Monday, November 13, 2006

Bula Time

It took us a while to decide where to go after our time at the Westin. 300 islands make up Fiji so we wanted to at least see one of those. A cruise looked the best option to do this, but the ones we looked at were too expensive. In the end we swallowed our pride and bought one of the packages offered by Awesome Adventures to the group of islands, near to mainland. The Yasawas and the Mananucas.

The fact that it was called Awesome Adventures and that it was aimed at backpackers made us shudder and we had visions of “wacky” non stop party backpackers. In the end we were glad we chose it. Our worst fears were not confirmed and we had a lovely time. We opted for the “lazy threesome” where you go to three islands. It is pot luck which ones you are assigned to, but we were happy with ours.

The first one was Tavewa which is at the top of the Yasawa islands and so a four hour boat ride, after which we travelled back down staying at 2 more islands. The journey was gorgeous, travelling past island after island ringed with white sand and palm trees, gorgeous blue sea. Views you see in brochures, but this time reality actually lived up to the brochure pictures.

All the islands we stayed on had different characters. I think the staff at the first, Coral View, made that one. They were so genuinely affectionate and made us feel so welcome. Even though we were only there for 2 days we felt that they were genuinely sad to see us go and we had big hugs from some of them. At each island we were welcomed with the Bula song; serenaded off the beach as we arrived. We were sung a farewell song as well. At Coral View we made friends with a couple, Elaine and Dave. Elaine was quite emotional when they sung it with such feeling. This of course set me off!

The atmosphere at Coral View was lovely too. We couldn't help getting into the spirit of the island and I blame this for the fact that we ended up cross dressing! Every night they had an activity and this one advertised itself as “make your fun dream come true tonight in Fiji!”. Tim had already made his fun dream come true back home, but he still participated wearing my clothes and I wore his! Look out for those pictures and there will probably be a video circulating the net at some point! Everyone put in the effort. We had to dance down a catwalk and be asked questions at the end of it. I'd never make a stand-up comedian but I think our dancing made up for that!

The island was beautiful and I couldn't get over how many different shades of blue the water was. The only thing was it was quite windy and so not ideal for snorkelling. It didn't matter though. We spent a lot of time wiling away the hours in a hammock. We also visited a traditional village. It was a bit uncomfortable at times. We went into the Chief's bure and sat around in a circle waiting for him. When he arrived we shook his hand and were invited to ask questions starting at the beginning of the circle so you knew that soon your time would be. When I've worked doing group work this is called the creeping death and is advised against as it makes everyone feel nervous. You could see the beads of sweat forming on everyones head as they furtively tried to think of a question before it was their turn. I asked something about the artwork in his bure and he made me repeat the question about 4 times!

After an emotional farewell to Elaine and Dave (we were meeting up with them the next day on the next island but maybe the farewell song had got to us a bit too much) we travelled to Naviti island. Again we were welcomed with the Bula song. The accommodation here was a bit more upmarket with a verandah on our hut and ensuite as opposed to outdoor salt water showers on the previous island (which was quite nice though as you could watch the sea as you showered). We watched a lovely sunset from the hammock on the first night.

The staff here didn't have the same spark as Coral View but they were still lovely (until they made us get up and dance to the Bula song and made us dance a silly one with random people!)

The resort offered snorkelling with Manta Rays which Tim and I fancied. In the boat we saw a fairly big bird hovering over the sea and the crew shouted, “there they are”.(The birds go after the fish which the Manta Rays are chasing) We looked to where they were pointing and saw a few dark manta ray shapes in the sea and hurried to get our snorkelling gear on. I plopped in the water as graceful as ever (not) which caused my mask to shift and water get in. The next few minutes saw me spluttering and thrashing around in the water trying to sort my mask out. I was feeling more and more manic and frustrated because the crew were shouting to tell us where the Rays were, “over there, swim there. Quick quick. No swim the other way. No no. Get out of the current.” I felt like going back to the boat and turfing them in. As I thrashed around I heard a big splash. I felt a bit jumpy at this point as I was stressing about my situation and I didn't feel in control. I looked around and saw that the bird we saw earlier had dived right in front of me which was quite cool. All I succeeded in doing was swallowing loads of sea water. I hadn't even got my head under when the crew shouted to come back to the boat. It was so frustrating especially when everyone said they saw some. I fixed my snorkel and the next time we went in I calmed my mind down and decided to be calm when they were shouting and not panic. I managed to jump in gently and my mask stayed on. The visibility wasn't great and the sea wasn't the calmest, but I saw one big manta ray underneath me which was lovely. However, it looked like it was coming for me and although I knew they don't hurt I didn't want it too close. I like to keep my distance from sea life which is why I don't want to learn to dive. I popped my head up. When I went back down though it had gone and I didn't see anymore. I struggled against the current to get to the people in time who were with some other rays. Back on the boat and everyone was swapping stories of how 5 or 6 were doing dance formations round them and I sat and smiled through gritted teeth. It felt reminiscent of Borneo when everyone saw a turtle except us. At least Tim got to see lots of rays though. I did see loads from the boat though and that was very good, especially when an absolutely massive one went past. Tim told me he had heard me when I asked him for help but he chose the mantas! Can't blame him really. Thrashing, spluttering me or beautiful, graceful creatures of the sea. Hmm I know which I'd chose!

