Elizabeth the Island Enthusiast

a celebration of unconventional adventures

Tag: solo travel (page 2 of 3)

Exploring Labasa

After spending an afternoon exploring downtown Labasa on Fiji’s Vanua Levu island earlier this week, I can determine one thing for certain: Labasa is not accustomed to visitors.

LabasaFijiMainRoad

It took me approximately 15 minutes to stroll the entirety of Labasa’s main street down and back, encountering more kava shops than sit-down eateries along the way.

This includes the time spent picking up some Powerade and tropical-strength bug spray at one of the local chemists, as well as getting the sandal I broke in Taveuni repaired at a tiny roadside kiosk (the guy sewed it back together in about three minutes and only charged FJD $1.50 – impressive, considering that’s a fraction of what I paid for those Jack Rogers!!).

LabasaClassicKavaStandThisIsLabasaFiji

Labasa's official Coconut Industry Development Authority office

Labasa’s official Coconut Industry Development Authority office!

Fairly positive I was one of three caucasians in all of Labasa that day, apart from two very confused-looking backpackers I spotted waiting in line at the ATM.

I’d been warned beforehand I might ‘stick out’ among the crowd in Labasa, so I expected strange looks. I was even prepared to tell each and every strange man who approached me yes, I am in fact married (*wink*), to none other than a very sturdy Scandinavian rugby player who is waiting patiently back at the house, war club in hand, ready to beat the living daylight out of any intruders or otherwise sketchy individuals possessing the slightest intent to harass me…

Luckily, everyone seemed to mind their own business for the most part, with the exception of some enthusiastic kids waving and cheering from school buses passing by.

That, and one odd encounter with a man who took the liberty to stop his truck right next to where I was walking along the side of the road, where he proceeded to ask if he could take a picture with me.

My response? “No, I don’t do that.

Had it been a situation where we’d had a nice conversation and then he wanted a photo taken, sure, okay. Or, let’s say if I were somehow famous enough for him to have read my work and want a picture with me simply out of starstruck awe, then that’s cool, I guess. Or even if he’d just snapped a candid picture of me walking by, that’s fine. Whatever. But no, I’m not going to pose for a random photo solely because I look different. I’m not an animal at the zoo. I’m not going to pretend to be anyone’s phony blonde girlfriend.

Although I sensed no hard feelings as I traipsed forward, I couldn’t help but feel weird about the whole situation. Did I really appear that out of place?

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The biggest challenge in Labasa was finding a place to just sit and relax with a drink for a few minutes – I really wasn’t in the mood for a billiards club in the middle of a Monday afternoon, nor a dimly-lit Chinese buffet with darkened windows covered in rusted padlocks. Finally, I saw a sign for an establishment called the ‘Anchor Bar,’ optimistically pointing down an alleyway off the main road behind the Royale Wine Shop.

Its nize… en a gud plaze 2 relax” touts Anchor Bar’s top review on Facebook, which was all I needed to know before giddily prancing into the back alley, not realizing that review was actually from 2014.

I circled the building and surveyed the dusty alleyway four or five times (with many strange looks) until I concluded, much to my chagrin, Anchor Bar was completely boarded up and not at all in operation.

By this point I was starving, so I opted for the next most appealing-looking restaurant, the Banana Leaf Café, located up a desolate tiled stairway on the second floor of one of Labasa’s main street buildings. Apparently everything in Labasa closes at 4:00 pm sharp, so I only had about 40 minutes to enjoy my piece of fried chicken with chips and Fiji Bitter stubby before the owners kicked me out.

BananaLeafCafeLabasaLabasaRestaurantPeekingUpstairsFijiBitterInLabasa

Afterwards, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself… All the shops were now closed; I’d already perused the major MH grocery store twice, visited all the town pharmacies, and browsed the big Labasa market adjacent to the bus station (origin of the Indian sweets I’m pretty sure gave me food poisoning later that night…).

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I decided to wander behind the marketplace over to the scenic Labasa River, where I noticed several large, colorful hibiscus plants blooming down by the banks. The flowers’ bright reflection in the smooth water was absolutely fixating.

It suddenly didn’t matter the rest of my day in Labasa had been so bizarre and imperfect; this little bit of serenity was all I needed.

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It’s Not All Sunshine and Rainbows.

To those who claim they’re jealous of what I’m doing – please know it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

Yesterday I endured my third experience in an island hospital (and no one ever wants to end up in an island hospital…), after spending the previous night vomiting my brains out from who-knows-what. Now everything smells weird, and I find myself missing my stale hospital bed, only because that’s the first time I’ve felt genuinely ‘cool’ in weeks…

Trying to recover from a hefty fever sans air conditioning feels similar to trying to stay completely dry while standing in a violent rainstorm sans umbrella or poncho. It’s just really, really, really not fun.

