After an eleven hour and relatively painless flight to Fiji, BJ, Brad, Gretchen and I quickly left Nadi and took a city bus down the Coral Coast to the town of Korotogo. Before finding lodging for a few days along a quiet stretch of beach, we had to stop for a celebratory beer to welcome ourselves to Fiji. The Coral Coast seemed to be a popular vacation spot for Fijians but was nonetheless very quiet.
A day trip from Korotogo to the Sand Dunes. We hiked out over the dunes during the heat of the day and ran into a Fijian-Indian family along the beach who quickly approached us and wanted to shake our hands and introduce themselves. The Fijians are some of the most carefree and good natured people I have ever met.
Natadola Beach, known as Viti Levu (the main island)’s most beautiful beach. We spent just a few hours here swimming and body surfing. By far the most beautiful beach we had seen yet, we had no idea what was to come once we travelled out to Fiji’s many islands.
We initially put up a fight on the price our taxi driver quoted us. But after he drove us to the sand dunes, waited for us even though we told him not to, drove us to Natadola Beach and back with a side trip to his brother’s house so he could fill up his slowly leaking tire, we befriended him and gave him the amount he initially requested.
All of the guide books warned “whatever you do, make sure the boat you take out to the islands is licensed and has life jackets.” We didn’t exactly follow the rules and arrived in about half the time . . . not that time matters when you are in Fiji. We headed to an island in the Yasawa chain called Waya. It is one of the largest of the Yasawa islands and we hoped to explore a number of hiking trails.
Waya is connected to Wayasewa (or “Little Waya”) twice a day when the tide is out. This is the view over the sand spit from Sunset Resort as the water is going out. Although Sunset Resort was a little more primitive than we were expecting (like the size of the spiders that we slept with every night that made us a little uneasy) the family and village that ran it were wonderful.
We ate huge portions of fresh fish every day for lunch and dinner that the staff would catch out in front of the beach. Over the course of three nights at Sunset there were only a few other visitors from England. A boat would arrive from the village, located right around the corner from Sunset, every morning to drop off a handful of family members to work in the kitchen, work in the office, or to sit around on palm leaves on the sand laughing and sharing stories with one another.
Every evening the younger members of the family would have some sort of entertainment planned. We just happened to experience two nights of “traditional” dancing including a fan dance and fire dance. They dropped the fire sticks so many times during the fire dance we though the place was going to burn down. Although these dances may have been meant for single young ladies, it was extremely entertaining.
My long hair was driving me crazy in the humid and hot climate. So one evening, Gretchen borrowed Brad’s leatherman and gave me a “little” trim. That evening was probably the best one spent at Sunset. Enesi and some of the younger men at the resort bought kava from a neighboring village and invited us to drink Kava with them for an evening.
Kava is considered to be a sort of drug made from the root of the kava plant. It is ground up and then filtered with water. Traditionally, you sit in a circle and the kava server passes a coconut shell full of kava to you when it is your turn. You clap before you drink and then everyone else claps when you are done. Once everyone has had a turn you relax and chat for about 10 minutes and then around it goes again. Although we didn’t feel any other effects from kava than a very full belly, many of the village members told us they were still drunk on kava the next day. Aside from one hike overlooking the resort, we spent most of the day reading and laying in the hammocks so maybe we just didn’t notice.
After three days at Sunset Resort, we decided to splurge and stay at Octopus Resort, located directly on the opposite side of the island. Octopus was VERY different . . . it had fine dining and a full bar, a swimming pool, lounge chairs and umbrellas on the beach, private bungalows. Although very modern and luxurious (to our standards), we were expecting to have similar encounters with the staff as we did at Sunset. It felt very corporate to us, as if the staff were instructed not to engage in conversation with the guests. But we still had an amazing time snorkeling, sitting on the beach, reading, drinking Fiji Bitters (what Fijians just call “Beer”), playing poker and eating great food.
Back on the mainland we decided to head inland to the mountains for our last few days in Fiji. We rented a car and BJ had his first test of driving on the opposite side of the road. Our destination was the village of Navala where we stayed with a family who had a few bures for rent. Mama greeted us with big warm hugs, fed us way too much food, and had a funny way of saying “Vinaka” or “thank you” even after a few minutes of silence. One Fijian characteristic that I have somehow left out until now is their laugh: high pitched, more like a giggle, and frequent. They laugh at everything and Mama’s husband would laugh at the end of every sentence. Her son Tui was a pleasure to spend time with. He invited us to drink kava, took us on a tour of the village and told us about the ancient tradition of cannibalism, and took Brad on a hike to a nearby mountain so that he could paraglide down into the village. The children in the village of course were ecstatic to see someone just fly into their soccer field. We spent the last hour in Navala with the kids, taking pictures and asking them to sing songs for us.
Looking back on how much we actually did and saw while we were in Fiji, it surprises me that we left feeling almost “too” relaxed. Fiji is a beautiful country and the color of the water the most stunning I have ever seen. But the people are what make the country so enjoyable. Their laughter, welcoming embraces, willing to share stories and answer questions about their family, and downright enjoyment of life are what really made the trip for me and opened my eyes to how little you need in life to be happy.