Friday, February 15, 2008

Bula - Vinaka

The Rain Tree of Fiji

You can’t be in Fiji more than five minutes without discovering that every one is incredibly friendly and you must speak to everyone you pass by. The hotel van driver started us off by explaining the two Fiji words you can’t get along without. The first is bula, which is used for multiple purposes such as hello, welcome and the universal opening of all conversations. The second word is vinaka which is thank you. To place you in the world, the country of Fiji has about 300 islands (about 100 are populated) and is located about 3 hours northeast of New Zealand. The country is tropical and it is warm, humid, and we are visiting in the rainy season.

Fiji was a British Colony from the 19th century (Captain Cook era) and the main industry then, as now, is sugar cane. In 1970 Fiji became an independent country, but remains a part of the British Commonwealth. Most visitors (the other main industry) land at Nadi (pronounced Nandi) located on the east side of the largest island of Viti Levu. The capital of Fiji is Suva located on the south east side of the island. I was reading in the Fiji Times that the Brits and the Fiji government are having a slight dispute. In 2006 the military took over the elected civil government in a bloodless coup in order to try and clean up perceived corruption. It is now called an interim government and new elections are supposed to be conducted in 2009. Great Britain has not recognized the interim government and various talks are going on with the High Commissioner.

Upon our arrival we were whisked by van to our resort hotel called the Tanoa International. Amazingly we were into our room by 7:00 a.m. Our early arrivals around the world have not always been so successful. After a light breakfast to make up for a questionable breakfast sandwich on the plane, we set out to build a plan to maximize our two days in Fiji. We first hit the tour desk and scoped out a tour. There were so many choices that it was hard to come to a choice as we really only wanted a half day tour. Surprisingly Fiji has many high mountains so we selected a morning Highlands off road eco tour. Now that sounds like us, right?

Next we wanted to explore Nadi and get Mary Ann into her comfort zone with shopping, handicrafts and BUYING! They have a private taxi service at the hotel and Mohammed, the driver, immediately tried to talk us into various island taxi tours which could beat the price of the tour desk. This is always a bit of a concern and you wonder what you are getting into. We insisted we just wanted to go to downtown Nadi and he obligingly complied. He is a third generation Fiji Muslim Indian and explained that there are about 380,000 Indians out of 900,000 Fiji residents. About 80,000 of the Indians are Muslim and 300,000 are Hindu. There are Hindu temples and Muslim mosques all over the place. The Indians were brought to Fiji by the British as indentured servants or slaves to work the sugar cane.

One of the more fascinating trees here is called the rain tree. It is a tall spreading tree and is currently used for handicrafts called turned wood. It is very beautiful (and expensive), but we resisted the temptation to send a nice large carving back to Chelan. We mostly shopped for necessities (sun hat and flip-flops) and the hand-painted T-shirt. Mohammed picked us up a couple of hours later and took to the rich areas on Denarau Island. This is also the port area for Nadi where the tourist boats and cruise ships take people to the outer islands. They have seven resort hotels on the island, a fantastic looking golf course, and the port with a lot of shops and restaurants, including a brand new Hard Rock Café. This reminds me that we saw a very nice McDonalds but no Starbucks. We did walk through the five star Sheraton on the beach in order to view the American Hawaii-Florida standard. Our hotel is much more tropical and native, probably only a mere four star.

We finished our first day with swimming at our pool, drinking Fiji bitter beer, Tropical Daiquiris, and rum and coke. We surely had to experience Fiji happy hour. We had a delightful dinner in the open air restaurant and a long chat with a couple from Toronto. Then a great nights sleep, getting ready for trekking in the mountains.

No comments: