“Can’t teach what you don’t know. Can’t lead where you don’t go. Can’t reap what you don’t sow. Can’t fool the people no more.”
We all are guilty of spending a little bit too much time on social media. I took a short hiatus from social media at the end of last year and it was great, but I felt myself wondering what everyone was up to. No one was “checking in” with me to tell me what was new in their lives, and most of my “friends” weren’t asking what was up in mine.
It was a good filter to find out who my true friends were, because those who cared reached out and we talked on a pretty regular basis either over the phone or through texting. However, when I decided to travel overseas, I knew I was going to need social media. Not only to share with my family and friends the stories of my adventures, and as a form of communication without cell service, but as a resource for travel questions and meeting new people.
Facebook allowed me to sell my tiny home, as well as most of my belongings, and Facebook groups were a huge help in determining what information I would need to get through Customs and helped to connect me with people looking for travelmates and someone with a car for sale (see RIP Suzi Suzuki).
However, I knew coming overseas was going to be adventurous. I didn’t want to plan every step of the way and see everything everyone else had seen. If you have ever been on a roadtrip with me, my favorite game is “turn right here”. Sometimes you follow a road for ages and end up with nothing to see, but sometimes a short jaunt off the main strip takes you to a little hidden slice of paradise.
I recently started using Instagram as another form of expressing my adventures through pictures, and I quickly fell in love with other traveler’s Instagrams and began browsing. What I noticed was the same picture, over and over again. Either someone would post it and everyone else would repost it, or someone would post it and everyone else would go there and get a similar picture and post that. I realized that these weren’t necessarily hidden gems, but popular tourist spots, or if they weren’t popular yet, they were soon to be because everyone saw it online.
What you don’t see on Instagram is the negative sides of travel. The reality. The sour milk in your perfect bowl of fake Cheerios. You see the hammock on the beach with the cute little bird sitting next to a beautiful lady in a skimpy bikini, but you don’t see that the bird is trying to steal her food, that the hammock on the beach is owned by an expensive private resort, and the numerous resort workers staring at her because she is offending them with her next-to-nothing bathing suit.
Many people have commented on my posts or messaged me saying things like “I am so jealous”, “I want to move there”, or “It looks like so much fun!” Well I am here to tell you that it’s not all sunset horse rides on the beach and sipping coconuts under palm trees (Although sometimes it is).
Sorry to burst your bubbles.
As much as I would love to say that this adventure has been the time of my life, the best thing that I ever earned for myself or falling in love with paradise, it just isn’t. My days have been filled with anger and frustration, depression and crying and missing being around people I know and cuddling my kitties.
What I showed you on my first day in Fiji was this:
But what I didn’t tell you was that I was dropped on the side of the road with all my luggage and told to find my own ride, after finding out that my airbnb screwed me over and lied in the posting. I didn’t tell you that I paid big bucks to stay at a safe resort instead of doing my normal “whatever’s cheapest” search. I didn’t tell you that my resort was a half mile down the road from where they were burning Hindu bodies in a ritual referred to as “Antyesti”.
On my second day in Nadi, Fiji I showed you this:
What I didn’t tell you was that I was hungover from drinking $150FJD of my worries away in a ritual I like to call “feeling sorry for myself”. I then had to pay another expensive taxi to bring me to an even more expensive resort that was even safer and I had no other choice but to eat from their restaurant. Which was decent because I got to try the local dish called Kokoda, basically a ceviche of reef fish cured or “cooked” in citric acid or lemon juice and served in coconut milk.
On the third day I decided to let a little negative honesty out and take a stab at the Doubletree Hilton for a housekeeper letting me into my room with no verification of my identity or that it was even my room, however I left out the details of having to drink a $22 melted margarita after running back and forth from my room to the lobby 4 times while it was raining and then having language barriers with their “care line” in which I never did end up contacting a manager about my situation.
I also left out the part where their menu excluded certain key details and ended in me eating cold oatmeal with 10 raisins in it and paying for the “coconut granola with sliced fruit topping” because they didn’t understand my dietary needs. However, this night did end in a lovely horseback sunset ride on the beach with a cocktail, but all at a price, and the beach was extremely littered and smelly due to the recent cyclone and flooding that followed.
Finally on the 4th day, I made it to a lovely island camp called WaiTui Basecamp, where they welcomed me with open arms and many a Bula. They immediately took my bags to my room and served me lunch, which was absolutely delicious and included in the price of the room, which was reasonable. I stayed in a tent in a glamping type situation and loved the atmosphere of the camp.
What I didn’t tell you was that I failed to take off my $150 hiking boots before jumping out of the boat and they are currently molding in sea water in my backpack until I can wash and dry them properly.
After spending some time reading in the hammock, we went gege digging at low tide. This simple task was just what I needed to give me purpose and a sense of helping the community. These would later be cooked to feed the camp. I spent some time watching the ladies weave baskets for cooking while I sipped on my own special coconut. There were only 7 visitors total, and the staff went above and beyond to learn our names and make us feel special. Out of the 7 of us, 4 were originally from the states, and surprisingly 3 of us were from Minnesota. Small world after all.
After the sun set, we dug up the traditional lovo hot feast. Lovo is an underground oven that is covered up, and when the stone on top turns red hot, it is done, and it was nothing short of a feast.
Shortly after our feast, some locals from the nearby village came down, we established a chief and a spokesman for the camp, and we began a traditional kava ceremony. This was an absolute hoot! (Absol-hoot?) This was an eye-opening experience into the culture we were staying in. The villages are very traditional, but the resort was a bit more lenient on certain things.
Although it is traditional for women to wear skirts and sit with their feet behind them, they allowed us to also sit cross-legged, and no one even judged me for sitting cross-legged with a skort on, although I’m sure some second guessed my carefree nature. If anyone has ever tried to meditate cross-legged, you will understand how difficult this is to do for long periods of time, it was exhausting!
If you have never heard of kava, here is the breakdown. “It is like dirty tea,” said the Australian man who was later named chief, “but like really good dirty tea” he adds as he rolls his eyes sarcastically. Kava tea is a traditional Pacific drink made from ground kava root that gives a sedative, relaxing and sometimes euphoric effect. From what I understand, you need to have about 30 cups of it to feel the effects, but about 10 will get you a good night’s sleep.
The kava ceremony is a Fijian tradition that follows a certain flow of clapping, Bula (or cheers in Fijian) and drinking a “low tide”, “high tide” or “tsunami” of kava. The root is ground into a find powder, put into a cloth sack then massaged through the fingers to produce a mixture that, like the Australian said, looks like dirty tea water. The kava is mixed in a large hand carved, hardwood bowl and drank from dried coconut bowls.
The first thing you notice while drinking kava is the numbing effect it has on your lips and tongue. Now, I’m not sure of the other effects, it could be that we were all enjoying the euphoria of meeting new people, learning fascinating things and being a part of a long standing tradition with the locals, but most of us had a huge smile on our faces and began to look a bit “rooted” as the Aussies would say, pun intended.
What I left out of social media was that about 10 cups into the kava, I began to get full and gassy. I decided to take my cue to leave when two other girls chose to go to bed. I got back to my bed and laid down with a feeling that I can only recall as “Mother Nature cradling me to sleep”, only later to wake up to a feeling I would more describe as “Mother Nature telling me I had too much kava.”
After purging my body of the toxins it did not agree with, I slept like a baby. I awoke to a beautiful bird chirping near my tent, and a wonderful well-balanced breakfast. I spent the remainder of the morning laying in a hammock and drifting in and out of sleep while I relaxed and listened to nature.
After the most delicious lunch I have ever had, including stingray, WaiTui Basecamp gave us a heartfelt vinaka and goodbye and sent us off with a song and hugs and a handmade flower necklace. My worries had floated away and I was re-energized for what was to come. I highly recommend adding WaiTui Basecamp to your travels if you island hop the Yasawa’s in Fiji.
