Friday, January 26, 2007

Ridulous Things

When you travel, staying in strange places, and doing different things, a lot of ridiculous things happen from time to time. So, lest we forget, here are some of the more unusual things that have happened so far.

Sally and I were attacked in our bed by a strange object.

It was our last night in Fiji. We decided to stay at a small beach resort near the airport. It had been a nice evening, but we were perhaps a little anxious since we were leaving, and had to get up for an early morning flight. Sally got into bed, and just as I was getting in, she turned out the light above the bed. And then she screamed. “There’s something in the bed!” I immediately struck it with the TV remote control that I just happened to have in my hand. But as I fell back, I too felt something hurt me. I turned over, and hit it again.

It was a burning hot light bulb that had fallen out of its socket above the bed. I still have a scar on my back to remind me of this near life threatening episode.

How do you pronounce it?

Throughout New Zealand, most of the place names are old Maori words. Rarely, do I get the pronunciation correct. So, as we were leaving Tauranga, I asked the hotel clerk how to pronounce Taupo, the next place we were planning to visit. “It’s easy” he said. “Remember toe, and paw, a dog’s paw.” So I did.

But people kept giving me strange looks when I asked directions to Toe-Paw. When we arrived I found out why. It’s not Toe-Paw….it’s Taw-Poe! I guess the clerk must have been dyslexic.

Cabbages and Golf Clubs

At the last minute we decided not to bring our clubs. But we were surprised to discover that club rentals were the same cost as green fees at some places. I briefly thought about buying clubs, but they were much more expensive than in Canada. So imagine our reaction as we were leaving Woolworths, a grocery store chain in NZ, and Sally spots brand new golf clubs in a dusty bag and pull cart, propped up against the window by the exit.

Does Woolworths sell golf clubs? We decide to go back and check with a shop assistant. “Well yes and no. We did on a special promotion, but these are the only ones left,” she says. “How much are they”, Sally asks. The shop assistant isn’t sure, but thinks they might be around $299. So we set off to find someone who might know. Eventually we find the store manager, and two of his assistants walking around. “How much are the golf clubs in the window” we ask. “It’s a terrible game” replies one of the assistant managers. “I should know; I’m a Scot!”

We explain that we are Canadians, and need some cheap clubs. Well he says, they are $200 but he’d like to sell them, so make an offer. “I suggest $100, or $125. “They’re yours”, he says, and instructs the check-out girl accordingly. So, after posing for photographs, we walk out. When we get to the parking lot, Sally asks. “Did you check to see if they are right-handed?” “It doesn’t matter, I replied. If they’re not, I’ll change my swing.”

We did check, and they were right handed. Furthermore, there was even a sand wedge! To top it all off, our hotel in Wellington has a corporate membership with Shandon Golf Club, and as a guest, they can offer me and three colleagues the opportunity for a round of golf. Green fees are complimentary. I’m off this afternoon. Let’s see if the club heads fall off.

Napier-Deco City

When we were in Fiji, we met a couple from New Zealand who, upon hearing I was an architect, said we had to go to Napier. I’m so glad we did.

On February 3, 1931, the town of Napier was virtually destroyed by an earthquake. The city fathers decided to rebuild. In order to make it happen quickly, rather than allow the City Council to make decisions, they appointed two people to oversee the reconstruction, and within three years much of the downtown was rebuilt…in the art deco style. It is all quite impressive. But what is so interesting is that I had never heard of Napier before being told about it in Fiji.

These photos will hopefully give you some idea of what the place is like. Unfortunately, while the city is well aware of what it has going for it, and is marketing its ‘Deco City’ label, there doesn’t seem to be any real effort to control the retail signage. As a result, the streetscape is not as impressive as it might otherwise be.

