Every now and again, I like to rub shoulders with the well-to-do.
In Fiji, they haunt the upmarket coffee shops. And as a coffee fan, I’ll sometimes be seen there too, much like a mackerel in a horse stable.
By good chance, there are two within walking distance. By more good chance, I have tracking on my wrist watch, which should give you a better idea of my whereabouts.
The more expensive of the two is The Coffee Hub ( trip map– click the icon to the left of the ‘Laps’ box & choose Google or Here for a better view ) . It’s a favourite of expats and drivers of SUVs. The coffee is good ( FJD 8.50 ), it’s always busy, the staff are top-notch, and the surroundings are pleasant.
More often, I’ll go to the Local, Momos ( trip map ). It’s more down-to-earth, the coffees are smaller but cheaper ( FJD 6.50 ), it’s set nearer the main Nadi Back Road.
As you see by the map, this morning it was pleasant 17 ° C, which means I got some sleep last night. More typically, it’s around 23, as on the first map.
Over the last few strolls, I’ve made the acquaintance of Abe, a construction worker on an en-route site. Occasionally, and more often in Fiji – you meet people who broadcast joie de vivre. He’s one of them.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but some of those can be misleading.
One might think from the sign above that I’ve gone feral, escaped to the wop-wops.
Not quite so. The house is about 4 km away from Nadi, and the same distance to the airport just North of Nadi. It’s basic – no aircon, no hot water, no ceiling fans, no plugs.
But it’s also very cheap, and its other inmates – Jone, the lease-holder, and Peni, a former Fiji rep rugby player visiting from Brisbane – are fine fellows.
It’s kind of isolated, but there are two coffee shops, a growers’ market, a service station, and several hole-in-the-wall “dairies” all within walking distance.
Even better, thanks to Jone’s tuition, I’ve learned the art of hitch-hiking in Fiji. One faces the traffic, extends the arm, and flutters the hand, similar to the slow-down signal. It works well, especially as the hitcher is expected to cough up $1 for the ride. Fair enough.
The internet here is erratic. It was good enough to teach online at my first digs, but too inconsistent out here to risk the wrath of Japanese students.
Fijians aren’t big on coffee. It’s relatively expensive ( $8.50 FJD at the upmarket cafe, $6.50 FJD at the local ). And I’ve yet to find somewhere which sells filter beans – it’s all instant, all the way.
Fruit and veg is more expensive than I expected. Prices at the small growers’ market are higher than NZ equivalents, and it’s $1 an apple at the supermarket. The Papaya is beautiful.
The dogs need professional help
In my last digs, in Namaka, dogs could be heard yelping at almost any time of day – and often of night as well. Namaka is a shopping centre about 3km from Nadi . It’s a middle-class area by Nadi standards.
Dogs were everywhere. Some roamed the street, but these aren’t the problem. It’s the impounded dogs, locked up by their owners inside gated properties, and so with nothing to do except yelp hysterically at any imagined threat.
Which they do with gusto. The owners clearly don’t know or care enough to intervene.
It’s better here in the countryside, but sometime every day, a dog goes off its nut for a happy half hour or so.
Which are to rough it here for a further week or two, and then look to Sigatoka ( a market-town to the south ) or Lautoka ( North of here, Fiji’s second city ). The first is close to a river and the sea, the second offers good accommodation at cheaper rates than Nadi, but no good swimming spots.
Also on the agenda is a bus trip around the northern part of the Viti Levu from Nadi to Suva.
I decided to stay in Nadi, and am on my way to another ‘burb, Votualevu, on Wednesday.
It’s about 3 km away as the crow flies from here in Namaka.
The month-long stay here wasn’t cheap, but the apartment has everything I’ve needed, and it’s been a good central base, with nearby shops.
The place I’m headed to is a little rural, but I’m told buses are good, and I liked the house owner when we met a few days ago.
As luck would have it, last night I got a good offer for a flash apartment in Lautoka for $650 FJD / month, and all the modcons. I’d ruled Lautoka out, because the only nearby beaches involved a boat ride.
But I may be thinking again after a couple of weeks out in the countryside with no air-conditioning.
Good cheap accommodation here is harder to find than I expected.
After a lot of lost-in-translation phone calls, the options seem to be limited to airbnb and home stays.
When I finally struck a real estate agent who could understand me, I was told that apartment and home leases of less than a year are like snakes’ balls.
