Something to declare
Rain, rain go away ... a wet holiday is not ideal. Photo: AFP
Nadi's not the best place to get stuck. In fact, Nadi's not the best place to be, full stop. When you picture Fiji, you don't picture Nadi.
You think about deserted islands, swaying palm trees, warm blue ocean and gigantic, smiling men drinking what looks like muddy water out of coconut shells. You don't think about the international airport hub, the fairly featureless drop-off point that most tourists depart as soon as they're able.
Nadi probably has its charms but for the short-term visitor it's a great place to get away from.
So the only thing worse than being stuck in Nadi, you'd think, would be being stuck in a hotel in Nadi, confined by the pouring rain outside, left to sweat it out in a featureless bar like some foreign correspondent trapped by his war-ravaged surrounds.
It was raining outside. Not just raining but hammering down.
Wet season in Fiji is usually pretty predictable: gorgeous sunny mornings that quickly turn into rainy afternoons as the storm clouds roll in off the reefs. But this day was different. There was no sunny morning; we woke to rain and it had been coming down ever since, great thick sheets of the stuff that beat on the window panes and gushed through the streets.
Being trapped by stormy weather isn't always bad. In fact, there's a part of me that quite likes it, thanks to a childhood spent in the tropics. Up in northern Queensland we lived with the constant threat of cyclones, which to this young mind didn't mean fear and destruction but the possibility of a day off school.
Any time my family had to batten down the hatches, gaffer-tape the windows and stock up on tinned food, there was usually a gloriously unexpected day off school in the offing. These things set like stone; the same spark of excitement still ignites whenever the rain starts pouring down.
It's not ideal for holidays, though. I'd battled the downpour that morning in Nadi, convinced some worthwhile exploration of the town could still be done, but to no avail.
I'd sat in the front seat of a four-wheel-drive while a guide had tried to point out Nadi's sporadic attractions in between trying to avoid the sort of puddles that you could lose a full-sized Fijian in.
"The drainage here," the guide had said with a shake of the head, "it's a problem."
No kidding. We'd seen the town's Hindu temple - at least, I think it was the Hindu temple. The rain was pretty heavy at that point. We'd driven down a main street that was looking distinctly Venetian; wandered a food market that was working more as a place of shelter than business.
The rain showed no sign of letting up, so we agreed to call it quits and send me back to the hotel, where I had no other option but to spend the afternoon trapped with my fellow guests, doomed to while away the hours sitting under a bored ceiling fan slogging through the humid air, watching English Premier League replays on the hotel's only TV.
"Good tour, eh mate?"
Nick and Alex, two Australian guys I'd met earlier, hadn't moved from their spot at the bar. "So you gunna sit down and have a beer like a normal person now?"
I shrugged. "What else is there to do?"
"That's the way, mate."
You can travel a long way to sit around drinking beer with other Australians. But these guys had a story to tell. That morning they'd claimed to be electricians, having a lads' adventure on the islands. After a few Fiji Bitters, however, they copped to being army boys, tank commanders fresh from a tour of Afghanistan.
We flicked through their photos of war-torn landscapes, of deserts, rivers and a couple of blokes from Cairns in charge of some seriously heavy machinery.
To me it sounded petrifying; to them, the ultimate challenge.
"We always say we're electricians," Nick said, downing the last of a beer. "You tell travellers you're ADF and it starts too many arguments. There aren't many backpackers who like the army."
Outside, the rain kept pouring down, even harder than before. The two English guys glued to the telly had to turn it up to hear over the din. A Norwegian couple flicked through paperbacks to brush up on their English; a German tapped away on her iPad.
Boredom was setting in - apparently in the hotel kitchen, too. Soon the chef emerged carrying a tanoa, the traditional mixing bowl for kava. Without a word he wandered over to our table, sat the tanoa down and started mixing every Fijian's favourite mystical brew, kneading the bag of powdered root through the bowl of water.
"Boys," he said, "the kitchen is closed and I can't go home, so we drink some kava."
Stuck in Fiji drinking kava with some new friends - come to think of it, things could be worse.