Tactile The World
Pacific-Asia Journal #3: Castaway
THE FIJI ISLANDS
December 24 – 29, 2009
The angel, Christine, sat on my right shoulder with her beautiful wings spread out and a smile that melted hearts and there was always an innocent gleam in her eyes. Christine often was the voice of reason, reminding the human Coco of faith, prayer and caution. Her nemesis, the archangel Coco, dressed in all of her splendored red, wore this mischievous smile on her face and whipped out her cane wit delight and spoke of impulsivity and desire. The human Coco listened intentively to both of her companions intentively, weighing each side before making a decision.
Both of the angels were ever so present on the plane when I flew on the Air Pacific Flight 811 from Los Angeles to Nadi, Fiji Islands, on December 22nd. One voice was telling me to forego the week-long extended vacation in Fiji and spend Christmas in Auckland as planned. The other voice, with mischief, told me that I should make it happen, ask for an extension and get to see the exotic peninsula of islands that had a great reputation for sunsets, beaches and cultural treats.
“See Fiji’s sunsets and beaches before you go blind,” Coco nudged me, and that sure sounded tempting.
“But you’re Deafblind and alone… anything could happen to you – better safe than sorry. Go directly to Auckland like planned” the other voice gently whispered into my mind.
I had looked up a host on the Couchsurfing website a day before I left, and contacted Aine in Nadi for a place to stay in case I decided to stay in Fiji. She responded quickly and said she had a bed available – so there was a place ready for me if this “plan” had worked.
I had eight hours to decide. To decide, I closed my eyes. Before I knew it, I was in Nadi, the capital city of Fiji at 5:30am on December 24th.
After picking up my backpack from the baggage claim and being guided by the airport assistance patron, I arrived at the Air Pacific ticket counter with my marker and paper ready.
“I wonder if it’s possible to request a 5-day long layover in Fiji and leave for Auckland on the 29th?” I wrote.
A nice man working for Air Pacific wrote back, “Yes, but it will cost you $100 U.S. Dollars,” and smiled. I didn’t have this much money, and if I did, I’d spend it on food and hostels in Fiji. And especially when my budget was cut in half from purchasing the ticket to Australia.
“But I don’t have much money. Can I talk to a manager,” I looked at him with a look of a puppy wanting something. He shook his head ‘no’, and gestured that the head office for Air Pacific would be open at 9AM. My flight for Auckland leaves at 8:30AM. Not enough time to talk my way out of this flight – so it was a lost cause.
Then the man’s eyes widened and so did his smile. He pointed to someone behind me, so I looked. It was a tall Fijian man, with a gray polo shirt and ironed slacks. He came over, with an inquiring look. The badge plate on his chest read: AIR PACIFIC MANAGER.
Oh my goodness!
“I’m Deaf with a condition that will soon completely blind me,” I wrote, “and I want to see the much-talked about Fijian sunset before that happens.’
‘I’ll also help the Fijian tourism with my funds if you waive the $100 fee,”I continued.
The manager, who looked stone-cold when he approached me, broke into a warm smile, patted my back and nodded a permissive yes.
I was handed an alternate ticket from Nadi to Auckland for the 29th. Now all I had to do was have someone call Aine and have her come pick me up. Aine usually has a lot of couchsurfers come stay with her, and she tells them to hail a cab to her place. But knowing my disabilities, she said she’d come to get me personally.
The short, blonde, stocky Irishwoman appeared before my eyes, with her mouth gaped open. Little did she actually believe that I was Deaf AND Blind, so it blew her away to see me standing there with my cane and my button ‘DEAF AND LOW-VISION’ pinned on my tank top.
Aine drove me to her white-and-blue painted little house on the outskirts of Nadi. It had a great view of the mountains on the mainland of Fiji from the front veranda of her house. Three Doberman dogs, friendly as they were, greeted us at the gate. One was huge, the middle one medium sized, and there was also a tiny one – the puppy – and all were so happy to greet another couchsurfing visitor.