HOMESTAYS v. AIRBnB
Home stays can be much cheaper, of course, and can offer a ‘real’ local experience – more intimacy.
But that has its downsides too. You’re living in someone’s pocket, so there’s a loss of privacy. Your quirks are in plain view. You have to hold conversations. You’re more often than not sharing a kitchen or bathroom. Homestays will often not have air-conditioning or fans.
With AirBnBs, prices aren’t so good, and exact locations – which are important here – aren’t shown until after they’re booked. A photo can be worth 1000 words of bs.
On the other hand, searching and booking is easy, and hosts are rated by guests, they tend to play nice.
TOWN v. COUNTRY
Another young players’ surprise has been how difficult it is to get accommodation near the sea. I know that’s nothing new, but I found a way in Vietnam, Thailand, and Adelaide.
In Nadi, locations near the water go for the price of an aeroplane. To the south, and then East toward Suva , the seaside options are a) a gated resort , and b) a stay at a village. The first is expensive, the second involves charm and giving up all or most mod-cons. I had one place booked in Viseisei , but the owner has bedbugs.
Further North, in Fiji’s second city, Lautoka, there is no swimmable seafront. The option there is a ( cheap ) $10 FJD round trip to an island maybe 3 kms offshore.
I have to leave here on June 14. Right now, there are two possibilities I’m thinking on.
The first is a homestay about 6 doors up the road. This is with an Indian man I got talking to on my wanderings. His brother, who I happened to share a bowl of kava with in another episode, also lives there. Rent would be $125 FJD / week, a generous offer not to be sniffed at. I like the neighbourhood, it has a good vibe to it. It’s central, and the shops and market are nearby. The big downsides are the deranged local dogs, and no aircon or fan.
The other is yet-unseen place down in Sigitoka. I made tracks for it today, but mis-timed the buses, so went for a swim at Wailoaloa instead. It’s a farm house, apparently about 10 minutes’ walk from town, and not so far from the beach. It’s probably a longshot.
If both of those fail, there are back-up options which involve either spending a lot of money, or heading a little into the countryside.
And so it proved. It rained, off and on, most of the 24 hours I was there.
My hotel was near a school. Big mistake. When school goes in ( 7.45 a.m. – 8.45 a.m. ) or out ( for an hour after 2pm ) there is traffic lined up as far as can be seen.
The taxi drivers I met ( four of them ) told me that’s typical, and is just as bad at office closing and opening hours.
The rest of the batch of short videos I took are at youtube.
The bus service between Nadi and Suva is fantastic. I paid $40 for the round trip, Nadi – Suva Wednesday, and return Thursday.
The trip ( ~= 120km ) is about four hours each way, in comfortable buses with air-conditioning.
The only downside is the music, which is dire Christian drek.
It’s an express service, which stops at Sigatoka for a food break, and several small towns on the way. At Sigatoka, it cost me $1 at a bus station stall to buy five Indian dough balls made with flour, eggs, and spinach. Bawachi or Palak without the cheese.
Sigatoka is on a river, and close to some swimmable beaches, so it is a candidate for my new base after the lease runs out here in Nadi in 12 days or so.
The route, the Queens Road, is dotted with small villages. Many of them are doing it hard, full of subsistence-level concrete and tin shacks.
At one quick pick-up stop, a couple of white girls embarked. They were being herded by a Fijian man and his young daughter, who’d likely been hosting them. As the bus pulled out, the Fijian man gave his daughter a quiet fist-pump. He’d possibly just earned a few months’ wages.
The rest of the coast has been claimed by gated resorts commanding weekly rents which would easily buy a new car.
With my usual foresight and planning, I’d booked the hotel the night before.
I’d paid too much for a room about 15 minutes’ walk from the city centre, and was disappointed with the result, a concrete box containing a bed.
Resigning myself to my fate, I tried to set up the TV-HDMI connection with my laptop. No dice. After an hour, a small puddle formed on a bedside table. It was coming from the air-conditioning.
After complaining as tactfully as I could, the desk girl ( as in Vietnam, this hotel was run by super-capable young women ) upgraded me to a delux room upstairs. With an ensuite. Booyah!
Part of the reason for the trip was to shore up my vape supply. Everywhere in Fiji I’ve asked I’ve been met with the kind of look you’d get if you asked for crack.
I was able to find a vape shop. Which wasn’t easy, given that a licence to import e-cigarettes for sale is gold here.
That, and a chance to see the Coral Coast and Pacific Coast, made the caper worthwhile.