Friday, December 22, 2017

Fiji - Mondriki and other islands

We wanted to visit at least one of the other Fijian islands. There are 332, about 1/3 of which are inhabited and the better snorkeling is off those islands. We chose a tour that would take us from our resort on Denarau Island first to South Sea Island where we would spend a couple of hours and then on to Mondriki Island where we would spend the afternoon. Both islands offered snorkeling so that looked like a good option. Mondriki is also the island where the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks was filmed adding a bit of interest even though we have not seen the island.

Then the morning we were to head out, we ran into two snafus. First, I misunderstood the times and we missed our bus. Fortunately, we arrived early enough to catch a taxi to the harbor just in time to catch our boat. Snafu number two: our tickets were for the day before and today’s boat was sold out. This in spite of the fact that I had asked the agent to verify that we were on this cruise the day before. I’m not sure what she did, but it seems obvious that we had already missed the cruise we were supposed to be on. We said we couldn’t go tomorrow because our flight would leave tomorrow. With only moments to spare they scheduled us on a different tour that would still spend the morning on South Sea Island and then we would hop on a ferry that would stop at three of the other islands as it delivered passengers to and from them. Better than nothing. 

As we got on the boat, the agent at the harbor also upgraded us to the Captain’s Suite where we could have free drinks and snacks as we traveled. Whoever was at fault for the mixup, South Sea Cruises certainly did their best to make it up to us.

After a 30 minute boat ride, we arrived at South Sea Island. I never asked, but I wonder if the island is named for the cruise company or vice versa. South Sea Island is literally small enough to walk completely around in ten minutes. We did not bother to do that as we could easily see the entire island as we disembarked. After we gathered under the palm trees to learn the plans for our stay, we headed off to take a ride in the semi-submersible viewing boat. This mini-cruise lasted about 15 minutes giving us some nice views of the coral and the small fish swimming around them. 

Upon our return to the island we immediately prepared to go snorkeling. We changed to our swimsuits, procured some swim fins, and headed off to the snorkel area on another small boat. The coral here is not a reef as it is many places, but just some humps in the ocean covered with coral and inhabited by many small fishes. We spent about 45 minutes enjoying the views before heading back to shore to shower and change back into our beach ware. 

After about half an hour to simply enjoy the sun and sand, lunch was served, barbecued chicken and fish accompanied by several salads and complimentary drinks. We sat with three young ladies on a two-month world tour from Europe. Two were from Norway, the third from England. They had spent the night on South Sea Island and planned to be bit bored the rest of the afternoon and evening as they had one more night to spend on this island before moving on to another, hopefully more exciting island. We had fun talking about their travels and plans. They had been to Dubai, Singapore, and Australia and were planning to visit Los Angeles and Las Vegas before returning home to school. Not a bad vacation.

After lunch we gathered up all our stuff and boarded another boat for a ride out to some other islands. We wouldn’t get to see Mondriki, but we did get a good sense of what some of the other islands were like. Less settled than our island with only one or two resorts, the wilderness was much closer on these smaller islands. On another trip, it will be fun to stay on one of them for a couple of nights.


When we arrived back at the condo, we realized that our flight was leaving tonight at 1:00 am, not tomorrow night. It’s amazing how easy it is to get confused as one changes time zones, crosses the International Date Line and leaves after midnight with an arrival the day before. Fortunately, we had plenty of time to eat and get everything packed and arrange for a taxi to the airport. The only real glitch from then on would be the $120 extra baggage fee charged by Fiji Air. We have since learned that Fiji Air is not the only airline with a fee for a second bag on an international flight so we will be checking this more carefully in the future and perhaps packing a bit differently.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Fiji - Village and Orchids

After an overnight flight and a long layover in Auckland, we arrived in Fiji and some hot, humid weather early afternoon. After some conversation at the visitor center in the airport we boarded a taxi for our resort at Denarau, about 30 minutes away through the congestion caused by some new road construction. I was reminded of our trip to Ecuador as we passed rows and rows of small shops in Nadi before reaching the more rural approach to Denarau Island.

We have a great room here at the Wyndham Resort. Our third floor deck looks east over the pool and restaurant to the Pacific Ocean and more of Fiji’s 332 islands. Beautiful sunsets are the norm here as is live music from the bar down below until about 10:00 pm each night. Live music is everywhere around here. The Wyndham has two restaurants with live shows every night. The Radisson Blu next door has three such locations. We had dinner at the port one evening and heard five different bands playing as we walked around choosing our restaurant. That ended up to be Lulu Bar which had been recommended by Niki at the airport. I had an excellent tuna steak. Linda had a nice piece of Mahi Mahi which unfortunately had been overcooked.

