1990

First days in Paradise

22 May 1990 Air New Zealand 9 Honolulu to Nadi, Business

This daylight flight was really quite an interesting one. Unfortunately, before it started, we had a certain amount of difficulty at check-in. As I have mentioned already, we had a huge amount of baggage, and it was scattered around us as we approached the check-in desk. Without taking the trouble to look at our tickets, the girl behind the desk stated that we had too much baggage, and would probably need to pay excess. On being asked to consider the tickets further, she noticed that we were travelling in Business Class and consequently would be able to have more baggage. She still claimed that there was too much, however, but checked it in anyway, handing us two boarding passes and an infant pass. Yet our son was travelling with a ticket as a child, not an infant, which meant that he was entitled to both a seat and a full baggage allowance. I was not happy with this treatment, and when my Club Pacific mileage statement arrived, I was further incensed when this flight wasn't shown at all. I wrote to Air New Zealand, who apologised and stated that the affair was being investigated, and that this was not the level of service they expected Club Pacific members to receive. I don't know whether they always say that. Our boarding passes were stamped domestic, too, meaning that even if we had wanted to, we couldn't have bought any duty-free goods.

We went to the Club Pacific lounge, which was quiet and fairly dark, but comfortable and well-equipped. I had no complaint with the service once it was in the hands of Air New Zealand again. We boarded the flight shortly before take-off, and were again offered a choice of fruit juice or champagne. There were seven people in the Business Class cabin, not a large number. Nothing was too much trouble for the cabin staff: indeed, they were pleased to have something to do. We were invited up to the flight deck, and talked to the captain. I had never had this opportunity before, and probably wouldn't have had it now but for the fact that we had a small infant with us. He was probably too small to remember or appreciate it. I wasn't. The captain talked about the boredom factor of long flights, told that there was no more to do on a long flight than a short flight: just get it in the air and get it down again. Talking about other sectors he has flown, he told us of TE 1 and the second sector from Los Angeles to Auckland. After leaving Los Angeles, you will not see any land at all until the final approach to Auckland. Certainly the Pacific is a large ocean, and only has a small amount of land.

The flight continued, and after some hours, we crossed in turn the equator (which we had crossed on earlier flights) and the International Date Line (which was a new experience for us). It did mean that we lost a day, but that we were now some of the first to experience a day, rather than some of the last.

I was surprised by the level of computerisation at Fijian immigration control, as each arrival is logged on a computer and checked off as they leave again. Customs was not quite so strict, but agriculture took an interest in us as we admitted that we were carrying foodstuffs. On hearing it was no more than baby food, they lost interest very quickly. So we were out into the heat and the chaos of the pavement outside an airport, after I had acquired some Fijian currency. The facility to cash cheques at an American Express office is most useful. It means that one can get local currency on the strength of a home currency cheque. All you need is an American Express card and a cheque book. Come to think of it, money in the account tends to be useful too.

Then it was off to the hotel. After spending ten minutes loading up the taxi and two minutes driving to the hotel, I wondered whether this was the right hotel, or had we been hijacked to another place? Such things are read about, and the hotel we were parked outside had a different name to the one where we had our reservation. As it turned out, we were lucky. The hotel had just changed its name. It is now called Raffles Gateway Hotel, and is just by Nadi Airport. Formerly it was called the Castaway Gateway Hotel. It is unusual in its layout, but certainly a very acceptable place for a short stay in Fiji. Incidentally, this is the second hotel to have received repeat business from us. I don't know whether it is now associated with the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore or not.

On arrival, we checked in and our baggage was taken to the room. The following days, we went on tours round the near side of the island. Rosie Tours is a fairly good tour company. They have the disadvantage that nothing in Fiji is really too much worth seeing. Perhaps this is an unfair denunciation on the place.

One of our friends who came to visit us in Vanuatu travelled around Fiji by service bus, and discovered that it is possible to travel from Nadi to Lautoka, some considerable distance, for just 90 cents. Tour buses have obviously got it made.

Soon enough, it was time to leave and wander off to the airport, just about the only place around which we could find that sold milk, and then only after a fight. We didn't engage in any fights with street-vendors while in Fiji, apparently a fairly rare achievement. Simply, we didn't want to buy and we told them so. It was harder to get your message across in Fiji than it had been in Mexico. Now resident in Vanuatu, I am grateful that no such street-hustling goes on in Port Vila. Pity those who live as expatriates in countries where the tourist, or any white man perceived as being a tourist, is so harassed.

25 May 1990 Air Pacific 800 Nadi to Port Vila

The journey was now almost complete, as we arrived at the airport at Nadi after another short journey. Wandering round the airport we found that it was not possible to buy Vanuatu currency, so we took their advice, probably dubious advice, to change our Fijian dollars for United States dollars, which are well known to be convertible everywhere. This did mean that we would have some access to at least some money on arrival in Port Vila.

The departure lounge at Nadi is strikingly large; the aeroplane we were to travel on was strikingly small, but new. An ATR-42, taking its name from the number of passengers it holds. It was the only aeroplane we had used for an international flight on our journey across the world which was propeller driven, and the only one which only offered Economy Class. Still, it had the advantage that it did run the route. Air Pacific has an appalling reputation for lateness, which I don't think is entirely deserved. We since discovered that the carrier has a nickname of "Air Pathetic". At least this is not quite so bad at the French airline UTA, which is sometimes rendered as "Unlikely To Arrive". Our flight left a few minutes late, certainly, but was timetabled so weakly that it was still able to arrive half an hour earlier than scheduled. Drinks and snacks were served on board, about which I remember very little. What I do remember was looking out eagerly as we approached Vanuatu for the first time. After all, this was to be home for at least the next two years. What would it be like? Would I like it? What would my work be like? Certainly, it looked most beautiful from the air, an idyllic paradise as the brochures described it. Looking out like that at a land which will become home is a feeling I have never had before, and I cannot describe it.

However, on landing there were more pressing things to consider. Immigration ran smoothly, for which I was very grateful. I have never needed a work permit or residence permit before, so I was a bit nervous. All the same, it is probably easier when the new employer is the country's government.

Customs was just as easy. A short pause while I explained how we came to have so much luggage. Knowing that we would be staying two years and working there, they lost interest too, and we went through to the concourse.

I had been assured that we would be met. I didn't know who would meet us; I had no information about where we were to stay. Certainly nobody was there now. We waited: after all, the flight had been early. Somebody guessed who we were and went off to find our meeting party, assuring us that they were somewhere around.

A few minutes later they all arrived, apologising that they were late, but that it had never occurred to them that an Air Pacific flight might be early. It was dark, and we were driven through the streets of Port Vila to the hotel where we would stay until a house was found for us, thankfully only a wait of three weeks. There is so much to say about a country where you live and feel inclined to give advice that probably the safest course of action is to say nothing, or consign the information to a supplement or appendix. However, I will be obliged to say a few words about parts of the country when I come to describe internal flights taken, but that is all.

Having flown half-way around the world, I was now destined not to fly again until mid-term leave a year later. All the same, in 1990 my total had reached the acceptable total of twelve thousand, two hundred and three miles.


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