My next stop was Mantaray Island where I spent my very first ever night in a hostel dormitory. In college, I never had the pleasure of living in a dorm, so this was all new to me. I’ve read about it before and knew to be aware of my personal belongings and to be mindful and respectful of everyone else.
Mantaray did a wonderful job of letting me speak to the chef and made the kitchen well aware of my dietary restrictions. They made me a special meal, which turned out to be two meals due to a kitchen error, and were extremely accommodating. I enjoyed kayaking and paddleboarding while on the island, and saw some beautiful schools of fish and worked on my hammock loading and unloading, only falling out once.
The part I left out was that there were two hostile hostel girls (I couldn’t resist) who decided they wanted to make fun of the lone traveler reading in bed at 8:00PM while laughing incessantly at me saying “aww you have Maths homework to do, not my f**king problem.” These two girls were found sleeping in the main bure with massive hangovers the next day. I also remember being a drunk 18 year old and being a little (insert derogatory noun here). They will learn, and I have been working hard on my patience and turning the other cheek. I learned that hostels are meant for those who like to party, and that almost any drug can be smuggled through Customs with no problems.
I started to beome infatuated with island hopping, after many headaches on the mainland, it was a nice change of pace to have special meals, great cheap amenities, and daily activities to enjoy. I started out for my last island, Beachcomber.
On the way out to WaiTui, I had seen Beachcomber and thought “wow, what a cute little island, I am so excited to stay there.” But when we arrived, the captain described it as “Beachcomber Island, more popularly known as party island,” at which point the two ladies sitting next to me said “I can see why its a party island, not much else to do there but drink, its so small”.
I shook it off. I wasn’t going to let someone’s comments ruin my stay on this cute little island. Due to a misunderstanding in booking the room, I accidentally prepaid for two people in a dorm, thinking I was getting a room. They gave me an upgrade for free and I was extremely grateful for their accommodation. I walked around the island, which only took about 25 minutes, then sat and watched the sunset before dinner. If you think it is starting to sound like my entire life revolves around meal time, it does. 100% it totally does.
I showed you this:
The part I left out was that dinner was buffet style, meaning you get what you get and you don’t get upset. I mentioned in my booking, and when I checked in, that I had certain dietary requirements and listed these as “allergies” to avoid any confusion or translation errors. When I walked up to the buffet, I could tell it was all covered in either soy sauce or teriyaki, two of my all time favorite sauces to put on food, both including heaps of gluten, which I cannot have at this time.
I asked if there was anything gluten free and the server said “oh yes, you just can’t have this” pointing to the crispy noodle dish. I quickly asked if the meats and veggies had teriyaki or soy sauce and she said yes. This was my cue to ask for the chef, when the server don’t know, the chef needs to show.
The chef did not speak good English, which made it difficult for him to understand me, and for me to understand him when I asked if there was anything that didn’t have gluten, soy sauce, teriyaki or other wheat based sauces. He said something along the lines of “no no no, no soy sauce. Stirfry, no no soy sauce.” So I got some rice and some vegetable stir fry, I could have sworn I tasted some soy sauce, but it didn’t look colored like it would with soy sauce. I asked him to make me some sort of meat or protein since there was none that I could have, and he served me up some mangled chicken pieces and I was appreciative that they took the time to make it special. I had a few ciders and continued reading my book and playing sudoku.
Before bed I started to feel a bit sick, and decided I should just sleep it off. I couldn’t get comfortable and my back started to hurt, the beginning signs that I ate something inflammatory. The breakfast menu was a combination of loads of gluten, glasses of dairy or a fried pan of inflammation. And some fruit. So I had some fruit. Fruit is very detoxing for your body, but sugar can sometimes cause inflammation to get worse, so I had only one glass of juice and some sliced fruit. I went back to sleep for a couple hours before check out, waking up about every half hour to get sick.
