Being a frequent traveller does not make you any less susceptible to rookie errors – at least not in my case! I had to have a word with myself just recently for being too blasé about travel, a little pre-planning goes a long way and sensible purchases like insurance (see Southern Cross Travel Insurance) are a necessity no matter how confident a traveller you are.
I’ve been thinking recently about one of my biggest travel mistakes because next month I have the chance to go back and rectify it. The destination of my travel dilemma was Fiji and, to be honest, since the mishap in 2007 it’s been hard for me to think of Fiji in a completely positive light. (Which is massively unfair because the problem was largely my fault.)
The crux of the problem was my girlfriends and I casually rocked up to Fiji in peak season with no accommodation booked. We’d been backpacking in South America for the previous few months, some of it on a group tour with G Adventures and the rest of the time just winging it, booking accommodation as and when we saw a room we liked the look of. We’d had a great time hiking the Inca Trail and trekking in the Amazon Jungle but could not wait to fly and flop on a beach in Fiji. We just naively assumed that finding a bungalow to sleep on said beach would be easy.
We had done some prior planning. We met a fellow traveller in Peru who raved about a resort in the Yasawa Islands called Octopus Resort. When we finally found a decent internet connection we went online to book the 4 beds we needed and found we could get in there for 5 nights but it was fully booked for the first night we would be in Fiji. No dramas, we thought, we’d find something when we arrive.
Now having been to Fiji I realise what a mistake that is. I’d completely underestimated how accommodation on the mainland would mainly consist of 5-star resorts we couldn’t afford and that getting to the islands wasn’t as easy as hopping on an hourly boat. In fact, we were rudely awakened from that misconception as soon as we landed.
“Only 1 boat per day to Yasawas and you have to hurry if you want to catch it today,” said the man on the nearest information desk at the airport. “Come with me quickly I can help with your arrangements.”
Usually I don’t admit to being stuck in a bind to salesmen at airports as it puts you on the back foot for bargaining but in this case we were tired and the man seemed kind. We trudged after him to his travel agency in another section of the airport (he wasn’t on the airport customer service team after all) and he proceeded to ask us a number of questions about what we were looking for.
Long story short, we described the idyllic beachfront bures we’d seen in the brochures and this man (promising otherwise) booked nothing of the sort. Using the boat’s departure time as a deadline he talked us into paying him 50% upfront for accommodation we had never heard of nor could see on the internet and then whisked us onto a bus bound for the port at Denarau.
Our mistake first started dawning on us when we watched other passengers get collected by their resorts on shiny speedboats with seats. The transfer boat from Ade’s Place, our ‘luxury’ accommodation, was a badly weathered wooden thing with only a plank of wood for the driver to sit on.
No dramas, we told ourselves again, this is obviously an ‘authentic’ Fijian experience, let’s go with it. These days I know the difference between authentic and sub-par accommodation – Ade’s Place was definitely the latter!
We arrived on the island to find a brusque lady who seemed a little annoyed that she had 4 guests arriving at the last minute. She directed us to the ramshackle dining area and immediately demanded the money we had already paid the man in the airport. That was the first issue.
The second issue was our accommodation. The 2 x private beachfront bures we’d paid through the nose for turned out to be a chokingly hot room in a shared house with a bees nest at the door and a double bed in an outbuilding that had heavily pooping chickens running around it.
Taking one look at our majorly mis-sold rooms we went back to Ade to tell her we would not be staying the night. She stifled a laugh.
“No boats until tomorrow,” she told us, “No leaving today.”
Resigned to our night on the island the 2 girls who had been assigned the room without chicken sh*t kindly allowed my friend Sam and I to bunk in with them. We moved all our belongings to the one room and asked for the key.
“No keys at Ade’s Place,” she told us, “All safe.”
Since our arrival we’d been watched by a group of machete wielding farmers at the far end of the beach, a sight I now know is common in Fiji but was a little worrying to us newbies. Nothing about this place felt safe to be honest.
We slept the night with our bags stacked against the door and almost suffocated in the airless room (pretty sure we’d paid extra for fans that were non-existent). As the temperature in the room rose through the night I made my final mistake by deciding to strip off my PJ bottoms, hoping the supposedly insect repelling sleeping bag liner I was wrapped in would do its job as advertised. I woke up with mozzie bites from my ankles to bum, all of which swelled to the size of a peach and were an itchy reminder of our awful night at Ade’s for the rest of the trip.
I like to think I know a little bit better now! Next month I’m returning to Fiji with my sister and the plan is to create so many awesome memories that the disastrous night at Ade’s becomes just a story I tell. I researched the hell out of accommodation options and hope I’ve booked us some goodies! Watch this space to see how it pans out.