Friday, 31 October 2014

Terra Incognita disambiguated

Well here we are at the end of October, post-visitors, post-election and we’re still standing, though speeding towards 2015 at a rate that appears to defy the laws of space-time. So far, it’s been a terrific year, made glorious by its general uneventfulness. As one gets older, events (defined here as things that happen to you) tend to become increasingly more likely to be of the negative variety, so one can revel in any prolonged length of time where such things are absent.

As usual, we prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. We treated the approaching election (the first since a military coup in 2006) a bit like a strengthening tropical depression. We bought a couple of cases of drinking water, stocked up on gin, tonic, chocolate and cat food and kept a weather eye on the media. We dedicated a bit of time to pondering the implications of newspaper headlines like “Suva will not burn! Says PM” and the inevitable racist and misogynistic vitriol that surfaced occasionally on social media.

It was heartening to see the people of Fiji take their democratic duty to heart. The day came (it was declared a much-needed public holiday) and, besides a cracking combined neighbourhood birthday and election party, it was uneventful. The Fijian electorate (now all sporting fingers dyed deep purple) elected the sitting government who now are the majority party in a resurrected parliament. One is full of hope for this nascent democracy – it’s hard to imagine that, if things stay on track, the country will not be a completely different (and better) place in ten years’ time.

In the run up to the election, we had a series of overlapping visitors which gave us a great excuse to revisit some resorts close to Suva and try out some new ones. I will now describe them in 60 seconds without hesitation, repetition or deviation:

Leleuvia Island Resort. An old favourite – small island with lovely sandy beach. Has changed target market from backpackers to families in the time we've been in Fiji.

Reef off of Leleuvia. You have to look carefully to spot these little guys (nudibranchs).
Upside: Fantastic snorkeling if you know where to go, paddleboards, lovely bar, friendly staff and relatively easy to get to from Suva. On Saturday nights they serve the best lovo in Fiji.

Downside: Can be unpleasantly hot at night once ceiling fans go off. I’m going off having to put up with communal toilets and showers (though now some of the showers have hot water). There are probably too many children if you’re looking for a quiet holiday – particularly over long weekends when expats descend on the place with their families. Besides breakfast (which is wonderful), there’s no real choice at mealtimes.

Beqa Lagoon Resort. This is a new favourite for weekend getaways. It’s mainly a dive resort but it caters to non-divers too.

Beqa House reef. Who knew that worms could be so beautiful?
Upsides: Easy to get to – it’s a 25 minute boat ride from Pacific Harbour. The en-suite bures are lovely with 24 hour power, which means that you can have cool, mosquito-free nights. The house reef is impressive with good coral cover and loads to see – white tips, scorpion fish, octopus, lion fish were all there just off the beach. The free poolside foot massage with Pure Fiji products was a clincher.

Downside: Bearing in mind that Fiji is currently under drought conditions, the pool needs a serious clean and they need to figure out some way to aerate the koi pond.

Wellesley Resort. This was briefly my new favourite before we went to Beqa.

Giant clam on the reef off of Wellesley. I never get tired of seeing these things.
Upside: As it’s on the Coral Coast, you don’t have to catch a boat to get there. This means that anyone in your party that can’t guarantee that they can get away early on a Friday doesn't have to wait until Saturday morning to join you. The accommodation is very comfortable (with air conditioning). A little bar opens on the beach for happy hour. The grounds are beautifully landscaped.

Downside: The way the grounds are laid out, you can be quite a way from the beach. The Coral Coast is often unpleasantly windy. This was the case when we were there. However, the pool was protected from the wind and was lovely to hang out next to.

Naigani Island Resort (Tau Resort). Imagine if a Fijian resort was run by Basil Fawlty. As I write this post, I am sitting on this lovely island wondering how to adequately describe it. Quirky might be the right word, but the magnitude of quirkiness really is too great not to be completely exasperating.

Naigani Island. Water quality wasn't great that day, but the coral cover was.
Upside: Naigani is a beautiful island with stunning reefs and great kayaking. The accommodation is spacious – more like houses than bures with ensuite loos and hot showers. There is a nice pool (with a little water slide), a little golf course and a covered area near the pool (which is currently being refurbished) for hanging out in out of the sun/rain.

Downside: The management. We received confusing instructions about where to catch the boat (currently QVS beach while Natovi Jetty is refurbished) but still arrived in time to catch it. The boat was not there. The fishermen at the beach didn't know what we were talking about. We rang all the available numbers for the resort and no one picked up. We emailed. No one replied. After 50 minutes (and 15 more phone calls, none of which were answered) the boat finally showed up. We had to wade through seriously filthy water that smelled of sewage to get to the boat.

The management seemed surprised that a couple that was supposed to be on the same boat as us hadn't shown up. I, on the other hand, am surprised that anyone actually ever makes it here.

Then the same thing happened to my other half when he tried to get over the next day. This is not “Fiji Time”- it’s downright rudeness.

On arrival at the resort, we were assured that we don’t need to lock our accommodation as it’s so safe here. However, when the manager went off island for five hours during the afternoon, he locked up the bar and took the key. This dry spell coincided with the generator being off, so not only couldn't we get a soft drink or a beer, we couldn't even boil the kettle to make a cup of tea (and I’m here with three English people so this is a calamity). Thank goodness we’d had the presence of mind to pack for all eventualities (plan for the worst, hope for the best again) and we’d brought over emergency alcohol supplies.

There are a lot of pluses to this place, but I’m not going to be coming back in a hurry.

No matter where you go here, if you have a food allergy, you have to be absolutely sure that all of the relevant staff knows about your allergy. At each one of the resorts above (with the exception of the Wellesley), I have been served eggplant despite telling the staff that I’m allergic to it. At one resort, when I pointed out that there was eggplant in the pasta dish I’d been served even though the waitress had assured me that there wasn't when she put it down in front of me, I was told “You asked if there was eggplant in the pasta. There isn't. It’s in the sauce”. Silly me. God help you if you have an allergy to something that isn't large and purple with distinctive texture and seeds that can be spotted a mile off.

I’m sometimes surprised by the Tripadvisor ratings given to some of the resorts here. I suspect the ratings actually measure how much fun people had on their vacation rather than giving a reliable measure of the resort and its facilities. But really, isn't that the point?

As usual - all photo credits to my talented other half...