We decided to fit Fiji into our travels between Australia and New Zealand since we had a timeshare there we could use. Our first few days were spent in the resort filled strange man-made “tourist island” of Denarau. It felt a bit like being in a gated community. We did manage to “escape” and go into the nearby town of Nadi where we visited the farmer’s market, kava market, and local stores. At the craft market that supports the village children, we were honored to be given our first kava ceremony. Kava (It's Fijian name is yaqona) is a drink made from the powdered root of a pepper tree called piper methysticum strained through a wooden bowl full of water and is served ceremonially with coconut shells. The attraction to this drink doesn't seem to be the taste, I noticed men would have a drink of Fanta afterwards. It had a strange numbing effect on my mouth. It is a slight psychoactive and Fijians seem to enjoy it's relaxing and euphoric effects as it is the official drink of Fiji.
Nadi is mostly a mix of native Fijian Pacific Islanders and people from India and China. When we looked a bit lost after getting off the bus at the bustling station, a local guy directed us to the market. When he found out that we were from California he promptly shook our hands and introduced himself. This happened several times during our stay, perhaps because we weren’t the usual Aussie or Kiwi (NZ) tourists. Later, as we were walking around, another local asked Keegan if he played Rugby which started a nice brief conversation. It seemed to us that the Fijians were outgoing and friendly. Perhaps it is just remarkable to us as Californians, since at home it seems people are often too consumed with their own lives to take time to interact.
After a few days of fully utilizing the lovely amenities of our Worldmark Resort; the washing machines, the gym, several pools and the Mexican restaurant, we boarded the island passenger ferry out to the Blue Lagoon Resort on Nacula Island at the tip of the Yasawa Islands. The 5 hour ride was a great way to see all the beautiful remote islands which host small villages and resorts.
Many of the resorts have a synergistic relationship with the nearby villages; they provide some of the school meals for the students as well as employment. This is true of the Blue Lagoon resort (where we stayed) they provide three days of meals for the local boarding school, the government provides one and families provide the other. The resort also collects school supplies for the kids and bras for the village women to which I contributed. We did a tour of the school and Nacula village near the Blue Lagoon. The school tour was a bit too much of a "show" for tourists rather than an actual tour. The secondary students performed a kava ceremony and dance for us. It was evident, much like in any classroom, that some of the students enjoyed the singing and dancing while others were embarrassed or chose to goof off. Kids will be kids no matter where you are.
Pictures of a traditional Fijian house and the methodist minister's house.
We were fortunate to have one of the resort guides be an actual local. He grew up in the village and attended the school. He was currently home from Nadi on Christmas school break and was working at one of the local resorts. He shared his fondness for his village while he introduced us to his cousins, aunts and uncles. He showed us the chief and minister's home as well as the three churches for this village of less than 200 people.
The Blue Lagoon resort was paradise! It is the sight of the 1980’s movie Blue Lagoon with Brooke Shields. The food, the people and the ocean were spectacular. The snorkeling right off the beach along a coral wall was spectacular. Naomi, Keegan and I went to the Sawa-i-Lau Caves on a nearby island, where we had to dive under water to get to the adjoining sea filled cave. There was also a great hike up to the peaks of the island which had breathtaking views. We scuba dove, snorkeled, swam and partook in the resort activities like the kava ceremony, and silly activities like the piggy, lagoon, king game.
The staff seemed to share a real sense of camaraderie. They regularly sing traditional songs together. However I do wonder how strange it must be as a local to have people visiting your island from such different cultures who spend time in skimpy outfits turning themselves brown and often times red. Al in all, Fijians seem to have a warranted sense of pride in their beautiful land and culture.