Looking for peace and beauty in the South Pacific
On a Monday morning whim, my brother-in-law and I booked flights to the South Pacific paradise of Fiji. Greg and I were actually egged on by our twin-sister wives (he’s got one, I the other). You see, a cheeky joke double downed on a dare that had them blurting, “We can take care of ourselves. Why don’t you guys just go?” Greg and I exchanged grins. This was Greg’s first visit. I’ve gone periodically. A decade ago I built a simple bungalow on Viti Levu’s (Fiji’s main island) south coast. I’ll take any opportunity to pluck my passion fruit. For me Fiji is mellow vibes and smiling faces. It is mangoes, bananas and brilliant flora. It is the wind and sand and sea. It is our planet’s splendor.
We arrive at my jungle hideaway, open windows and crack beers. Greg flips through airport brochures while we discuss our options. He’s pumped to explore. “Look at these Yasawa Islands. Let’s go there!” he insists. I’d never been to these islands, which are some of the most renown in all of Fiji. Greg then maps an unexpected side trip. So after a few weeks of sailing, surfing and diving…we go.
In Port Denarau we board a large power cat—the Yasawa Flyer— and blaze through the sea, stopping on the fringes of one placid paradise after another. Resort-owned transfer skiffs approach us like pirates, then tie off to load and unload guests. Accommodations in these islands range from sleek resorts to simple digs. Looking for an earthier experience with the fabulous Fijian people, we aim for a family run place called the Gold Coast Inn. Greg and I eventually hop into the Goldie’s boat with a handful of Norwegian backpackers. Our bow soon plows into warm sand. Just steps up the beach, a fence of coco trees and hammocks
WE ARRIVE AT MY JUNGLE HIDEAWAY, OPEN WINDOWS AND CRACK BEERS.
hide a short row of clean, comfy, solarcharged bures or huts.
“Bula (hello),” I hear. Our hostess Sala appears. She guides us to the dining room to give us the lowdown. Diving, snorkeling, kayaking, swimming in limestone caves, swimming with manta rays, sailing adventures...these islands are a water-lover’s affair. Plus you can visit villages, try traditional cooking and chat with the locals. I’d say the most popular activity is crisping on a beach under the sun. In this world void of shops and roads, it’s quite possible to understand the term “Fiji Time.”
Once everyone scatters after Sala’s welcoming introduction, Greg and I trek along the cross-island footpath. Twenty minutes later we pop out of the forest at a pristine beach. Translucent postcardlike water laps the shore. We jump into the ocean. “Man, this is great,” Greg says floating in the shallow lagoon. I feel hypnotic, as well. The balmy background makes me miss my wife. If she were here I’d pull her close. Kiss her.
In time we meander back to our place for a dinner of clams and rice. When we’re
down to our last bites, two of the resort staff begin strumming guitars and singing songs that flow delightfully between the Fijian and English languages. When the gig ends we play cards with the other guests. Later that night we’re lulled to sleep by the sound of waves patting the shore while the trade wind flows generously through our bure’s screened windows.
Amidst our last day, I see Sala under the veranda. She’d just given a Norwegian tourist a massage. I mosey over to talk. “So, how did this resort get here?” I ask. “Since long ago, this land,” she explains, “belonged to the people from Neisilisili village on that other island,” pointing directly to an island that looks almost swimmable if challenged. “Here they planted their crops. Some family members would get dropped off by a small fishing boat. They’d work the land then get picked up a few days later.” They grow dalo, cassava, pineapple, papaya, everything, she says. “They also had the sea.” Sala adds, “Mussels, seaweed, fish. There’s always been plenty of food.”
Not a whole lot has changed. However nowadays, along with what Mother Nature provides, they’ve also developed a cash crop—simple bures built to accommodate roughly a dozen guests. The villagers go about their daily routine as if international travelers had never shown. They farm, fish, drink kava, raise their young. The lifestyle is idyllic, especially for those who rarely experience such simple pleasures. But they’ve also had hardships. Sala mentioned droughts, when people were forced to drink coconut milk to survive. In some ways it seems that being in these islands is like living in an aquatic Wild West.
It’s funny that Sala sums up their small island living with something totally American. “And the main thing is a boat, eh,” she says. “If you have a boat, you can go anywhere. If you don’t have a boat, it’s like a cowboy without a horse.”
The rugged beauty of Fiji’s Yasawa Islands (top) is like an aquatic Wild West. Fiji’s flowers (bottom left) add a special element to an island visit. Accommodations (bottom right) throughout the islands vary from plain to posh. Sometimes a simple bure...
Sala, hostess of the Gold Coast Inn (top), gives a guest massage. A common vista (bottom) aboard the Yasawa Flyer. Of Fiji’s 300 plus islands, only 106 are permanently inhabited.
Fiji is one of the world’s best places to work on your tan (top). Resort boats (bottom) move visitors and islanders between destinations.