Friday, January 05, 2007

The First Sunrise in Taveuni

Happy New Year!

We hope you all had wonderful holidays and are fully recovered from the New Year's celebrations.

We just got back from a "vacation from our vacation" on the neighboring island Taveuni, the 4th largest in Fiji and only 8 miles distant from the shores of Vanua Levu. We went there because the 180th meridian runs right through the middle of Taveuni and we thought it would be cool to say that we were among the very few people who saw the first sunrise on Earth. (The 180th meridian is accessible only from very few places since it mostly runs through the Pacific Ocean.) Plus, everyone told us to go to Taveuni for New Year's eve, so off we went.

We were hoping to do some fun New Year's eve partying, meeting other funky budget travelers, lying around on a beach (we have no real beach in Savusavu) and discovering the natural beauty of this tropical island. But even though we eventually did all of this, by the end of our 4 days in Taveuni, we were exasperated, tired, broke, irritated and happy to go back to the comforts of our little bure in Savusavu. The truth that no travel book told us about Taveuni was that it is not set up for budget travelers - and that it really isn't an ideal place for New Year's celebrations.

But here's what happened...

We got to Taveuni on the last day of the year and settled down at Beverly's Campground, the only budget accommodation on the more touristy northern part of the island. On the map we saw that this part of the island is littered with resorts, so we thought this would be a good place to find some people and entertainment. The campground itself is idyllic - sitting directly on a patch of fine sandy beach and shaded by large trees. It had a bit of a run down feeling to it, with cobwebs hanging from the tents (the owner, Bill, provides his own tents) and ants running amok everywhere, but the beach and the waves crashing on it were beautiful. However, we were astonished to hear that we were the only people staying at the grounds for the night. So much for meeting other funky budget travelers. On the upside, we had the whole beach to ourselves!!

Another surprise came when we walked out to find some place to eat. Again, the map informed us that the area is littered with restaurants, but we didn't see any! Famished after a long, bumpy trip from Savusavu, we walked for 30 minutes in the blazing heat and found only one promising place, The Coconut Grove, a tiny restaurant owned by an American woman, Ronna, who was apparently the only person in northern Taveuni with enough business acumen to be open on Sunday AND New Year's eve. Because as we found out later, her place was the only one open for business on New Year's Eve in the whole area. We thought that with all the upscale resorts around us, we only had to walk out of our campground in the evening and walk into the first resort bar that we heard from the road.

But no such luck. To our second astonishment, northern Taveuni was absolutely dead on the last eve of the year. We walked in the moonlight for half an hour on the same road, passed all the resorts and heard not a stir. We couldn't believe it. Eventually, we had to go back to the overpriced Coconut Grove -not only was it open, but they also accept credit cards there and we had no cash on us, since the only ATM on the island was out of order when we arrived. We had a bottle of fine Australian wine there and were overjoyed to hear from Ronna that she's going to a private party at the Maravu Resort and that we are welcome to come with her. We were thirsty for another drink and some company. So off we went.

Smuggled into one of the most expensive resorts in Fiji as "guests" of Ronna, we landed at a pretty sedated party populated by some resort guests and many locals, all of whom were quietly sitting around, sipping their drinks, seemingly without much interest in actual partying. The DJ was playing mellow Fijian pop and two or three 'eccentrics' were attempting to dance to it. We struck up a conversation with 3 Japanese students who, as they told us, were studying English in Nadi, Fiji, and were in Taveuni for a short break. We immediately noticed that all 3 were in a dire need of some English conversation practice, so we were helping them with that until midnight.

Midnight came without much fanfare - no champagne popping, no fireworks and no joyous collective hugs. The only thing that happened was that, all of a sudden, all of the party guests (by now there were more of them) woke up from their slumber and with an unexpected zeal all rushed to the dancefloor! The Dj now finally switched to some dance music and the party finally began - as if now everyone was trying to make up for the first part of the night with very enthusiastic dancing and drinking. Within two hours, most of the resort guests disappeared and the locals were stumbling and puking all over the place (Fijians can't hold their liquor very well.) But it was a fun party and we were there chatting to some British, Australian and New Zealand ex-pats until the closing time at 3 am.

