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Fiji fresh – 2

28 October 2006 4 comments

20 Oct. After that mud-on-my-face post on Fiji, I must be really brave to continue my travel scribbles. The first day ended with a long night at the South Sea island beach and a card game with the resort folks. I get ready by 6.30am, after a fresh salt water bath. Breakfast is bread and scrambled eggs, quite filling. I check with the sweet lady if I can go kayaking. She teaches me – oh, it is so easy! I put on my life jacket and by 7.30am, I am out on the mighty Pacific Ocean, doing the majestic ocean kayaking. I am pleased as hell. The very idea of me on a kayak in the ocean gives great pleasure. Maybe, it is because I am still scared of the sea. Within a few minutes, I am tired. It takes me a while to steer the kayak, but soon I get quite away from the shore. When I find myself so far, I panic and kayak fast to come close. But again I get tired and leave myself to the mercies of the great water body. This goes on for a few times before I stop my 40-minute kayak for dummies. Snorkelling first, kayaking next, … boy, I’m pleased.

The next activity for the day is a sailing adventure on the famous Sea Spray. Don’t wory if you haven’t heard of it. It is an old TV serial. I still don’t know what is famous about it. A water taxi puts my bags and me on a cruise boat. We pass Bounty Island, Treasure Island and Beachcomber island (all having resorts), very good sights in the ocean. As we approach Mana Island (the last and biggest of the Mamanuca islands – these are the closest to Nadi and I am told, the Yasawas including the Blue Lagoon further away are more beautiful ), a water taxi takes me to the sail boat whereas my bags still travel with the cruise. The coral reefs close to Mana Island are so eye-catching. The waters are choppy, the captain advises us. Very soon after we get in, we get cakes and tea as mid-morning refreshments. There is unlimited drink (wine, soft, …) on the sail. I talk to the captain, who says he had been to Kerala recently. At this stage, I must tell you Fiji is a mix of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, with Hindi surprisingly thrown in. Every boat has its share of music-friendly Fijians who will display their knowledge. Fijian songs are a part of every cruise or sail, I begin to think.

The captain comments on the Mamanucas. We approach our first stop, a Fijian village called Yanuya. Later I discover it is famous for its pottery work. The boat anchors a little away. It is a little awkward act to get on the water taxi when you want to get down at an island. The tides catch you unawares and you have to balance properly. I am quite agile, I tend to think and do not have a problem. But the big folks really make it look so troublesome. We walk past the village school where the kids have lunch. School reminds you of all those pleasant memories. It is almost like a typical Indian village except for the fact that here only Fijians live. Fijian mango trees and some big breadfruit trees form the shades of the trees. We have alighted here for the kava (the Fijian drink) ceremony. We go to the village chief hall and exchange gifts so he gives the kava for us. Goan feni, Fijian kava, they all are the same (toddy back home?) – just an excuse to drink! The village market place is all lined up for our visit. I steer clear of the shops, just glimpsing at the shell work (like Kovalam/Kanyakumari/Mahabalipuram). No souvenirs for me!

It is a typical tropical day, warm and sunny. All the kids say “Bula” (Fijian Hello/Welcome) to us. Bula is the universal tourist word. In fact, their official tourist site is Bula Fiji(the truly relaxing tropical getaway). The second tourist word is Vinaka (thanks). Now you know 2 Fijian words. We walk again back through the school and take the water taxi to the boat. Lunch barbecue – lamb sausages, chicken sticks and fish fry with salads. You pay quite high for the food and so it’s worth every FJD. Even before we finish our lunch, we are close to the second and final stop (Modriki – an uninhabited island used for the Castaway movie). An uninhabited island stop is the dream of every alternative traveller. Most of the guys snorkel or swim here. It is obvious the coral reefs here would be less spoilt and be more beautiful. The colourful play of the ocean blue and green make any sane man go green and blue. But I do not want to wet myself. I am tempted to walk past a small water flow to another rock (when the tide is low), but the ocean scares me out of this adventure. I end up walking close to the palm trees and peeping at the bikini babes on treat.

