From extremely hospitable locals to corrupted ****

As we did not get to do much the day before due to bad weather and that most places were closed, we planned to visit a waterfall before catching the ferry back to Upolu at 2pm. We drove all the way back to a waterfall. A distance that seemed short on the map took us quite long as we obeyed the speed limit (most of the time). However, we saw the police themselves driving much faster than we did multiple times, and no, they were not chasing bad guys. Before entering the waterfall we had to pay fees, 5Tala per person to the local village chief, the regular process here. There were young girls, resized_IMG_2398_edmaybe between 8 to 10 years old collecting fees this time. We wonder why they were there on a regular Monday and not in school instead, but they could not speak English so we did not find out. The waterfall was, how should we put it, cute. There was lots of water as it rained a lot. But it wasn’t spectacular so we did not spend a lot of time there. After killing some time we were back at the wharf. We met the Swiss family whom were our neighbors at Va-i-Moana Resort on the same ferry again. Small world it is! We drove on the southern highway after arriving at Upolu. The first hour we were on the road very leisurely, not even looking for a place to stay as we thought there must be more options later and the island is even small than Savai’I anyway. As we drove further, we got a bit nervous. One resort that we stopped and enquired was closed. The other was too expensive. The other was closed to look for new management…resized_IMG_2451_ed hmm… is our car big enough to sleep in? Due to the strong rain some parts of the main road were also flooded by rivers so one time we had to disembark and check depth by walking though the water etc. As we were at edge of giving up, we tried our luck at a local village again (there was a dated signboard on the main road). Hooray! We did not have to sleep in car! It was a family of 7 who was running the place. We were the only guests…probably for some time already. The whole family got so busy after we “checked in” – the mother and kids cleaned our fale, then the mom drove away to get us mozzie coils and buy food for dinner which she later cooked and her children served…they also let us try Samoan Koko (a caffeine intense cacao drink) which we did not really like. In the evening the whole family sat in their living room on the floor resized_IMG_2404_edwatching some shows in front of a tiny small tv. The Homestay Mom and kids had to leave for Apia early morning so they made us breakfast and put it in our room. When we got up we had the whole place to ourselves. Numerous dogs waited in front of our fale hardly letting us getting to the toilet and watching that we didn’t do anything wrong. Breakfast was Samoan pancakes and fruit platter. We did not enjoy the pancakes so much so the dogs got lucky.

The weather still did not clear up unfortunately. We continued our journey eastwards and skipped a few sights on the way due to the bad weather. One of the most visited places in Samoa has to be the To Sua Ocean Trench (A huge, 30m deep swimming hole where salt and river water meets). At first we thought it was not so spectacular that we did not even know if we should change into our bathing suits and swim. Luckily we resized_IMG_2519_eddid! It turned out to be an amazing experience. The currents were strong, one minute you are pulled and the next minute you are pushed back. If you just lay back and let yourself float, you will be swaying in the water. You could also clearly feel the warm ocean water and the cool fresh water coming together in this natural pool. Roman performed some of his most elegant jumps…

Lalomanu Beach is our next stop. Voted as one of the top 10 beach destinations, we just had to visit this place although a tsunami in 2009 destroyed quite a bit of this region and its coral reefs. We had a longer stop at one of the few local shops asking for food. resized_IMG_2549_edThe lady at the shop cooked lunch for us (she took about one hour) while we had long conversations about life with her husband. We got two huge portions that could feed a family for 10 tala (3 USD). Later we made it to Lalomanu. The beach was of very nice fine sand but rather short and small. Unfortunately it was still overcast and not sunny at all. We checked in at one of the beach fale resorts which was completely destroyed by the tsunami and entirely rebuilt (as we found out later were the former owners of this place together with the entire family killed during the disaster. What a sad story.) Our beach fale was directly on the beach of course, first row, resized_IMG_2557_edas the name suggests. So near to the ocean that you could hear the waves and winds all night long and during high tide the water reached the fale. Dinner was to be served at 7pm, but someone came knocking on the door at 6.40pm already. Everyone sat on a long table and shared the food. We met an Austrian couple at dinner and had a good long chat as they were in NZ too and were heading to Australia after Samoa. We also discussed about Swiss and Austrian big neighbor, Germany.

Spending time at Lalomanu Beach was great. It was, however, sad to hear how the reef was destroyed during the tsunami. We felt even more sorry for the villagers here who have lost many of their family members in the tsunami. We were told by a NZ lady who spends half a year in Samoa and half a year in NZ that when tsunami hit Samoa, the family running the Beach Fale got the foreign guests to safety first before their own family members. It was then too late for some of them. The reason why they built the Fales again was to provide jobs for the people (it must be devastating to lose your family members, home and a life’s work). The atmosphere at Taufua was really family-like with it’s beach being the best we have seen in Samoa so far. Too bad there is not enough time for us to stay longer, next time maybe!

As much as we admire the take-it-easy spirit in the South Pacific, we also realize that the people here are not so particular about certain things in life. We have seen a wardrobe that can’t be closed, toilet door with a big hole (maybe that the air stays resized_IMG_2572_edfresh?), curtains of different lengths, road suddenly narrowing because no one cuts the vegetation etc. But maybe it is exactly because of their “take it easy” that they are so happy. The Samoans are particularly friendly too. Driving on “highway” on Wednesday, we passed by a house that looked beautiful, with a well-maintained garden. We went to ask for permission to take photos. Besides allowing us to take photos, the house owners and his family also offered us “local products”. Emosi and his brother, Sesi (or sexy?) showed us his pineapple plant, plucked the pineapple, cut the pineapple and fed us. The friendliness did not stop there. He showed us his coconutresized_IMG_2573_ed tree, climbed the maybe twenty meter tall tree, peeled, cut and served the freshest coconut we have ever had. When we finished drinking the coconut water (we were really full at this point actually, having breakfast an hour ago), he opened the coconut and used a spoon to get the coconut flesh for us. YinRu showed the kids some photos on her camera (they have probably never seen something like that). The family was already starting to hint that we could have lunch together with them but we left them after some good time. The friendliness of the people is definitely one of the highlights in Samoa and this “family-introduction” one of the best things we have done.

The day continued to be pretty much a day experiencing friendliness of people and resized_IMG_2590_edvisiting of waterfall. The first waterfall we visited was about 50m in height and truly magnificent! The second waterfall was Falefa Waterfall about 25mins way from Apia. Roman bathed at this waterfall a bit and we had instant noodles at the store there. We checked in at a resort called Le Uaina after visiting the falls. We had a short snorkel in the afternoon. The water was very shallow but surprisingly there were many beautiful fishes! Lots of sea cucumbers, blue/red starfish, triggerfish, moray eels and lots more. There were only four of us checked in at the resort so it was very peaceful. We basically had the whole restaurant for ourselves to enjoy a candle light dinner. The breakfast next morning was also pretty good. After checking out we went to visit the Cave Pool which was exactly next to our resort so we even walked there. It was one of its kind: from the first appearance it did not look special at all, but as we swam further into the cave and looked back to where the sun was there were amazing blue underwater colors! The swim in the turquois water with many huge fish inside was quite refreshing. We had a good time chilling there before going to Apia.

Once you step into Apia you will realize that half the population of Samoa reside here (it feels like that). It is a lot busier than any other place in Samoa that we have been to. We had one whole day to explore Apia after putting up one night at Lynn’s Getaway. Ouresized_IMG_3160_edr first stop was the fish market. Where else could be a better place than that to get fresh fish? Some of the fish sold there are not the ones that we would ever eat, some species sold are even the kind of colorful reef fish we like to watch when diving or snorkeling. We also saw a small shark on display. Next to the fish market was the bus depot where you can see all colorfully painted buses which somehow reminds us of the buses in Cuba (not that we have been there, but you get the picture). It was such a lively place to experience Samoa: vendors selling all kinds of snack to bored customresized_IMG_3130_eders waiting for their bus, police standing/assisting traffic, motorcycles, cars honking, all at the same time with the traffic collapsing every now and then. We also went to the handicraft market and got ourselves some souvenirs. Slowly and steadily our souvenir collection from all around the world is growing. We just have to figure out how to transport them. Well, we will find a way.

Roman had been wanting to get a haircut in Samoa. When we saw one barber shop near the market, Mr. Adventurous decided it is time to get one. Some young Samoan resized_IMG_3143_edguys were sitting outside of the store and they became very excited when they saw Mr. Adventurous going to them. Without hesitating, they invited us to their store and Roman was seated. Using a sponge (to clean the hair away, don’t think about hygiene here) and a scissors/shaver, Mr. Big Samoa the Barber gave Roman a Samoan haircut confidently. Roman was pretty happy with the result, and he felt like a real Samoan instantly (the cutting though remains a bit weird in some places and was rather funny. Hopefully his hair will grow back again fast). We also had a stop at the Cultural Village at Apia and saw a foreigner getting a Samoan Tattoo done the tradition way with a blade and ink. We watched for 15minutes until it was even too painful for us to watch that we went away.

After spending a nice day at Apia, we returned the car to AA Rent A Car, and it was our worst experience ever. Upon returning the car, the staff checked the car and said we created a new crack on the front bumper (which we did not, and the damage made prior to our rent was even noted on the contract). Of course we did not accept this and told them they have even marked it on the contract. However they insisted it was our fault. They got a quotation from a garage (their own relative) which charges 805Tala to repair the crack. Thinking it is absurd, we went to the police station to get a report so that our insurance could pay us back. The police reckoned that the quote was too much but he could not do anything. He could also not write us an insurance report because there was no accident involved. You could imagine our frustration at this point, when realizing how corrupted and helpless you are in such a country when not even the police can protect you.

We went back to the car rental company thereafter and told them the quote is too high and that we do not accept the practice. Furthermore, we do not understand why there was no competitive quote allowed. We should have the right to choose a garage which charges a reasonable price. We wanted to ask the other garage for quotations, but the car rental company did not “allow” that. They said if the work of other garage is not “up to their standard” they will redo it again, and that of course, at our costs. When we said we do not accept their business practice, the manager began to threaten us by starting to call the immigration and stop us from leaving the country (he knew our flight was in a few hours) if we do not pay the bill immediately. Out of fear, we signed the bill of 805tala, 440tala of which is for labor of one person for one day (we asked the garage how much labour would be involved, and we know it is too much for Samoan standard). We left the place after that not wanting spend any extra minute there seeing the faces of these corrupted a**holes.

We have to say we left Samoa with heavy hearts after this incident with the car rental company. We have met so many lovely people who tried to make our Samoan visit memorable. Lynn at Lynn’s Getaway, for example was a great host. Not only was Lynn’s Getaway a nice place to stay, they are also great host and even allowed us to shower and rest there before our flight. Lynn heard of our encounter with the car rental company and told us we could have called her when we were at the car rental company. We of course did not think of bothering her, in fact we panicked that we could not think of anything. We just cannot accept the attitude of AA Rent A Car that we wrote an email to the Samoan government right when we arrive at Hawaii (to which they have yet to reply). What they did with threatening us was a crime. Whenever we think of our Samoan trip in the future, we will unfortunately link our memories with this unhappy incident too. We have also learnt a lesson from this incident to take photos of the car’s conditions whenever we rent one. Well, shit happens. We are hoping to relax (and only rent car from big players eg Avis/Hertz) in civilization a bit for the next three weeks, enjoying good food, sun, wind and beach. Aloha, Hawaii!


Only in Samoa

Remember the cute little Fijian airport with outdoor walkway we mentioned? We were going back to the same airport to fly off! The cute airport works on Fiji Time, a term that is just widely used but difficult to describe what it exactly means. It can mean taking delays with cool, chill out, or even earlier than scheduled time, like what happened with our flight. Our flight time to Samoa was changed to depart 40mins earlier, without notice. Luckily we were on time. The aircraft was also changed as well so Yin Ru missed this unique opportunity to fly with a 50 seats turboprop (no a jet aircraft but one with propellers). The flight time would hence be shorter than with propellers aircraft. The flight itself was short, smooth and quite scenic with views over south pacific islands and coral reefs. Inflight we sat next to a man about whom we found out later that he is a VIP in Samoa. We were impressed when he said his kids went overseas to study and he flew to three different countries in the past week. Samoans are rich in comparison to Fijians who can’t afford to fly, one would think. This man, after some research, turned out to be the son of the former prime minister of Samoa, and used to be the chairman of the National Bank of Samoa, Minister for this and that, and runs a consultant company now etc…Definitely no ordinary regular citizen.

Of all the flights we have had, this was the only one that arrived earlier than scheduled. We were prepared to wait 1.5hrs at the airport for our rental car but surprisingly, the staff from the rental company was there waiting for us already! We took our car for the next 8 days, an all-wheel driveresized_IMG_1911_ed Subaru Forester, and drove to hotel near the Wharf to get a ferry to Savai’i (one of the two main islands in Samoa) the next day. After a short drive though impressive villages, all very neatly maintained with colorful gardens in front, open living buildings and, most important, a beautiful church in the center of every village we were quite amazed about this place. Only in Samoa: Pigs, horses or chicken families crossing the main road (there is only one road on the entire island)…Speed limit of 45kmp in cities and 55 anywhere else….Phone and car number plates with a maximum of 5 digits. The main road is also the major walkway for all human (and not just the animals), parking for resized_IMG_2630_edcustomers and vendor place as well as playground for children. There were even waves from the open ocean flushing into the street during high tide an rivers flooding the road. Luckily we suspected that and booked a more solid, all-wheel drive car! That is the funny first impression we have of Samoa. We had our first fale experience (a fale is a traditional small wooden house, usually round shaped and built with local materials such as wood or palm tree leaves for the roof and classically open missing any walls). On our first evening in Samoa we had a cruel battle with a huge cockroach of 5cm. Solution to the cockroach problem: a mighty fast knockdown spray that saved YinRu’s sleep that night. Next day we got up early at 7am to, supposedly, catch the 10am ferry. At the ferry terminal we were told there wasn’t any 10am ferry (funny, the hotel and rental car company told us there would be). We got stand by tickets for 12pm. So we got up so early and now we had no idea what to do. resized_IMG_1887_edGood thing was that we had a car! So we wandered around, there was one road anyways so no worry of getting lost. We went to a “supermarket” (small store at a petrol station), bought some fruits on the street and came back to ferry terminal to wait. It was hot and humid but: Yaaay we got a 12pm ticket in the end. It was amazing how they managed to get the cars loaded in the boat. We were still queuing up and there were a few cars lining up behind us when we thought that the ferry is more than full but yeah, somehow the squeezed in more and more cars. We have never seen a ferry so fully packed that one could hardly cross and walk around, resized_IMG_1928_edsome people even being unable to leave their vehicles and staying in there for the ride. We arrived in Savai’i an hour later. One could practically not get lost: there’s only one loop road on the entire island which is about 40 times 70km “big”. We had some local lunch and drove to our fale for next two nights with a short stop in a village destroyed by a volcano eruption and the lava flooding about 100years ago. We sweated like never before, even at dinner at the beachfront we were both sweating. Samoa was just too hot and humid for us and: we have probably never experienced such severe mosquito plague. There were literally everywhere and very aggressive.

The resort served us funny breakfast with white toast and no jam available. But well, at least there were fruits. Pineapple on white toast wasn’t so bad. We paid a visit to the district hospital, a famous sight in Samoa. Ok it is not a sight. We just needed some medication to stop Roman’s diarrhea and abdominal pain since it didn’t ease of after more than 5 days and we ran out of supplies. Certainly running to the toilet 12+ a day isn’t very supportive to travel either. At the district hospital nurses are doctors, pharmacists, caregivers and resized_IMG_1971_edcleaners; all-in-one. After the hospital visit we did a loop drive at western tip of Savai’i through probably the most rural area of the country. Most people here still live on a subsistence economy: they do not follow any regular work to earn money but plant crops and have animals or hunt/fish to survive. Fishing is usually done by spear fishing and apnea diving (no oxygen supply, just a deep breath and down you go). They own very basic houses and live a truly simple life. We did a tree top canopy walk which resized_IMG_1963_edbasically walking on self-made ladders. It was funny because in Australia where we did a tree top walk too we saw signs everywhere that one should be careful, no more than 8people and other precautions on the ladders at one time. And here no one really cared and the walk, about 30 meters above ground, was secured by self-made natural plant fiber ropes. On the way back there was a probably 80 year old man who did not speak English and asked us to fetch him back to his home. We passed by some local fishermen fishing with spear, children playing next to the street without wearing clothes and endless bushland. It was a very hot day so when we got back at resort we jumped into ocean to have a bath. We were traveling on the other side of the world and it was such a coincident to have Swiss as neighbors! Time to practice some German for YinRu and exchange about travel experiences…

After two nights at Va-i-Moana we were hitting the road again – this time the South Coast Road aka Highway 55kmp speed limit. Samoa is not meant to be explored at 100km/h, the road conditions, the pigs/piglets/chickens/dogs on the road and kids justresized_IMG_2035_ed don’t allow to do that. The whole drive from one end to the other on this road would probably take 1.5 to 2 hours. Since we took our time to drive leisurely, stopped every now and then to take photos of the villages and visited the famous Alofa aga Blowhole, it took us almost 4hours. The villages we passed by were generally small and simple, sometimes you wonder if the houses would not fall apart if a storm hits the place. People were very friendly, children waving at you whenever you pass by. Though in some countries it is taboo to take photos of their houses (especially if it is not a mansion), in Samoa we found out that people are pretty ok with it.

The blowholes (lava tubes at the shore which, when waves at high tide hit the coast, resized_IMG_2060_edforce water to explode into huge fountains high in the air) where spectacular and is also one of the highlights or most visited spots in Samoa. As YinRu liked the blowhole in New Zealand a lot, she was looking forward to this one. As we turned into the gravel road that would lead us to the blowhole, an old man came to us and asked us if we were going to the blowhole. Naturally we said yes. He then hopped on to our car. Hmm alright we thought. As we have also given a local a lift before, we thought this time is the same. The funny old man’s name was Tofa, which means goodbye in Samoan. He repeated the word “Alofaaga” a few times and laughed. He also explained the word “Alofaaga” means “ever and forever” (his exact words). Tofa got out of the car and collected coconuts on the way to the blowhole. We arrived at the blowhole after a 5minute drive. WOW. How impressive it was! The water shot up high into sky, at least reaching the height of three storey-building. Tofa threw the coconuts that he had collected into the blowhole with the right timing, and boom, the coconuts resized_IMG_1980_edwere blasted high into the sky dozens of meters high! Tofa studied the waves and when the waves were big enough, he repeated the coconut-stunt a few times. When the “show” was over, he asked us for 30Tala. Ah-haa, we knew it was weird that he “volunteered” to throw us the show. Anyways we paid him 25Tala (although it was a lot for Samoan standard) because he was a really funny man and he probably had a whole family to feed. We would love to stay longer there to admire the magnificent blowhole but the scorching sun did not allow us to do so so we left the spot. We even provided pick-up and drop-off service for Tofa.

Samoans are religious and Sunday is Church Day- which means “Tote Hose” – no shops were open and some sights closed etc. We managed to reach our hotel at 2pm to get some food. Our room was a small basic room built on water, where one could watch huge fish swim whilst sitting on the balcony. The setting of the fale on the jungle’s edge at the water front with no clear walkways or any infrastructure was indeed special, resized_IMG_2425_edhowever the room was very dated and dirty. Well yeah, maybe that is the way to experience Samoan life. We would actually the room more when the weather is nice and you could sit on balcony admiring the fish, but too bad when we were there it practically rained the whole day and night. The rain was strong that we were worried our coconut leaved roof would not withstand and might collapse. Luckily it did not happen. The walk to the toilet in complete darkness over roots and mud while rain was pouring down was another unique experience.


Days in Paradise

After spending some time on main island learning about their culture and philosophy, we are finally heading towards an island to enjoy some Fijian beautiful beaches! We have decided to splurge onresized_IMG_0438 a luxury resort for the next five days on Waya Island. After camping in Australia and New Zealand, we needed a “holiday during traveling” so this island stay is really to help us relax. Many other travelers prefer to do island hopping with this “Bula Pass” where you get to ride on the ferry as many times as you want and hop from island to island, but we have decided that it was not something for us. After a resized_IMG_9987transfer to a port near Lautoka and a 1.5hour speed boat ride, we arrived at Octopus Resort! Several staff and the resort manager were at beach to welcome us with a “Bula” song when we arrived. The beach and water in front of resort looked amazing, we were just excited as we arrived. We had our welcome drink on our balcony at our Bure (traditional houses), this must be paradise!

