(Psst, need to catch up? Here’s Part One: Donuts, Margaritas and Waistcoats, and here’s Part Two: Airports, Adoption and the Kindness of Strangers)
There are some women who travel very well. Their bags have little compartments in them. They carry spare pens. They have little bottles of water to spritz their faces. These women plan ahead. They would land on a tropical island wearing designer shorts and a shirt in breathable fabric, practical yet cute sandals showing off their pedicure.
I am not one of those women. I am standing in the Fijian airport in Farmers jeans. My clammy feet are stuffed into socks and sneakers. I’m feeling myself getting grouchy, like a toddler who needs their binky. I’m hot and sticky. Why can’t I be more like those proper women?
I’m interrupted by the voice of reason, who shrewdly points out, can you not just be happy to be in Fiji? Jesus, woman, how much more do you need from the world?
I feel guilty for being irritable and then irritable at feeling guilty, Toddler-Kate getting more petulant by the minute. I wisely decide to keep my mouth shut and let this battle play out 100% internally.
We go to the Information Counter at the airport and a Fijian woman greets us with an easy smile and a friendly “bula!” From what the brochures tell you, this word—pronounced “booh-lah”—is the Fijian “hello”. From what the internet tells me, it also means “life” and “good health”, neither of which I’m feeling at the moment.
Thank goodness for Annie. She takes charge, asking questions about transfers and waving around pieces of paper. We’re pointed towards a group of men, who greet us with “bula” and then gesture towards a set of glass doors. Inside this air-conditioned room, a Fijian woman again greets us with “bula” and asks how she can help.
I start to feel very coddled. We’re being treated like little lambs, gently guided from checkpoint to checkpoint, never being asked any hard questions, never having do anything more strenuous than follow someone and bleat little phrases. Toddler-Kate loves it.
Annie hands the woman a sheet of paper and in return we are handed matching clay necklaces. It’s a friendly gesture, sure, but also cleverly brands us as being part of a specific flock, should we wander off. A Fijian man picks up our bags and asks us, sincerely, to please follow him, thank you. He loads our bags into a van then asks us again, sincerely, to please get inside, thank you. He’s earnestly grateful and it feels strange, like we’re doing him a favour by letting him lug our junk around and drive us places.
It’s a short twenty-minute drive to the resort. Placated by free jewellery, Toddler-Kate shuts up and I start to properly relax.
We’re greeted at check-in with “Bula! Welcome home!”, and then led to our room while another Fijian man ferries our bags. I’m starting to feel incredibly lazy and spoilt, and this feeling is heightened when we see our huge room, complete with balcony and bathtub. (It is probably at this point that I should mention that Annie won a competition to get us here. If this was coming out of my budget you’d be reading “then we walked to the backpackers where we ate noodles and wept over our life choices”.)
It takes half an hour to get to the pool, because we keep stopping to take photos of ourselves in front of things. The resort is enormous. There’s endless outdoor corridors connecting hundreds of rooms, numerous pools and more than one restaurant. The guests we pass seem to fall into one of two groups: honeymooning couples or families escaping reality. Before we left, we’d agreed to find some “babes” while on holiday, which suddenly seems like more of a challenge than expected.
We sit at the swim-up bar, sipping pina coladas out of plastic cups, covertly looking for the aforementioned babes. Well, one of us is being covert. Annie doesn’t really do subtle, and as a result, she’s leaning back on her stool, one eyebrow raised at a man on the other side of the pool, muttering “oh yeah, oh yeah, muscles, hello”.
Muscles puts his arm around a girl in a striped bikini, and we decide that the babe-search is a losing battle, at least for today. We end up in a spa tub in a more secluded area, chatting about life and love and babes, drinking Fiji Gold beer out of plastic cups. Obtaining beer is almost too easy. Just wave at a passing waiter, say “Two Fiji Golds please, room 343” and drinks appear. By the time happy hour is over, I’m feeling rather intoxicated, and have invented a game where I swing on the pool ladder upside down. As a result, I’ve ingested huge mouthfuls of the spa water and am animatedly explaining to Annie all the reasons why that’s disgusting (“people have probably had SEX in here”) when she suggests we book a table at the fancy restaurant for dinner.
Standing in dripping wet togs at reception, I find myself wondering if dinner out is going to be the best idea. The concierge is struggling to understand Annie, who is doing her best formal voice on top of her drunken slurring. This is one of my favourite things about Annie. When she’s drunk she can speak fine. It’s as soon as she tries to sound sober that she ends up inserting new syllables and removing the ones she deems superfluous. The effect is almost musical, but not strictly understandable.
He manages to get through her complex verbal layer cake and we scamper back to the room, giggling. With an hour to spare before dinner we decide to crack open the duty free, and because the only mixer we have is a can of coke from the minibar, we pour half & halfs.
I hear Annie pick up the phone.
“Peh-leeze, sir. We can-not come ow-out to eat any din-ner. Peh-leeze, sir. Yes. I am Ann-knee. Room nuy-yumber is the-ree four the-ree, peh-leeze sir, thank you sir”.
She says “Ok. Room service. What… what do you want?”
I register that she’s hung up the phone and is now talking to me. I am in bed. How did I get here? I remember eating an entire family-sized bag of pineapple lumps. I remember the Malibu, which tasted like lollies. I remember having a bath while Annie danced to Gangnam Style just wearing a towel.
“What… what is there?” I ask, without bothering to open my eyes.
“Look, ok. Look, I don’t know, but all I can tell you, is that, look, I am definitely going to have this chicken and prawn thing, let me tell you, I’m going to smash this chicken and prawn thing”.
I think about getting up to read the menu but decide against it.
“Fries and bread” I mumble at her.
“Just… just fries and bread?” she checks.
“Fries and bread” I confirm.
When it arrives, she puts the bowl of chips next to me on the pillow. The salty carbs are comforting, and I get an efficient hand-to-bowl-to-face system going, smearing my white sheets with tomato sauce in my haste to cram them in my mouth.
“I’m setting an alarm” Annie tells me. “We have that sailing trip in the morning”.
Half a day in Fiji, and we’ve already cracked open the minibar, possibly ingested strangers’ bodily fluids (depending how often that spa is cleaned) and burned through the emergency chocolate reserves. Have we peaked early? Or is the best yet to come?