An hour past, we return to the boat and get back to Mana Island for my connection to Nadi. At the boat, more cakes await us. I am so tired out of all the travel – it is my penultimate day and try to grab some rest before my last day on the deck. But the boat captain (also a pastor) thinks that I am a Hindu pagan and I deserve to be convinced of the single God Christian greatness. I am poor at shrugging off people and try to argue with him about truths. My religious beliefs are so weak that I cannot convince him that all religion is the same. Next time a pastor comes to convert me, I am going to point him to “Am I a Hindu?” and ask him to mind his business. I don’t get any rest. I rejoin the cruise boat and my bags.

The bus drops me at my new place in Nadi – Horizon Backpackers. Nadi Bay resort was expensive at 24FJD. If you book ahead, you can get dorm beds at FJD10. I could only get one here at 17.5FJD. Any money saved on sleeping is a bonus as I can spend it on travel. A small walk to the nearest black water beach does not excite me much. My tiredness catches with me and I don’t even open the novel. I just would like to sleep. Thus the second Fiji night started. Come morning, I am fresh again and get ready early to see the closest beach and have free breakfast at the place. The Name of the Rose starts to get thrilling today. Today is Deepavali day. I am scheduled for a half-day tour of the highlands as I have my flight at 7pm.

Deepavali is a national holiday for the Fijians and so there are few buses on the roads. Unlike Aus and NZ, fireworks are allowed more liberally. My driver Mike of Viti Eco Tours (no URL) picks me up and introduces me to Ratu, the village chief of Nale Sutale village and his partner in the tour company. Mike tells me it is a discounted price for a backpacker and I should not reveal it to the others who will come from Sheraton. We pass the Garden of the Sleeping Giants. The spectacular Sleeping Giants mountain appears soon. We go to the hot water mud pools first. I see a lot of sugarcanes on the way. At the mud pool, I am surprised to see an Andhra Sangam notebook. We cross a stream and reach Sabeto village. A Ganesh temple is on our way to the village. Indian schools are the desired schools there. It is strange that most Fijians speak Hindi. I don’t know if Fijian Indians can speak Fijian to that extent.

We reach the village, a collection of 11 families and 70 people. Ratu takes me on the guided tour of the highlands up his village. He points me to curryleaf, wild pineapples, turmeric, ginger, lemons – oh, all these are abundant in India too – and elaborates on their healing properties. It takes me an effort not to feel ordinary about it. The best thing about travel is it changes your perspective drastically. We stop by a small waterfall and I have a good dip in it. My water phobia haunts me. But any waterfall is so refreshing and my appetite is whetted. We walk back to the village where we join the other 2 Aussie guests under the mango tree for the kava ceremony (not again). I politely decline to drink kava though Ratu asks me a few times. I don’t know what I shall blabber if I drink! I had paid FJD10 for the Fijian lunch and it is quite nice and healthy – brinjals, fish, lamb, spinach and lemon juice to wash it. We walk back to the mango tree for our afternoon nap.

One of the village boys uses his bamboo guns for the Fijian version of Deepavali fireworks. We observe him close. We wait for our shuttle back to Nadi. It takes an indefinitely long time to arrive. Thank God, I had nothing to do. I just grab my luggage at the backpackers place and pay the same guy to drop me at Nadi airport. I have a 2FJD note (which I will keep for myself) and 54 cents in 8 coins, which I will give as souvenirs to all those who want it. I have balanced my budget close to perfection. At the airport, I meet with my Auckland hosts and friends. We grab a pizza meal and they shop around at the airport. We all share the same flight to Hamilton. At 11.30pm in Hamilton, we are the chosen ones for the search bench. An American student, a French visitor, a Spanish tourist and a Fijian girl share our plight. My friend with an Indian passport and a NZ PR is thoroughly searched. It takes 15-20 min for a full search of the bags. I curse my fate. Very luckily, the customs lady decides to let me without a search, after just hearing my student story. I am harmless as I will return to India in a month and 20 days.

I regret my Fiji trip because it is so short. A week is needed to see it properly. To repeat, Fiji is a must-see tourist place. A lot of tourists were on their 2nd or 3rd trips. Will I too? The beauty of the islands just blows my mind and I have only tasted 2 islands. The mainland feels just like India, except that there is no cricket. Tourists are warned about the sly salesmen, who cheat you and demand money. I am saved because I can pass as a local, thanks to my Indian looks. I felt Fiji is full of the stop-over tourists (quite a few flights from LA). So some of the other Pacific islands like Tonga or Samoa would be less unspoilt (a classic case of the green grass). But Fiji remains the only one which lets Indian passport-holders visit for 4 months with a free permit on arrival.

