Island Hopping around Fiji (Bucket List #93)

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.

A Traditional Fijian Kava Welcoming Ceremony

Nadi, Fiji • February 2017 • Length of Read: 10 Minutes

After three days of being holed up in my hostel on the Fijian mainland due to a tropical storm, the bad weather finally subsided. The expat who I’d met at the bar on my first evening in the country, Andy Fritzl, may have given off vibes creepier than Hannibal Lecter, but I couldn’t comment negatively on the accuracy of his weather forecasting. He had been spot on in saying that we were going to be experiencing the worst storm in ten years that would not then turn into a cyclone. The flash flooding had been so bad that I would have needed a kayak just to get down the street to the local supermarket.

The cracks of blue sky that eventually appeared were much to the pleasure of Coral, the petite Israeli girl who had checked-in the day after myself. Upon arrival, she’d slept for near-enough sixteen hours straight, her mood pegged to the weather like an exchange rate. Even after this sleeping beauty eventually awoke from her slumber, however, every time I’d returned from the bar area to the sanctuary of our air-conditioned room she’d remained ever-present in bed, either dozing or flicking through Instagram on her smartphone.

“This weather is just so shit,” she’d grumbled after I’d asked her the previous day whether she ever planned on leaving the room or not. It was like she’d been placed under house arrest. Fortunately, there was only a wanky traveller bracelet around her ankle as opposed to a police tag. I couldn’t really blame her for the bad mood either, especially considering the conversation she’d just had to endure with the weird old Finnish guy who’d arrived in our room that morning. Plonking his wrinkly ass on my bed, he’d asked Coral where she was from and then proceeded to quiz her on middle-eastern Zionist politics and the deprived state of her homeland. When he’d bluntly stated that he though the stability of Israel was worse than the weather in Fiji, I was impressed that she’d managed to restrain herself from clocking him with a right hook. To make matters worse, he also smelled like he hadn’t had a wash since Benjamin Netanyahu had been re-appointed Prime Minister in 2009.

“It is monsoon season,” I’d reasoned with her, also peeved at the lack of sun but not taking it in the life or death manner that Coral had decided to adopt. “How long are you here for?”

“Five more days. My flight home is on Friday, but I don’t think I can survive in Nadi for that long.”

“Have you got any trips booked to the islands at all? I’ve got a four-day/five-night boat pass that’s scheduled to leave in a couple of days. From what I’ve gathered, it seems to be pretty unanimous among travellers that the Fijian mainland is a complete shithole.”

“Not yet. I’ve been looking but they all seem to be quite expensive.”

“Surely it’s better to spend the money and have fun on the islands, though, than stay here and remain miserable?”

“I suppose so.”

“Just think about it, that’s all I’m asking. In the meantime, I’m planning on going for a wander around the town centre tomorrow with Johanna, the Finnish girl from this room, and Connor, the English dude from the hostel down the street. You should join us.”

“Yeah, okay. That sounds good.”

After waiting an hour and fifteen minutes for a bus that never arrived, we eventually hopped on the next one that made its way past. There aren't any apparent public transport timetables in Fiji and the big rusty purple things appear to just show up as and when they please. For $1 a ride, however, we couldn’t complain. And yes, I’m still taking about the busses here and not the local call girls. They are always on time. Or so I’ve heard.

Disembarking at the main bus terminal, the four of us pale tourists were immediately targeted by the locals. One guy started chatting to Connor about taking us on a personal tour of the town centre, and before I even had the chance to dismiss him we found ourselves following his cronies through a fruit market, down a grotty alleyway, up a rickety fire escape, and into a traditional handicrafts shop that looked more like a living room than a place of commerce. ‘Well, we’re here now,’ I thought to myself. ‘May as well see what this guy has to offer.’

Taking off our shoes at the entranceway, we formed a cross-legged circle on the woven rugs that covered the floor. The main guy who had stopped us squatted down and two of his friends sat down on either side.

“Greetings, friends,” he started, shaking all of our hands. “It is tradition for us in Fiji to welcome you to our beautiful country with a kava ceremony. Are you all happy to participate?”

“Cava?” I announced in disbelief. “We’re being welcomed into Fiji with Spain’s answer to champagne? If that’s the case then damn right I’m happy to participate. Bring it on.”

“No,” muttered Connor. Kava, spelt with a ‘k’, is a Fijian root which is ground down into a fine powder and then mixed with water. I had some last night.”

“Was it any good?”

“Even for a liquid that looks like it came from the rectum of someone with severe food poisoning, no, it was not.”


