!! BULA !!

Trip Start Jan 05, 2005
Trip End Dec 13, 2005

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Ok, I've been meaning to write this for a while but just haven't gotten around to it. But then just a bit ago I was glancing at Shakespeare quotes and the bard threw this gem at me; "O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention." This fired me up a bit and so I'm going to tackle the first of what will probably be 2 Fiji entries.

Fiji, "wow" is all I can say. I think I saved the best of my travels for last. 3 weeks in paradise. I got to the airport in Nadi, Fiji in the late afternoon. Nadi is on the "mainland" which is known as Viti Levu. All of the backpackers I met said to basically get off of the mainland as soon as you can which I did the next morning after a night in a hostel right on the beach. I was a bit scared at first because the beach at my hostel, while nice, wasn't the white sand and blue water I was expecting. After an hour long ferry out to Mana Island I felt sweet redemption. It was a large island with nothing but palm trees, white sand, crystal water, hot weather, cold beer, and all of the other tropical paradise cliches you can name. There was a large group of us going, 8 in total, but we managed to show up on 4 different days. I was the first to show and I was a bit worried I'd have trouble meeting people to hang out with for the first few days. This, of course, turned out to not be the case as I met a few cool English (imagine that) girls on the boat and a ton of other people as soon as we got to the island. I spent those first couple days chilling on the beach and then going to the Bula Bar at night for the usual.

My first impression of the Fijians was, "whoa, these people are really cool and laid back." Granted, living in a paradise like that would make anyone pretty chilled out(what is that? the fourth time I've used "paradise?" I'd better check a thesaurus). As I was saying, this utopian promised land was a true arcadia, a divine Zion for the weary soul. Every single person you passed would always say "Bula!" This is a multi-purpose Fijian word which mostly meant hello. Kind of like aloha to the Hawaiians. Lets get the introductions out of the way...

Kate was the first one to show. Next came Gemma, Ash, Angus, and Sonj and then the day after it was Andrea and Anna. Kate is a friend of Gemma's from her year in Australia. You'll remember Gemma and Ashley from my days in the Mandarin Orchard. Sonj is Gemma's mate from England Angus is likewise with Ash. We met Anna working at the golf tournament and Andrea is her mate from jolly London. They'd been traveling all over Asia and Australia for 8 months or so before they got to New Zealand a day after me.

Back to Fiji. Wow this is getting a bit convoluted already. O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention. There we go, much better...

Mana Island is quite large by Fijian standards. On this island there was a 5-star resort, 3 hostels, and 4 of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen. The water is unbelievably clear there. The first time we all went swimming I was scared to let my feet get deep in the water because I thought I'd step on some coral. The coral turned out to be so deep that you could hardly swim deep enough to get close to it, let alone not be able to tread water above it. This clear water made for some great snorkeling and SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus if you were wondering) diving.

Some of the activities we did on Mana were Snorkeling, Deep-sea fishing, a lot of hiking to beaches, and a lot of laying out on those beaches. The snorkeling was world class. Being a fortunate lad I've actually done quite a bit of snorkeling in my days. However, it nearly 8 years since I last went. The first time I dove in I remembered how awesome of an experience it is. Imagine taking the greatest salt-water fish tank you've ever seen and then imagine swimming in it. Take that and make the aquarium billions of times larger with all of the biodiversity that comes with it. Wow, thats all you can say. On sunset beach Angus, Ash, and myself went snorkeling at low tide. It took us about 45 minutes to get over the first reef into the deep water. Now this wasn't the most pleasurable 45 minutes. Basically it consisted of swimming over sharp coral about 6 inches below you. But the feeling I got once we made it to the wall of the reef and looking out into the deep blue sea was absolutely brilliant. I was going to go into the highlights of what we saw but I'll save that for the picture captions.

