Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A weekend of sharks, snakes and bats

We’ve been very lucky to have one of John’s colleagues, Mike, and his MPhil student, David, here since before Alex left. Mike is a post doc that did his PhD with John, so we’ve known him for a long time. He’s slotted into the big brother role quite naturally – he definitely should have had a younger sister.  With them around, we’re still in sightseeing mode, though the list of sights to see around Suva, which was short to begin with, is growing shorter.

Mike demonstrates how to use a cannibal brain fork.

On Sunday, Mike, David and John went on a shark dive. This is where you go out on a boat, don scuba gear with lots of extra weight and drop to the bottom in around 30m of water to see bull sharks being fed tuna heads. The extra weight keeps you from bobbing around in the water column like a tasty morsel. Once you’ve used up your allotted time at that depth, you come up to a shallower water to see black tips, then shallower still to see white tips. Anna isn’t a certified diver and I’m not certified crazy, so we went to the Holiday Inn in Suva and had lunch by the pool before lounging next to it for the afternoon.

Not as attractive as a pina colada by the pool (thanks for the photo, Mike).

Because John had rented a car to go on the shark dive, we had a car for the entirety of Sunday. We’ve pretty much exhausted the tourist attractions close by, so we set off to Wailatua, north on the King’s Road, home of the Snake God Cave. The condition of the roads here are variable. None of the taxis appear to have any suspension left. Neither did the rental car. The road west out of Suva is called the Queen’s Road and is paved at least all the way to Nadi. North is a different story. The King’s Road has sections that are gritted, some that are paved but with enormous potholes, some that are under construction in variable states and one stretch, around 5 miles long quite a way up north that is paved to a standard that any developed country would be pleased with it.

We stopped just out of Suva to get some kava root for a sevusevu for the chief of Wailotua. Kava root is from a pepper plant that is ground and made into a drink that is associated with a strict social ritual. A sevusevu is the presentation of a gift to a village chief, the acceptance of which confers certain privileges or favours to the giver. It is the polite currency for accessing areas of Fiji that are close to villages.

On arrival to the village a group of children ran out to greet us, one of which wiped out on the gravel and gave himself a nasty gash. Fortunately the rental car had both a first aid kit and a roll of toilet paper in its glove box (for the consequences of not have having suspension, I guess) and Mike put a plaster on the boy’s knee. I missed the giving of the sevusevu as I was parking the car.

Chief Bose is the chief of five villages and played for the Auckland Chiefs for three years as a winger. He led the entire tour barefoot. I think that he probably could have done it without the lantern as well. Despite its name, the cave is full of bats, not snakes. There is the brothy, roast chicken smell of bats, particularly in the bigger caverns. The name of the cave refers to a formation of minerals that look like six adjacent snake heads. The floor of the cave was either slick, wet earth or dry crumbly bat droppings, which I had to put my hands in several times to help myself up particularly steep bits.

The Chief was very attentive to me, either because I was John’s wife or because I looked like the most likely to slip and break my ankle. So while I got polite chat about the possibility of holding weddings in the largest cavern, Mike and David got to see where they used to sacrifice people.

Unlike caves that I’ve been to in the US and Europe, this one was very hot and sticky.  Though interesting, I’m not going to go back in a hurry - at least until our UK neighbours the Bevans come for a visit. Richard can bring his bat detector (Richard is a zoologist – most of my UK neighbours do not have bat detectors). Mind you, you don’t need one of those here – the bats are the size of small turkeys.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

A Culinary Treasure Hunt

The other day Mela, our lovely housekeeper, gave me a list of ingredients to get for the Fijian dinner that she was going to make for us. I cannot remember the name of the dish that she was making, but the ingredient list called for fish, preferably ogo, dalo, coconut cream (specifically the one in the yellow tin), moce, and other things that were pretty straightforward, like onions.