Categories: Travel

Off-shore books

27 October 2006 2 comments

Just to clarify this trip is not all about travel. India means the shore to me. The very first evening I landed in Auckland, I ended up spending some time in the Central Library. One look at the place and I am awe-struck. I can spend a whole day blissfully here, I tell myself. Membership is free to all Auckland residents. That’s where their taxes go, how sweet! I check with my friends and soon I visit the Pakuranga (my suburb) library with my host, who is also an avid book reader. The Penguin History of NZ is the recommended book. It makes for easy reading and I get a quick idea of the (short) history. Kiwiana is another NZ book, remnant of Kiwi icons. I walk often to the Pakuranga library (30 min) amidst planning and actually travelling. On one such day, I pick up “All in the Names”, an originally Portuguese novel. I am not able to finish it in one sitting and promise to come back for finishing it. Thanks to Jax’s recommendation, I also look for Umberto Eco’s books. None of his famous novels are here in the library.

So when I end up in the Uni of Queensland’s library (which was huge), I pick up “The Name of the Rose”, Eco’s symbolic thriller. In optimism, I hope to finish the book in my short 6-day trip. But I am so full of travel that I can only read 100 pages out of the 500. It is heavy reading, with the various Christian sects and the neat philosophical bent. Any thing which has a good philosophical interest no doubt attracts me. I take it to Fiji and back to Auckland. After struggling in the middle, the end is quite racy and gripping. I love the novel and I will get my copy once I am on-shore. I must read Eco’s other books. For the time, I have to find out how to ship it back to Brisbane. Madhan, as among several great things, has made me discover the brilliance of Eco.

Categories: Books

Sydney ‘ferry’cious

26 October 2006 Leave a comment

13 Oct. My 2nd day in a 3rd country. My 1st day in its biggest city, Sydney. Madhan drops me at the Brisbane airport on time. My 1st experience with self check-in. I only get an aisle seat. The flights takes off sharp at 7am. It is a very quick flight and we are circling Sydney in an hour. The view of the big city and its many suburbs from the top is amazing and I wished I had a window seat. Madhan and Sudar had given me a basic overview of the city. I did not read much about Australia and left everything to their good knowledge. I have to meet my Bschool senior Ab in Sydney. A communication gap made him think I have been to Sydney before and his last mail (which I checked in the free internet kiosk at Auckland airport) directed me to take the train to Martin Place. I thought he trusted me to make my way around Sydney. Sudar had armed me with a mobile phone and an Australian debit card and so I had nothing to worry. I did not think twice before buying the “DayTripper”, a pass for 15AUD which includes all day train, bus and ferry travel in the city and also offers discounts to some of the attractions.. By hindsight, I am so glad that I bought it. The Daytripper brochure has a good map of all the three networks. I call up Ab and promise to meet him by 10am. I take help to use the barcoded ticket and get onto the platform. I observe it is neat. I note on the maps the last points of the rail network I shall use for the day. CityRail is quite complex and there are as many as 8 networks from Central. I figure out that I need to take 2 trains to Martin Place. As the train stops at Circular Quay station, I catch my first glimpse of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.

When I get down at the station and walk down the street, I feel small by the huge skyscrapers. Martin Place is the most coveted place in Sydney CBD and Macquarie Bank is at 1, Martin Place (the best address). After a few calls, we trace each other and grab a coffee (my first in many months) at StarBucks. Ab shows me the foolishness of my plans and suggests I walk to Circular Quay and maybe visit the zoo in the afternoon. His suggestion is God-sent. We decide to catch up for lunch. I keep walking down George Street (the central road of the CBD) and reach Circular Quay, the point of departure for all ferries. Some aborigines perform by the Quay. I see notices about the Ashes display at one of the museums. If I have time… I am so excited on seeing the ferries and take the Watson’s Bay one. That is my first ferry. 10.30am Sydney is quite hot (33). I sit on the deck, seeing the magnificent Harbour Bridge and the Opera House up close, little knowing that I will end up seeing them as many as seven times. But I am going ahead of the story. There are so many bays on this 50minute return ferry ride and I don’t get down at Watsons Bay preferring to take the ferry back to the Quay. I start to love the ferry rides.

