Elizabeth the Island Enthusiast

a celebration of unconventional adventures

Tag: Fiji Culture (page 1 of 2)

Trouble in Paradise [Guest Post]

Even though I’ve been enjoying myself in Australia (apart from the strep throat), I haven’t stopped thinking about my incredible nine weeks spent volunteering in Fiji.

To provide some more context, my fellow globe-trotting friend Sarah of Enrichmentality has kindly written a fantastic guest post – I had the pleasure of getting to know Sarah and her husband Simon during our volunteer placement in Fiji, and they were actually there when Cyclone Winston hit the islands this past February.

Read on for Sarah’s harrowing retelling of her first-hand experience (and be sure to check out her website for excellent money-related knowledge!)

TroubleInParadise

There are, apparently, 15 words for ‘heaven’ in the Fijian language – one of which is ‘yasawa’. And the Yasawa Islands, Fiji are certainly the closest thing to paradise I’ve experienced.

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Earlier this year, we were in Fiji with family when Cyclone Winston struck. We were out in the Yasawas, staying at the wonderful Naqalia Lodge and enjoying a Fijian dinner by kerosene lantern light, when the resort manager handed us two weather reports – one out of the country’s capital, Suva, and one out of the nearest city, Nadi.

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Each predicted a different path for the cyclone: one heading to Nadi, one heading to the Yasawas.

We had to make a choice – try to get on the evacuation ferry (which could be full by the time it got to us) and take our chances trying to find appropriate shelter on the mainland in Nadi.

Or, we could stay where we were, in the Yasawas, with the caveat that if Cyclone Winston did indeed hit Fiji and do a lot of damage (as it ultimately did), we could be stranded.

Deciding to take our chances with the boat, after a very rough ride, one injury, and a broken camera, we were back on the mainland, thanks to the extraordinarily skillful work of the various resort workers who managed to transfer terrified passengers from tiny boats onto the ferry in extremely choppy water.

Note the waves coming up over the side of the boat – this is the third floor deck!

Note the waves coming up over the side of the boat – this is the third floor deck!

We managed to find shelter in a dorm room at the hotel we had previously been staying at, and after a terribly windy night, awoke to debris everywhere. Several days later, when we could get our hands on a newspaper, we read a lot of tragic stories of lives and homes and livelihoods lost.

But the pages of the Fiji Times were also filled with messages of support and hope and thanks – for the local and international donations and aid. From our room overlooking the airport, we watched supply-carrying government and military aircraft landing on a runway lit by the headlights of cars, since the power was still out.

We were so grateful for the running water, the food, and the roof over our heads that we enjoyed.

We felt extraordinarily lucky – as we should every day.

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We made a few donations and did what we could to help out with the clean up, trying to relive some pressure from the staff who had their own homes and families to worry about. But we wanted to be out helping in the worst affected areas – although we didn’t have any structure to offer a hand through, and we weren’t keen to be wandering around offering help when the country was under a curfew and emergency services were already pushed to their limits.

At that time, we decided that we’d like to go back and help out as soon as we were free of the constraints of our jobs, and so, two days after my final work commitment, we boarded a plane back to Fiji to begin our volunteering experience.

Seven months on, much of Fiji looks restored to its idyllic reputation. Although there remains much work to be done, and your support is still needed, Fiji remains a beautiful place to visit.

Please be sure to visit Sarah’s website at Enrichmentality.com!

Did I Help?

I cannot believe I’ve been away for over nine weeks now.

As my term in Fiji came to a close, I couldn’t help but stop to reflect on a few things…

SavusavuFijiPalmTree

For those who didn’t know, the primary purpose of my trip to Fiji was to assist those affected by Cyclone Winston devastation. I’d known for a while I wanted to return to Fiji after having the opportunity to visit last year, but hearing the news about Cyclone Winston back in February ultimately confirmed my decision.

My secondary reason for coming to Fiji was to escape the toxicity of my old life at home (I really don’t want to into it again, but I wrote a blog post kind of explaining the situation a while ago…).

