Friday, November 09, 2012

Day 294 -301: From Nadi to Barefoot Lodge, (Drawaqa Island, The Yasawas)

Mary at Bluewater Lodge took care of booking everything for the rest of our Fiji trip, including 8 nights in Barefoot Lodge on Drawaqa Island - our destination the following day - and a shark dive and accommodation in Pacific Harbour for the last 4 nights in Fiji. She even washed our clothes for free and gave us another night in BWL for the grand total of £1.80 each. I suspect this may be because she was making a stack of commission from the various places she was booking on our behalf, but due to the odd nature of commission in Fiji it didn't affect what we got ultimately got charged - a percentage of the final price goes to the hotel, but is taken directly from the total rather than being passed on from the company to the customer. It's a bit bizarre but we weren't complaining.

So we relaxed that day; I comprehensively beat Gilly at Monopoly courtesy of Park Lane and Mayfair, we watched Australia lose in the Olympics at beach volleyball to Austria (ha!), ate lunch at Bamboo - decent, if nothing spectacular - and had dinner at BWL. We had a new dorm-mate that night, the excellently named Alice Milton, who had in her possession a tin of Milton pastilles. There's simply no limit to the amount of Milton greatness that can be found around the world.


We spent an enjoyable evening playing cards and drinking bourbon. At one point we were asked to move to a table around the corner as it was hotel policy for customers not to drink their own drinks in the restaurant area; this was despite it being 10pm and us being the only people outside. I think the guy felt a little sheepish as he went through the process of setting up a new table for us, literally 10 metres away from our old table and still in line of sight to it. I love watching bureaucracy in action.

Our transfer to the Yasawa Flyer was at 7am the next day. We were not looking forward to the early start, especially not with a hangover. However, with surprisingly clear heads, after a shortish transfer to Port Denerau in the morning, we were soon onboard the ferry bound for the Yasawas. Three hours later, we'd arrived on Drawaqa (DRA-WANG-AH).

Sitting on an island, doing very little. That was my plan for Fiji, and Barefoot Lodge is probably the best place to do it on a backpacker budget. It had a reputation for being one of the nicest affordable options in the Yasawas, both through word of mouth and also online. For $105 a night (£37.50) you get accommodation in a 4-bed dorm and three meals. We once again got lucky and had the entire dorm to ourselves for the first 3 days, meaning we had space to spread out. Sadly, on the fourth day we acquired a Spanish roommate for a couple of nights which meant we had to pack everything away again. Unusually for bures at the lower end of the spectrum around the islands, ours came with an electrical outlet which was a real help for charging the laptop, cameras and phones.


Significantly, what isn't included in the price is water and this is treated like liquid gold. We bought a large bottle before we got on board the ferry thinking that, like Maqai, we'd either get water with meals or there'd be a filter on the taps to allow you to drink safe water. Nope, you have to pay through the nose for the stuff ($6.75 for 1.5 litres) and when you're getting through the best part of 3 litres a day on a hot day, it soon adds up. My tip for anyone going to the Yasawas - as by all accounts this is endemic across the islands - is to stock up on cheap water at the port. Take as much as you can carry; you'll definitely get through it.

There are three beaches on the island: Sunrise, Sunset and Manta Ray. The budget bures appear to be facing Sunrise, whilst the nicer accommodation is on Sunset. Sunrise tends to get most of the wind, which can either be nice (if it's a hot day and you want to sunbathe with a breeze) or a pain (if it's overcast and you want to sit out and read without getting cold). For the most part, the weather was average - after 3 days of sun, there was rain for most of the last 5 days.


There is a fairly decent set of activities to take part in whilst on the island. These include:

- Fiji History Talk given by Tue, who appeared to run pretty much every activity on the resort

- Volleyball

- Making coconut jewellery

- Hiking up the island

- Snorkelling and kayaking

One of the big draws of the island is the chance to go snorkelling with manta rays. They occupy a channel between two of the beaches and a boat usually goes out twice a day to allow people to swim with them. If a scout goes out and finds mantas, they come back to Barefoot, bang on a drum and a cry of "Mantas!" is heard around the resort. Then everyone who wants to go and swim with them rushes over to the dive shop, grabs a snorkel, mask and fins and jumps into the boat. We did this on the fourth day; after getting up at stupid o'clock to ensure we didn't miss it, we ended up going after breakfast. It was worth it though, we saw three manta rays playing in the channel, doing loops and swimming around us. They are elegant creatures, and all three had slightly different colouring; one was pure black, one had white speckles and one was a little more grey. They are also huge, and fearless - they had no issues swimming within 5 metres of us. I was so happy to actually get to see them, after failing to do so both in Bali and the Philippines.

The food at Barefoot was pretty good. Breakfast is usually a buffet of toast, fruit, cereal, porridge and either pancakes or scones depending on the day. Lunch is variable; one day it was tasty noodles with beef, on three separate occasions we had pasta with creamed spinach which was pretty bland and none of us looked forward to it. Dinner is three courses: soup to start (I hate soup so skipped this), followed by a decent main - lamb burger with potato rosti, chicken curry with bombay potato and rice, chicken and veg - and then a dessert which is usually a piece of cake and custard. Paul and Fi told us that this was the best food they'd eaten on the backpacker islands, and I can believe it.


There is a dog on the island called Seta who is something of a legend. He has a broken leg now (after a farmer got fed up with him killing chickens) which doesn't seem to bother him, but before that happened he swam over to a female on the neighbouring island (which is a fair distance doing doggy paddle!) and she became pregnant. After his injury he obviously couldn't swim, but somehow the female got pregnant again. Bearing in mind that these are the only two dogs in the region, it seems that she must have swum over to Barefoot... A true love story, I'm sure you'll agree.


