When we woke up to more rain, I may or may not have been a little grumpy. I had packed a “wishful thinking” bag which meant, if the sun should appear, we would make a dash to the beach and take our last round of Kai-Viti photographs with these supplies. I gave myself another pep-talk, and did a little rain dance (ok, maybe no rain dance) and then I walked outside and was hit by the wind, the rain, and an important realization.
You see, this whole trip I have been frustrated that I wasn’t getting to see the “real Fiji” that I had seen online. Every picture I had come across during our countless hours of re-branding, website building, web-searching, and research and given me no clue that it actually rains in Fiji. I had built up this false idea of a 365 day, rain-free, perfect weather climate, and that was just not real. As I sat and thought about the beauty of the terrain here and all my multiple comments on this blog about how lush and green everything is, it occurred to me that it is only that way because…. Drumroll please…. It actually rains in Fiji. And, it doesn’t just rain sometimes. It rains A LOT!
I was reminded of some lessons I’ve been learning this last year about finding beauty in the ordinary, and about noticing & honoring that which is “real” not just that which looks good on the outside. My week had been a giant opportunity to live into this reality and this kind of perspective that I have been trying so hard to develop. And it was hard. And I was grumpy at times. Even stressed because I was worried about getting the kind of footage we needed to show you all just how beautiful it is here.
Enter the first stop of our day: the Rahmatullah Khan Memorial School that Kai-Viti has supported for the last 5 years. We were given a welcome tour around the campus, stopping in each classroom to greet the students, chat with them a bit, and see what they were learning. The laughter, singing, smiles, games, and good humor were compelling. The administrators told us of the ways they have benefitted from the support of Kai-Viti in the past, and shared with us some of the biggest current needs the school has. A few that topped their list: drinking water for the 200+ kids and the teachers who live on site (their bore hole had dried up and they were without fresh water); flushable toilets; shoes for some of the children who couldn’t afford them; “stationary” (or, school supplies) for the kids (apparently no paper is made in Fiji and so it all has to be shipped in from over seas and is very expensive); and access to technology so the kids could continue to be trained in the very best education methods. We sat down over tea and biscuits to talk about how we could partner together to bring a quality education to the kids and to meet some of their most basic needs.
It was at that point that it all came together for me. The beauty of that table, of the conversation, of the partnership, and of the good, good, work that is being done in the lives of these kids as a result is really what this is all about. This beauty, far more compelling and real than the one I was stressing out about showing you all in the previous sun-less days.
You see, the cool thing about this project (in my opinion) is that you and I don’t have to free up a lot of financial resources to support and empower the people in the developing country of Fiji. We drink water already. Lots of it. And if we can switch to drink Kai-Viti water, instead of whatever other brands we thoughtlessly buy, the money we would already be spending is in-turn spent on things that really matter.
In this stage of life, this is the kind of thing I feel I can do to live a little more wisely in the world. I don’t feel like I have huge amounts of expendable cash to give away, but I do feel I have some discretionary spending that, when handled wisely, can still go a long way in the world. So, I’m going to start having water delivered to my home, which, to me, seems like a huge and unnecessary luxury and convenience. But really, this convenience for me, produces life for a bunch of kids and families all the way in Fiji. And that, is true luxury what I really want my life to be oriented around. Seems like a no-brainer switch to me. Will you join me?
So now, at the conclusion of this trip. I’d like to propose a toast: Here’s to beauty and to luxury, but not the kind that is reserved for celebrities or those with a certain amount of disposable income. Here’s to a beauty that notices and honors the “real”, not just the “ideal;” and to a luxury that is about enjoying the present moment and living in a way that allows others to fully live and enjoy it, too. And here’s to making wise consumer choices (like subscribing to Kai-Viti home delivery) that help make it all possible!
We spent the night at the Sheraton Tokoriki, and we woke up the next morning to rain and thick clouds. We grabbed breakfast in their picturesque dining room overlooking the ocean and the island featured in Tom Hank’s film, Castaway (don’t worry Dave- you were well represented at the table… we told everyone the “Wilson” story!). After breakfast we decided to take a hike in the rain and head to the top of the hill. Our hike led us to three beautiful vistas, and then down a path to a little beach that was covered in black lava rocks. We collected a few shells and sat for a bit, until the rain started coming down harder.