Generally speaking, I was very unhappy and knew I needed to get away. My heart also ached for the people of Fiji, who had been so wonderful to me throughout my previous stay. I badly wanted to help, and shift my focus towards the needs of others, as my overall perspective on life was in serious need of a reality check – more or less, years upon years of perpetually ruminating on my “first-world problems” had turned me into a person I did not like very much.

Now that my volunteering program has ended, I find myself nine weeks later, with a dizzying array of thoughts running through my head – foremost, did I actually help?

FijiBlueSkiesClearWater

Sarah, a friend and fellow volunteer I met during my experience in Fiji, recently wrote a fantastic blog post on her website, Enrichmentality (please go check it out!), discussing questions all volunteers really should ask themselves, prior to and during their service.

How can I help? Why I am I doing this? Am I really helping?

How can I help?

In truth, my past two months involved a variety of situations – from enriching, memorable, and deeply moving to just plain unpleasant. I’ll admit, there were moments I weeped for the pleasant chill of an air conditioner, consistent internet access, hot showers, and many other mundane first-world luxuries I’d taken for granted. There were numerous occasions I had to question my own integrity; times I had to let go of all conceit and give selflessly; other times I had to walk away from a despairing circumstance, escorted by the pain realizing there was nothing I could do.

Did I help? Am I at all a better person than I was nine weeks ago?

Did I develop more contempt for the ants scurrying across the table than integrity for others, simply based on my longing for the world I came from?

I like to think my head’s in a significantly healthier place now than it was before traveling here, but this experience wasn’t entirely about me.

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With that said, I’ve learned a lot about myself the last nine weeks. Or rather, confirmed personality traits in myself a lot of folks wouldn’t consider terribly desirable.

After spending approximately an hour curating a stereotypical instagram “layout” photo of assorted stuff, meticulously arranging the items in a way I believed to be most aesthetically pleasing when I should have been packing for my early-morning flight, I can conclude that I’m fairly materialistic, if not vain. I’m also frivolous and an enormous procrastinator, seeing as I found great joy in taking photos of the contents in my suitcase, rather than promptly and responsibly organizing them.

Even in spite of mailing another sizable box of clothes back home, I’m willing to bet my checked luggage is still utterly overweight.

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I like clothes. And shoes. And handbags. And clutches, and jewelry, and perfume, nail polish, fluorescent prints and all things that sparkle.

It occurred to me merely few days into my journey I did not pack nearly enough solid-colored clothing options (apart from jeans and leggings, I’m pretty sure the only solid-colored bottoms I have on me are two pairs of hot pink shorts). Oh well.

Honestly, it’s refreshing to let myself focus on something enjoyable. I want to live a blissful, passionate life in which I can wholeheartedly immerse myself in the raw euphoria of creating.

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I get sad a lot. There are times I’m ridden with crippling anxiety. Hell, I spent most of the past year absolutely paralyzed by my anxiety. Although I’ve miraculously conquered a number of fears in recent weeks, I’m still working to dig myself out of the massive, destructive emotional hole my mind spent years festering in.

Prior to dropping everything to travel, I never realized just how badly I’d prevent myself from having fun with my passions. For some reason the simple thought of enjoying myself made me break down in guilt and shame. I felt guilty about literally everything.

I felt beyond guilty leaving everything in my life behind, even while being fully aware if I didn’t leave, the self-inflicted deteriorating nature of my circumstances would destroy me completely.

I know I’m flawed.

Grossly flawed.

There are flaws I want to change, and others I’m learning to accept. I’ll always find myself drawn to visually pleasing objects, find joy in wearing debatably overpriced attire, and want to help make anything and everything I do as beautiful as possible. I tell people the biggest reason I eventually intend to own a home someday is because I can’t freaking wait to decorate it. I guess my point is I’m learning how to refrain from automatically getting down on myself for feeling unreasonably giddy when I think about Carleton Varney-inspired design concepts, versus how to end world hunger…

Trust me, I’ve pondered that too. I wish I were a better entrepreneur. I wish (desperately, at times) my mind fluently spoke the language of making money, so I could invent a brilliant and wildly prolific foundation to save the world’s children, build new homes and schools for the cyclone-affected people of Fiji, ward off all animal poachers, cure cancer, cease all war, and provide a thorough stellar education for everyone. It makes me happy to make others happy, but I’ve learned my true skills and passions may not necessarily translate into benevolence. That pains me.