That evening after the arrival of Dave and Elaine, catching up on the 24 hours we'd been apart and after more silly dancing, we were invited to drink Kava by one of blokes who worked there with the locals. Elaine declined as she was really tired but Tim, Dave and I trudged off feeling slightly edgy as it all felt slightly shady. We felt we had to do it though. Kava is drunk every night by Fijian people. It is the crushed up root of a plant which looks a bit like ginger. We arrived at a thatched bure where lots of locals were all seated around a bowl with something which resembled thin cement slurry. ummmm, cement slurry. A man dished up the Kava in a small bowl to each of us in turn and everyone clapped rhythmically and randomly and said “bula” (this word is used for many things) In turn we downed the foul looking liquid. People had said it was really awful, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. It was quite hot and gritty, but didn't taste so bad. After I downed it I followed suit to everyone else and said, “Bula Bula”. Not sure why, but hey! I'm sure I just said “hello, hello” I looked around as I waited for some effect. I wanted to laugh at Dave and Tim as they looked like rabbits caught in headlights. Their eyes were looking quite big and round, or it could have been the effect of the dim lighting. A lot of people were just sitting slumped. I think they'd had quite a lot. It was quite quiet until Dave brought out his magic tricks, something which we saw frequently in the few days we were with him and which was great for breaking cross cultural barriers. The kava group were impressed. After this Tim and Dave had more Kava (I declined) and I took lots of photos of people on their request which I have to send to them.

We left the bure and I felt quite wired. It's supposed to be narcotic and therefore you should be able to sleep well. Apparently Dave did, but me and Tim struggled!

The following day we all headed to Honeymoon beach, a short walk up a hill, through forest and a small settlement later we were at a beautiful secluded white sandy beach. I immediately jumped into the clear blue inviting water after which we walked up the beach and were fascinated to see hundreds of hermit crabs all marching in the same direction away from the sea. We heard them before we saw them, clicking away.

Back at Korovou and after lunch we said goodbye to Elaine and Dave, this time for longer than 24 hours as we leave for the Cook Islands and they go to the New York. We boarded the boat for our final destination on that trip, Bounty Island. I had to sit inside and felt unable to leave my seat feeling a bit iffy. Must've been something I ate! Arriving at Bounty Island, it looked lovely (as they all have) Again we were greeted with the Bula song. All our accommodation had been overlooking the beach and sea but this one was right on the sand. The sea looked really inviting, but we went and sat on the end of the jetty with a drink and watched the sun go down. We were pleased when we spotted a stingray swim under us.

We watched the welcome singing that night which was probably the best yet with about 20 people singing really soulfully. It was really lovely. My mum would have been in bits!

Up early the next day to make the most of our only day on the island. We walked right round it which took, all of half an hour. Again, beautiful white sand, clear blue sea, islands dotted in the distance. We had hoped to see a turtle or two as we had heard that the island has nesting turtles on it. Not to be. Turtles are eluding us this trip.

We spent some time snorkelling which was probably the best off the beach snorkelling we've done. There was lovely colourful soft coral and lots of really beautiful brightly coloured big fish. I was glad to get my snorkelling head on again. The rest of the day we spent reading in the shade. It was just too hot to do anything else.

The time we've spent in Fiji has been such hard work and I hope nobody feels too sorry for us. Fiji is beautiful and I would definitely go back. From the moment you step off the plane and you are serenaded by fijian people it is hard not to get into the spirit of it. There are so many different islands to visit and we didn't even explore the mainland which is apparently in contrast to the beaches, with highlands and rainforest. Next stop The Cook Islands. hOh how will we cope with more beautiful beaches and island life?

No comments: