Although, this leads to a lot of confusion. You’ll talk to some travelers who say “Oh, I’ve been to Paris several times,” naturally you reply: “Nice, what did you think of the Louvre?” Then, they reluctantly respond: “I was just in the airport for a layover for a couple of hours, but coming and going, so that counts as two times in France!” To alleviate the ensuing argument of whether they have been to France or not, I have included an excerpt from the International Standard for Scratching a Country Off of One’s List (ISSCOOL). It states, according to Section A Sub-Paragraph 3.15c, and I quote: “One may not officially scratch a country off of one’s list until these three criteria are met: (1) Said individual must clear customs and exit the airport premises. (2) The traveler in question must, and we repeat, must sample the staple cuisine of said country. (3) It is imperative that said traveler take part in an interpretive dance of the Overture of 1812 by Tchaikovsky or similar festival overture in e♭major”…do we need to go on?
Anyways, back to Fiji. It is an archipelago of over 300 islands (only 1/3 of which are inhabited), with a combined land area comparable to the state of New Jersey (or about the size of Slovenia, to which you probably just said in your head: “Why didn’t you just say that to begin with?!”, and I apologize. I didn’t realize you were all such geography buffs). Fiji’s main exports are sugar and (Fiji ®) water. Apparently, if you combine Fiji’s two main exports, you get luxury hummingbird food. Which is why the Fijian Constitution provides that hummingbirds have the right to vote (too bad there are no native hummingbirds to exercise that right).
I was on my way to Melbourne, Australia and my layover was in Nadi (Pronounced Nahn-dee, for whatever reason) located on the southern island, Viti Levu. Traveling with a large group to attend a convention, I asked the other Americans what they were doing for their layover in the beautiful country of Fiji. It turns out, most booked their tickets in a way that their layover only lasted 2 hours, lame. They would probably go on to be those people who would tell you that they’ve been to Fiji ‘several’ times, when in reality, they’ve spent all of 4 hours there, never even breathing the fresh air of Fiji (trust me, the air in that airport was anything but fresh. I mean come on shouldn’t they have a cleaner ventilation system. That is why they call it an ‘air’port right?).Then, there were those that booked a day at the nearby all-inclusive resort. Nice you say? Absolutely! You get waited on hand and foot, as much food as you can bear to shovel in, and a comfy chaise lounge to park yourself for 8 hours. “Great!” you say, “can I scratch Fiji off the list now?” Really? Do we need to repeat Section A Sub-paragraph 3.15c? While you did leave the airport premises and you may very well have done an interpretive dance while you sipped your (mostly juice) Mai-Tai, did you sample the local cuisine? Nope.
Lastly, there was a third group who purposely extended their layovers so that they could galavant with the locals and truly experience this foreign land. As I said earlier, there was an international convention going on in Australia, and because of that, there was a small group of Fijians waiting at the airport entrance to welcome the few brave souls that wanted to venture into the Fijian ‘outback’ before going on to their final destination.Upon seeing this small, but grinning welcoming committee, I knew I was going to be ‘scratching Fiji off the list’ in no time. A handful of us followed our impromptu tour guides out of the airport, across the ‘highway’, and then ten of us crammed into ONE taxi. Before we knew it, we were hurdling through the streets of sleepy Nadi, heading to our guides’ house for breakfast. There we were presented with a Fijian Smörgåsbord of pastries, sausage rolls, sandwiches, and Milo (some sort of hot chocolate malt beverage.) After we grazed on Island grub, we piled into yet another taxi.
This time, heading to Port Denarau. This was reminiscent of a cruise ship port. A miniature tourist town isolated from rural Fiji, complete with a Hard Rock Café and numerous trinket shops. Now typically I steer clear of gift shops, but these were exceptional.
Nothing was made in China, (no offense China, when I visit you, I’ll only be looking for things ‘Made in China’. I promise.) little burlap bags of various Fijian exports (coffee, tea, sugar, etc.) and native Tapa cloth galore! With the excellent exchange rate at the time (almost 2-1), I promptly loaded up my backpack (on the way back home, of course, since I knew I had room).
After blowing most of my Fijian dollars (excluding my carefully calculated food and souvenir currency reserve) we proceeded to drop by every business where our tour guides had friends/relatives that were employees (which was just about every place you can think of). All the while using various types of transportation. Sometimes it was a bus, other times it was a taxi, and (just to show off their diverse assortment of transport methods) the back of a pickup truck. One of our stops was a coffee shop where I literally got a bowl of Cappuccino for the equivalent of $2.50, a far cry from the exorbitant prices of Australia, where I believe the going rate is $5 per half teaspoon. (Although, that half teaspoon was the best half teaspoon of coffee I’ve ever tasted.)Our last stop before being returned to the airport was the moment I was so eagerly awaiting. A restaurant with a book for a menu, describing all kinds of Fijian foods that I wish I could’ve spent a week consuming. What do you do when you are barraged with far too many choices, constrained time, and limited stomach vacancy? Ask the server for their recommendation. This was easy considering I said: “I think I’ll have this dish” to which the waitress immediately replied with a stern: “No, you will have this. Much better.” Alright, ‘some dish that I can’t pronounce’ it is! I can say I was definitely not disappointed, and from now on I’m never ordering for myself again (unless you are at a Subway, and the lady insists on loading your sandwich with banana peppers, bologna, and mayonnaise. This is where you employ the ‘oh, I forgot my wallet in the car’ method and make a solemn oath never to return again.)
In only two layovers totaling about 25 hours, I can scratch Fiji off my list with a clean conscience. What could’ve been an uneventful stop over (where the most excitement was watching some old guy beat the tar out of a forever lodged bag of potato chips in a vending machine screaming: “Release the goods, you contemptible beast of burden!”) will become an unforgettable memory filled with little burlap bags of Fijian Coconut Soap (they were on sale, ok!?). So the next time you are looking for tickets on a long haul flight consider a layover, and I mean a LONG layover. Who knows, maybe you’ll be rewarded with an amazing destination you never thought in a million years you’d ever visit.
Editor’s note: Sheep Train Thrombosis (STT) is a fatal disease that causes the death of countless railbound sheep each year. If you think you could have Sheep Train Vehiculosis, consult a doctor/veterinarian to determine whether you are at risk. Side effects may include: Wooly Ear, Trainophobia (fear of wolves), uncontrollable Baa-ing, and in some cases death.
*Calm down, I’m just joking.