Fiji Time

            Following a chain of interesting and obscure events that I still don’t fully understand, my girlfriend and I found ourselves backpacking across Fiji in June of 2011. It’s a delightful little country filled with friendly people, all of whom can spot two tall white tourists a mile away and are often willing to try and sell them something. We spent most of our time on the main island traveling from town to town via the local bus system and taxis, both of which made me question whether or not Fiji has any form of automotive inspection standards before deeming them “road worthy” the only indication I had of which side of the road is the proper side to drive on was that the steering wheels are located on the right hand side.
            In the capital city of Suva we wandered the streets to the local markets and to the mall and along the way I saw inspiration. We passed a run down but well stocked fishing shop. I immediately went inside the store was poorly lit with flickering fluorescent bulbs and all the plastic packages had a healthy coating of dust on them. The whole store reminded me of that back corner of gas stations or hardware stores in small towns that have those few basic hooks displayed on cheap peg board and thoroughly coated in dust waiting for a passerby who has forgotten his lures at home or a small child who sees one he thinks will work, I vividly remember being such a child and suddenly felt like one again. I was surprised that most of the hooks on the shelves were the same as the ones I would use for freshwater at home. I guess I expected them to be a little more… exotic or something, but then again why mess with a classic? It was at this time that I decided I wanted to try fishing while I was there, however the workers in the shop were not able to guide me towards someone to take me. Perhaps that’s not a common request or it may have just been too great of a language barrier but, oh well, I was there for a few more weeks I was sure an opportunity would present itself eventually… hopefully… I would hate to come all this way and not go fishing while I was there. We then left the shop and found a movie theater and decided it had been a while since we had sat down and watched a movie especially on in a theater and it had air conditioning so it was not a hard sell. After the movie had ended I thought we were being kidnapped… Maybe I should explain… Allow me to explain…
            We went into the theater at about five pm and the movie ended around seven pm and Fiji being so close to the equator it gets dark at about six pm. Despite all the locals so far being friendly we were clearly out of place foreigners in a strange city, at night, so we opted to take a taxi back to our hostel, it was only about eight blocks away: four east and four north. We flagged down a taxi and jumped in, this particular cab was in some serious disrepair, I have driven some horrible cars in my life, I was a student for many years, but this one was making noises I had never heard before. We told him to take us to our hotel called “Coral Coast Hotels” or something along those lines, my memory of the name eludes me. The taxi took off with a broken exhaust rumble and screeched a u-turn now taking us west on the main road, I immediately start to panic but did not want to say anything because I was not fully sure what was going on, Erin at this time had not noticed we were going the wrong direction. Suddenly we were taken down a series of confusing back roads at high speeds while to driver talked furiously fast on his blue tooth head set in a language we don’t understand. It is at this point I started to look for a soft piece of ditch to bail out onto and pull Erin with me but sadly it seems the whole city was paved. Eventually the car slammed to a halt as my nervous perspiration soaked the seat below me and thinking of it now that seat was kind of gross to begin with… The dust settled in the glow of the headlights and the driver turned around to see a terrified look on my face for a split second before I saw the sign reading “Coral Coast Apartments” I was quite relieved to say the least. I explained the confusion. The driver then laughed and drove off like a madman to our hostel, I guess that’s just how he drives and I’m just a little paranoid.            Later in our trip we decided to spend some time on a small hostel on the island of Nananu-I-Ra. To get there we were dropped off on the main road to walk a few kilometers with all our gear down a scenic gravel road lined with sugar cane fields. Naturally I “enthused” Erin with my “impressive” knowledge of sugar farming’s impact on history. We eventually arrived at the end of a road at a little marina, where no one knew who we were or why we were there, but many people offered to drive us out to the island, we opted to wait for the hostels boat to come to us just to be slightly safer. Eventually they got there to pick us up. I feel it is important to mention that in Fiji they have an expression “Fiji time.” And it seems it can only be said with a smile, and it refers to the idea that no one in Fiji really takes the concept of time too seriously, it was both refreshing and a little frustrating. Our mode of transportation arrived in the form a small and questionable boat to take us 1.5kms across what I would consider open ocean, although an experience sea farer might not consider it that. We arrived at one of only two resorts on the island and were greeted by a few staff members who informed us that there weren’t enough guests to justify opening the kitchen. In fact we were

