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[On day five of being sick and housebound, I've decided to finally write about the biggest travel adventure of my life. Warning - this post is more about me than Fiji, so skip past the introductory paragraphs if you want any useful information.]

I don't normally celebrate my birthdays. I've been known to attend club business functions or eat carryout pizza on those days. Why not? it's just another day. "Hey look, I'm a day older!" Big deal.

But as my 50th approached last January I thought more and more about doing something special. One friend had rented the Mansion on O St and hired a comedian - that was a hell of a party! Did I want to do something like that?

Nah. My idea of a wonderful night out would be a quiet dinner with a few close friends, then home and read a book. But I do that all the time. I wanted to do something different.

Then I thought that maybe the best way to celebrate half a century of living would be to challenge myself. Do something completely different. Do things that I never thought I would like. Do things that I find intimidating. Wake up someplace spectacular, thinking that my life was really in high gear and not slowly going downhill.

I love the mountains, dislike the beach. I love getting around and seeing everything, so resorts have never appealed to me. I've always been mildly terrified by the thought of being cooped up in box for hours at a time with a few hundred strangers, so most of my travel has been in the US and Canada. So I came to a decision, and texted my husband.

me: i know what i want to do for my bday

Mr. P: what?

me: go to Fiji

Mr. P: uhhhh....

me: no, really

Mr. P: and how are we going to pay for that?

me: my racing budget. i'll do only one race next year to keep my license. frees up a lot of money.

Mr. P: if you're sure that's what you want, okay

And so I planned a week at a private resort on the other side of the world.

Fiji is a nation comprised of two large-ish islands and about 300 smaller islands. There's pretty much a resort for every budget and activity, some of them on private islands, some sharing islands, some on the "mainlands". My first choice was the Jean-Michel Cousteau resort, but it was booked that week. So I booked us at the Royal Davui, an adults-only 8-acre island with 16 private villas, an eco-conscious design philosophy a la Post Ranch Inn, and a laid-back but not casual vibe.

Getting to a place like this is an adventure in itself, at least for someone like me. We flew economy to Los Angeles, then first class nonstop to Nadi. It pays to investigate: I lucked into a relatively inexpensive fare. When I considered alternate arrival/departure dates, that fare doubled, so I stayed with the original plan. My experience with first class is not extensive, so take it with a grain of salt, but I thought the Fiji Airways experience was lovely. We arrived in Nadi at midnight, which meant a stay in an inexpensive hotel before the resort plane leg of the trip. Unfortunately I didn't see the sign in the bathroom about the source of the tap water being perhaps less than ideal until after drinking some. Uh-oh. Fiji is considered well-developed and clean, but if you have a tender tummy don't drink the tap water. More on that later.

At 9 the next morning we went to the Royal Davui counter in the domestic terminal to "meet our pilot", as the literature said. Sure enough, our pilot - a tall, slender Aussie wearing a Henley top, shorts, and flip-flops - checked us in, then walked us through security and out onto the airfield to get in the Cessna Stationair for the flight across the island. Mr. P had never flown general aviation and was quite nervous, but I have, and so enjoyed the hell out of it. Be warned, though, that a ride like this is going to be noisy and bumpy. The pilot told us that a lot of people, upon seeing the plane, request the three hour car ride instead. Either way, the cost of the transfer is rolled into the price of your stay. Anyway, the pilot asked if I wanted to sit up front with him (HELL YES!), helped us in, and kicked off his flip flops before taking off. Half an hour later we landed on a bumpy airstrip in the middle of a pasture. Yes, there were cows next to the airstrip.

At this point I was already having the time of my life.

A quick drive over to a dock, then we went on a motorboat for the final leg of the trip, a half-hour ride across the lagoon to the resort.

Royal Davui is lovely. The buildings are sited with care, respecting the environment as well as tourists' desires for luxury and privacy. We stayed in one of the lowest-price units and had no regrets at all; indeed, I think it had about the best location on the island, about 30 feet above a beach shared with only two other well-hidden villas.