However, I know from too many past experiences wallowing in anguish over being who I am simply does no good. Even despite being unsure about certain qualities in myself, and knowing with certainty individuals exist in this world that likely find my personality quirks totally repugnant, I’m finally starting to accept that’s fine. After all, what anyone else thinks is none of my business.

I’d like to try celebrating my weirdness, earthly flaws, and love of creativity. I want to be genuinely excited about life, and it feels so good to have gotten past the worst part – taking the first step away.

For far too long, excitement would translate directly into fear for me, and I’ve had enough.

LautokaFijiPalmTreesTaveuniScenicCoastline

So did I help during my time in Fiji? I earnestly hope so… Fiji certainly helped me, in more ways than I can even fathom. But again, that experience wasn’t entirely about me. If I made a positive difference in anyone’s life while serving there, that’s what matters.

SavusavuSeashellPalm

I hope I helped make someone happier. Not only can I say my volunteering experience profoundly improved my life, I sincerely hope my work was able to enhance the lives of everyone I had the privilege of meeting during my stay. Even if only somewhat, at a very minimum.

Vinaka vakalevu, Fiji. You’ll always have a place in my heart.

Fiji Food Highlights

It’s probably apparent by now that food is not the focus of my blog.

But, while going through the photos from the past two months in Fiji, I did find some pictures of food here and there, mostly taken when I was either REALLY ravenous or particularly amused with its display. Or perhaps to savor the fond memory.

So, without further ado, here are the food highlights (or at least the photographed ones) from my time in Fiji!

Classic Fijian Sunday Brunch in Labasa – Fresh Fish with Coconut ‘Miti’

FijiFreshFishAndCoconut

Sunday is traditionally a day of rest in Fiji (pretty much all shops and restaurants in town are closed), so many families gather together for a nice big relaxing lunch.

The first Sunday I spent in Labasa, my host family prepared a DELICIOUS classic Fijian meal referred to as ‘miti,’ consisting of fresh fish (likely caught very close by in the plentiful fishing waters off Vanua Levu), taro, potatoes, onions and other veggies, drizzled in hot, freshly-made coconut milk (yes, they made the coconut milk fresh out of raw coconut while the fish cooked!).

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The finished masterpiece

The final masterpiece

Stumbling Upon a Kumquat Tree

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When I was in Taveuni, I noticed kumquat trees EVERYWHERE – they seemed ripe, so one day I picked a few from the tree growing right next to my bure. Wasn’t bad!

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Random Cake

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Evidently it was some kid’s birthday at the resort I stayed at on Taveuni Island, and because it was an ENORMOUS cake the resort had prepared for approximately three people, everyone at the restaurant got some! I think it was orange-flavored, and the frosting tasted amazing…

The Breakfasts

TaveuniIslandBreakfast

Anyone who knows me well knows breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. That’s probably why I have so many breakfast and coffee photos (it also doesn’t hurt when the breakfast setting is absolutely GORGEOUS – who wouldn’t want to photograph their coffee and French press with a luscious tropical rainforest in the background?).

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The Smiling Mochas

SmilingCoffeeVanuaLevu

I encountered these cheerful beverages in Savusavu, Vanua Levu at the Copra Shed Captain’s Café, where I enjoyed a few meals on the water at the marina (can’t beat the views!!).

Mochas are my typical go-to coffee drink (for some reason they always seem to taste better while traveling), but the grinning foam at Captain’s Café was just a lovely whimsical bonus!

