Feel­ing Fiji

Look­ing for peace and beauty in the South Pa­cific

Bonita & Estero Magazine - - DEPARTMENT­S - BY J.J. BRIT O

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


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.

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