At that point, we hiked back to the hotel and, by the time we got there, it seemed there was an ever-so-slight break in the clouds (you’d laugh if you saw what we started calling “clear sky”), so we jetted down to the beach for some paddle boarding and a second round of snorkeling (have I told you about the purple star fist we got to hold yet?!?).
At the beach we got all of our equipment ready and then paused to take some product-placement shots of the water bottles. We must have looked a little crazy to the other vacationers who didn’t know what we are doing here- pausing whatever fun or beautiful activity we were enjoying at regular intervals to take a picture of one of our “model bottles” also enjoying the scene. It’s silly, no doubt, but it’s what we are here to do!
After taking some pretty stellar pictures we turned around to grab the GoPro camera so we could get some underwater shots of the Kai-Viti bottle and that epic purple starfish we had found. GoPro was nowhere to be found. We looked in the water, on the beach (where it had been sitting just a few yards away from us with the rest of our belongings), at the snorkel stand, in our bags… it was nowhere in sight. It’s still hard for us to imagine that it could have possible been stolen, but that was the only conclusion that we, and the hotel security could come up with. Reports were filled out, and the search-party dissolved. Thankfully, Amanda is a smart one and had it insured before we left!
We boarded the boat back to the mainland and arrived back in Port Denarau around 6:30pm, just in time for dinner. We sat on a patio overlooking the water, in between an Italian restaurant and an Indian restaurant. Both were phenomenal. I was particularly excited to eat Indian food, as I had been waiting for it since day 1! We loaded back in the car, and headed back to our home base hotel- The Shangri-la Royal Fijiian. We were very tired but before we could get some shuteye we had to pack up all of our belongings… we were home bound the very next day!
We were up and out early today. 7am departure for Port Denarau, headed to Tokoriki in search of sun, beaches, and island adventures. These next two days are dedicated to trying to capture on film the beauty and the magic of Fiji, and we aren’t complaining about that!
We arrived in Port Denarau and were very excited to find a coffee shop that served Chai Latte’s and blended juices. We both ordered one of each and boarded the catamaran that would take us over to the island, Tokoriki.
About one hour later we arrived at our “port” (the Sheraton Tokoriki) and were greeted with singing, shell necklaces, a footbath, and some orange juice with grenadine. Our room wasn’t ready yet and so we planned to go for a hike to the top of the island. One of the hotel staff overheard our plan and asked if we had any plans that day to snorkel. We said yes and he advised us not to wait to go, as the weather was supposed to get colder and windier. So we made a quick change and jumped in the water with snorkels and masks.
The Sheraton Tokoriki is on a coral reef and so the water around it is shallow and full of fish. We swam above the reef, enjoying the neon fish, the starfish, and the plant life- all dancing in unison to the rhythm of the waves. All of a sudden, the water changed from an almost neon turquoise to a bright emerald and the coral dropped off into a much deeper abyss. Here, many schools of fish scuttled around and the sea-life was most active. It reminded me of an underwater version of the traffic patterns we had experienced in Kampala, Uganda- everything and everyone in motion, seemingly in different directions, trying to go different places, with no apparent order. The only difference was that the fish looked more relaxed about the whole thing (both, to me, are beautiful though)!
After snorkeling came lunch and facetime calls to the families back home (we miss you guys!), and then a little free time before our pre-dinner photo shoot. For my free time I went on a run to the top of the island. There is so much beauty to take in here, even on a cloudy, windy, day. Admittedly, it has taken some internal self-pep talks for me to keep that mentality amidst the unexpected cold and rain we have encountered on our trip (who knew that it rained in Fiji? We certainly never see photos of that online!). But, come on Jess, here I am standing on top of a mountain, in the middle of Fiji, with no one in sight (the only things in sight are the 10-12 other islands just off shore), and I’m bummed that the water and the sky aren’t the “ideal” color? How sad! #oceanviewsnob #notproud Anyhow, I think another blog will be coming on that subject in not too long!
Speaking of “subjects” The subject of our pre-dinner photo shoot was the local vegetation. If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ve seen several comments about how beautiful it is. Tonight was an attempt to capture some of it so we can share it with you!
As part of our photo-shoot, we walked over to the Tokoriki Island resort and shot some photos using their lush landscaping. We also enjoyed some incredible hospitality, amazing sunset views, live-local music, and dinner. This resort was one of my favorite stops on the trip because everything about it felt warm, intentional, and beautiful. There, we truly felt like we were on “Fiji time.” I’m really hoping to return.
Day 4: This Is the Story of a… Water (Kai-Viti according to 90’s hit band, 3 Doors Down) & other American Pop Song Cameos
SO the whole reason Amanda and I are here is to help tell the story of Kai-Viti water to those of you back home. We are here to capture the story and the vision of Paul & Irshad, and to give you all a real look into the work of the company and the difference they are making in Fiji.
Today, we spent most of the day at the Kai-Viti plant, conducting interviews, filming the bottling process, traipsing around the property with cameras and microphones- all so you can see the beauty of what is going on here.
The highlight of our time at the plant was recording the interviews with Jabid, the Plant Manager, and Paul, co-founder and owner. The passion of these men for what they do is compelling and it was fun to capture it on film.
After we finished up at the plant, we noticed there was a break in the clouds (yes, it has been cloudy in Fiji!) and so we made a break for the ocean and parked ourselves on the shore of the Intercon Resort where we watched the sunset and played in the water a bit. We discovered a Bili-bili (a traditional Fijiian boat) that had been lodged deep in the sand. Riding on one of these was on my Fijiian bucket list, so we quickly took to digging it out and trying to get it in the water. It was harder than it looked. Soon we had new friends from Israel and Australia working alongside us and with a lot of manpower we were able to dislodge the Bili and get it in the water. Happy day!
The day ended with dinner at a little Australian run beach resort. A note on food here (because I don’t think I’ve talked much about it yet)- Fiji is home to many restaurants with vast menus of food offerings. Each restaurant seems to offer a little bit of everything. Among the most common menu items: burgers, fries, fish and chips, fried rice, and a host of other Asian and Indian influenced dishes. This dinner restaurant was in accordance with our experience so far, with an added bonus of American pop songs playing in the background while we ate. Katy Perry showing up to dinner on the beach in Fiji. Now that I didn’t see coming.
As I write this blog I’m sitting in the car, looking out the window, totally captivated by the lush greenery contrasted with the bright colors of the homes, the sky, the clothes hanging on the line. Occasionally the road winds back out along the coast and the ocean is visible. The sheer number of colors in the ocean is astounding. Who knew there were so many shades of blue? Horses wander along the side of the road, the biggest cows I’ve ever seen also casually grazing.
We are headed east along the Coral Coast, toward Pacific Harbor. We adopted the Boyer road trip rule- that each person in the car gets to pick one stop, no questions asked, and everyone has to go along with it. Our first stop was picked by Paul- a little inlet where a river met the ocean. Volcanic rock along the shore made for some blow holes, local kids played in the water, women bathed. Paul jumped in the water with the locals right away. They joked about eels and alligators and sharks (at least we think they were joking about the eels).
We got back into the car just in time for the skies to open up and pour down rain. More beauty passed by the windows in front of us.
When we arrived in Pacific Harbor we tried to find a boat to go out to some of the local islands. No luck. Instead, we decided to pick up a paddleboard and some kayaks from the Pearl Resort and paddle up steam in a remote, uninhabited area. It was beautiful. Yet another highlight.
The paddle was followed by lunch in the Arts Village, and through conversations with the guys who worked there we figured out a route to a “secret” waterfall. Phone calls were made and one guy called another and we got the “all-clear”. And so we headed out in our little Kia.
When we got to the part in the road where the loose gravel turned to dirt and rock we sought confirmation that we were headed in the right direction from a local man we saw roadside (note: this was the last human we saw on this journey the rest of the trail was completely desolate- just us and a whole whole lot of trees and mountains). The man affirmed that we were headed in the right direction and then remarked (under his breath a bit), “you should be able to make it up there in that car.” Paul was undeterred. What happened next is best told by the video Amanda captured where we were all yelling, laughing, clutching whatever we could find to stabilize ourselves, and making threats about what we would do if we didn’t make it up (or down) the next hill. We reached a point in the road that Paul deemed unsafe and so, to our relief (and our dismay) we had to turn around.
We ended up at the Warwick Resort where we enjoyed a little sunset happy hour and our survivor stories from the day.
The day was an instant success when it began with a 7am wake up (typically I wouldn’t be so excited about 7am, but considering the jetlag factor and the fact that it was only our first sleep in Fiji, that felt like a victory! The ocean view also helped me get my eyes open- I still get surprised by the color of the water here). The internet was down, so we headed down to the restaurant to see if we could get some internet. No luck. What we did find was my go-to breakfast in Fiji so far: a custom ordered omelet with bell peppers, onion, and tomato.
After breakfast we loaded up in our rental car and headed for Sigatoka town where they were having their annual street races, kayak races, and bili bili races. The town was packed with people. It felt like the outskirts of the Coliseum on a USC game day- people everywhere, pop up shelters packed in tightly, loud music playing from every which way, and the smell of food being cooked over an open flame. Children had their faces painted, and everyone was all dressed up in their best Fiji-wear.
Amanda and I headed out of town by foot on a road that followed along the river. We met local people, took photographs and video, and even stumbled upon a rope swing into the river. Many of the locals gave us advice on things we should shoot and where we could find the best views. Some of their advice took us to the top of a hill that overlooked the city, the river, and even the ocean!
Next we headed for lunch to another local spot above our favorite market. We were the only non-Fijiians in the place, and that felt like a badge of honor. We came here so desperately wanting to avoid just doing the touristy kind of things, and this day was just what we had hoped for.
Our post-lunch activities started off with a jet-boat ride up the river with Sigatoka River Safari where we got soaked and laughed a lot. Then we headed up the railroad tracks to watch the Nandroga Rugby team totally dominate their opponent in a special Fiji-day match. A highlight of the rugby game was that we got to watch it from the field so that we could have better access to take footage of the game, of the players, and of course (our favorite), the ball boys. We also heard the Fijiian version of “Watch Me” several times in a row and that was a highlight all in itself. Lowlight? The ball boys wouldn’t join in on the dance (though I’m sure they knew it), and the wave we tried to start died down within seconds.
When the rugby match was over the sun was hanging low in the sky. Jabid, the plant manager for Kaviti invited us to come to his house and to climb the sand dunes behind his home to watch the sun go down. When we arrived it became apparent to me that “dunes” were an understatement. They are not dunes as we know them from California. These are mountains as far as I am concerned! We climbed to the top of the hill as fast as we could. It was steep and the wind was blowing sand at us in a fierce way. When we go to the top of the hill we thought we were going to see the sunset and the ocean. Instead, we found another HUGE hill. So we scrambled up as fast as we could and made it just in time to watch the sun slip behind the horizon. Beauty. And the day had already been so beautiful!
Tired and full of more stories than we could tell, we headed back to the hotel for showers and pizza. It wouldn’t be long before our full bellies and hearts would translate to heavy eyes and another night of sound sleep.
There were many highlights from this day that I’m sure we will tell stories about for years to come, but the best part by far was that we got to spend the day immersed amongst the local people. I am continually amazed at how hospitable the culture is to strangers and tourists. There are times when I feel like someone is talking to us in an attempt to sell us on some tourist attraction that they are sure we will love, but for the most part, when the locals approach us (and that is everywhere we go) it is with a warm spirit of curiosity and a genuine interest in who we are, where we are from, and what our story is. Oh, and they also want to know if I like Tupac and Jay-Z.