LabasaRiver

But, even despite the puking, and the heat, and the lack of hydration, I shouldn’t complain.

As I watched a series of welts from painful, itchy insect bites grow on my arms earlier this afternoon, I found myself thinking, well, it could be worse… I could be chained to a desk, staring at an excel spreadsheet right now…

Labasa: The Other ‘Sugar City’

Yesterday I arrived in Labasa, the biggest township on Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Levu.

Prior to coming here, I’d heard a variety of commentary about Labasa, most of which wasn’t terribly positive…

“Vanua Levu is just too remote. There’s nothing to do, no clubs…”

“Labasa is okay, but Viti Levu is so much more cosmopolitan…”

“The weather is nice and there’s good fishing, but don’t trust anyone!!”

Even according Lonely Planet’s website, Labasa “is a dusty sugar and timber town that doesn’t hold much allure for the average traveller. Sitting about 5km inland on the sweltering banks of the Labasa River and reclaimed mangrove swamps, the top sights in town are a large sugar mill and the seasonal trains that ka-chunk bushels of cane through Labasa’s centre.

That doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?

Whoever wrote the introduction for Lonely Planet’s Labasa, Fiji travel guide evidently didn’t stay too long.

Flying over Vanua Levu's vast sugar cane fields before landing in Labasa

Flying over Vanua Levu’s vast sugar cane fields before landing in Labasa

LabasaAirport

With that somewhat dreary description in mind yesterday afternoon as I drove through the city center for the very first time, I couldn’t help but note yes, Labasa is, in fact, a bit dusty.

It’s considerably rural, and some of the buildings in town did appear a tad run-down, if not shuttered. But, arguably, I could say the exact same things about places in West Virginia, or Greeley, Colorado.

Overall, I found Labasa quite colorful, quirky, and teeming with liveliness, the cars and streets adorned with dazzling lights in every hue after the sun went down (I later learned this may have been temporary because of the local ‘Friendly North’ carnival festivities last night, but hopefully not – guess I’ll find out soon enough!).

Labasa holds plenty of allure – I honestly can’t wait to explore this place over the next couple weeks!

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Papaya trees, just growing right outside in the backyard!

Papaya trees, just growing right outside in the backyard!

Having been here for a solid 24 hours now, I’m convinced Labasa has so much more to offer, although I’m certainly intrigued by its enormous sugar mill, which seems to be running around the clock processing the current sugar cane harvest.

The amount of sugar cane in the area is mind-blowing, really – it’s entirely possible Lautoka boasts more sugar cane field acreage (and I think I left right at the start of Lautoka’s sugar harvesting season), but I’ve never observed so many heaps of raw sugar, piled high on open trucks idling in an endless queue by to the mill.

I’ve never smelled air so densely sweet.

VanuaLevuPalmTrees

Trepidatious About Leaving Taveuni

I’m a bit trepidatious at the moment, not gonna lie.

I don’t know if it’s because today is my last full day in Taveuni, or because I have two flights on two very tiny airplanes scheduled for tomorrow, or because I honestly have no clue exactly where in the world I will be one month from today (well I have somewhat of a clue, but my plans could easily change)… I’m just feeling a little ‘out of it,’ if you know what I mean.

Last dinner in Taveuni Island... I don't wanna leave!

Last dinner in Taveuni Island… I don’t wanna leave!

Apart from the non-refundable airline tickets in my name, there’s really only one thing in my life I know for certain right now: I gotta come back to Taveuni Island someday.

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I’ve said this before about Lautoka, but under the right circumstances I could seriously live on Taveuni Island. Yes, it’s an idyllic tropical paradise teeming with empty unspoiled beaches, lush rainforests and picturesque waterfalls.

I don’t think it’d be a hard sell for anyone.

But, unlike a lot of the other regions in Fiji I’ve visited so far, Taveuni has a particularly relaxed vibe (which speaks volumes, considering the prevalence of ‘Fiji Time’ throughout the entire nation).

TaveuniIslandFijiPerfectPalmTreeEnjoyingTaveuniIslandFijiBeach

So much island excitement was crammed into my sole week here. I have way too much to write about, but unfortunately documenting the remainder of my Taveuni adventure on here will need to wait until I reach my next stop… Fiji’s second-largest island, VANUA LEVU!

