New Year’s Eve and I have had a conflicted relationship for a long time now. Basically since I was old enough to attach any significance to the end of one year and the beginning of another. Regardless of the plans I made or the people I planned to spend the night with, it seemed like my New Year’s celebrations were far more miss than hit. That’s not to say they’ve all been terrible. I have fond memories of my two New Year’s spent in South Korea with good friends, and my final year at University fittingly ended with the original theater crew out and about after a pretty fun house party. I even got (stole) a New Year’s kiss after my friend was locked out for the countdown and the girl he was sweet on opted to plant one on me instead.
But I’ve never had a great New Year’s, and I was beginning to think that they didn’t exist.
For the final leg of our journey together, Fallon and I were to spend three nights on Robinson Crusoe Island. Unlike most of Fiji’s many resorts and backpackers, Robinson Crusoe doesn’t like in the Yasawa or Mamanuca island chains, nor is it on the crowded Coral Coast. Instead, Robinson Crusoe lies just off the mainland and is reachable only after a half hour bus ride from Nadi, a half hour boat ride down a mangrove lined river, and a short jaunt across the ocean.
Fallon and I were hardly in the best of spirits as we arrived on the island. We’d been up at 3.45am for our flight out of New Zealand and despite arriving at 10am, had to spend a good chunk of our day killing time in Port Denarau until our transfer arrived to pick us up at 3.30. It didn’t arrive until 5pm. There’s only so much surfing the internet and souvenir browsing two people can do, and when the rain began to pour down we weren’t in the best of spirits. We tried our best to smile though – after all, this was our first experience with the legendary ‘Fiji time’.
But catching sight of Robinson Crusoe Island made the wait seem worthwhile. Here were the white sandy beaches, coconut palms, and hammocks that we’d daydreamed about for so long. A group of Fijian staff and foreign guests stood on the sand as our boat arrived strumming on the guitar and singing a traditional Fijian welcome song, and we were greeted with a hearty ‘Bula’ as we stepped off the boat and into the remarkably warm waters that lapped at the shore.
The owners of Robinson Crusoe Island are a pair of Queenslanders, and they rushed out to take Fallon and I’s luggage and apologize profusely for the delay. Drinks vouchers were thrust into our hands and we were guided through a beautiful rainforest style garden to our private bure – a kind of traditional hut. It was spartan stuff – a power point, overhead fan, bed, and mosquito net – but after near two weeks of shared accommodation we were happy for the privacy.
We didn’t have time to settle down just yet, and went out to the communal dining area to grab some dinner. Picnic tables resting on soft sand, palm thatch overhead, and the setting sun over the ocean – yeah, we were in paradise. And our buffet style meal of fruit, meat, and rice did plenty to put us in a good mood. But our long day had taken its toll, and we were in bed before 9pm.
Doing Precious Little
Fallon and I had made ambitious plans to do as much as we possibly could with our time in Fiji, but plans to scuba dive and kayak were put on the backburner from the moment we stepped out of our bure and were greeted by absolutely amazing weather. It wasn’t yet 8am but the sun was high overhead. Fiji had put on a perfect day for us and we weren’t going to waste any of it underwater. Instead we took a quick breakfast, grabbed books, and spent our entire day reclining in hammocks as the gentle breeze rocked us and the sea soothed us with its purring.
Oh sure, we moved occasionally. I’d go up to the beachside bar from time to time to fetch us another Vonu or fruity cocktail (all ridiculously cheap); we both ventured into the warm waters at one point; and there were meals to take. But from 8am until 8pm we barely moved from our prime position on the beach, and I don’t think either of us would have had it any other way. In fact, doing bugger all was the theme of our time on Robinson Crusoe Island. Snorkeling and kayaking could be done anywhere in the world, but Fiji has made relaxing on the beach an art form. It seemed a shame not to indulge in a little Fiji time.
Ringing in the New Year
The big day rolled around and we’d finally gotten most of our laziness out of our system. The island was abuzz with activity as guests rushed about preparing for the ‘gender swap’ theme of the evening. Men busily worked on coconut bras on the shady lawns while the womenfolk were taught a traditional warrior dance behind closed doors in one of the staff bures. Staff hurried about stringing up lights and palm fronds and the afternoon saw a boatload of girls (and one guy) arriving from the mainland to celebrate New Year’s with us. Even an anti New Year’s guy like me couldn’t help but get caught up in the energy of the place. Maybe 2010 would see me have my first truly awesome New Year’s.