The time is 9:30pm. It feels like 2:30am. It’s been a couple days since I’ve had the chance to lay in a bed to sleep. I’ve slept on airplanes, in cars, and nearly a few other more-awkward unintentional kinds of places. It is now time to get some much-needed rest, but before I do, I wanted to capture a few highlights from our first day in Fiji.
Arrival 5:10am, Nadi International Airport. After a 10-hour flight we touched down in Fiji while it was still dark. There was a little light in the sky that was starting to illuminate some clouds, heightening my anticipation of the beauty we were about to experience. We stumbled off the plane, cleared customs and waited for our bags and rental a car.
The sky had lightened by the time we got out to our car and the beauty of the terrain was starting to become evident. We started the drive toward our hotel, stopping for a few minutes at a vista to overlook the Kai-Viti plant, and then heading straight to the Shangri-la Fijiian Resort for check-in and breakfast on the water.
After breakfast we checked in to our rooms and had about 20 minutes to freshen up and change clothes before catching an old sugar-cane train into the town of Sigatoka. The train ride was a beautiful introduction to the region of Fiji in which Kai-Viti is located. It was lush and green; full of plant and animal life. This train ride was also our introduction to the people of the community. We had heard that the people of Fiji were known for their happiness, and our first few touch points with the proved this to be true. As the train passed through villages, people would run out of their homes to wave and shout “bula!” as we passed. We threw some “lollies” (candy) out the windows and many kids chased the train to try and catch it. My highlight of the day was when one local kids jumped on the back of the train and hung off the railing to hitch a ride with us into town. The train was a tourist train and not a local train, so he had to keep a pretty low-profile, but since I was standing on the back platform of the train taking pictures we struck up a friendship and shot the breeze the rest of the way there. Though this activity was somewhat of a tourist attraction, it was a good cultural education for Amanda and I. We learned about the importance of sugarcane crops in the history of Fiji, experienced the varied terrain of Viti-Levu (green tropical forests, rivers, streams, oceans & coral reefs), and got to know the story of some of the people who live in this region. We also got acquainted with “Fiji Time,” which is basically just an attitude of moving through all of life in a relaxed state of mind, without hurry. This too was a welcome discovery.
The train let us off in the town of Sigatoka where we stopped at local markets, bakeries, and shops, and eventually at lunch at a Chinese food restaurant. This unstructured time of meandering around the city was just what I needed to catch my bearings and renew my energy.
Next it was back to the hotel where we had a short break to make some posts and to get ourselves ready for the evening activities. At 4pm we headed over to the Kai-Viti plant where preparations were underway for a Fiji Day kickoff party. Fiji Day is the celebration of Fiji’s independence from Great Britain, 45 years ago. It is the equivalent of the American “4th of July” and it is one of the reasons why we are in Fiji right now.
To celebrate Fiji Day, Kai-Viti invited 24 children from a local school that they support to bring their families and three friends each to the plant offices for a traditional Lovo meal (a traditional chicken dish cooked in a pit in the yard), a tour of the facility, and some live entertainment. The children drew pictures and wrote stories about why they are proud to be from Fiji. A traditional “welcome” ceremony was performed on our behalf . We were treated like kings and queens- given the best seats in the house, several servings of Kava (a traditional Fijian drink), and special floral accessories to wear. Paul got to address the crowd and share with them Kai-Viti’s appreciation for the history and beauty of the Fijian culture and their commitment to supporting education in their community. The children loved their tour of the plant, and we all laughed and danced (or tried to) for as long as we possibly could. At this point in the night, my jet lag caught up with me and I was ready to head for home. Thankfully, after a few last photo-ops and some clean up, we did just that
So now, I’m ready to sleep, and as I do, I am deeply thankful for all the rich experiences of today, and full of great anticipation for what is to come tomorrow.
Good night from Fiji!
We are really excited about the launch of our new website. A team of us is headed to Fiji right now to celebrate Fiji Day. We will be posting regular updates here. Stay tuned for photos and more fun news! In the meantime, visit our social media and have a look around our website!