Waking up at 4:45 am to check out of our hotel by 5 was not my idea of a good time, but knowing that we would be in Fiji by the end of the day did make the whole process a bit easier. We caught the shuttle to the airport from our hotel at the butt crack of dawn and after one last Qantas domestic flight to Brisbane and an international Air Pacific transfer we were in Fiji. Even though we had left Australia at an ungodly hour, by the time we arrived in Fiji we had gone forward in time about three hours and lost a whole day to being in an airport so the sun was setting when we arrived. In the airport we were greeted by a group of Fijians in bula shirts (just like a Hawaiian shirt, but they call them bula shirts) playing island music while we waited in the customs line. When we had gone through security in Brisbane the officer who helped us had told us that while in Fiji we would get sick of hearing two words: 1) Bula, which means hello, welcome, good evening, good afternoon, its basically the standard greeting, and 2) vinaka, which means thank you.
Once we had made it out of the terminal and through processing, we collected our bags, were given leis made of sea shells and loaded onto the shuttle bus that would take us to our hotel. We were told that the ride from the Airport would take about twenty five minutes but there was some big construction project going on and so it took us almost twice as long to get across the bridge that would put us on the island our hotel was on.
Once at the hotel we checked in, showered, changed and headed out in search of somewhere to have dinner. The resort we were at had four different restaurants, and not knowing the difference between them we picked the first one we came across which just happened to be featuring an Indian buffet. All four of us got cocktails to go with dinner and after we had eaten we headed back to the room to sleep. When dad signed the bill for the meal I think he may have suffered a mini stroke. Currently 1$ USD is equal to about 1.79 fijian dollars, so the bill came out to be something like 300 fijian dollars, only Dad did not realize it was in Fijian until long after he had paid.
The next morning we were up early yet again to meet the bus that would take us two hours into one of the main islands so that we could then load into longboats and long boat up river where we would tour a fijian village and have lunch there. The boat ride took about an hour and a half, and along the way we stopped at a waterfall to do some swimming, but as it was still pretty early in the morning and the water was pretty cold, none of the Lapointes got in, but some of the other people in the tour group did. The water levels of the river were very low, and most often you could reach your hand over the side of the boat and touch the riverbed. We had a few problems getting over some of the shallower areas, but eventually we did arrive at the village.
Once there we were greeted by a Fijian warrior and given a traditional lei to wear. We had to take our shoes off to be able to enter the main building, and once we did we were told we needed to pick a chief of our tribe, someone to represent us to the Fijians. We picked one of the fathers in our group, and once inside the building we had to sit in two rows, men in front and women behind.
Once we were seated, the village people filed into the room in their traditional garb and the welcome ceremony began. They sang songs, played music on drums and guitars, and performed a traditional war dance. The main event was the Kava ceremony. Kava is the main crop in Fiji, similiar to the potato or wheat it is the main staple in their diet. While Kava is a root, they also drink it by grinding it up into a powder and mixing it with cold water. The men who had danced the war dance brought out a large wooden bowl which was placed in the center of the room. They swept reeds through the bowl while chanting, and then brought a little half coconut shell of Kava to everyone in the room. On the way to the village we had been told by our guide that Kava tastes like dirty dishwater, but she is a native Fijian, and she told us this with a laugh, so I thought she was joking. As it turns out she was actually dead on. Kave does in fact taste like dirty dish water. Kava has a sedating effect and is primarily consumed to aid relaxation without disrupting mental clarity. Perhaps thats why everyone in Fiji is so laid back and relaxed. It’s either the kava or the fact that they live in paradise. Take your pick.
Once the formal part of the ceremony was over they brought the musical instruments back out and asked all of us to stand up and join them in a dance. Each one of the villagers came over and grabbed the hands of someone in the tour group and pulled them up to dance. We danced a traditional Fijian dance that bore a strong resemblance to the hokey pokey and formed a very long congo line around the room.
Once we had finished dancing the chief led us around the village and we got to see the school house and many of the villagers homes. We were also shown how high the waters had been during the big flood they had in 2009. The village had lost over half of its buildings during the storm and fortunately Australia had come to its aid and they had been able to rebuild most of what was lost since then. After about twenty minutes or so of walking around we headed back into the main meeting room for lunch. Lunch consisted of chicken sandwiches, tomato and lettuce, chocolate cake, Kava, fresh pineapple and bananas and fruit juice.
After we had finished eating the villagers brought out blankets full of handmade craft items. Weavings, carvings, jewelry, beaded items, and paintings were all for sale. After making a few sales the packed up their wares and sang some more songs to send us off, and then we walked back down to the boats.
Since we were going downriver on the way home we got out of the motorized longboats and for part of the journey we took bamboo rafts instead.
Towards the end of our journey the sky started to cloud over and it began to drizzle. Luckily we made it back to where the busses were parked before any real rain started to pour. After a day out in the sun we were all exhausted so Julie and I slept during most of the ride back to our hotel. Once we got back we all but collapsed into bed, relieved that the next day for the first time in a long time we had nothing to do and could sleep in.