LOS ANGELES – We dropped our bags on the edge of an abandoned restaurant in Terminal 2. The smell of rancid garbage filled the air as we cursed Delta Airlines. “This is the worst terminal I’ve ever been in,” I shouted. “I’d rather be stuck in Savusavu.”
The Savusavu airport is a jungle-encrusted, muddy pavilion with nice people and a pit toilet. Its only sustenance is orange Fanta; but it is still better than LAX.
Welcome to America.
Here in the City of Angels, the peon treatment is in full effect. Delta Airlines is relegated to Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 here. Inside, low-slung ceilings hold hordes of travelers hostage, as the occasional drip from overburdened HVAC systems threatens death to electronics and disease to passengers. Terminal 2’s hallmark is a Shake Shack/Starbucks combination that attempts to pander hallow tokens of the West Coast to unweary wanderers.
Around the corner, you can find a vacant stall that used to be the Blue Window cafe. That is where I write this blog.
The centerpiece of Terminal 2 is a Delta Skyclub situated on the second floor. It’s the kind of first-class passenger lounge that in other airports offers reprieve from the general bustle below. The LAX incarnation of Skyclub is a poor interpretation, requiring a ride up a service elevator that makes frequent stops in the basement; yet, it lords over the vestibule below. Access is exclusive, reserved only for those carrying status on Delta or a platinum American Express card, which allows you the privilege of entry if—and only if—you produce the physical, plastic card in the year 2018. Electronic proof will not suffice. Sorry, Apple Wallet.
The world of elite travel is not meant for vagabonds such as us, denied entry to Skyclub in part due to the lack of a plastic card, but possibly also because we look as if we’ve just climbed out of a jungle village.
We have just climbed out of a jungle village.
Less than 18 hours ago, we were baking in the warmth of volcano-powered hot pools on the island of Vanua Levu. The term pool, here, is relative, as the Fijian definition of pool is less Roman bath and more farm pond. In Savusavu town, the hot pools are literally boiling. “People cook in them,” tells a local man who was kind enough to share his bathing spot. “We cook noodles, chicken, anything you want in them.”
It’s local custom to share stories at the hot pools. This particular pool is one of only a few on the island, and in between mud baths, the man tells us the story of its origin. It’s a long narrative that deals with dragons, a war, and some sort of blood letting that keeps the pools hot. “That’s what the elder say,” he adds. “But it’s probably geothermal heat from the volcano.”
Our friend doesn’t have the internet, but he’s no fool.
If you spend any amount of time talking to locals in Fiji, you’ll discover that every place has a story. An island in the bay is the home of a princess, whose spirit guides strong women to Savusavu to begin a new life.
Vanua Levu itself is guarded by the spirit of a man-shark, a half man, half shark who lives on an island in the middle of a salt lake somewhere in the rainforests above. It’s his will that keeps divers from getting bit by sharks here; and since the 1980’s, he’s done a stellar job—indeed, no attacks have been reported in Savusavu in over 30 years.
The spirit of an old woman watches over the lands, occasionally kidnapping small children when their parents misbehave. According to Pete of the NaSavusavu Clan, a three year old disappeared for six hours one day, before being found on a mountain top miles from where he was last seen. The surrounding area was filled with thorns and barbed wire, yet the child had no visible scars.
Even the modern world is untouched by these tales. At the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, the General Manager swears the spirits of old warriors can be felt watching over the guests.
It’s these kind of tales that swirl around the volcanic hot pools tucked away in the forest. They’re the kind of stories that seem a little far-fetched to believe. And yet, they seem to contain a grain of truth just large enough to sew a seed of doubt.
That’s something I don’t think the airlines will ever understand. Sure, the men in the suits can get in the lounge…but what sort of stories can a power tie tell?
Back at the Blue Window, with a final flight home inbound, I’d rather be back in Savusavu, but not just because of the smell.