What I wanted: Warmth, endless sunshine, beautiful tropical beaches with clear blue crystal waters, frolicking in the ocean, kayaking, perhaps some stand up paddle boarding, spending time with Bruce, painting, relaxing, going nowhere, yoga, reading, good food.
What I got: Some warmth, some cool breezes, limited sunshine, plenty of rain, beautiful tropical coast line with semi-clear waters, one hour of kayaking, two hours of swimming, a lot of great conversations with Bruce, four books read, a little bit of yoga, hours devoted to painting and creative arts, lots of good food, and a lot of relaxing and sleeping.
You all know the line, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you can get what you need. And though my idea about what I wanted from my Fijian holiday didn’t fully materialize, I certainly got what I needed: REST.
Five years post-earthquakes, three years since dad died, and many house renovation projects, woofer hosting, and non-stop action, I could feel my body giving way – always tired, easily provoked into anxiety, always feeling like I was scrambling to keep up, to stay on top of things, to be available to those who needed me. I could never get enough days of sequential solitude to refill my well of kindness and goodness. So I had been looking forward to our Fijian trip for months. Eighteen days of being away with Bruce – it had been five years since we had a holiday solely together with no family, no friends, and no purpose other than to enjoy ourselves.
After much research, we decided to stay on the main island, Viti Levu, and stay at three different places on the Coral Coast: The Beach House, Tambua Sands, and Crusoe’s Retreat. All were mid-range, small, boutique resorts promising to offer an intimate, low-key atmosphere for guests. The Coral Coast is an 80 km/50 mile stretch of beach on the south-west side of the main island and is named thusly because it is fringed by a coral reef which extends almost a kilometer off-shore. This meant that one could only swim, kayak, and snorkel around the high tide. This is a significant fact to understand and one which negatively impacted me as many times when the sun finally came out and I was ready to frolic in the sea, there was no sea in which to frolic.
Our first stop was four nights at The Beach House. More of a backpackers than a resort, it was recommended to us by two much younger friends and we thought it offered good value for the price. We booked the Garden Bure (room) which we found spacious and modern and we loved the outdoor rock walled shower.
The ambiance of the place was vibrant and alive with loads of young surfer/diver-types mainly staying in the dorms. We were on the older aged spectrum of the clientele but the owner and other staff were closer in age and made us feel very welcome. We did very little during our time there with walks on the beach, drawing & painting, reading, and relaxing. I also received an awesome one hour traditional bobo massage outside under a thatched roof! The Beach House had a great happy hour, offered reasonably priced food, and free wi-fi so we really enjoyed the slow unwinding into our holiday.
Next, we spent eight nights at the 26-room Tambua Sands Resort, one of the oldest on the Coral Coast and which had changed ownership many times in it’s fifty-year history. It was now owned by the international Warwick Hotel chain which was trying to inject a bit of contemporary flare and atmosphere into it. Newly arrived Kiwi-manager Wayne was very friendly and full of great ideas for the place. Quite idyllic, the bures were spread along a long stretch of beach and we could sit on our verandah or hammock just twenty metres from the shore listening to and watching the waves and amiably letting the hours pass. We spent a lot of time doing our creative arts on that porch!
In eight days we managed to get off the resort grounds for two short forays: the first was to jump on a local bus into the nearby town of Sigatoka to have a look-see and do some shopping; and the second was to take a walk along the beach, accompanied by one of the Fijian staff, to the neighboring village. This latter outing occurred on our last day when I had a bit of a freak-out about not having done anything ‘worthy’ with our time and Wayne, the manager, arranged for us to have a walk with Vitatui to the village. We couldn’t say no and thus the three of us head out for our excursion. Within minutes we were engaged in a lively conversation with Vitatui about island life, his life, and religion which was quite enjoyable. We stopped and got coconuts at the roadside stalls and only got a glimpse at the village before turning back. The highlight of our time at Tambua was the night we were treated to the Lovo buffet (traditional in-ground cooking style), Meke dance performance by the local village, and evening kava ceremony.
Our last six nights was spent at Crusoe’s Retreat. Nestled in a small valley four kilometres down a dirt road, the resort was vibrant and well landscaped. We splurged for the deluxe ocean front bures – the rooms were spacious and we absolutely loved the outdoor daybed which we practically lived on! Many, many hours of relaxing and napping occurred on that bed.
Crusoe’s staff were very friendly and the resort offered an exceptional range of free daily activities: nature walk, food cooking demonstration, weaving, kava bowl making, henna tattooing as well as a tour to the neighboring village. I managed to participate in several of these and the highlight was the village tour where we visited the local school and interacted with the kids, toured part of the village, and had a kava and dance ceremony with the ‘ladies group’ at the village hall.
The Fijians are truly a very friendly, warm, and open people. I had the opportunity to speak intimately with two Fijian staff. Assuaging my curiosity, I asked about salaries, life in the village, and the interaction between the resorts and Fijian village neighbors. Most of the resorts lease the land from the villages which is good as it guarantees some income to the village. Sometimes the resorts have to pay the village for each coconut harvested from the property; during the village tour at Crusoes, the villagers did a hard sell to raise money for the school and for the ladies group for which every one of us doled out $5 or $10. For my $60 one hour massage, the female masseuse was only earning $3.85 which she said was the standard hourly wage for a resort worker (this translates to approximately $150/week). And the village mayor whom Bruce & I talked with told us that there is always politics between the resorts and villages – and that the villages have to be vigilant to ensure they receive their entitlements. Those few conversations were eye-opening and as everywhere, there is always more than meets the eye than that first initial glance. Beautiful tropical island getaways with crystal blue waters and modern bungalows to service an international clientele contrasts heavily with the corrugated iron and concrete village houses with little amenities. Duality runs rampant everywhere and offered much food for thought.
By the end of our trip I felt quite relaxed, rejuvenated and recharged and excited to think about upcoming projects at home. Thank you Fiji – we will be back some day!
PS: I’m sure some of you are curious as to what kinds of creative arts I accomplished. Here’s a selection of collages and drawings from my journal — all approx 11″ x 18″ (A3 size). Bruce’s Yantra of Passion is at the end.