We had welcomed the year 2007 10 hours before Deni in Bulgaria, 11 hours before my mom in Slovakia, 17 hours before Ryan's dad in New Jersey, 19 hours before Ryan's mom in New Mexico and - basically, before just about anybody in the world.

We stumbled back across the street to our campground, cooked up some 2-minute noodles in our open-air beach-front kitchen and laid down on the beach to watch the brilliant stars and Milky Way filling the pitch-black sky. We promptly passed out.

I thought that what woke me up was a crab crawling over my foot, but it couldn't have been. There was no crab in sight when I sat up. All I saw was Ryan sleeping soundly next to me and, all around me in a very pale shade of grey - there it was: the first sunrise of the year 2007 on Earth. I watched the foamy tide creeping back toward us for about a minute, scratched my numerous bug bites - and passed out again.

We spent the first day of the year recovering and, generally, not doing much. We sat around the beach, cooked more noodles and went to bed early after admiring the beauty of a moon-lit beach at low tide. The following day, after we found where Bill hides the paddles to his kayaks, we went out for a daring sea-kayaking voyage over the reef and out into the sea. We were out there for 2 and a half hours and came back fully roasted and red like lobsters. No sunscreen in the world could have protected us from the intensity of sun that day! In the afternoon we went to the nearest town Wairiki and discovered the "most remote cinema in the world" (at least according to the makers of the documentary "Reel Paradise"), the 180 Meridian Cinema, which must have been built back in the colonial times and was now definitely shut down.

The next day, we took a bus to the Bouma National Heritage Park and cooled our blazing sunburns in the cold water pools under 2 massive waterfalls. We were hungry, without cash again, spending more money at the Coconut Grove because we had to use plastic and we came back to find some more backpackers at the campground: a couple from Sydney, a surfer from New Zealand and a chiefly Fijian. Very fun people to share stories with, but the sunburns, bug bites, ever piling sand and expenses were starting to get to us. On Thursday we had to wait around all day because of the ever changing and unexpectable schedule of the ferry we were going to take back. Its original departure time was 2pm, but of course, it didn't leave until 5pm. By this time we were itching to go home, shower, groom and relax - and stop spending so much money!

The last astonishment of the trip still awaited us: as we were getting (or, rather, struggling) off the boat, we had to retrieve our backpack, which we had to leave on the car deck when we arrived. You can imagine the shock we got when we saw a heap of luggage 3 meters high and our backpack buried somewhere at the bottom of it! With people pushing all around us, we spent 30 minutes throwing around dozens of bags, boxes of bananas and rolled-up mats to find our poor bag. Out on the wharf, we got soaked again in the rain (we got soaked getting on the boat, too), walked for 20 minutes in mud to find a taxi and - before midnight, we finally got back to our clean, comfortable bure.

It was fun to see Taveuni, but next time we'll do better research before we take off for another expensive and inconveniently laid-out island.

Happy New Year again!


grainyms said...

Total kick to read this. I'm one of the subjects and producers of Reel Paradise. The entry came up in my permanent google search. Always fun to hear firsthand about Tavenui.

grainyms said...

And your photos are tremendous!

InfiniteView said...

We're happy that you stumbled upon our blog and appreciate your reading it! We have one more month in Fiji before making our way to New Zealand, so stay tuned...
Watching "Reel Paradise" was an excellent first view of what was to come. Any chance for a sequel? :)

grainyms said...

That would have to be a No on the sequel you noted yourself, the cinema is closed! We hear many of the islanders have DVDs of the doc though, and have been enjoying it. We hope to get back to visit ourselves in not too long.

Glad you appreciated the doc. Interesting how many americans have problems with it because of how differently they imagine the reality to be. Your New Year's Eve report totally cracked us up - very delightful and familiar.

Enjoy your remaining time in Fiji. And really have a great time in NZ. We really loved it there too.

If you want, you can write me at:


DJ said...

Happy New Year you two!! Although it might not have been the greatest party in the world, this classifies itself as probably one of the most unforgettable New Year's Eves you would ever have... We over-celebrated our entry into the EU, as if on Jan 1st everything would change and we would all become rich. But the fireworks and light shows they had organized to celebrate 2007 were pretty amazing! I have some very short "footage" taken with my camera, will try to upload it to youtube or somewhere for people to view. Thanks for the number, I always think of calling when it is middle of the night over there...but it will happen :)