A travel series about my recent trip to Fiji and New Zealand.
Chapter 3 : Fiji Time
“Hey. Come here. Come here,” the caretaker/concierge/snorkel-dude/boat-man/money-collector/ukulele-player guy at Mana Island beckoned me over. He had a suspicious look about his face. His shifty eyes were scanning the horizon. I was fairly certain he was trying to sell me some drugs.
“Is this about drugs?” I asked.
“Ah no, no. But I do know someone who can hook you up with weed,” he said.
“Nah. It’s legal where I’m from,” I said. Hallelujah California. He didn’t believe me so he decided to move on.
“Look, there is a boat tomorrow morning that can take you and your friends to Cloud Nine.”
“What’s Cloud Nine?”
“Oh you don’t know about Cloud Nine?”
“No, that’s why I’m asking.”
“Man, Cloud Nine is amazing. It’s a floating restaurant in the Ocean. Great party place,” he winked.
“Okay, cool. We’re in,” I said.
“Great! Don’t tell anyone else. I will just take you and your 4 friends.”
I looked at the British students sunbathing on the beach and wondered, is this the brown man’s payback for British Imperialism?
We were supposed to leave at 10am. I was up bright and early, had an interesting cultural exchange with the lady preparing breakfast, and waited on the beach for our boat.
“Uhm, could I just get the toast please?” I asked her.
“This is vegetarian,” she responded with a puzzled expression on her face.
“Uhm yes, but I don’t eat eggs,” I said.
“What the fuck!” she exclaimed.
10am became 11am. And 11am became noon. There was no sign of our boatman.
“Is that our boat?” I asked Mr. Shifty-Eyes, pointing at a rickety little boat bobbing next to the beach.
“No, there is another one,” he said.
“We’ve been waiting for two hours man,” my friend said.
“No worry, boys. The boat is coming,” he made a proclamation and disappeared.
In a typical scenario, we would be raging right now. After all, we had paid 60 Fijian dollars each. We wanted our money’s worth of partying or whatever it was at this mysterious floating restaurant. But it was impossible to be angry there. How could you be when your view looked like this :
After waiting for more than 2 hours, another big Fijian dude walked towards us carrying a Kerosene can on each hand.
“Let’s go boys,” he said and headed towards the boat that was bobbing near the beach.
“Wait, I thought we were waiting for a different boat,” I said.
“No, this is the boat,” he said.
“Then what took you so long? You said we’d leave at 10 and it’s noon right now”
“10am is 12pm in Fiji Time, my friend,” he chuckled.
To call it a boat would be an exaggeration. It was basically a long piece of wood supported by a hull barely strong enough to keep us afloat and dry. The waves weren’t choppy, and I don’t think the boat was actually going super fast. But the journey reminded me of a DTC bus hurtling through the pothole-filled alleyways of Delhi. My butt bounced so much that I bet it turned as red as IR Baboon’s.
We scooted along for more than half an hour. It was crazy to think that we were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a rickety boat with no food or water, going to this floating restaurant called “Cloud Nine” which was nowhere to be seen. Images from Life of Pi came to my head. I held on to my life-jacket more tightly. It was not frightening at all.
Just then we saw a silhouette in the distance. It looked like a wooden structure, like a multi-level floating dock anchored in the middle of the Ocean. It reminded me of Waterworld from the Universal Studios Theme Park.
As we moved closer, we could see boats docked near the structure, people in snorkel gear circling around like sharks waiting for a kill, sunbathers sipping cocktails, and a faint hum of Trance music playing in the background.
“Welcome to Cloud Nine,” said our boatman, with a mischievous smile on his face.
Once we were close enough to Cloud Nine, we leaped on board. Yes, we quite literally had to leap across a chasm of water, grab on to a ladder and climb up.
“I’ll come back for you in 2 hours,” the boatman said.
“Wait, what do you mean? You said we could stay here the whole day!” we exclaimed in unison.
“No, no. There is a private event in 2 hours. We all have to leave,” he said.
We were not happy.
To add to that, a Cloud Nine staff person walked towards us with a credit card machine and said, “30 dollars each.”
“What? We already paid for it!”
“You paid for your transportation but not the entry fee for the restaurant,” he said.
Ah fuck it!
The feeling of being frustrated was short-lived. Very short-lived. I mean how could you feel frustrated when you were in a hot and happening beach club, especially when the beach club was not really a beach club but was in the middle of the Ocean! The atmosphere was both relaxed and electric at the same time. The weather was perfect — it was warm, but never too hot. The water was cool, but never too cold.
Most people there were very, very attractive — I felt like I was not meeting Cloud Nine’s physical attractiveness criteria. Why are there so many attractive people here? Is it because only attractive people like to come to these places? Or is it because normal people come to these places so often that they automatically evolve into attractive beings?
Cloud Nine had two decks — the lower deck and the upper deck. The lower deck housed cocktail bar, a DJ station, and a kitchen that jutted out on one side. The upper deck invited people to jump off the railing and plunge into the water. The drinks were overpriced (obviously)— it was the most expensive menu I saw in Fiji. But it was still cheaper than a regular cocktail bar in San Francisco. The thing that impressed me the most was that the kitchen was a real kitchen. They were making fire-baked pizzas right there!
Our two hours there were well-spent — eat, drink, snorkel, dry up, dance, jump off the boat, dry up, dance, snorkel, dry up, eat, drink, snorkel, and so on.
“Wait, isn’t that our boat guy?” my friend asked pointing to the guy making pizzas.
He was right. Our boat guy turned out to be the head chef at this artisan pizza shop. Who did he really work for? Did he work for Mana Lagoon Backpackers? Did he work for Cloud Nine? Did he work for both? It seemed like everyone in the islands knew each other and did each others’ jobs. Great for community, but disastrous for accountability.
Our two hours were up. Our boatman stopped making pizzas and asked us to finish our food and get back on the boat. We said our goodbyes to this party paradise and prepared to butt-bounce our way back to Mana Island.
“By the way, you wanted us to leave at 3pm. It’s 3pm right now, and that means 5pm in Fiji Time, right?” we asked the boatman.
“No, 3pm is 3pm in Fiji Time,” he said.