Finding Fiji

Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House photo by: Holger Link unsplash

What is it about a bridge, that so captures our emotion? Well, mine anyway. The Sydney Harbour bridge is definitely a favourite, although there are many that are far more beautiful. Maybe it’s just that I like Australia and that bridge is like a gateway.

Australia is not a place you go to for five minutes, it being so very far from most other places. I managed to do so twice. I exaggerate, of course. It was a bit more than five minutes, but it certainly didn’t seem so.

The first time, in 1962, I was on the ship Willelm Ruys with my mother. We were taking a slow way home from Asia, in order not to arrive before Spring.

We were in Sydney just long enough to take tea with the long lost relative of a friend. My mother had been charged with this responsibility and he met us at the dock, so presumably the meeting was of some importance. It was a different world in those days. When you emigrated to Australia, you didn’t necessarily expect to ever see England or your family again, and sending packages was expensive, so when you had a friend travelling in the right direction, you prevailed upon them for services.

When I next went to Australia, it was for an equally short visit. It seemed as if Sheila and I were desperate to flee from New York to the furthest possible point.

Our real intent had been to visit Fiji.

We could have taken a flight there from New York and then spent two weeks sitting on a beach instead of traipsing around the long way. But there were lovely beaches within much easier reach.

Perhaps we wanted to do more than just sit on a beach. And if we had done some research, we may have discovered that our timing was poor. It wasn’t really beach weather, when we got to Fiji.

Our research in general was amiss. In these days of instant information available on any computer screen, it is hard to imagine the difficulties involved in finding what you needed to know about remote places.

The airport at Nadi (pronounced Nandi) was on the opposite side of the island from Suva, the capital

Not that we were concerned about this. The hotel we had booked was close by Lautoka. This photograph by Tony Moran depicts the view I remember.

Except it was not all aqua-blue and lovely.

It wasn’t horrible. It was just cool. As in cold.

Not that cold. We made a point of going to the beach one day and we sat trying to persuade ourselves that we were enjoying ourselves, as we watched aeroplanes coming in to land on the nearby runway.

Our hotel was certainly better than the Princess in Bangkok, but our room had the appearance of a broom closet and was about as big. Our clothes hung from rods over our beds. We were only staying a couple of nights, so we didn’t really care. And during the first night, a phone call. Yes, uncle had tracked me down, yet again. And the dread began to rise, of having to go home and see him.

But first, an adventure! Not quite, but it had possibilities.

Having survived our day at the beach, we decided to take it easy by the pool and have a drink. Bula bula cocktails. “Bula” actually means “hello” in Fijian. As we sat down a youngish man in Fijian dress came toward us and asked what we would like to drink. Such prompt service. At least that was good.

The gentleman was soon back with our very festive looking drinks, and sat down between us.

Oh.

He was not a waiter.

We engaged briefly in rather embarrassed small talk. And then there was a hand on my thigh.

Sheila’s eyes met mine and she came out with “we have a very early flight tomorrow, so we have to leave now.” And we stood up and high-tailed it back to our broom closet. Where we barricaded the door. Not really. But the experience did nothing to appease the dread.

Pretty soon we were winging our way home, via Los Angeles, where BOAC gave us a few hours rest in an airport hotel, so that we would not arrive at JFK in the middle of the night.

Modern aeroplanes can fly, non-stop half way around the world. Somehow, I think I liked it better when the trip was broken into short segments.

I can think of few things more unpleasant than sitting in an aircraft seat for 14 hours non-stop.

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