I was 22 when I stuffed two large backpacks into a locker at Nadi International Airport. I just finished almost a full year of travels, and I jumped at the opportunity to have an island stopover on my way home. The flight cost the same, and I could get by for just a few bucks a day, so why not punch another stamp in the old passport? It was an easy decision, even though for the first time in my life, I would be in a foreign country, alone.
Utterly alone is exactly how I felt when the man from the tour company dropped me at the dock (sticks tied together with vines). It was probably close to midnight, and there was not a single volt of electricity anywhere in sight. Pitch darkness followed the man’s tail lights as he sped off into the night. Really? You are going to leave me here, alone? I was at least an hour away from the airport and it did not take me long to recognize that I was completely at the mercy of a man on a boat. There I was, under more stars than imaginable, surrounded by unfamiliarity and I loved it. The rain came at me from every direction; even splashing up at my Rainbow sandals from below the dock.
I heard the boat well before the guy, well more of a kid really, reversed the outboard motor and pulled the dingy alongside the shaky thing I am calling a dock. He did not say a word, basically just looked at me and nodded his head towards the inside of the boat. I was not staying at the Ritz, but really? A dingy? The thing could not have pulled one of those water skiing squirrels, but I really had no choice. So I got in, set my small backpack squarely into a puddle and hung on for the 30 minute ride to the backpacker’s island.
I wish I could remember what went through my head during that ride. I know I felt free, but I also know that a huge part of me was probably scared shitless. The kid could have taken me anywhere. He could have Scott Petersoned me. Scared or not, I look back on it and smile because it was on that dingy that I discovered something that is terribly important to me: putting myself out there.
There are very few times that I am outwardly proud of myself, but as I sat there on that dingy with the mix of sea and rain stinging my eyes, I was proud indeed. I had not even arrived and it was already an adventure.
Since I was a solo traveler, I was lucky to become friends with a few members of the staff (“Bula Dom Dom!”) The island was amazing, about a mile round with a huge bungalow in the middle where I rented my hammock and locker. When I was about to head home, my new friends told me that they would take me to the airport. The other backpackers boarded their boat (not a dingy, by the way), and I boarded mine.
The two older women took me to their village, and I had one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I was invited to a Kava ceremony with the Chief of their village, which was a huge honor. There I sat cross-legged opposite a man who had the warmest smile I ever encountered. It was when the Kava numbed up my lips nice and good and I began to relax that I noticed that the entire village circled us. And we all held smiles wider than our heads. It was absolutely touching, I probably said thank you a million times.
Back in the van, the women told me that the Chief was relatively new. He was a good Chief, they said, and people respected him. He just replaced the man who on the same day became the President of Fiji. Their current Chief could easily become his successor again.
I stared at my tray table in total bewilderment; right there before takeoff I was almost reduced to tears out of sheer happiness. It was a special day in my life, and though I may have experienced it “alone” without taking a single picture, I know that day, that trip, is a huge part of who I am – it is where I learned the value of putting myself out there. Speaking of which, happy writing…