I’m not sure that I know how to vacate. I am so well acquainted with this competition: it’s called how many things can I possibly do in 12 hours. And the prize is satisfaction. For me, the concept of relaxing – of (god forbid) giving up the pursuit – is a foreign one. It can even be, to an extent, unappealing.
Weeks before my holiday, I conversed with Steve from Web Media Fiji. “Before we organise anything, how’s your plan looking so far?”, he asked. I responded that there was no plan. By all means, I said, I’d love for you to change that.
With the aid of twenty years of backyard knowledge, he did just that. Our holiday may have been less “rejuvenating” as was once intended, but I wouldn’t change a thing. As I mentioned in the first post of the #FijiMe series, my return to Fiji would demand more from me than my backside on a deck-chair. I demanded more from it too.
This post is for the people who have done the massages and the buffet breakfasts; too, for the people who haven’t indulged and don’t intend to. This post is for those looking for real Fiji. For the adventure, the culture and the experience. This is for those looking to see life that little bit differently.
Day 3 of our holiday began with a 6am wake-up. Needless to say, it was hardly characteristic of a holiday. For what lay ahead, however, rising was easy. We walked the quiet shore of the Coral Coast before inviting ourselves to the buffet. Fortunately, the driver was happy to wait while we scoffed a couple more croissants.
From Korolevu, we made our way to Sigatoka for what I described to A.J. as “Adventure Day” (I liked to think of myself as the tour guide of our personal holiday). First duty as tour guide, or so I felt, was to categorise the spirit of each day and report such to remaining members. The title of this one was not loosely-chosen: I was right to anticipate a full-on day.
That morning, we would spend jumping the hills aside the Sigatoka River in an open-topped Safari jeep. Cool as the wind blew, nothing could keep the grin from my face. I watched in every direction. Behind me, men rode horseback. Slow from their heavy loads, they endeavoured many a mileage back to their villages. Beside me, there lay a jungle so deep, one step inside threatened the return of Jurassic Park.
For the majority of our journey, we enjoyed a private jeep (courtesy of the awesome Off Road Fiji staff). Such meant there was room enough to pick up a tired mother. She held her baby in one arm, her young daughter’s hand in the other. It was yet hours to her village by foot. For us, it was just on our way. I spent the journey offering high-fives and smiles to her young girl, who poised at the sight of my lens. She loved having her photo taken (and yet, every photo is blurry given the way the jeep did bounce).
As we drove through local villages, we were welcomed by a heartwarming response. Kids as young as three ran from their front porches, their legs cycling as fast as a guinea pig. They pushed their small bodies against our jeep, unafraid or unfazed by its movement. As we slowed, they held out their hands for high-fives. They laughed and shouted “bula!” with such soul, I’m certain it was sourced from the bottom of their hearts. If I wasn’t smiling so much, I perhaps would have been crying. It was a beautiful moment to say the least.
We headed towards the Navo caves. In turn for permission to enter, the landowners guided us through our first kava ceremony. Much as I disliked the numbing sensation, it felt important to be apart of such tradition. Each time I was passed a brimming coconut, I downed it without hesitation.
The caves appeared colossal, and yet, for the life of stories each contained, they were small. Our tour guide would act as their voice, recalling times where villages of people packed within their stone confines. I was certain Cinderella was a folk-tale until I spotted the sparkle of her shoe drape the Navo caves. They were a magical sight.
Next would be the Sigatoka River Safari: an experience which, given its diverse value, couldn’t be compared to the Off-Road journey from which we had just returned. The River Safari was, in each and every way, a wild experience. That you may have been on a jet boat before is not at all to say you’ve checked this one off the list.
Imagine your typical jet-boat ride: fun, right? Now remove any rules or restrictions which previously stinted that fun. This is a jet-boat ride with Captain Jack. This is the Sigatoka River Safari. And this is Fiji. Where rules exist, they are mere guidelines and more often, they don’t exist at all. By a fourth spin, it’s as if dozens of us should be in the water, and yet, by some talent, we all remain. I’m sure I screamed of laughter, it was so exhilarating.
If sprays of fresh salt from the Sigatoka hadn’t woken me, I’d receive a wake-up call at the village. I’m not implying I needed one nor am I advising such as necessary for you. What I am saying, however, is this: you can watch a documentary, you can sit in awe and you can wonder about the less-plentiful way in which others live. But it takes standing eye-to-eye with this reality, for such a wonderment to last longer than the minutes before lunch – perhaps even, for a lifetime.