On cue, the guy brought out a large wooden bowl and started preparing the mystery potion. There was a long piece of woven rope attached to it with a shell knotted at the end.

“Who’s the oldest here?” he asked, glancing around the circle at the three fresh faces of my companions before resting his eyes on my scraggly, out-of-control, beard and laughter lines.

“That would be me,” I responded.

“As the oldest, you get to be the chief of the ceremony,” he smiled, offering the shell to me. “Having the shell placed in front of you signifies that you are in charge of the proceedings. Now, if you would like to copy me, we will recite some incantations and clap in unison.”

‘Well that that authority didn’t last long,’ I thought.

We tried to keep rhythm with our three hosts as they fished kava from the wooden bowl and made us take turns in gulping down cups of the mucky water. It tasted like feet which had recently trodden in a baby’s dirty diaper. Whilst I struggled to stomach the concoction, however, Connor appeared to be chowing it down; mesmerised by the guy’s chanting and conversation.

“So, you are going to take the Israeli girl back to England with you after this, yes?” he asked Connor casually, pointing at Coral.

“Not quite,” laughed Connor. “We only just met, actually.”

“Well, what about you,” he said, directing his attention towards me. “Are you going to take the Finnish girl back to Scotland with you?”

“Unfortunately not,” I blushed, taking another sip of kava. It’s not alcoholic in any way but does have properties of a depressant drug. This means that it slows down the messages travelling between the brain and the body, causing a numbing feeling around the mouth, lips, and tongue. Everyone started to laugh.

Once the bowl had been near-enough emptied, the guy brought out a tattered poly pocket folder filled with clippings and photographs. “Here comes the sales pitch,” I whispered to Coral.

“I’m assuming that you all heard about the horrific storm that came through here a few years ago and devastated my village?” he questioned, already reciting his spiel from memory.

“A few years ago?” I jibed. “What about the one that came through yesterday?”

“We are still trying to deal with all the wreckage caused,” he continued, not even missing a beat when choosing to ignore my comment. “Here are some photographs of the damage that was caused to our properties and the vein efforts of our tribe to try and repair them,” he said, leafing through the pages of the folder in an attempt sucker us in with empathy. “All of the ornaments and souvenirs that you can see in this place were done by these villagers," he said, casting his arm around the living room. “The paintings were made by the local school children during their art classes and the carvings were all hand-made by the adults. Everything we make from the sale of these products goes back to funding our relief efforts. Don’t feel obliged to purchase anything, but please look around and see if anything takes your fancy. Everything has already been 100% approved by international customs and you can take it to any country in the world.”

With the closing of this epic speech, Johanna, Coral and I nodded our gratitude, slipped our shoes back on, and headed back out into the humid afternoon. “If I stayed in there any longer I’d have started questioning him as to why the locals decided to waste their time carving wooden elephants and doing finger painting as opposed to actually undertaking the much-needed repairs,” I yawned. “Anyone fancy going to get some food? I need to wash away the taste of that kava from my mouth.”

“For sure,” said Johanna. “We just have to wait for Connor. He’s still inside having a look around.”

Five minutes elapsed, in which we stood uncomfortably on the balcony staircase, before Connor re-appeared from the Aladdin’s Cave of tat. “Hi guys,” he smiled, stuffing a plastic bag into his rucksack upon exiting. “Cheers for waiting. That’s my mum’s birthday present sorted. Now, who fancies some food? I’m starving.”

I can’t believe you splashed out $45 on a wooden turtle with the word ‘mum’ carved into the bottom of it,” I scoffed whilst trying to keep down my chicken fried rice, “or believed the bullshit that he spat about the money going to rebuild his community.” We were sat in a bustling Chinese restaurant just around the corner from the scene of the crime, tucking into massive $5 portions of food.

“Well, ‘Melanie’ has more letters so would have been more expensive,” he reasoned in defence, trying to justify his purchase whilst poorly hiding the fact that he’d clearly spent way more than anticipated on the gift.

“It’s not a football top, I laughed. You don’t get charged by the letter.”

“Ah well, I think she’ll like it,” he said. “Oh, and that reminds me. I was planning on getting one of those Hawaiian shirts that all the Fijians seem to wear and making a short happy birthday for her. Would you guys like to be in it?”

“Absolutely,” we chimed in unison, finishing our food and paying the bill.

Heading back to the bus terminal, we swung by the Buddhist temple that sat proudly in the centre of the town. For the $5 entrance fee, however, I wished that I’d just had a second course at lunch. The guy who showed us around told us that it was the second largest temple of this religion in the Southern hemisphere and that it cost $15m to construct. My inner atheist boiled up at the thought of all that wasted money. There was a half-collapsed village around the corner that needed help for Christ’s sake. Even with backpackers like Connor spunking $45 a time on carved animals, it would take a hell of a long time to raise that much money.

