Bula from Fiji!

Once again, I have tons to catch up on here!! I believe I left off in Nadi just prior to our departure for the Octopus Resort.

In preparation for our two weeks at Octopus, we went through our luggage to see what we could realistically leave on the mainland. Even getting rid of a bag full of stuff, the car seat, and the stroller…we STILL had a mountain of luggage! We’ll have to do much better when we’re getting ready for Southeast Asia.

The Octopus mini-bus picked us up in front of our hotel and all three of us jammed into one seat. The poor driver lifted all our heavy bags onto the roof of the van! I had my bag full of electronics and Grant’s two bottles of Jack Daniels between my legs and a hot sweaty kid sleeping across my lap. The air-conditioner didn’t work well, either. Needless to say, 30 minutes was a LONG ride!

The van brought us to the marina of a nearby town where we boarded a small boat stuffed to the gills with luggage, people, and resort supplies. It was choppier than I had expected and both Jessica and Grant were looking pretty green. Jessica was in the same seat as me, so I took out a large Ziploc bag…just in case. Well, she never threw up, but she wouldn’t let me take that bag away from her face for anything! She managed to find a reasonably comfortable position for herself by jamming my elbow into the metal bar on the back of the seat and wedging her head between my arm and my body. The other arm was occupied by holding the plastic just-in-case bag at exactly the preferred angle. Every time I tried to move either of my arms – she’d freak out. Finally she fell asleep in a sweaty lump across my lap. But, I had to hang onto her legs to keep them from slipping off the seat when we hit a wave. Meanwhile, Grant was sulking across the way because I hadn’t remembered to give him some sea-sickness medicine until we boarded the boat. So, it was my fault he was feeling sick. Again…NOT the most pleasant way to travel for an hour and a half!!

The scenery on the boat ride, however, was nothing short of spectacular. We traveled along the Yasawa group of islands to Waya Island where the Octopus Resort is located. The island is small, consisting mostly of mountains that are literally blanketed in thick, green vegetation. Nestled against the side of the mountain is a small resort with adorable little thatched huts called Bures for guests to stay in. The resort is completely hemmed in by lush forest and mountain on one side and beach on the other. The beach is dotted with beach chairs, hammocks, and the ubiquitous palm trees. The boat had to thread it’s way through the reef which runs only a few feet off the beach, and offers the most spectacular snorkeling I’ve ever seen. Paradise found!

We stepped onto the beach amidst smiling faces and were presented with lovely cool fruit juice to drink while Sammy sat us down as a group to go through the basics of the resort. It was Sunday, so the resident choir that generally welcomes the group had the day off. A sweet, smiling woman showed us to our Bure.

We had booked a garden Bure primarily because it was a lot cheaper than the ocean front, and less than half the price of one of the precious few with air-con. We took a short path through the trees and wound up in front of a small, palm-thatched hut that was to be our home for the next two weeks. Inside was Spartan, to say the least! There was a queen sized wooden bed for us and a single one for Jessica. The mattresses looked a bit old, but they were clean and surprisingly comfortable. Each bed had it’s own mosquito netting, although malaria, etc isn’t an issue in Fiji. A wooden wardrobe with a mirror, a small table and a chair completed our furnishings. The floor was tiled, with a rag mat at the door to wipe our feet. Thankfully, there was a small foot bath at the door to wash the sand off our feet – which came in very handy and also doubled as a bird bath!

The bathroom had hot and cold running water, a proper toilet and a shower…but no roof! It was SO wonderful to shower looking up at the trees or the stars, and sometimes the resort cat would peek over the wall. Unfortunately, our neighbors got to hear all the potty training (and everything else that went on in the bathroom) LOUD and clear! Speaking of potty training, for some unknown reason Grant had told Jessica several weeks previously that she’d better figure out the potty training thing quickly because all we would have in Fiji was a hole in the ground to pee in. (I don’t have a CLUE what he was thinking) Anyway, Jessica walks into the rather rustic shower, and spies the drain: “Daddy! I’ve found the pee hole!!!!”

All in all, the Bure was reasonably comfortable. It got pretty hot at night, but a cold shower before bed and the ceiling fan made it bearable. We had any number of cool creatures living in the walls, too. There were little tiny lizards that chased the ants, and tons of geckos. The only thing I couldn’t stand was the cockroaches. We didn’t get many of them but they’re the only thing that makes me go all girly!

