- 01. Fiji…Again?
- 02. Fun & Games
- 03. Growing Indigenation
- 04. Coup de Grâce?
- 05. Friends Go Away
- 06. Mercy by Coup, Merci Beaucoup
- 07. It’s Nice to be Needed
- 08. Walk Like A Man
- 09. Extreme Retirement
- 10. Get a Grip
- 11. Dangerous Cargo
- 12. Drinking in the Holiday Season
- 13. Fit for Purpose
- 14. Emotion Sickness
- 15. New Fiji’s Eve
- 16. One Helluva Christmas
- 17. Enough is Enough
The morning of Thursday 29 July 1999 my stomach and head were having the usual post facto debate, wherein my stomach points out that if we missed breakfast, we’d starve before lunch, and my head retorts that given its current state, remaining horizontal and perishing for lack of nourishment before noon was the more attractive option. Unusually, my calves entered the discussion, incoherently twanging on about stairs. As usual my stomach won, egged on by the aroma of bacon wafting up the jungle hillside.
By daylight the full portent of Crusoe’s Retreat revealed itself. It is indeed a small remote resort situated on about five acres along the Coral Coast. There was a main building housing reception, the bar, and the restaurant in which we’d take our meals – and aside from potato chips at the bar, those meals were the only available source of sustenance for miles around. There was a foot-shaped saltwater swimming pool and an array of other recreational amenities – a catamaran, a grass tennis court, a beach volleyball court, and picnic tables. Except for the pool, nobody ever used any of these things, and in the case of the catamaran, nobody was allowed to use it (I asked).
Surrounding this hub of inactivity were 28 “bures”, which are differentiated from what might otherwise be called “holiday cabins” by the dead vegetation on the corrugated aluminum roof which effectively recreates the illusion of a thatched hut, the guise of tradition. Each bure was simply appointed, with two double beds, two comfy chairs, two sinks, two showers, and one toilet (that much, at least, one could do solo). Notably, despite the very tropical climate there was no air conditioning, the major concession to sleeping comfort being the mosquito netting hanging from the ceiling, swathing the bed.
The beach itself was quite pretty, although of questionable utility from a bather’s perspective. You see, the Coral Coast is just that, protected over its entire length by a reef about a mile offshore, providing the stunning aspect of a continuous white line of distant breakers accompanied by a homogeneous roar. Between the reef and the shore is a pleasantly lapping shallow backwater. I will spare you a flamboyant choice of descriptive colors that inevitably resolve themselves to blue and green. The point is, however beautiful, that shallow lapwater covers a floor of jagged coral, injuries from which have been known to inspire inventive use of machetes on gangrenous limbs. “You could walk all the way out to the reef at low tide” we are informed by a variety of knowing souls. Not surprisingly, nobody does.
Thus our first morning in the sun would consist of eating and sleeping, punctuated by fits of reading that would make us sleepy, or alternatively, hungry. In short, hangover heaven. The food was of reasonable quality and variety, a damned good thing since we were effectively captive here for a week and had paid for it already.
After lunch, we started a favorite holiday pastime called “I’ve Lost My Wallet”. I dominated the first innings, slowly and stylishly searching and dismantling the entire abode, my panic growing to fever pitch. When the room had reached a state where anything that hadn’t been lost before was now, I declared: “That’s it then!”
Frank came on strong in the second round, displaying his expertise by recapping precisely the last ten places I had used my wallet, none of which I had considered until he did.
“You had it on the plane.”
“You had it at customs.”
“You had it on the bus.”
“You had it at check-in.”
“You had it at the bar.”
He then discovered several nooks and crannies I had failed to search. After all, how does one lose a wallet between mattresses? But to no avail.
Frank began starting sentences with frustrated phrases like “You know…” and “I tell you…” and “You’ve just got to…”, but then not finishing them. Time to move on.
After compiling a rough list of the hellish, time-consuming steps before me, I descended to the nearest telephone at reception. On informing the young lady there that I had lost my wallet, she helpfully inquired “Do you know where?” This stupid question is central to the game. It amazes me there are not more violent deaths in holiday resorts as a result of it. I explained to her the concept of “lost” and how this resulted in the need to cancel some credit cards. She agreed I had a top notch plan, and smiled at me blankly, as if to say “You’ll keep me posted, won’t you?”
“I need to use the phone!” I divulged.
Her manner darkened. “We have only one line, each local call costs one dollar, although there really aren’t any local calls from here, who do you really need to call? – well, you can’t because the manager is using the phone.”
“Can I wait?” Now, this is just about the stupidest question anyone can ever ask, but it reflects profound stupidity in Fiji. My respondent confirmed this with an unknowingly cutting “Of course you can.”
And so began what promised to be an endless cycle of waiting, allowing me plenty of time to ponder a week in paradise’s demise into a personal documentary on bureaucracy today. Once I got on the phone, things improved little, each speaker having an accent which would have been indecipherable to the other even if the line was clear, which it most certainly wasn’t. Once I reached the local branch of the bank that issued my credit card — astoundingly they had a local branch — the staff seemed dumbfounded by the concept of cancellation, and sent my call on a round-robin of three rings, followed by eventually familiar voices saying “Just one minute I forward you.”
Just as I was about to lose it altogether, Frank chugged into the room, waving my wallet in his hands. I slung the phone back in the receptionists face, exclaiming “God bless you!” with uncharacteristic reverence. He had discovered it on the floor behind the nightstand. Game, set, and match, Frank.
The rest of the day was uneventful. It was a wonderful thing, really, I recommend all vacationers to lose their wallet for a three-hour period on the first day of their holiday. It puts the remainder in clear perspective. We strolled down the beach, discovered that the ocean does indeed contain fish and that the resort lay immediately adjacent to the tiny Fijian village of Namaqaqa. At hourly intervals, I would exclaim how pleased I was to NOT have lost my wallet.
A bit about Fiji and the people who live here: According to the official statistics, the population is estimated to be roughly so many. The indigenous Fijians make up about half the population, with slightly fewer islanders of Indian descent making up most of the rest. The Indians are tolerated so long as they don’t try to run things, which in fact is exactly what they do, from a commercial perspective, anyway. There is a smattering of fat white folks with money, who are tolerated to the point of being patronized.
The indigenous Fijians descend from an untraceable conglomeration of ‘nesians (Melanesian, Polynesian, and Micronesian). The darker skin and frizzy hair of the Melanesians predominates, although the lighter skin, and straight hair of the Polynesians is well represented. Many or most live in villages of a few hundred, housed in a few dozen simple cinder block homes, whereas the Fijian Indians dominate business in the cities. The fat white folk dominate the resorts, where they benefit from overt friendliness of the Fijians and the commercial acumen of the Indians. Crusoe’s, although owned and managed by fat white folk, was largely operated by Fijians.
During dinner, a change passed through, bringing a strong cooling breeze. Suddenly it began pissing rain (one of my favorite turns of phrase), and the diners exchanged glances of trepidation. We slowed our pace to ward off the inevitable slog back to the room –- all to no purpose. The rain was here to stay a bit, and we bedded wetted.
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