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!