I think that’s where I’m going to.
If I ever get out of here,
I’m going to Katmandu.
When I was five years old, I heard this Bob Seger song and I took it into my head that I’d like to go to Kathmandu. I begged my mum to take me to Kathmandu and she promised she would when I turned 10 years old.
Be wary what you promise your kids because five years went by and I didn’t let this promise go unforgotten! But I did let Mum talk me into going to Fiji instead. She told me she would take me to Kathmandu if I really wanted but it would be very cold and wouldn’t I rather go lie on a beach somewhere beautiful and warm?
I happily agreed. Nepal … Fiji … it was all much the same to a kid who hadn’t been overseas for as long as she could remember. I had left Australia only once before – on a three-month backpacking trip to South-East Asia when I was two – but because of my age this was more the stuff of family legend than happy memories.
So we went on a mother-daughter trip to Fiji. I remember that my airfare cost $10 – $1 for every year of my age – as part of a package deal as long as we stayed a week at Naviti Beach Resort, which thanks to Google I’ve just discovered still exists. I had actually turned 11 by the time the trip happened, but I don’t think we had to pay the extra $1.
I remember the mini-bus driver who picked us up from the airport pointing out some wrecks in a ravine below us and joking that this was the Women’ s Driving School – a comment that did NOT impress my mother! I remember the kids’ club at the resort, hanging out at the swimming pools, riding a donkey and becoming fast friends with girl called Sonja from Christchurch, New Zealand. Sonja became my penpal and we wrote to each other pretty much until the end of high school.
Mum and I were away four weeks in total and the other three weeks we travelled independently. We visited the capital Suva a couple of times on our way to and from places. In this Medium Smoke, we ate at the Hot Bread Shop for brunch almost every day and had Indian for dinner. We also used the Poste Restante service in Suva to receive letters from our friends and family in Australia. I wrote and received a lot of snail mail letters and postcards on that trip, which more than anything is what roots these memories firmly in another era. Who does this now? According to Wikipedia, Poste Restante still exists.
We visited some of the more remote islands and stayed in a variety of accommodation – youth hostels, lodges and traditional huts like this one. Somewhere in a storage box in Sydney there is a diary I kept of the trip so it would be theoretically possible for me to find out precisely where we went and when we did it. But I don’t really need to know – over two decades later there’s a few memories that still stick out like shiny coppers.
I remember one place where it rained and I went through nearly all my books, which we then donated to the local library. We took a hike up to a waterfall where I swam with the local kids. They were excited to see me and I was shy at first but warmed up to it. They all had woolly hair that was naturally dark or mid brown but many of them had bright yellow hair. Through hand gestures to my own blonde hair and back to theirs and their own broken English, I deduced that they used lemon juice to dye it.
I remember going to a village fair called the Hibiscus Festival and riding on a spinning swing ride – but only after my mistrustful mother had checked it out and determined that the engineering was Australian! This confused me because she had always taught me that other people were just as good as we were, regardless of skin colour or nationality, and to an 11-year-old it seemed like a double standard.
This particular photo was taken at a tiny island called something like Thagelu or Cagelu. (Again, the real name of the island is in my travel journal but I don’t have this to hand right now!). The island was so small I could walk around it in 20 minutes and it had a few traditional huts like this one for accommodation. All there was to do on the island was go to the beach and laze around in hammocks and read books and go for walks but I thought it was Paradise.
I think we did go out on a snorkel boat one day but the tour operator not letting me go in the water because of the risk of the coral cutting my feet and the fact they didn’t have flippers small enough to fit me. I was perfectly happy hanging out in the boat and everyone thought I was being really mature but it was really just because I had never been snorkelling before and was too clueless to know how awesome it is.
We took a light plane to get to the island, or maybe it was a light plane and then a boat. I do remember we all had to be weighed before they would let us board and my cold turned into an inner ear infection after the flight. The villagers cured me by pouring traditional medicine in my ear. I may be wrong but I have a feeling this happened while everyone else was doing the customary kava ceremony. That cured the inner ear infection, though I still had a head cold for a few days after that. We had to do our laundry by hand and I have a distinct memory of finding that in the 10 minutes since I’d gone to get soap, a troop of ants had started eating my snotty handkerchiefs. I threw them away after that!
I had a wonderful time on the trip and although I was not conscious of particular lessons at the time, I’m sure it was a fabulous learning experience. We had a fifth-grade school project on a foreign country of our choice and I did mine on Fiji. Mum helped me cut up a beach mat and stick straw on it to make a project book in the shape of a Fijian hut. I’m sure it was also the beginning of my wanderlust, unless that goes back even further to my trip to South-East Asia.
I’ve done a lot of travel since this trip but I’ve never been back to Fiji. I am reluctant to go now mainly because of the political situation, but maybe one day. After all, Fiji holidays are pretty cheap from Australia. Then again, I still haven’t been to Kathmandu either.
What’s the earliest overseas trip you recall? How old were you? Where did you go? Who were you with? How well do you remember it? Let me know in the comments.
This post is my submission to this week’s Photo Friday on Delicious Baby. The post was sponsored by Flight Centre.