“We will begin our descent into Nadi in 20 minutes, please ensure your seatbelts are fastened and your window shades open, thank you.”
After every long haul flight, these words are music to my ears; on this occasion more so than others given the four infants aboard were intently focused on testing the strength of their newly developed vocal cords throughout the 5.5 hour flight. My partner and I craned our necks eagerly to peep out of the window for the first sign of land, but nothing. Okay maybe the airport is right next to the coastline, we’ll give it 10 more minutes. 15 minutes pass, still nothing but azure blue water reflecting the clouds as far as our eyes can see. Just when we’re starting to get a little apprehensive of our landing conditions, a passenger in front of us gasps in delight. All at once, a beautiful network of coral reefs fringing the small emerald island comes into view, like a precious green jewel set in the silvery-white of foam, embedded in the crystalline blue of the great Pacific. Welcome to Fiji.
Instead of boring you to tears with in depth details of my adventures in Fiji during these 8 glorious days, I have compiled a short list of what I think will be most helpful to you, dear reader, if it so suits your whimsy to pack your bags and make for Fiji (which I thoroughly recommend. My Tasmanian-induced Vitamin D deficiency just disappeared like that.)
1. Use the magical greeting-BULA!
This simple four-lettered word is the essence of feeling right at home in Fiji. Everywhere you go, a chorus of ‘Bula’s’ keep you constant company, and the locals here are the friendliest, and most genuinely so, people you will ever meet in your travels. We asked a young man for directions to a nearby supermarket, and halfway there we heard thundering hoofs behind us. We looked enquiringly at the young man and he just grinned at us and said ‘Bula! Want make sure you right road’, waved merrily then galloped back to where he came from. That’s Fijian people for you right there. When we first arrived, I made the terrible mistake of not returning the cheerful ‘Bula!’ greeting and was immediately punished with the most crestfallen Fijian countenance in the region. So yes everybody, Bula away!
2. How to survive souvenir shopping.
While I stand by the fact they are one of the loveliest people on Earth, do be careful when you shop for souvenirs , especially in the open markets. Some people will chat you up and ask for your name, then immediately carve it on to a souvenir and claim you already bought it. A young girl tried to force a handmade bracelet on to my wrist, saying it was a ‘free gift’ but I politely insisted I had to decline. While these advances are purely driven by poverty and not at all from avarice or malice, do keep an eye out for a safe shopping trip.:)
3. Have a go at scuba diving.
From the extensive list of horseriding, mountain trekking, kayaking, shopping, swimming and waterfall exploring, I have to say scuba diving was the most spectacular. Now I am not a licensed diver at all (plan to be in the next month though!), and that was my first experience scuba diving, even the occasional bursts of wild panic (jumping of a rocky boat into choppy seas in the middle of nowhere and descending 12m underwater desperately clinging on to the diving instructor and clenching my teeth onto the regulator. Not for the faint hearted) could mar the experience. The dive instructor had brought us to this fantastic coral garden, and it teemed and pulsed with marine life. We actually saw a fish sleeping in a little coral alcove, the instructor reached out and gently pulled it out and let me stroke it. While mildly terrifying, this experience diving has whet my appetite for more, will be commencing my training this week, wish me luck!
4. Try some kava.
The national drink of Fiji is. Interesting. From the moment we touched down in Nadi, a favourite question of the locals was ‘You tried the kava?’ to which we politely replied the negative. The response was almost always a toothy grin accompanied with ‘You need try kava. You no experience Fiji till you try the kava.’ Needless to say, after countless gentle admonishments for not prioritising the sampling of this well-loved beverage on our itineraries, my expectations of this famous kava was sky-high. The opportunity to finally indulge my senses with this presumed nectar of the Gods presented itself when we visited a nearby village and met with the village leaders (a kava ceremony is customary when visiting a village, it is expected of visitors to bring a gift of kava root as well if possible). After greeting and exchanging pleasantries with the village leaders, the anticipated moment of sampling kava was here. I gingerly cradled my precious cup of ambrosia in my hands, and cautiously took my first sip, taking care not to spill a drop of this precious liquid. My first impression? This can’t be it! This can’t be what all the hype is about! The tepid brown liquid was almost tasteless, slightly bitter with a hint of herbal flavours distinctly reminiscent of the Chinese medicinal soups I endured as a child (assuredly not fond memories). I glanced at my partner and saw my emotions reflected in the anguish and mystification of his eyes. Then suddenly, and all at once, we felt it. A pleasant mild tingling spread from the back of my throat, slowly gaining in strength leading to a numbing sensation after I finished my cup. A thoroughly unique experience, this taught me that with kava, its not something you taste as much as something you feel.
Eight days in Fiji is definitely not enough, and my one regret is that we did not get to visit the other beautiful beaches like the Mamanucas, as our resort was on the Coral Coast. A special shout out to the staff of Naviti Resort for being incredibly welcoming and taking the effort to remember our names during this short period, and making us feel completely at home in your beautiful island.
Vinaka vakalevu (thank you very much)