Dinner entertainment included fire dancing.
Do not try this at home

Our week here so far has involved a shopping trip to lay in some breakfast and dinner items and the aforementioned trip to the port for dinner and pin shopping at the Hard Rock Cafe. I bought a nice one commemorating Fiji’s first Olympic Gold Medal last year in 7-man rugby. It includes a rotating rugby ball. I also managed to collect the $7 dollar bill they issued in commemoration.

From the seemingly hundreds of offerings we chose a morning tour of Nadi with visits to the market, one souvenir store, an orchid garden, and a living Fijian village. It was a Saturday morning so we started at the market before it got too busy and the heat became stifling. Solomon, our guide, explained the many of the food items we passed some of which are unfamiliar to us. Fruits and vegetables tend to be sold by the bunch or plate. We purchased a bunch of bananas. Some corn, a few mangos, and a pineapple for a total of $9 Fiji (less that $4.50 US). In comparison, we purchased a single banana in the grocery store for $1 on our shopping trip. Fish are sold in a separate room about 10’ by 30’ with the fish spread on benches and the floor. I talked to one fisherman who was selling his own catch so I assume that is the norm. One surprise was that few of the shoppers carried their own shopping bags. With all the talk of preserving the environment here, we did not expect to see plastic bags still in such widespread use.

This branch is ground into powder and becomes, fava,  an alcoholic drink.

From the market we headed off to the largest Hindu temple in the South Pacific. When the British took over the Fiji Islands, they brought Indians to work as indentured servants. With them came the Indian culture and religion. They also unfortunately brought two invasives that still plague the islands: the mongoose and the myna. Mongoose have decimated the snake population and reeked havoc on bird species. The myna are a noisy, aggressive bird that chases out any competitors leaving only a few species in the lowlands. The islands have several beautiful endemic birds, but it is necessary to travel into the mountains and other islands to see them.

Indians first built a temple 100 years ago. Built in the flood plain, they move the temple to its current location in 1992-94. Temples are celebrated every 12 years. This temple is undergoing a renovation to prepare it for that celebration next year. The outside is mostly covered in scaffolding, but the inside is open to viewing and covered with beautiful paintings depicting Hindu scenes and stories. We had to remove our shoes and hats to enter the grounds and were not allowed to take pictures inside the temple. Long pants or skirts are also required. A separate guide took us around the grounds and inside the temple explaining the worship practices and the meaning of the paintings we saw.

Our guide then took us to a souvenir shop while explaining that Fiji is concerned enough about problems with tour guides touting particular stores that it has instituted a system of signage identifying those shops that provide fair service to tourists. He then took us to Jack’s, a store we had also seen in the port area. We were able to find some souvenir clothing along with more presents for relatives and a couple of art pieces for our own walls at very reasonable prices. We bought one shirt for me for less than $10.

The mask we purchased with the artist who carved it.

Following our shopping spree we headed out into the country and the Garden of the Sleeping Giant. The Sleeping Giant is a mountain ridge that looks like a sleeping person from the right angle. The garden in its shadow was created in 1977 by Raymond Burr to house his own orchids. Our guide walked us through the orchid portion of the garden pointing out several of the special flowers before turning us loose to explore the rest of the garden on our own. We saw no information signs, but enjoyed the peaceful walk through the rain forest, over a pond with fish, frogs, and crabs and through hillside being readied for a wedding later in the day. On our return to reception, we were greeted with a cool fruit drink before we headed off to Vuda Village, our last stop of the day.

An overview of the orchids

Dragons or Octopus?

Look close and you see a woman in a dress

Have your wedding here

Frog and crab


Painted Toenails

This village is the site where tradition says that the first Fijians landed about 3500 years ago. Where they came from is an interesting story. The tradition and the story Solomon told us is that they came from Tanganyika in East Africa. However, historians and archaeologists argue that the first peoples came from Melanesia, an island grouping to the west of Fiji. Solomon walked with us to the center of the village between some lovely hedges. The hedges, unlike all other hedges we have seen, consist of several different plants adding a lot of color. The center of the village is a large square with a church, a meeting house, a memorial to the beginnings of Christianity on the islands, and the house of the chief. The meeting house has six doors, one for each group of villagers to enter. Each group has a different role in the community like warrior and spokesperson.

This is a fairly prosperous village with well-built and well-cared for houses and grounds. Located right on the water it is also where new resort development is happening. Their beach is being filled in and will soon be the site of new resorts. First Village resort is already selling homes and condominiums. Solomon is happy about the development but also raised concerns about the increasing prevalence of cyclones and rising sea waters because of global warming. They don’t pussyfoot around the term here. It is global warming, not the innocuous-sounding climate change deniers have us use in the US.

Hedges leading to the village square
Look at all the color in the hedge

Chief's house and Meeting Hall

Six doors, each for a different group

A Wesley church

Monument to Christianity

From the village, Solomon drove us back to our resort where we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. We had been his only customers this day and actually spent two hours beyond the scheduled tour time. It’s nice not having others to rush us along.