I ask one of the ferry attendants to tell me when the next ferry leaves. I don’t want to waste any time. If only there are ferries every 10 minutes!! I fumble around with the map before deciding to go down the Parramatta river, probably the longest ferry ride. Of course, the DayTripper ensures that every trip I make adds value. 11.45am My destination is the Sydney Olympic Park. My estimates go wrong and the ferry takes longer, which will make me miss my lunch date. But it is so pleasant to sit back and relax, seeing Darling Harbour for the first time and all the other Sydney delights on offer. There are heaps of bridges on the journey. I speak to an Aussie Ian, who stays in the Athlete’s apartments near the Olympic Park. He offers me a ride to save me the trouble of walking or waiting for the bus. He drops me by the Olympic Boulevard. My lucky name is Ian (remember the wild Kiwi walk). But my luck runs out then. I think of rushing to the bus station because he told me there are no trains (which turned out to be wrong) from the Park. It is so hot and I walk around the Showground in the hot sun. I see the Brickpit and walk to the railway station, hoping to catch a bus there. It has taken me half an hour. I am relieved to hear that trains run from the station. I don’t see the Telstra Stadium, but am happy to go back and meet Ab for lunch.

I catch a glimpse of the Hockey Centre from the train. Ab and I grab a quick bite at Hungry Jack’s (the Australian BurgerKing). I take a bus to the Quay and take a 15minute ferry to the Taronga Zoo, celebrating its 90th birthday (Ab’s recommendation). 2.50pm I am happy that my student card gets me a good discount here. I see the local animals first, the koala, the kangaroo, some colourful birds and the nightlife. The Asian part is the best attraction, but don’t we have them all in India? I hope. I spend about 45 minutes in the zoo, before I walk back to the entrance to catch the bus to the ferry. The bus just leaves as I walk out. I walk first and later run behind the bus. I am the last guy to board the 4pm ferry. It sounds just perfect. Too bad there are ferries every half hour only. I could have just walked the other way in the zoo to reach the ferry, instead of wasting my energy. Every ferry ride is so romantic and of course each goes past the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, enabling me to soak magnificent views of them. I speak to an Italian, who recommends me the Manly beach. I am so determined to ride as many ferries as I can. I have travelled much more for the paltry 15$ I paid.

It is 4.15pm. The next ferry to Manly Beach is at 4.30. It is a 30minute ride. This ferry goes into the ocean, away from the city. So I get to see spectacular scenery, North Head and South Head (the headlands to Sydney Harbour). Manly is supposedly the best beach resort in Sydney. I also notice that the Manly ferries are the most crowded. I walk to the Manly beach. The crowd has already left. The surf is indeed splendid and I have a quick walk by the beach. I walk for 5 minutes on the Cabbage Tree Bay walk to Shelley Beach before I turn back so I can catch the ferry. I wished I could spend more time on the beautiful Manly beach. But I am so short of time. I am only in Sydney for 2 days and 1 night, to be precise. Now that I have seen Manly, I can skip the iconic Bondi beach. The return ferry is at 6pm. Dusk time brings out all the lights of the Opera House and make them glow in the backdrop of all the Sydney lights. It is a veritable feast for the senses. I don’t know how to make my camera capture it properly. So I end up enjoying the visual treat. An evening ferry ride is simply the best way to finish the day.

But well, the night has just started and Sydney does not sleep at all. Ab and I go back home for a quick rest. Ab and his friends expected me to cook and make them happy. Somehow, I cannot think of cooking this trip (as if I cook great). They tell me I should see the Aquarium and the Sydney Tower. I should have seen Bondi and the SCG (Sydney Cricket Ground). We rest for 3 hours before the busy i-bankers and I walk to Darling Harbour to experience the great night life Sydney has to offer. 9.30 The night walk by the Harbour is very enchanting. Darling Harbour is pretty. How we wish we had partners to spend all these exciting times! They take me to the city casino. One of them gets lucky and the others are not. The casino has warnings saying that gambling is addictive and it can provide counseling helplines for severe cases. Just like the statutory warnings on cigar packs! A casino is so artificial and does not attract me much. I guess, I will hate Vegas. We sip bitters. A building glows in pink, signalling the fight against breast cancer. The night lights are majestic, showing the significance of the biggest city in Australasia. But I am not much of a night creature. It is 12 when we come back home. We wind up with a plate of egg bhurjee and it is almost 1am when I sleep soundly.