After leaving Napier for Wellington, we visited Hastings. The Lonely Planet guidebook described Hastings as ‘a utilitarian agricultural town with tractors on the streets and little of the chutzpah Napier manifests so readily.’ Well, I don’t know what happened to the LP authors in Hastings, but I couldn’t disagree more. As you can hopefully see from the photos, the downtown streets are lined with attractive Art Deco and Spanish Mission style buildings, and tied together with continuous canopies, with hanging baskets and planters. A very clever central fountain is bisected by the railway line, and public art can be found, including this group of sheep who wandered in from the nearby hills.

There are also wonderful street works, with very elaborate paving under the parking and at crosswalks. It reminded me of what we are trying to do at UniverCity!

what things cost

Avocados and Prawns

As we drove to Lake Taupo, we drove through fields of avocados. They were everywhere, and at roadside stands they were very inexpensive. In some places 4 for a dollar and in others even less. Eventually, we had to stop, and Sally bought a bag of them for $2, but they were not quite ripe. Not to worry, we’ll get some more at the supermarket. But at Woolworths, they were over $2 each! I decided ours were ripe enough.

We then drove by the only prawn farm in New Zealand. The water is kept warm by the nearby thermal springs power generator. It offers tours, a place to eat and buy fresh prawns. We thought, wouldn’t it be nice to take the tour, and then buy some cheap prawns to go with our cheap avocados. The place looked quite impressive as we drove through the grounds. But once inside, we were shocked to discover the prawns were $50 a kilo!!! It didn’t make sense. There were acres of them right outside. I knew we could do much better at the supermarket, even if they would not be fresh or local. Sure enough, the supermarket had prawns on sale for $8.99 a kilo. And they had traveled all the way from Thailand. It just doesn’t make sense

New Zeal
and wine

One of our favourite white wines in Vancouver is New Zealand’s Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc. We were introduced to it by Art Phillips, who thought it was one of the best Sauvignon Blancs you could buy for under $20. We agreed.

When we decided to come to New Zealand, we were excited at the prospect of enjoying this wine, and similar wines, at what we assumed would be a fraction of the price. We were wrong. Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc is over $20 here. The merlot is even more. Even with the conversion, these wines cost more here than they do in Canada. When we mentioned it to a waitress, she said “Yes, I know. Our wines are cheaper in Australia, than in New Zealand”.

Telephone calls and internet!

When we left Canada, we had our cell phones unlocked, so we could use them as we traveled around. We also planned to buy call cards. But we assumed we would more likely communicate by internet.

While some caf├ęs in Auckland offered inexpensive internet service, at around $4 an hour, it got to be quite expensive in some places. Starbucks charged a minimum $9 for an hour card. At one hotel, we had to pay $14 for a half hour or 93c a minute if we used the laptop in our room. But what is amazing is how inexpensive telephone calls are. When we made our first long distance call to Canada on a $20 call card, we learned that we still had $19.65 left. It turns out it costs 7 cents a minute to call Canada! Even on the cell phone, it’s only 49 cents a minute, the same cost as a local call. It never dawned on me that it would be cheaper to call people than email them! And we haven’t even investigated VOIP.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

from the Bay of Islands to the Bay of Plenty

This is just like being on holiday!
I’m reluctant to write about our beach and golf activities given the recent weather reports from Vancouver. But I will nonetheless.

Our first outing in New Zealand was to the Bay of Islands, about 3 and ½ hours north of Auckland. It’s well known for its beaches, boating and fishing. There are two main communities, Paihia and Russell. We decided to stay in sleepy little Russell, which is considered ‘the second town’, since it was described in one of our many guidebooks as being far more interesting, and pleasant, than Paihia. I also wanted to try out the Duke of Marlborough, an historic waterfront Hotel and the first establishment in New Zealand to gain a pub license. (I’m still smarting over not attracting a pub to UniverCity!)
As they say, getting there is half the fun. When we rented a car in Auckland, the agent warned us that traveling off-road could nullify our insurance. “Don’t worry” I told him. “I had a 4-wheel drive Lexus and rarely took it off-road”. Five hours later, we were sliding around a winding gravel road, since I decided to take a short-cut! When we arrived at the hotel, and told the girl at reception about the route we had taken, she asked whether we saw many cars abandoned along the road. “No, not many” I responded. “Oh good she said,” adding that if your car breaks down in the area, it’s totally stripped down within hours!
We had a wonderful evening in the hotel’s main dining room. We met up with Mike and Alana, a worldly Auckland couple with three delightful girls who were staying in Paihia, a short ferry ride away. We talked about our respective travels, house exchanges, and what to do in the Bay of Islands. Within a few minutes, we could tell that nine year old Tegan was the most responsible member of the family. She was delightful. But after a while, she star
ted to nag her father. “Shouldn’t we be going to the ferry, daddy?”
“It’s OK dear, we’ll wait until I can see it approaching”, he replied, pouring another beer. By 10:30 she was becoming very agitated, despite her father’s assurances that it would arrive any moment. At which point the waiter finally spoke up. “Well actually sir, the last ferry leaves Paihia at 10:30. The last Russell ferry departed at 10”. We offered to put them all up in our room, but Alana responded that they were paying $475 a night for their hotel, and would somehow find a water taxi to get back. After a few more glasses of wine, we all set off for our respective homes away from home.

The next day, we followed their advice and arranged for a boat outing in the area. We took the Supercruise aboard a high speed catamaran. You follow about half of what was once called the “Cream Trip” route, but nowadays, instead of picking up cream from farms, the boat delivers mail and supplies to vacation homes. As we dropped off parcels at each property, I couldn’t help but think that in America, these would be fake packages, orchestrated to enhance the whole experience. But these really were groceries and cases of Sauvignon Blanc.
A highlight of the outing was being submerged by the Nautilus, a tourist submarine. While we didn’t see any of the local sharks, we did see a lot of snapper. Sally immediately decided that was what she wanted for dinner. I decided that we should go fishi
ng the next day, although I was concerned what we would do with our catch.

But, the next day, instead of going fishing, or waiting for the Drifters Concert, we decided to set off to see Te Matua Ngahere (The father of the forest), the oldest tree in New Zealand. It’s a kauri, found in the Waipoua Kauri Forest, on the west coast of the North Island. With a trunk over 5m in diameter, it is estimated to be over 2000 years of age. The guidebook said it had to be seen to be believed. I must confess that compared to some of the redwoods I’ve seen on the California Coast, this tree didn’t seem as impressive; especially since many of the upper branches had fallen off, and it was becoming quite misshapen. Again, had this been America, I’m sure there would have been an extensive network of guide wires to keep it all together. But, as one of the viewing New Zealanders said as I made the comment, “But it wouldn’t be the same, would it?”
From the Bay of Islands, we traveled to the Bay of Plenty, on the east coast, south of Auckland. It was named by explorer James Cook for the abundant supply of food he found here. But today, it is better known for its plentiful supply of beaches, hotels and vacation homes. We stayed in Tauranga, one of New Zealand’s fastest-growing cities. With its row of waterfront bars and restaurants, it is truly a party town. But we preferred the small community surrounding the formerly volcanic Mt. Maunganui, where we played a very hot round of golf, followed by a dip in the hot springs.
Today we’re off to Lake Taupo, missing the well known tourist spot of Rotorua, which we will catch on the drive back. At least that’s the plan; although, to be honest, we really don’t have a plan. We have no idea how long it will take to get to our southerly destinations, or to drive back. And it doesn’t matter. What
we do know is that this is a great country to visit.

The food is excellent. The golf is very affordable. There are a lot of wineries to visit, fish to catch and places to visit. I am also looking forward to seeing Wellington and Christchurch, which will hopefully inspire my next story for the Sun. I am sending off my Auckland story today, which will hopefully appear on January 27th. So until our next posting, e noho ra (goodbye to person staying).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Auckland, the city of sails

We are just finishing five days in Auckland.
It's been most interesting. In some respects, the city is very similar to Vancouver. It's clean, cosmopolitan, with many wonderful views over the water. But there are some differences. For one thing, at many intersections pedestrians do not cross the road the same way as in Vancouver. No Neil, they're not on their hands and knees. But they cross in all directions at once. And when I say all directions I mean all directions; from east to west, north to south, and even on the diagonal. It's like a street party every minute or so.