On to the fishing. I had been telling everyone how I was going to catch the most fish. Being a Minnesota boy I have some sort of God-given talent for catching fish. You could imagine the comments of my friends when I ended the trip being the only one who never caught anything. You see though, while deep-sea fishing you have to take turns who's using the rod or the hand-line. To my credit, being the true gentleman I am, I let lovely Simona of Florence take the first turn and she caught the fish that was technically mine. When it comes to the biggest fish contest the award goes to Sonj. She caught a huge triggerfish but that story belongs to my next entry.

Walking around the island was also fun. We weren't allowed to walk through the 5-star resort but we were able to use their beach. Well, we were supposed to be able to use their beach but we got sent off of there as well. That being said we didn't exactly look 5-star drifting along this beach with a stray dog. Walking across the middle of the island was a jungle. Standing there it felt like you could be in the Amazon or somewhere in India but as soon as you got to the top of a hill you'd be looking out over the endless Pacific with a dozen or so green islands jutting out. That's when you knew you were in the seventh heaven Shangri-La of Fiji.

As for laying out on the beach I was really good about being sun-concious before my friends showed up. That first group of English chicks were really good at reminding me to keep putting on the sunscreen. But when my friends showed up I got burnt the first day. Granted I never got as bad as Sonj, I was pretty red for a bit. Now that I think about it maybe Gemma was worse than Sonj, I guess they all got really red being a bunch of poms. Did I ever mention that they were all English? We were a group of American with 7 token English.

At night we'd all go to the bar and hang out. One great thing about Fiji is there would always be some kind of entertainment at night. Hermit crab races, traditional dances including ones with fire, Kava ceremonies, and lots of general carousing. Kava is the national drink of Fiji. It's made from some root that crushed up and sieved through water. It tastes like dirt but makes your mouth numb and also gives what is described as a "mild narcotic effect." It basically makes you laugh a lot. As this one guy called Moses told us "Alcohol makes us angry, Kava makes us happy." This statement can be taken another way as well. Native Fijians, like Native Americans and Australian Aboriginies lack some enzyme that helps them break down alcohol. Being no biochemist I'm not sure how this works but it does make them more prone to alcoholism so by and large they stick to the Kava. Kava ceremonies are a very important part of their culture, everyone in the village drinks it from the young kids to the elders. At our first one on Mana, Ash was the chief. We all think it's because he was sitting directly across from the bowl. Back up a sec, the Kava is in a large bowl and then they serve it in coconut shells that have been cut in half. Everyone sits in a circle and passes the coconut shells around, you clap once, say Bula, drain the shell, and then clap three times. Back to Ash being the chief, he'd probably say something like "Oi mate, I reckon I'm the chief because of my leadership qualities, unlike you lot of roustabouts." Since we were all sitting together Angus was the warrior and I was the Spokesman. They made me the spokesman because of my good grammar and social skills. Basically this meant that whenever Ash wanted to he could say "Taki" and we'd all get bowls of Kava. He could also say how much we got in the bowl (low tide, high tide, and sometimes tsunami). After we'd been at it for a while they did a couple of icebreakers to help everyone get to know each other. First they went around and had everyone state your name, country of origin, and whether you were single or taken. Then they had everyone sing national anthems. They started with the big groups (English, Italians, French, Swedes were all represented well) and then went with the people who were the sole representative of their country. Everyone had been singing while sitting and doing it pretty quietly at that. Once they got to me I had no choice but to stand up and belt out the Star Spangled Banner with my hand on my heart. At the end I started going USA USA USA as well. I did it very loudly and quite slowly and it was then that I realized our national anthem is a good bit longer than anyone else's. Everyone started cheering after I got to "and our flag was still there" and they were surprised when it kept on going. I got many compliments but I bet more than one of them was grumbling "typical American" when I first started.

As for the crab races they weren't very cool but sometimes you could get into them. I did about 4 of them and always made it to the final but never got into the top 3. I also got to sing the Star Spangled Banner before the final of one of those now that I remember it. The dances were cool too but I'm a bit sick of typing so I'll save the rest for my next Fiji entry, which will hopefully be up soon.
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