Qamea, Fiji: paradise + misadventure

For newlyweds, love lessons come by way of travel.

View from the trail in Qamea: a slice of Fijian paradise.
  • View from the trail in Qamea: a slice of Fijian paradise.

Nadi, Fiji, is a 10-hour direct flight from LAX. It’s ideal for travelers – especially ones who sleep soundly on planes, as I do. The flight leaves at 11:30 p.m. via Fiji Airways and arrives at approximately 6 a.m. Fijian time. While you're sleeping, you skip ahead a day due to crossing the International Dateline. There you can take a picture with each foot in different days.

Was it luck that allowed the seat next to me to remain unused, so I could sleep for eight hours, curled up and comfortable? Or payback for what happened 24 hours prior to this dream travel scenario?

A travel setback

We arrived at Tom Bradley International Terminal the day before, eager and early, ready to begin our honeymoon after what can only be unimaginatively described as a “dream wedding” in San Diego. A pitying smile and whispers from the airline attendant temporarily threatened a gray cloud over our first trip as husband and wife.

To travel to Fiji, your passport must be good through six months after the date you're scheduled to return. Our travel agent made this clear. My husband thought his passport expired in 2016, but it was set to expire in November. 2015.

While my husband frantically paced around, clearly upset with himself, I was motionless and thought my contribution to the situation would be best used by sitting down and letting this news sink in while he took charge of figuring out logistics.

Whenever you're faced with traveling challenges, know that there are others who have stood where you stand. There's a ready-made solution to help you out of your dilemma. We were given information on where he could get an emergency passport renewal in under 24 hours and assured we would be on the next flight out of LAX the following night.

After eating room service in silence in the airport’s Westin hotel, we concluded that even under these circumstances, it could have been far worse. Shit happens. Move on and make the next day better.

Success: arrival in Fiji

Upon arriving in Nadi, we hopped in a cab to shop for souvenirs and then on to Denarau by bus. Look for the yellow bus, a cafe server advised us, it’s a dollar to ride. The bus drivers are lax about shutting the door, which is kind of thrilling as you zip by men chopping up coconuts on the side of the road and drop off passengers in what seems like the middle of nowhere. The public transportation soundtrack is a mix of island music and hip-hop. For tourists like us, a small adventure.

The puddle jumper from Nadi to Taveuni provides the best ocean views I'll probably ever see. The waters are lit from within. The airport runway is lined with tall, tilting palm trees. The terminal resembles someone’s garage, the baggage claim a small window.

View from Qamea Resort and Spa.

View from Qamea Resort and Spa.

On to Qamea

We headed to Qamea by boat at sunset. The island has a spirit that can really only be captured by experiencing it firsthand. The hospitality of Qamea Resort and Spa was a wonderful mix of five-star class with village warmth. Our bure had a hammock on the porch, an outdoor shower enclosed in stone, and seashell “dishes” where we could rinse our sandy feet, just steps away from the sugary beach. At night, we drifted off to sleep to the sounds of ocean waves, a luxury that may have spoiled me forever.

We were called to dinner each night by the playing of drums. I participated in a formal kava ceremony. Kava is a root that is pounded into a pulp and added to water. As you can imagine, it tastes like rainwater flavored with soil. I tentatively drank two kava bowls as the ceremony required, one clap upon receiving, three claps after to show appreciation for the offering. The drink is said to numb the tongue and enough of it is meant to render you silly. I experienced neither of these things, but the ceremony made me giddy with happiness despite the lingering taste of dirt on my tongue.

Fresh fruit was offered at every meal. The coffee, strong and delicious. I learned that lemonade is equivalent to Sprite. And my husband enjoyed the Fiji Gold beer so much, he brought some home. I enjoyed marlin, lobster tail, and kokoda, a dish similar to ceviche made with fresh coconut milk. We were treated to a demonstration of its simple preparation.

Jungle hiking and snorkeling

We hiked the waterfalls of Buoma National Heritage Park, a rainforest so lush and green it’s as if nature is faking it for tourists’ pleasure. It’s filled with tropical flora, pineapple plants, and blue- and iridescent green-shelled crabs skittering across our path. We roped it across rocks submerged in flowing waters with two barefoot guides and no small amount of faith to make it across.

Waterfall hike to Buoma National Heritage Park.

Waterfall hike to Buoma National Heritage Park.

Humidity dripped down my face; the chilling waterfall at our destination made for a welcome relief. I loved every minute. The adventure, the scenery, the pineapple a farmer offered us upon our return, and our Fijian guide telling us how much he loves How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days on the van ride back.

We jungle hiked to a Fijian village, which landed me with what I thought was a broken toe, but turned out to be only three days of swelling and bruising. Here is where I will confess that shoe-wise, I foolishly only packed a pair of flip flops. Halfway through the jungle, I noticed our machete-wielding guide was walking with one shoe, then none, and then inexplicably, two again by the time we reached the village. We were greeted with song and given lemongrass tea. Fortunately, the trip back to the resort was on a boat.

We snorkled an underwater beauty rivaling Ariel’s home filled with schools of exotic fish, and on the last day, saw a blue starfish clinging to coral. I missed the reef shark, lobsters, and brown coral that turns bright white upon touching it that another traveler saw. Next time.

The mistake that started our trip could be viewed as serendipity as we start our married life together. He has a new passport and soon so will I, one bearing his last name. What better way to fill them up than by collecting stamps together? If this is happily ever after, I can't wait for the next adventure.

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