ScenicSmilingMarinaMochaLunchAtSavusavuMarinaSavusavuFijiSmilingMocha

Even if it didn’t have a smile, I noticed mochas and hot coffee drinks in Fiji frequently come with a complimentary cookie of some sort… Below is the rich chocolatey mocha I savored at Blue Ginger Café in Lautoka, Viti Levu, complete with miniature heart cookie:

FijiMocha

Fiji’s Take on a ‘Hawaiian’ Pizza

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It did have ham and pineapple, but please note the dollops of ketchup (more commonly referred to as simply ‘tomato sauce’ down here) in the center of each pineapple ring, along with the neat tomato-lined crust… I’ll give that presentation an 8 out of 10.

My Bus Lunch En Route to Suva

SandwichBusToSuva

There’s really nothing special about this meal. It’s just a cheese-and-Tabasco sandwich I whipped together before stumbling out of the house that morning before catching the 6:40 am express bus from Lautoka to Suva. But, it’s a good example of a lot of food I had during my stay in Fiji (especially the food I had to prepare myself – I am NOT a chef in the slightest).

And honestly, I was just shocked Sigatoka, Viti Levu had a geo-filter on Snapchat (where the bus was currently stopped when I decided to have my lunch)… Had to take a photo of something!

Savusavu: Fiji’s “Hidden Paradise”

Savusavu is an interesting place. An insanely beautiful place, too.

I know I say this about almost everywhere I’ve been in Fiji so far, but I already decided I need to return to Savusavu in order to spend true quality time there. Twenty four hours was not nearly enough in “the hidden paradise of Fiji” to uncover all its hidden gems!

SavusavuFijiPalmTree

Let’s start at the beginning of the story: Saturday morning, it took every ounce of energy in me to force my disoriented self out of bed following a week of feverish sickness, before inhaling a bowl of sugar-drenched cornflakes and groggily making my way from the house down the pothole-ridden dirt road to the nearby bus stop, where I then caught a local bus to the main bus terminal in Labasa. The bus to Savusavu was apparently scheduled for 9:30 am, so I, sometimes being the over-planner that I am, boarded the bus the moment the doors opened in earnest attempts to grab a “good seat”.

Unlike the assorted bus options I’ve written about on Viti Levu, there’s really only one type of bus available on Vanua Levu: and you can bet it’s open air, musty, and un-air conditioned.

I enjoyed a row to myself on the sticky schoolbus-esque seats for approximately a third of the way to Savusavu, but for the majority of the two and a half-hour trip, the bus was overloaded probably three times its recommended capacity. That made it quite difficult to simply relax and admire the picturesque, oddly alpine-like scenery along the route, which twisted and turned, ascended and descended over Vanua Levu’s jagged mountain peaks, for the most part cutting straight through the middle of the island as opposed to its parameter.

VanuaLevuFijiRoadVanuaLevuLushMountainsVanuaLevuBusViewVanuaLevuFijiHorseVanuaLevuFijiBusViewToSavusavu

Albeit a gorgeous journey, I arrived in Savusavu sweaty, dehydrated, starving and slightly on-edge, not to mention completely dizzied by overstimulating panoramic views of the marina and bay, teeming with yachts and sailboats gliding across the smooth, shimmering water. It was overcast, but the sun still beat down heavily. I sincerely hoped I’d remembered to douse myself with sunscreen earlier that day.

I quickly realized I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing.

AlmostToSavusavuSavusavuTownFijiCloudyDayInSavusavuFiji

One major thing I wish I’d done differently on this excursion (and this is always tricky): I wish I hadn’t sought accommodations for the night in advance.

I’d made a dodgy room arrangement at a place called the “Gecko Lodge,” a seedy motel more than 3 kilometers from town, which I mistakenly reserved online via Booking.com the night beforehand (since one of my biggest fears while traveling is not having a place to sleep when I get to my destination). In this case, and especially because it was just one night, I absolutely should have taken my chances finding good accommodations upon my arrival. I digress…

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Gecko Lodge did have very nice landscaping, and I do appreciate nice landscaping. I also appreciate a bed larger than twin-sized and a good air conditioning system. However, what I don’t appreciate is a cash-only payment system, particularly when all ATM machines in town aren’t functioning (typically indicating they’re out of cash; not an uncommon occurrence in the Fiji Islands).

