Fiji

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In December I got an email that read “half off flights to Fiji,” I clicked through the links assuming the dates wouldn’t line up with our vacation, but they did. So we booked, because why not? We didn’t have plans for our April trip and flights that cheap don’t come around all that often. None of us have been to Oceana, so there was also the appeal of checking off our sixth continent. It would be Wren’s first time south of the equator, and first time crossing the international date line. We had some mild concerns about taking a 17 month old on that long of a flight in our laps (10-11 hours depending on the jet-stream), but they were red-eyes so hopefully everyone would just sleep. And then after booking I promptly forgot about the trip until about two weeks before when we finalized our plans.

 

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I kept forgetting we were going so soon, it just sort of creeped up on us. I had been training hard for my spring half marathon and it just wasn’t on my mind. We had vague plans and not many expectations, which I think was probably a good thing, we got to just show up and see the country.

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We flew out of SFO on a direct flight at 11pm on a Saturday, we coordinated Wren’s naps that day so she could handle being up late at the airport, it all went well and she slept 9 out of 11 hours on the flight. We landed Monday morning and made our way to our airbnb in Nadi. I had a hard time deciding where to stay. In general Fiji seems to be divided into child-centric and adult-only. The country sees a lot of families from Australia and New Zealand and is well set up for them (maybe too well?). Everywhere I wanted to stay didn’t allow kids, and the resorts that catered to kids aren’t exactly our style. Everything also said the best of Fiji is off the main island, but time and internal flight costs prevented us from doing that. So, as a compromise we booked an airbnb for the first half and a resort for the second half that people seemed to love and planned to go out on a boat. As a bonus accommodation in Fiji is exceedingly reasonable. Airbnb’s are easy to find under $100/night and most hotels sit at $200/night and lower for a standard room. Food proved more expensive than we anticipated outside of Nadi, but nothing shocking. Overall, it’s a pretty economical destination (once you get there).

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Nadi isn’t anything to write home about, and we knew that. But it is a good home base for exploring other areas. We did wander around the town, and saw shockingly few tourists (they mostly stick to their resorts), but we also thought it was important to see where Fijians actually lived and not just shut ourselves off in a resort. We ate well (Fiji isn’t a food destination exactly but it holds it own), plus a strong immigrant population resulted in excellent Indian fare. Which we ate a lot of, as well as local dishes like kokoda (a ceviche of sorts). On our second day we took a small boat with some other tourists to a private island for the day.

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This was our first time taking Wren on an all day excursion. We left at 8:30 AM and didn’t arrive home until 6 PM. We hoped she could nap somewhere in between (she did, on the boat), it ended up working out great. We opted for a group excursion so we didn’t have to plan anything, if Wren wasn’t with us we would have island hopped solo, and once she’s older will with her as well. But it was nice to have all meals/logistics taken care of so we could just enjoy our time together. After the short ride over we spent the day at the beach, thankfully on an overcast day to save us from the strong equatorial sun. Wren still loved the sand and water. She passed her time running to the water to plop down and sort through the sand, splash in the water and wade out with us. Because the water is so calm, warm and shallow we even were able to take her on a paddle board with us. It was an exceedingly pleasant day.

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Next we picked up our rental car and headed to the coral coast. When I was planning this trip a lot of people said not to rent a car, that the roads were bad and drivers worse. But a few reviewers noted that if you had experience driving outside the western world you’d be fine. It absolutely was fine. Not by any stretch difficult. Though, we also did not attempt an inland trip on the dirt roads. But ultimately we didn’t want to rely on hotel transfers and being locked into our resort. We’re very glad we had the car.

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Fiji is a stunner. The turquoise waters were as beautiful as advertised. As we drove we found a small ramshackle restaurant that served up fresh fish curries and an excellent view. We ate there while Wren ran around the deck and we watched fisherman wander several hundred meters out towards the surf, the depth of the water mere feet for the longest distance. We then made our way to the hotel.

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We spent our days here swimming in the ocean, pool, running, doing yoga, getting massages and wandering to town for food after discovering how marked up the hotel restaurants were. Prior to the trip I jotted down some excursions we might want to go on but found we were perfectly content with this leisurely daily pace. Again, made entirely possible because of the joy of taking Wren to the water or just wandering around with her. This wasn’t the Fiji we would plan on our own, but it was absolutely delightful.

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On our last day we headed north to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant. Fiji is known for its beaches, but the interior holds its own in terms of beauty. We got to enjoy a few minutes wandering along the garden paths, lined with orchids under the shadow of the deep green mountains that loomed above. And then, it started raining. A lot. We had an umbrella and after our walk hid out in the entrance with other travelers hoping the road in hadn’t flooded. We decided we should head back to town and gave a lift to two young Australian women who had been stranded by their bus. The rain was torrential on the way to their hotel, visibility was terrible and we all rode in silence hoping the weather would improve. For the rest of the afternoon we dodged showers, got food and hoped the weather wouldn’t prevent our flight from taking off. Luckily, by 7pm the storm had passed and the airport was back to running on time. And just like that our trip was over and we were headed home.

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Fiji surprised us, we didn’t want to leave. It felt there was so much left to explore. Often we chose destinations and time in them in such a way that we feel content leaving, not this time. Although, waiting on the other side  of this trip was several more months of one of Alex’s toughest rotations, neither of us were eager to return to. But at least ahead of us is research year when our lives return to some semblance of normalcy and we’ll get to take trips longer than seven days. Trips I absolutely cannot wait to plan. So on to the next adventure and fingers perpetually crossed Wren continues to be such a champ traveler.

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