Flying in from Tonga. I had forgotten how friendly the Fijians are, and how wearing it is playing games of guess which country I'm from in reply to the inevitable question. They never seem to think of England as a possibility. On the South Sea cruises catamaran - The Yasawa Flyer, from Port Denaru, partly retracing last year's steps (or wake?) past the Mamanuca Islands and on through the volcanic Yasawa Islands. Chatting to an American guy who runs the/a university in Tonga. He offers me a job teaching psychology there.
At Octopus Resort, half way into the Yasawa Islands, the whole staff come out to greet the landing of the dinghy that ferries us into shore. The off beach snorkelling is amazing. Shame it rains. Yes the blinking rain seems to have followed me - again. And yes, it's the dry season - the guide books say so.
Nanuya Lailai, island in the Yasawas, actual setting for The Blue Lagoon film. Movie people aren't stupid, making so many films out here. The water is indeed blue, more ultramarine than azure, with swirls of jade. It's stunning and I'm not complaining. I have a typical lofty roofed wooden Fijian house, a bure; it has great views across the lagoon and I indulge in my last South Pacific sunsets.
One of the reasons I returned to Fiji was because the snorkelling was so good last year, on the inner islands. This does not disappoint, the coral is far superior to anywhere else on this trip and I go out in a boat and then zoom up and down the reef off the beach at low tide and then high tide, till I go all wrinkly. I've been trying out my new Olympus Tough underwater camera, with some success. The visibility is good, but attempting to capture images of fish is a little trying. They zip about far too quickly and if I do catch one off guard then you can guarantee that the current will waft me away.
Nevertheless, there is one patch with several shoals of them all intermingling. Great photos, though the fish clearly expect to get fed at this spot and in their disappointment several decide to nip me instead. As someone then shouts out ' sea snake behind you' retreat seems expedient. It's a krait - highly poisonous, though they are considered very docile and have tiny fangs. Even a small venomous bite doesn't sound that appealing. To prove it, it's even in the corner of my picture.
A farewell snorkel, trying not to think about snakes, and then a challenge, while I wait for the boat back to the mainland. A round the island walk billed at an hour and a half sounds just the ticket. It's low tide so the staff say it will all be passable. They don't tell me about all the lava I have to scramble over, or the yapping dogs that will accompany me or the swampy mangroves I have to wade through with ominous squidging beneath. They would have told me if there was sinking sand. Wouldn't they? And all the time hoping I'm not going to get lost. I don't want to miss the boat. I keep telling myself that you can't get lost going anti clockwise round an island. I hope. In the event I make it in record time, scurrying along like the crabs.
Next stop Vancouver.
Finally arrive in Fiji from Vanuatu but in unscheduled Suva. Only an hour late. Then a taxi ride across the island back to Nadi (say it Nandi) with 2 other stranded passengers. It's really very pleasant, the sun is shining and there are great views of coral beaches and the reefs and islands all along the coast road. About 330 islands here. We're speaking English or Fijian or Hindi. About 40% of the people are of Indian origin - their ancestors were brought over by the British to work the cane fields. There's a little sugar train that runs along the side of the road.
It all looks very urbanised after my previous sojourns. People mainly live in houses, rather than huts, and there's quite a lot of manufacturing industry. And malls. And McDonalds. Though it's still relatively poor.
One of the passengers is a bit of an odd ball. An Anglo Indian who lives in the U.S. We talk about travel a lot, but every time we mention a country he starts to talk in the relevant accent. Quite unconsciously I think. His English accent is terrible.
Nadi is only the third-largest city//town in Fiji, but the largest airport in Fiji is close by and it's the tourist hub. The Nadi region has a higher concentration of hotels and motels than any other part of Fiji. It has a large Indo-Fijian population, (many Indians came to work on the sugar plantations) and it has the largest Hindu temple in the Southern Hemisphere.
There's an islet of hotels at Port Denaru, handily placed for boats to the islands. They're mostly chain establishments, with clipped lawns and a golf course. It's just like Florida.
My hotel is on the outskirts of Nadi, near an oil refinery. Fortunately, you can't see it from the grounds. The hotel is quaint and traditional, with thatched bungalows called bures. The odd mongoose skittering about. Pathways littered with cane toads and lizards, who hop out of your way as you wander along. The staff shake hands and bellow 'Bula' (welcome) at me every time I meet them. Most of the men wear loud tropical shirts and sarongs called sulus and both men and women decorate their hair with hibiscus flowers.
Boat trip out to the Mamanuca Islands. There are about 20 islands in the archipelago, but about seven of these are covered by the Pacific Ocean at high tide. Not a great place to live then.
All idyllic little islands with improbable names like Treasure Island, Beachcomber, Bounty and South Sea. Bounty is where they filmed Celebrity Love Island. We sail on to Monuriki for swimming and snorkelling. This one is more commonly known as Tom Hanks Island as it's where they filmed Castaway. It's all impossibly perfect. The water is cobalt, the reef is gaudy and the fish are psychedelic. Since 2016, the islands have been the filming location of the television series Survivor.
An island village in the afternoon where the chief welcomes us with the local drink - kava. It's what set the locals crawling home on Tanna in Vanuatu. Though we're told they have marketed it as an antidepressant in Europe. In Fijian villages, only the chief can wear hats and sunglasses. The top of the head is sacred, and is not meant to be touched. Once we've participated in the kava ceremony - tasting optional, we explore the village. The main attraction is the smiling, playfully shy children.
It's raining, bucketing down. And it's dry season. The toads are enjoying it. Not much to do except read, watch the palm fronds blowing around, have a massage and a leisurely lunch. This is enforced by the speed of the service. The Fijians are lovely, but initiative is a foreign concept and they take everything you say absolutely literally. So if you ask for a bottle of water with your meal that's what you get, no glass, unless you specifically request one.
The evening is definitely not quiet, however. As I have wiled away the day with a huge (and leisurely) lunch I decide that I will just have a couple of cocktails for supper. Enter two Aussie guys in their mid thirties on their way to a wedding on Treasure Island, but marooned on the mainland by the weather. Not only can those guys drink, but boy do they have the gift of the gab. Before very long I am married (they have the requisite shell necklace) and have been invited to go to the wedding with him. He is even choosing the outfit I am going to wear and planning the house he is going to build for me.
All absolutely hysterical and keeps the whole bar entertained. There is a bit of a tussle when he decides he wants to claim his conjugal rights. Can't pretend I'm not tempted. He is six foot three, fit and plays rugby league. But I manage to get into my bungalow and lock the door. He sits on the step for a while calling out, 'Wifey, wifey' in a plaintive voice before he gives up. Nice to know I'm not yet too old.
Hong Kong for Macau next.
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