That astute observation was among my first upon arriving in Fiji. I remember climbing onto the Coral Sun Express and absently thinking, “That’s odd: The bus driver is seated on the wrong side. How quaint.” We had read about Fijians driving on the left side of the road, but I didn’t remember that fact until we pulled out onto the main thoroughfare, presumably about to crash head-first into oncoming traffic because our bus driver wasn’t on the right.

Give me a little leeway: I didn’t get much sleep on the 11-hour flight from LAX. Unfortunately, Pacific Air messed up our reservation and placed us in the center aisle of the 747. We didn’t realize this until just before we boarded the massive 2-story jet, but we reconciled this with the knoweldge that we’d at least have ready access to the toilets! The beverage carts and remaining 448 passengers had ready access to my left foot throughout the trip, and the turbulence was mild but constant.

We arrived in Nadi, Fiji’s capital, at about 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, having quietly passed over the international dateline and time traveling from Tuesday to Thursday with no record of Wednesday. We were pooped and more than ready to find our hotel but had been instructed to stay seated while immigration officials doused us all in “non-toxic” germicide aerosol.  (The pilot thoughtfully instructed us to cover our faces if we happened to be “sensitive to such sprays.”) Once we had marinated for about 10 minutes, they allowed us to disembark. After that, the immigration and customs procedure was pretty quick because 90 percent of the passengers were catching connecting flights and had to stand in a separate line.

The bus ride from Nadi to Sigatoka ($15 FJD a person), a 48-mile trip, took about an hour and a half because the “Express” stops at pretty much every resort between the two cities, dropping off Aussies, Kiwis and Yanks . We bounced around the hilly countryside, taking in the abundant greenery and swaying palms. We caught our first glimpse of the ocean just after passing Sigatoka. It was clear and aqua with white caps breaking on the reef not far from the white beach. Our hotel, the Tubakula Beach Bungalows (about $124 FJD a night) is located just off the Queens Highway on the water.

I am reluctant to write anything negative about Tubakula Beach Bungalows because the staff members there are so friendly, but we both felt the glowing TripAdvisor reviews were a bit generous. Our bungalow, No. 18, had a nice view of the pool, but it was situated quite close to the busy Queens Highway, allowing for a constant hum of traffic (For a more peaceful setting, opt for bungalows No. 1-6, which are almost directly on the beach). Our two-story, A-frame offered enough room for a family of five, with a full kitchen, bedroom with a queen bed on the first floor and a loft with three twin beds, but it was all a bit Spartan with no decorations or adornments. The linens,  furniture and toilet were discolored.

We interrupt this blog post to bring you an email from my mom:

“…Read about where you are staying. Problem with bedbugs. Be careful not to spread your stuff on furniture or floor (suspend from ceiling). I’m watching 20/20 on germs. OMG. Wipe your menu, glass (drink out of a bottle), wipe the table down. Don’t touch the salt and pepper…”

The only bed bugs I detected at Tubakula were a good-sized roach that selected my pillow to die under (We pointed this out to a lodge staff member, and she apologized and promptly changed the sheets) and an army of ants marching across almost every surface. While the bungalows have screens over the windows, they are not fastened tightly, so bugs (and the occasional lizard) may pay you a visit during your stay. Despite these detractors, the bungalows are relatively comfortable and conveniently located to area attractions. We just didn’t feel they were a good value.

We showered, took a short nap and then caught the bus into town for lunch. It was in Sigatoka, where entire shops sold saris and storefronts advertised Diwali sales, that we suddenly realized Fiji is home to a significant Indian population. We later learned that between 1879 and 1916, more than 60,000 Indians were shipped to Fiji as indentured servants eager to escape economic conditions in their own homeland. Free Indians who had completed their five-year girmit often chose to stay in Fiji rather than work another five years to earn passage back to India. Today, Indian cuisine is quite common in Fiji — and delicious. We ate our first curry — vegetable for me and chicken for Him — at the Outback Cafe beside the main town round-about and with a 1.5-liter bottle of water, the bill came to FJ$41.45.

A few streets north of the roundabout, besides the busy Sigatoka bus station, is the Sigatoka Municipal Market (M-F, 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. / Sat., 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.). We wandered around, taking in row after row of bananas, Japanese eggplant, jumbo carrots and long beans. After passing several booths displaying what appeared to be a pile of gnarly sticks, we stopped to ask a merchant what they were and learned we were in the presence of the mighty Kava root, a plant that when brewed like tea is said to have a slight “narcotic effect.” Feeling brave, Him purchased FJ$2 worth of ground Kava and listened intently as the merchant explained how to make the national drink of Fiji. All I managed to understand was we needed to employ a handkerchief as a sort of tea bag.

“Did you get that?” I asked.

“Um, we can ask the people back at the hotel to help us make it,” Him replied.

It wasn’t until the next evening that we’d be brave enough to try brewing our own kava, and the end result was a little anti-climatic: The only effects either of us experienced was a bitter taste and numb tongues.


*1 Fijian dollar = 0.5666 US dollars