Ok so at first I was all ambitious and thought I was gonna blog every day and every detail of my trip but that did not happen. Not even close. There's just so much to do and see that I spend more time doing and less writing about what I'm doing. Anyways, here's my feeble attempt at summarizing Fiji.
My second day, I tagged along on a snorkeling trip with Harriet and Gordon. I thought the boat was taking us and everyone else on the boat straight to our destination but instead it stopped at several other islands along the way. There are about 322 islands included in the collection that is considered Fiji and only about half of them are inhabited. I learned from talking to other travelers that you could island-hop and each island was known for different things: hiking, partying, relaxing, etc. And, some of the bigger ones looked suspiciously like the island from Jurassic Park so I'm convinced there are also dinosaurs on some of them. If I didn't have a free room at the Westin, I would have 100% signed up for this island hopping.
After a couple hours, we reached our island, which ran on Fiji time, so in other words, everything was late. But they were waiting for us on the beach with a guitar, a eukelele and a chorus of voices singing us a traditional Fijian welcome song. Then they handed us snorkels, masks and flippers and told us a traditional lunch would be served in about 15 minutes. The group was me, H & G and a handful of Brazilians. Everyone else took a dip in the water while I found and befriended what I was sure was the only cat on the island. We all dutifully reported to the dining hut on time, but our food was nowhere to be found. We waited about 30 minutes before the soup, which was served in hollowed out coconuts and the main course of fish and various vegetables was served. Of course my meal was slightly different as they graciously accommodated my meatless diet and just gave me extra veggies.
Once in the water, I saw the most beautiful rainbow of coral and fishes I've ever witnessed. I've been snorkeling in the Florida Keys, Bahamas, Mexico and southern Australia and this is by far the best reef I've seen. So glad I had my Go Pro. When it was time to leave, our island hosts assembled once again on the beach and sang us a goodbye song. Hands down, Fijians appear to be the happiest, most welcoming and sing-songiest bunch of people I've met yet. They make all us tourists feel like celebrities.
They're so cheerful in fact, that it made me uncomfortable. One day I was in the room when the maid came in to do her daily cleaning duties and I insisted that I didn't need new sheets and helped her make my own bed. She was adorable and most likely younger than me. And any time I dined at any of the restaurants in the resort area, I had a small army of attendants - even for a continental breakfast, I would have at least three different servers making sure I was content at all times.
Anyways, the only downside to this adventure was when I got sunburnt on my back after exposing it to the sun for so long while snorkeling. So I got a sunburn-specific massage at the Heavenly Spa on site at the Westin. It was so cute - each therapist had a small, private open air but private hut to perform his/her treatment so you literally have the real sounds of birds and running water to calm you as opposed to the pre-recorded sounds you usually get. Not sure if it actually did much for my burn but I was relaxed either way. I also did a pretty lame paddleboarding trip that morning where I just kind of went in circles in the ocean, but at least it was good exercise.
Although I felt a bit out of place as a lone backpacker in the midst of a bunch of honeymooning couples and families with little kids, I still thoroughly enjoyed the Westin. At my resort, on certain days, they had a Fijian elder in traditional dress do storytelling and describe a brief history of the island nation and all the different tribes that inhabited it. I purposely brought up cannibalism and got more than I bargained for. Turns out all those little four-pronged wooden sculptures framed in shadow boxes in our rooms were not miniature tiki totems as I thought but were actually traditional cannibal forks. Apparently the rule was after you killed and cooked someone, you couldn't touch the flesh with your hands and could only consume it using one of these special utensils. Eesh.
After that, an assistant showed up with a large clay bowl and burlap bag, which was the famous, or infamous maybe, kava. After the storytelling, he dipped the bag in the bowl full of water and the kava powder leeched out of the bag like tea and made the bowl look like muddy water. And that's exactly what it tasted like, but my tongue did go numb temporarily. Apparently they drink tons of this stuff at traditional parties and celebrations like weddings and it makes you feel almost euphoric. I had two coconut cups full of this muddy mixture and didn't feel anywhere near that so I guess you have to drink a lot of it to have any effect.
My last full day on the island I decided to experience the 'real Fiji' in Nadi and rode the bus into town for one dollar. Well it actually took two buses because the first one broke down halfway there and a handful of us had to wait for another one to take us the rest of the way. I haggled with some local artisans (or at least the salesman bartering on behalf of the artisans) for a few gifts for friends & family and souvenirs for myself. I got a carved, wooden mask, a few traditional screenprints of turtles, a couple of bracelets, a small purse for my sister and a brightly colored wrap/scarf for my mom. Oh and a few postcards that I wrote and later mailed. And I always save some coins for my dad since he's an avid numismatist.
Then I visited a gorgeous Hindu temple that used every color of the rainbow and then some. There were incredible murals painted on the ceilings and intricate molding everywhere. I had to take my shoes off and wear a wrap (not exactly a sari) before I could enter. I wrapped up my temple wandering just as the dark gray skies started to open up so I took shelter in a small hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant on the main street. This was probably my favorite meal of the entire trip: two different veggie curries piled on top of a huge plate of rice with a side of shredded veggies and a 1.5 L bottle of Fiji water for $7 FJD (or about $3.50 American). For comparison, breakfast at the resort was $36 FJD and dinner would run you at least $50 FJD and I saw plenty of items on the menu that were in the triple digits. I finished my meal just as the precipitation was finishing up as well, and walked back to catch the dollar bus back to the resort.
That night at the resort, I saw the most amazing fire dancing show at sunset, which signaled the lighting of the torches throughout the resort. They did a similar show every night, but I'm convinced this was the best one ever. Just for me. Because they knew it was my last night.
The only thing that annoyed me was the next morning when I had to get up hella early (like 4 AM) to pack and catch an early flight to New Zealand. There was another woman checking out and going to the airport at this ungodly hour but instead of sending us in the same cab, they made us take separate ones so that we each had to pay the full fare. Where's the dollar bus when you need it?! This cab ride was not cheap and cost me about $80 FJD so I would have rather split the cost with the other woman, who I literally saw get out of her own cab in front of me at the airport, but I guess I can't blame them. It was kind of a weird airport, where everyone sits downstairs in a single waiting area, and then you are alerted when your specific flight is boarding and you go queue up at one of like two gates. There is no seating at the gates. I didn't care though, as long as I got on board and got my seat, which I did and it was off to my next adventure in Auckland!