Fiji, Yasawa Islands

Fiji, 3 most important words – Bula, Vinaka and Fiji Time

Don’t take people’s words for granted…

As soon as we arrived at the Nadi International Airport in Fiji, we were greeted by an awesome (but short) live local-music performance. My guess is that Fiji Airways organizes this for every landing plane, so that when people arrive, just before immigration, they get this very pleasant surprise awaiting for them, which puts everyone in the mood to have a great time and soak in the Fijian culture. Or the Fiji government? I am not too sure.

It was not long before our FOC pre-arranged pick up shows up to take us to our accommodation for the night. The first thing we hear upon arrival at Fiji is therefore what the driver kindly and friendly shares with us, as follows.

There are 3 most important things to know about Fiji…
The first is the word Bula. Bula in Fijian means hello and it is so used that it bypasses it’s “hello” function.
The second is the word Vinaka. This word means thank you and if you struggle to remember it you can quickly think of vinegar (which one often does prior to thank some one 🙂 ).
The third, which is probably the most important is “Fiji time”. And it’s not referred to the Fiji’s time zone…it is in reference that things are run at Fiji’s leisurely time. There are no fixed schedules for most things, the clock slows down in Fiji and you simply need to get along with it.

All well and said, the driver was very friendly and in a whizz we arrive at our destination.
We did not plan too much time in Fiji purely because there is simply too much too see and to move around to see it all, one needs a large wallet and plenty of time at hand, something that we need to manage very, very carefully.

My usual take when traveling is to do minimal planning. Get to the place, see how things are done and take it from there one step at the time and the way the locals do it as much as possible.

Based on my small research, I had managed to find out a relatively cheap option to get to the north part of the Yasawa islands, which is also the preferred (and perhaps only) way to travel there by the locals. I have therefore gathered some info about getting the bus from our hotel to the harbor and other bits and pieces. The result was that we needed to leave the hotel at 6:30am in order to be able to arrive at the boat on time for the 8am departure.

This meant that our breakfast would have been foregone as the hotel only starts service at 6:30am.
Not convinced with the information I obtained, I try again at the reception to gather more specifics, but this time asking to different people than in the afternoon. This time I was told that I did not need to catch a bus! They suggested that the operator of the ferry actually sends a pick up to the hotels in the area to pick up any traveler that need to catch the boat.

Fantastic! I thought. This information did not sound crazy too, because my small researches resulted in a similar conclusion. Deal, I was sold. This new option gave us the opportunity to get breakfast and a non problematic journey to the harbor. Time for beer…

In the morning, as planned, we proceed to check out, inform the reception that we were going to get breakfast and we get reassurance from them to be called once it’s time to go. At 6:45 or thereabouts, we are called by reception that the pick up had arrived.

We quickly finish eating and dash to the entrance. Shockingly! The pick up was gone…
GONE??? I ask in a suddenly not so happy mood. The answer I get was that because there were 4 other travelers, the car was fully and took off.
4 SEATS? Was that all that the boat company provided for pick up for travelers? WTH!
Our original plan was now out of the window as at that time we would have never reached the boat on time (also because all the buses situation was to be figured out, which may take time!).
I get quickly reassured by another worker, which seemed to be in charge of bookings and organized tours.

The first question I am asked was if I had a reservation with the boat operator. The answer was no…in my research I have read that tickets can be bought onboard, hence I did not want to book online, simply to tie ourselves down with something that could have changed if we had found better things to do or a delay or similar.
This was obviously a problem. I should have made some sort of arrangement with the ferry company, hence it is on me, but at the same time what follows seemed to be a well organized scam.

The lady at the reservations quickly help us making a few phone calls to the boat company indicating that we wanted to board etc. we were therefore assured that they were trying to send a different car to pick us up. In the meanwhile, a set of tickets is issued for us at an inflated price, which was probably the commission of this lady, of FJD226 instead of FJD200…

Fine. I thought we were sorted. A new pick up was being arranged and we had tickets in our hands. All was smooth again.

7:10 comes…and guess what? We are told that the boat company was not sending any pick up for us and that we had to find our way to the boat.


We were basically forced to take the taxi that was conveniently waiting for us outside the hotel, which is in obvious collaboration with all these booking reps, etc.
Having managed to negotiate the priced down, we settle for FJD40, which was approximately FJD30 more than what the bus would have costed us. Plus the reservation fees, this was costing FJD26 more than it should have!

I get in the taxi rather annoyed at the situation, but we had no alternative if we wanted to catch our departing boat at 8am. Very soon though I calm down as I had a large fault in all this, not having booked or written to the boat company ahead.

On the way we encounter traffic, which is normally a rare event in Fiji, but obviously, we had to be delayed by it. So the taxi driver has a few phone calls whilst in the car and the pressure was on as he repeatedly said the words “traffic jam” and made it clear that there was a chance to miss the boat.

You may think that it was unfair of me to say that this was all an organized scam. I guess that up to this point, I was also feeling sorry for having been annoyed at the locals for the situation.
But…there is a but.
Once we arrive at the harbor, we pay the taxi driver, make our way to boat, only to find out that the boat was going to leave 1.5 hours later at 9:30!
Come ON! You are on the phone with the operator and you don’t tell me about the boat delay? You still take my money for the ticket reservation when i could have bought the ticket onboard and you set me up with you taxi friend???

Oh well. The words from the day before from the pick up driver were resounding, not the Bula and not the Vinaka, but the Fiji Time.
Everything really works on Fiji Time here…don’t plan, it won’t go your way…make sure you account for Fiji Time as it would change your plans…

Below at the pier, waiting for the Sea Bus.

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