Since Fiji, not many days have passed that we have not thought fondly of our time on Vorovoro or of the friends we made there. We put together this recap video (which took over a year of interviews and actually sitting down to put it all together) to let the kids tell their memories.
A Fiji Moment: Levi gets sick.
What probably started as an episode of reflux (that happens every time he doesn’t eat enough for dinner) ended up in dehydration and poor kid had a few sick days. One night he threw up in his bed, which you can imagine, is a terrible situation when you have a mosquito net tucked in around your mattress. We had a lovely mess to clean up at whatever time it was. All I knew was that I needed to rinse out a towel, and lucky for us the ocean was just a few steps away. I stumbled out to the beach in the dark. Walking in sand is hard enough, but I was so tired and jet lagged that I was struggling in a serious way to walk without toppling over. The contacts I fell asleep in were sticking to my eyelids making it very difficult to see and I wasn’t familiar enough with my path to know what I might step on.
I was glad everyone was asleep for that performance.
When I got to the water I opened up the towel and tossed it over the gentle waves when suddenly a burst of light and color shot from the outline of the towel! Mostly green, and some blue bioluminescence! My jaw just dropped, and I had to check myself to make sure this wasn’t some crazy dream! I pulled the towel up out of the water and the towel was covered in them too! I dipped it in and out a few times and as the colors seemed to fade away I looked up and noticed for the first time that the moon was up! The moon, I was told, doesn’t come up until like 2 am there but it sat right above sunset peak, and for a moment I sat in complete awe of the scene. The stars were bright. The moon was stunning and the reflection of a bright white crescent, rippling with the gentle night waves below, was maybe even better. It was honestly one of the most serene, beautiful sights I saw the whole week in Fiji. I wish I could have a picture to remember that incredible scene. I regret not sitting with it a little while longer. If I could go back I would have whispered to myself,
Soak this in.
One thing’s for sure… it was and likely forever will be, by far, my best experience cleaning puke in the middle of the night!
Touristing in Fiji, Heading Down Under
Though one of our goals is to not tourist, our flights went through Suva and Nadi, and gave us a lot of time to kill in each city. We had about 8 hours in Suva and 23 hours in Nadi! We did not want to hang out in the airports all day for two days so we went out to see what we could find.
After landing in Suva and taking a break to recharge phones and look up what we could do in our window of time and playing card games to corral the kids, we went out to see what there was to see. We hired a taxi van because a family of 6 can’t fit in anything smaller. We had looked up a couple things, and rather than go to the touristy markets, we went to a rainforest park. There was a little hike down to the river with a waterfall and a swimming hole. It was awesome! Not only a swimming hole but a rope to swing off the top of the falls and drop into the water hole at the bottom. We tried our hand and enjoyed the swing, but also enjoyed watching some locals doing incredible flips and tricks. There were a couple of friends that were olympic material. One would swing out and swing back and pick up the friend and swing together, then they’d jump off while pushing off each other and spiral twist back flips all the way down into the hole! Another guy climbed the tree, up above the rope knot and just jump into the water, it had to be 50-70 feet tall! We really enjoyed the cool water and playing in the creek above the falls. It was a great break between airplane flights, it was nice to see another part of Fiji as well. Talking with our taxi driver was humbling as well. His small wages and the house he pointed out and the nicer if hours he drives. 60+ hours per week and earning the equivalent of $20 a day. We got back to the airport when we wanted to, but I’m reality we had a couple hours to spare. It took all of 10 minutes to get through security and check in for the flight, so we played cards for a couple hours and made friends with the security and airport staff.
We arrived in Nadi and headed to the hotel we had booked. We’d heard and read that it was very family friendly, and it was. But it also felt a bit fake to me. After being in Vorovoro and seeing real Fiji life, the ironed shirts and matching sulus, drinks delivered on platters by smiling but silent servers felt detached. It felt like a production or presentation at Disney world. Don’t get me wrong, Disney world has its place, but it’s certainly not a place where you get an authentic experience with real people and real culture. It’s all pretend, and that’s the point there… Disney isn’t real. It was great to have a pool and to relax most of the day in it and reconnect with friends and family. It was also an awkward and stark difference after the cultural experience on the island. Having Fijians serving us and drive us around when we didn’t know them or share kava or live with them was hard. It felt like a sterilization to placate the wealthy tourist who doesn’t want to be aware of the culture or the people, who doesn’t want authenticity, who is not comfortable with seeing the economic divide in their face. Fiji is a beautiful country though, I hope people learn too that Fiji is a beautiful people as well.
Not being good at touristing, making friends with taxi drivers and security officers and not wanting to be served drinks on platters as we sit by the pool is a sign that we are doing something right, right? Maybe we were just missing our new island family.
We did have a little scare at Nadi airport checking in to head to Australia. All our boarding passes printed fine at the kiosk but one kept giving an error, so we had to go to the counter to figure that out. It turned out that even though our electronic visa application had been approved, it had since changed! One of our six visas to get into Australia was revoked… How exciting! Then they said it was only because the birthdate was wrong on the application compared to the passport. So, we had to reapply before we would be allowed to enter the country. This significantly added to the stress of the day. (After spending hours at the airport and not seeing any of our last 4 flights in Fiji board until flight time, we didn’t feel pressed for time, so we were a bit later than the recommended 2 hours for international flights.) Reapply for a visa to entry the country which you are currently about to board a flight for, no big deal. Luckily Australia has a fast and electronic application process, so they let me use their computer to get on and reapply really fast, and it actually worked! I just had to correctly enter the birthday and pay another application fee (luckily it’s only $20 Australian). My best guess, since I honestly do a decent job remembering my kids birthdays, is that I entered the date American-style (month, day) whereas it’s required to enter in like-literally-the-rest-of-the-world-style (day, month). Luckily they approved us with enough time to run to the gate and board the flight! If it hadn’t worked, we had already decided to leave 1 kid behind, I’ll let you think on who it was… (feel free to guess in the comments!)
Embracing the Fiji Way
In Fiji, as in all our travels, our goal is to really get to know the local culture rather than just visit as a tourist. Bridge the Gap shares this same vision and it was very welcoming to be able to participate with real people in a real village. We made friends, learned about their traditions and respectfully followed these traditions as guests. There were no natives serving us drinks on platters or other resort/Disney-inspired representations of their culture. We were there and worked along side them to prepare meals, wear their traditional clothing and learn their phrases. We were able to help in a couple construction projects, learn about the medicinal uses of the plants, fish with them and more. We also laughed a lot with them, played games and volleyball and spent many hours on the kava mat.
As I mentioned before, in Fiji we spend a lot of time on the Kava mat. The time is well used to visit and join in music together. There is a lot of tradition and ritual surrounding Kava.
We hope to return soon!
Fiji Water Fun
Living on an island for a week certainly included lots of time with the water and sand. Even getting there was a water adventure since we had to take a boat to get there, no roads! We were able to swim anytime, since we slept literally 10 steps from the sand. The waves were pretty calm since the reef breaks most of the big waves further out. Watching the tide change was interesting, it was a very big difference in seeing the coral bottom all uncovered vs the waves coming right up to our hammocks. There was snorkeling equipment available to borrow and we were able go out multiple times. We even went out to a reef one day to snorkel that had much clearer water and more aquatic life! We did some fishing too. I will have to do better next time at catching more fish, but I at least caught one. I didn’t learn to spear fish, but that’s more my fault. I should have gone out with Api to harpoon some fish or set some traps/nets. He did this multiple times and he was really really good at it!
It was amazing to spend so much time on the beach. It was all ours too, there is even a place on the island called secret beach. It’s not that secret, just around the bend. But a great little walk and we found a lot of wildlife. Plenty of hermit crabs, but also baby birds, sea snakes, eels, fish, lobster, jellyfish, crabs, starfish, coral, etc. The kids had so much fun catching all the creepers they could: hermit crabs, and sand crabs mainly. Don’t worry, no coconut crabs. They did this for days on end! We also swam in the water, and it was sweet relief. While it was winter in Fiji and the locals were wearing jackets and were actually cold, we were still pretty warm. It was probably 70-80’s during the day and pretty humid. Mid-afternoon was usually a couple hours of oppressive feeling heat, but the water was a good remedy. Walking along one day I lifted a leaf and in under it was a pile of hermit crabs, I started my camera in time to see some of them scatter:
We were able to go out night fishing and it was great fun. Besides the fact that 2 of the boys fell asleep on the boat because it was, well, night. They had played all day in the sun though, and one was actually feeling pretty ill (dehydrated). The way to go night fishing in Fiji though involves a hook on a line wrapped around a plastic bottle. Any bottle will do, you use it as your reel and manually turn the bottle to let the line out or pull it in. Casting is as simple as throwing the bait on your hook out. If you’re fancy you can even swing it around your head and launch it, we tried and might have ended up hitting each other in the heads with our bait once or twice. And then you wait in the dark and feel the line between your fingers until you feel a nibble. Api was the best to be with on the boat, he would basically talk the fish onto his line! Really, he’d say, “here fishy fishy fishy, just the big ones!” and minutes later he’d pull one up. He spent most of his time untangling lines and cutting bait for everyone else, but he still caught 6 times more fish than the rest of the boat combined! 6 to 1. I caught the other fish, and it felt nice, but he was too small for anything other than cutting up for more bait. We had to watch out fishing because the hooks were getting stuck regularly on coral and things at the bottom. Our Swedish friend Max actually caught some coral rock!
Snorkeling was great and seeing the numerous fish. I won’t even try to name the kinds we saw (mostly because I don’t even know), but I can say we saw lots, including swarms of jellyfish, and a few sharks, plenty of coral, bright blue fish and some clown fish even. Thinking of all the varieties of life and considering the size of the ocean really puts our own size into perspective. We’re just small creatures too, finding our place in it all. There are so many fish in the ocean, and so much sand on the beach. It’s so great to be in it, and connect with it, and just take it in. Along those same lines, is another part of Fiji that I absolutely loved, the stars!
Being on a remote island with the only “civilization” light from town to our back over the jungle peaks, we saw more stars than I can ever remember seeing. We could sit at the beach and see billions of stars! I didn’t count them, but my kids told me there were that many. We could see the milk in the milky way! You’ll have to take our word for it, because the photos never turned out. The best was when there was no moon, because then we could see so many more stars. One night though we were out looking at the starts and could see Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn all lined up across the sky along with the moon. It was magical. It continually made us think of simpler times when all people on earth shared the stars and formed their own belief systems about what the stars meant and their personal, yet small place in the cosmos.
Off the grid in Vorovoro, Fiji
Our time in Fiji was amazing! We were on a small island that is a couple kilometers square and stayed for 8 days. It’s just north of Labasa, on Vanua Levu. We Flew to Labasa, took a taxi to the coast, and then a boat (like a little motor boat) to Vorovoro. We stayed in a vale (hut) with 6 beds so we all had space. Our vale was steps from the beach on the edge of the village. We had compost toilets, bucket powered showers we filled with collected rainwater, solar powered charging stations and communal meals with everyone (courtesy of Misi) and kava on the grog mat every night. We went snorkeling and fishing and played volleyball and swam at the beach and enjoyed the company of the Fijians and the wildlife. They had an injured pet fruit bat (Becky) in the kitchen hut where we could pet and take care of him. There were chickens wandering the island with baby chicks. A guitar and ukulele in the grand bure. Plenty of hammocks around the fire ring and along the beach. We enjoyed walking along the beach and finding hermit crabs and shells, walking into the water and looking at the coral and fish and even snorkeling right off the beach and finding more. Mat weaving Fiji style, visiting the primary school on neighboring island Mali in the village of Lingalevu,
We went one day out to a reef and saw loads more fish and beautiful coral and even sharks!
Fiji was colonized by the British, and to farm sugar cane they brought over a large population from India who knew the crop already (and they had also colonized). There is still a large Indian population in the area, and they have greatly influenced the cuisine. They eat curries and rice all the time on Fiji, but they have their own treatment with local vegetables, we mostly had fish curry and chutney. It was delicious, and not usually as spicy as the Indian food I’m used to, but it was still really good. We ate coconut, fish, chicken, fish, rice, curry, chutney, pancakes (which were more like scones or donuts), bananas , oatmeal/porridge.
- Tui Mali – the chief of the Mali tribe.