After settling in and having a quick shower, we headed off for lunch. The resort offers a fixed menu for lunch with about ten choices, and a separate kid’s menu. We had planned to use this two weeks as an opportunity to broaden Jessica’s repertoire of food items. But, what should appear on the kid’s menu: peanut butter sandwiches! The kid seriously ate peanut butter sandwiches and a banana three meals a day for two entire weeks. We managed to sneak in the occasional slice of orange or watermelon, but that was about it.

Grant and I both enjoyed our lunches, and began to look forward to the food at the resort. The only drawback was that, although we’d pre-paid for three meals a day, the only drinks that were included were at breakfast or water throughout the day. Dessert was extra as well. When we arrived for our first dinner, we also discovered that there was only one choice for each meal. The first menu was salad and fish & spinach pie. Mommy immediately went into a sulk and tried to work out how much extra it was going to cost to eat peanuts and ice cream for dinner every evening. However, when the food arrived it was fantastic!

We have never stayed at a resort where we enjoyed the food more, in fact. I would say this is a three star resort with five star meals. They managed to keep the pickiest family in the world just about completely content for the entire stay…and with only one choice for dinner! The dinners were quite varied as well, with a traditional Lovo (meal cooked in the ground), a beach BBQ, Indian curry night, etc. I wish they had a resort cookbook, because some of the meals were so fantastic I’d like to try making them at home. The staff was also really sweet about keeping the peanut butter sandwiches coming for Jessica.

Speaking of staff, the people were almost unfailingly friendly. The maid service wasn’t spectacular, but Octopus is the kind of place where small mistakes just don’t matter anymore. Any issues are rectified immediately, and they’re never very big in the first place. At a five star place, you might get really annoyed that you’ve run out of toilet paper for the third time, but at Octopus you just wander over to the bar and the manager himself will fetch you some.

The people we met at the resort really made the place for us though. Octopus has a dorm and some tents to rent out, so there were a lot of singles and some backpackers staying. Occasionally, a private sailboat would pull up and the people on board would come in for dinner and drinks. We met too many great people to go into detail – suffice it to say that we met more people in two weeks than we did in the four months we spent in Australia, and we’ll likely keep in touch with several. The fact that we were diving every day with new people and that the tables at mealtimes are communal meant that we were constantly chatting with interesting folk! Unfortunately, the one most obnoxious person we’ve met on our trip thus far was a Canadian woman who loudly announced at dinner that she: “hated New Zealand because it was just one big F**%ing farm!” She was an utter nightmare, and I’m embarrassed to be from the same country.

For the first five days, we spent a lot of time with a lovely family from Sydney: Suzie & James and daughters Bella (6) and Gabi (4). Jessica and Gabi developed a rather tumultuous relationship in the space of five days! Poor Jess is a bit out of practice with kids her age, and doesn’t quite understand that her friend might not want to be bossed around all day!

We visited the local village twice during our stay. The first time was for a traditional Kava and Meke ceremony and a craft market. Kava is a local drink made from water and crushed up plants. It has anesthetic properties, but all the ‘tourist strength’ stuff does is make your mouth go a bit numb. Kava pretty much tastes like wet dirt, and after the first bowl, I politely declined the rest. Thankfully I was sitting next to one of the elders (Moses) during the welcome ceremony and could quietly ask if it would be really disrespectful to decline the subsequent bowls of Kava! He just laughed and said it would be ok. I later found out that Moses has five kids and twenty-five grandchildren!

After sitting through the individual welcoming of every person there, and several bowls of Kava later, the villagers performed a Meke (dance and song) for us. All Fijians seem to be able to sing wonderfully, and the boys are downright sexy, so I enjoyed this part of the festivities very much. We even got up and did a bit of dancing ourselves. Afterwards, the local women brought out various crafts and we all bought something or other from them.

Our second village visit was on Sunday morning to attend the Methodist church ceremony. The service was conducted entirely in local dialect, so I only recognized about ten different words. There were several different speakers and they were all extremely passionate orators. The choir was wonderful and definitely the highlight of the day. It was HOT and sweaty in that church. Thankfully, I brought enough candy to keep Jessica reasonably still and quiet throughout the service!

One of our favorite aspects of Octopus had to be the unlimited diving offer. For $599 FJD (about $400 CAD) we could dive as many times as we wanted during our stay, including decent rental gear and a computer. Even Jim, who had been there 40 days, was still diving every day – essentially for free. I managed to get in 12 dives and Grant dove 8 or 9 times (he got a cold.) The diving was pretty good, although the visibility wasn’t that great. We both saw our first sea turtles and huge schools of barracuda, though. It was really nice to be out there with such a small group; definitely a contrast to the live-aboard in Cairns that would unload masses of divers in the same site and you always seemed to be crashing into someone under water.