To sum up, out of the 6 ferry rides on offer, I do 4.5. It has been a fabulous ferrycious day. All the ferry rides are so pleasant. Thanks to them, I will never forget the twin marvels of Sydney Harbour. Remember to get a DayTripper pass when you are there.

Categories: Travel

Reborn – a week ago

25 October 2006 5 comments

Time to recollect the happenings of last Tuesday and the night before. Sudar and I had just returned on the wet roads from the popular Gold Coast and the more popular Sea World. After meeting with Madhan and Sudar’s gang (read Mu, Ke, Di), I rested at home and was about to sleep, keeping in mind the excessive travel I had done over the last 5 days. Madhan’s home is very comfy, making it easier to sleep. But both of them called me out at 9.30pm for a late night ferry ride on the charming Brisbane river. So we walked to the nearest ferry stop Guyatt Park and boarded the ferry to the Uni of Qland and back to the North Quay. Dinner at the 24 hour Pancake Manor. I had never tasted crepes before. I only knew pancakes are dosa equivalents, thanks to menu cards in big Indian hotels. With their vast knowledge of gourmet food, Madhan and Sudar ordered the ‘best on the menu’, I think. Chicken and beef crepes were our main meals. Lemontyne, Blueberries and Macadamia nuts were our desserts for the night (just hop over to the restaurant link for yummy pictures). It was a long night, when we talked about a lot of incidents in cse2001 and laughed over them at this late age. We called out all the roll numbers and mapped all the 81 names (no mean feat)! I have this fascination for roll numbers. Given some help, I can do it for my Class 10 too. After a fresh and tasty dinner, we strolled down the streets of downtown Brisbane. They wished me on my birthday at the centre of Brisbane. The clock tower said 12.00. It was thrilling to be wished so differently. A mid-night walk to the strip tease bar and we almost entered it! I had been teasing them to take me to some adult attractions. The big lady(!) outside insisted that we wear shoes to go inside. Madhan offered to loan his shoes so I can go and have a look. But I am not so keen. Why waste money when you can wait? 😉 Past that near miss, we took a shuttle back to home for a peaceful night of sleep.

Once the 3 of us got ready on the next day, we took a bus to Lone Pine, a koala (pronounced kwala) sanctuary. Appa wishes me on the bus. Abi and Amma wish me just as we enter the sanctuary. I don’t know why Amma has to cry this time. The trick is not to let them call me, but I should surprise them so she does not cry. But women cannot be predicted 🙂 Madhan and Sudar knew the park by heart and took me straight to my birthday hug with a cute male koala called Conrad. After that, we picked up some kangaroo food and went to the kangaroo rest area. It is an awesome feeling to feed and pat the kangaroos. After that short and sweet sanctuary trip, we stop by Toowong Plaza so I may do my picture postcards for the day. I pick up a Jacaranda card, the Brisbane river sight and a kangaroo card. I finish writing the addresses and end up posting the cards also. Sudar asks me if I have read “The Da Vinci code”. I didn’t get the hint and absent-mindedly say yes (I guess, few book-lovers would say no). Sudar says another name, which I haven’t heard of before. We await Madhan, who comes with his next surprise, a copy of The Bride Stripped Bare, a very apt gift for me. I am lost for words.

We stop by Sizzlers for a Spring salad bar. Somehow, I eat less on this very different buffet lunch. We hang around for a little less than 2 hours. The spring special Jacaranda tree Jacaranda flowers are in their beautiful best and we take a few snaps with them. After that, Sudar goes back home. Madhan and I catch the ferry to South Bank, which has an artificial beach. I have a loo break (all thanks to the great food bestowed on me). Later he shows me the sights of South Bank. After a short walk by the very different artificial beach near the river bank, we stop at Batavia cafe near the cinema complex. It is a quaint cafe, with a historical feel of the Dutch East Indies (go find out Batavia’s new name). He has iced tea and I have a very different herbal tea. A flower bud is placed in a cup. We pour hot water on top of it and it slowly blooms. As it fully blooms beautifully, the hot water gets some strains and becomes herbal tea. A truly different and refreshing tea!

A walk along the Brisbane river in spring time with the pleasant purple sights of the jacaranda flowers is the city’s favourite pastime, I am told. We cross the river and see the immense traffic on one of the bridges, choc-a-block with buses and cars. There is more diversion in the walkways. Madhan asks one friendly(?) cop, who just says “Round that block, that way!” and hears no more. We walk around and back to the river walkway. We walk by the river for about half an hour, discussing round-the-world trips. This exchange trip has kindled my deep desires for travel in South America. Isn’t that a convenient stop after NZ? Argentina and Chile, I will come soon.

