Sunday, May 01, 2005

Fiji

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Bula! (hello in Fijian) Last Saturday night, April 23rd, 23:30pm PST, I left the US soil and took off to the land of cannibals, Fiji. Fortunately the flight was half empty so I was able to spread my legs and take the entire middle row (4 seats) and sleep the entire flight. Eleven hours later I landed in Nadi, the only international airport in Fiji. Then I realized that it was Monday, April 25th. I totally skipped the April 24th since I crossed the date line during the flight and will continue my journey to the west. My eyes will never see April 24th. This day is gone forever! I passed through the customs without any problems, (even when I declared my PowerBars) and the hostel minivan was waiting for me at the airport with the most beautiful rainbow in the background welcoming me to Fiji.

I checked in and had some breakfast. Shortly thereafter, I booked a half-day trip to the highlands to see the native village about two hours in the mainland. This was absolutely fantastic. The volcanic scenery was stunning! Before we entered the village, the driver/guide, advised all travelers to remove hats and glasses since it is prohibited in the village and it would really upset the village chief. The village chief welcomed us and our little group entered chiefs home.

The guide gave the chief some KAVA as a gift and his daughter made us some to taste. We walked around the village while the chief talked about his little community. Then we hiked to the nearby waterfalls for a swim. This place reminds of of Adonis waterfalls in Cyprus I have visited back in 2001. I took some amazing pics and short films but the Internet connectivity is quite slow so I will upload when in Australia. Today, I am on my way to Mana. Mana is a small island on the west side of the big island, Viti Levu. For the next three day I plan on seeing the Castaway Island (from the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks), and perhaps some diving and snorkeling.


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...after a very hectic run from the hostel to the port of NADI, about 20 minutes away from the backpackers heaven, I managed to board the "SeaSpray" ferry servicing the Mamanuca and Yasawa Groups of islands. These island groups are about 40-50 miles east of the big island of Viti Levu. This was a perfect introduction to the true meaning of the phrase "Fiji time". It took us hours to get from one tiny little island to another. Locals were dropping off produce and picking up water, cases of beer, bread and other goods. It felt like being on a old world exploration ship.

Next thing you know, we were closing in on the island of MANA, my destination for the next tree days. We were welcomed by the beautiful sounds of the local guitars and harmonic voices singing the welcome song on the jetty. Both man and woman wore white or red flowers behind their ears. if the flower is behind the left ear it means that they are single and right ear that they are married or in a relationship.At first, the hostel looked like a refugee camp but shortly thereafter my opinion changed.

The positive energy of the locals certainly contributed to make my stay so wonderful. The island of MANA lays on a 32 acres of land, most of it is leased to a Japanese investor who has built a luxury resort on on the north side of the island. Most locals are working and quite happy to have a job. The other side of the island is where two tiny little villages are located as well as two youth hostels. The funny thing is that most operations in the hostel I stayed in are run by "mama Martha". Mama greeted me and gave me a scoop of the activities on the island as well as the day trips available.

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Mama Martha is a wonderful woman with the biggest smile on the planet. While she was talking to me, her voice sounded like a whale song. Seriously. I made few jokes and were were best friends for the rest of my stay. The rooms at the hostel were not much, no AC and power but all three meals were included in the price. This makes a big difference since there is no store on the island. The food was great including toast, marmalade & butter and coffee/tea while lunch and dinner included local specialties with fish, beef or chicken.

Anyway, the following day I booked a day trip to the MONURIKI island. One of my favorite movies "Cast Away" with Tom Hanks was filmed here few years ago. As usually, mama Martha arranged the trip and called Blizz, the captain of the little fishing boat, to accompany my on this trip. Few others from the hostel decided to join my on this venture and we were on our way. The first stop, YANUYA, tinny little island about 2 miles from the Castaway island. We need to see the chief and pay him the entrance fee first. At the time he was absent so Blizz gave money to his wife. Few minutes later we were drinking KAVA in the village community hall and buying local crafts. I purchased some KAVA and had few bowls with local man (see video).

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I was so excited to see the Castaway island. Blizz took us back to the beach and we were on our way to MONURIKI. Few minutes latter we were there, in front of this magnificent, untouched island. One side of the island is facing the coral reef where Tom injured himself while attempting his first escape from the island. This side is where the cave is located as well. His best volleyball friend "Willson" use to hang out on the rocks near by. On the other side is the most beautiful, postcard photo beach, amazing for diving and snorkeling. There are no facilities on the island so if you needed to go, it would be behind the next coconut tree:) .