The housing scene here is also quite interesting, with many similarities, but also differences. New Zealanders are as obsessed
with their real estate as Vancouverites. However, mortgage rates start at 8%. There's no capital gain on investment property, and condominiums are starting to gain popularity in the city. More about this in the January 27th edition of the Vancouver Sun.

We encountered an interesting problem on arrival. Our HSBC ATM cards didn't work in the airport's ATM machines. This complicated our trip into the city, particularly since the coins which Sally's sister had given us, are no longer legal tender! But we discovered that that line about HSBC being the world's local bank is quite true. After walking into the head office, and flashing our Premier cards, we found we had new friends at HSBC Auckland. Hopefully they will continue to give us money whenever we need it.

A few highlights...the food. We expected good wines in New Zealand, but we have been very imp
ressed with all our meals. At first, the prices seem high, but they include GST and service. There's no tipping in restaurants. The staff are paid a reasonable wage, and are therefore not dependent on tips as they are in Canada. It's the same in Australia. What we also like is having the GST included in all the prices. There are no ugly surprises, even in hotels. Why doesn't the Canadian government have the sense to include the GST in all our pricing. I'm sure it would help tourism, as well as placate the rest of us, who hate being reminded on a daily basis how much we are handing over to the government. So what are we eating? Lamb, and mussels of course. Some wonderful fish. And also a very interesting take on the caesar salad, and ostrich.

One of the things we have enjoyed is the ferry trip to the north shore. We have been over a couple of times, to Devonport, a lovely seaside village, with a great pub, and restaurants. We have found that late at night you also make very interesting friends on this ferry. Last night it was an American touring around on a small scooter. He was here as an official for the New Zealand tennis tournament, and we were astounded to discover he didn't know Evelyn O'connor's son Chris, who is an official at the Australian Open. Our new friend was astounded to discover that ferry officials wouldn't allow him to take his bike on the ferry. This was of particular concern since he had already been told he couldn't ride it over the bridge. So wherever you are, our new friend we hope you made it. Especially since as evidenced by your photo, you really weren't dressed for a long night on the road!

Today, we had a wonderful day at the museum. We particularly enjoyed experiencing what it would be like to live throu
gh a volcano, and learning about the Maori people and comparing their lives with the Canadian Natives. There seems to be a greater level of respect and collaboration between New Zealanders and their original settlers. But I don't know why, because on the advice of the Lonely Planet Travel Guide, we took in the native song and dance show at the museum. It was terrible. Based on this performance, the Maoris can't sing. And they do have this unfortunate habit of sticking their tongues out before going into battle, or assaulting white women from BC.

So tomorrow we are off to the Bay of Islands, which we are told is a wonderful seaside resort area. It will be nice to get away from the city, and play some golf. (I'm only saying this since I understand there may be snow on the ground in Vancouver!) But we will be back to Auckland in early February, since there's much more to see. Hell, we haven't yet tried bungee jumping from the top of the tower.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Something to worry about...

It's Sunday morning.

I write from the living room of our suite in the Duxton Hotel, overlooking Myer's Park in downtown Auckland. Booking this hotel was indicative of the behavior of someone who no longer has to worry about things at the office! Instead, I now pour all of my 'worry energy' into such minor things as when to book a hotel, which booking

website to use, and whether to pay the premium for an 'ocean' rather than 'bush' view!

We started looking at Auckland hotels when we first arrived in Fiji. But there were too many choices, and so I put off making a decision. I assumed I would meet someone on the cruise from Auckland who could advise me. However, when I noticed all the men drinking beer for breakfast I realized they were Aussies, not New Zealanders. But not to worry, if necessary, I could always book something from the airport lounge, before catching our flight.

Well, of course it never occurred to me that they would not have wireless or cable internet service in the Air Pacific business lounge. But they didn't. However, I was picking up a signal from Rosies Travel Club lounge next door.

Desperate to have a hotel reservation before I left, I went over to Rosies. There I saw two empty terminals, and I begged the attendant to let me use one for a moment.

“”Not allowed” she said. “Against company policy.”

"Let’s go" said Sally. But I was determined to get a last minute reservation before boarding the plane.

Now, I must confess my behavior was somewhat influenced by Jim Rogers, the founder of Quantum Funds, and the author of the first book I am reading on this trip, (other than hundreds of travel guides). Entitled 'Investment Biker’, it’s an account of his 22 month 52 country motorcycle trip around the world.

(I shouldn't really be reading this book, because his adventures make ours seem quite mundane in comparison. But throughout his travels, he demonstrates a level of determination which I find most admirable. It's a good read, especially if you want to know what's happening in the middle of Siberia or Zaire. Or how to decide which foreign country is a good investment).

My new friend Jimmy would not have left Rosie’s lounge without making a reservation. So, eventually they let me use their computer, and I quickly booked a hotel on 'wotif', our favourite last minute hotel site. Sally thought it looked the best. And she was right. With over 400 square feet and in-suite washer and dryer, it’s a wonderful base for 5 days in the city.

Now as for Auckland, Sally and I are not entirely in accord. While I am disappointed with much of the architecture, I like the city. Sally needs to see more before making a pronouncement. What we do both enjoy are the lamb, and the green lip mussels.

More about Auckland in our next post. Now we are off to buy an apartment!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Suva, the nation's capital

I didn’t really know what to expect.Suva is not one of the world’s most photographed cities. Indeed, I had only seen one shot in a tourist brochure, before we arrived. What we found was a lively mixture of old world markets and crowded shops, combined with a few new mid-rise office buildings, with aluminum cladding that could have been in Hong Kong or Vancouver.

Our taxi driver pointed out the KFC outlet and McDonalds, assuming that they would be important to us. What was of interest was the relatively new 6 cinema complex which was showing Borat and other films now playing on Granville Street.

We visited the local market where we were intrigued to find fruits and vegetables that we had never before seen in our life. Sally wanted a lime for her early morning beverage. (No Jim, it’s not a gin and tonic!) They were ten for a dollar. But she only wanted one. It took a lot of effort to finally convince a merchant to sell us one for 20 cents!

Sandra, the daughter of one of Sally’s friends, picked us up at our hotel, and took us to the Royal Suva Yacht Club, for a harbour tour in their boat before dinner. It was a beautiful evening, and while the city’s skyline does not rival Vancouver or Sydney, it was very beautiful to see the sun setting on the horizon. The layers of distant islands and mountains reminded us of a Tony Onley painting.

Masi, her architect husband and I talked about bamboo. He’s involved with Habitat for Humanity, and most interested in building affordable housing. He recently tried to get into China to take a month long course on cultivating bamboo, because he sees it as a very affordable flooring product. Unfortunately, as a Fijian he couldn’t get the necessary papers to attend the course. I told him how bamboo flooring is becoming popular in Vancouver, as a stylish ‘sustainable’ product. I also mentioned that Habitat for Humanity has been doing a project in Burnaby, but it is costing more than the $17,000 a house that is his current cost in Fiji.

Now, as for the coup, for me it’s a bit like global warming. Let me explain. Just when I think I understand what’s happening with global warming, I hear another opinion that forces me to reconsider my views. It’s the same with the coup. From everything I had been reading in the paper, I was beginning to think the coup was perhaps a good thing. It was replacing corrupt political leaders with representatives of both political parties, who were genuinely concerned with helping the poor. The military had even appointed new Ministers who knew something about their portfolios. (I mean, how often does that happen in Canada.) But after talking to Sandra, I realized that I was all wrong.

Instead, what she told me is that this is a cruel military regime, with little concern for human rights, which has ousted a democratically elected government. Furthermore, this is one in a series of racially motivated events that are not likely to stop in the near future. (Sally doesn’t want me to say much more, in case someone from the government reads our blog!)

It’s sad, because Fiji is such a beautiful country, with otherwise very lovely people. To all our friends and acquaintances, notwithstanding the political climate, you really should consider coming here for a visit. The beaches are as nice as those of the Caribbean. The snorkeling is excellent. The scenery, both along the coast, and in the jungle, is magnificent. You can drink the tap water. While it is not inexpensive, it is better value than Hawaii or Florida. And perhaps most importantly, you can legally buy powdered kava to make your own hallucinogenic beverages!

You must visit the smaller islands...

When I told people in Vancouver that our first stop was Fiji, the response was almost unanimous. “Are you visiting the islands?” When I said that I wasn’t sure, the response was equally unanimous. “You must visit the smaller islands. And so we did. On Saturday afternoon, we boarded a small cruise ship out of Denarau Port for a 4 day 3 night tour of the Mamanucas and south Yasawa Islands. The cruise line was recommended by the hotel, and a charming retired German banker who I met in the pool. He said it was very good, and I decided that if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for us. While it wasn’t as luxurious as some of the other cruise lines we have been on, it turned out to be a very enjoyable experience.

We met very interesting people, primarily from Australia, and did some things we don’t normally do in Vancouver. These included snorkeling, listening to school children singing nursery rhymes from the 50’s, and drinking the infamous kava.

The cruise included a tour of a number of native
villages. I expected charming thatched huts, somewhat sanitized by the continual arrival of cruise ship passengers. While there were a few such buildings, the majority were very run down wood structures, without running water and electricity.

However, one village did have solar panels and a satellite dish for emergency telephone service.
When we arrived at one of the islands, the children were assembled outsid
e their school to perform for the visitors. They did so in return for donations which they could use to buy supplies for their school. While I found it a bit difficult to get over the odours, and general lack of cleanliness, I was overwhelmed by the

kids’ happy faces, and general sense of joy. At dinner that evening, we all agreed that these children certainly seemed much happier than the school kids back at home.
As for kava, it is not alcoholic, but I’m told it has a certain narcotic quality. It was served following a ritual ceremony that
included grinding the natural root of th
e kava plant, mixing it with water, and straining it through straw and cloth. Some people told me that it would taste like dirty dish water. It’s hard to describe the taste, but it certainly wasn’t as bad as Anne had feared. A spinster teacher at an Australian private Catholic girls’ school, she confided to me that one of her colleagues had warned her the only way to rid your mouth of the taste was to lick a dog’s bum!

Following the cruise, we decided to check out The Pearl, which a guidebook described as a very over designed, contemporary resort, with a Robert Trent Jones golf course. Located in Pacific Harbour, on the road to Suva, we were quite amazed with what we found. While our photos do not do it justice, it really is a very impressive place with a fabulous bar looking out over the pool and ocean. No expense appears to have been spared by the new Australian owner, in renovating what we were surprised to discover had been a 40 year old place. He particularly went overboard on the extensive indoor and outdoor cushioned seating and lighting. At night, rock videos were played on the wall above the lobby reception, and throughout the day the background sound track is similar to that heard at John Evan’s Opus Hotel. But unlike the Opus, this place is almost deserted. It’s like walking through a movie set.

There are a couple of explanations. One is obviously the coup, and our proximity to Suva, the country’s capital. Indeed, we did have to go through a few army road blocks to get here. However, we are also on the rainy side of the island, away from Nadi and the airport. We were told that even when there’s no coup, in the past this place has struggled. However, it is very lovely, and it will be interesting to see whether the stylish renovations can turn it around.

As for the coup, we’re hoping to find out what is really going on, as we set off for Suva to meet Sandra, the daughter of one of Sally’s friends, and her Los Angeles trained architect husband. It truly is a small world.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Getting Away

It was a bit of a panic... getting all the final details completed: The number of tasks was increased by our good fortune in renting the house for eight months. But, this meant cleaning up while at the same time assembling 2006 income tax receipts, and last minute scanning of documents for the laptop. We also had to store the cars in the Bayshore Parkade, and arrange for the appropriate auto insurance.

“What storage coverage do you want”, asked the only insurance agent at Arbutus Village not bright enough to get New Year’s Eve off. “The minimum” I replied. What about collision? “It won’t be driven”. “How about comprehensive. What if it’s stolen?”

Given that it would be parked in a lower level spot in a secured garage, without licence plates, I decided this wasn’t necessary either.

“Third Party”, he asked. “Why do I need Third Party?” I responded, noting that I won’t be driving. “Well, what if it slips, and smashes into another car, and sets the whole parkade on fire? You’ll be wiped out”. I then realized that he was working New Year’s Eve because he was the best insurance salesman they had!

We eventually got out of there, and thanks to the efforts of daughter Claire, and my sister Estelle, we got everything cleaned, filed, copied and packed. By 4:18, Sally and I stood outside the house with our two new pieces of luggage, for a final photo.

We set off on New Year’s Eve. Although we were missing Bruce Langerais’ bash at the Hotel Georgia, I expected an equally lively party in the Business Class Section of our Air Pacific flight to Fiji. I had second thoughts when I tried to change our seat selection.

“Do you have anything else?” I asked. “I see no reason why not”, replied the agent. You and Mrs. Geller are the only two people booked in Business Class.” Fortunately Claire had prepared us special going away packages with HAPPY NEW YEAR silver foil hats. We would have to make our own party.

The flight, through Honolulu, was relatively uneventful. Suffice it to say, the service was extremely attentive with two attendants looking after our every need. At New Years, they brought champagne and an array of desserts, and we discretely donned our hats for a photo. (Sally says I cannot post the photo!)

Around 4 am, the pilot announced he had bad news.

We would be arriving early. Now normally this is good news, but when the scheduled arrival is 5:45, an early arrival means less sleep. My other bad news was that I didn’t have any Fijian dollars, and the airport’s ATM machine was broken! What to do? Fortunately, there was another machine, and we managed to purchase Fijian dollars. The taxi drive to the hotel was most enjoyable, since it was already light at 5 am!

We're at the Sheraton Fiji on Denarau Island. You enter into an impressive lobby with a view of the pool and the ocean.

We picked this hotel because it is part of a large resort complex, surrounding one of Fiji’s best golf courses. (I particularly wanted to play golf in Fiji, since Vijay Singh autographed my golf hat last year at the Canadian Open!)

We also picked this hotel since there is a military coup taking place in Fiji, which means much better rates than usual. Sadly, New Zealand and Australia have cautioned their citizens from coming. However, the coup is not affecting tourist life at all, and we would urge all Canadians to come and enjoy an island with the friendliest people in the world. At very good hotel rates.

We spent much of our first day in paradise. Our only problems were choosing the right sunscreen, and picking the right restaurant. Our first effort was a complete failure. Everyone recommended the same place, just outside of Nadi. After searching for an hour and a half, and even enlisting the assistance of the local police, we finally found the place, only to see a cardboard sign announcing it was closed for renovations.

The taxi ride back to our hotel was, to say the least, unusual. I made the mistake, of sitting in the front. While the smiling, toothless, and weathered faced driver claimed to have 8 children and many grandchildren, he seemed to have a great fondness for my right thigh!

We ended our first very long day eating kakoda, marinated local fish served in coconut cream and lime, at our hotel’s beachside restaurant. As the sun set behind a row of flaming torches along the water’s edge, local musicians sang, and lovely Australian girls played on the beanbag chairs in the sand.

How wonderful it will be if the next 240 days are just like our first.