FIJI – 18th February to 4th March 2010
This was a little side trip that we decided upon only 5 days earlier.
All day travelling. Arrived at the Sofitel Resort Denaurau Island near Nadi (pronounced Nandee) on the main island of Fiji Viti Levu.
Fiji has a population of just over 800,000 and comprises 330 islands, although many are uninhabited. Half of the population is of Indian origin having been brought here by the British in the 1860s to grow the sugar cane that comprised the backbone of the economy until tourism took off.
Spent orientating, relaxing and organising some trips for our 2 weeks here. Although very good of its type, we have some doubts about choosing a “resort”. The whole island is resorts (Sheraton, Radisson, Hilton, Sofitel) and is gated. This gives security but makes it more difficult to see the real Fiji.
Beginning to feel more relaxed. Trip out to the Sleeping Giant Garden which was the private garden of the actor Raymond Burr. Then we saw the village of Viseisei, the reputed landing place of the first residents of Fiji, who came from Africa! This is also the village of the President that retired 2 months ago at the age of 90 and with Parkinsons. Finally a visit to the hill top home of Rosie the founder of the tour company. The house looked relatively modest but the views in all directions were fabulous. In one direction the mountains, including the one that looks like a sleeping giant, and in the other that sea.!
Took trip in minibus to capital city, Suva, with a population of (variously given) 125-250,000. The road followed the coastal strip between the sea and the inland hills. There were several villages, all relatively small, in the journey of perhaps 90 miles. The houses showed a relatively poor country but not the abject poverty we have seen in some countries. They were mainly small single storey concrete block houses with corrugated iron roofs. Some were entirely made of corrugated iron. A very few were platted palm leave walls under thatched roofs. The second industry in the country is sugar cane but some farmers are giving this up in favour of tobacco. In general there was a noticeable lack of agriculture, with no indication of animals and much re-forested land that appeared to have been cleared in the past. We saw a number of ox drawn ploughs and quite a lot of horses grazing at the roadside, some tethered and some not. The road itself is the only sealed road that covers about half of the coastal route and is largely narrow but with occasional 3 lane sections for overtaking in the Australian mode.
Suva appeared to be small as to its centre. We were interested to see three bible colleges. As usual government buildings are the best, especially the large new inland revenue. The shops were a mixture of some new western style and many older small stores. However, as this is the principal city and tourism the principal industry there appeared little provision or attraction for tourists.
We learned that fees are charged for all levels of education. There is approximately 80% literacy. There is no social security and the minimum wage is given as $1-3 (Fiji) ph. This is up to £1 sterling.
Despite the books saying that tipping is not encouraged, there is clearly a culture of this and really a need.
Fantastic day trip – one of our best ever. We had a minibus to the town of Sigatoka and then a taxi for about 20 minutes along dirt roads to where we picked up our jetboat. Then an exciting and scary ride for about 30 minutes to the village of Nalebaleba. The river was quite shallow with occasional banks of shingle and with many fallen trees. We went weaving between these at great speed (guess at 30-40mph). The scenery was lovely tree covered hills. We passed people sitting in the river to keep cool, bringing their horses to drink, playing and fishing. All waved cheerily.
We had to scramble up a steep climb to the village which was a genuine working village of about 164 people and a school of about 70 including some who were boarding. The guide told us this was a Christian village and like all Fijian villages they have a chief and operate as a community. This does not seem to extend to communal cooking etc, but rather to an attitude of sharing possessions as need arose.
Kitchens were a single corrugated iron building with open fire. The house is separate and has usually 2 rooms, one for living and an area for sleeping. We visited the Methodist church as our guide, a villager, told us that people lived on subsistence growing of vegetables and fruit, selling at market any excess. The church was wired for electricity but none is connected yet. The cost is around £100 per household. The government pays the remaining 90% of the true cost. Spring water had been piped to the village in 2008. In a subsequent conversation with staff at the hotel we found that many upland villages were without electricity.
Times were hard at present following a hurricane shortly before Christmas that destroyed many crops. A cyclone in January last year caused much damage throughout Fiji. We had seen the destroyed railway bridge that used to cross the river at Sigatoka.
We were then welcomed by the chief and the villagers at a cava ceremony. This drink made from water and pounded cave root is mildly narcotic and leaves the tongue and lips numb. One of our number, a schoolteacher from England, was appointed chief of the 20 or so visitors and Adrian was appointed his spokesman. We all sat solemnly (including several children under 5) whilst there were speeches and the formal drinking of cava. This is accompanied by a ceremonial single clap and speaking out “Bola” (the universal greeting in Fiji). The cup is cleared in a single go and then once it is returned the recipient gives 3 loud claps. The next person is then served. Apparently this ceremony is widely used for all occasions in Fiji.
A group of men began some attractive Fijian singing and the villagers came and invited us to dance with them. All great fun – even Adrian enjoyed it!
We were served a lunch of sweet potato, breadfruit, chicken and several other unidentifiable vegetables and also papaya. It was in fact tasty. There was no sauce of any kind nor any noticeable spices. We were told that this was very typical food for the Fijians.
One of the older men invited Adrian to sit next to him and we discussed families and also the connection of electricity. The man said that the government was very good and was doing a lot for the rural areas.
After a fond farewell we were accompanied back to the boat by a group of villagers and then sped back. This time the drivers of the 2 boats displayed their prowess by doing the equivalent of handbrake turns which spun the boat round and sent water cascading over the passengers – especially those at the back, we being at the front!!!
It was a truly memorable day.
We were brave and having done some enquiring took a local minibus to Nadi ($1 each instead of $12 for a taxi) and then a bus to Lautoka ($2 each) an hour’s journey. The bus was open at the higher level at the sides, having no glazed windows.
Lautoka is the second city of Fiji. In fact we saw nothing for tourists. The shops were largely small Indian stores and relatively poor. They were shuttered even when open. The main street seemed more prosperous but it was certainly not a particularly attractive or inviting area. We saw not a single white person in our 2-3 hours there.
The sea front (next to a working port) had had money spent on it and was attractive but still no sign of tourists or provision for them.
The journey each way was interesting and showed us a variety of housing and many schools. There was a lot of sport being played and it seems it was a Coca-Cola competition for high schools.
Our success with the buses evaporated when we sought the return bus to Denarau. We could find none of the mini-buses and were therefore dependent on the Westbus service and had to wait in the heat for 40 minutes. Otherwise the day had been very successful and very cheap. Our lunch for 2 people and including a drink each had been £3.00.
Today we spent time on the beach in front of our hotel. We went down to Port Denarau and had a somewhat better than average meal at the restaurant that gave us free wifi access. Whilst at the Port , we tried to book on the Captain Cook’s Dinner Cruise for Tuesday night. However, there was only one other couple booked and the four of us constitute less than the minimum number required to make the event viable. Therefore they will let us know on Tuesday morning whether it will, or will not, take place.
Overnight there had been an earthquake in Chile – measuring 8.8 on the Richter Scale. As a result of this, a Tsunami warning was issued for Hawaii and for other islands all over the Pacific.
We knew about the earthquake but not about the Tsunami risk and therefore, when we were told that our beach was closed until at least lunchtime, began to conjecture what the reason might be – filming? a local beach service? We didn’t know.
Half way through the morning, the hotel manager came onto the loudspeaker and broadcast a message about precautions that were necessary until a Tsunami threat was no more. We immediately put the television on and CNN were giving the Hawaii situation major coverage. We watched the television for some while and then went down to the restaurant area with view of the beach to get some lunch. There were a number of men standing guard on the beach to prevent anyone going down there. Finally, as we were nearing the end of our meal, there was another public broadcast declaring that the emergency was now over and that the beach could again be used.
Shortly after returning to our room, the telephone rang – it was Keri calling from Darwin, to make sure that we knew about the Tsunami threat. She also told us that Zoë was again in Addenbrookes; this time in the Neurological Ward.
Later in the afternoon, we went again to the restaurant at the Port and sent our emails. However, one very large email of 14 MB, was blocking at least two others being downloaded - therefore we did not get very far at all.
It was a cloudy day today so we probably would not have sat for long on the beach in any event. We used the time to read and hoped for better weather tomorrow when we go on our cruise to the Yasawas.
