Yasawa Island Chain, Fiji • March 2017 • Length of Read: 10 Minutes
Type ‘Fiji Party Island’ into your search engine and Beachcomber will be the first result that pops up. Wrapped in a spotlessly clean golden beach, you can walk around the entire island in less than seven minutes, and it is the renowned hangout spot in the South Pacific where backpackers tend to get a little loose. Where better to kick off my Fijian island-hopping adventure?
I’d booked the trip through a sketchy guy at the hostel travel agents when in Queenstown, New Zealand, and the only thing I had to confirm my booking was a Facebook message received from the dude with a reservation number and the date of initial travel. I was pretty sceptical as to whether I’d actually booked anything, but the message said that I was scheduled to be on the boat leaving the mainland port at 8:30am. I awoke at 7am on my morning of travel and went to the hostel reception to inquire as to how much a taxi to the port would cost.
“You don’t need to worry about a taxi,” beamed the lady behind reception. She had been working the desk at least since I’d gone to bed the night before but was still full of energy. “The bus will pick you up in ten minutes.”
“Bus?” I frowned, “But I didn’t even tell the tour company where I was staying.”
“That’s no bother, the bus always comes past at 7:10am each morning to pick guests up. You better go and get your stuff.”
I sprinted back to my dorm, shoved the loose contents into my rucksack, and came back downstairs just in time to jump onboard. My Facebook confirmation number was enough to get me on both the bus and boat, and I took a seat in the downstairs area of the vessel next to two English lads who I recognised from the hostel bar the previous night. Dan was a big ginger farmer boy and Luke a short, fat, comic book nerd, but the two had struck an unlikely friendship. Both were also going to Beachcomber and had high expectations of the place.
“Have you heard of a thing called Cloud 9?” asked Dan, who would intermittently interrupt conversations with such absurd statements as ‘your nan’s called Jeff’, and ‘Jonathan Ross is my dad’. It was like a weird form of family Tourette syndrome.
“The phrase used to describe the feeling of floating on air because you are so happy?” I asked.
“No, the two level floating raft out in the middle of nowhere where you go to for the afternoon to get drunk and party along to music played by internationally-known DJs.”
“Sounds awesome,” I responded.
“Yeah, we were thinking of booking it for tomorrow once we’ve seen what the talent on the island looks like.”
Upon approaching the island we transferred from the large vessel to a smaller boat that could cut its way through the shallow water and sped towards the landing area. Lined up on the beach were four of the resort’s employees holding musical instruments, and as we approached they welcomed us in with traditional songs. I don’t know if this is statistically correct, but I would estimate that approximately 97% of all Fijians know how to play the guitar.
Dan, Luke, and I turned out to be the only three people that got off the boat, and as we checked-in to our dorm rooms it was clear that the island wasn’t at full capacity. That’s to say, it was fucking dead. Despite being down season for travellers, only twenty of the 600 beds on the island were occupied.
Unperturbed, we dumped out bags and went back down to the beach where two English girls and a pair of Italian brothers were chilling. As well as mentioning to them that all of their nans were called Jeff and that Jonathan Ross was his dad, Dan also asked whether they were planning on going to Cloud 9 at any point. Yes, yes they were.
Lunch was called at 12pm and I was thankful to get into the shade. Being a pasty, ginger, Scot, I’m not really built for beach life, and it was apparent that even though I’d only been out for a short time, some severe damage had already been done. I’d tried to sun-cream my own back and clearly missed an out-of-reach portion down my spine. The patch was sanguine red and already beginning to sting. Not as much as the mosquito bites that I’d somehow collected, however. They had attacked me like I was a sewing cushion and itchy red spots ran all the way up my legs. As the boys finished lunch and went back to tanning, I retired to my abode and lay there in a feverish sweat. I then lay there all afternoon, all night, and then all the next day, letting the others go to Cloud 9 without me. Welcome to paradise.
When they returned that afternoon I felt a lot better. Lathering myself in aloe vera lotion and antiseptic cream for twenty-four hours straight like I was preparing for an intense Thai massage had somewhat dimmed the redness, and I was keen to have a few beers with the team. Of the twenty guests on the island, six of them were socially inept eighteen-year-old Germans girls. Whilst we sat at the bar watching a live fire-juggling show being put on by a troupe of travelling pacific islanders, they sat in the opposite corner playing card games and refusing to make eye contact with one another. By the time the show ended, I’d had enough.
“You guys need to be more inclusive,” I said, marching up to their table and sitting down.
“What do you mean?” replied the alpha female of the group.
“Well, you make up 30% of all guests on this island and you’re being more unsociable than widowed spinster hermits. How about we all play a drinking game together?”
“Yeah, okay,” responded the same girl, realising that they should perhaps be making more of an effort. As it turned out, they were absolute booze hounds. We drank and partied for the rest of the evening, giving the DJ requests and then dancing in the summer rain that had started to fall until we were soaked through to the bone.
Brushing my teeth in the communal bathroom before bed, I glanced bleary-eyed at the Danish guy standing next to me. I’d seen him at lunch and dinner but he appeared to be a little odd so I hadn’t instigated a conversation with him. Perhaps that was a bit hypocritical of me considering the conversation I’d had with the German girls earlier that evening, but as he gazed soullessly into the mirror in front of him I felt like my decision was justified.
“Are you okay, mate?” I asked, slightly concerned. His face resembled a smudged oil painting.
“Ear infection,” he grimaced, getting out a cotton bud and poking it into his ear canal.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, before realising that was probably not the best statement to have made under the circumstances. Choosing to nip the conversation in the bud I turned round and staggered my way back to my dorm where I subsequently collapsed into my bed. Dan and Luke were already asleep.
The following morning I checked out of my room on Beachcomber and went down to the restaurant where they had a full English breakfast buffet on offer. Dan and Luke were heading to a different island from me that day, but there was another English couple on the island who were also planning on heading to Manta Ray Resort. Not knowing when I’d next be fed, I filled my plate high with sausage, potato scones, bacon, and pancakes before sitting down beside them. They turned out not to be a couple at all, but brother and sister.
“You guys sounded like you had fun last night,” said Robyn with a smirk.
“In what sense, I said?” genuinely perplexed. “Were we a little on the loud side? If so, I do apologise.”
“No, it was more one of the German girls who sounded like she was enjoying herself,” chuckled her brother, Oli.
“What a sly dog that Dan is,” I laughed as we were called for the arrival of the boat. “I knew that his dad was Jonathan Ross, but I had absolutely no idea that he got it in last night.”
The weather had closed in slightly, making the seas extremely choppy. As I sat on the boat with my eyes closed, music in and sunburn rubbing against the back of the seat, the vessel decided to deal with the rough waters by doing its best impression of an Alaskan fishing trawler. My large breakfast may have been a good idea at the time, but I was already regretting the decision to stuff my face. I could feel it resurfacing and when we hit a wave that acted more like a brick wall than water I projectile vomited right into the sick bag I’d grabbed from one of the passing stewards. From what came out, my body hadn’t even had time to properly process the meat.
By the time we arrived at Manta Ray two hours later I’d thrown up twice more, the final one just being water and grog. I was sweating like a paedophile in a nursery and had become severely dehydrated from the outing. The last thing I wanted to therefore hear was another traditional song. Sure enough, however, as we entered the bay to Manta Ray there they were. Those well-meaning Fijian employees and their bloody music. I gave them a weak hello upon disembarking, looking as pale as a corpse and head still spinning. What I needed now was a large bottle of water, a comfortable pillow, and some rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, though, I was also placed in a 32 person dorm for my sins, and you’ll never guess who had the pleasure of being in the bunk above me. The weird Danish guy with the ear infection.
I was lying on my bed at 6pm that afternoon when the whining noise started. I was reading my book and feeling a lot better. The sunburn and mosquito bites were ever-present, but my seasickness had subsided. Having tossed and turned all afternoon, the Danish guy had eventually managed to fall asleep, but as the sound of the hairdryer got louder and louder he awoke from his nap in a rage.
“Turn that thing off,” he yelled. “I’m trying to sleep here.”
“It sounds like your request has fallen on deaf ears,” I toyed with him as the noise continued. “Is now a bad time to tell you that I snore like a bear in hibernation, have a severe uncontrollable flatulence problem, and plan on having loud rough sex tonight right on this bed?”
“You better not,” he responded, legitimately concerned.
“Then you better stop complaining,” I said. “If you want to have complete peace and quiet at this time in the afternoon then book yourself into a private room.” His sulking face went as sheet white as mine had been on the boat crossing.
The culprit and owner of the hairdryer had been Lucy, a lovely Welsh girl who was travelling with her friend Megan. The pair had become friendly with Robyn and Oli, so the five of us had dinner together that night. I retired back to the room soon after, still not feeling very well, whilst the others headed down to the bar where jugs of sangria were on offer.
I awoke the next morning to see that the bunk above me had been vacated. ‘No way,’ I thought to myself. ‘We actually ripped into the Danish dude so hard that he checked out a day early.’ He was definitely meant to have stayed on Manta Ray for two nights. I walked to the restaurant for breakfast and found the four Brits slumped over one of the tables.
“Well, what happened last night?” I chuckled, assessing the pile of limp bodies in front of me. The weird Danish guy has already checked out this morning and left because he couldn’t hack out chat, by the way.”
“Ugh,” moaned Megan. “Things got a little silly last night. We ended up getting wasted, danced on the tables, and then went skinny dipping in the ocean once the bar closed.”
“Jesus,” I laughed, “sounds like I missed out. It must have been quite the party.”
“Not really,” laughed Robin. “It was actually only just the four of us. Megan almost fell asleep in her sandy dungarees, Oli fell into a ditch at the side of the wooden walkway when trying to get back to the room, and there is no way that I’m even going to try and stomach breakfast this morning.”
“Speaking from experience that seems like a wise decision” I giggled. The four of them were truly a class group of people.
I got the boat back to the mainland that afternoon, fed up of resorts. Tanning on beaches all day is some people’s idea of Heaven, but for my skin pigment, it is literally hotter than Hell. Perhaps I hadn’t made the most of my time on the Fijian islands, but considering the pain I had caused my body I couldn’t care less. I wasn’t walking on could nine but more hot coals. Thankfully, the seas were calm for my return trip, though, and the journey passed without the contents of my stomach deciding to make another unwanted appearance. I got the shuttle bus from the port back to the same hostel that I’d stayed at before departing for my trip and grabbed a free room.
Buzzing the key card against the door I entered into the air-conditioned bliss and froze in my footsteps. Standing in front of me was the weird Danish guy. I nodded towards him and he meekly shuffled past. We were only bloody sharing a bunk bed together again.