Fiji is an archipelago of 333 paradisiacal islands located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far from everything and everyone.
Fiji is an archipelago of 333 paradisiacal islands located 36/45 fly hours away from Milan, with two stopovers.
Fiji is an archipelago of 333 paradisiacal islands located with a difference of twelve hours, time zone from Italy.
Fiji is an archipelago of 333 paradisiacal islands that can be reached with a flight that costs between 1600 and 2500 euros.
Fiji is an archipelago of 333 paradisiacal islands, unfortunately they are in Farawayville and you cannot go there.
However, if you live in Hong Kong, with a ten hours direct flight, only five hours, time zone and 500 euros, you can easily go to Farawayville. And guess what, I went.
Fiji has stolen my heart. So get ready for a long post full of enthusiasm, colors, flavors and Loloma (love in Fijian). I promise to be ordered in the story, to be of helpful to someone who wants to go but also to be the eyes and the heart of those who will never get there. Last thing, if you look for news about local currency, tropical climate, average monthly rainfall, power points and geo-political history of the islands, buy the Lonely Planet, for everything else, enjoy reading!
Time flows differently at Fiji, forget the clock. I’ll explain to you better word by word with this dialogue between me and my friend Nox.
Me: Can I snorkel now?
Nox: Only until lunchtime.
Me: What time do we have lunch?
Nox: When it’s ready.
Me: Yes, right. But, when is it ready? Just to know how much time I have to snorkel…
Nox: Lunch is ready at one o’clock Fiji time.
Nox: At Fiji we do not believe in real time. If I say that lunch is ready at 1 pm, it means can be sooner or can be later. You’re in Fiji Time, no hurry, no worries!
Me: So I go canoeing, I need extra Fiji time for snorkeling.
THE REEF, THE ISLANDS AND THE ATOLLS
The Fiji islands are almost all surrounded by coral reefs. Walking on the beaches gives a strange feeling because there are no waves and you realize that the ocean, constantly warm and calm is an ecosystem that is full of colors, algae, animals, life, all under our feet. The rhythm of life is dictated by the tides. When the tide is low you can walk on the reef with special shoes not to tear the feet apart, you can fish the octopuses with bare hands, you can jump the sea snakes (many of them) and collect the crabs. When the tide is high you can swim, snorkel admiring the fish and corals that fortunately in some places are still colored and alive, or go canoeing trying to get as close as possible to the reef to admire the power and violence of the waves that break in the middle of the sea. Do you know the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks, when he tries to leave the island and is overwhelmed by the waves? Here, imagine me, burned by the sun, on my beautiful canoe Moana intent on challenging the power of the ocean and a distant voice that does not scream:
“Go Maura, you’re strong, you can do it! You are invincible!”
but: “Madam, again? I’ve already told you not to get close to the reef! It’s dangerous! That’s enough! Tomorrow no more canoe for you!”
Damn the lifeguards around the world. Mitch Buchannon would never have clipped my wings like that. However, the island of Cast Away is called Monuriki and is here in Fiji in the archipelago of Mamanuca Islands which together with the archipelago of Yasawa Islands are those closest to the main island and easily accessible even with one day excursion. See? Some useful information this blog provides as well!
THE VILLAGES AND THE KAVA’S CEREMONY
Apart from a few cities bigger than the others (Nadi and Suva the biggest) the Fijians usually live in villages made of sheet metal houses, a Church and a room in the center of the village that serves for ceremonies, lunches all together and chief’s assembly. Everyone is welcome here, the important thing is to follow the rules of the local etiquette. First of all, women must have their legs covered, no one should wear hats or sunglasses, and most important of all, do not touch anyone’s head!
Fijians are in fact the last population on the entire planet to have abandoned the unpleasant ritual of cannibalism. The defeated enemies were cheerfully served on serving plates during the dinner for the celebration of victory. It is said that during the English colonialism a Catholic priest was welcomed in a village to “civilize” the local inhabitants, teach good manners and of course convert all to Christianity. The cohabitation seemed to continue in the best possible way, until the priest decided it was time to baptize the village chief and touched his head. It seems that the priest was exquisite.
Cannibalism aside, every tasty person or not is welcome. Before diving into Fijian life, however, you must pay tribute to the village chief by bringing gifts (candy, colors, games for children are the best things, but also money and Kava’s roots) and attend the welcoming ceremony.
Fijians take in Kava’s root. The Kava root used as medicine, has a calming effect, acts on the brain by changing the rhythm of the brain waves (as in Valium to be clear), creates wellbeing, muscle relaxation and addiction (such as marijuana). The Kava ceremony is performed every time some visitor arrives in the village. The root is dried, powdered and poured on a cloth that is immersed in water in a large wooden bowl called a tanoa and wrung out several times until the water turns gray. At this point the village chief immerses half a coconut shell and drinks, then all the men present drink including guests, then the women. Before drinking you have to clap once with a cupped hand making a hollow sound, screaming Bula! Drink it all in one gulp, clap your hands three times and scream Bula! again. Kava juice does not taste like orange juice as the village men tell you, but more like dirty water, mud and Chinese medicine. But the effect is quite immediate, the lips begin to pinch, there is printed a beautiful chemical smile on the face and the day is all downhill!
