Sunday, 19 January 2014

Bula vinaka!

We're back, and ooooooohhhhhmygosh Fiji was TOTES AMAZEBALLS!!!!!  We had the best time evaaaaaar!  Loved every minute of it!  Okay, that may not be entirely true - sometimes the heat and humidity was just too oppressive to be at all comfortable (Suva, I'm looking at you!) and sometimes the boys were very, very trying - X is in the pre-teen-angsty stage, driving me completely bonkers with his attitude and amazingly bull-headed determination to always have the last word/noise/whatever - but other than that it was fab-u-lous!!!

We had to get up super early for our flight which left Auckland Airport at 6.50am on Monday 6th, but the flight was only three hours and Fiji is in the same time zone, so we arrived with a whole day ahead of us.  Unfortunately, a chunk of that day (about 4 1/2 hours) was spent on a bus driving along the Queen's Road around the bottom of Viti Levu from Nadi to Suva, but at least the bus had (sort of) air conditioning and some family members got a little shut-eye on the journey.  I was too interested in what was out the window to sleep or even read.  Suva was hot hot hot.  My phone has a weather app that's quite handy - it tells you the current temperature, humidity, wind speed, what the climate 'feels like', the percentage chance of rain, what to expect in the coming hours, etc etc.  Suva was something like '32°, feels like 37°'.  The humidity was up near or at 100%, and there was zero wind.  Ugh.  We were sweating buckets!  So as soon as we checked into the hotel, we headed straight for the pool.  We were very glad to be out of there the next day!  After spending the morning looking around (Fiji Museum) and doing a bit of shopping (supermarket for supplies), a guy named Benny picked us up in his 'this is not my usual car, it's in the shop' taxi (yeah right) and drove us to the Natovi jetty, stopping along the way so we could have lunch, and later in the trip buy some fresh kava root for our planned village visit later in the week.  Benny was originally from Naigani, and told us to get in touch with his brother Lagi, the activities officer for the Naigani Island Resort, who would organise fun stuff for us to do.  Before saying goodbye, he introduced us to 'Captain Frank', the skipper for the resort.  We loaded our luggage onto the boat, and off we went on a 35 minute boat ride to paradise.  We were greeted on the beach with a villager playing guitar and singing, along with several resort staff to welcome us, handing us fresh green coconuts to drink and helping with our bags.  It was nice.

Now let me just say that nobody goes to Naigani for the luxurious fixtures and fittings.  There ain't none.  There isn't a single washing machine on the island (I had to do two loads of washing by hand out the back of our bure in a concrete tub with dishwashing liquid), and the power is run by generators, which get switched off for three hours every afternoon, and three hours in the middle of the night most nights.  What Naigani is for is real Fijian hospitality (fresh hibiscus and frangipani flowers in your room and on your breakfast table every morning, smiles and welcomes everywhere you go), a tropical island paradise away from the clogged tourist areas, wonderful food, amazing locals, the most beautiful coral reefs, white sand beaches, clear water, and amazingly gorgeous, peaceful surroundings.  We were not disappointed!!  The bures were a little run-down and far from top-quality, but the beds were comfortable, there was hot and cold running water, a kettle so you could make tea, and places to sit and relax.  Our bure had a hammock out front right on the beach, which became my favourite place on the whole island.  The new managers are making changes slowly but surely (they have a washing machine on order!), upgrading the bures and the surrounding areas and within a couple of years the place is sure to be amazing.  We were good tourists and did our research before we went, so were prepared for the absence of between-meal snacks (not that you needed any, the food was plentiful and delicious) and lack of fancy... anything.  By the end of our five night stay we really didn't want to leave!  If we hadn't already paid for accommodation in Denarau that was non-refundable (and ridiculously expensive), we would've stayed on.  It really was that good.

We met Lagi soon after arriving, and true to Benny's word he helped us organise things to do nearly every day.  The kids really took a shine to him, and to Arieta who served us our food at every meal.  They made a card for both Lagi and Arieta to thank them before we left.  Sadly, our last day on the island was Arieta's day off, and she left early on Saturday so we didn't get to say goodbye in person.  We can only hope Mike and Karen (the managers) passed on her card.

I was gifted the most beautiful sunrise the first morning we were on the island:

I seriously could not have wished for better, although sadly, as always, this picture just doesn't do it justice.  It was stunning.  And quiet, with nobody else around (except maybe some of the resort staff, not that I saw any until later).  It was around this time I fell in love with the hammock, and got to meet some of the beach dwellers (the crabs.  So many crabs.  They are hilariously entertaining.)  It was later this same morning that we discovered the crabs' penchant for the resort pool.  It became the boys' job to check the pool every day for wayward crabs.  Oddly, there were three crabs each day, which were eventually fished out and, apparently, taken off to be cooked and eaten by some of the workers.  Deane and I suspected that perhaps Lagi or one of the other guys was planting them for the boys to find, until Deane went for a late night swim one night and observed a crab falling in.  Weird coincidence I guess...

The boys spent a lot of time in the pool learning how to use their snorkels, masks and flippers to prepare for the open water snorkeling we had planned later in the week.  By the end of our stay, T was like a little water baby!

A huge improvement, considering on the first day he got a little panicked and had to be hoisted out of the water by one of the locals who happened to be walking past the pool at the time.  I was about three metres away, and T was at the edge of the pool where he could touch the side and reach the bottom if he stood up, but he freaked out and screamed.  I couldn't swim to T as fast as the guy could reach over and grab him, so he beat me to it.  Of course, T just got straight back in the pool and kept swimming...  I was a little more paranoid after that though!  And T insists that he now cannot swim without flippers.  Oh dear :(  It may be time for some more swimming lessons.  I digress...

Lagi gave us a coconut demonstration - he got one of the villagers to climb a tree to collect green coconuts:

And another opened them up for us to drink:

These guys can do amazing things with a machete!  It's impressive to watch.  Then Lagi showed us how to remove the husk from a dry coconut, open them properly (with a machete!  Without cutting your hand off!  I told you, impressive) and extract the milk.  He also told us all the things Fijians do with the coconuts, the husks, the bark, the fibres, the leaves.  Absolutely nothing is wasted.

Another day he took us on a mountain walk, and educated us on the uses of some of the plants (ie: the pandana leaves are used for weaving mats, but one type is better than the other), and what to avoid (ie: some plants cut your hands if you grab them, which insects bite or sting) and he showed us where there were fresh bananas, pineapples (two different types), cassava and sugar cane.  I swear, those were the best bananas I've ever tasted.  X was partial to the sugar cane.  T just enjoyed the adventure :)  There are also mango and papaya trees on the resort, along with taro.

We went for a walk to the local village which has all of about 75 people in it, or around 55 when the children are at school on the mainland.  We met the village spokesperson who showed us around and told us about the village, its history, and how things work.  We were then treated to a kava ceremony.  The kids and I headed back to the resort, and we met these little guys on the way:

They live around the mangroves and pop up during low tide.  Deane stayed on for a while to continue drinking kava with the villagers.  He also helped pound some of the fresh kava root.  Unfortunately, two of the villagers had died within several days of each other, both from diabetes complications.  The funeral service was held earlier that day, and the chief was still in attendance so we didn't get to meet him.

Lagi organised a snorkelling trip and took us a little further around the island to Picnic Beach, which was a beautiful, idyllic spot away from both the resort and the village.  We didn't take our phones and didn't have a waterproof camera, so I can't begin to tell you how amazing the coral reefs were, but oh, it was beautiful.  The coral and the tropical fish were amazing!  So colourful!!  We saw lionfish, big blue starfish, and soooo many others!  Think real-life Finding Nemo :)  Deane also spent four hours one day free diving and spear fishing with one of the villagers, Waqa.  Between them they speared about 15 fish, which Waqa cleaned, gutted, and cooked over a fire on the beach then served in a salt water broth with lemon, chili and coconut.  Most of it was fed to the village boys that had been hard at work replacing the roof on the pool bar - they'd spent days weaving the coconut palm fronds and layering them on top of each other on the roof.  It was cool being able to watch the process from beginning to end while we were staying there.  They did a fantastic job and although it was hard work (particularly with the heat), they made it look fun - there was a lot of laughing going on!  We felt they deserved a good feed :)

We ended up in a daily rhythm - every morning I would get up early and head down to the beach to watch the sunrise, spend some time on the hammock reading and watching the crabs (both land and hermit), then would wake everyone up to get ready for breakfast which was buffet-style (my favourite breakfast dish was babakau - so yummy!  Here's a recipe).  Afterwards we would choose from the menu what we wanted for lunch and dinner, then spend the day doing whatever, just dropping in again for lunch.  At dinner we would talk to any others staying on the island (first night was an Australian family with three boys, second night was a Fijian couple that come to Naigani every year, third, fourth and fifth night was an American family (a weird configuration of husband and wife, plus daughter and husband's brother), fifth night was also an Arab family with two boys), listen to the singing guitar player and watch the lizards crawling all over the walls and ceiling.  Cute little buggers.  Sometimes there was a good sunset, other times it was a little lackluster.  Then we'd head back to our bure in the dark, trying not to step on the thousands of various-sized hermit crabs that endlessly scuttled around in the sand.  One day we found a number 15 hermit crab on the lawn out the front of our bure, and another day we saw a number 3 by the pool area.  Remnants of a crab racing evening, obviously :)

On our last night we got to enjoy a traditional lovo feast, which was absolutely amazing.  My favourite dishes were the ota (a native fern cooked in coconut milk - I found an explanation of it and a recipe here), palusami (taro leaves cooked in coconut milk - recipe here.  We had ours sans meat, since the kitchen staff knew I was vegetarian), and vegetable curry.  I also really enjoyed the dalo (aka taro).

Other things I enjoyed while staying on Naigani was the fact that the only time we wore shoes was when we went on the mountain walk, and being able to leave the bure completely open and unlocked the entire time, safe in the knowledge that nobody would wander in and steal anything.  The only down sides were the lack of air conditioning (although some of the bures have been updated, and have air con) and there wasn't anywhere to run.  We really were sad to be leaving, having enjoyed our stay so much.  But, it was time to go and we had a taxi waiting on the mainland, ready to take us around the top of Viti Levu along the King's Road back to Nadi, and on to the Sheraton Denarau Villas.

I'll tell you all about that next post ;)

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