We had promised to dine at the gang’s den. We reached there a little past 7. Ke and Sa were cooking, while the patient Mu was resting. A lot of gentle banter once every one settles in. I easily get lost on who is teasing whom. But Mu is the easy target for all of them. Ke and Di are veggies, but after Madhan’s jokes Ke insists on having kangaroo meat specially for us. I can’t believe that in the morning, we feed them and in the evening, we feed on them. Madhan is the meat cook(er/ie). The cooking gets frenetic once Sudar joins in. More teasing and more fun! There is plenty to eat – chapatis, channa, rice, kangaroo meat (a little hard though). I feast on the chapatis. When every one is done, they pull out the surprise of the night – a birthday cake for me to cut. Sa just spreads cake on my face. Having been used to a great bath of eggs, cakes, sauces and what-not in Indore on birthday eve, this is nothing. I wash my face and bask in the glorious hospitality of Madhan and his gang. How I wish the day never ends! So many surprises. It feels great to spend time with a company of like-minded friends. But I have to get to Fiji next morning and thus this blast of a Brisbane birthday gets over. What a dream day it has been! Fully spoilt by friends…

Categories: Friends, Me, Travel

Fiji fresh – 1

24 October 2006 2 comments

18 Oct. My Polynesian Blue flight is at 9.15am. Of all the troubles I have created, getting up early is the worst. Madhan and Sudar had to get ready by 6.45 so we are in the airport on time. We stopped over at Muthu’s place to grab him and breakfast. Brisbane’s roads are being worked on and there are traffic delays on all the main roads. Madhan teases me that he has never seen anyone miss an international flight. Anxiety starts. It is 7.45 when we are in Coronation Drive and there seem to be heaps of cars stuck ahead of us. Slowly, we get out of the Drive and after that, it is a quick drive to the airport which we reached at 8.15. A 1hour gap does not get me the window seat, but everything else is smooth.

2.30pm. I arrive at Nadi (pronounced Nan-dee), the tourist capital of Fiji. As always, there seems to be a longer time at Immigration with my Indian passport. I get a visa for 4 months. But once I pass that, it is a breeze to walk to my free pick-up shuttle. The Afghan bus driver for Nadi Bay Resort (the name is confusing, it is also a backpackers’ place) makes me aware of Fijian time (almost like Indian time – relaxing, semi-punctual). The shops are glowing with Diwali special sales. The buses are open and remind me of India. I arrive at my dorm bed. Very soon, I catch a bus with the friendly receptionist to Nadi town (just 50c). More sarees and salwars on the way. Loud Hindi music announces the arrival of the town. Diwali is a national holiday and so the town is abuzz with shopping. At the town, I plan my next 3 days with a travel agent. I exchange the AUD Madhan had given me. I also get a picture post card to send to Appa. I buy some fruits at the local supermarket. I take a bus back, but this time I get a VIP fare (65c). I meet my Kiwi hosts in another hotel, who are also on a longer holiday in Fiji. It feels nice to meet some one you know in a strange country. I get back to my room, read Jax’s author’s “The Name of the Rose” (borrowed from the Uni of Queensland courtesy Madhan) and sleep early.

19 Oct. By 6.30am, I am ready for my first trip in Fiji. The Awesome Adventures bus takes us to Port Denarau Marina. Port Denarau Island is a charming island home to many fine hotels like Sheraton and is the base for most(?) ship/boat trips out of Nadi. After an easy check-in, I board the boat. Very soon, we are out of Denarau and the majestic Pacific Ocean pleases us. Plenty of idyllic islands await us. I opt to stay at the smallest of them all, the South Sea island, the boat’s first stop. The first glimpse of the island is tempting indeed. Blue waters and white sand beaches make for a perfect island holiday. The island is very small that in 5 minutes ANYone can walk around it. It is a thrill to get onto the water taxi and onto the island. Stay and food at the islands are expensive compared to on the mainland. Tanning time for a lot of ‘white’ girls. I grab a bed for the night and strip to my shorts. The sun is right, but I am tired and rest on a hammock by the sea, a good view of the beach and the babes. There is a batch of Koreans who arrive on a day trip and seem to be everywhere on the island. The first activity is on a semi-submersible to see the coral reefs around the island. After seeing similar things in the Sydney Aquarium and Gold Coast Sea World, the real thing is not very attractive. Back to sleeping in the hammock on getting back!