On top of that, the Gecko Lodge manager for some reason thought it necessary to make special note of the laundry list of “resort rules” outlined on a faded laminated sheet taped to the wall, promptly inducing dreadful flashbacks to my micro-managed teenage boarding school years.

To say the least, it was uncomfortable.

When the manager’s dining recommendations consisted of every sketch, dilapidated Chinese seafood den I passed during the walk there, I knew with certainty Gecko Lodge was not where I should be.

So, I hoisted my overstuffed Northface backpack, 2 unopened liters of bottled Fiji Water in tow, and trudged (or “backpacked,” I suppose) towards town once again, stopping at a Grace Road Kitchen café for a much-needed very berry smoothie and recharge (read my raving review of the Grace Road Kitchen here!).

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I ultimately spent the night at the Savusavu Hot Springs Hotel, a place I’d recommend to anyone and everyone traveling to Savusavu – not only does every room boast a private balcony with glittering ocean view, it’s within easy walking distance of town, has a nice swimming pool deck, and really isn’t that much more expensive per night than Gecko Lodge. And they accept credit card payments!

Because I have to get those airline mileage points, duh…

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As its name suggests, the Savusavu Hot Springs Hotel sits directly adjacent to the actual Savusavu hot springs, which to my surprise are not the type of hot springs I’m accustomed to (I pictured something similar to the giant hot springs swimming pool like they have in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, although they did have a medical hot springs spa close by).

You could literally boil something, cook your dinner, or cause some serious bodily harm in these hot springs (which are totally open to the public, by the way). Just take a look at the warning sign:

SavusavuHotSpringsWarningSavusavuHotSpringsFijiSavusavuHotSpringsCloseUpSavusavuHotSpringsVanuaLevuFiji

I’ll admit, overall, this trip was poorly planned and I barely researched the region enough ahead of time (was kind of a sporadic adventure). I later found out Savusavu offers a fantastic beach area (home to its renowned diving and snorkeling opportunities, I’m sure), which is evidently located on the exact opposite end of town I spent my day exploring.

Oh well. Next time.

Instead, I primarily hung out around the Copra Shed Marina, in part for the excellent pizza and utterly mesmerizing sunset, but also for an enjoyable break from the Savusavu’s semi-touristy riffraff (I love chatting with the locals – don’t get me wrong – but after a while it gets really boring explaining time after time no, I’m not with the Peace Corps; no, I don’t have children…).

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As it turns out, Savusavu is a fairly popular spot for American ex-pats (among numerous Kiwis and Australians), attracted to the tiny seaside yachting town for its bounty of freehold land and reasonable prices, at least according to one resident American, whom I conversed with for five minutes by the washroom mirror; a woman presumably in her late forties or so.

“My husband and I bought a place in Savusavu for very cheap, in American standards,” she raved, “and the property value keeps going up and up and up!”

I asked if she found maintaining a life abroad in Fiji expensive. The woman laughed.

“Oh no, the American dollar goes so far here, which is great, you know, like being from California, we’re super materialistic.”

To that, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at her rather withered khaki ensemble, but knew by that point in the evening my appearance, too, was likely a bit haphazard. Extensive island travel involving lots of wind does that, I guess.

SavusavuCopraShedMarinaLights

The night consisted of a variety of fascinating discussions with travelers from all over the globe, many of which had arrived in Savusavu by boat. Hearing their incredible stories and diverse voyage plans reminded me I’m not at all alone in wanting to see the world. If anything, I’m terribly behind on adventures.

Honestly, it seems I have a tremendous obligation to take back entire years of my life.

SavusavuBoatSunsetView

Exploring Labasa

After spending an afternoon exploring downtown Labasa on Fiji’s Vanua Levu island earlier this week, I can determine one thing for certain: Labasa is not accustomed to visitors.

LabasaFijiMainRoad

It took me approximately 15 minutes to stroll the entirety of Labasa’s main street down and back, encountering more kava shops than sit-down eateries along the way.