The staff there can arrange for a number of activities. We went snorkeling for the first time (awesome, but nausea-inducing), kayaking for the first time (even more awesome, I raced Mr. P around the island), a village visit and hike to a waterfall (as an avid hiker, I would describe this as more of a stroll), and a private picnic breakfast on a tidal sandspit: a twenty minute ride in a motorboat, they set up a blanket, umbrella, and chairs, leave you with towels and a picnic basket with your lunch, then speed away, leaving you alone on a 100-yard long beach. Just a beach (the whole thing is underwater at high tide). No one but you and a bunch of mildly annoyed seabirds, alone on the sand in the middle of a lagoon, a few islands visible on the horizon.

This was the culmination of a lifelong fantasy. The only downside was that they came back to pick us up three hours later. I would've been fine staying there all day, but we had to be off before the tide came in and drowned the sand.

The other activity we did was a day-long excursion to Suva, Fiji's capital city. This could have been a wonderful experience, but our very pleasant driver insisted on taking us to places where "my friend will give you good price on souvenirs". Oy. It was a Saturday, market day before the new school term, and therefore teeming with people. I wanted nothing more than to get lost in the markets for a few hours, sampling food and chatting with locals. Instead, we walked through one market, went to a department store, ate lunch at a very nice Indian restaurant, and went to the Fiji Museum, which was worth doing for a look at history, culture, and artifacts.

Tipping is not customary in Fiji (we were advised not to even try), but our driver was happy to dine with us and tell us about his family and life in Fiji. We paid for his lunch.

And speaking of lunch, I should write a little about the food (not that we got to experience much outside the resort). There isn't much to Fijian cuisine. Coconut. There's coconut in everything. Coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut meat. It's the universal flavor. There's lots of fish, not as much meat, and surprisingly little produce. I had hopes of gorging on luscious tropical fruits, but they just weren't around.

A large portion of the population is descended from Indian indentured servants imported by the British in the colonial era; as a result, Indian food (restaurants, street snacks, groceries) is everywhere. Fiji's major economy is tourism, largely from Australia, New Zealand, China, and Japan, so foods from those countries are well-represented.

The food at Royal Davui was supposed to be some of the best in the nation, but it was nothing special. There was nothing wrong with it, but I got bored by about day three. But then, I eat a wide variety of foods most of the time, and lots of produce, so meals consisting of coconut/fish/rice or coconut/chicken/rice or coconut/beef/rice got old.

Remember what I wrote about the tap water? By day five, the day we went to Suva, my tummy was not happy. I don't know if it was the water, or the "reef fish" I'd eaten at the resort, or what, but I realized that sampling street foods was not a good idea. I spent most of day six in bed (I needn't elaborate).

On day seven, with a lot of time to kill between leaving the resort and catching the plane in Nadi, we opted for the three hour drive along the coast, stopping to explore vistas and shops, but not food stands (my symptoms were under control and I wanted a trouble-free flight). Roadside food is a big thing there; our driver explained that it was common for working-class people to stop and pick up dinner on the way home. Little boys dangled strings of fish on the highway shoulders. Many rural people, if not working in the tourist industry, are fishers and farmers; most villages had a stand or two selling their produce and fish. There were lots of little shacks selling cooked foods: fish, barbecue (meat type unknown), halal barbecue, and boiled nuts. But because of my gut, we didn't stop at any of these. Talk about torment. But that is truly a first world complaint, so forget it.

A few other thoughts. Fijians are modest. If you're going to visit a village or spend time in a city, read about how to dress and comport yourself. Mr. P and I are both shy, reserved, and introverted, but I'm the more forward one, so I did most of the talking to our driver. It didn't take long to realize that he was made quite uncomfortable by the woman being the one seemingly in charge. I actually started texting info to Mr. P so he could answer the driver's questions and appear to be the one in charge. This made a noticeable difference. The other thing that loosened him up (our driver, that is) was when I saw rugby matches advertized on a few billboards and asked if he was a rugby fan. Oh my, yes. Rugby is huge there. You want to make friends with Fijians, talk about sports.

Did I set myself up for disappointment by doing all the things I thought I didn't like? Hell, no. I did confirm that resorts are just not my thing, but I'm glad I tried it. I now own a kayak. I'm no longer afraid of long flights (though first class makes a huge difference).

Jet-lagged, I awoke at 4:00 am on my 50th birthday. I got my camera and tripod, walked down to our beach, and spent an hour photographing the sunrise.  Sunrise on Fiji, on the other side of the world.  Birthdays don't get much better then that.

I can't wait for all the travel awaiting me in the (new) prime of my life.

edited to add: pics

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