The next days were simply heavenly for us- most of the time weather was good, good food and friendly people. Our Bure was spacious, beautiful and even had an outdoor shower. We arrived on Friday, spent the first two days snorkeling at water in front of the resort. We took our snorkel equipment, walked to the beach, snorkel out, and swam into schools of fishes multiple times! The resort was one of the best that we have had (most expensive too) with a good selection of food for every meal, friendly staff, and even prepared different activities each day


for guests. On Sunday we joined the Sunday Service at the local village, where most staff come from. After a 15minute uphill-downhill climb we arrived at the local village. Though it was not that poor, it was nowhere near the standards we are used to. Mosquito net and two mattresses outside, there was their bedroom. Nonetheless, the villagers were still happy. The church service was in Fijian so we did not understand anything, but we did enjoy their lovely choir. When we were there it was school holiday so all the kids were at the viresized_IMG_0396llage. We learnt that the children in village have to go to boarding school since primary school as there is no school other than a kindergarten in their village. So the resort would pay for the kids’ education and their expenses as they board at another island nearby. Imagine going away from home at the age of 7 for five days a week- that must be hard!

On Monday we got up soo early at 6.45am as we were going on a hiking trip to the resized_IMG_0561summit on the island. The weather did not look so friendly and it started raining shortly  resized_IMG_0579after we started our hike. At first we were pretty happy with the cloudy weather as cloudy weather should be better for us than sunny weather as it could really “grill” us. Soon we realize neither sunny nor rainy weather do us good- try hiking up rocky trail on this rainy weather! It was slippery as a slide at some parts. The tour guide was a local who does this hike twice a week. He was really fast and Yinru was really pissed. After struggling to keep up with the pace, at halfway Yinru decided it was nothing for her and decided to wait whilst the others continue their hike. Roman, the gentleman, stayed back and accompanied Yinru and another lady. During the 1.5hour wait, the weather was just changing every few minutes, rainy and cloudy and sunny all at once. It rained for some time and we looked pathetic waiting for the other hikers. After some time the others finally came down, looking like they have just came out of a jungle. Some covered with mud and leaves on face, they said it was very slippery and they did not have a good view of the island because of the weather. Rain did make uphill climb challenging, it also made downhill climb “exciting”. Some parts were so slippery that you hear “oh are you alright” as some of us lost our grip and slipped. After some 3hours we were happy to be back at the resort again. The resized_IMG_0363weather remained bad the whole day, sea was so rough and waves so huge that nobody was allowed to swim or snorkel. It had something to do with full moon so we heard. But well, we relaxed at the pool anyways. Yeah, that was more the YinRu thing (apart food) and we were happy about it. We still burned some calories with the difficult one hour hike 😉

Cool thing about this resort is that you never get bored – there is always something you can do. Some activities are free such as weaving local jewelries with leaves, visiting church; some activities are charged such as the hike, or dive. Since we have not dived for a long time, we decided it was time to maybe try diving on this beautiful island. Hence on Tuesday diving was on our schedule. Cookie, a big macho man whose name did not fit so well, is dive master with 23years of dive experience. We felt like we were in


good hands to dive together with him. However, as easy going and relayed as Fijians are, they are also pretty relaxed when it comes to quality control. We were told not to worry about the dive equipment at all as they would take care of it. When we hit the water, Roman realized that his mouth piece was broken (read: NO good as you breathe under water with it). What did the Fijians do? Use the mouth piece of the (emergency). Anyways, we survived and are writing this blog so ya, everything sort of went well. We had some problems equalizing our ear pressure so going down to bottom took a pretty long time. We saw walls of corals (there was also a magician coral that changed its color from brown to white when it was touched), some beautiful fishes, but nothing spectacular. We both agreed that the dives at Sabah were much better, personal opinion though. This dive was pretty short, before you knew it you were breathing with your nose (and not mouth as in underwater) again. The same was applicable to our stay at Octopus, good times always end too soon. After a 5-night stay and burning a hole in the pocket, we were leaving this beautiful island and resort already.

After a luxurious 5Star resort stay,resized_IMG_0375 we were going back to Bamboo backpackers again! You must be able to tell how flexible we are – we do everything from camping to hostel/backpackers to all-inclusive resorts. We enjoyed all the different experiences that come together with it, the different people you meet etc etc. At Bamboo Backpackers, where we first stayed when we arrived at Fiji, we felt like we were a part of the family. The staff still remembered us when we came back from the island getaway after 5 days and all greeted us with a genuine smile. At Octopus sometimes we had the impression that the staff are a bit tired of resized_IMG_0545meeting tourists all the time, singing the same welcome song few times a day, asking same questions multiple times a day… Packing and getting ready to fly the next day was all we did at Bamboos, besides frequent toilet visits for Roman as poor boy was down with diarrhea at the moment. We hope that it would be alright to fly tomorrow!