As my friends and family are aware, I am obessessed with food. I know several languages, but only in relation to food items. However, this treasure hunt for culinary booty was going to be a challenge. You can't just go the the grocery store to buy this stuff. Well you can, but you wouldn't get the best ingredients. You have to go to market. If I were cooking myself, I'd probably go to the grocery store and buy it all, but if I brought substandard ingredients home I feared that Mela would tut and shake her head and I couldn't bear it (I will write an entire post on the dynamics of have a housekeeper at some point. With Mela's permission, of course).

Our outing started with a trip to Anna's school to get her uniform. I assessed the taxi driver. This one was too quiet, so I didn't ask him to stick around and wait for us. Fortunately the one that picked us up wasn't the ebulliant, won't shut up sort of taxi driver, but something in between. Once he ascertained what we needed, he became our navigator.

First off, the fish market. We pass an amazing fish market on the way to Anna's school. Right on the roundabout, stalls displaying tuna, grouper and colourful reef fish. Rather than stopping there we stopped about 100m down the road at a smaller stand. The fish was fresher here, according to our taxi driver. I was warming to him.

Pronounciation of the Fijian language has fairly straightforward rules. A "g" is pronounced like there is a "n" in front of it - like in sing. Therefore ogo is pronouced ongo with a sort of soft "g". Fortunately Mela had written the ingredients with the actual and phonetic spellings.

The woman swatted away the flies from the fish (which was not on ice). I asked her for ogo. She held up a string of three long barracuda looking fish, probably enough to feed a dozen people. She insisted that I had to buy them all. Instead I bought a string of five smallish snapper, the taxi driver watching the exchange intently from the car. He asked me how much I'd paid when I got back into the taxi. When I told him he gave a positive shrug. I got the feeling that he'd have got out and argued with her if I'd been ripped off. I warmed to him even more.

At the vegetable stand I asked if they had any dalo. Well, that was a stupid question, as there were dozens of bunches of the stuff at my feet. It is sold everywhere in Fiji and I didn't know what it was. Dalo is taro, which I happen to love. It tastes like really starchy potato and is lovely slathered in hot sauce.

Dinner doubles as a doorstop.

Moce was another matter. It should pronounced "mothe" with an accented "e" at the end. No one at the vegetable markets knew what I was talking about even though I was certain that it was very popular. Anna and I went into the grocery story and looked at all of the signs associated with the various piles of greens. In the end, I asked an older Fijian gentleman, who pointed to bunches of very dark greens which he called something else. When we carried the bag of greens to the car, the taxi driver told me that if I'd used the proper word for it, we'd have got it at the first vegetable stall we'd stopped at. Mela slapped her forehead when I told her. She's from another part of Viti Levu and had given me their local name for it.

She boiled in the fish with tomatoes and onions and made lolo, which is like a runny salsa using coconut milk. She also boiled the dalo and the moce (the proper name for which I cannot remember). I'm rather squeamish when it comes to fish, so John manfully took the meat off of the bone and arranged little fillets on a platter, leaving behind the little fish heads with their little fish eyes and little fish jaws that I find so distracting on the dinner table. Mike and David came over and we enjoyed the fruits of Mela's labour, though I felt that I'd definitely contributed my fair share to the bounty.

When our taxi driver dropped us off with the groceries, I asked him to write his name and number in my little notepad. He wrote his name as Mohd. I asked him how to pronouce it. He looked at me like I was from Mars and said "Mohammed". Man, do I have a lot to learn.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Blue skies and broken hearts

We were fortunate enough to get away for Alex's last weekend here - out Viti Levu's rain shadow and into sunny skies. Leleuvia Island is the stuff that tropical dreams are made of - bures literally right on the beach. You can walk, snorkel or kayak around the island in less than an hour. If one side of the island is breezy, you just walk to the beach on the other side, around 50m away to lay down your beach towel.

Mike & I explored the tidepools at low tide - the bures can just be made out on the beach behind.

