Dave's Treks

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Friday, March 11 to Monday, March 14 – Fiji - “Bullas and Brushes with Royalty”

The first thing you learn in Fiji is a word – “Bulla”. Literally it means hello. But it’s not just any ‘hello’. It’s a very hearty way to greet someone. The sound seems to come from the bottom of some people’s chest and is bellowed out when they see you, even when you are a stranger on the street. “Bulla!” they cry, as if everyone is their brother or friend. Can you hear it now? In fact, in Nadi (pronounced ‘Nadji’) it’s as if most people are your friend. The locals seem genuinely happy, laid back and relaxed, perhaps because tourism is their primary industry, perhaps because being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean means nothing happens too quickly – things seem to operate on Fiji time, which seems kind of like ‘Jewish time’. The pace is very causal and people really are friendly. I had one occasion when I was waiting for a bus to town from the resort we stayed at (more on the resort later). As I waited for the bus, another fellow came near me, about 20 feet away and waited as well, a local. Within 2 minutes, what to all appearances was a taxi showed up, presumably to give this fellow a ride to town. They pulled up to me and asked where I wanted to go.

“To town”, I replied.
“Get in”, they responded.
“How much?”
“Just get in”.

I knew I was not far from town, so I figured, why not, how expensive could it be? As we drove into town, I had an interesting conversation with the fellow who they had picked up, who turned out to be a security guard at the Sheraton, the resort I was staying at. He and another passenger in the car (with me they had 4 folks in the car) proceeded to explain to me about his life and the resort and how Fijians were very friendly, etc. I indicated that I wanted to go to an Internet place, to work on this blog, in fact! Well, anyways, as we approach town an amazing thing happened. At what seemed to be a major intersection on the edge of town (Nadi), many cars where coming and going a bit haphazardly and the spot begged for a traffic light. So what happened? The driver of my car stopped in the intersection and proceeded to direct the traffic for a few minutes from his car, saying a hearty ‘bulla’ to all the cars who passed by, and each of them stopped and said the same, as if they all knew each other, yet of course they did not. A few minutes later we arrived in town, and when I asked how much they said, no charge. It turns our that the security guard was picked up by his friend, who happens to be a taxi driver, and they had kindly offered me a ride as well. They truly are a very relaxed and friendly people.

So where did we stay in Fiji, you may be wondering? Well, up to this point on the Trip, in Australia and New Zealand, we stayed primarily in hotels, apartments, efficiencies (known as ‘self – contained units’ if you ever visit either country) or even chalets. For Shabbat, we would always try and stay in a nice place with extra space since we often were by ourselves and would relax and read on Shabbat.

For Fiji, Elliot and I decided to stay in a really nice place, and we used hotel award points to stay at the Sheraton Denaru Villas, which we were told was the nicest property in all of Fiji. Since Fiji was a ‘vacation within a vacation”, we figured it was a good place to splurge a bit. Well, the room we ended up with was very nice – a suite with a ‘lagoon view’, which meant we could see a little manmade, mostly dried up 1 ft deep pond from our window (no one said what kind of lagoon!), a nice kitchen and a very nice and large bedroom and bathroom. In fact, the bathroom had a device that we later determined was a washing machine and dryer all in one, but it took us 2 days to figure that out ( in the meantime it took our clothing captive and wouldn’t release it till we got the maids to give us an instruction booklet – they were as puzzled as we were!) All in all, a beautiful room, in a great resort. The resort was part of a series of 3 Sheraton properties on a private island adjacent to Nadi (it’s connected by a small causeway, unlike many other islands which are about 10 – 20 minutes by boat from Nadi). The resort had swimming pools right on the beach, several different beaches, sail boats, sea kayaks, and many other activities, as well as a private island with snorkeling minutes away by a free ferry, as well as various cultural events throughout your stay. We had decided to just relax and vegetate at the resort, since we had been through 6 fairly intensive weeks of travel by this point.

As we were going by taxi to the hotel, we ask the driver if this is indeed the best accommodation in Fiji.

“Yes”, he answered (he may be somewhat biased since he often takes people to the hotel, as a main source of business for him, but he seemed honest).

“Has anyone very famous ever stayed here”, we asked?
“Well, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, among others” he replied. We figured if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for us. The driver continued:

“In fact, someone famous is staying here tonight!”
“Who”, we asked?
“Prince Charles!”

Who is that, I wondered, and why is there all this fuss about some English fuddy duddy? Seriously, though, let me digress for a moment before I continue this part of the tale. Throughout the Trip, we had known Prince Charles was planning on visiting some of the same places we were going to. In fact, he arrived in Australia as we were leaving and went to places we had been or had thought of going to, then he flew to the South Island of New Zealand as we were leaving to go to the North Island, again visiting places we had thought of going to or had gone. The Duke of Wales finally overtook us and arrived in Auckland, on the North Island, the day before we did. We thought, that’s that, no more Prince Charles to follow us around anymore. But the day we left for Fiji, I noticed that Charles was going to Fiji as well. The saga continues then. Can we get some protection from this royal stalker, I wondered? Even Fiji isn’t safe.

Now, as we are driving to our hotel later that night, we discover he is even at our hotel, no less. How can we get finally get him to stop following us?!! Well, we decided, if you can’t beat them, join them. At least we knew the place must be he best place to stay in Fiji if the Prince was there. There must be some advantage to having Charles around I mused..

