Mary’s driver drove me back to the airport after breakfast, again at no charge. Considering the drive was nearly an hour each way, and the room was only like $85, Mary’s is a fantastic value as a place to stay! I decided to leave for the airport three hours before the flight, based on the idea that the airport was tiny, however, Fiji Airways had a reputation. People had warned me before the trip that “the plane go when the plane go” or sometimes not at all. With only two flights a week to Kiribati, I wanted to make sure I was at the front of the queue in case anything went wrong.
Queue? Yes, this is the bustling Tarawa International Airport check-in desk:
See the large coolers? Almost every one of my fellow passengers had at least one, some of them four or five. I asked a local, and she said they were all filled with fresh fish that people were bringing to Fiji either to sell or to give to family and friends. I wonder what the overweight baggage fees on that are…
The novel aspect of check-in was…the computers were down. So they had absolutely no way to verify who was on the flight. If you didn’t have something proving you were on that day’s flight, you weren’t going. Now, this was problematic, because there was absolutely no data roaming in Kiribati. My phone wouldn’t work, so I had to pray I could do something that would appease them. Lesson learnt: carry hard copies. Fortunately, the one thing I had printed out was the details on TripIt of my flights. It had a date, flight number, and eticket number, so that was good enough for them. For all they knew I could have canceled it, but I guess it was good enough…considering this flight goes for minimum of $600 one-way, they were really taking some chances!
Waiting for the plane to arrive. Hopefully.
There were some cute signs/cards in the departures area made by local schoolchildren for World Teacher’s Day. Is it teacher’s or teachers? On another note, why were these posted in the airport? Mysteries that may never be solved….
Fortunately, the plane not only showed up, but showed up on time!
Waiting for the flight, I started chatting with the woman sitting next to me. Turned out she worked in International Development as well, and shared her insights into Kiribati with me. Was interesting hearing that Kiribati also has the highest rate of domestic violence in the world which only compounds all the other development challenges that the country faces.
Then, waiting to board the flight, I ended up chatting with three other gentlemen who it turns out work for my organization. It’s a small world, and Kiribati seems to have a rather large number of development workers. I got the impression that just about every westerner on the flight worked in development.
Air Kiribati plane parked on the tarmac:
Boarding was about 10 minutes late, but all things considered from what I’d heard about Fiji Airways, I considered that to be “on time!”
Fiji Airways Flight 230
Tarawa, Kiribati (TRW) to Nadi, Fiji (NAN)
Depart 11:00, Arrive 15:00, Flight Time 3:00
Boeing 737-800, Registration DQ-FJG Manufactured 1999, Seat 24C
Take off was right on time, and the seat next to me was even empty. Suddenly, Fiji Airways was looking better than I’d heard. Plus, they served a relatively tasty chicken curry onboard with free beer. You can’t complain about that!
Arrived about minutes early in Nadi, where it was absolutely pouring rain:
BULA! Welcome to Fiji! After all the nightmares I’d heard, Fiji Airways turned out to be a surprisingly excellent experience. On time, friendly staff, comfortable plane, I was starting to think all those stories were exaggerated. Little did I know, someone was watching…and Fiji Airways was going to later prove to me that all those people were very, very right all along…
Immigration was a breeze, and it was true, look what I found in the duty free area…Fiji Water!
Taxi to the Sheraton Denarau was a reasonably cheap $25 (about $13 US) and took about 30-40 minutes due to heavy afternoon traffic. They’d upgraded me to a junior ocean suite, which had a really cool layout with the bed kind of in the centre of the room. I liked it! Oh, the fact there was a bottle of champagne waiting didn’t hurt either!
Plus, the room had a great view of the beach:
For dinner, I decided to take the Bula Bus which goes around Denarau Island, stopping at all the resorts as well as the Denarau Harbour which has several restaurants.
After almost two weeks from home, I was craving a burger. Badly. And a margarita. So, I splurged! It was delicious. #DontJudge
Bula Bus back to the Sheraton, and crashed. I had to be up at 4am for the flight to Suva, and onward to Tuvalu!