The staff put on nightly events for us, including fire-dancing which was slightly more intense than the show on Maqai, so much so that they almost set fire to one of the dinner tables that the guests were sat watching from!



On another occasion we had hermit crab racing. A number of crabs had been caught and numbers painted on their shells; we had to choose one and then they were placed in the centre of a ring on the floor.


The first crab to leave the ring was the winner, and the top three winners had a showdown. I picked a plucky young chap which I obviously named "Milton", figuring him to be a worthy representative of the name and full of mettle.

Looking back, it seems more likely that he was full of metal, as he barely moved for the entire three races.


The final was between New Zealand, England and Germany. As is usually the case, Germany won, and didn't even need penalties to do so. Another disappointment for Blighty.

(No crabs were harmed during the writing of this blog. In fact, we spotted many of the crabs days later, wandering around on the beach with numbers still emblazoned on their backs).

We also tried our hand at volleyball. The last time I'd played was in the Dominican Republic about 3-4 years ago so I was more than a little rusty. For Gilly it had been even longer. Thankfully, the teams we were playing on were of mixed ability (including one English A-level graduate who simply stood and screamed or shouted "NO! NO!" whenever the ball came near her; possibly not the best game for her), so we acquitted ourselves quite well.

Fiji was a great place to get through some of the many books we'd been carting around for a while too.

On Rob's Bookshelf

Spectrum III: A Third Science Fiction Anthology (Kingsley Amis): This was a fifty-year-old paperback of short stories ranging from pretty awful to above average. The one that stood out for all the wrong reasons was "Killdozer!" by Theodore Sturgeon, about a possessed farming machine. No, I am not making that up. I've enjoyed Sturgeon's novels before but this was terrible. Any story that has an exclamation mark in the title should ring alarm bells from the offset, and unless you have an unhealthy interest in how bulldozers work, you'd find it very hard going and just not worth the effort.

The Seventh Galaxy Reader (Frederick Pohl): Another half-century old collection of sci-fi stories, which was much better than the previous book. The highlight was "The Big Pat Boom" by Damon Knight about aliens who travel to earth for souvenirs and decide that cowpats are the ideal gift, thus making an enterprising farmer millions. It's hilarious.

Letters From A Professional Nuisance (Michael A. Lee): A selection of letters sent by a Huddersfield man to various agencies, government organisations and retailers asking for implausible items (such as asking Nestle for a chocolate fireguard), complaining about ridiculous things ("Please can you rebuild Luxembourg?"), and applying for non-existent jobs (like the Beast of Bodmin Moor). Not all of them hit the mark, but most of the replies are fantastic - especially one from a jaded G.P. who takes the opportunity to berate the health system, the government and patients in general.

Matrix Man (William C. Dietz): A bland sci-fi thriller about a reporter who has one of his eyes replaced with a camera, and then stumbles upon a conspiracy by an African dictator to take over the world. The characters are one-dimensional, the pacing abysmal and the ending utterly ridiculous.

The Humbling (Phillip Roth): I'd never heard of this author, but he is apparently considered one of America's greatest living authors. This short tale about depression, suicide and mortality as seen through the eyes of a faded actor might not be everyone's cup of tea, but Roth writes vividly and the story shocks and moves in turn.

Starter for Ten (David Nicholls): Anyone who has ever been to university or lived through the 80s, or has even a passing interest in comedy should read this book. Told from the point of view of Brian Jackson, a first-year uni student who applies to go on the University Challenge team, it balances laugh-out-loud moments with scenes that will make you cringe in horror. An essential holiday read.


We went on a trek along the island after breakfast one morning, as it is only about 1.5km long, and it seemed the weather was generally better in the morning than the afternoon (it rained without fail every lunchtime!).




Many of the guests had come in groups but we made friends with Steve and Sarah, an English couple from Essex who arrived the day after us. They'd been to Wayalailai and said that it was pretty average with not enough food to go around, so Barefoot must have seemed like luxury in comparison. We ate with them at every meal and they kindly took on our soup rations (their metabolisms make mine look pathetic). Since we were heading to Vegas, we showed them how to play Texas Hold 'Em which Sarah soon picked up and fleeced us all out of cocktail sticks. We also played Uno but the less said about my performance in that game, the better.




One evening there was a quiz night and the four of us joined up with three Americans from the San Francisco area. The questions were Fijian general knowledge and a lot of the answers had been given in the various talks on the island; our team - the mighty Thunder Kittens - came first and won a free snorkelling trip for all players which was a decent prize. We weren't sure if we'd be able to use it as the weather had been miserable for the last few days on the island, but on the morning of the day we were leaving it cleared up. We took a boat out to the Pinnacles with a few divers and snorkelled for about 30 minutes. The mask I'd picked was much better and barely filled at all, so I was able to fully appreciate the reef which was awash with thousands of colourful fish.

We said goodbye to Steve and Sarah in the afternoon and ended on a decent lunch before getting a boat out to wait for the Flyer to pick us up as it passed. Unfortunately the boat was running on Fiji time and the heavens had opened so we were all getting soaked, even with the novel use of tarpaulin to protect us. Still, it was a welcome sight once it arrived 15 minutes later. We had been fretting about how we'd get to our next hostel - Uprising in Pacific Harbour - since the last bus left Nadi at 6:20 and we were never going to make it by that time due to the lateness of the pick-up. However, whilst waiting on the boat getting drenched we'd met Matt and Elaine who had been diving with us whilst we were snorkelling earlier in the day and who were driving to Suva once the Flyer arrived. They offered us a lift, which was exceptionally generous, and we got to Uprising at about 9:30pm. We picked up a bottle of water from a bar which made Barefoot's prices seem reasonable, and then hit the hay in our huge dorm room. We needed plenty of sleep, as we were going to be diving with sharks the following day!

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