- Bula – Hi (literally it means life or health)
- Bula Sia – The local way to say it on Vorovoro and the surrounding area of Labasa.
- Vinaka – Thank you
- Yadra – Good morning
- Kerekere – Please
- Tulou – Excuse me
- Moce – Goodbye (pronounced Mo-they)
- Sulu – The traditional skirt everyone wears.
- Kava – The traditional drink of Fiji. Also called Grog.
- Tanoa – The traditional bowl where kava is mixed.
- Sevusevu – Ceremony when you arrive at a village. You bring kava root and present it to the chief.
- Cobo – (Thombo) the deep handed clap you do on the kava mat
- Oh ya – What men say as they approach a home.
- Manavanduuu – What women say as they approach a home. They say this right after the men would say Oh ya. It’s kinda sung and trails off at the end like an echo.
- Bongi – What everyone says at night as you first approach a home or kava mat.
- Dondo – When on the kava mat, men sit cross legged, and women sit with both legs to the side on the knees. Sitting there for hours and visiting is great, but your legs get very tired, so the chief can call a rest by saying ‘dondo‘. We had a good joke going around the village that we needed a ‘full body dondo’
- Kerekere vaka cangu – What you’d say on the grog mat when you’re ready to go to bed (not sure the exact spelling or meaning, but basically means, can I please go to bed?’ you ask the chief after you get everyone’s attention by cobo-ing three times, and he will say ‘Vinaka‘)
- Lovo – The underground oven meal/feast. Super heat rocks in a fire and place them in a hole covered with food to cook. Including fish, chicken and veggies and then you cover with banana leaves and then dirt to keep the heat it and let it cook for about an hour and a half. The fun part is digging it up without burning your hands too bad!
Kava deserves it’s own section here. Every evening after dinner will be a time everyone comes together in the big pavilion called the grand buré. Kava is a root, which they will pound into a powder and then mix with water to make a drink. Kava doesn’t necessarily taste good, but it’s not that bad either. It makes your tongue and mouth go a bit numb and tingly at first. They say it relaxes you and that once you’ve had it daily for a few weeks you can get drunk off it, though there is no alcohol content. I don’t remember the word in Fiji, but it sounds like “lambchop” in english and someone once confused the two, so now they just say that. Not like a crazy drunk or a sloppy drunk, but a mild mumbly laughing drunk. We never felt anything other than a tingling in our mouth though. But it’s not just a cup or two, they will sit for hours and hours on the mats, basically from dinner until bed, all night even sometimes. They combine the crushed kava root (they just use stones or metal or anything hard to pound the root) with water into the tanoa. Then they use a coconut shell as a cup and dish it out for everyone one at a time. They will pass the cup from person to person, and to receive it you cobo once, and after you drink you pass the cup back and cobo three times. There are kava guards that sit next to the tanoa and pass it around to people and keep the kava stirred and mixed. They will pass to everyone there and then take a break until the chief calls for another round usually 5-10 minutes later. There is a special kava ceremony when you arrive in a village called a Sevusevu, where the visitor presents the chief with a wrapped kava root and states the intention of the visit, then they are received by the chief as family (literally one of their own) and he will speak for the land and the ancestors in welcoming you to the land. There is also another similar ceremony when you leave , we were able to participate in a couple and see a few more of these types of ceremonies and it was nice to learn the rhythm of it all.
Off the Grid
We were off the grid because we did not get cell service where we were, and there was not much electricity anyways. There is a charge station for phones and things, but half our stay the solar panels or batteries did not work, so we were always trying to conserve our charge. IT was really nice to not be connected to things like Facebook and instagram, though some of you worried about us going dark. We did find after a couple days that there is a peak you can hike to that we did get signal on, so we would go and post photos and send messages to let everyone know we were still alive.
Bridge The Gap
As we mentioned earlier, we were on Vorovoro as guests through an organization called Bridge the Gap. They are in partnership with the chief and other tribal leaders to help the people live sustainably and adjust to the local challenges of climate change. Read more about their mission on their site. It was a great cultural experience to learn about the traditional of Fiji and get to know the people.
We’ll have a few more posts about our time in Fiji, so stay tuned! In the meantime, here are some more photos: