Friday, December 19, 2008

Worth Every Delayed Minute

What is it about the combination of sunshine, sand, saltwater and swimsuits that spells paradise? I may have missed my shuttle to the ferry in the morning (thanks to misdirection from the geniuses working reception at Grand Malenesian Hotel), but the moment my feet touched that warm beach all of my worries were washed away with the surf.

As my South Sea Cruise docked at various islands to drop off and pick up fellow travelers, I noticed that half of the passengers boarded half-dressed and without shoes. I immediately embraced their carefree attitude and showered adoration on the staff members who refused to let me lift a finger to move my luggage.

I was booked for one night on Beachcomber Island, one of the Mamanuca Islands. You can walk the perfectly manicured, white-sand circumference of this mini-mirage in about ten minutes. The only buildings scattered among the jungle wild life in the center are a huge lodge of 114 bunk beds, a few private villas, shared bathrooms, and a covered outdoor dining area and bar on the beach.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by cheers of Bula!, which means "welcome" or "hello" in Fijian. I checked in and left my valuables in the capable and methodically documented hands of the resort staff. They encourage guests to charge all purchases to their room or bunk number so that carrying cash becomes unnecessary.

I was excited to spend the afternoon with Alex and Nick, a waitress and chef who had worked at the Chateau and whose itinerary happened to overlap for one day in paradise. After exchanging stories of our last few weeks of travels, we took a dip in the crystal clear blue water just as the evening rain began to drizzle. This didn’t deter us at all and just cooled the top layer of the water, while everything from our waists down remained the temperature of a lukewarm bath.

On Beachcomber Island, the banging of a drum announces buffet-style meals served in the outdoor cafeteria- basically rows of picnic tables under a covered roof. You will never go hungry with breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner provided daily. There were always a variety of options from spaghetti or grilled fish to chicken curry and fresh fruit.

Apparently, it also has a reputation as the “party island”, which I discovered meant that every kid from the South Pacific who had recently graduated was here to celebrate before heading off to university. The drinking and dancing started early, including a performance of traditional dancers and fire shows.

From there it turned into an MTV Spring Break-vibe that somehow incorporated a theme of cross-dressing. The boys began raiding girl’s suitcases for bikini tops, sarongs and make-up and by the end of the night the smell of one-too-many-Sex-On-the-Beaches wafted out of every overgrown corner of plants. I retreated to my bunk bed, feeling little too old to join in on the Macarena-inspired “Bula dance”, recalling fond memories of my teenage days in Mexico. Let the kids live it up, and I’ll have the beach to myself in the morning while they sleep it off!

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