“You look like a middle-aged American man about to take his kids on a forced and far too organised caravanning holiday,” laughed Johanna as I donned my new purchase on down on the beach that evening. Connor and I had snapped up a pair of red floral shirts for $20 a pop and were in the process of harmonising our voices for the rendition.

“You do as well,” nodded Connor. “You can’t deny it.”

“Do you want me to be in your video or not,” I retorted.

“Yeah, let’s get it done now whilst the sun sets.”

Giving his phone to one of the hostel staff members, who was randomly sitting on an upturned boat and gazing out to sea whilst holding two coconuts, we belted out a happy birthday to his mother whilst a pack of rabid dogs tried to drown us out. The video was a complete train wreck, but the vista behind us made up for the amateurish element of the content. After all, it’s the sentiment that counts. What you couldn’t tell from the video was the horrible stench that emanated from the beach and the piles of rotten driftwood and rubbish conveniently hidden off-camera.

Back in my dorm I ripped off my shirt and threw it in the bin. The next day I was going island hopping and, although sad to be leaving my new companions, quietly couldn’t wait to get away from that dirty seaport town.

A Fijian Tropical Storm

Nadi, Fiji • February 2017 • Length of Read: 7 Minutes

My head was buried in a book when I received the tap on the shoulder that I’d been dreading. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but I’d hoped to have at least made it to the end of the chapter I was on first. A wry smile had spread across my face upon receiving my boarding pass from the Fiji Airways check-in desk at Auckland airport. Seat 19A. A window seat. Perfect. Peace and quiet for three hours with nothing but the billowing clouds blanketing the Pacific like double-spread duvets for company. Evidently not. Bliss shattered.

“What are you reading?” asked the woman sitting beside me as I turned to face her. The seatbelt signs had only just been switched off, but even before we’d reached cruising altitude she had already been up and down three times. At least I hadn’t been given aisle seat 19C. She was middle-aged, but a youthful hippie aura emanated from her.

“It’s about the evolution of homo sapiens, charting their spread throughout the world whilst analysing how the cultural, political, and religious structures that we’ve developed as a species have come to define us as humans,” I responded, answering her question. “Can I ask why you kept getting up and down at the start of the flight?” I continued, curious. “Are you a nervous flyer?”

“Oh no, not at all. I just decided that it was better to eat my snacks at the back of the plane. I brought a lot of smelly cheese onboard and didn’t want to suffocate the rest of the passengers, so I went to the toilet to spread it on my crackers. It’s also not the nicest thing to have to watch someone eat either,” she joked, reading my bemused expression.

“That’s not what I was expecting,” I chuckled. “I suppose I should thank you for being so courteous, but I’m a bit jealous that I didn’t get to try any of it.”

“Do you want to have a sniff of the bag?” she offered.

“I’ll pass.”

A Kiwi by birth, Steph had been living in Los Angeles for nigh on eleven years. She had been back in New Zealand visiting her sister and was laying over in Fiji before catching a connecting flight to the US. Being served our in-flight meal, we spoke about literature, previous trips we’d taken, life, and love. She was a yoga instructor who definitely had a gypsy heart, and I was awed when she told me that she’d recently slipped on a naughty negligée and gone to a party at the Playboy Mansion. I felt bad that I’d initially tried to subdue the chat. If you’re reading this Steph, then thanks for making my flight pass with such brilliant conversation. Your inner L.A. diva did, however, make an ever so slight appearance when the polite flight attendant came around to collect our food and rubbish.

“You need to stow away your table as we prepare for landing,” reasoned the burly, mild-mannered Fijian. His colourful Hawaiian shirt uniform looked both professional and chill. “Can I please take your food tray?”

“But I’ve not finished it yet,” argued Steph, pointing at the untouched foil over her vegetarian curry.

“Well, you can’t eat it on the plane anymore as the captain has now turned the fasten seatbelt signs back on for our descent.”

“Can I not take it with me then?” she pleaded.

“You’re not allowed to eat it in the terminal building, I’m sorry”

“I’ll eat it before.”

“I quite doubt that,” he said, picking up the tray and continuing along down the aisle. He’d clearly had enough. As the plane touched down, I said my goodbyes to Steph, shuffled along the aisle, and laughed. Travel never stops to amaze me with all the awesome people that it exposes you to.