I wonder what it’s story is

the only guests at the aged hotel and to my knowledge that was the last we really saw of the staff. Believe me when I tell you very few things feel as creepy and haunted as being seemingly the only people at an island hotel. Luckily we brought our own food with us for just such an instance. On our way to the room I noticed a large amount of what my prairie eyes recognized as gopher holes, I immediately realized how unrealistic it was that there would be gophers on a secluded Fijian island. The next morning after an evening of tourists vs. a rather large cockroach, I found myself awake before Erin. I stood quietly looking out the window in amazement, there were dozens of ghostly white crabs coming out of the holes in the ground, and they were skittish, as soon as I would make the slightest noise they were gone. We then went about walking and exploring on the island, mainly to look for other people or signs of life on the island. We made our way to the other hotel and found there was a group of about five Germans and that’s about it. We then got down to the reason we came there, the guide book had told us of great scuba diving and only one scuba guide named Papoo. We gave him a call and he agreed to meet us the next day at 8 am at our hotels dock, we promptly spent the rest of the day basking in the warm sun and further exploring the nearly deserted island.

            Papoo arrived the promptly at 8:47am the next morning. He arrived in an aged white boat with a sporty red stripe down the side. Papoo was a large man not as tall as me but certainly tall for a Fijian and appeared quite well fed compared to the other locals I had seen so far, he had a broad friendly smile
Waiting for the boat

boasting bright white teeth and long frizzy hair in a bit of a natural afro, and he certainly was talkative, loud, and friendly, I liked him immediately. He was accompanied by his wife and young son. The plan was simple, he was going to teach me to scuba dive briefly and give Erin a refresher course at the same time as it had been a while since her scuba certification. He took us to a nice sloped beach with a short stone retaining wall holding back lush green grass, atop this grass were various huts clearly modern and a bit of a hotel gimmick which is often seen in this part of the world. The resort in front of us had been shut down for a few years according to Papoo. He explained the basic in and outs of scuba and had us suited up and swimming in no time. We swam for maybe 15 or 20 minutes but it was amazing to see such a colourful array of fish around the seaweed and across the clean sand. We were

Erin beside Papoo’s boat

then give snacks, the food around Fiji I found was not particularly good but, this was amazing and just what I needed; digestive cookies and a cool chocolate flavored drink, it reminded me almost of a chocolate version of iced tea, it was far better tasting that what you are imagining right now trust me, and it was just what I needed at the time. He drove us slowly back towards our resort while we discussed to possibility of a longer deeper dive the following day. It was during this time that I noticed a large classic red and white Rapala in the cup holder of his boat, Papoo just went up another notch in my book. I immediately asked him if the fishing was good and if he would be willing to take us out. He naturally jumped at the idea, as did I. He offered us a reasonably priced package deal for a dive and an afternoon of fishing for the following day. We accepted and he dropped us off at our dock and said he would be back at eight am the following day to take us out for our adventure. Much like a child on Christmas Eve, I did not sleep much that night.

            The next morning Papoo arrived at 8:25am and our day began. He drove the boat to the edge of the reef where his son jumped out and after some searching tethered the boat to a hook sunk in the reef, I didn’t see much for landmarks or GPS on the boat so I’m not really sure how he found that spot. We then got suited up and he explained that I would fall backwards off the side of the boat and he and Erin would meet me in the water, I really didn’t want to go first but I wasn’t about to look like a sissy in front of him or Erin so I rolled in what can only be described as poor form and waited for what felt like a long time. Naturally in my youth I had seen the film JAWS far too many times and was not super comfortable with swimming in the ocean but I did my best to remain calm. Eventually Erin and Papoo were in the water too. He signaled and we began our descent along the edge of the reef. I don’t know how far down we went but it felt like it took a long time. This moment marks one of the most terrifying and surreal moments of my life, the three of us were spaced far enough apart that I couldn’t see them, as I did not have my glasses on. As I slowly descended, there was a solid cliff wall behind me and it stretched as far as I could see in every direction, including up. Ahead of me was the open ocean, a seemingly endless abyss of empty blue space it’s hard to put into words but I felt trapped in a sense that I could go as far as I want in any direction and not go anywhere almost like purgatory. Eventually we reached a nice sandy bottom I never thought I would be relieved to be at the bottom of an ocean but it happened. We then swam through an opening in the reef and found ourselves in a beautiful abyss of sea life comprised of plants and fish of the most beautiful colours. We made our way around the reef in what I hope and assume was a route planned by Papoo that led us through some long, dark, and what I found to be frightening caves that you would have a hard time fitting a modern television through. Along the way Papoo would point out fish and make gestures to us to ensure we were ok and not running out of air, I kept a very close eye on my air pressure gauge. As all was well with our gear we gave him the thumbs up. Papoo replied with a slow broad clapping of his hands with his fingers wide apart, he
Me with a barracuda