Now, this is where the unbelievable part of the story begins. On our way back, I talked to Blizz, our captain, that it would be nice to build something on the island since there is so much tourist interest to visit this place. I gave him few ideas of what i would make of it and he nodded and agreed that it would a good and probably profitable business. The next day I was snorkeling, trekking around the entire MANA island and just enjoying this little paradise. When I came back for dinner, I talked to mama Martha about the Castaway and shared my ideas about the development opportunity. Blizz came along and I discovered that he is the grand son of the chief that owns the island. After dinner we had some KAVA and I collapsed in bed before 9pm.

In the morning I talked again with mama Martha and she expressed that Blizz might want to introduce me to the CHIEF and discuss my vision of the Castaway island. I did not think much of it but as I turned around, Blizz was walking toward us and set down for a chat. He said "You can meet the chief". He said "many people wanted to talk to my grandfather about MONURIKI but he rejected to talk to them as soon as he saw them. I think that he might like you Sini." Mama Martha said, "You need some SEVUSEVU if you want to meet the chief, that is the old way. The chief likes the old ways." Sevusevu is basically a gift to the chief, showing respect. Mama suggested that I buy some KAVA as a sevusevu. I bought their entire supply from the shop and the next morning I went back to YANUYA to meet the chief.

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7am, had a quick breakfast, some coffee and helped Blizz to fuel up his fishing boat. We were off to to the sea. The sea was rough and I was nervous. What was I thinking...Not to many people get to experience talking to the chief in his hut. Not to many people get to feel this rush. I guess I am the lucky one. One hour later we were on YANUYA, chief's home island. Little kids were playing in the sand when we arrived on the beach infront of the small vilage. We took of our shoes and walked into chief's BURE (hut) and I announced myself, BULA! Chief set down facing me, about 2 meters away while Blizz was sitting on the other side. I presented the chief with the sevusevu and he chanted in local Fijian for a minute. I said that I wanted to talk business and smiled. Blizz quickly translated and the chief looked me strait in the eyes for a brief second and said something to Bliss. Bliss said "the chief welcomes you to the village and he said that we can talk". I said to myself, I guess I will not be thrown out of the island afterall.

This is for real. I am not kidding. I set there with my legs crossed "Indian" style or whatever, ugghhhh...I was in so much pain since I am not use to sitting this way but I wouldn't move, I had to respect Fijian culture. I was in trance, sort of frozen in time. Seconds were passing like years. Blizz's' voice woke me up and said, "now is time for you to talk. This is the opportunity for you to tell this chief what you envision for Monuriki." I went on and explained that the island of MONURIKI is ideal for a luxury resort in a typical Fijian style with a restaurant and a supermarket to accommodate both overnight guests as well as the daily visitors. I also said that I would put in solar panels, Internet, satellite TV and other high tech goodies as well. I explained that the diesel generators they were using are creating much noise and it is very expensive for their standards.

The chief never looked at me the during the entire conversation. Later I've learned that he asked Blizz about my profession, family, and nationality and why I would leave it all for Monuriki. I expressed my interest and desire to contribute to the community rather then being a money hungry investor, which is aboslutely true. I fell in love with Fijian culture, people and this tinny island instantly. I explained that his village and all mamas would benefit from the development and they would be able to afford to buy a bigger boat for transporting goods to the mainland. This was just like a dream from my childhood, playing the "pirates" game with my friends. In the end, the chief looked up and thanked me for coming and said that we should continue talking.

When I returned to MANA, mama Martha was there waiting for me with a huge smile, hopping to hear some good news. I then realized that I did have the good news and that chief liked me and that I need to me in a bi-monthly contact with him. Moma said, "on the next meeting you need to bring a sperm whale tooth." In Fiji Islands, whale tooth has the highest value and in the old days it would be a measure of wealth. So, if chief decides to invite me over for the second round of talks I must bring a whale tooth. Next thing I think...Ebay.

Quick boat ride to the main land, taxi to the airport and I was on my way to Australia.

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austria
bosnia & h'govina
serbia & montenegro
-> serbia
-> montenegro
netherlands
namibia
mozambique
republic of south africa
india
thailand
australia
fiji
argentina
usa

2 comments:

Sini Vlaisavljevic said...

today i spoke with mama martha! we are still working on the details for MONURIKI (cast away island) takeover. Now I need to buy a whale tooth, few pounds of GROG and go back to meet the chief. i am looking for partners to join me in this venture. this could be the opportunity of the lifetime, building a luxary resort in the pacific...email if interested:)

Sini Vlaisavljevic said...

so, here comes the end of the story. the island was recently declared a "public trust" and protected by the Fiji governement....