Friday, 15 February 2019

Backpacking Part Four - Fiji, the Cook Islands and Tahiti...topless...


So, dear Readers, we find ourselves back on a plane and headed to Fiji…after hurtling from one beautiful place to another in New Zealand, quelle drag, I decided in my infinite wisdom, that I needed to lie on a beach for a bit…

Off we went and landed in Nadi (pronounced, confusingly, Nandi) which is one of biggest towns on the main island, Vita Levu (the capital is actually Suva, but there are two airports). Now, dear Readers, what comes to your mind when you think of Fiji? White sand? Palm trees? Azure water? Cute stalls and markets? A gentle breeze? Paradise? Well, I am here to tell you that that IS NOT THE CASE!!! Nadi is a toilet of a place. It’s vile. We had booked ahead to a youth hostel and do you know the first thing they said to your Bemused Blogger? Get the hell out of Nadi and the main island and get to a smaller island. Funnily enough (sigh) they just happened to know where we should go and funnily enough had a boat to get us there. Incidentally, whilst at said toilet of a youth hostel, your Hapless Blogger was bitten by a spider…I think…but I woke up with one thigh double the size of the other...

Something else which isn’t in the brochures is the poverty: it’s incredible. There is a large Indian population in Nadi, and the poverty we saw was terrible. I don’t want to go into it, to be honest. It was shocking.

Mana Island. Half youth hostel and, not poverty, but still quite basic living, and half glamourous resort…N’ere the twain shall meet…until Princess here arrived…The backpacking side, being amalgamated with the poor, unsuspecting locals, was extremely basic, but it was wonderful at the same time, because it was predominately the locals who ran it. Fijian cooking is interesting, and a lot is cooked in or on a dug-out pit called a “lovo”. Funnily enough for a small island, we didn’t eat much fish which was a bit weird. Plenty of chicken and a plethora of cassava. Cassava is a root as such, and used instead of potato or sweet potato…It is completely tasteless and quite stodgy (which was presumably why they gave it to us) but if you’d had enough Kava, you didn’t really notice…


Kava deserves a whole new paragraph. It is an indigenous root which is ground into powder, then mixed with water in a bowl, to resemble and taste like old bathwater. It comes with a great ceremony and everyone drinks out of this bowl. It’s effect, however dear Readers, is something else. Quite extraordinary. I guess it’s similar to weed, but your entire mouth goes numb. Probably so that you can eat the cassava quite happily…but you don’t really care…


Another thing which happened whilst I was there was on my Birthday: I woke up on my Birthday morning to find that one of the locals had stolen all my bikini tops. All of them. Funnily enough, there are no shops on Mana…let alone bikini shops. Fortunately, your Hapless Blogger was quite happy to go topless in those days, so the crisis wasn’t as important to me then as it would be now…So topless sunbathing was the order of the day. Although if you’re planning a trip to Mana, I would warn you, that although the beaches are totally iydyllic, the main one has an airstrip behind it. Nodding off (probably after too much Kava and cassava) one day, I was rudely awoken by what looked like to me, a small aeroplane attempting to actually land on my head. Nope, just the landing strip which started approx. 10 METRES AWAY FROM ME!! Just FYI be careful.


Staying on the same day: Princess’ birthday, your Princess Blogger decided she deserved a cocktail at the beautiful bar of the posh resort we shared the island with. Having fashioned a half decent bikini top from a sarong, I strutted through the resort and plonked myself down at the bar. Although I wasn’t your typical “backpacker” my companion clearly was. They refused. I threw such a hissy fit, that eventually they relented and convinced me to take my cocktail in a PLASTIC CUP (quelle horreur but clearly they thought for their own safety) down to the beach, where, in protest, I proceeded to sunbathe topless, which in my own head I thought would piss them off, but in reality probably just caused more enjoyment and hilarity…

I have to tell you though, dear Readers, the ocean in Fiji will remain in my memory forever. It was exactly how it looks in the brochures. I’ll never forget I had a small diamond in a ring I was wearing, and in the water, the fish were attracted to it, and suddenly it was like swimming in a tropical fish tank, there are no words to describe it. That’s the sort of experience you go travelling for.


