Fiji: Cruising queen of the islands

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Back home in Buffalo, I guess Sue was just another overweight, middle-aged American woman with bottle-bottom glasses sitting at a computer. She worked in her Dad's company and admitted the job was pretty boring, that's why she had to get out.

And she got out, further and more romantically than most.

We were lounging in the shallows off a beach of blotter-paper white at Nanuya-Lailai Island, one of those postcard places in Fiji's Yasawa group where cruise ships amble around at something slower than a walking pace.

We were on one such cruise, three yawning days and four exotic nights on the Mystique Princess, and now - three days in - I finally had the chance to talk to Sue.

She'd been the favourite of the Fijian crewmen, who joked with her, tickled her with funny stories, and looked after her like she was a regular. And she was.

This was Sue's 20th such Fijian cruise - most of them around the Yasawas - and she was preparing to sign on again immediately this one ended.

Back home she might have been just another anonymous cog in the company wheel but here she was a treasured guest.

She was made to feel wanted, possibly even loved judging by the occasional knowing glance I caught between her and one of the huge, gentle crew.

And she needed do nothing but be herself.

As we paddled in the tepid ocean we joked about those terrible package tours of Miami.

"Oh yeah, the ones where people are always getting food poisoning or the vessel catches fire," she laughed.

"I've never been on one of them, wouldn't want to. Too many sad old people. You'd always be wondering who was going to have the next heart attack at lunch."

No such dramas in Fiji, just days of pastel blue skies, afternoon cocktails and this private island.

She had long gone past going into the villages to buy trinkets of shell and coconut, didn't even snorkel and feed the fish any more, and didn't attend lifejacket drill.

As a regular she was always the special guest at the captain's table on the first night, and knew all the crew by name.

"You know, my friends don't know anything about Fiji," she said. "They think it's somewhere in the Bahamas. I prefer it that way though."

Once, many years ago, she had brought a friend with her, but she didn't enjoy the lazy days, was looking for something more exciting and less ... less native I think was what she said.

Sue wouldn't have it any other way. The dark handsome men paid attention to her, and here her size wasn't a concern - may even have been an asset in the eyes of the older men.

Everything here suited her. The captain's motto was the more you eat the better you float, and Sue obviously enjoyed her food.

And being able to dream, free in the ocean a world away from suburban Buffalo, her Dad's business, and her tiny desk with its single glowing eye always staring back at her.

- NZ Herald

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