My first trip to Fiji was in 2003 for a mission trip. This was no island holiday, I wasn’t on a mission to relax, work on my tan or drink as many fresh coconuts as I can. It’s the other side of Fiji that not many people get to see and that’s what I loved about it.
Suva was our first main ‘pit stop’ on route to Rabi Island, so our stay there was short but sweet. We had no idea where we were going to stay but thanks to Pastor Sam’s generous network, we were able to find accommodation at Marist Brothers Primary School. It must have been school holidays during that time because there was a camp or holiday programme happening in the school. It was great being able to hang-out and get to know some of the kids – entertaining and enthusiastic bunch they were!
The classrooms were already packed out with mattresses and an explosion of all the kids stuff. We ended up staying in the church, a large corrugated shed, which accommodated all 9 of us. We slept on the concrete floor, woven mats for a mattress and rolled up clothing for pillows. I was highly impressed with Pastor Sam who used his briefcase as a pillow! Nature decided to add to the ambience once the lights were out, when a choir of frogs hopped into the church to serenade us to sleep… Some of the guys jumped on the stage to get away from the intruders, whereas the rest of us ignored the heat and cocooned ourselves in our sleeping bags for protection. This proved to be the better idea as we dodged being eaten alive by the mozzies.
Suva, as you would expect, was like any major city – busy, crowded & lively. First, we had to organize our ferry tickets from Viti Levu (the main island) to Vanua Levu (the second largest island in Fiji). Operating on island time, it was a long waiting game, giving us an excuse to explore the city. There were a few things I remember vividly from this excursion:
One, my first pickpocket experience. They didn’t get anything since I never leave things in my pocket when travelling – number one rule. So technically my backside was just groped by a woman. She looked like a pro too – eyes forward, pretending to mind her own business.
Two, we went to a Chinese takeaway place and ordered fried rice for lunch. I was in absolute awe seeing the little Chinese lady, who was manning the counter, speak fluent Fijian. It was quite a surreal and mind blowing experience – talk about paradigm shift!
One handy tip we got given is to be careful of people who approach you on the street – do not under any circumstance tell them your name. It’s a con, what they actually do is they ask what your name is then they will carve your name on some crappy wooden sword, which you’ll be forced to buy. True story, it actually happened to us but we managed to dodge it. One of the guys, wasn’t so lucky and came back to meet the group showing off his purchase… Face plant. To top it off they didn’t even spell his name right! LOL.