The only problem (besides the communal toilets) was that John and I exceeded the average age of the rest of the clientele by around 30 years, though they were extremely well behaved in terms of noise. It did remind me of Jeff Goldblum's line in the Big Chill that went something like "I get the feeling that there is a lot of sex going on around here".  I did occasionally have to remind myself that they were all adults, especially with the sun-burned ones, who I wanted to tell to put a t-shirt on. This pertained to my own children as well. At one point, I told John I was going to find Alex and Anna to tell them where we were. Then John pointed out it was 5:30pm and we were in the bar. Duh.

Where I laid my beach towel. Sickening, I know.

The entire weekend was tinged with a deep sadness, knowing that Alex would be heading back to the UK in early hours of Monday morning. Before my sister Ruth was diagnosed with cancer, my heart felt snug in it's protected place in my ribcage, my happiness inviolate. Now it's like I'm walking around with it on the outside of my body, completely vulnerable to any bump or bruise. There was a lot of crying and cuddling after the taxi drove off. We'll make plans to see him again sometime in the next month or so after he's settled into his new course and he's got an idea what sort of workload he's going to have.

When we woke up properly on Monday, it was moving day. It was also the hottest and stickiest day so far. It got hotter and stickier in three stages. During the first stage, I wondered if I could get away without wearing a bra. I entered the second stage when I started to fantasise about wearing disposable clothing. Finally, the idea of clothing of any variety seemed like a tyrannical plot. Around 4pm we finally moved all of our stuff into our new house and, lo and behold, the air con is only working in mine and John's room. Almost all of the delay about moving into this house has been about getting the air con to work. How naive were we not to check that all of the problems were sorted before we moved?

To cool off (physically and emotionally), Anna and I jumped into the university pool, which is unheated and never has anyone in it, so it's perfect. John arrived at the pool too close to closing to get in, so he walked over to the store to get stuff for dinner. He came home with ice cream, pasta, jarred ragu sauce, cheese and a remote controlled helicopter. Too bad he forgot the batteries, because we were forced to watch Fijian telly for the first time as our evening's entertainment.

The commercials are out of the 1980s, are repeated ad naseum and have catchy jingles like "you've got to wash, wash, wash your hands!" A University Challenge-type panel game with high school students demonstrated an interestingly diverse curriculum (Who will represent Fiji at this year's Pacific Sugar Forum? What's the difference between a warranty and a guarantee? Physics questions that I didn't understand the first time I heard them so cannot repeat here).

Anna and I stayed up and watched a dreadful modern version of Hawaii Five-O, the only resemblance to the original being the theme tune. Before I came here I thought that perhaps Fiji was a feral version of Hawaii, but I can say with complete certainty that it is not. What exactly it is, I'm not sure, but watching the telly here will certainly give me a better idea.

Friday, 14 September 2012

A deluge of rain and Pepsi

Sometimes it does not feel like I am living in paradise. It has been raining non-stop. Anywhere else everyone would be shocked and overwhelmed by the ferocity of the downpours (think Newcastle in June, but for several days). Everything is so wet. John tells me that foot rot is common here - it is not only in my imagination that my toes feel like them may drop off of my feet. Everything has a sheen of greasy dampness to it - the floors, the dining room tables, the bedsheets - it's enough to make one want to blowdry one's life.

The dampness, living out of suitcases and the thought of Alex going back to the UK soon has been a little emotionally challenging. However, looking at the bright side of life, eating out here has relatively inexpensive and mostly a delight: Indian, Chinese and John's regular, the Bad Dog Cafe (usual tuna sashimi to start, Sir?). However, after two weeks of it, I would like to eat some home cooked food that is a little more complex than pasta and jarred ragu sauce.

Mike Sweet, a post doc that works with John, and his MPhil student, David, arrived the other day to entertain us (and to do some work). Even though our Suva stuff is mostly packed up (with the UK stuff still somewhere between Newcastle and Fiji), I decided that it would be a good idea to cook dinner. The trip to town to go shopping started in a rare moment of sunshine. Optimistically, we only brought one brolly.

