I have to start checking in earlier. I was about two hours early for my flight, and the queue was huge. At first I didn’t think this would be a problem, as the friendly AirPacific agent laughed and joked with me about my height, but then she told me exit rows were not available. So I got an aisle. In row 68.
It was just like my trip from LAX>SYD, actually, as I found myself in the penultimate row — with children behind me. (Well, it was a little different from the Qantas plane: AirPac lacked those lovely bags that encouraged you to drop your rolls of film inside and post for development — unless you were nauseuous, of course, in which the fairly subtle USE THIS BAG FOR AIR SICKNESS line presumably took precedence.)
Despite the seating, the flight was fine. I watched a bad movie and took advantage of the gratis alocohol. At landing, I didn’t bother to rush to deplane. I knew a huge Customs queue was still to come. I was correct, and when the 45-minute wait was finished, I grabbed my bag and walked over to the ATM. There I was stumped. Not only did I have no clue what the exchange rate* was, I couldn’t even discern which account was which. If “current account” was checking, then was “access” savings? Somehow I pushed the right combination and got some Fiji dollars, which I grabbed and breezed through…
…into the waiting arms of about 40 very polite, but very aggressive Fijian women. I deflected all of the “Excuse me, sir? Can I help you?”/”Sir, what’s your hotel?” queries and pushed through to the taxi stand. Then I realized I had truly no clue what I was going to do once I got there.
Before coming, I’d wrestled with two options. There was the laze-around option, which entailed doing nothing and getting a tan. Then there was the “Feejee Experience,” a recently-introduced trek around the mainland that was supposed to be good but full-on. I couldn’t decide, so I’d booked neither. Basically I had a plane ticket and a plan to figure it out when I got there.
So that’s what I did. I ducked back through the women and into a travel agency with a proper store front, where I was able to book some accomodations at various islands. When that was done (and my driver was waiting) I was presented with a shell necklace, in what I assume is the Hawaiian style. I doubt, however, that this is just a show of hospitality. I think it’s also a sign that says “hands off, (competing travel agent) girls. He’s mine.”
* Exchange rates are always tricky. At Sydney airport, Thomas Cook was sold out of Fijian currency, not that I bought any. The spread they were offering was AU$1.4226 buy, AU$1.1338 sell. Quite a spread. (XE says AU$1 = FJ$1.24.)
Then there’s the matter of American dollars. The June 2003 edition Lonely Planet put the exchange rate at US$1 = FJ$2.05. Four months on, I got FJ$1.84 for each US$1 from the ATM. The weak dollar sucks. (Unless you’re Matt, of course.)