Keni Stops Play – Thursday 12th April

It had been a productive and highly enjoyable sixth week volunteering in the Yasawa Islands. The only disruption to the scheduled school visits had been on Thursday when we had carries out activities at base due to a poor water forecast. This had been followed on the Friday by a slightly hairy experience on our small boat in a larger than usual swell.

This was a perhaps a pre-warning of the storm which was approaching. It was a depression coming from the west which had caught the eye of forecasters who thought it had potential to become a cyclone. The damage from a Category 1 cyclone isn’t usually too significant I can’t so we weren’t too concerned.

On Saturday I waved goodbye to fellow volunteers Jessica and Steph, leaving school teacher Heather and myself with team members Gabby and Jim. Saturday afternoon and evening was relaxed at Botaria Resort, but the next day was far from it…

That night there was loud cracks of thunder over the islands as the rain poured down. We were starting to experience the first indications of the area of low pressure. After breakfast Heather received a phone call from Elle, general manager of “Vinaka Fiji”, informing us we were to be evacuated to the main island – Vitu Levu.

Elle is also plays a significant roll in the “Awesome Adventures” company, an organisation which helps run several of the 16 resorts in the Yasawas chain. It also provides the flyer, a daily catamaran service which provides the best way of travelling to your chosen resort while seeing the other islands. Therefore, it was her call to evacuate all guests at the resorts to Port Denaru on the mainland.

The Flyer is timetabled to arrive at Botaria at 11am on its way north. This time it arrived early and turned at the next resort along, picking up all tourists south of Naviti. Another boat would do the resorts north of Naviti.

The first challenge was actually getting on the Flyer. None of the resorts have a mooring large enough, so we are taken by small longboat to the flyer which stops just out to sea. Once the resort’s boat captain has managed to park next to the catamaran, passengers must step from one vessel to the other. This can be difficult in stormy conditions and proved to be today as Heather and I both found it hard to find any sort of steady surface to step on.

Thankfully making it onto the boat, we started our winding four hour journey south. As every guest at every resort was leaving the Flyer was soon at full capacity. Luckily Heather and I were able to find seats in the middle and at the back of the boat as we swayed from side to side in the large swell. This is seemingly the best place to sit if you don’t have good sea legs.

Relieved to arrive at the port, it was a farewell to Heather who had unfortunately only been able to spend one day volunteering while in Fiji. I was then given a lift from Elle herself to Nadi Bay, an inland hotel which would be my shelter for the next few days.

The next few days were spent sitting around and not doing very much at all. I was desperate to return to the islands but knew this was the a safe place to be as the cyclone arrived. On Tuesday it hit Nadi and there was high winds and flooding in other parts of Fiji. Nadi Bay was a sheltered spot and I felt sorry for the locals who had been forced to batch down the hatches again after the flooding which had followed Cyclone Josie a couple of weeks ago.

“Vinaka Fiji” team member Ross’ family home was flooded along with his farm just outside Nadi. Dengue fever had also been going around his village and he fell victin to it for two weeks. Meanwhile, Gabby and Jim had trekked to Kese when we were evacuated on Sunday. This village on the other side of Naviti from Botaria was hit by flooding from the heavy rainfall.

The Flyer didn’t run next untill Thursday and I met Miss Tema at the port. She had been forced to take an extended break and we were both unaware that Ross was ill as he didn’t join us on the boat. The cyclone had even worse effects in Kadavu, an island 60 miles south of the mainland. Roofs were torn of houses and locals said they thought the world was going to end, as Keni intensified into a Category 3 cyclone.

Arriving in the Yasawas again it was great to be back, but hard to hear of the difficulty my Fijian friends had faced. Difficulties that many say our becoming more common as climate change has a huge effect on a country which actually contributes to the global problem on a much smaller scale than most. When Cyclone Winston hit Fiji in January 2016 it was the strongest ever to hit the Pacific region. Huge Disruption was widespread and the current Fijian government now treats globe warming as a hugely important issue. Let’s hope for the sake of this beautiful group of islands, that there is now some restbite.

 

 

 

 

 

First Impressions of Fiji

After a mammoth journey over three continents and including three international airports, I had arrived on Fijian soil. Stepping out of the airport I had been met by a blast of hot, humid air, my first breath of Southern Hempisphere air as I sety watch to late afternoon.

I was taken by shuttle taxi to where I would be staying first. The plan was to stay on the mainland, 15 minutes from Nadi Airport in a resort next to the beach. I hoped that it would go some way in destroying my flight lag.

The “Smugglers Cove” resort turned out to be a great cure with good food, lovely staff and a well conditioned dormitory where I spent a fair few hours sleeping when I arrived. Sleeping from 8pm to 7am on my first night there.

This meant that I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed. Although I was quickly reminded when I wondered out onto the beach that these temperatures would take some getting used to. With the mercury nearing 30 degrees by mid morning.

I decided to go for a short wonder along the road but quickly found out this wasn’t really the thing for a tourist to do. Was stopped by many taxi drivers and drivers who wondered where I was going and whether they could give me a lift.

It was the second night at the resort that I met the most Australian man in the world called Ash. Nothing was off the table with this “bloke” and he delighted in telling me about every personal detail of his travels, not leaving much to spate. He didn’t seem impressed when I told him I didn’t think much of Australian Football.

