Fiji 2001

Outdoor kitchen in Waya Island village

Beach at Safe Landing Resort, Nacula

Nadi, Viti Levu, Fiji Friday November 23, 2001

Kia Ora everyone!

Yes, Fiji was more sun and surf, but we forced ourselves to get used to it. We left the Cook Islands, in a tropical rainstorm at 6:30 AM on Thursday November 8 and after a 3 1/2 hr flight, arrived to bright sunshine in Nadi, on Viti Levu, the largest island of Fiji, at 8:00 AM on Friday November 9. That's what happens when you cross the date line in mid-flight.

We had not made any reservations at all for Fiji, so our first stop was the local travel agency, UTC. We knew we wanted to visit the Yasawa Islands, a string of coral and volcanic islands NW of Viti Levu, so we set about choosing which islands and resorts to visit. There were lots of choices, even in our small budget range, and we settled on three. We would have left right away, but couldn't get transport until the next morning, so we stayed in Nadi overnight. At least this gave us time to pick up a few things we needed for the next two weeks, but Nadi would not be high on my list for an extended visit.

Saturday we took a taxi to Turtle Airlines where we met our barefoot pilot who would take us by seaplane to the island of Tavewa. A 40 minute plane ride sounded much more appealing than a 4 hour boat ride, and it only cost F$10 more! While we were waiting for 2 latecomers to arrive, Ray chatted with the pilot. It turned out that Francois was from Montreal. He had received his pilot's license in Canada, worked as a bush pilot up north then spent a boring six months taking tourists up for a short ride in Australia. He likes his current job much better, ferrying tourists to the outer islands in a seven seater Canadian Beaver.

Turtle Airlines plane

View from plane

The flight was fun. You have a good view of the coral reefs around and between the chain of islands stretching north from Viti Levu. In true seaplane fashion, we landed on a white sand beach on Tavewa Island and had to get our feet wet jumping from one of the plane's floats to the shore.

Safe Landing Place Welcome

Garlands around our necks

Our final destination was the neighbouring island of Nacula. An open motorboat, waiting for passengers from the seaplane, was our taxi to the small resort of Safe Landing Place, just a 10 minute boat ride away. As soon as we were spotted arriving, the staff from Safe Landing rushed to the shore with their guitars and ukeleles and serenaded us with a good Fijian welcome song. We had flower garlands put around our necks and were led to a small table facing the water, where we were served lunch.

After lunch, we were shown to our deluxe double room, one half of a new building. The other half was a six bed dorm, with whom we shared the attached bathroom facilities, but since the dorm was never full this was not a problem. Our other choice would have been a Fijian straw hut, called a bure, which looked very nice, but they did not have attached bathroom facilities. The resort has only been in operation a few months and are still building two more cottages, so they are very anxious to please. Later in the afternoon, our host, Rocky, showed us how to reach the sunset viewing spot. It was on the other side of his small family grave site and he was very careful to show us the correct path so as not to disturb the graves.

As it turned out, Safe Landing won the prize for food over the other two resorts we visited. Their cook had been trained by the exclusive Turtle Island Resort and the local cruise line, Blue Lagoon. The beach was a white sand crescent about 400 m long. The swimming was good, but there was no coral reef for snorkeling right there.

In later conversations with Rocky, Ray confirmed what our guide book had said about the origin of Safe Landing. There was an infamous hostage taking in May 2000 in Suva, the capital city of Fiji. During this time, the villagers of Naisisili, a village on Nacula next to Safe Landing, boated over to the nearby island of Nauya Lailai to the exclusive Turtle Island Resort and announced that the island had been given away illegally in the 19th century. The American owner of the island and the resort sat down with the villagers, and over multi bowls of kava, the local drink, persuaded the villagers to leave. In return, the American has provided funding for the building of several new resorts, including Safe Landing. In addition, Safe Landing buy their supplies from Turtle Island, which means they have access to mass buying and get supplies quicker than waiting for a boat from the mainland.