Once I got in Aine’s house, I met another couchsurfer from Los Angeles by the name of Crystal. Multicolored tattoos adorned her body, covering her shoulders, arms, legs and back – it was art. I immediately knew that I would connect with this American chick.
The first ten minutes I got in the house, Aine told me that Crystal was headed to Mana Island that very morning, and it was arranged by Vanu, who is her Fijian husband’s cousin who is a travel agent. Vanu showed up to pick up Crystal, and in the meanwhile, he told me that it would cost me around $150 American dollars for four nights on this island’s hostel, food and boat from Nadi to Mana and back. Or I would wait until the next day and travel to Mana alone. The notion of travelling with Crystal was, in a sense, safer and fun. So I told him to go ahead.
I asked Aine if I could email my Dad to let him know that I’ve arrived in Fiji and had decided to stay here. Aine said that the boat would be leaving very soon, and that the hostel had internet. So I figured I’d contact him once I got to the island.
Aine and Vanu bid us goodbye and we were on our way to the shoreline of Nadi to catch a dingyboat to Mana. I checked my wallet to see if I could exchange some American money into Fiji dollars and was shocked to find $60 missing.
“My money’s missing!” I wrote to Crystal in the car. Rightfully so, she was pissed, but she didn’t look shocked, either. ‘My $200 is missing as well. Let me call Aine and tell her.’
What? Her money’s missing? Both of us were at Aine’s. I didn’t know what to think. Crystal wrote back to me saying that she suspected Vanu went in our rooms the day before and today, to steal under our noses.
Aine blew her top and told Crystal that she would take care of the bastard, regardless of his position in her husband’s family tree. She told us to enjoy our time on Mana and not to worry about a thing.
Travelling the globe, this was bound to happen, but I was determined not to let this bother me. At least I had all of my important belongings – camera, passport and insurance information. That’s all mattered.
On the boat to Mana, I met a young family – a mother, father and two very young children – from Switzerland who were travelling the world for 5 months; young fellas Mark and Andy from the United Kingdom; and some Fijian passengers. We arrived at the Mana Lagoon Backpackers Hostel in time for lunch, and before we dove in the delicious Fijian cuisine, we got a musical treat from the staff who welcomed us warmly to the hotel with an ukuele and song.
I asked the sweet manager of the hostel if I could use the internet to contact my Dad, but he wrote that the generator would not go on until 7PM.
The better part of the afternoon was spent drinking Fijian beer on the beautiful white beach in front of the hostel, meeting new people, canoodling with the friendly staff and swimming in the clear turquoise blue Pacific ocean with all of its coral reef glory.
Crystal joined me for this splendid afternoon on the sand and she looked positively at peace standing chest-deep in the ocean with her beer can hoisted up in the air.
Once Crystal had a chance to get her cell phone, she got a call from Aine.
This Irishwoman has balls.
Crystal penned what happened with Vanu and Aine as soon as she hung up on the Irishwoman and the entire time Crystal wrote down, she had this smirk on her face. I was piqued.
Pretty much Aine was royally pissed at Vanu for breaching the trust of her lodgers, and this would mean that she would get bad reviews on Couchsurfing. Aine loved getting visitors and damned if she was going to let Vanu ruin this for her.
Being the wife of an British Commonwealth army officer, Aine faced Vanu with gusto – she punched him in the face and threatened him with a knife to get him to confess to stealing the money. Vanu confessed to doing so, and I got my money back. I love this woman, she’s got balls of steel! Crystal and I laughed in admiration and sighed a breath of relief. Karma was going to bite Vanu – hard.
In the evening, I sat on the beach alone, my back against a small white rowboat, and watched simply the most stunning sunset of my life. This sunset, a deep red, orange, yellow and blue, rivaled the sunset I saw in the Philippines back in 2002. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I painted this image in my mind, hoping it’d stay in there forever. This kind of beauty is so piercing, it’d make me cry, smile, forget all kinds of pain and war in this world. To make it more of a blessing, there were around 15 small Fijian children happily frolicking in the ocean, laughing and being raucous. Children being children. The ripples from their child’s play made the reflection of the evening sun play out as if it were musical waves with strands of bright light. As the sun disappeared into the vast horizon of the Pacific, the children exited the water and came to me. Fascinated by my cane and my smile, they wrote in the sand little messages like a heart, peace sign and ‘who you?’