Koronisagana felt about as far away from life at home as I could possibly fathom. Try, as you can, to strip away everything you know about business and politics. About employment and the importance of network growth. I’ll tell you what is left, but promise me that you will go see it for yourself after.
The result is a focus on nature and community.
I watched as a group of kids played football; their eyes glanced at us with warmth as we passed. Another two young boys, they walked determinedly towards a nearby shed. Together, they held long pieces of firewood beneath their small arms. Nearby, a motherly figure hung her washing.
It is a simple life here in rural Fiji, and yet, there exists a sort of untouchable happiness. Our visit is a pertinent fund for their financial well-being and they are not afraid to acknowledge it. In 2016, Cyclone Winston hit Fiji and was recorded as the single worst storm to ever occur in the southern hemisphere. For choosing their country despite its poor past, they are abundantly grateful.
With humorous eyes and teethy smiles, we saw eye-to-eye despite seeing worlds apart. It would be on this tour that ours would cross for just a short time.
So we danced with our best Fijian verve, our contrasting skin and lack of rhythm either unnoticed or simply unmentioned. That afternoon, we laughed. We nibbled on fresh watermelon and potato until dusk announced our departure. I shan’t forget it soon.
En route to Nila Beach Resort (Nadi) for the remainder of our stay, we made a stop at Natadola Beach. Natadola has been ranked as one of the top white sand beaches in the world by multiple travel publications. It seemed only right that we would step our toes in the sand.
It’s easy to understand why Natadola has been granted its label. The water is paradise blue. On such a day as we had, the sky hangs much the same colour. Beneath it, we did not swim. Instead, we play-fought with the waves which, calm as they may look, took even the strongest back by surprise.
As I towelled off, my eyes wandered until they became fixed on something I’m sure A.J. had wished I’d glazed over: two beautiful, brown horses tied to a couple of distant trees. I looked at A.J. And at that moment, it was decided. We would at all costs, take a romantic ride along one of the top beaches in the world.
As life (and I) would have it, soon A.J. was horseback and frollocking the white sand esplanade of Natadola. While my horse had a frequent tendency of halting for snacks (that’s right, we got along), A.J. was occupied (ironically) with a mare far more manic. A pose for a photo could be difficult as the less responsive of the two stood her hind legs towards any way the lens faced.
Yet that I and my horse almost drowned several times (my steering or her walking, you decide), it was one of the best things we ticked off our list in Fiji. Before I knew it, I was communicating with this horse like a member of the damn Saddle Club. To realise the scope of this, I ought to mention the lifelong distrust I have held with horses (and various other animals – mostly rare – like dogs). The notion that these sorts of things are relaxing isn’t entirely misleading, after all.
Many a places offer horse rides in Fiji. Save it for Natadola anyway: the trek covers more than the white sand beach but the neighbouring bush too. Here you’ll walk aside a series of coconut plantations, and if you ask, the guide might just tell you a bit about them. They’re good teachers and a great laugh. They’re pretty trusting too (they let me take the reigns, after all).
Before departing from Fiji, we rushed to visit the Sleeping Giant Zipline. It was a scorcher of a day; one we spent zipping across 10 different lines all of individually, tandem, and even upside-down. In true Fijian-style, the safety briefing is once again brief. The only reminder you’ll receive is to go as many times as you like.
Whenever you’re ready (usually about midday), the staff will guide you to a nearby waterfall, a beautiful 15-20 minute walk from the zipline. For as much as you’d like to hear, they have something to say on every plant and its use for local Fijians. They’ll take you to see a massive rock and a tree that extends just like a cheese straw – a couple of bountiful bonuses to your end destination. A dip in the waterfall is freezing, and yet, a short walk beneath the sun is enough encouragement to immerse yourself.
Embezzled in the forest, the Sleeping Giant Zipline is far from your typical activity site. Like most in the country, this one is complimented by a calm Fijian vibe and a plethora of wondrous natural features. The Fijians do not simply sell a service, but they live what they do. Their day-to-day lives are expressions of gratitude for all that they have, if it be nature and its diverse offerings, or quite simply, the presence of one another.
To experience Fiji is not simply to leave the poolside. It’s to gain a true sense of what it is to be Fijian. In many ways, we ought take a leaf from their jungle book.