Until then, please enjoy the following selection of photos showcasing a [very small] portion of Taveuni Island’s immensely diverse fauna and flora:

TaveuniIslandPurpleFlowerTaveuniIslandExoticFlowerTaveuniIslandRainforestFoliageTaveuniIslandGingerFlowersTaveuniIslandRedHibiscusTaveuniIslandWaterfallCrabTaveuniWaterfallCrabCloseUpTaveuniIslandPurpleFlowersTaveuniIslandPurpleFlowersButterflyTaveuniIslandRainforestPalmTrees

Now, time to pack!

This never gets old...

This never gets old…

How To Do Natadola RIGHT

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a fun story about my [accidental] resort-crashing adventure at Fiji’s dazzling Natadola Beach. While that was an exceptionally fun day (you can read about it here!), there were a few key things I would have done differently.

So, I went to Natadola Beach again. And this time it was even more fabulous!

HowToDoNatadolaBeachRight

First, I’ll start by saying Natadola Beach really is not at all close to where I’d been living in Lautoka. Even if I were to travel down to Natadola non-stop by private car, it would still take a couple hours. But it’s sooo worth the journey… I might even dare call Natadola the best beach on the island of Viti Levu, although the Coral Coast as a whole is exceptionally picturesque.

If you find yourself in Fiji and are not staying in a beachfront hotel or otherwise ‘touristy’ location, fear not – it’s still quite simple to access the powdery white sands and sparkling, crystal clear blue waters of Natadola Bay. Just follow these tips, and you can have an idyllic Fijian beach day that’s as cheap or extravagant as you please!

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Choose an express bus there and back (if possible). Coming from Lautoka, I’ve had to switch buses at the Nadi bus terminal on the way to Natadola both times. If available, I’d highly recommend opting for an enclosed express charter bus for the first leg of the trip, not only because they’re nicely air conditioned, but also because they’ll get you there significantly faster!

When returning, I’d hop on any bus that will stop for you at the main road (both times I was lucky to get an express bus all the way back to Lautoka with zero transfers!).

NatadolaBeachBusStopThisWayToNatadolaBeach

Instruct the taxi to take you to the beach, NOT the InterContinental Resort. I love the InterContinental Fiji, don’t get me wrong, but they do make you pay FJD $40 for a voucher just to get in the gate. When you go to directly to the beach (it’s an easily missable gravel road near the driveway to the InterContinental), you can wander the beach freely without the obligation of finding a way to spend your InterContinental meal voucher.

Be firm with your cab driver on the pricing. Most of the time, they will always insist FJD $10 or more for transport from the main road. I was actually able to prove my last driver wrong when he tried to convince me the price would be $10 or higher when he ran the meter (it wasn’t). The price should only be $8, even just to the beach. If I’ve only ever paid $8, you should only pay $8. It also doesn’t hurt to come to an agreement on the price before getting into the vehicle!

SparklingBlueNatadolaBeachVitiLevuNatadolaBeachCoralShells

If you’re interested in paying for activities (snorkeling, horseback riding, surfing, etc.), take time to shop around for deals. You’ll likely encounter a bevy of locals trying to sell a variety of good and services, from fresh coconuts, an array of beach activities and Fijian massages to hair braiding. After speaking with a number of individuals, you’ll find they’re all competing against one another for business. My friends and I eventually scored a fantastic deal on beachfront massages (only FJD $30 for 1 hour! But it’s a secret, shhhh…).

Stop by Yatule Resort & Spa for lunch, or drinks, or happy hour, or coffee, or whatever. Unless you get looped into buying an InterContinental or plan to bring all of your own sustenance along with you (in which case, props for having the stellar planning and organization skills that I lack), Yatule Resort is a terrific spot to grab a reasonably priced lunch. The menu pricing is about half of what you’d pay for lunch at the InterContinental, and only a few paces away up the beach. Plus, the seating area is much closer to the sand and surf, meaning excellent views of the water any time of day!

YatuleNatadolaBeachSundayBrunchYatuleResortAndSpaNatadolaBeachWatermelonWananavuYatuleResort

Go with friends! Yes, obviously going to the beach is better with friends, and I was lucky to have two volunteer friends to tag along with on this past jaunt to Natadola. However, I’m not always so fortunate. While technically I am on this extended adventure ‘alone’ and will always be an advocate for solo travel, I’m learning how important it is to continually make new friends while traveling, especially solo. Not only because making new friends is great fun, it’s nice to have someone else on your side when exploring (and/or haggling)!

I’ve met some amazing people from all over the world during my solo travels, a lot of which I still regularly keep in touch with and wholeheartedly anticipate seeing again (a special cheers from the Southern Hemisphere to my Turks and Caicos crew in regards to bonding over that ‘Fish Fry’!).

Travel friends truly are some of the best kinds of friends. Even if it means only getting to hang out for a day, or two, or a couple weeks, it’s always worth it.

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Greetings, Taveuni Island!

BULA and hello from mesmerizing Taveuni Island, Fiji’s third-largest island and otherwise (appropriately) known as the ‘Garden Island of Fiji’!

I can safely say is one of the most gloriously scenic destinations I’ve ever had the privilege to visit. Taveuni has proven Fiji is indeed full of wonderful surprises, and I already know I’ll be returning again someday in the future!

MajesticTaveuniIslandFiji

Let’s talk about the journey here:

I flew to Taveuni Island (Matei) from Nausori International Airport in Suva on what I’m pretty sure is the tiniest airplane I’ve ever been on thus far in my life, which was also the closest thing I’ve experienced to a roller coaster ride in a long, long time. It was wildly thrilling in the oddest, yet most natural way… At least the trip was quick enough I didn’t even have time to think about being scared!

TinyFijiAirwaysAirplaneReadyToBoardFromSuvaPeeringOutThePlaneInsideTinyFijiAirwaysPlane

Thankfully, the crew didn’t mind when I asked to move to the front of the plane upon boarding (as I had way too much carry-on luggage, per usual – I did appreciate the fact that the airport gate checkers weighed ME and my belongings as a whole though, not just my hand baggage!). I wasn’t sure if they assigned our seats based on our weight in efforts to ‘balance’ the plane, but there was no way my giant backpack, pillow, and tote bag were all going to fit underneath the seat in front of me, much less on my lap!

There were no overhead bins, seatback pockets, nor tray tables. I ended up tossing my over-stuffed backpack on the floor in the empty row next to me, where there was space.

FrontRowTinyPlaneRow1

After take-off, a few thoughts occurred to me as to perhaps why no one wanted to sit in the front row… It was situated directly next to the propellers, so needless to say it was a very loud trip (headphones helped). My entire 1-seat row shook forcefully for the duration of the flight as well, seemingly in time with the propellers…

I find it fascinating to watch them though – I remember the times I’ve taken prop planes back in the States, the windows in these rows are blocked out, so you hear the propellers’ loudness but can’t see a thing!!

Good thing my windows weren’t blocked out on this flight, because the scenery we flew over was amazing!

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Another fun part about this flight was getting to see out the front of the plane, as well as watch what the pilots were up to… It’s been a LONG time (as in over 15 years) since I’d been on a fight where I could actually look into the airplane cockpit.

The copilot appeared to double as the lone flight attendant on this little plane (which made sense considering there really wasn’t time – or room – for any in-flight service!).

It’s so much fun to watch what the pilots are doing while flying!!

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As much as I enjoyed myself up in the air, flying through a huge cloud of mist, I still wanted very badly to land, only because I couldn’t wait to see what Taveuni has in store…

Now I’m here. And so far, Taveuni Island has definitely not been a disappointment!

Olympics in ‘Fiji Time’

For me, one of the strangest things about living in the South Pacific is the utterly confusing time difference.

Coming from North America, I’ve grown accustomed to being an entire day ahead of everyone back home, though being ‘behind’ hour-wise in whatever day I’m in. It’s self-explanatory while looking at a map of time zones, but still makes my head hurt.

This confusion is especially prevalent during this year’s Olympics.

VudaPointSunset

Lately I’ve been volunteering at a local kindergarten, where, like everywhere else it seems, the hot topic is Fiji’s acclaimed Olympic rugby team.

At one point earlier this week I couldn’t help but notice the head teacher sternly fixated on her phone, fervently reading something clearly quite serious.

“Everything alright…?” I asked cautiously.

“Ah yes,” she responded “All good. Fiji won.”

“What’s this?”

The teacher laughed. “Rugby! They just beat Argentina. New Zealand is already out, which is very good. Fiji plays the U.S. today, so good for you either way!”

Rugby isn’t a particularly common sport where I’m from, and I’d been trying to watch a legitimate rugby match since the day I arrived in Fiji, so this was definitely something I wanted to see.

“What time are they playing?” I asked.

“4:30 tomorrow morning.”

“I thought you said they’re playing today?”

“Yes, they are.”

“Wait…” I thought for a second, and then realized technically it would still be the same date in Brazil as it was currently in Fiji at 4:30 am Fiji time the next morning. Confusing to say the least!

Considering I hadn’t been remotely conscious at 4:30 am anytime in recent memory, not even with my intense jet lag the first few days here, I did not rouse early enough to view that particular game, as much as it would have pleased me to see the Fijians absolutely wallop the American team. To be honest, I was surprised the United States even had an Olympic rugby team.

