Fiji is a strange mix of third world villages and shabby cities juxtaposed with high-end tourist destinations and five star resorts. Having fully experienced rainy city life in Suva, this weekend I decided to take a vacation and experience the Fiji resort lifestyle accompanied by my dad. As I didn’t have the $4,000 to stay at the celeb-favorite Wakaya, the Sonasali resort on the west side was our destination.
The famed Wakaya Resort
Much as I enjoy reading resort critiques in Conde Nast Traveler, I don’t particularly enjoy staying in most of them. You may ask, “What’s not to like?” and I’ll respond simply that I am easily bored. I am a high maintenance traveler who requires constant stimulation, meaning I need to be tasting different spices, shopping in markets, hanging with locals, swimming crystal waters, and hiking to waterfalls. Fiji’s five star island resorts can probably provide a bit of that, but the average resort includes and pool and overpriced cocktails with uninspired food and crappy service. While planning my two-day vacation, I thought of none of that. One look at the hot blonde on horseback in the brochure, a glance at the discounted price, and I was sold. We got what our 249 Fiji dollars paid for (about $125 US), crappy service and overpriced salmon fillets.
My first shock arrived with the lunch bill on our first day. Our BBQ fish plus beer and diet coke racked up a total of 66 Fiji dollars, an astonishing sum in comparison with 24 Fiji dollars for a huge plate of chicken curry, roti, and veggies served up at Mary’s cottage in Suva. Dinner was an astonishing 84 Fiji dollars, which if you convert to US isn’t as awful as it sounds, but I still don’t believe that my tiny piece of salmon was worth twenty dollars US.
Post-dinner my dad’s attempt to get a glass of wine was more than a little frustrating. Getting the waiters attention was near impossible and finally accomplished after 20 minutes of waiting and waving. Then, twenty minutes after the order was placed, the waiter returned with the news that they were out of the sauvignon blanc that my father had ordered, at which point he ordered a different one. About fifteen minutes later he had no wine. Our waitress was missing in action, and anther concerned waitress came by asking if we had been helped. At my dad’s joking annoyance tinged voice she headed to the bar to get the wine herself. Ten minutes later there was no wine or waitress in site. At this point both my father and I were wondering if there was a single working corkscrew on the island. After all, how tough is it to open a bottle of wine. Most Australian and New Zealand wines have twist caps now anyways. Twenty minutes later our new waitress returned with a confused expression commenting that my father hadn’t gotten his wine yet, as if she hadn’t left twenty minutes prior to retrieve his glass personally. She left again to get the glass of wine and again didn’t return. Fed-up and frustrated, we decided to give up and head back to the room to rest up for our early morning horseback ride.
With our guide Mithun
Paying for the ride in cash was only slightly less complicated than getting a glass of wine at this resort, and it took the woman a record of thirty minutes to get the math right and give us the correct amount of change we required. The trouble and my mosquito-bitten legs were well worth it, as we sat on our geldings trudging through island trails and volcanic beaches guided by Mithun, a sassy Indian horse trainer.
After an exhausting day of running, riding, swimming, and sunning, we decided to skip out on resort dinner and head into Nadi town for local Chinese food, recommended by the manager of the resort.
After waiting an hour for the taxi company that contracts with the resort and charges a whopping twenty dollars for the twenty minute ride into Nadi (to put this in perspective, we bargained our return trip from 15 to 13 Fiji dollars), we finally arrived in Nadi town twenty dollars poorer (jipping tourists is a sport). In all the resort glamour, I had almost forgotten we were in a third world country. Nadi’s single main street is even shabbier than Suva, dotted with a few restaurants, a gas station, and a couple stores. We were immediately shepherded into Jack’s, Fiji’s premier tacky tourist rip-off. Escaping into the streets ten minutes later, I found a pre-dinner cappuccino and a bit of rest before my feast. Walking up the narrow staircase and entering the pink wallpapered restaurant, I wasn’t sure, but one bite of my seafood tofu soup and I was in food heaven. Three steaming heaping seafood and veggie dishes later and my tummy was satisfied and my spirits lifted. I watched amused as two big old men, an Aussie and a French man hugged and joked with the owner while digging into their eight-course meal with gusto. The restaurant was dotted with local Fijians, ex-pats, Indians. There was even a Chinese family chowing down at the table next to us. It was a truly excellent dining experience, and our total came out to 24 Fiji dollars!
I was a tad sad to leave my food heaven and return to service hell (the resort). The next morning post-run was checkout time. A parting gift, I spent ten minutes arguing, because they charged us for the room safe (which was broken and unused). As we had three hours until the departure of our bus to Suva, I spent my last hours of vacation tanning by the pool. After all how was I to explain returning from Fiji paler than when I had arrived?