At checkout time, I asked if I could stay in my room a bit longer because I wasn’t feeling well and they agreed to let me stay in there until 2:00PM. I started to become very dizzy, off balance and light headed, along with the continued pain, aching and sensitivity to touch. Mixed together, these become extremely frustrating. Simply bumping into a wall doubled me over in a pain that I could only compare to breaking a bone.
After a few more hours of on and off sleeping, I decided I would try to make the most of the few hours I had left on the island, so I went on the coral viewing and fish feeding trip, and it was wonderful. It was amazing seeing all the little fishies jumping out of the water for breadcrumbs, and the bigger ones that scared them all away. The coral was mostly destroyed by the recent cyclones, but we saw some cool big blue starfish and lots of little blue fishes.
I used my mantra “just five more minutes” for the next 3.5 hours until I made it to my villa at Hilton Denarau. At times I had to go with the counting to ten method. (You can stand anything for ten seconds, you just need to get through the next ten seconds.)
Which brings me to my next Hilton fail. As I was laying on the bathroom floor wondering how I was going to drive 4 hours the next morning to make it to my non-refundable accommodation and flight, I called the front desk to beg if someone could bring me some ibuprofen and imodium. Of course I was willing to pay a service charge for the delivery and the price of the medication. They said I could come to the general store and get it; I explained my situation and their offer still stood, there was a bus that came every 5 minutes that would take me around the property to the general store. I apprehensively picked myself off of the floor and waited for the bus. There was not a single item of food in the general store that could have helped me, but they had the medications and I reluctantly paid over $60FJD for them and a Gatorade.
I took the meds and ran a warm bath. Surely I could kick this before morning. Thankfully, they had a washer and dryer in the room so I was able to do some much-needed laundry before my next adventure in Samoa. I knew I needed to eat something so I called room service to see what was allergy friendly. Nothing. They had gluten free pizza crust, so I got a pizza with gluten free crust and no cheese, her next question baffled me. “Would you like some feta with that?” Lady. Did I not just tell you that I was dairy free.
When it arrived, I bit into the first slice and immediately realized that it was covered in flour. The kind they use to make sure the dough doesn’t stick to the pan. Small oversight and I can see how the mistake was made, but when I called back they assured me it was gluten free crust and didn’t understand the error. $40FJD pizza that I couldn’t eat.
I watched “Sing” while piling pillows under tender areas and falling asleep. I awoke feeling a bit better but still sick to my stomach. The chef had agreed to make a special breakfast for me and encouraged me to come to the restaurant and ask for a supervisor. I reluctantly went to the restaurant and they were so excited to have the opportunity to have special orders, which worries me because that tells me they don’t do it often and therefore have less experience with it. I asked I could bring it back to my room since I still wasn’t feeling well and they said they would drop it off as soon as it was ready.
When room service arrived with my breakfast I was sorely disappointed. Muffins and pancakes. 100% carboydrates and sugar. “It’s gluten free, dairy free and egg free, just like you asked,” she stated with a proud look on her face. It is also a recipe for a shitty day of lethargy, exhaustion and poor digestion. I questioned “is this it? No protein, no fruit, no vegetables, just carbs and sugar?” And she looked at me like I was crazy, “is it not good enough for you?” No it isn’t. Thanks, but no thanks. I’m not starting my day with unhealthy eating. Besides the fact, what single person would ever be able to eat 3 pancakes and 4 muffins for breakfast.
At checkout, I complained about my lack of being able to eat any of the food, and still having to pay for it, and they called the kitchen who had a different story, and therefore still made me pay for it. I snapped a quick picture of this sign as I was leaving and firmly stated that no one “made it right” during my stay.
Another oversight on Hilton’s part was listing that they have an airport shuttle, but not specifying that it was a paid taxi that was $45FJD. What was my $250 room actually paying for other than the towel bunny on my bed?
