Disembarking from the plane at the Nadi (pronounced nan-dee) airport, a dry heat immediately hits us before we’re washed over with the air conditioned cool of the airport upon entering. All the passengers, upon leaving the plane, are welcomed with the traditional Fijian greeting, bula, along the way. Hello.
We’d flown from Vancouver to LA. From LA, we flew to Aukland and from there to Nadi, Fiji. I’d never been on a plane before and I hadn’t been nervous at all at the prospect. It wasn’t until we were arrived in LA in transit to Aukland that I truly realized the vastness of it: the fact that we would be flying over a large body of water and that it was an overnight flight. (The flight to LA was no biggie, perhaps because I’ve been to California before. I was lulled to sleep by Brian Eno’s Music for Airports that I’d loaded on my iPod nano, which seemed oddly appropriate.) Well, it was simply unthinkable, but here we were and there was no going back. My grandmother met us in LA and would be flying with us from there. (While we navigating the airport, outside I saw a Muslim woman smoking, with a Siamese kitten cradled in her arm.)
On our flight to Aukland, we had dinner (beef lasagna) and dessert (chocolate ice cream) and I would take photos of most of my airplane meals from there. I was also able to watch two movies (Green Lantern and Annie Hall), before dozing off to sleep. Breakfast was a cheese omelette with a side of yogurt and fruit salad; served at four thirty in the morning, Aukland time. We would arrive at the Aukland airport some hours later, where my sister and I would send emails to the family from an airport computer, letting them know we’d arrived safe and sound.
When we arrived in Nadi, I remember how mind-boggling it felt to be in another part of the world; a different part of the globe, and yet, so close to home at once. It had happened all so quickly. As the plane had started to descend from the clouds and we could see Fiji coming into view, I felt a tug at my heart: knowing we had arrived – that we were in my Dad’s homeland. He’d grown up in Fiji as a boy, coming to Canada with his family when he wasn’t yet a teenager.
My grandfather met us at the airport and I could feel my head reeling as we walked outside to the car, still trying to process how I could be on the other side of the globe within a space of twenty-four hours. I was quickly distracted, though, for a while, when some debris flew into my eye and it started watering and stinging madly. I could only be thankful that I’d decided not to put on any mascara earlier.
Over the course of the month that we stayed in Fiji, we met relatives (I’ve learned that I am part of a very big family – and still piecing together the family tree), learned more about Fijian culture, and had a fabulous time all in all.
We drove back and forth from Nadi to Pacific Harbour, where my grandfather has a house. The roads are just, well, terrible. They’re not paved properly and the concrete mix that’s used for the roads is not smooth like what’s used in North America, and it’s hard on car tires (spelled tyres in Fiji, probably a remnant from Britain’s occupation). The national speed limit is eighty kilometers an hour on the highway and when you near a pothole, you don’t slow down. You drive right over it, at eighty kilometers an hour. Since the roads aren’t paved properly, potholes are frequent and range in severity. They are not often filled properly either. The only smooth roads were the ones in the slightly more developed areas such as the resorts.
There are also roadside markets, dotting the sides of the highway [the Queen's Road], selling fruits and vegetables including young coconuts that you can drink coconut water from. They will even cut it for you so that you can drink from it, if you want to. That was how I tried coconut water for the first time. The young boy who sold it to us cut the top open so we could drink from it. C [my sister] took a picture of me drinking the water from the coconut. It’s so good! I was actually surprised I liked it, as I could not like the coconut water in the can or tetra pack back home, as much as I tried to. But fresh coconut water is so much better and that’s the only way I’ll have it now. Coconut water, fresh from the coconut and not touched by human hands, is great and beats the packed coconut water all the way. The fruit inside is creamy and has a sweetness of its own that’s so delicate that adding sugar, even a touch, would ruin it. It does not have that rich, sometimes overwhelming, coconut taste that the milk or oil has. Maybe people who don’t like coconut would like this coconut, all natural; and perhaps it is not so much that they don’t like coconut, but what is used to “make it better”. Anyway. When we come back and if I ever want coconut water, it’s coming from the coconut.
In the mornings after breakfast, my sister and I would usually go on a walk with our Dad along the nearby beach that stretched two kilometers; getting tanned (and sunburned) along the way. Small white, blond crabs, nearly invisible against the white sand, would quickly scuttle across and disappear into holes in the sand. Depending on the rise of the tide, sometimes we would see fish in the waves and my sister and I would try getting pictures. One time we saw a baby bur, a kind of fish, but that we initially misidentified as a baby baracuda. Then next thing we saw was a large, dark mass floating in the water and I jumped back, Finding Nemo scenes flashing in my head as I thought it was a stingray. It turns out it was actually just a massive piece of seaweed. There’s word association for you.