On the menu was lamb chops, vegetables from the market stall and my mother's key lime pie. However, by the time I got out of the supermarket it had begun to sprinkle. The kids were staying in town to go to the movies so I gave them my umbrella. When the taxi stopped at the market stall, it was like standing under a blasting hose pipe. In the five minutes it took me to do the shopping, a small river appeared between me and the taxi and I had to do a running jump to get to the other side.

When I got home I was soaked to my underwear. I dried off, changed my clothes and unpacked my shopping and began to cook. The first challenge was the pie. Digestive biscuits are four times more expensive than other biscuits so I got gingersnaps. They were the hardest damned cookies I ever had the displeasure of crushing by hand (using one of my precious zip lock bags and a wine bottle). The rest of the pie making went smoothly though the pie turned out orange because of the type of limes here - they are more like sour oranges.

Looks like orange, tastes like lime.

As I started prepping the vegetables (mustard greens, tomatoes for salsa, sweetcorn, pumpkin and a white sweet potato) the power went out during a particularly heavy bout of rain. At this point I decided to sit down with my book and a glass of diet Pepsi. I opened the freezer to get out the 2 litre plastic bottle of Pepsi which I had put in ten minutes before and dropped it. It exploded. Really. Two litres of diet Pepsi dripped off of me and walls. It had even blasted up into the cupboards through the slats. My clothes were soaking wet. The bottle lay on the ground looking completely intact but empty - only a smallish crack in the bottom of the bottle gave a hint as to the physics of disbursing a large amount of liquid in very small amount of time over a maximum area.

I had put the Pepsi in the freezer because I can't figure out how to get the ice cubes out of the ice cube tray. This is something that I've had problems with since the demise of the metal ice cube trays with the lever that those of you who where born in the 60s will remember (or those of you that watch Mad Men). An attempt to put ice into my drink the other day resulted in splintered plastic in my drink and a shattered ice cube tray in the bin.

After standing in mute disbelief for a minute or two, I got the mop and cleaned the kitchen. Just as it was getting dark, the lights came back on. I finished cooking dinner which turned out fine bar the corn which was only fit for livestock. As I slipped between the damp sheets I reflected that life isn't too shabby at the moment, even if it is still the dry season.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Accidental Attenborough

We continued to do much of the same at Naigani - snorkeling (Anna saw a shark and didn't jump straight out of the water), kayaking and reading. I was chatting to an Australian woman while she stood in the pool when I saw a large crab scuttling towards her feet. We fished it out with a net and it gave me the evil eye while it scuttled off to hid under some steps.

Thirty minutes later Alex and Anna found him back in the pool. Didn't he understand that chlorinated fresh water isn't good for him? We fished him out again. This time I got video of him racing to his hidey-hole. I didn't mean to take video. I thought I was taking photos. You can hear me being pleasantly surprised at the end of the video at my photographic serendipity. I will upload the it as soon as I get an internet connection that isn't slow as treacle.

If someone can think of a word that describes the way a crab moves that isn't "scuttle", please let me know.

Alex "rescuing" the crab.

The last couple of meals were actually pretty good. There is nothing that will make pork chops and mashed potatoes taste more delicious than being served a plate full of miscellaneous invertebrates and seaweed at the previous meal. I'd like to say we were sad to leave, but I really, really, wanted to wash my hair with copious amounts of shampoo in water that didn't smell like metal. The crab was happily ensconced in the pool's filter when we left.

We're back in wet, rainy Suva. The air is permeated with moisture - any bit of paper hangs limply in your hand. Anna's brilliant school results, which when they arrived in the post in the UK were on a lovey crisp sheet of A4 paper, has now acquired the texture of good quality toilet roll. Fortunately the school accepted it for the educational tender that it is. She is going to start school on 8th October, joining the year that she's already left in England, so that she can make friends and get a better idea about which subjects to take next school year (Jan 2013).