The only really negative thing I have to say about the whole resort is that I think the dive masters (with the exception of Jodie) were not sensitive enough to the needs of more inexperienced divers. They took one guy out who only had 12 dives under his belt and had never been deeper than 18 meters – not to mention he had no advanced certification. He was anxious before we even started the dive brief. They took this poor guy down to 33 meters – INSIDE A CAVE! He had never been that deep, never been in a cave before, and had a bloody camera with him. The cave was long and narrow and the most crucial portion of the descent occurred inside the confines of the cave. The dive master was simply lucky that this guy did reasonably well in that cave. If he had narcosis or if he had panicked, there was a pretty good chance he (and the two of us jammed in behind him) would have been stuck in that cave with not enough bottom time left to sort out any kind of problem. Thankfully, aside from issues clearing his ears, nothing major happened.

As it was, he just churned up the bottom trying to take pictures with not enough buoyancy control and I got scraped up trying to tread water behind him as he goofed around taking pictures. Nearing the end of the dive, though, he ran low on air faster than the rest of us. There were only four divers down including the dive master, and I was unofficially buddied up with the new guy. The dive master told him to go up and do his safety stop and told me to follow him and continue the dive – leaving this poor guy completely stressed out, having buoyancy issues, low on air, and ALONE. I told the other two to go on without me and ascended with my buddy who was looking a bit panicked by that point.

Considering his experience level, he did remarkably well, but he should never have been put in that position. He’s now decided to do what he should have done in the first place – refuse a dive that is beyond his abilities. While he’s ultimately responsible for himself, I still think that the dive master put the group in serious danger by taking him on such a complicated dive. As for myself, I was so worried about the new guy, I forgot to be nervous for myself during MY first real cave dive!

The second issue occurred with a different dive master – the lady who ran the shop, in fact – and an even newer diver. This group was larger and we had a couple with us who had only just recently completed their open water dives. The dive master ripped through the dive brief and you could see this couple wasn’t entirely comfortable. The woman was still in the boat when the dive master first signaled the descent! She barely made it in the water as we all started descending, and was still messing with gear. On the way down, she had some issues with her ears. The dive master tried to help her out for a few moments, and eventually gave up. Instead of telling her to surface with her buddy, she told her to follow our bubbles along until she was better able to descend.

Well, her husband had rented a camera and didn’t want to lose this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take underwater photos. So, he decided he could best keep an eye on his buddy by descending 8 meters or so below her and occasionally waving to her as she tagged along at the surface not able to see anything and not able to equalize. Since I hadn’t been assigned a buddy anyway, I figured I should tag along with her for a while. The dive master had long since ceased paying any attention to any problems she was having. I asked if she wanted to ascend, and swam with her at the level she was comfortable with. Her husband kept up with the waving from below. Very helpful. Obviously she felt bad for holding people back, because she kept trying to descend to where her hubby was, and finally managed it. At the end of the dive, her ears and nose were bleeding! You’d think that at this point someone from the dive shop would be fairly concerned and at least want to have a look at her ears. Nope – no interest whatsoever.

Obviously, both divers in question should know better, but I still think the dive masters could have seen the obvious signs of inexperience and anxiety and done a little more to help out. That, and they should seriously STOP renting the damn camera to newbies!

Overall, though, the Octopus experience was a very positive one – it’s like summer camp for grown-ups! I’ve never been so relaxed in my life! There weren’t even any annoying seagulls on the island. We enjoyed the people, the food, the ambiance, and the evening activities. They even had a large lending library of great books to keep Mommy occupied. Every evening the staff would hold a kava ceremony for the new arrivals. Grant sat in on this several times and got quite friendly with the village mayor and the resort band. Once the new arrivals were finished, often the staff would switch to the more potent version. James drank so much kava that his eyes went all bloodshot and we teased him that he’d never make it back through customs without a very thorough search.

The evening activities included movies shown outside around the pool (grown-up movies – hooray!), various party games on Saturday night, and crab racing once a week. Crab racing is the funniest thing ever! Everyone picks a little hermit crab, paints a number on it’s back and races it against all the other crabs in hopes of winning a bar tab. Unfortunately, Jessica always fell asleep before the evening activities because she was very much in love with the local hermit crab population.

Generally, we took turns putting Jessica to bed while the other partook in the evening’s entertainment. On our last night there, however, Jessica fell asleep again during the adult’s dinner. So, we parked her in the sand under the table on a towel and played some of the Saturday night party games together. Apparently we’re pretty darn good at dancing with a balloon between us, and I treated the assembled audience to a rather spectacular limbo wipe-out!