Clearly, Mana wasn’t really for me, having suffered a sustained attack by the local mosquito population, your Indignant Blogger managed to get to 213 mosquito bites, so we moved back to the main island, but this time to a youth hostel further along towards a place called Pacific Harbour. Fortunately this was sturdy as the weather closed in and it threw it down for days on end. To be quite honest, I just wanted to get out. Our next stop was the Cook Islands, and according to all the guides, it was the place to go. So, and this goes back to the first Blog post about backpacking, we were able to change our ticket and cut short our time in Fiji in favour of the Cook Islands.


Readers, please take it from me, that this was the best decision of my life!


The Cook Islands are, literally, paradise.


I fell in love. If you ever get the chance to have an adventure in the South Pacific, then visit this beautiful place. I could almost cry now, it was so amazing. Honestly Rarotonga is everything you ever wanted in a paradise island. As opposed to Fiji, the Cook Islands are actually owned by New Zealand, and it shows. The native is king, and everyone seemed so, so happy to live there. They lived simply, but certainly not in poverty.


Visually, it is lush and green, having mountains and national parks in its centre. Although one could say that Fiji could beat it in terms of beaches, and yes, it probably could, but it’s not to say that the beaches are not still phenomenal.

Your Intrepid Blogger decided to hire a car in order to explore the Island, and decide where she wanted to stay. Now, this had become a theme, because although you tended to have to have somewhere booked, thanks to my experience in Fiji, if you are car-less, then you have a difficult time getting to the place where you should perhaps be. So scarred from my Fijian spider-biting mosquito ridden nightmare was I, that even though Rarotonga is only 20 miles in circumference, I decided I would be safer to hire a car to get my bearings.

In the Cook Islands you have to buy your driving license, because back then your UK driving license wasn’t valid. Now, the law in the Cook Islands has since changed, and in fact, you only need to purchase one if you are intending on hiring a moped or motorbike and you don’t have a motorbike license in the UK. It no longer applies to cars. But guess what, it cost next to nothing, and I still have it as a souvenir.

Another fun fact: in the Cook Islands, there are no drink driving laws. You can get drunk as a skunk and drive home if you wish…being only 20 miles in circumference, let’s face it, it wouldn’t be far…

Car duly hired, we made it to the hostel which was a series of little individual huts. Really nice, actually. Then, being young and idiotic, I decided to test out the drunk driving by spending the evening at Trader Jacks on the cocktails, then driving home. I did the best parking of my life…I just don’t remember it…sigh…

The good thing, as I mentioned, about having a car is that you can go and find the best place for you. This, dear Readers, I certainly did. Having no internet, and no AirBnB or such like, we had to again rely on basically driving round until we happened upon something interesting looking. Having done my research today, there are loads more places along the same coastline of the same ilk, but at the time, this was the only one: t’s now called Cooks Bay Villas https://www.cooksbayvillas.com/beachfront if you wanted to have a look. They’ve been upgraded, clearly, since I was there, but the essence is the same: two palm trees, hammock in between. Paradise. And at that stage, very, very cheap. Readers, so cheap (and bearing in mind I had cut Fiji short so I had more time in the Cook Islands) I stayed there for 2 months. Just me, my companion, some good books, the hammock and the ocean…and still no bikini tops…


Having only hired the car for 2 days, and the location of the villas being on the other side of the Island to the main shops etc, my companion decided that we needed to hire bicycles. Now, Readers, I have never pretended to be any good on two wheels. To my parents’ utter dismay, it took me until I was 10 years old to learn to ride a bike…So as you can imagine, it WAS NOT like riding a bike, and I got on then promptly fell off. That was just the start. In the UK, one usually has a sort of bike-riding exam in the last year or so of junior or prep school where one learns such skills as taking one hand off the handle bars to indicate to other road users perhaps one’s desire to turn left for example. Yours Truly was so terrible at riding a bike in the first place, that they didn’t bother with her. So thus, when it came to riding the 12 miles or so from the bike hire place back to the villa, it didn’t go well. A fly flew into my face and as I couldn’t take my hands off the handlebars to get it off, it had to stay there until I reached my destination…