I gestured that I couldn’t hear and see well. A girl, maybe eight years old, took my hand and led me back to the hostel stairs. A gesture of kindness on Christmas Eve.
I was disappointed to find out that the internet café at the hostel closed early (but didn’t open at all, because of the generator) for Christmas Eve. I was told that it might open the next day. My father must be wondering where I am.
I was greeted by the hot sun seeping through my private room I shared with Crystal. She was up and gone before 7AM, so I trudged around the room, hungry for breakfast. I met up with my new Fijian friends – one man was a dead ringer for the now notoriously-famous Tiger Woods and aptly nicknamed that by me; a young lad by the name of Miji and his sister Suli; a feisty lady named Nana. They broke the news that the internet was closed today because of the holiday, but I could try again the next day after 7PM when the generator came on. Oh boy. I wanted to let my Dad know I was here, alive, happy and enjoying my stay on this gorgeous island. But oh well.
Christmas Day was spent on a speed boat with several international backpackers – two Danes, Andreas and Rasmus; a Frenchwoman Marion; Andy and Mark; Crystal and I along with Tiger Woods, the dreadlocked Polynesian-Fijian Adam and the boatman. We hopped on five islands, ate a delicious Polynesian BBQ and snorkeled among coral reef. Such an awe-inspiring day with cool folk.
Christmas night brought us a special treat – a Polynesian fire dance, Fijian traditional culture dance and good food. I met cool people from New Zealand who promised me a beer once we all got into Auckland after our trip to Fiji. And another couple from Sydney. It was great making connections from all over the world, on a tiny island like this one.
My last full day, the 26th, was spent on the beach reading the last chapters of Deepak Chopra’s biography of Siddhartha the Prince, “Buddha, a story of Enlightenment” and bottles of Fijian Gold beer, overlooking the white sandy beach of Mana. In the evening, I was able to score some time on the internet but strangely enough, it barred me from using Gmail. More complications and delays. I wondered if my Dad would be ok with this and not worrying himself to death?
On the 27th of December, I boarded the boat back to Nadi with Marion, a solo backpacker from the south of France who was travelling the world for her own reasons which was to learn English. She had not known a word of English two weeks prior to meeting me, and it was amazing to see her complete sentences in nearly good English. Marion was also a couchsurfer, so we headed over to Aine’s.
The three dogs happily greeted us at the gate once again, and the evening was spent writing back and forth with Aine. She wanted to know more about who I was, and vice versa.
I finally got the chance to read my emails. First on the agenda was writing a pleasantly vibrant, informative email to my father, explaining the delay and my sheer happiness in having had the chance to see a gorgeous Fijian sunset on Christmas Day. Once that was sent out, I got an email from my friend, Sonia in Auckland cautioning me that my father had called the New Zealand police on Christmas Day (a day after I landed in Fiji) that I was missing and that the phone number for her hearing boyfriend wasn’t going through. He was extremely worried that I had not contacted him immediately. After more hours and days with no response from me, I was alerted to the Interpol as a missing person.
Oy vey. On the International Police’s missing persons list? *gulp*
I love my father deeply, but sometimes I think he overreacts, overprotects and loves me very much. I got Aine’s number to him and he called, finally. He was understandably pissed, shaken but relieved that his little girl was okay, intact and happy. I got a lot of scolding, bold words and insistence that I keep up contact with him so he doesn’t have a heart attack.
But I reminded him that I was adventurous, impulsive and happier ‘out there’ and he knows it ever since the day I was born.
To sum Fiji up, it was bold and colorful like its sunsets, unpredictable like its electricity, and lovely like its people. I got my miracle, I got to spend Christmas among people who took care of me, and to witness such a gift in itself – seeing this piece of the world in its isolated beauty during a time when the world celebrated spirituality and love.