Dinner came and went with a traditional Fijian lovo (underground oven in the same style as a Maori hungi) filling us with lamb, potato, taro root, and chicken. Then it was time for the festivities to begin.
The women lined up to have tribal tattoos painted onto them and the men went about prettying themselves up. Coconut bras were tied on and grass skirts went around waists, but I was determined to stand out amongst my peers. I hastily donned one of Fallon’s skirts and she began the hard work of making me beautiful. A few other girls came along to chip in with lipstick and perfume, and soon this ruggedly handsome traveler had been transformed into a thing of startling beauty.
As the girls finished up their dinner the men were invited to sit down for a traditional kava ceremony. Kava is a Fijian icon – a slightly narcotic root that is pounded into a powder and then mixed with water. They drink the stuff like Australians drink beer. I was elected as ‘chief’ for the event which meant I got to participate in the more solemn portion of the ritual, but everybody in the circle got to drink plenty of kava. With the option of low tide (small), high tide (medium), or tsunami (large) bowls – everybody got their fill. It was a bit hard to take it all seriously with the men leading the ritual also in drag – but it was a pleasure to feel my lips and tongue go numb as expected.
Kava flowed and the bar began to go into overdrive. Fruity drinks and ice daiquiris and margaritas were in high demand. A three legged race between three teams saw the losers locked into a crudely constructed cage where we were drenched with sea water for our failings. The girls wowed us with a remarkably well learned warrior dance. I may or may not have failed abysmally at attempting to limbo and flashed the world my underpants in the process.
Midnight rolled around with a very drunk crowd of us on the sand dancing and celebrating, and Fallon looked at me with confusion when the count-down to 2011 began a full seven minutes before midnight proper. Too drunk to really care, we foolishly remained on the dance floor as fake midnight occurred and balloons fell from the sky. Moments later, in another Fijian tradition, we were all drenched with sea water. This was all too much for a very drunk and very tired Fallon, so I took her away and we had a private count down together.
I’ve had just two New Year’s kisses in my life and (with apologies to Tahlia) there’s really no comparison. I started 2010 with Fallon on the phone and about to come into my life in Australia, and I ended it with her in my arms and about to leave my life for the foreseeable future. It was a bittersweet moment, but there’s nobody on earth I’d rather have shared the moment with.
With the formalities done it was time for Fallon to retire for the evening, but I was determined to make it to the sunrise bonfire. I came so close.
Drunken swimming, hammock deep and meaningfuls, and far too much alcohol painted the remainder of my night. I saved the dance floor at one point by leading a coup against the DJ and his determination to only play music from the 70s, and had to defend a girl’s honor after one drunken reveler went on an angry campaign against the island’s female population for not wishing to sleep with him.
Dawn came with me and a few other hardy souls gathered around the bonfire, but I rushed off to check on Fallon and passed out on the bed beside her – my goal of seeing the sunrise thwarted by my drunken tiredness and the lure of kisses from my girlfriend. 2010 had been a good year.
It was hard not to get a little emotional as our boat pulled away from the island the following day. It is traditional in Fijian society to sing a farewell song when people leave your village – and the song itself is hauntingly beautiful. It symbolizes not only sadness at the departure of friends, but also happiness for their presence and hope for the future. It is an altogether charming tradition.
I felt particularly melancholy as we steered through the choppy sea towards the mouth of the river. It felt like I wasn’t just farewelling the island, but also my friend and confidant of the past two years. Fallon and I would have just the one last night together, but our adventures together were all but over.
Robinson Crusoe Island had been very good to us, and I left the island vowing to come back someday. With the benefit of hindsight (I write this nearly two weeks after the fact) – I would say that it was by far the best place I stayed during my time in Fiji. Great people, the cheapest drinks I found, and a beautiful location all made for a perfect way to ring in the New Year.
All photos (unless otherwise noted) are the property of Cindy Farran.