All in all Fiji was a beautiful experience and a lesson for us – to learn to be contended with what we have, be happy, and live more consciously. It is good to have money (to afford a trip like this for example), but money can’t buy happiness. Next time when we are pissed when the train in Switzerland has a 2minutes delay, we will remind ourselves how blessed we are, and how the Fijians would take it with cool. Fiji Time – why hurry? Fiji was a good half-time rest for us during our traveling and we did feel more energetic to continue our travel. The next stamp on passport- Samoa, another island in the South Pacific. resized_IMG_0515

Bula (Hello) Fiji

Fiji has always been somewhere really far away for us. It is geographically far, and culturally they are quite different too. We got quite excited as we were going to know more about this island country for the next ten days. We has an early start as our flight was at 8am in the morning with Fiji Airways. At check in counter the ground staff was checking every piece of hand luggage we had so we got quite surprised by how particular check in and approval of cabin luggage was (we thought these pacific islanders are so relaxed and worry-free?!). Though cabin crews and flight procedures are usually internationally standardized, our Fiji Airways flight was different. Instead of displaying the safety instructions on TV screen, the instructions were announced by cabin crew. Our captain was also different than any other boring captain we have flown with so far, as our outstanding easy-going captain gave some long funny speeches. As other captains do, our Fijian captain informed us about the forecasted weather conditions throughout the flight, adding that “of course, Mother Nature is powerful so you can never tell”. True enough, Mother Nature decided that it was time for some roller coaster fun and so we had some bad air turbulences for an hour. Upon landing our funny captains’ had his long speech to welcome us to Fiji, “Our brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters of the 360 Fijian islands welcome you to our home…The place where happiness finds you”. Is that not a funny welcome speech? Now we really want to find out if all Fijians are that welcoming and funny!

And so we disembarked, welcomed by a nice 30 degree warm wind in our face and understood from this very minute that things are different here: airport building is open! We literally walked from gate to terminal on a balcony. There were guys with colorful shirts and guitars singing in security zone. Even the Immigration Officials with all different color clothes. And Bula, Bula, Bula (Hello in Fijian) from everywhere.

One thing we learnt prior to this Fiji trip was the term “Fiji Time”- it was supposed to mean like “take your time” or “no hurry” we reckoned. Till the moment we waited 1.5hrs at airport for our pick-up, then we had a better understanding of what they meant with resized_IMG_9777the term “Fiji-Time”. The driver arrived with a tiny little car that could hardly fit our luggage. Our first encounter with Fijian local was some good chatters to Neal (driver) who is of Indian descendant (like almost 40% of the population here are). We then arrived in our Backpackers around 20min later. Then there was a lot of “bula bula bula” again until we checked in to our room. We fell in love with this place instantly: the place gave a cozy atmosphere with hammocks everywhere, friendly people having a shresized_IMG_9786ort chatter with you and finally some shorts/bikini weather. We spent the afternoon discovering the vicinity, had some lunch at the beach followed by some relaxation in the hammocks with reggae music in our ears. Fijians eat a lot of fish and we had our first local dish for dinner (Fish in coconut sauce with cassavas) and a cold Fiji Beer. This is Life!

We got up early and had so-so nice breakfast at beach. Like New Zealand and OZ, the backpackers serves toast bread and it is the only type of bread you could find here. The locals might eat cassavas for breakfast – who knows. We took the bus to Nadi town with George (one of the locals working at backpackers) and some other guys. The bus ride was an experience itself. Sitting in the bus, you feel like you are sitting in a hundred years old bus that is almost breaking apart, no windows (because it was open on both sides) and so shaky it felt like a massage for our muscles. The ride cost 1.15 Fiji Dollars (50 cents) and took about 30mins for maybe 10km (bus reversed at several places, resized_IMG_9974drove on the beach for some hundred metres and had to stop for random weirdness on the road several times). To signal the bus driver to stop, simply pull the rope on the side that would ring the bell in front of driver. Arriving at Nadi, it instantly felt warmer than on the beach because there was no breeze. George showed us the local fruit and vegetables markets, saw a small temple and then, that’s it. Nadi is really nothing for sightseeing, but, to watch people here is a sight for itself. As other guys who came with us had other agenda (some went to have hair cut which cost 2USD), we were the only two left with George so we asked George to have lunch with us. First he suggested a place, which we soon found out he had not been to before. We sat down and were given a way too overpriced menu (one curry for 14USD)resized_IMG_9957. No one dared to say something. Feeling confused by the ridiculous prices, we ordered and after the service lady was gone we all said “wow that’s expensive”. George suggested to leave and so we left. How weird is that? We got to another place he knew that was packed with locals and the food was nice and cheap (12 USD for the three of us incl. drinks). We had some good conversation about life and how it works in Fiji. George left us since he had to go back and w     ork (he already missed his bus and would probably be like 30mins to 1 hour late but yeah, its Fiji-time, isn’t it). We strolled around in town, bought some postcards and stamps, and went back with bus on our own late afternoon. It was then some chill time on hammock before shower; followed by a dinner resized_IMG_9802accompanied by Polynesian dance performances on sand with some beers. We booked a tour for the following day. It was hard to choose what to do as most of the mainland operated tours are either day tours to island or inland tours with minibuses. Since we were about to have our island-time for 5 days in a resort we crossed beach trips out. The other activities were somehow too touristy for us. We wanted to get in touch with locals and see how they live so we booked a private tour (A local driver showing us around according to our own wishes). Let’s hope it will turn out well!