Queueing at border control, the passengers were all greeted into Nadi with a reception from a traditional Fijian band. At what stage they start getting fed up of playing the same songs over and over again to new arrivals of gawking faces I do not know, but it certainly wasn’t on this afternoon. Don’t ask me why, but despite being on the opposite side of Fiji’s main island from the nation’s capital and largest city, Suva, Nadi is the principal location of entry for air travellers to Fiji. Shuffling forward, I got my passport stamped with barely a glance, plucked my rucksack from the baggage claim conveyor belt, and exited out into the arrivals hall. There, for the first time ever in my life, stood someone waiting with a sign.

Despite only paying $16 per night for a bed, Bamboo Backpackers had offered me an airport pick-up and I was not shy in saying yes. My driver, Neil, was infectiously happy and welcomed me with a huge ‘bula’. As with ‘aloha’ in Hawaii, ‘bula’ literally means ‘hello’ in Fijian, but it has practically been adopted as a catchphrase by the country’s residents, who I would soon find out all had the same upbeat approach to life as Neil. The island-hopping boat ticket you can purchase is called the ‘bula pass’; the locals have a campfire song called ‘the bula song’, and, when sung, this is accompanied by a choreographed ‘bula dance’.

I hopped into the front seat of Neil’s mini-van and we raced through the hedgerows towards a very dark sky, bantering about culture and sport. I asked him what the reaction was like in Fiji when their men’s rugby sevens team won the country’s first-ever Olympic medal in Rio 2016, taking gold. “We partied for a fortnight straight,” he responded with a big grin as we pulled onto the street where the hostel was situated. “It was loco. It was crazy.”

Checking in at reception, I lugged my bag along a corridor and through the door of the four-person dorm that I’d been allocated a bed in. Although it was only 7pm, a girl was in there taking a nap and she stirred from her sleep as I entered. Johanna hailed from Finland and had arrived that morning. We chatted shit for a while as I sorted out my stuff before our rumbling stomachs told us to head out for some traditional Fijian food. Clinking beers, we entered into a lengthy conversation whilst waiting for our dinner to arrive.

Fijians operate around a concept known as ‘Fiji time’, which loosely means: ‘Don’t worry about the time. Things will eventually get done, and if they don’t then it’s not a big deal anyway.’ You’ll be hard-pressed to find a clock anywhere and the locals will rarely wear watches, preferring to operate like it is pre-time immemorial. The hostel reception and kitchen were both open 24/7 and, because there is no time, you can never be late for anything. The public transport network must be loving that timetable: ‘The next bus will arrive on Fiji time. Exactly when it means to.’

That reminds me of a joke I once heard on daytime radio:

Q) Why are London buses always red?

A) Wouldn’t you be if you had to come every ten minutes?

Maybe that’s why Fijians appear to always be so happy, because they are never stressed out about getting something complete or rushing around thinking that they are going to miss an appointment or deadline.

It might also be the reason, however, why every building that I’d passed since leaving the airport seemed to have been abandoned mid-construction.

Eventually, Johanna’s grilled fish and my beef coconut curry arrived, and they were absolutely delicious. We scoffed them down, wiped our plates clean, and, as the heavens began to open, sprinted back to the sanctuary of the dry hostel bar. Dry in the weather sense, that is. It was far from dry when it came to alcohol.

We ordered a couple of pitchers and, sitting down at one of the long wooden tables in the sheltered area by the pool, got chatting to an expat called Andy Fritzel. He told us that the biggest tropical storm in ten years was scheduled to hit the mainland the very next day.

“Excellent,” smiled Johanna.

“Yeah, it’s been a downpour all week,” he sighed, sombrely. “Quite a few of the boats have been cancelled and one even capsized a few days ago.”

“Well, we’ll just have to wait it out,” I reasoned. “What is there to do here whilst sitting under God’s toilet?”

“Drink, of course,” shrugged Andy, like there was only ever going to be one answer to that question. “I’ve got a car by the way,” he added, directing his gaze to Johanna, “so if you want a lift anywhere then just let me know. I said to one of the other girls at the hostel that I would take her to the cape tomorrow night to see the sunset, weather permitting. It can be dangerous out there, but I’ll keep you safe.”

“I bet you will,” I thought to myself, taking a long sip of Fiji Gold beer. “I’m sure all girls are safe when riding in the back of that creep waggon of yours.”

As the rain battered down, I smiled at the absurdity of where I was. Sat at a beachfront bar, palm trees lining the golden sands being lapped by the ocean, traditional music echoing from a group of locals sat cross-legged in the corner, and the weather worse than back home in my native Scotland. I suddenly felt the urge to get very, very drunk.