The two weeks on the island was also well spent in potty training. Jessica is now completely potty trained and has even got one diaper-free flight under her belt! One funny story though. Daddy, for some reason, has traditionally been the poop-changer. I could be standing right in front of her, but she’d call for Dad as soon as she had a dirty diaper. This translated into running for the potty now that she’s in panties. Well, the first time we were any real distance from the washroom when she needed to go resulted in a fairly messy accident. Jessica was devastated and apologizing over and over. So, Daddy told her: “that’s ok, we didn’t like the white panties anyway, and we’ll just throw them away.” Words he’d live to regret. Jessica decided that WHITE panties could be treated like diapers, while PINK ones were for good, and explained this theory to us in great detail the next time she nonchalantly pooped in a white pair!

We were really sad to leave the Octopus, and I was even trying to figure out a way to stay on for a few more days. But, by this time Grant was pretty sure he’d got dysentery and my legs and feet were all covered in big, itchy, swollen insect bites. Unfortunately, I’m allergic to the only decent repellent we could find in Fiji. We were looking forward to some air-con and those sweet-sleeper beds at the Westin!

Again, it was Sunday, and the choir was busy at church. So, we didn’t get the traditional good-bye song we’d grown accustomed to hearing every day as our new-found friends departed. Probably a good thing, as I’ve never been so sad to leave anywhere before and I’d probably have cried! The ride back was even worse than the ride there as the water was choppier and the driver was in a bug hurry to get home to his family. Luckily nobody was sick and Jessica fell asleep in a sweaty, sticky lump on my lap right away.

On arrival at the Westin, we were VERY pleased to be back in the land of air-conditioning! What a beautiful hotel. The only drawback again was the overpriced, mediocre food. I was amazed that the room didn’t smell at all of mildew like the one at the Sheraton did… and it even had a carpet. Beautiful room, beautiful beds and – joy of joys – a bathtub! But, living in the lap of luxury, we still missed the Octopus.

We were glad that we came back to the mainland when we did, however. Grant was treated very efficiently for the dysentery, and Jessica saw a lovely doctor in Nadi for a suspected ear infection that sorted itself out in no time.

Thankfully, they had a kid’s club at the neighboring Sheraton which Jessica LOVED. When Grant went to check on her after her first hour or so, she told him to go away. So, that freed up some time for Mommy and Daddy, and more importantly, Mommy and Laptop.

Upon checking my email for the first time in two weeks, we discovered that our parents were all worried about an earthquake we had no idea happened!! We had noticed some pumice floating on the water and washed up on the beach from what we were told was a volcanic eruption in a neighboring country. NO idea about an earthquake in the area. After sending reassuring emails off to everyone concerned, I set about organizing some details for the rest of our trip.

Let it suffice to say that it is a pain in the ass organizing tours in Asia while we’re on the road. They never have secured websites to pay for things, and you have to photocopy your passport and credit card and fax it all over creation. Of course, staying at a five star hotel, you pay five star fees for faxing anything! I also discovered that our Caribbean cruise was cancelled without any notice. The only way I found out was I noticed a rather large refund hit my credit card and went online to look for the sailing date which no longer existed. Thus far, nobody from either cruise.com or celebrity cruises is answering my emails to explain why. So, I spent two very nice sunny days in Fiji locked away in our room sorting out our travel itinerary!

We took one more day trip into Nadi to visit the doctor for Jessica and to do some shopping. If you’re ever in Nadi definitely go to the Indian restaurant called Saffron. It had the best butter chicken I’ve ever tasted. Jessica, amazingly enough, has discovered she likes poppadom (sp?). I personally think she just really likes saying the word “poppadom” because she used it at any given opportunity over the next three days or so, and remembered it a week or so later at an Indian restaurant in New Zealand.

While shopping in Nadi, I ended up buying some gifts for a friend of mine in LA. After finally finding what I wanted at the open air market (read HOT and SWEATY) and buying some packing materials, I took it all to the local post office to mail off. The lady took my money and put on some stamps, but no customs declaration forms. I have very little faith that this parcel will ever make it into the US! Sorry Giselle!

Learning from that experience, we had the item that we bought shipped via DHL which cost us as much as the item itself did. My mom was also fairly unimpressed to learn that we’d shipped a traditional Fijian cannibal weapon used for breaking the necks of enemies straight to her office!

On that note, I will sign off here. We’re currently in New Zealand, but I’ll have to catch up on that bit of the story later.

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