boa constrictor, cannibal fork, Cannibal Isles, Cast Away, Coral Coast, Fiji, Fiji, Kula Eco Park, Mamanucas, mongoose, Monuriki Island, Nabutautau, Reverand Thomas Baker, snake, solo travel, Tom Hanks, Viti Levu, Warwick Fiji Resort and Spa
Fiji is a very welcoming place. Everywhere we go we get big and loud "bula's" (BOO-lah), always singing and sometimes guitar and ukelele playing.
Several times we've had "scary" warriors sporting face paint, spears and bracelets of grass or leaves on ankles, upper arms and wrists run out to greet us, screaming Fijian things we don't understand and jumping and making faces. All in good fun.
These seem very much tourist and hotel related but the Fijians also have realized they need to preserve their old ways and teach others. Even if the old Fiji ways involved cannibalism and warring tribes.
Today's post goes back to morning #1 when we arrived at Nadi Airport. Before dawn. It was quite a cheery wake up to see these guys singing and playing guitars and ukelele. Some of what I've learned since about what you'll see in the brief video:
These colorful, cool shirts are a Fiji staple. The Fijian version of an aloha shirt. We drove past a police station and saw the uniform on dozens of cops sitting on a bus. A bula shirt in a blue-and-white pattern with the police patch on their arms.
Flowers behind the ear
Frangipani and other flowers go behind the left ear if you are single, right ear if you are married. Both men and women get flowers. They look tropical and exotic and smell nice the whole time they're on.
The sulu va taga (SU-lu vah TAHN-gah- remember, "g's" have an "ng" sound) is worn by both men and women. The one you see here is the more formal one. Unlike the sulu/sarong that is a large piece of cloth wrapped or tied, and more casual, this one in the video is a tailored sulu va taga that men wear to work and when dressing up.
The Fijian version of men's suit pants. They are made of similar material to suit material, have pockets and a belt that is part of the waistband. And sandals are the way to go.
So, the video below, family, (as some Fijians say a lot) is your (and was my) first taste of the Fijian way of life. Yes, once you are welcomed into a village by the chief and go through a kava ceremony, you are family.
Solo travelers joining any sort of village tour will find a big welcome and learn a lot about Fijian ways and should feel safe and happy traveling to and around Fiji.
I'm off for more snorkeling right from my hotel, the Warwick Fiji Resort and Spa. I'm told the "wildlife" is much different here than it was down the road a bit. And the water is super warm here on the Coral Coast, in the south of the island of Viti Levu. Hot, even, in the shallow spots. Not expected for those of us used to East Coast beaches. East Coast, US, that is.
Now, enjoy a Fiji welcome. I'll be back with more posts on other aspects of Fijian life.
The water bottle sitting on the table near me is labeled, “From the islands of Fiji, natural artesian water.” If I’m in the Fijian Islands, why am I drinking the water from a bottle, not the tap?
The outdoor breakfast in the hotel lobby (Fiji is warm enough all year round to not need all the usual walls and doors) includes fresh cut pineapple, papaya slices sprinkled with lime juice, watermelon slices. Eggs arrive with paler yellow yolks than I’m used to seeing.
Mynah birds spoiled by guests’ crumbs and leftovers fly close, landing on some empty tables. Pests, I’m sure, but exotic to me. I don’t have birds join me for breakfast all that often.
The heat and humidity are a big change from a Washington, DC, spring.
Should I check my email one more time before going “off the grid,” to Bulou Eco Lodge, a “scenic 3-hour bumpy ride” away in Navala?
I am here at Raffles Gateway Hotel, where members of the Society of American Travel Writers have checked in for four hours for breakfast, a shower and some down time after a 10-hour flight from Los Angeles. It’s a walk away from Nadi Airport on the island of Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest.
Over breakfast, our guide Bruce explains a little about the Fijian tradition of firewalking. He says they do it over hot stones for entertainment purposes – but you have to be invited to do so by someone who will call on a spirit god to watch over you. Ahem. IF I understood that correctly.
He’s done it, he says. About five or six steps without burning his feet.
The rustic eco lodge that five of us are headed to today is one of the few remaining villages in the South Pacific that still feature traditional architecture. The single-room houses, called bures (boo-rays), have thatched roofs and walls woven of bamboo.
We’re told we will spend some time with the villagers. Maybe join them at church on Sunday. (Flying here, I “lost” a Friday due to the international dateline. We left Thursday night and arrived Saturday before dawn. Maybe I can pray to get the day back?)
I'm solo in that I've never met five of the six people in our group and I will be going off on my own once at the eco lodge. But I am with a group that's taking care of the details. This tends to be how I travel. It's a luxury to have someone else make the plans and get me to where I want to go. And have company for meals.
There are several options over the next three days. Tour a “medicinal and herbal garden” to discover Fijian remedies used long ago, as well as today. Get a cooking demonstration over an outside fire. Laze by the Navala River. Learn weaving, sewing and pottery making. Go waterfall trekking or horseback riding.
One thing I WON’T have is a computer connection. I’m looking forward to that…I think. I’ve gotten so used to checking in via some device or other every day. Perhaps this will be the most relaxing thing of all about the eco lodge.
Wake with the sun. Lose the watch. Be unable to check email. Except right now it feels like cold turkey. Like I have to get my last emails read and blog posts posted before I’m “cut off.”
Maybe it will be good for me. We’ll see…
Update: May 21. We didn't get to do a lot of what was proposed but the visit to Navala was a highlight of my travels to the interior. The thatched-roof village provides a basic lifestyle for residents and it can't be an easy life. But the people were friendly and warm to us, shaking our hands and asking us where we were from. They're used to people visiting and taking their photos. It's the only village in the country where the "building code" is bures only.
Unfortunately, we hit a very muddy time there - the rains hadn't stopped for weeks. Anyone visitng the area should plan on staying the night, It's a long drive in, by bus or car. And don't count on a nice warm shower at Bolou's!
Photo: Ellen Perlman. Village of Navala, Northeast interior of Viti Levu.
In a few hours I'll be winging my way from the Los Angeles Airport to Nadi Airport on the island of Viti Levu. Where in the world? I'm headed to Fiji. Which is not one island but 322. Formerly known as the Cannibal Isles.
My first stop is an ecolodge on Viti Levu, the largest island. The next largest island, located to the Northeast, is Vanua Levu. Then there's the smaller Taveuni and then many, many much smaller islands.
Although this is a meeting for freelancer writers belonging to the Society of American Travel Writers, the main conference isn't until four days after I arrive. I know several people in the group, but no one at the eco-lodge. I'll be a solo eco-lodger.
I hope to meet some villagers and learn about Fijian culture. I'm rereading a book called, "Changes in Latitude, An Uncommon Anthropology," which I happened to read many years ago. It stayed with me. It's about a 54-year-old Hawaiian harbormaster who ends up marrying a Fijian fisherman nearly half her age and has to learn to adjust to Fijian culture.
I'm hoping NOT to marry a Fijian this week. But apparently women traveling alone must "cope" with frequent marriage offers, according to the Moon Guide on Fiji. Good to know ahead of time.
I'll try to post here when I can but not for a few days at least. Even if there is connectivity, I'd like to get away from all, at least for a little while. Enjoy the place first. Post later.