember seeing a family and the husband wearing a Mexico shirt. I said hello and wished them a happy trip. We packed into a pickup and left to the house that we would stay at in First Landing. First Landing was a small town in between Lautoka and Nadi. The house was where an uncle of Ronny lived.
I remember my first impression as we drove to the house in the back of the pick up. Fiji reminded me of Mexico. Lots of fields, cattle, and the houses even looked similar. This was likely due to the fact that I couldn’t compare it with another country. It was my first trip and I wanted desperately to comfort my thoughts, expectations, and insecurities. As we arrived to the house we met other people. Aunts, cousins, and uncles were apart of the list.
We spent the first day getting to know the family that we were going to stay with. On the first day one of the sons who worked at the post office took us out for a stroll. It was nice walking around to a store that was about one mile ahead. I remember this being the first time that I had to walk and take public transportation from point A to point B. Our guide told us a lot about what Fiji was about. We chatted about the different religions, customs, and politics of Fiji. He reassured us not to be afraid of the hostility that was going on between the native Fijians and the Indian Fijians. A year or two earlier there was a coup that took over the government causing political backlash and riots throughout the Islands. I bonded with the family early on and was happy that we were all going to be hanging out in the comming days.
Below is a travel log that I kept and would like to share:
We stayed at a house that was a couple yards off the main road. The house was made out of wood and had a combination of vibrant colors that composed its exterior. Outside were several fruit trees, grass that had never seen a lawn mower, and various flowers which were sprinkled in different locations around the house. The backyard was where the facilities were located. I remember having some difficult times out there. The shower room walls were narrow, had a tin roof, and the water was cold as ice and Ronny shared an experience of having meetings with odd looking bugs as he went number two. They had a stove out there where they would boil water for Ronny and I. This would ease some of the pain of being exposed to cold water. I don’t remember much about the backyard, but I believe there was a washer out there as well.
The family was very hospitable and attended to us in a very family style manner. We had breakfast, tea, lunch and dinner waiting for us at around the same time each day. We slept in a bed which had a net that surrounded us. It gave a feeling of capture yet its very nature was to protect us from the schools of mosquitoes that were waiting for nightfall.
One day we all decided to go out to the coral and fish. We learned that this was not a very complicated manner. All was required was local fishing knowledge of the good spots, hooks, and string. This was very different with what I was used to and I remember how excited we were to go out and fish. After a quick visit to the store we had all of our utensils for the job. It was just a matter of getting everything ready and heading out to the spot. The fishing pool was made out of an empty plastic soda bottle. We used it as a method in wrapping it around as we lured the fish in. I really didn’t have faith in the system; however I was quickly proven wrong. We ended up catching about a dozen or more fish. It was so much fun! I do remember having some difficulty in maneuvering around the coral. As I stepped the coral would break and my leg would sink in. It was really scary. Towards the end I was chased out because one of Ronny’s cousins caught an eel. That freaked the shit out of me and I left.
In Fiji it is pretty customary to kill a goat for New Years. Primarily because it’s the time that most families have visitors from overseas and everyone is in the mood to celebrate. A few days before Ronny and I hopped on the same truck that brought us from the airport and left to go buy our meat. I remember going to a farm that had chickens, goats, cows, and pigs. We choose the goat that we wanted and paid for it. My memory is fuzzy on whether the goat was delivered to us or if we brought it back with us. We also picked up two chickens that were thrown into a sack. When we got home, the uncle asked some native kids to cut the heads off of the chickens in exchange for some fruit from their tree. It was the first and only time I had witness a decapitation of a live chicken. The aunt plucked both of them and it became our dinner that same night as well as our breakfast the following day.
One of the most enjoyable moments was the day we all went to a field and played soccer. I remember it was a hot day, the field was in poor conditions, and everyone called me Ronaldo. I’m sure they called me Ronaldo because of my shaved head, I know for a fact that I didn’t awe them with my skills. I ended up buying some soccer shoes and a soccer ball as well. I ended up bringing the soccer shoes home and leaving the soccer ball with the cousins.
Lautoka was the city that we visited frequently. Primarily to buy groceries but we had other reasons as well; we took one of Ronny’s aunts to a local dentist. I do remember going to visit some of Ronny’s uncles as well. Overall Lautoka gave an impression of how most people use the city to sell and buy local goods. Mostly the middle class was present. I didn’t notice the use of too many cars. It was as if the city was positioned in a place that was accessible to public transportation. We visited a KFC type establishment were we enjoyed some fried chicken. In Lautoka, I learned that ketchup was considered a commodity and was not handed as freely as it is here in the USA. I also discovered that it is very tasty when used with fried chicken. One night we came to Lautoka to check out the night life. It wasn’t as I expected but was interesting and fun. We got to experience it with some good company. I believe it was due to the fact that beer is expensive and when mixed with dancing it can get out of hand really fast.
The day we left to Suva I wasn’t aware that we would be traveling across the Island to another one of the major cities of Fiji. I had thought it was a couple bus stops away. I remember entering the cab and being excited because I was going to be able to see the view of the coast. Although I remember it was a long drive, Ronny made it interesting by telling me some crazy stories about the cannibals that roam around in Fiji. We stopped at some pit stops to buy water, take pictures, and use the restrooms. When we finally arrived at Suva I noticed that it was somewhat of a rundown city. Although it had some areas of new development I later found out that the president palace was located here, and it was the primary location of where the coup took over the local government a few years back. We ended up going to a house where Ronny’s family lived. It was a nice middle class area and we got to meet and hang out with one of Ronny’s cousins. He sure did have a personality that made the rest of our stay fun. He was ironing his pants and getting ready to take us out on a nice tour of the city. We left to visit his friends and ended up walking around a swamp like place. It was hardcore and I thought that it was going to be the places were a snake was going to pop out of nowhere and bite me. Ronny didn’t help much with his comments as we hiked through the area. The place was known as the Mangros. Picture a swamp with many trees with roots protruding out of the muddy water in the shape of spider legs. Luckily I used the roots as steps in moving forward. I was wearing shorts and sandals which is what everyone in Fiji wore and it helped me not worrying too much as I would fall occasionally into the mud. During the walk through the Mangros, I remember not knowing where our destination was going to be. But after being scared for what seemed to be hours, we arrived at the edge of the Island. There was a pier made out of rocks and it was where we were headed. We ended up walking on the slippery rock to a spot where we started to fish. We didn't catching anything that night, but I remember a native was with us and he jumped into the water and was able to catch a fish with his sword fish knife.
We visited Nadi mainly to do some shopping. One night we did go to one of the nice Hotels for drinks. I remember we had a good time because we danced with some of the natives. From Nadi we also went on a cruise to a small Island. I wasn't aware that Fiji had hundreds of little resort Islands. One of the famoust Island that was named Cast Away because of the film Cast Away. The Island was really fun. We did some snorkeling and went around the Island. We met a Colombian guy who was really cool.