When you leave the Nadi Airport in Fiji, you’re greeted by the smell of something burning. I felt panic at first, but then I realised the smell was smokey, but had a pleasant sweet undertone to it, and figured it was probably the smell of burning sugar cane. I’d heard that Fiji featured endless rows of sugar cane plants, but nobody mentioned the constant fires. We were on our way home in a taxi one night, and the side of the road was lit up in flames, with a few large bushes burning fiercely. None of the locals seemed remotely bothered by that at all, and everyone just drove past as though this was nothing out of the ordinary. Our driver didn’t even seem to notice it, which was odd, as he was in the habit of pointing out various features of the landscape to us.
Fiji was… not what I imagined. I had pictured long stretches of beach, dotted with resorts, but that is not Nadi at all. (Nadi, the city where the airport is, is pronounced “Nandi” – it seems ‘D’ has an ‘ND’ sound – so Natadola Beach (where the above photo was taken) is pronounced “Natandola Beach”).
The people here are friendly, which seems to be something Fiji is famous for. I guess that’s one side-effect of having tourism play a large part in your country’s economy. Aside from tourism, one of the main exports of Fiji is, unsurprisingly, sugar.
It is some really nice sugar, and looks like what we call raw sugar in Australia (light brown in colour with large crystals).
Here are some things I’ve learned about travelling in Fiji (accurate as of 28th of July, 2017):
- “Bula” means “life” and is used as a greeting in Fiji. It’s not uncommon for people walking by to say “Bula” to you, and you are supposed to reply “Bula” in return. We were told that saying it is symbolic of giving life to someone else, and it’s a friendly thing. It’s interesting going to a country where we obviously look like tourists, as it seems people all over the place would say “Bula” to us when walking by, but it seems the locals only say it to each other when they already know each other.
- “Fiji Time”. Fijians are quite laidback, and a result of this seems to be that they’ll do things at their own pace – after all, you don’t need to stress, everything gets done eventually. This can be quite frustrating as a foreigner, as you might need to make a flight or be somewhere at a specific time. My sister ordered a taxi to pick them up from somewhere, and the guy arrived an hour and a half later than he said he would – with constant updates from him saying he was “only 15 minutes away”. This doesn’t apply to everyone in the country, and we met plenty of people who were early / on-time, but often when things don’t go as planned, everyone seems to just shrug their shoulders and say, “Fiji Time!”.
- withdrawing money from an ATM can get expensive. We saw some ANZ and Westpac ATMs, and withdrawing cash from an ANZ ATM cost us $15 FJD per transaction (we have a Citibank card) – my sister says Westpac ATMs are the same. Towards the end of our trip, MrFodder found out that Bred ATMs only charge $10 FJD for withdrawls.
- cash is king – there are a lot of places that don’t accept credit cards – including the medical centre and the hospital!
- “Bula Belly” (my variant of “Dehli Belly”) – we’ve been told not to drink tap water in Fiji, and I did spend quite a lot of time during the trip with an unsettled feeling in my stomach. None of us got gastro or anything like that, fortunately, but it’s a good idea to be wary of water at restaurants, and fresh fruit or vegetables that may have been rinsed with tap water. We carried bottled water everywhere, and also brushed our teeth with bottled water. Is this something to make tourists buy more bottled water? Maybe. But when you’re on holiday, I think it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- there are taxis and there are “taxis”. We saw quite a few people driving actual taxis, with the taxi sign on top of their car, and a meter inside. But there are also quite a lot of people who will drive you somewhere for a flat fee. It was quite scary at first, and there were a few trips where I was sure they were going to drive us to a sugar cane field, kill us and steal our stuff, but I’m still alive, so it didn’t happen to us at least! If you do get a “taxi”, make sure you clarify the amount upfront, and a lot of them will often upcharge, so if haggling is your thing, go for it.
- wi-fi: not very common in Nadi at least. We ended up getting a free Vodaphone SIM card at the airport, which you can use to get 800MB for $5.99, 1GB for $6.99, or 1.5GB of data for $7.99 FJD, which expires after a week.
- Language: Everyone we met seems to speak fluent English, or a passable amount of English
- Haggling – other than taxis, it seems everything is open for haggling, if you are so inclined. I think of it as the “tourist tax”.