Bula. A simple Fijian greeting. I love the way the natives allow the “la” to float off their tongue, as if gently sending a kind “hello” into the warm Fiji breeze. Then there’s the way the manly men of Fiji thrust out the word from the back of their throat, with a guttural emphasis on the “Bu” – Bula!! Reminiscent of the past days when fierce warriors would cannibalize the missionaries and British sea captains who tried to change their native way of life. Or perhaps my favorite way to use this greeting is sort of like a dance for the tongue, “Bula Bula!” said in rapid succession. Like our British friends lifting off an upbeat “Cheeri-o!”. However you say it, this one word pretty much defines our Fiji experience. A bit of relaxed warm breeze mixed with a few elements of excitement and an overall feeling left inside that “Dorothy, you ain’t in Kansas” – or Asia for that matter.
Wow, 9 full days in Fiji. Split between a remote little island “resort” and a true, full blown, genteel resort where the luxury of internet and phone service connectivity allow Matt to soften the blow of having to return
The big yellow boat
The Yasawa Flyer totes island hoppers along the Mamanuca and Yasawa islands. One round trip/day requires 9 1/2 hours.
to a demanding, fast paced job.
Our direct 10 hour flight from Seoul lands us in Nadi on the big island of Viti Levu. Right away a rush of warm humid air and welcoming Fiji folk songs harmonized by 4 Fiji men playing guitars and ukuleles greet us as we deboard the plane. This is gonna be good. Here on the big island of Fiji, we learn that sugar cane plantations and tourism support the Fiji people. Presently, 2 distinct heritages of peoples inhabit Fiji: the native Fijian’s, who perhaps came from Africa, and the Indo-Fijians, who arrived as indentured servants in the 1800’s. Still today, it is primarily the Indo-Fijians who work the plantations, while still not allowed to own the land. And the native Fijian’s, who own all the land, thus have first rights at tourism jobs at the resorts which sit upon the land which they own. Yet, they coexist peacefully for the most part. In fact, after a lengthy discussion with our Indo-Fijian taxi driver about the hardships of typical Fiji life at or below the poverty line, I asked “So, what is it then that promotes the contentedness that all Fijian’s seem to contain?”
Coral reef fringed harbor
Botaira is located to the right of center at waters edge. The roof of our bure can be counted as #4 from the left.
His telling quick response, “If I or my family are hungry, my neighbor will give us food. Whether they are native or Indo-Fijian. We help each other.” Isn’t that a lesson for us all – life lived in a supportive community can be one of contentment and happiness regardless of excesses of wealth. Of course, having the lush beauty and pleasant climate of Fiji might also add to that.
But Fiji consists of over 300 islands and our goal was to experience a bit of true Fiji life – if such a thing still exists. To do that, we chose to stay 6 days at a Fiji owned and operated resort on Naviti island in the Yasawa island chain. A 4 hour trip from Viti Levu on a big yellow catamaran called the Yasawa Flyer, delivered us to Botaira Resort. We wade ashore on a sidewalk submersed underwater between the delicate coral reef lining the bay which Botaira rests upon. It is hot, deserted (only 2 other guests to be found within a 1/2 hour boat ride), palm lined, and we feel a bit like the Tom Hanks character in “Castaway”. Our stay went something like this: Day 1: Can we stand 6 days of this??
No internet, phone, TV, electricity past midnight. Yet, the azure water is sooooo warm and the sandy beach and shaded hammocks so inviting. Our little thatched bure has 3 sides of louvered windows (like my Grandma’s home in Florida) and a big ceiling fan. All we hear
are the pleasant chirping of a few birds and the rhythmic rush of waves onto the shore a few feet from our front door. Maybe a nap will help. Day 2: O’k, we think we’re going to make it.
A morning bumpy boat ride around the island to Soso village introduces us to the lifestyle of the 10 resort staff. That was our cultural introduction and big event for the day! We’re getting used to the idea of waiting for the beating of the drums to let us know it’s time to eat. The fresh island food of speared fish of the day(usually Trevally) or chicken – usually cooked or marinated in lime and coconut, tropical fruits (papaya, tiny bananas, pineapple, watermelon), cassava and tarot as well as a few tropical cocktails settle us a bit further into this island life. Day 3: Wow,
there’s a lot to do here! Will we be able to fit it all in? The snorkeling directly off the resort is like swimming in a giant aquarium. Many brightly colored corals, vibrant blue starfish, eels, squid, angelfish, parrot fish, Hawaiian triggerfish, sea anemone and their clown fish, goby’s, snapper, huge colorful giant clams, sea cucumbers and many more. Just perusing the resort owned fish encyclopedia and cataloguing our sightings takes up a few hours of my time. Then there’s the required nap and goals like touring the garden and climbing the island ridge that give us a bit of structure to our days. Day 4: It’s so sad.
Our Swedish friends (the only other guests here) leave, and soon we’ll have to also. Two nice couples from Great Britain and China arrive in their place. I’ve finally gotten my “sea legs” and can snorkel extended periods of time without nausea. In fact, even when not on the waves, I still feel the motion of the ocean pulling me fore and back in my chair. Day 5: What day is this anyway? How long til the next drum call for a meal?
We’ve given up watches, make-up, combing
our hair, sox, shoes, even sandals! We’ve acquired a few more guests in the resort as a group of “study abroad” students comes for a few days as well as a nice family from Tasmania - or “Tazi” as they say. Still our nightlife consists of evening dinner on the deck enjoying the sunset and laughing at the antics of the big beach crabs digging out their homes and protecting their territory. After, we retreat to our bure for perhaps a game of solitaire or some reading and early to bed. Again, it’s the waves lulling us to sleep, curtains and windows open to the breeze and hopes of deep sleep till the morning drum calls us to breakfast. Day 6: Guess it’s time to make our way back to the main island.
Even though it's hard to leave, we’re ready and looking forward. Good bye Botaira, and thank you for allowing us to escape to a Fiji we only previously dreamed about.
Another 4 hour cruise back through the Yasawa and Mamanuca island chain return us to Viti Levu where we transfer 50 minutes via taxi around the island to the Shangri-la Fijian resort on the “coral
Island get away
As we cruise toward our island, we deliver other passengers to little island resorts along the way. How would you like to be marooned here?
coast”. Just in time for a big buffet dinner! Welcome to being spoiled in a more civilized way. And still, the warm breeze, azure water, and tall gracious palms string along this Fiji experience for a few more days. We fill our days relaxing beachside, Jessie completes her first scuba experience, we partake of a Fiji feast complete with fire dancing warriors and lovely tanned Fiji hula girls, and enjoy fun conversations with the charming Aussies, Kiwis, and a nice Italian couple from Hangzhou. Add a bit of email and skyping to ease us back into our real life, shopping, more eating – there you have it. 9 days later we return rested, tanned, hydrated in hair and skin, and hopefully ready to live in the crowds of Asia once again. Oh yes, and still as I write this blog the morning after, the pull of the ocean waves rhythmically rock me fore and back in my desk chair in Shanghai. Kind of like a gentle reminder of the relaxing rhythm of the past few days. Vinaka Fiji!
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