“Blahhh umm errrr is it over already? They win?” I mumbled half-asleep to my roommate, a far more disciplined slumberer than I, as she quietly snuck back into our room approximately 15 minutes after attempting to stir me awake around 4:25 am for the game.

“Yep, they won,” she said grinning, after reminding me once more the fast nature of how rugby sevens work, as opposed to the ‘rugby union’ and all the other various forms of rugby, which I still have a hard time differentiating. “I think they have a real shot for the gold.”

“Wow. Yeah, that’d be cool,” I replied, not aware at the moment exactly how big a deal that would be.

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The following morning, I woke up to the news Fiji had just beaten Japan, thus ensuring them a place in the Olympic finals and chance to win a gold medal. At the very least they were guaranteed silver, which meant no matter the outcome, it would be the first time Fiji had ever won an Olympic medal in any sport in the nation’s history.

You could just feel the air buzzing with elated trepidation.

I decided that I couldn’t not watch this monumental game. After all, I’d still never seen an actual rugby game in my life, so this felt like an appropriate introduction to the favorite sport of my temporary island home.

Before the final match against Great Britain, which thankfully was broadcast at the much nicer hour of 10:00 am Fiji time, the network played all of the semi-final rounds, first being France vs. Australia in a fight to place 7th and 8th overall, then New Zealand vs. Argentina for 5th and 6th, and then Japan vs. South Africa for 3rd and 4th place, deciding who won the bronze.

It was fascinating.

I’m a huge fan of ice hockey back home (because who doesn’t love watching men crash into men on ice!?), but what I observed in the Olympic rugby sevens took my expectations as a sports spectator to an entirely new level. These good-looking men not only crashed into each other – they tackled; they rolled; they leaped; they lifted each other up in the air; anything to get the oval-shaped ball to their end of the field.

The fast-paced nature of rugby sevens added to the intensity with no tedious breaks or unnecessary time-outs, which is the primary reason why I have extreme difficulty sitting through American NFL games. These guys just kept moving.

After finding myself wildly impressed by the players’ immense athletic skill throughout the first enthralling hour and a half of rugby pre-finals, it dawned on me Fiji had defeated all of these teams. Prior to this, I’d read a number of articles describing the Fijian rugby team’s inspiring journey to the Olympics, lead by a British man named Ben Ryan, who evidently first took the coaching job down in Fiji as a cure for burnout. Now that was something I could really relate to.

Regardless, when it was finally time for the final match of Fiji vs. Great Britain, I had a strong hunch they’d win even before the game commenced – once the Fijians emerged, they ran onto the field with such gusto and pride I could practically sense their overflowing confidence bursting through the television screen all the way from Rio.

Like all the others, this game went quickly, but the poor Brits didn’t even score in the first half, much less succeed in getting the ball over to their side of the field. These Fijian men were literally human blockades. I’d never seen anything like it.

It was immediately obvious Great Britain had no chance.

Cheers could be heard all over the neighborhood throughout the game and afterwards, combined with bounteous firecrackers and the occasional live daytime firework. I found myself almost as emotional as the Fijian rugby players on TV as they accepted their well deserved gold medals.

The celebration continued on for the duration of the afternoon, and as it was conveniently a Friday, intensified throughout the evening and night (rightfully so). It was truly a historic day for Fiji!

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Weird Adventures at the Sugar City Mall

The other day I took a quick jaunt around downtown Lautoka, just for the hell of it.

Although it wasn’t a particularly lengthy expedition, it did involve a some mild exploration and tons of accidental mischief. Without trying, I have the strangest tendency of getting myself in the most entertaining situations…

Okay, some of these situations might not seem that entertaining to a lot of people, but I really enjoy taking otherwise mundane circumstances and transforming them into wildly thrilling adventure stories. I guess that’s partly why I started this site.

Like all things, the term ‘adventure’ is pretty subjective though, right? As is ‘wildly thrilling,’ but I digress…

SugarCityMall

I found myself wandering towards Lautoka’s notorious Sugar City Mall, which is one of the more decrepit shopping centers I’ve visited (if we’re being honest here), featuring a handful of seedy electronics stores, desolate kiosks and knick-knack shops, all blaring festive, upbeat Indian-style music. I will say the shops along the exterior of the mall far exceed the selection inside.

To my disappointment, the Sugar City Mall only had actual retail on its lower level, despite the fairly misleading outward appearance.

Because it seemed like the only logical thing to do, I decided to wander up the mall’s motionless moving walkway, beckoning me with its absence of signs advising the area might be ‘out of bounds.’ What I discovered was… Well, just watch the video, and you’ll see:

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