It was during this chat that one of the resort staff, Rita, asked me whether I was travelling alone. On finding out I was, she insisted on giving me her bus e-card to travel into town (Nadi) and then onwards to the Port Denaru marina. Giving it toe the warning that if I lost it should would kill me.

With this in mind, I spent my last day before travelling to the Yaswa Islands, riding the local buses. Rita had given me strict instructions to follow and I had wondered up to the nearest bus stop with no idea about when the next bus would arrive.

20 minutes passed before I was joined by a local who explained she was also headed for Port Denaru, telling me to follow her. This had come from her ability to make conversation with a stranger at a bus stop. A skill which Fijians seem much better at than us Scots.

The first bus to Nadi was loud and had little windows, but gave a good insight into rural Fiji. It didn’t take long to get to town and when we did we were met by a huge queue of buses revving their engines at the bus terminal.

A short walk later I was on the “Yellow Bus” to the marina, thanking the kind lady who helped me as she got off to work at the “Hilton”. Port Denaru would be where I would get the boat out to remote Fiji the next day, though after buying some new sunglasses there didn’t seem too much else to do in the many shops and I headed back, looking forward to the next adventure.

That night we were treated to traditional dancing and fire throwing. Which looked no less dangerous than amazing.

The next morning I rose early, packing everything and getting on the “Awesome Adventures” coach with a huge school class from Norway. A long way for a school trip to go!

After a short journey to the marina I had visited yesterday, I met with the volunteer leader and was suprised to find out that I would be working alongside one other volunteer called Alex. After being provided with our tickets for the “Yaswa Flyer” and a t-shirt to be worn in the school, we boarded the boat for paradise.

 

 

The Big Trip

Only six weeks after booking the adenture of a lifetime to the Fiji Islands I was being seen off by my Dad at Glasgow Airport. I was nervous but thrilled to be given an opportunity to travel to the other side of the world to meet new people and have some exciting experiences.

This excitement was complemented by some nerves as being 19, I had never travelled solo by plane. This trip would include three flights and four airports, a thought for the inexpirenced traveller. The three boarding passes clutched by my side reminded me off this epic 35 hour plus trip as I waited to board the first flight to Dubai.

As I waited, I overhead some antipodean accents and wondered if any passengers would be joining me for my second flight to Brisbane as well.

On boarding I was pleasantly surprised that I found my seat so easily, usually being one to commit some sort of faux-pas at this point. I had an aisle seat, sitting beside two Glaswegian honeymooners going to Bangkok.

If your going long haul, “Emirates” seems the way to do it. Being seated in economy class, I was given good food and had plenty of leg room. I had no complaints, even if the lady harassing the flight attendants in front of me disagreed.

We left the cold, dark surroundings of Glasgow at 8.50 pm landing in Dubai the next morning, they’re time. On approach to Dubai we flew over the city and we’re given good views of the urban landscape and dessert that stretched inland like a massive sandpit. It looked warm, but my next destination would perhaps be warmer.

Before landing I was concerned I would struggle to find my was around the massive airport, but was helped greatly by clear signage at every turn. It took 15 minutes to walk to the gate where I decided to stretch my legs round duty-free rather than sit with the masses bound for Brisbane or Auckland.

Soon enough I was going through a security check before boarding the largest passenger plane in the world.** Surely it would be harder to my seat this time? Again no issues and a settled down for the definition of a long haul flight – 14 hours in the air.

Sitting right at the front of the plane, I found myself between a Kenyan women and a man from Gloucester, who tried to convince me that the Scottish Rugby team were still as good as we thought they were. This being after I told him where I was from.

I tried to remain relaxed but found the middle of flight quite wearing as I watched our location on the map get closer to the Australian coast without seemingly ever finding land. The man beside me was less relaxed, walking about every 30 minutes and using an unusual device to take on board “atmospheric” oxygen. This did however give me lots of opportunities to go pee while not bothering anyone to move as he sat be tween me and the aisle.

It took five hours to cross Australia, before we hit the tarmac hard at Brisbane. I had a four hour break here, and as I wondered around the departures area, I realised that I was at least 10,000 miles away from anyone I had close links too. A mega-scary but also mega-exciting thought.

With some time to spare,  I went in search of some Fijian dollars and took out 100FDJ***. When asked by the cash exchange server if I wanted to know about future deals I might want to know about I declined, telling her I didn’t think I would be here too often. She laughed while looking enqusitvely at my Bank of Scotland card.

In deed most people I had come across so far had been slightly bemused when I told them where I was from and that I was travelling alone.

My flight left Brisbane at 10.30 am, on time despite the gathering storm clouds visible from the terminal building. By this point my body clock was throughly confused, but I still horsed down the tasty curry on the flight.

If the passengers and crew of the Fijian Airways flight were an advertisement for Fiji then they were a very good one. They welcome us aboard with aboard with a friendly “bula” – meaning hello and really all round happiness. They were dressed with colourfull Pacifican clothes and wore big smiles.

On our final descent into Nadi on the main Fijian island of Vitu Levu, the Fijian beside me complained that it was going to be cold when we landed. After a smooth landing in a rainstorm, she was proven wrong (in my eyes) as I was hit by a wave of humid air as we made our way towards the airport building.

I realised that the real adventure had now begun!

*Airbus A380 if your an airplane geek like me.

**Equivalent of approx. £35.