BULA si'a viro mai Cairns!
As I write this postcard from my hotel room, I just finished indulging myself in a serve of hot barbecue - chicken, lamb chops, sausages, potato salad and freshly prepared greens - thanks to the crew from the locally managed marine area (LMMA) network. Many thanks also to Alifereti Tawake and his good family for hosting us at his beautiful Trinity Beach home. Alifereti who worked at the USP's Institute of Applied Science has been here for a little over three years furthering his studies at the James Cook University.
The network organised a little mixer for their colleagues from their local and regional offices attending the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium here in Cairns.
Kava flowed like a river last night and a few cold ones for those who preferred that over our national drink - somewhat golden here as it retails at $A80 ($F147) for a kilogram, I was told.
What could be more relaxing than enjoying the company of new friends over a tanoa? Particularly after a long day of being bombarded with so much information.
I met up with some of the Fiji delegates attending this meet - Etika Rupeni from the LMMA, Patrick Sakiusa Fong, Semisi Meo and Ron Vave from the Institute of Applied Science at USP, and Akuila Cakacaka and Yashika Nand from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
But the serious conference aside, here's what I have come across so far during my stay.
I met Ritesh of Nadi who is the head chef the Rydges Plaza. He is from Nadi and sends his love to his family and friends back home.
My best friend forever (because we smoke) Stevie Emilia - the Sunday Post editor at The Jakarta Post in Indonesia is named after two renowned singers - Stevie Wonder and Emilia Contesta - Indonesia's famous classic singer in the 1960s.
"My dad loves these two artists and he named me after their first names. But I don't play any musical instrument and I only sing in the bathroom," Stevie said while chatting (over a cigarette of course).
On Monday evening, just after ending an interview with a Fiji delegate, someone tapped my shoulder. I turned around and I was greeted with a big bula and the 32-teeth smile.
I responded with a smiley bula to a fair-skinned woman and I responded immediately with a yes when she asked: "Iko turaga mai Viti? (Are you from Fiji?) Na yacaqu o Alisi kei na noqu koro mai Komave, Nadroga. (My name is Alisi and my village is Komave in Nadroga)."
Now that was a shocker!
"Iko kila vakacava ni'u gone ni Viti? (How do you know I am Fijian?)," I asked.
"Au raici iko ga au kila ni iko kai Viti, au qai raica na yacamu ni o iko o Timoci. (I just saw you and I knew you from Fiji, and then I saw your name (on my badge)," she belted back with a fluent iTaukei language with an accent.
The rest of our conversation that night was in the Bauan dialect and a little of the Nadroga dialect creeping in.
Alyson Venti worked and stayed in Komave for two years helping villagers understand the need to protect and preserve their natural resources.
The 30-year old is now at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in the US completing her Ph.D.
SeaWeb program associate Alumeci Nakeke and I took another stroll in parts of the city we haven't been to.
After buying pears from Woolworths at an outrageously cheap $1.88 a kg, we headed towards the City Centre where we came across Don McGregor - the Flute Man.
The Canadian-Australian plays his flute on the streets for a living.
He bowed graciously (while playing) when I signalled to have our picture taken with him.
Don played in hotels in Cairns and Port Douglas but left when business slowed.
And money is not his bottom-line.
"If I play an instrumental and it soothes the soul of at least one person, I've done my job and I am satisfied. Please take this (his CD) before you leave," he says.
The 55-year-old first came to Australia in 1998 from New Zealand - he had bought a round the world ticket, stayed in NZ and did not like the weather and came to Cairns and has been here since.
Tropical Cairns has been raining in the past three days now, and windy.
The third day of the conference is well in progress with frightening data on damage suffered by coral reefs around the world, and proposed solutions - with the need for aggressive policies and genuine political will being the "elephant in the house".
On a more personal note, I want to acknowledge friends and families in Fiji and Brisbane who have been calling and messaging well wishes, in particular the Dawn Seekers back home.
Talo vakasisinai vei kemudou na turaga kei na marama tovata kei na tau!
And Vilimone Baleilevuka of Kaba, Tailevu who is now a dive instructor here in Cairns also sends his warmest regards to his family and friends back home.
I guess there will be more to tell after I do more rounds today.
If you're from Fiji and you're here in Cairns, please feel free to send me an email on email@example.com.
Until the next time, loloma bibi mai Cairns!