Not enjoying the bike-riding, basically because I am intrinsically lazy, your Idiotic Blogger decided, in yet more infinite wisdom, to hire a moped. At this point, her companion told her to do it herself…so off she popped on the bus, all full of bravado. I must have gone to the only place on Rarotonga where the proprietor didn’t have a grasp of the English language, which was very strange. Rather than being a native, he was an Indian gentleman from Fiji…WHY DIDN’T ALARM BELLS RING? Well, they clearly didn’t. He took my money, and gave me the moped. Now, an important point to remember at this juncture, dear Readers, is that your Hapless Blogger is no good on two wheels. Quite why I assumed I could just jump on it and ride it, I have no idea. Another thing to picture, is that there is only one main road on Rarotonga, which runs round the island, and turning out of said rental place, this was the only teeny tiny piece of dual carriageway…So, you can imagine what’s coming next: having had the man start the machine of doom, I managed to get out onto the road and into the path of an oncoming lorry. Having swerved, I narrowly missed death, and kind of put my foot on the road trying to steady myself, breaking my toe in the process. With blood spurting everywhere I carried on my sorry journey to my destination, not at all understanding that one had to lean to go round corners rather than steer.

I was very distressed, and the amount of blood spurting out of my toe was substantial. I thought that all the looks and hooting of the cars coming the other way, and even pointing at one stage was due to the fact that they could all see how distressed I clearly was and the trail of blood from my toe.


No, Readers, it was not.


It was very warm in the Cook Islands, and bearing in mind I had no bikini tops, I had just put on my boob tube style top and a nice, floaty skirt (very “Traveller Chic”). In my angst of the near-death experience and breaking my toe, I had inadvertently pulled down my boob tube. Resulting, my dear Readers, in riding round half of Rarotonga, topless. So the pointing and honking had nothing to do with my angst, and all to do with the fact that I had just limped 12 miles with my bangers out!!!! Someone, indeed took a photo, and yes, I ended up, thankfully not on the front page, but in the Cook Islands News…”Tourist Rides Topless Around Island”…

Upon reaching my destination, and clearly still not realising what had happened, I screamed for my companion to get me off this dreadful contraption because I couldn’t stop and my toe was broken…but there was no response…he was on the floor, weeping with laughter…Suffice to say, I have never been on anything with two wheels since.


What can I say…you couldn’t make it up…


On a completely different note, whilst staying in my paradise, and nursing my poorly toe, I learnt to climb a palm tree…not in practice, obviously, I think we have discovered that that would be a complete nightmare, but in theory. Then I learnt to split the coconuts open (as a spectator) and make smoothies with the coconut flesh and milk (I managed that). I was also taught how to make the local dish of cerviche…I will never forget it…some locals came round with it one night, and we ate it in the beach, it was one of the best nights of my life. 


The food, the hospitality, the ocean, the beaches, the simple life, the chilled vibe…honestly, Readers, young or old or in-between, go to the Cook Islands, although they are the other side of the world, they beat any “Paradise Destination” I have been to since: Colony Club in Barbados? Nothing on the Cook Islands, and about 50 times the price.

Having been in the bubble of paradise for so long, it was time to go. I’m not going to lie, I extended our time there, so we didn’t actually have any time in Tahiti really, and everyone we spoke to said Tahiti, for a backpacker, was really expensive. Bearing in mind our idyl, we paid a fleeting visit to Tahiti, and headed straight for Los Angeles.

So brace yourselves for pimp palaces in Venice Beach and drinking with heiresses in Melrose…


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2 comments:

  1. This is hilarious and informative so thank you for making me laugh

    ReplyDelete
  2. We aim to please! Thank you for your comment. Nothing like a bit of real experience, warts and all!

    ReplyDelete