The next morning, word around the resort was that Charles was set to leave in some ceremony at the resort at 10:00 AM. So I dragged myself out of bed at an ung-dly hour (remember, I was on a real vacation for the Fiji portion) and went to the front of the resort, a mere 5 minute walk away. It was a bit early, but it seemed the entire staff and most of the guests were awaiting his royalness. In fact, the staff was singing en mass some traditional Fijian songs for the royal send-off. As 10:00 am approached, I decided to move around to a better vantage point than where I was, across from the crowd. I studied the cars in the driveway area near me and made an educated guess as to which car would be the one carrying Charles. Perhaps the Fijian and Brutish flags gave it away... In any case, no one else had come to this realization, so I decided to plant myself near the car, figuring if I was right, I might get close to the Prince.

As 10:00 arrived, Charles began to walk through the crowds towards my area, stopping to shake people’s hands and chat with the locals and the tourists. Sure enough, he came right near me, then passed to the other side of the car and greeted the crowd over there. You can see two shots of the crowd with Charles, above – One in particular is noteworthy – look at the woman’s expression of awe and joy at the chance to see Charles – she really seemed touched. Immediately after this, suddenly Charles was in front of me, about to get into his car. When I say in front of me, I mean within 3 to 4 feet. For some reason I hadn’t frightened his security detail and I was able to get a few close-ups of the Prince. I then decided, let’s chat for a sec, since it seemed kismet that we would finally meet.

I said, ‘Hello Charles”.

( Note to self - Since it was me talking, I probably boomed it out, in my loud American voice – hard to recall what I sound like since you haven’t heard me for all these months…I am sure I boomed – I mean I must have, right? All American’s are loud I am told by my British and European friends…) ( I also neglected to use the honorific ‘Prince Charles”, which may explain why he even noticed me – that and being 5 feet away help I suppose…)

His Princeliness then replied as follows:

‘Hello. How is your trip going so far?” ( He looked a bit startled, but then I guess my balding pate would do that to most people) ( I was a bit nervous, though fairly cool considering it was him that was stalking me, so I think that’s what He said…)

( As I sit here now, pondering the exchange, I wonder, how did he know that I was on a trip – perhaps I live in Fiji. I wonder? Does he know I am on the Trip??!! Has he been reading the blog to keep up with us, thus explaining his success in stalking us? Then again, I only recently updated the blog with my New Zealand sojourns, so we will never really know?! Food for thought though…)

“Fine”, I meekly replied.

Charles then proceeded to shake my hand, get in his car and speed away, in that order. You can see some shots of this as well above, though not of me with the Prince or of “the handshake” ( I still haven’t washed my hand…) I did forget one thing – you always remember the great lines afterwards. I should have wished him ‘Mazal Tov” on his upcoming nuptials. That would at least have gotten a laugh, I suppose…

In any case, that was the extent of my royal interaction. A friend remarked to me that now, if I play the Kevin bacon six degrees of separation game, I have pretty good contacts - imagine all the people that I am now linked to via Prince Charles…

From what I read in the news today, Charles seems perturbed by the media stalking him…maybe he will consider that next time our paths cross – see this link for more on Charle’s views…


We stayed in Fiji for Shabbat, and left on a plane at the weirdest time for a flight in my life. I was going to Auckland, and then connecting via Auckland to a flight to Osaka, to begin my adventures in Japan (with my Star Alliance ticket, no airlines flew anywhere from Fiji except via Auckland). The flight from Fiji to Auckland, (lucky flight number 13), was scheduled to leave Fiji at 3:55 AM. When the reservation person told me this, I thought, there must be some mistake. No one would leave in the middle of the night? It would ruin your entire night, because you can’t easily go to sleep early enough to wake up and be well rested by 1am to leave for the airport, and you can’t sleep much on the flight like a red eye because the flight is less than 3 hours long! But sure enough, it was at that g-d forsaken hour. What happens, apparently, is that South Pacific Islands get the short end of the stick. Most of the flights are ones from the US or Canadian mainland, on their way to Australia or New Zealand. They typically leave the mainland at 10 or 11 pm, and arrive two days later in the early morning, like 6 to 8am. So you leave on a Wednesday night, and arrive on a Friday morning, since you cross the dateline in the middle of the flight. As such, when you arrive in the area of these South Pacific Islands, like Fiji, the Cook Islands, Tahiti, you get there in the middle of their night, all to please travelers on either side, in the US and in New Zealand/Australia. Consequently, the airport is on a very weird schedule. When we arrived and checked in by 2:30 AM, we go up to the gate and lo and behold every store is open and fully staffed at this forsaken hour! Apparently this is normal and the best time to be open to snag the travelers for duty free goods. So they have all the staff awake and ready to serve you, between their yawns and naps. However, for those folks like us getting on in Fiji, we are all tired and cranky to be on such a flight at such a desolate hour, when everyone not engaged in shift work should be sound asleep, so we are not in the mood to do much shopping. So you can imagine the scene. The place is wide awake, with music and lighting everywhere at 3 am, fully staffed bright eyed and bushy tailed, waiting for hordes of customer, and yet mostly without customers as we were all asleep or otherwise resting before the flight. A bit surreal if you ask me…

In any case, we had no trouble making Flight 13 of the trip, and I then had a 1 hour layover in Auckland before my flight to Osaka ( which is the closest airport to Kyoto, where I was scheduled to meet up with 4 new traveling friends for the Japanese leg of the trip) (and my baggage was thankfully checked through for me!), as well as flight 14 to Osaka, arriving via train in Kyoto on Monday night, March 14.

Elliot decided he wanted more time in Thailand, so he went straight there while I went to Japan. We decided to rejoin each other in Hong Kong, my next stop after Japan.

So ends the portion of the trip in predominantly English speaking countries, at least for now…


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