then interlocked his fingers and rested them on his stomach and gracefully swam powered by his feet, even with a respirator on him I could see his smirk, this was a man who was completely content at that moment in his life. In a path my mind could not grasp we eventually made our way back to the boat with what I consider to be the experience of a lifetime behind us in the reef. Now it was time to do what I wanted. Our guide pulled out two stout rods with sizable crank bait lures on them. We began trolling along the edge of the reef making full use of all 85hp the engine had. It seemed to me that we were going pretty fast for catching fish but I have never fished salt water before. Sure enough within minutes of setting out I had a fish on the line. The heavy rod bent ever so slightly and I could feel the fight on the other end of the line I reeled and reeled the fight felt like a large and angry northern pike, a species with which I am very familiar. I eventually brought in a long, thin, sleek and silver fish with long narrow crooked teeth that resembled tooth picks. The

guide then informed me of the obvious, this was a small barracuda, I was ecstatic. We then began trolling again and Erin was now on deck for the next catch, we trolled for what felt like an eternity. The whole way Papoo was laughing and yelling something along the lines of “COME ON! WE NEED A TUNA!” eventually we hooked something and I felt the boat slow down. The engines were shut off, Erin was handed the rod and we were going live! That poor girl could barely spin the reel, it was the strangest sight to me, and she’s not a weak woman by any means. After a few minutes of giving it all she

Me with foul hooked silver trevally
had Papoo started to help… and then eventually took over… and then handed the rod to me. I sat on the side of the boat and propped by feet against the back and started reeling. I would lean back as hard as I could and quickly reel in the slack as I leaned forward, this is to this day hands down the hardest fight I have ever gotten from a fish, for a few minutes I was sure I hooked the reef or was about to pull the drain plug out of the pacific ocean. Eventually I saw a small fin break the surface of the ocean. I was relieved to see that I was pulling in a fish and not an old sunken boat. I eventually brought the fish to the boat and Papoo was kind enough to lift it in for me. I saw on the end of my line a large tall-bodied fish with a hook stuck in its side. Both the shape of the fish and the foul hooking contributed to the difficulty in pulling in the fish. Papoo was kind enough to explain as I am very unfamiliar with the fish of the area, and based on how many types I had seen scuba diving, I question if anyone could know even half of them. I was told it was a silver trevally.

 Our fishing time was now over but Papoo with

Lunch being cooked

classic Fijian hospitality invited us to lunch. With great curiosity I agreed. Our guide then brought the boat back to the abandoned resort where we had our scuba lessons the day before. Papoo, his wife, and his son promptly began gathering twigs, sticks, branches. They then built a small fire and tossed the silver trevally on top.  Once it looked nice and burnt on the outside it was placed onto some large leaves and set on a conveniently left behind picnic table. Coconuts were cracked open and we were shown how to eat lunch “Fiji style” simply rip a piece of fish off the side dunk it in the coconut milk and

Best shore lunch I have ever had

enjoy, or for added fun put some fish on a piece of coconut rind and enjoy. Despite looking a little burnt the fish was cooked to perfection on the inside and I still consider this one of the best meals of my life, based on the taste, the scenery, and the company.

 


Posted in Fishing, Travelwith 2 comments.

Comments

  • Erin M. says:

    I loved our time at Nananu-I-Ra (minus the incident with the cupboard)!

    These are the kind of experiences that can’t be planned for. Everything just sort of came together in an unexpectedly wonderful way 🙂

  • yeah that cockroach was out for blood and yea everything did just kinda fall together and I gotta say Papoo is probably the coolest dude I’ve met while traveling. The black water rafting guides are close behind.

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