This includes the time spent picking up some Powerade and tropical-strength bug spray at one of the local chemists, as well as getting the sandal I broke in Taveuni repaired at a tiny roadside kiosk (the guy sewed it back together in about three minutes and only charged FJD $1.50 – impressive, considering that’s a fraction of what I paid for those Jack Rogers!!).

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Labasa's official Coconut Industry Development Authority office

Labasa’s official Coconut Industry Development Authority office!

Fairly positive I was one of three caucasians in all of Labasa that day, apart from two very confused-looking backpackers I spotted waiting in line at the ATM.

I’d been warned beforehand I might ‘stick out’ among the crowd in Labasa, so I expected strange looks. I was even prepared to tell each and every strange man who approached me yes, I am in fact married (*wink*), to none other than a very sturdy Scandinavian rugby player who is waiting patiently back at the house, war club in hand, ready to beat the living daylight out of any intruders or otherwise sketchy individuals possessing the slightest intent to harass me…

Luckily, everyone seemed to mind their own business for the most part, with the exception of some enthusiastic kids waving and cheering from school buses passing by.

That, and one odd encounter with a man who took the liberty to stop his truck right next to where I was walking along the side of the road, where he proceeded to ask if he could take a picture with me.

My response? “No, I don’t do that.

Had it been a situation where we’d had a nice conversation and then he wanted a photo taken, sure, okay. Or, let’s say if I were somehow famous enough for him to have read my work and want a picture with me simply out of starstruck awe, then that’s cool, I guess. Or even if he’d just snapped a candid picture of me walking by, that’s fine. Whatever. But no, I’m not going to pose for a random photo solely because I look different. I’m not an animal at the zoo. I’m not going to pretend to be anyone’s phony blonde girlfriend.

Although I sensed no hard feelings as I traipsed forward, I couldn’t help but feel weird about the whole situation. Did I really appear that out of place?

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The biggest challenge in Labasa was finding a place to just sit and relax with a drink for a few minutes – I really wasn’t in the mood for a billiards club in the middle of a Monday afternoon, nor a dimly-lit Chinese buffet with darkened windows covered in rusted padlocks. Finally, I saw a sign for an establishment called the ‘Anchor Bar,’ optimistically pointing down an alleyway off the main road behind the Royale Wine Shop.

Its nize… en a gud plaze 2 relax” touts Anchor Bar’s top review on Facebook, which was all I needed to know before giddily prancing into the back alley, not realizing that review was actually from 2014.

I circled the building and surveyed the dusty alleyway four or five times (with many strange looks) until I concluded, much to my chagrin, Anchor Bar was completely boarded up and not at all in operation.

By this point I was starving, so I opted for the next most appealing-looking restaurant, the Banana Leaf Café, located up a desolate tiled stairway on the second floor of one of Labasa’s main street buildings. Apparently everything in Labasa closes at 4:00 pm sharp, so I only had about 40 minutes to enjoy my piece of fried chicken with chips and Fiji Bitter stubby before the owners kicked me out.

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Afterwards, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself… All the shops were now closed; I’d already perused the major MH grocery store twice, visited all the town pharmacies, and browsed the big Labasa market adjacent to the bus station (origin of the Indian sweets I’m pretty sure gave me food poisoning later that night…).

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I decided to wander behind the marketplace over to the scenic Labasa River, where I noticed several large, colorful hibiscus plants blooming down by the banks. The flowers’ bright reflection in the smooth water was absolutely fixating.

It suddenly didn’t matter the rest of my day in Labasa had been so bizarre and imperfect; this little bit of serenity was all I needed.

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Labasa: The Other ‘Sugar City’

Yesterday I arrived in Labasa, the biggest township on Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Levu.

Prior to coming here, I’d heard a variety of commentary about Labasa, most of which wasn’t terribly positive…

“Vanua Levu is just too remote. There’s nothing to do, no clubs…”

“Labasa is okay, but Viti Levu is so much more cosmopolitan…”

“The weather is nice and there’s good fishing, but don’t trust anyone!!”

Even according Lonely Planet’s website, Labasa “is a dusty sugar and timber town that doesn’t hold much allure for the average traveller. Sitting about 5km inland on the sweltering banks of the Labasa River and reclaimed mangrove swamps, the top sights in town are a large sugar mill and the seasonal trains that ka-chunk bushels of cane through Labasa’s centre.

That doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?

Whoever wrote the introduction for Lonely Planet’s Labasa, Fiji travel guide evidently didn’t stay too long.

Flying over Vanua Levu's vast sugar cane fields before landing in Labasa

Flying over Vanua Levu’s vast sugar cane fields before landing in Labasa

LabasaAirport

With that somewhat dreary description in mind yesterday afternoon as I drove through the city center for the very first time, I couldn’t help but note yes, Labasa is, in fact, a bit dusty.

It’s considerably rural, and some of the buildings in town did appear a tad run-down, if not shuttered. But, arguably, I could say the exact same things about places in West Virginia, or Greeley, Colorado.

Overall, I found Labasa quite colorful, quirky, and teeming with liveliness, the cars and streets adorned with dazzling lights in every hue after the sun went down (I later learned this may have been temporary because of the local ‘Friendly North’ carnival festivities last night, but hopefully not – guess I’ll find out soon enough!).

Labasa holds plenty of allure – I honestly can’t wait to explore this place over the next couple weeks!

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Papaya trees, just growing right outside in the backyard!

Papaya trees, just growing right outside in the backyard!

Having been here for a solid 24 hours now, I’m convinced Labasa has so much more to offer, although I’m certainly intrigued by its enormous sugar mill, which seems to be running around the clock processing the current sugar cane harvest.

The amount of sugar cane in the area is mind-blowing, really – it’s entirely possible Lautoka boasts more sugar cane field acreage (and I think I left right at the start of Lautoka’s sugar harvesting season), but I’ve never observed so many heaps of raw sugar, piled high on open trucks idling in an endless queue by to the mill.

I’ve never smelled air so densely sweet.

VanuaLevuPalmTrees

Trepidatious About Leaving Taveuni

I’m a bit trepidatious at the moment, not gonna lie.

I don’t know if it’s because today is my last full day in Taveuni, or because I have two flights on two very tiny airplanes scheduled for tomorrow, or because I honestly have no clue exactly where in the world I will be one month from today (well I have somewhat of a clue, but my plans could easily change)… I’m just feeling a little ‘out of it,’ if you know what I mean.

Last dinner in Taveuni Island... I don't wanna leave!

Last dinner in Taveuni Island… I don’t wanna leave!

Apart from the non-refundable airline tickets in my name, there’s really only one thing in my life I know for certain right now: I gotta come back to Taveuni Island someday.

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I’ve said this before about Lautoka, but under the right circumstances I could seriously live on Taveuni Island. Yes, it’s an idyllic tropical paradise teeming with empty unspoiled beaches, lush rainforests and picturesque waterfalls.

I don’t think it’d be a hard sell for anyone.

But, unlike a lot of the other regions in Fiji I’ve visited so far, Taveuni has a particularly relaxed vibe (which speaks volumes, considering the prevalence of ‘Fiji Time’ throughout the entire nation).

TaveuniIslandFijiPerfectPalmTreeEnjoyingTaveuniIslandFijiBeach

So much island excitement was crammed into my sole week here. I have way too much to write about, but unfortunately documenting the remainder of my Taveuni adventure on here will need to wait until I reach my next stop… Fiji’s second-largest island, VANUA LEVU!

Until then, please enjoy the following selection of photos showcasing a [very small] portion of Taveuni Island’s immensely diverse fauna and flora:

TaveuniIslandPurpleFlowerTaveuniIslandExoticFlowerTaveuniIslandRainforestFoliageTaveuniIslandGingerFlowersTaveuniIslandRedHibiscusTaveuniIslandWaterfallCrabTaveuniWaterfallCrabCloseUpTaveuniIslandPurpleFlowersTaveuniIslandPurpleFlowersButterflyTaveuniIslandRainforestPalmTrees

Now, time to pack!

This never gets old...