Breakfast again was not so worth mentioning… There was this old man whom we have met yesterday trying to sell coconuts. (We said he climbed the tree but other lresized_IMG_9822ocals meant that that’s really what HE says…and no one has ever seen him climbing a tree before so God knows). We were supposed to be picked-up at 9am. By 9:15 no one was there so the receptionist made a few calls. Wonder if, and if who will show up in the end. Finally our driver arrived and we left by 9:50am. Timani was our driver, tour guide and our new brother. He was really pleasant from the beginning. He is actually from a highland village which did not even have electricity until a few years ago. In his village in order to go to communal school, children would either walk or ride horse to school! Horses will be tied up in jungle whilst the children attend classes. After 5mins drive from our backpacker we stopped at gas station because Timani has to meet a friend who is a Fijian residing in Canada. He waresized_IMG_9984s exceptionally happy (and people are already very happy here anyway) since his brother (actually it was just a friend but all people are brothers and sisters here) bought a car which he left for him to use while he’s not around. Having a car apparently means a lot and one of the cheapest models would cost more than a full year’s salary. We drove to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, a beautiful garden at the slope of the hillside with an incredible resized_IMG_9939selection of orchids and other plants. After that it was a visit to Viseisei Village, village where first settlers arrived. We had a short tour around in village and shopped some souvenirs. One of the villages’ ladies joined us to drive to next town. In the car Timani and this lady told us their experience flying to Australia years ago. In Fiji, it is a “dream come true” if you could once sit in an airplane and fly somewhere. Timani was tearing in airplane when he had this opportunity to visit Australia, so touched by the fact that he was flying! If someone does fly, it is a whole-village-event. People from village would throw you a farewell party, send you to airport and pray for a safe flight for you. It did remind us of how blessed we are to be flying around (though we both don’t fancy flying so much).

Timani then drove us to the second largest town in Fiji, Lautoka, which was not touristy at all. In Lautoka, Timani had to stop every 50 to 100m to greet someone or shake hands with all his “brothers and sisters”. So eventually our visit to town took quite some resized_IMG_9951time, we felt like we weer walking with superstar. We had a stroll around town and in central market buying some stuff and discovering (of course Timani also knew almost everyone there). People smile at you and you smile back here. We have probably not smiled as much this year as in the past two days… People want you to take their photo and spread to the world whereas some cultures it is disliked and prohibited. We asked Timani to bring us to place where real local lunch is served and enjoyed some new food discoveries. At the end of the tour, we have to say we learnt a lot from Timani. Money is not everything here people are genuinely happy. If people don’t work here or have no business to do they just plant something in their garden. Sharing is common so if you don’t have food someone else will have. Even if you don’t have a lot, you still share with others. It was a pretty impressive way of thinking.

We spent the evening chilling in our beach front bar underneath straw huts again. Every now and then a “Bula, how are you bro?” mixing with the reggae music playing, some locals riding horses along the beach, paddlers on longboards in the background and from time to time a loud watertaxi (water plane) starting or lading in the bay. Weather was never really good past two days. Overcast and sometimes a shower. But nice and warm.

Our first Fijian encounters have helped us to earn many good insights. Through open conversations about Fijian life and way of living we realize we have a lot to learn from them.