Lunchtime peps me up. Lots of chicken, fish and salads save my appetite. The currents are strong and the tides look threatening. I am scared of water thrills (jinx) and so I just step by the edges of the ocean. It feels refreshing to dip and have a shame of a swim. Snorkelling and kayaking are free on most of these island resorts and I am determined to have a go at them. The island hosts are very friendly too and spoil you. I have a long chat with a Korean manager, just after the lazy swim. As I look for a shower, an Aussie exchanges pleasantries with me. He compliments(??!!) me on my hairy chest. “Have you a gf?”. “No, not yet”. “Bf? You can have me, if you want”(!!!!!!!!????) I feel a chill in my bones, but I am at my nicest mood and talk some inanities to dismiss him. Should I call it my first proposal? The first bad experience of my travel does not deter me from my snorkelling wish. I do it in the pool to get a feel of it, before I jump in the ocean after a loooong delay. The fins are hard to put on the first time. Of course, I have a life jacket. But luckily, there is a Jamaican who helps me with the snorkelling. Snorkelling is fun. I go out just a little above the coral reefs. The Jamaican and later an Aussie show me live corals and some colourful fish. My dream for the day is done. I have been snorkelling for less than an hour, but I call it quits and look for the fresh water shower. Every water tastes salty here. The last of the boats leaves the island by 5.30 and all the house guests are left for a charming night stay in the island. I chat with a German, who’s here to get his diving licence and watch the beautiful sunset, lying on the beach.

Soon, it is time for supper. Today’s menu is Indian, what a whammy! Chicken curry, rice and appalam are my idea of a great dinner. I heartily feast on it. It is time for a few games. The first of them is a crab race, with fresh crabs picked on the island. It is very funny, with 3 rounds. 2 Canadians and 2 Brits in the last round. Our host makes them sing their National Anthem. The Canadians do it in style, but the Brits only can make do with our Fijian host singing the British anthem very rightly. It is a shame to the Brits, but I guess I can sing our Vande Mataram (caught!) with plenty of practice in school. The next is a quiz on Fiji and our team wins it with the prize being a wine bottle. The sea breeze now gets real cold and I have to get a shirt. I gaze at the dark waters for an hour, pondering over my future. I love to sit at the beach, with nothing to do. It is 10pm, when I get back to the bar where I compliment the Afghan chef on the great Indian food. I join him and a Fijian girl for a game of cards. The game is based on Uno cards, though called Last card. I am lucky not to lose a single game. I get back to bed by 10.45pm after a great day on one of the Pacific islands.

Categories: Travel

Across the seas

11 October 2006 8 comments

I have seen quite a bit of NZ now. But I have saved the best of it, Queenstown, for last. Queenstown is THE adventure capital of the world and the MOST popular tourist destination here. But it can wait. Friends across the Tasman Sea are beckoning me. For a change, let me travel with friends in kangaroo land. The first stop is Queensland (I often confuse it with Queenstown), where Brisbane is and Brisbane is where Madhan stays. From there, I’d hop to the de-facto capital of Oz, Sydney, spending some time with a Bschool senior Bhate. All these college connections work 🙂 A week in the smallest continent will fly indeed.

After that, it is back across the Tasman Sea to an island(s) nation. This (in my opinion) is the farthest country to let Indian passports visit without a visa, unless some of the Carribean countries also do that. Isn’t it a pain to get visas? Go ahead and guess now! One clue, one of the islands in this Polynesian (?) archipelago is the famous Castaway Island. I shall be there for 3d/3n before I have to fly back and STUDY for 50 more days in naturally nice NZ.