The students all wear bula shirts and both the boys and girls wear skirts (though the boys' are known as sulus). Shoes are optional. Rather than a bell announcing the end of periods, a loud tribal drum sounds. Roti is on the lunch menu. I'm jealous. When (if) I get a job there is no way it's going to be that cool.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Paradise with dirty hair

When we were getting the Hagg Bank house ready for renters, I had a quiet mantra, which went something like this: "painting the bathroom is worth one massage" or "painting the woodwork in the bedroom is worth one night in a resort".  Anna spent endless hours researching resorts, but in the end we opted to spend our first short break in a place recommended to us by one of John's colleagues.

Naigaini Island Resort has mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, so we trawled through them and armed ourselves with snacks to counter the negative food reviews and lowered expectations in regards to all other aspects of resort life. John got left behind to attend a graduation ceremony and yet another university dinner.

Earlier that day when we went to Anna's school for her exams, we happened to get into a taxi with backseat seatbelts - hallelujah! After ascertaining that the driver didn't drive like a madman, I engaged him to take us on the 1-1/2 hour trip up the coast to Natovi Landing.

Our little boat's departure was delayed in the chaos of loading buses and heavy trucks onto the Ovalau ferry, which had arrived late. It gave Anna a chance to make friends with a older local lady, who lives in Lavuka, the old Fijian capital on Ovalau. It's amazing what you learn making small talk. The black and white striped sea snakes around here are still revered as gods by some locals, the new electronic voter registration system has been an abject failure and Naigani is owned by a "very bad man", a politician who has feathered his nest with public money. She said the word politician while writing a big question mark in the air.

Naigani resort is about location, location, location. On this island there is one resort and one village. You have to wade to the shore from the boat. Our bure (the local word for bungalow) is right on the beach and next to the pool. After dropping our bags off, we went for a short walk along the gorgeous beach, then headed for the bar, where Anna & I ordered "something pink" while Alex ordered a delicious Fiji Gold beer to drink while the sun went down.

Alex regards Anna's pink drink with disdain.

The snorkeling here is some of the best (and easiest) in Fiji. You roll out of bed, walk down to the beach, swim out about 20 meters and there appears enormous patches of beautiful coral in crystal clear water. We kayaked over to the next bay which has a lovely small sandy beach. Anna was very excited about seeing Nemos that haven't been lost. John saw a black-tipped reef shark which he says was only 2 foot long, but I suspect could have been bigger. No need to put the children off going in the water.

The resort itself is a little careworn. The taps all drip, the white towels are clean, but stained. And there is no shampoo. And we didn't bring any. And they don't sell it in the shop. I had a massage (sore shoulder due to kayaking in rough seas) and it included a head massage. I didn't realise that he was massaging coconut oil into my hair. Fortunately we did manage to beg a small bottle off some departing guests so I was able to use a tiny amount of shampoo to try to cut through the three days of grease, salt and added coconut oil. My hair still looks like I've been wearing a hat and I can make it take on all sorts of styles, none of which are attractive.

John did come for 24 hours. Poor man had a big gash on his face due to an accident during the graduation ceremony when the person in front of him's mortarboard flew off in a gust of wind and hit him squarely beneath the eye. He had to give a televised talk this morning and he looks like he's been beaten up.

Saturday night the resort had a lovo, which is when they cook everything in a pit. It was a very strange meal. The chicken was good, but then there was a loaf of sea cucumber and coconut, sea grapes which are little stalks of seaweed with little bladders on them filled with seawater, a salad that appeared to be made of out of grass and a dessert that looked like it was the product of a heavy cold. It got to the point that I could not try another new dish, and I'm an adventurous eater. Since then the food has been delicious, particularly the homemade coconut buns at breakfast.

We're leaving tomorrow morning. We packed up the house before we left with Mela coming in today to finish up. However, I just got a text from John saying that we aren't moving into the new house until next week. It could be worse. Waiter, bring me another Fiji Gold!

Friday, 7 September 2012

Peri peri chicken for the soul

Anna & John at the Chinese restaurant that's not the dodgy one.

On Wednesday it rained. And we figured out that we'd done pretty much everything that is worth doing in Suva. This combination was not encouraging for either me or Anna. Thursday morning it was still raining and Alex (bless him) came up with idea of going to the Fiji Museum in town. This was met by a narrow range of enthusiasm, from lukewarm to none. Then he remembered that there is a Nando's in town. Suddenly it felt like Christmas! For those of you that don't know it, Nando's is a chain of restaurants that serves grilled chicken and is populated mostly by teenagers. A good deal of Bythell pocket money has been pumped into Nando's in Newcastle over the years.

And what do you know? Nando's is even more delicious in Suva (if you ask me). And while we were tucking into our medium spiced peri peri chicken the sun came out and we decided that rather than go to the museum, we'd go to the market to buy our lovely housekeeper, Mela, a Fijian broom and then go swimming at the USP pool. Our hearts were gladdened by a combination of spicy poultry and sunshine.

Friday morning Anna had to sit English and maths exams at her new school. Poor thing, I thought it was just to make sure that she could speak English and that she could add and subtract, but it was more serious than that and she hasn't been to school for almost three months so she's forgotten everything that she ever learned. Nearly. She goes back next week for her interview to decide when to start and what classes to take. The head of the senior school wanted to engage me in helping to make decisions about Anna's education, but I declined. I wouldn't want to butt in and ruin it now.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

A delightful lack of purpose

Monday John went to work and I didn't. That has not happened for a long, long time. Since 1999 to be precise. I'd like to say that I felt a deep-seated lack of purpose, but I didn't. I just poured myself another cup of coffee and plopped myself down on the sofa to read my book.

(This photo is from Sunday - Alex kayaking on the Coral Coast).

Around lunchtime we set out on our first adventure without John. We caught a taxi and went to Colo-I-Suva, which is a small rainforest reserve near the city. The taxi driver drove straight past the large signs ("Welcome to Colo-I-Suva!"). I thought that he must know another way, but Anna is smarter than me (and less trusting) so eventually he turned around and took us back to where we were supposed to go. Taxi drivers here evidently do not have "the knowledge" like their London counterparts. A little worrying if I'm going to be the one telling them where to go. Fortunately the island is fairly small and round.

We paid our entrance fee (£1 in total, for all three of us) and after a brief hike though jungle we arrived at some swimming holes which were part of a waterfall system. In my head these were blue and glistening in dappled sunlight. In fact, they were tinged red with mud and it was drizzling. However the water felt freezing cold so it was refreshing.

The jungle here appears to be devoid of animal life. There are no native mammals except fruit bats. Introduced mongoose and hunting have devastated the bird and snake population, so it felt like the only danger on our hike was from the possibility of slipping and twisting an ankle rather than being stung, bitten or eaten.

A little further on our walk, we came across an impossibly placed rope swing. The kind the makes a mother's heart stop and has her mutter aloud "no effing way". As Alex and Anna contemplated the possibility of flinging themselves off of a rock into the deep pool below, a group of young Fijian men demonstrated their rope swing prowess. One, in particular, would jump, swing out, wait until the rope was just at the turn to travel back, then let go and gracefully bend his body forward to dive into the water. His big grin when he surfaced showed that he was showing off in the nicest possible way.

He asked Alex if he wanted a turn and Alex bravely threw himself off a lower rock. Anna was keen to have a go, but it was clear from the way they all politely ignored her that she wasn't invited to play in a deep-rooted, cultural, sort of way. Interestingly, I felt no irritation or indignation, just an sense of gratefulness to the generations of progressive women and men that have meant that this sort of thing is rare in the other places I have lived.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Pliz buckle up

When John came home at the end of July, I asked him to describe what Fiji was like. He had two answers for me. The first was that he went to work so he had no idea what it would be like for me during my days lounging around the house. The second was that it was an impossible place to describe.

After five days here I concur (about the second answer - I definitely have not been lounging - well not that much anyway). So rather than describe the place, I will relate what I see and experience. Maybe at the end I will have some coherent way of describing it, but I suspect not.

The first thing we did after dropping off our bags was was to walk to the Southern Cross restaurant on campus, where they serve great Chinese food from behind a counter cafeteria style. A small plate is enormous and costs approximately £2.30. We then walked over to Cost you Less (otherwise known as Cost you More) which is like Costco, but one that you would visit in a slightly weird dream. John kept exclaiming about high expensive everything was ("£12 for a beach towel! Highway robbery!") and I kept having to remind him that the last time he did any shopping for himself was around 1985 and prices have gone up since then. £12 for a nice beach towel is a bargain.

As everyone was flopped after this excursion, John and I walked over to a pizza place and ordered two medium pizzas. We had considered ordering a large, but then saw that you had to turn the box sideways to get it through the door of the restaurant. (Did I warn you that this blog will have a lot of food-related discussion?) The pizzas looked great but the "ham and pineapple" turned out to be "ground spam and pineapple" and the "pepperoni" was something I'd never seen the likes of before and hope to never again.

The next day John to us into town where we went to a real mall. Yes, I am happy to report that there are shops here where you can buy things. Everything, it appears, except fresh milk. Man, I am going to miss fresh milk in my coffee. Anna was visibly relieved. Alex, Anna and John all bought bula shirts (Hawaiian shirts to you) and then we all had to rest poolside at the Holiday Inn while having our lunch.

On Sunday, it was overcast and the wind, which had been blowing hard since our arrival, showed no sign of abating. So we piled into a bone-clattering taxi and drove for almost two hours due east, out of the island's rain shadow, to the Warwick Resort, where the sun was shining but the wind was still blowing with an exfoliating freshness, for a day of R&R on the beach. The food was pretty dreadful, but the snorkeling was good and we got to mess about in kayaks for a bit. I spent a lot of time on a sun lounger reading my book. Lovely.

Despite the command "pliz buckle up" (or similar) on the taxis' dashboards, I'm afraid that backseat seatbelts here are something that obviously slither down the backseats never to be seen again. The taxi ride home took longer as the top speed of the taxi up hills was about 5mph. That's okay, I didn't want him to go any faster anyway.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

What a long strange trip it's been

Landed at Auckland airport on Thursday morning. What a blessed relief to know that we were finally booked on an onward flight scheduled for exactly 25 hours after we arrived. The lovely young lady at the tourist info desk booked us a two-bedroom apartment right in the city centre and asked them to have our room ready even though it was so early (8am). However, hunger rather than sleep was our priority (despite being kept awake by some very bad parenting two rows in front).

We had the most delicious breakfast at at place I initially insisted that we walk past. We were so hungry that I ordered five meals, which we destroyed. Alex was completely psyched for tackling the entirety of NZ on our day trip. Anna, however, had caught Alex's cold and was becoming fairly miserable so we compromised. Rather than walk the four hour coast to coast walk (must be the narrowest bit of NZ), we walked up to Mount Eden, which is really a small hill which was once a volcano, from which you get a 360 degree view of Auckland and it's environs.

We then had an early dinner - mostly lamb, of course, then passed out at 7pm. Up early for a flight straight to Suva, rather than the usual tourist route of flying via Nadi. We were glad to be on the plane, but NZ is an intriguing place and I look forward to spending more time there.

Three hours later, we FINALLY arrived in Fiji!

First impressions were that it was green and full of mountains.

Did I mention that our house isn't ready yet? This piece of news was given to me casually by John a few days before we left. Our temporary home was built during WWII by the NZ military and I suspect it hasn't yet been updated. However, you can see the sea in the distance, feel the breeze through the generous windows and the beds are comfy. And it is in Fiji, so I'm not complaining.