This never gets old…

How To Do Natadola RIGHT

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a fun story about my [accidental] resort-crashing adventure at Fiji’s dazzling Natadola Beach. While that was an exceptionally fun day (you can read about it here!), there were a few key things I would have done differently.

So, I went to Natadola Beach again. And this time it was even more fabulous!

HowToDoNatadolaBeachRight

First, I’ll start by saying Natadola Beach really is not at all close to where I’d been living in Lautoka. Even if I were to travel down to Natadola non-stop by private car, it would still take a couple hours. But it’s sooo worth the journey… I might even dare call Natadola the best beach on the island of Viti Levu, although the Coral Coast as a whole is exceptionally picturesque.

If you find yourself in Fiji and are not staying in a beachfront hotel or otherwise ‘touristy’ location, fear not – it’s still quite simple to access the powdery white sands and sparkling, crystal clear blue waters of Natadola Bay. Just follow these tips, and you can have an idyllic Fijian beach day that’s as cheap or extravagant as you please!

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Choose an express bus there and back (if possible). Coming from Lautoka, I’ve had to switch buses at the Nadi bus terminal on the way to Natadola both times. If available, I’d highly recommend opting for an enclosed express charter bus for the first leg of the trip, not only because they’re nicely air conditioned, but also because they’ll get you there significantly faster!

When returning, I’d hop on any bus that will stop for you at the main road (both times I was lucky to get an express bus all the way back to Lautoka with zero transfers!).

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Instruct the taxi to take you to the beach, NOT the InterContinental Resort. I love the InterContinental Fiji, don’t get me wrong, but they do make you pay FJD $40 for a voucher just to get in the gate. When you go to directly to the beach (it’s an easily missable gravel road near the driveway to the InterContinental), you can wander the beach freely without the obligation of finding a way to spend your InterContinental meal voucher.

Be firm with your cab driver on the pricing. Most of the time, they will always insist FJD $10 or more for transport from the main road. I was actually able to prove my last driver wrong when he tried to convince me the price would be $10 or higher when he ran the meter (it wasn’t). The price should only be $8, even just to the beach. If I’ve only ever paid $8, you should only pay $8. It also doesn’t hurt to come to an agreement on the price before getting into the vehicle!

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If you’re interested in paying for activities (snorkeling, horseback riding, surfing, etc.), take time to shop around for deals. You’ll likely encounter a bevy of locals trying to sell a variety of good and services, from fresh coconuts, an array of beach activities and Fijian massages to hair braiding. After speaking with a number of individuals, you’ll find they’re all competing against one another for business. My friends and I eventually scored a fantastic deal on beachfront massages (only FJD $30 for 1 hour! But it’s a secret, shhhh…).

Stop by Yatule Resort & Spa for lunch, or drinks, or happy hour, or coffee, or whatever. Unless you get looped into buying an InterContinental or plan to bring all of your own sustenance along with you (in which case, props for having the stellar planning and organization skills that I lack), Yatule Resort is a terrific spot to grab a reasonably priced lunch. The menu pricing is about half of what you’d pay for lunch at the InterContinental, and only a few paces away up the beach. Plus, the seating area is much closer to the sand and surf, meaning excellent views of the water any time of day!

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Go with friends! Yes, obviously going to the beach is better with friends, and I was lucky to have two volunteer friends to tag along with on this past jaunt to Natadola. However, I’m not always so fortunate. While technically I am on this extended adventure ‘alone’ and will always be an advocate for solo travel, I’m learning how important it is to continually make new friends while traveling, especially solo. Not only because making new friends is great fun, it’s nice to have someone else on your side when exploring (and/or haggling)!

I’ve met some amazing people from all over the world during my solo travels, a lot of which I still regularly keep in touch with and wholeheartedly anticipate seeing again (a special cheers from the Southern Hemisphere to my Turks and Caicos crew in regards to bonding over that ‘Fish Fry’!).

Travel friends truly are some of the best kinds of friends. Even if it means only getting to hang out for a day, or two, or a couple weeks, it’s always worth it.

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