Categories: Travel

Sep round-up

9 October 2006 4 comments
When? / Where? The pleasant little stops. I had fun paying for this… I freely enjoyed… I missed doing… and why I felt
Sep 8 Fri Waitomo, Rotorua Mt. Eden (again), Otorohanga Kiwiana town mini-tour Waitomo Abseiling
(very exciting), Waitomo Glow-worm
caves
(spectacular)
  Waitomo Black water rafting (no time), Otorohanga Kiwi house
(no time), Rotorua Tamaki Maori
village
Hangi and concert (no interest), Rotorua Polynesian Spa (no
interest)
Very thrilled, having done two activities in Waitomo.
Leisurely night, smelling sulphur in Rotorua.
Sep 9 Sat Taupo Lady Knox geyser, Taupo Huka Falls lookout (green waters) Rotorua Wai-o-tapu
(colourful thermal activity), Taupo
Bungy
(no words)
Early morning Lake Rotorua walk (amidst hot pools and
smells),
Rotorua Kaitaki Rafting/Sledging
(no time),
Bungee is the scariest adventure activity in my life (full stop)
Sep 10 Sun Taupo   Mountain biking in Taupo (tiring)   Tongariro Crossing (bad weather) – arguably the finest 1day walk, Taupo Tandem Skydive (costly), Taupo Prawn Park (tired) Had kiwifruit. Very lazy day.
Sep 11 Mon Rotorua, Te Puke, Mt. Maunganui   Rotorua Zorb (wickedly
funny)
Mt. Maunganui mount walk (awesome views) White Island
active volcano (no time)
Last night of travel for the trip.
Sep 12 Tue Waihi, Paeroa, Auckland Karangahake Gorge, Paeroa L&P     Thames (tour bus didn’t go) Just a return bus ride to Auckland. End of my Central North Island trip.
Sep 15 Fri Dargaville, Paihia Tane Mahuta (biggest Kauri tree), Hokianga harbour
(breathtaking), Opo(noni) Dolphin video (heart-warming)
Matakohe Kauri Museum (ancient) Haruru Falls (pathetic)   Hokey-pokey ice-cream, barbeque. I can like white girls!
Sep 16 Sat Awanui, Cape Reinga, Paihia Ancient Kauri Kingdom (good for souvenirs) 90 Mile Beach (beach drive), Te Puki sand boarding (thrilling), Cape Reinga lighthouse (northernmost tip) Puketi Forest (Kauri trees again)   Fish ‘n’ chips. Met an Indian Naveen on the tour bus. This day trip – one
of my best days.
Sep 17 Sun, Auckland   Waitangi Treaty grounds (historic NZ’s founding), Hole in the Rock MacAttack fast boat (ok) Paihia Lookout walk, Romantic
Russell Flagstaff walk
Kawakawa toilet (bus didn’t go), Whangarei Falls (above
excuse)
End of the Bay of Islands trip
Sep 22 Fri, Tokoroa, Bulls, Wellington My first sight of snow from the bus after Taupo, Bulls has weird names for its shops (e.g. The police station ConstaBull)     Overlander
train (stopped in Sep 2006, so couldn’t get tickets), almost all of Wellington esp. Te Papa museum
Just a plain bus trip to Wellington. Stayed overnight with Naveen who I met last Sat. Dined with his Mallu cousin.
Sep 23 Sat, Picton, Christchurch Kaikourra coastal town Cook Strait
Interislander
ferry (pleasant),
TranzCoastal train (romantic)
TranzCoastal snow thrills, Picton paragliding Kaikourra whale
watching
(no time)
Met an IIMK professor and his family on exchange in the train. Had pooris and channa (tasty).
Sep 24 Sun Akaroa, Christchurch Banks Peninsula, Birdlings Flat Beach, Little River rail station, Hilltop Tavern Akaroa French
Connection
shuttle, Akaroa Harbour nature cruise (penguin, dolphin spotting),
Willowbank
(wild
kiwi walk
)
Christchurch Garden City walk, Cathedral Square, Botanical
Gardens, Avon river
Avon river punting
(didn’t know – very English), Antarctic
Centre
(no time)
Very cold day in Akaroa. Disappointed not to get student
discount in the cruise. But the Kiwi walk was worth the wildness.
Sep 25 Mon Arthur’s Pass, Greymouth, Nelson Punakaiki Pancake
rocks
(natural wonder),

TranzAlpine
train (a MUST-DO), Greymouth to Nelson drive (first the beautiful coast, then the scenic river)
Buller river views Greymouth gold panning Another great day. Loved the TranzAlpine ride and the pancake rocks, blowholes bonus.
Sep 26 Tue, Auckland   Air NZ flight back home (?) Centre of NZ walk
Abel Tasman National park
(hafta see it later),
End of 1st South Island trip. The island is simply magical.
Categories: NZ, Travel