Party Island at the Edge of the World

Beachcomber

On the map, the Yasawa and Mamanuca group of islands lie like crumbs scattered around the remote cookie of Fiji. Off the prow of the Yasawa Flyer, however, we could see that some of these crumbs turned out to be substantial landmasses, with multiple villages and miles of coastline and imposing mountainous interiors. There were, however, crumbs of crumbs of earth that don’t appear on the big maps, and on the close up regional maps their printed names cover ten times as much area as the islands themselves. Beachcomber was a miniscule speck on the vast blue sea, just a few acres of improbable land in the middle of nowhere.

Topographically, Beachcomber is flat and featureless, the type of place that will likely not see the other side of rising sea levels. I don’t actually understand how it can exist at all, with the difference between above and below the surface measured in inches. The odds against reclamation by the South Pacific seems unbelievable, its bite-size jungle interior even more outrageous. This place is protected by ancient Polynesian magic from furious cyclones and geologic time.

It’s hard to tell how much of the plant and animal life was brought in by people, the term “invasive species” might not make a lot of sense on this small scale. The locals may have been visiting here for thousands of years (the first inhabitants of Fiji arrived as early as 3500 BCE by some estimates). This particular micro-island has probably been ignored the whole time. I can’t imagine anybody actually stayed here except to hide from their cannibal comrades for a while. It would be hard to scratch out a living here. The only part of these island’s existences that I can really grasp are the resorts, the self-conscious signifiers of paradise that drew me in from the global economy with the promise of feeling far outside of it.

Beachcomber I suppose doesn’t really pretend to deliver on this promise. Everything felt like a Burning Man theme camp, only with real trees and a real ocean to back up the simulation of “Tropical Island”. But it did offer the profound novelty of superlative smallness. I have been in homes with greater square footage. It only took 15 minutes to circumambulate the entire isle, though with a little determination and a good pair of flip flops I bet it could be done in a five minute all-out sprint.

The island fit exactly one resort, the eponymous Beachcomber. I suspect this island had no name at all before the first keg of Fiji Bitter was rolled ashore by Mr. Dan Costello and his beach bum buddies back in the 1950’s. Back then, it must have been true bohemian bliss, an unspoilt obscure beach on which to kick back beyond the reach of modern encroachment. Today, a mini-golf course threads its way through the mini-jungle. Other amenities include a dive shop, a snack bar, a gift shop, a boozer bar (two stories high with outdoor seating and a live band), a full restaurant with huge plasma screen TVs playing satellite sports channels, and a tour desk offering a host of activities and excursions to suit every taste, diving, boating, parasailing, fishing, everything. A couple of dormitories and a handful of bures (beach huts) for everyone on the island. You are guaranteed to be stumbling distance from your room. Just don’t walk the wrong way or you’re sunk.

In the surf were wee sharks, their wee dorsal fins occasionally jutting up out of the waters as they prowled the shallows for skittish fish that would occasionally leap out of the water to save their scales. I imagined an Alvin and the Chipmunks style rendition of the Jaws theme as the party-time lovers and frat douches strolled by unaware. It was easy to feel safe in such a familiar relaxed atmosphere, and hard to appreciate that we were surrounded by sharks and the endless blue sea.

– Eric

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