TO FIJI WITH LOVE

By John Dybvig

My absolute favourite destination in the world is Fiji, an island paradise of fantastic sunsets, out of this world snorkelling, the friendliest people in the universe and, for me, the most memorable toilet break I’ve ever had – aFijian ‘Montezuma’s revenge’ that set in motion a series of events that changed my life forever – here’s how it unfolded.

One cold rainy night in Auckland, my girlfriend Jennifer surprised me with tickets to Fiji, my first trip there. It turned out to be the turning point in our relationship. You know what they say about travelling with someone – you really find out about the person behind the person. We found out alright, hitting it off big time. We bonded together in Fiji, and it wasn’t because we did a lot of overly fantastic things, just the opposite really.

We lazed around (nothing beats Fiji time) our two-storey condominium reading, eating fruit and taking dips in the sea just outside our door. We spent time getting to know each other. You know it’s working when you can be with someone and not have to constantly fill in the silent spaces with needless chatter … you can let the moments just be.

One day we decided to go snorkelling. No big deal really. We hooked up with a local Fijian who took us out to sea in his small dinghy. Suddenly there it was … that picture perfect postcard – a tiny spit of whiter than white sand seemingly floating in the middle of the ocean. The Fijian cut the motor and glided his boat onto this minute slip of sand and we jumped out. It was such a glorious feeling – the only ones on that isolated spot with the crystal clear water lapping onto our bare feet. Wow!

The snorkelling was beyond belief, with an array of dazzling tropical fish in every colour of the rainbow. It was one of those experiences you want to ‘freeze-frame’, that if you’d planned it, would never have come off so perfectly – we just stumbled into it and it was sublime. What a blast!

However, the trip turned out to be a blast in more ways than one. When it was time to leave, we had to drive across the main island from Suva to Nadi where we were going to stay at an inexpensive hotel near the airport before our flight home. Unfortunately for me, I got a bad case of Deli Belly – my sphincter was in clench mode on the entire trip across the island. It got to the point where something had to give. I gasped through clenched teeth that we had to stop … now!

We swerved over to the side of the road in a burst of flying gravel and dust as I launched myself from the car and scurried behind some exotic bushes. I was just in the process of tugging my pants down when I glanced over my shoulder and there, sitting on the veranda of a house, was a large Fijian family slowly fanning themselves, smiling and waving to me. My audience gave me renewed resolve and I nodded back (Bula), mumbled some lame excuse about checking out their native fauna and hurriedly wobbled back to the car.

Now I was sweating rivers and my boiler room was making those deep rumbling gurgling sounds that mean only one thing – trouble, the worst kind of trouble. The gods of fortune suddenly smiled on us as we spotted a sign pointing to the Sheraton.

“Step on it,” I urged. We screamed into the reception area of this five star hotel and I emerged from the vehicle with my face a mask of forced restraint. The bellhop took one look at me and, without a word spoken, hurriedly pointed to the nearest restrooms.

By now my butt was clenched tighter than the eye of a needle as I delicately scooted like an overgrown penguin towards relief. Within seconds of my arrival in the toilet, I’d cleared the joint. People were screaming out of there like the entire population of Tokyo frantically running from Godzilla. Butt (pun intended) after all that blasting I felt much better so we decided to have lunch.

Dining at the Sheraton in Fiji is like, well, like dining in paradise. The hotel is stunning and the grounds are lush with swaying palms and beautiful flowers. With the glistening pool and the sea and the ever smiling Fijians, who are absolutely the most down-to-earth people on our planet, it’s a little slice of heaven. My all-time favourite restaurant in the world is ‘Ports o’ Call’ at the Sheraton Fiji, with its authentic decor of a 1930’s cruise ship. It’s hushed and elegant with burly Fijian waiters in white starched jackets singing as every plate is set down at your table, their silver coverings suddenly whisked away. It’s so lovely and simple and old fashioned that it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. As Chef Anthony Bourdain of Kitchen Confidential fame declares: “Context and memory play powerful roles in all truly great meals in one’s life.” I couldn’t agree more – they could serve me a hotdog on a stick and it’d be the best meal in the world to me at ‘Ports o’ Call’ because the only time I’ve eaten there is with the love of my life.

After lunch we went ‘downmarket’ big time in a very short drive. One word would be sufficient to describe our airport hotel – cheesy. Everything was cheap and plastic and tired looking. Our room was no bigger than a shoe box … a small cramped shoe box! I’m not exaggerating – the table was a small shelf sticking out from the wall and the bathroom door opened right into the living room – not a good look, as my stomach had started to rumble again.

Jennifer took it all in, turned to me and with the most disdainful look, dead-panned “I’m not happy.” Even in my fragile state, in the best traditions of being an American wise-ass, I looked down at her pouting face and instantly shot back “Well, which one are you then?” It took her a moment to catch my drift and then the sparks really flew. We duly drove over to Denerau Island and checked in at the Sheraton. And I knew – it was spooky, and don’t ask me how or why, but I intuitively knew that this is where “I do” would be said for the last time in my life.

Jennifer and I had forged a beautiful relationship that existed without any judgements or preconceived notions of what it should be, so it was a seamless transition when I popped the question five years later. We were married in Fiji with family and fifty of our friends, not too far from one of my favourite restrooms in the world. The wedding was right out of a fairy tale. Half the wedding party arrived at Auckland airport several days before the big day and we all flew together to Fiji, drinking champagne and laughing.

We swam, sailed, played golf and tennis, and naturally drank an amazing array of lavish cocktails every night, and every day greeted more of our friends and relations as they arrived at the resort. We watched from our balcony as the Fijians laughed and giggled while they wove and platted fern leaves into a wedding alter right on the beach where the ceremony was going to take place. Everything was peaceful and easy and fun – no phones, no television, no tensions or rushing around. We were married on the beach as the sun was setting in the distance, surrounded by swaying palms, our friends and family, and a few curious tourists at the hotel who stopped to watch. Wow what a time.

But even better, just like Bill Murray in the movie ‘Ground Hog Day’ we get to do it again and again and again, every year, when we go back to Fiji and take that familiar twenty minute drive from Nadi airport to the same hotel on Denerau Island (now our second home) where we walk along the same beach and it’s just the best.

It just doesn’t get any better! It’s not every day in today’s cynical world that you get to continually relive your very own fairy tale. ??Thank you Fiji, with love.