At this point you can walk around the village. The people here are extremely kind and smiling, live in symbiosis with their island, keep it clean and healthy, exploit it with respect. Each village lives on what the land around offers: growing plants and gardens if the land is fertile, tourism if there are waterfalls or streams in the surroundings, wood crafts if the villages are in the mountains. The children are everywhere, they play rugby with empty plastic bottles, they dive in the streams from the branches, they climb on the rocks to hide under the waterfalls, they play with leaves and flowers, they wash the cows and the horses in the streams, they dance and above all they laugh happily. Spending time with Fijian children reconciles with the world, soothes the soul and changes the perspective with which we look, judge and live life. I think any village is worth visiting. For my part, I suggest two. One is part of an organized excursion called the Sigatoka River Safari, it crosses the whole river on a motorboat (for a lot of fun) with the pleasant company of Captain Finnie, up to the village in the mountains. After the inevitable Kava ceremony and the visit to the village you can have lunch here with simple dishes cooked by the women and dance and sing hugging smiling and happy faces.
The second is the simplest Biausevu Village where you can buy handmade wooden artifacts and shells and dive from the beautiful waterfalls, of course with the children.
Rugby is not a sport here but a religion. Everyone plays rugby, everyone looks at rugby, everyone roots for the national team. In every village, every free minute, every Sunday people play rugby, talk about rugby, live rugby. With passion, joy and sportiness as it should always be. Fijians never stop teaching us how to live, even in sports.
UNMISSABLE PLACES WHERE NO ONE GOES BUT THEY SHOULD GO
In addition to the beaches and the incredible atolls, a place I would recommend to see and nobody sees is the Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park. The sand dunes were extended and widened to become real hills that, flooded by the abundant rains, were first compacted and then filled with vegetation. During the English colonialism the sand dunes were spreading too far towards the heart of the island, beginning a desertification that would have literally brought the local ecosystem to its knees. So the queen had thousands of trees imported from England and had a forest “built” on the dunes to block the land desertification. The final result is breathtaking, ocean, sand and forest mix between the blue of the sky and the air saturated with humidity. Here, however, is where the Fijian Rugby National team trained before winning the historic gold medal at the Rio Olympics.
In the villages there’s not electricity and even if they have it, there is not television or WiFi. People spend their evenings out on the street talking, dancing and laughing. To have fun they do various games, of course forget Monopoly, Risk and Clue. Here you can kill the time watching the crab race. First of all you go to the beach to catch them. Everyone chooses their own crab after a careful analysis that evaluates muscle strength, diet, previous injuries to the legs, the number of races won, if it is a thoroughbred, the weather conditions, the hardness of the ground where the race takes place, are various other possibilities. Once we have identified our “champion”, we should put the bib with the number, which in our case due to space problems is nothing but a number written with a marker on the shell.
At this point the billboard is fulfilled with the numbers, names of hermit crabs, origin and of course how much money has been wagered. The hermit crabs are placed in a bucket in the center of a circle that is lifted by the judge at the start of the race. The first three crabs that cut the finish line determine the order of arrival on the podium.
The people go crazy, applauds, screams Bula! Bula! Bula! to incite their own crab, the emotion reaches the stars. I tell you a secret, hermit crabs are very very very slow.
The Kokoda (pronounced kokonda) is the Fijian way of cooking ceviche. The freshly caught fish is cleaned and marinated in lemon and lime juice. The particularity of this dish is the addition of coconut milk that is directly squeezed with the hands squeezing the coconut pulp. Once the fish is ready, just add the onion, the chili, the spring onions, the inevitable coriander and salt. Wonderful tasty.
Finally a brief lesson OF Fijian language.
Bula: that means hello, but also life. You have always to greet whoever crosses your path, with a smile on your lips and looking into his eyes because here nobody has the phone in his hand. Here we are connected with life and with people and we live in the present, not in a virtual world. It says good morning but also good life in one word.
Kasikasi: crab, not that during the hurdle race you do not know how to call your champion and you lose!
Kalo kalo: starfish. As I walked on the reef, they slipped between my feet. And every time I stood there staring at them, stunned by the intense shades of blue, their ability to change shape to anchor themselves to the rocks in a hug so natural moved me.
Ika: Fish. There are all shapes and colors. The strangest I saw was in the shape of a yellow box, with side eyes like two balls out in the wrong place and a slow and funny swim. I swear I never saw a parallelepiped fish, it looked like a Fiat Multipla. I laughed so much that the water came in my mouthpiece and I half choked. And just as I adopt the ugly dogs from the shelter because nobody wants them and make me have tenderness, I would have taken this fish home. I called him Tristan, like Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall. Beautiful and blond.
Moce: it is pronounced Mothè with the tongue between the teeth. Goodbye. Here it is said with the heart, looking into the eyes and you really mean it. I want to see you again, maybe life will cross our streets again. Here is the song Isa Lei who sings in Fiji when a friend leaves.
Vosota sara: Sorry. Which is always good to know how to say in all languages. Above all, is nice to be able to say sorry, anyway.
Vinaka vaka levu: Thank you very much.
Yalo vinaka: Please.
Loloma: Love. Here you breathe Loloma in every corner. For the island, for the ocean, for the earth, for the sky, for the sunsets, for the people.
Totoka: nice, amazing, cool, hot guy. Men wear the skirt and flowers in their hair and never even for a second comes to think they are gay. Whoa, they are stacked!
I am attaching this very nice video documentary where you can see the dunes, the Fiji rugby team, the sea, some villages, some wonderful smiles and a couple of totoka. Bula!