I have complained to Hilton, Doubletree, both corporate offices, and both local management offices, and have yet to have my issues resolved in any way, shape, or form. Until I hear from anyone on these issues I stand firmly with my beliefs that 1. Hilton is the absolute worst hotel chain I have ever stayed with. 2. Customer service comes last at Hilton and they are just there to screw people out of their money. And 3. I will never, ever, ever again stay at a Hilton Brand hotel. (and for a travel blogger, they are really missing out on an opportunity, if you ask me.)
Which brings me to my final day in Fiji. I showed up to the car rental agency to have no one there, and waited 10 minutes before someone arrived to help me. They brought my “upgraded” car around and it had a giant bulge in the tire that was also flat. I said this is unacceptable, I am driving across the country and do not want to be stranded with a flat tire with no way of contacting anyone. They said it was upgraded and it was the only car they had. I said I refuse to drive it because it is unsafe. They said they had another car but it wasn’t cleaned. I said “I don’t care if it is clean, so long as it is safe.” This car reminded me of Suzi Suzuki, and not surprisingly, was another Suzuki.
Save for the dents and scratches, it seemed pretty safe and had air conditioning. I began driving it only to realize that the brakes were failing and it seemed forever stuck in 2nd gear. Regardless, I continued my travel from Nadi to Suva. Like I said before, I am one that enjoys pulling off on the side of the road and taking a short walk, or snapping some pictures when I see something beautiful. Although this trip was beautiful, I didn’t see many places where I felt it was safe to stop off. There was one “park” on the side of the road, which was more or less a dirt pull off that had a decent view. This is where I got the idea for this blog. I posted 2 pictures on my Instagram captioning “What I show you vs. What I see”.
The reality of Fiji is this, it is dirty, it is littered, it feels unsafe, and most of the beaches are not swim-worthy. It is not touristy, there are no souvenir shoppes, and there are no familiar restaurants or grocery stores. Its smelly, there is bad weather, and a lot of people stare at white folk because we are different and a lot of times, offensive.
What we see on social media are resorts. Expensive, all inclusive, pay-for-your activities, plain old resorts. At least that is my experience. I did not feel safe stopping on my way for five reasons. 1. I was the only tourist and I was alone. 2. Everything I saw either appeared closed or was packed with locals who stared as I passed by. 3. There was no actual physical spot to stop off the road or park 4. People drive like maniacs and were so close behind me that I couldn’t actually start to slow down or they would hit me. And 5. I did not want to offend any of the locals by having a tank top on, and I couldn’t find a spot to change.
Some other things that I left out of social media while on my trip were as follows:
- I almost got a bus tipped over on me that went around a corner too fast and went up on two wheels.
- Women are seen as a lower status and weak, and supposed to be submissive to any man around them. A single female traveler is seen as a contradiction to their culture.
- I constantly had people “sucking their teeth” at me. Which I could be misconstruing, but the only information I could find was that the French have banned it from schools because it is seen as a symbol of disapproval, annoyance or discrimination.
- You are required to purchase your meals at most resorts, and you are required to drink their alcohol, restricting you from going the cheaper route and making your own food and drink.
- Many of the people island hopping believe it to be Spring Break. They party, they drink, they do drugs, and they offend their hosts by showing too much skin. The drinking age in Fiji is 18, but not strictly enforced.
- There are bugs. EVERYWHERE. Ants, flies, mosquitoes, moths, spiders. I actually hung out with some geckos one night that were eating all of the moths, and then a giant moth flew up and I was just waiting for it to eat a gecko in a fit of revenge.
However, my last night in Fiji, I was greeted by a lovely kitten at dinner who decided to become my best friend, mainly because I had food. This small creature was able to bring me back to the present moment and remind me to love unconditionally. It was the first happy tears I have seen in months, and it was just what the doctor ordered. I shared a plate of chicken and mashed potatoes with Kava the Kitty and made the conscious decision to make it a better day.
Of course every trip has its ups and down, and we have all heard of trouble in paradise (literally), but every mistake is a chance to learn for next time. Obviously this is not going to be my last trip, and I plan to come back and do Fiji right sometime in the future. I am truly learning that travel insurance is sometimes worth it, and:
Proper planning prevents poor performance.