What am I doing in Fiji? I always try to stack trips to save money. I knew I was going to be in New Zealand in mid January and be done competing there by the end of the month. I had to get a round trip flight so I booked the return for March 15th. No plan for what to do after but I knew I’d find something. I was/am perpetually super broke so I had to choose my next destination wisely.
First I look at the map to see the dream destinations nearby. Once I have a short list I do some more research. For this trip my list looked like this: Tonga, Samoa, French Polynesia, Australia, South Island NZ, and Fiji. Next the real research begins. I see where I have connections, what time of year it is, and where I think the best fish are. Next step is Skiplagged. An app I use to find the best deals on flights. I see which spots have the cheapest flights as it is pretty much my only fixed cost that I haven’t found a way around (yet). I then look at HostelWorld to see where I can find cheap places to stay. I try to never pay for housing but hostels are great backup plans. I then look at the cheapest way to dive. Anywhere with friends with boats are best. Shore dive accessible areas are close behind. Local commercial fisherman that will take my fish in exchange for gas are better but you usually are only able to find them once on the ground. Off season or rainy season locations are great too for finding deals. Once I have an area narrowed down I reach out to the local hotels, dive resorts, spearfishing companies, anyone I know who’s been there, to see if any are keen to have me. This part is tricky and it’s super important to always provide way more value than you are given. This ensures return trips and keeps everyone happy. This might mean exchanging freedive lessons for housing, fish for fuel, or social media posts for boat rides. Many of the things I need don’t cost the host anything. If you’ve done it right the hotel isn’t full it’s off season. And the boat full of locals is already going, you are just there as an extra shooter. Sometimes I teach the owners or staff how to safely freedive or even give away extra gear. The key to a fun and successful unplanned trip is time. I could never do this without enough time to find the dive spots and connections on the ground. You won’t just walk into a resort and have someone point out where the fish are. Eventually though if/when you do find them it’s that much more rewarding. Hopefully 6 weeks in Fiji gives me enough time to make that happen.
Since landing in Fiji I’ve had some epic and also pretty miserable experiences. I organized an arrangement with Fiji Beachouse for a place to stay to start the journey. Arriving here the place is beyond epic. After posting a few times on insta I was shocked by the number of people who reached out saying they loved this place. I was pretty surprised I’d never heard of it. There’s a great reef break just off the shore and a few more nearby that boats go to daily. Four boats stand ready to take guests fishing, spearfishing, surfing, or to the local islands for village visits. Lots of daily activities make it super easy to make friends. Each bungalow even comes complete with a cat for cuddles. A true gem of a place and extremely affordable. We came for a few days and ended up here for almost two weeks.
There’s a group of pretty keen divers that live and work here that I’ve had a blast diving with. Ed hit 147 feet on the line with me which was pretty cool. And Mele the chef came out of nowhere and scared all the sharks away from my first Fiji doggie. Sick place I’m sure I’ll return to many times and refer lots of people to.
My plan for Fiji isn’t to lay on the beach in a hammock and drink Bounty. It’s time to move on in search of the real adventure. With a massive cat 5 Cyclone on its way I decided it was time to head north. We scrambled to pack and hop on a bus to catch the last ferry north. After 2 hours on the bus we arrived in Suva at the ferry station. The ferry was canceled due to the cyclone. We went to the nearest Internet cafe which turned out to be more of a gaming dungeon and started doing some research. We were assured another ferry would leave from a town 2 hours north the next morning. We booked a room in Suva and stayed packed ready to get on the bus the next morning at 4 am. We took a cab to the bus and 2 hours later made it to the ferry just at sunrise. We bought tickets boarded and were off on a slightly sketchy looking boat bound for a port a few hours outside SavuSavu. They drove the buses on the ferry and they would later take us the rest of the way. Pretty sweet system but it was set to be a really long day. As predicted the nearby cyclone had made the seas very unhappy. I checked the location of the life vests and told Sam to be ready to get out if something went wrong. A ferry had just sunk two weeks before in the nearby islands and over 100 people died. The only thing keeping us going was knowing we’d be there soon.
We finally made it to the small landing pier and pulled in to dock. The swell was coming straight into the harbor and the dock had easy four foot of surge. 25 kts of crosswind wind and 4 foot swells with 15 vehicles to offload didn’t seem good. The captain came on the radio to say he was going to try and dock but if it didn’t work we would head back. I was now really nervous as I knew the cyclone was coming closer in the afternoon and heading back into the swells would be awful. The captain got two lines on and I thought we had it for sure. As he lowered the gang way it was apparent pretty quick this was not going to work. There was no way trucks would be able to drive off this thing. He didn’t quite have it square against the dock as the wind wouldn’t let him swing around. He released the lines and I figured he would try again. He didn’t and we were headed right back into the cyclone. Everyone was a bit uneasy even the captain sounded a bit shook up on the radio telling us to stay inside and locate the life vests. People were puking, me and Sam felt awful and it was getting really hot inside. Luckily the seas on the way back weren’t as bad as we were expecting and we eventually made it back. It’s now late afternoon and we have been in a cab, on a bus for 2 hours, and on the ferry for 8 hours. Making it “back” still meant 2 hours on a bus to Suva and then no idea where to go from there. We knew the cyclone was set to hit that night. Still having no internet all day and no update on the storm we arrived in Suva and jumped right on another bus bound in the direction of the Fiji Beachhouse. We decided we’d rather be amongst friends to ride this thing out. About 8 pm the bus we were on said we had to get off. We were pretty much in the middle of nowhere and there had been yet another miscommunication on where I wanted to go. I’ve gotta stop nodding and saying yes when I don’t understand someone. He said he could go no further. We were dropped all alone on the side of the road with a sport tube and 3 big bags. It was dark and we were dead tired. We should have just rode the bus back into Pac Harbor but we were not thinking straight. Immediately a very concerned hotel worker stopped to offer assistance but he was going the wrong way. He told us another bus would arrive in 30 min and left. We waited very vulnerable on the side of the road for all of ten min before I was over it and waved down the first taxi. “How much to beachhouse?” “100” no “50” “60” “50” “ok get in”. The Fiji dollar is 2:1 American. So $25 usd to get off the side of the road was worth every penny, even compared to the $1 the same trip would be on the bus. Two very long exhausting days since we left and we were back where we started. There was a cyclone party going on and everyone was happy to see us. We were starving so the kitchen opened for us and cooked us some much needed food. We were given our old room which seemed like home now. One standard issue cat was waiting tucked paws and all on our bed. Our friends greeted us with very strong Bounty and ginger ales and Kava. It was good to be back.
The cyclone turned south and didn’t affect mainland Fiji much. Two days of hammock laying later and it’s time to try again.
We are headed north. To find the real Fiji. To live in a village with no electricity or running water. To trade fish and dive gear for a mat to sleep on and boat rides to some of the most remote untouched reefs I’ve ever been to. We have very little money left but neither do the villagers. They thrive out there living off the sea. We will too. In the end we are all the same. We need food, water, and shelter. This isn’t a vacation, we won’t have the same comforts we are used to but that’s ok. Sam will help teach at the school. I will spear with the fishermen. And we will give more value then we take. We will leave with a new set of friends and yet another amazing place to return to or we’ll end up in a hammock back at the Beachouse.