It all started with every travel writer’s dream assignment. An editor for a travel trade publication handed me the task of reviewing a variety of four- and five-star resorts around Fiji.
Before checking into The Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, a top-notch beach resort on the Coral Coast, I tried to peel off the “Work Sucks Go Boarding” sticker plastered onto my suitcase. I opted to self-park my car in lieu of valet, conscious that the valet driver might struggle to peer over the three surfboards stacked into the back of my dusty SUV. I weaved my tangled and salty hair into a braid, put on a dress, and pretended I didn’t just get out of the water and hour or so before arriving.
“Bula!” a man at the front desk greeted me, smiling from ear to ear. He waved hello to other guests walking past, and referred to them by name. A few seconds later, another staff member walked up and offered me a cold juice. Shortly after, it felt like every staff member knew my name as well.
Ten minutes in, and I could already tell I’d like my stay at Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort.
After checking in, a golf cart service helped me pile the three surfboards into the back seats of the golf cart, along with my luggage and camera gear. The driver took it all in stride. We buzzed past the other rooms, the lagoon-style pool, and the dive shop. The driver dropped me off at room #406, a thatch roof bungalow, called a bure, with just a thin sliver of grass and sand separating my front door from the reef-speckled sea.
“Welcome to your room,” the driver said.
I took a look around. Now this is what people come to Fiji for. Traditionally designed fabric lined the ceiling, giving off an ambiance that was distinctly Fijian. The room was spacious and the bed cloud-like.
Outfitted with a second hammock strung between two palm trees, two lounge chairs, and another hammock on the patio, I knew there was a strong chance I wouldn’t leave my room for the entirety of my stay–except for maybe a dip or two in the ocean at high tide.
Alas, the lure of other activities got the best of me. Over the next 48 hours, I lounged at the beach with my boyfriend and a friend also staying at the resort, got a massage at a hilltop spa with ocean views, and enjoyed a fine dining experience with a friendly staff member. My skin glowed and I changed in and out of my favorite dresses. Come night time, I tapped away at my keyboard on the patio and updated the assignment, confident that even the most discerning travelers would enjoy their stay.
When check-out time came, I begrudgingly packed my bags. I lingered around the property for a while longer, taking in the breeze and the views, before driving to a region where I would be completing a handful of four-star resort visits back-to-back as a day visitor. I opted not to spend the night in any, wanting to sleep in my own bed that night instead.
Eventually, it got too late for me to drive the 3.5 hours back home. I’d have to spent the night in a hotel and leave first thing in the morning.
I scrolled through Booking.com until I found a private room listed for a great price. Must be a last-minute rate, I thought. The property was set on the beach and had not horrible reviews. I’d stayed at the property before and while it was a bit dingy, it’d been clean enough and the onsite restaurant served delicious food.
I checked in and the receptionist handed me my key. I asked if I could park my car somewhere safe for the night.
“Yes! You can park in front of your room!” The receptionist replied. Score!
A friendly staff member led me to a large house away from the main beachside property, where I assumed my room would be. Then, he veered right and walked me to a windowless shed standing on its own in the parking lot. At first glance, the box looked like it had a window. Upon investigation, I discovered the metal shutter didn’t open. The metal box oscillated between fiery hot and ice cold, as it took mere seconds for it to heat up and cool down with the air conditioner. When I looked in the mirror, the healthy glow my skin once had was replaced with either a freezer burn or sun burn–who can tell the difference? The staff were friendly and the room was clean enough, so I didn’t have it in me to complain.
Plus, nowhere in the listing did the property say the room wasn’t not a shed. It’s on the guest to clarify. However, the only image provided of the listing was a zoomed-in picture of a corner of the bed–so I still felt a bit misled.
I attempted to comb my hair before walking to the beach for a fresh coconut, but my tresses refused to be tamed. I once published a story in 4WD Touring Australia where the editor captioned a picture of me with, “Image of the author, unlikely to ever send out a search party for her lipstick.” If only he could see me now!
The night ticked on and eventually I hobbled back to my lair, my favorite dress wrinkled and my legs covered in sand. A pack of stray dogs howled nearby. I looked around to double check that I wasn’t taking the canines’ home.
A small car idled in front. In the dark, the vehicle looked abandoned.
“Don’t mind me. I’m just eating.” A raspy voice creaked out of the car.
Suddenly, I was thankful for the lack of windows.
I locked myself into the shed and searched for the light. It buzzed on with a blinding glow. I kept the air conditioner remote close by to stave off the freezing and frying, then I settled in. Throughout the night, groups of travellers staying in the main home loitered in the parking lot, considerate of anyone sleeping inside the home. Whenever I opened the door of the shed to use the bathroom (located at the back of the house), the group would jolt in a fright, startled by my emergence from metal box.
“Wow! I didn’t know anyone was in there!” They’d say.
“Well, I am in there,” I’d awkwardly reply.
In the morning, I ordered a cappuccino from the cafe and drove back home. While I wished I lived somewhere as spacious and luxurious as room #406 at Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, I am simultaneously grateful that I don’t have to spend night after night in a parking lot shed.