Fiji - April 29 - May 6, 2006
May 7, 2006
With only five days in Fiji it was never our intent to put our bike together. Rather we wanted our time here to be as relaxing as possible, to allow us time to reflect on our travel experiences over the previous eleven months, and to assist us in preparing ourselves for our return to America. With those goals in mind we researched information available in our guide book as well as on the internet and booked an all inclusive package consisting of one night in Nadi, Fiji's largest and most populated island, and four days and nights on Naviti, the largest island in the Yasawa Group of islands.
Fiji's archipelago comprises over 300 islands and is toward the western end of the large group of islands within this region of the South Pacific. In general terms the Pacific Islands were settled west to east starting over 50,000 years ago. However, it wasn't until about 1,500 BC that settlers of Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian descent arrived in Fiji. With few exceptions, it wasn't until the 19 th century that Europeans arrived focusing on whaling, sandalwood, and other goods for trade. Their introduction of firearms to the culture prompted a significant increase in the level of violent tribal warfare. In October 1874, Fiji was pronounced a British crown colony. Ninety-six years later, in October 1970, Fiji regained its independence.
The later 1980's were wrought with political instability and military coups. This was repeated in the later 1990's. The political instability over this time has had a profoundly negative impact on the Fijian economy with significant reductions in the sugar trade and tourism, Fiji's two primary economic earners. Despite these significant challenges, this country of less than one million people is reported to have a literacy rate of 87%. Elections are taking place in a few days, but our discussions with locals did not provide insights as to if people were excited or concerned about possible outcomes.
The Yasawa Group of 20 islands is approximately 90km/56m long and is known for its beautiful lagoons, white sand beaches, and excellent diving and snorkeling locations. It was a three-hour boat trip from the mainland to our resort on Naviti Island at Natuvalo Bay. While many tourism packages to this area allow for several days of “resort/island hopping” to be able to explore the islands in the area, we were more interested in staying put, immersing ourselves in books, and swimming in ocean and pool waters. With the exception of our times in Nepal and Bali, we have not had as much opportunity to pleasure read as we thought we would. It felt like we were making up for lost time and we loved every minute of it. We did undertake one morning long snorkeling trip off an adjacent island at Coral Garden and Manta Ray Coves. Unfortunately we did not see any of the latter, but the brilliant colors of the coral and fish, as well as the large variety of both was an absolute highlight of our time here.
While the idyllic setting, exceptional weather, and feelings of awaking to paradise each morning were wonderful, we felt ready to leave by the time our boat arrived to shuttle us to the mainland. Our arrival back in Nadi coincided with the last beautiful sunset of our time in the southern hemisphere. We talked somewhat solemnly about this day also ending the international portion of our journey, with Fiji being the last of 17 countries visited outside of our homeland. It was at the airport that we discovered that we no longer possessed our camera. We are not sure if we left it at the resort, if it fell out of our backpack on the boat ride, or if it was stolen during an unsuspecting moment but it is gone nonetheless. From a picture perspective we were fortunate to have lost only the thirty plus pictures we'd taken in Fiji as we had downloaded all of our New Zealand pictures to disc prior to our departure from there.
The nearly eleven-hour flight from Fiji to Los Angeles helps one grasp the enormity of the Pacific Ocean. Not only is it the world's largest, but also its size is approximately equal to all the world's oceans put together. May 4, 2006 was literally the longest day of our lives. With Fiji one of the countries closest to the International Date Line, and nineteen hours ahead of the Pacific time zone, our flight left around 11:00pm and arrived in Seattle via Los Angeles at 10:00pm – still May 4 th - making our travel time 18 hours and the length of the date 43 hours. It is a strange feeling to travel that many hours and still arrive before you've left!As the southern hemisphere moves toward later fall and the approaching winter, we have now arrived back in the northern hemisphere's spring. Over the past eleven months we have traveled through two full summers, parts of two autumns, and a tad of one spring. While we've certainly had a number of days that have provided significant weather challenges, overall we've felt very fortunate with the weather we've experienced. We can only hope that we'll continue to be this fortunate for the remaining 10-12 weeks cycling across the United State's northern tier.