“Mr Chris! Mr. Chris!”
I’m shaken awake from my fitful slumber by one of the resort’s Hawaiian shirt clad security guards.
I’ve become used to these pre dawn starts. Before I’m fully conscious I’ve shrugged on my pack and swept my Kindle and wallet into my satchel. Bleary eyed starts are becoming second nature to me, but Grant looks like death warmed up as we stumble out into the cool morning air.
We leave Mango Bay before the sun has awoken from its own slumber. The grey blue sky is dotted with stars and the day has yet to take on its customary mantle of oppressive humidity.
Amidst the glitz and glamour of resort life it’s perhaps easy to forget that Fiji is a developing country. On our dawn ride from Mango Bay to Port Denarau for our transfer to another resort, we are lucky enough to see more of the real Fiji.
As we pass through sign-posted villages we move slowly passed crowds of locals roaming the streets sporting antiquated portable radios while others sit by open fires beneath shelters that are little more than corrugated iron supported on roughly cut palm stilts.
Hand written signs attempt to lure tourists into ramshackle sheds purporting to sell village handicrafts, and some of the locals boisterously shout greeting to our Fijian driver as we pass by. It’s hard to believe it’s not yet 7am.
Our driver dozes at the wheel on several occasions. My brother and his girlfriend nag me to strike up a conversation with him, but I choose a subtler tactic and open up a bag of the local Thumbs Up brand potato chips and casually offer them to him. A premature death at the hands of our good-natured driver has been averted and we wind our way on toward Port Denerau.
If my party had expected smoother sailing after we escaped the van of death they’re in for a rude surprise. Whilst the bright yellow Yasawa Flyer is far more spacious and modern that the van that has brought us this far, the rough seas ensure a rough three hour ride out to Mantaray Island.
We wait at dock an inordinate amount of time, where the stink of gasoline sets our empty stomachs on edge. When we do finally pull out it is only for a short time. Mechanical faults soon have us back inhaling the heady aroma of petrol fumes.
At last we’re underway, but choppy waters offer no respite for the less strong stomached of us. Already Grant and Bronte are glancing at their phones to get some idea of how long this torture will laugh.
A chatty Aussie local sits by me as I kill time playing Angry Birds. He offers me advice and soon plucks up the courage to ask what the device I’m playing on is.
“It’s just an iPhone,” I assure him. He looks at me with wide eyed wonder.
“That’s a phone too??”
Soon he stumbles off in search of some air conditioning. We seem to have picked the steamiest corner of the boat and soon Grant stumbles out onto the windswept sun deck in search of fresh air. Sun deck is perhaps a generous term given the rain that greets those who step outside.
He’s soon followed by my brother’s girlfriend who, of course, is followed by my doting brother, Dominik. My remaining brother, Leigh and I shrug and return to our iPods. We’ll survive a Waterworld like apocalypse.
I eventually pluck up the courage to stagger over to a tiny concession stand to order a premade sandwich and a bottle of Coke. The captain’s thick Indian accent informs us that we should stay seated for our safety. Our boat becomes airborne on a regular basis as we move away from the relatively calm waters surrounding the mainland and head out towards the famous Yasawa Islands.
Eventually the boat throttles back and we’re asked to make our way to the rear deck to identify our baggage. A trio of speedboats are buzzing out to greet us. On the shoreline we can make our bures jutting out from a thickly forested shoreline. A small group of staff are playing the guitar and singing a traditional Fijian welcoming song as we step from the Flier and down onto the less glamorous long boat that is to be the final leg of the journey.
The relief on Grant and Bronte’s faces is near comical. Grant still clutches a paper bag with feverish desperation.
Before too long we’re moored I’m shallow water and we are being helped to the shore. We are greeted with a hearty ‘Bula’ which we return with enthusiasm born from our happiness to finally be on solid ground again.
Staff are on hand to hand us glasses of ice cold juice and thrust paperwork into our hands. I catch glimpses of hammocks amidst the shoreline gardens and the guests already settled on eye the new arrivals curiously as we gather in away from the wind and rain.
Once the formalities are done we are guided through the trees along a cobblestone path lined with shells and coral. Our beachfront bure can’t be more than ten meters from the warm water at high tide. Inside there’s the blessed relief of private bathroom facilities and beds.
We’ve arrived at what appears to be paradise, but paradise can wait. We’ve been up since 5am and we have eyes only for bed.