Meal roasted in a pit

Our buffet dinner

That night, we had our first Lovo, or traditional Fijian feast. All the food is cooked in a pit dug into the sandy soil. The pit is lined with many leaves and kindling is laid over top. Then comes a layer of stones or bricks. The kindling is lit, then more leaves and sand or earth is shovelled over all and the underground fire is left for two hours until the bricks are good and hot. Next the pit is opened and the food is placed over the bricks. Meats or fish are wrapped in banana or woven palm leaves and breadfruit, casava and sweet potatoes are added. More leaves are placed over the food and everything is covered with tarps and sand and left to cook for another two hours. We were there to witness the unveiling. It certainly smelled good, and it was delicious, served along with several more traditional vegetables, we had a true feast.

While we were eating, the chief and elders of the adjacent village sat in a circle drinking kava from a large wooden bowl. Fijians drink this brew every day. It is a muddy looking mixture made from pepper root and water. It is non-alcoholic, but slightly narcotic. It is claimed to make you sleep better. It is supposed to numb your lips and tongue, but when I tasted it on another occasion, it just tasted slightly medicinal. Several of the men played guitars and ukeleles and sang traditional songs while we ate and well into the evening.

There were only eight of staying at Safe Landing, so after dinner, I asked the rest of the guests if they would like to learn Bugger Bridge. Some of you may have played it with Ray and I before. It turned out to be such a hit that we played it every night, teaching the new arrivals each day.


View on the walk

Ray and I managed some long hikes on the island. There are no roads or motor vehicles on any of the islands we visited, not even a bicycle. Walking is the only way to get around, so there are multiple paths criss-crossing the islands. We were provided with a guide who pointed out the crops growing in small plots of land and led us to good hill top view points. From the top of the highest hill, we looked down on another town, Nacula, where all the children go to primary school. They are sent by boat every Sunday and stay in a dormitory until they return to their families on Friday. The land is owned communally by the islanders and apportioned out to each family to grow the crop of their choice. The mainstay of their diet is the starchy casava, or tapioca. I found it like a potato, but rather tasteless. If we were hungry, there was always a mango tree nearby laden with juicy, sweet fruit.

Children at play

Our guide pointed out a rock wall about one or two feet high, forming a round enclosure in the water at the edge of the shore. These were permanent fishing weirs used by the villagers many years ago. They use standard nets now. On the way back to our resort, we passed several children playing a tropical version of snow sledding. They used giant banana leaves as magic carpets for a fun ride down a grassy slope.

Our Beach Bure

Interior of the Bure

After three nights at Safe Landing, we returned to the Island of Tavewa and booked into a straw beach bure at David's Place. Our bure had a thatched roof and walls made of bamboo sheets. There was a door and a window on two sides, so we had a good cross breeze at night. The bure was small but comfortable, but the showers and toilets were in a separate building a short distance away. David's Place has been operating for several years and is quite popular, but I think it has gone downhill a bit. Their claim to fame is more activities, but their facilities didn't compare to Safe Landing, and their food was only adequate.

Anyway, the people were friendly and we discovered a good snorkeling spot nearby. Ray and I had a good time watching all the different fish. Ray would usually precede me in the water, which turned out to be a boon for me. I managed to see a skate, or small manta ray emerge from the sandy bottom and float away. I think it was disturbed by Ray and trying to escape. I would catch up to Ray and try to get him to turn around to see the ray, but it was gone by then.

One day we joined several others on a boat trip to visit the limestone caves of Sawa-i-lau. This is a popular attraction for the tourists and was used in the movie the Blue Lagoon with Brooke Shields. You climb up and then down concrete steps and then jump into the water a few feet below. The atmosphere is quite eerie but a large opening to the sky provides enough light to see. To get to the next cave, you swim underwater about two feet and emerge in complete darkness. We were very glad our guide had a large flashlight. Everyone starts to call out to hear their voice echo,increasing the eeriness of the place. We swam about 10 meters to the end of the cave, which had a very small opening at the top. The story is if you spit through the opening, the sound of the spit hitting the water resounds in the darkness. We didn't get to prove this true. We returned to the main cave and then some of us explored the Pregnant Cave. It is so-called because the opening is so narrow that a pregnant woman, or a large man, could not get through. I decided to give it a try, but it took me two tries to climb up the rock wall and reach the opening. Once up, you have to climb down feeling for foot and hand holds in the dark, before jumping into the water again. It was not as difficult as it sounds, especially when the guide arrived with a flashlight. The pregnant cave exit was a short underwater swim back to the main cave again. I had a good time, but Ray confirmed that he does not like caves, especially ones with no light.

That afternoon we all piled into the motor boat again for a short ride to the Blue Lagoon Beach to go snorkeling. This was also used for the filming of the movie the Blue Lagoon. The reef was longer than the one off Tavewa and we did manage to see lots of fish, but I think we preferred the smaller corals just off Tavewa.

Tavewa Sunset

Another morning Ray and I went for a hike up the highest hill on the island. This is a popular spot to see the sunset, but it was even better to see all the surrounding islands. Rather than retrace our steps down the hill, we decided to find an alternate route. We followed a not very well used path along the top of the hill and down towards the villages below. At one point the path petered out, but we retraced our steps and waded through tall grasses until we found the route we wanted. Down from the hill, we followed the paths through a coconut grove, finally emerging right at the back of David's Place. We surprised some of the staff who were impressed we managed not to get lost.

The hit of our stay at David's Place was the International Crab Race. This event took place after supper one evening. We each paid F$2 to enter the race. For that money we got to choose our own small hermit crab to race for Canada. Our crab, Nanook, got a big number 1 drawn on his shell and was placed with the other 18 entrants in the bottom of a cut off plastic water bottle. The bottle was upended in the middle of a six foot circle drawn on the floor. On the count of three the crabs were released and scuttled to the outside of the circle, encouraged on by the shouts of the spectators. There were two elimination rounds and one final round resulting in cash awards for the three fastest. Little Nanook managed to go in the right direction, unlike many of the others, and made it to the edge in 7th place. He survived the first round. The top ten were placed in the plastic bottle again and the second round began. Nanook made it again. We were in the final round! The tension was buiding, could Nanook handle the stress? We were soon to know. The final five were released and Nanook scuttled faithfully for the outside circle, not in first place, but still a winner in third position! We collected our winnings of F$3.50, enough for another beer. I like to think Nanook is basking in a comfortable new home in a quiet lagoon somewhere. By the way, the winner was named appropriately, Benzedrine (speed).

Octopus Resort Bure

Interior of Octopus Bure

After three nights at David's Place, we were off again. We caught the Yasawa Flyer, a fast, comfortable boat with sets for 30 people, for the two hour trip south to Waya Island and Octopus Resort. We had a large Fijian bure with an attached bathroom. The bure was set in a lovely garden, just steps from a white sand crescent beach almost 1 Km long. This was the best accommodation we had, even if light in the bure was provided by a kerosene lamp. There was a coral reef just offshore which provided many hours of snorkeling pleasure. We liked it so much we spent six nights there. We decided the Islands were the place to be, not the busier mainland.

The first night at Octopus, the staff performed a Meke with dances and singing. They ended with audience participation, and Ray got to try out his Fiji shuffle. The meal that night was a barbeque, which was good, but not in Safe Landing's league. For the first time, we met a few other middle-aged backpackers. One couple from Australia got permission from the staff and the villagers nearby to film them in their various activities. Natasha, who is originally from Russia, and Peter, belong to a video club in Australia and have managed to sell a few of their documentaries.

Sunday, fifteen of us took the villagers of Nalauwaki up on their invitation to attend their church. A guide from Octopus led us up and over a ridge and through the village to the Methodist Church. The women had been asked to wear a skirt, I wore a sarong, and cover our shoulders and we had to remove our hats and shoes before entering the church. We were a little late and the choir was on their first number. Like the Cook Islanders, the Fijians are very musical and the choir was excellent. The service was all in Fijian, but that didn't matter. We got the gist of it. The pastor certainly gave his congregation their money's worth; no 10 second sound bites for them. He was all fire and brimstone, expressive voice and lots of gestures. The benediction was a good twenty minutes and the sermon lasted a half hour. Ray and I have enough prayers said for us now to last the rest of our trip.

Instead of walking straight back to the resort after church, Ray and I found the path leading along the beach. We knew from the guidebooks that you could walk all around the point as long as the tide was low or going out, and it was. The only part we did not anticipate was the distance. It ended up taking us two hours to reach the same point as a 10 minute hike over the ridge. We would scramble over the rocks to one rocky point after another, only to find there was another point ahead. We did have water with us, the views were great and the storm brewing in the distance managed to veer to the west. We did recommend the walk to some of the other guests, but I don't think any of them repeated our adventure.

Tuesday was our big hike day. It was supposed to be Monday, but Sunday night we had our first big rainstorm and it was still raining Monday morning. Luckily it cleared up by late morning, enough for us to go swimming. Five of us set out with our guide, Lassa, at 7:30 AM Tuesday to hike up to a rocky outcrop, high above Nalauwaki. As is the custom, when we passed through the village, Lassa had to pay his respects and give a small donation to the chief. On the far side of the village we passed a deserted resort. This was started by the former owner of the Octopus resort, but the villagers, who are very protective of their privacy, found it too close to their homes. The death knell came when the owner had an affair with a married village man.

Our guide Lassa

Swim in a natural pool

There were no easy switchbacks leading to the summit. The path just went straight up the hill. We were glad we had brought plenty of water as the heat soon had an effect, forcing us to stop frequently to rest and drink more water. Nearly two hours from the start we were at the base of the final peak. It was a narrow outcrop about 10 M high. Ray decided he didn't need the final climb, but the rest of us shimmied up a crack in the rock face. It wasn't all that bad when we got to the top as there was plenty of room to sit and walk around. From that height we could see several large islands to the north as well as south down the whole length of the Waya. There are several wild goats on Waya and a herd of about ten trotted by on a field below us. The height didn't bother our guide, Lassa. He had brought bananas for us all and walked straight down the side of the peak to deliver one to Ray. He knew he wouldn't slip on the rough volcanic rock. Our reward for the hike came at the bottom of the trail. We got to swim in cooling pools and small waterfalls formed by a mountain stream.

The tropics are a great place for romance and our last night at Octopus was no exception. A young German couple had a special dinner on the beach, lit by kerosene lamps. After their dinner they asked most of the people there to join them to celebrate their engagement. This was just the excuse everyone needed to have a good party. Multiple toasts were given and multiple glasses of wine consumed.

Octopus Beach

Thursday was our last day on Waya. We had a last swim and snorkel on the beach and tried to see yet another different fish. Some of our favourites were small neon blue fish, the colourful clown fish and several varieties of graceful angelfish. One day I had an escort, all the way back to shore, from a tiny yellow and black striped fish swimming two inches in front of my mask. We both found it so relaxing to float above the corals, trying to look inconspicuous.

But all things must come to an end, and the Yasawa Flyer arrived to take us back to Nadi. The two hour trip went by quickly as we had our last look at the many islands.

In Nadi, we got a taxi back to the West's Motor Inn, where we had left everything we didn't need on the islands, i.e. nearly everything. All we had taken with us was a daypack.

The wakeup call came to soon the next morning. We had been told to report three hours before our 6 AM flight. It was a long line going through security, but we still ended up with 2 1/2 Hrs to kill before our flight. I guess I shouldn't complain about the care being taken in the airports if it prevents any more trouble.

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