Monday 1st March
Well I’m afraid It wasn’t…better weather. The catamaran had a closed cabin as well as open decks so we could at least watch the rain lash down and yet remain dry. Also they were showing a recent movie on Mandela and the Springboks, so that proved an interesting diversion for most of the journey.
The Yasawas Flyer acts as a ferry to the Mamanuca Islands and also to the further away Yasawas. The first group of islands are largely story book tropical islands – small coral islands with palm trees and sandy beaches. A number of these have tiny groups of buildings that provide basic overnight accommodation and also a base for day trips. The activities are all of the snorkelling and swimming variety. The clientele are largely young people. Certainly the boat was nearly full and most were teenage/twenties gap year students plus young couples. Many were British which was interesting as we had met very few English people and the locals seemed quite surprised when we said we were from England.
The catamaran drew close to a number of islands and small boats drew alongside to offload any passengers and take on new.
The Yasawas were about 3 hours from Port Denaura and are largely very different from the Mamanucas, being a chain of volcanic islands. The islands are rocky and rise in steep slopes. Nevertheless there are some sandy beaches. As with the Mamanucas and the main islands of Fiji, they are surrounded by coral reefs.
We had opted for Botaira Beach on Naviti Island and were met by a little boat which took us to within a few yards of the shore and we waded the rest! Adrian took the chance to do a little snorkelling and found the corals and the fish as dramatic as the Barrier Reef. Getting in and out was more difficult however as it was not from a boat but simply wading out a few yards from the shore. The sea floor is highly irregular and full of rough coral and yet the water is shallow as one reaches the shore.
We then enjoyed a seafood lunch and watched rain descend as we were serenaded by a small group of men with guitars and the good old tea-chest! Other than in Fiji it was many years since we had last seen one of these played! The lunch in included a Kokado sald which is fish served in coconut milk and in a coconut – delicious.
As we prepared to leave about 2.30 the sky began to break and gave us spasmodic attendance on the way home. As a result we were able to view the islands from an outside deck and to see how the boats were coming out and dealing with passengers.
Despite the weather we felt it had been a good day.
Tuesday 2nd March
The sun shone again! After a morning on e-mails Skype calls, we had the afternoon on the beach and then went for a dinner cruise. This was just within the general coastal area around Denarau but enabled us to see some of the islands in sunshine.
There was a small group playing and singing for us and later a show of traditional Fiji dress. The 3 course meal seafood was good rather then fantastic but it was a very enjoyable and relaxing evening. Jill had helped a fairly elderly man use his daughter’s digital camera and towards the end of the meal we joined tables and chatted. Harry and Reke were a Dutch couple who had settled in Australia in 1952. He had been a psychologist/hypnotherapist and had a hobby of owning and flying planes. We do meet some interesting people and you can’t guess at their lives until the story is told! They now live in Andover Hills near Melbourne.
Again a good evening.
Wednesday 3rd March
Our last in Fiji. Poor Jill not feeling too well. Was it that sea food dinner?
We spent the morning in Nadi and were taken in by a car that stopped for us! He was an employee of the Radisson who was married to a nurse working in Suva. They lived in Sigitoka. He said there was no charge and even refused the amount of the bus fare!
We bought a couple of shirts, a tee shirt for Jill and various small presents. We had our eye on a vegetarian restaurant for lunch. It proved to be all curries but was quite good and also about half the cost of the hotel. Jill also arranged to have a sun dress made. We did not want to wait the hour (!) and they sent it to the shop at our hotel. Imagine the embarrassment when it was found to be too big! The shop sent a man back to Nadi and the seamstress stayed late to alter it. It then fitted beautifully so we felt we should give a small tip to both people involved. Whilst in their hotel shop Jill found a necklace opal that matched the earrings she had bought in Coober Pedy, so the shop did well out of us.
For our final splash Adrian had his first experience of a Jet ski which was great fun.
So, the end has come. We found Fijians generally very friendly and usually without other motives. The tree covered hills and the beaches and islands are beautiful. We appreciated the laid back life – called Fiji time. A good end to a trip that has contained a lot of variety.