Two weeks in Fiji sounds pretty dreamy. I can sure think of worse places to spend two weeks. My latest adventure for work brought me to this small South Pacific island nation, where I would spend the majority of my time at places that I had seen only in surf videos, Cloudbreak and Tavarua.
As with most of my work trips, 99% of my time was spent working. I did however manage to sneak in about 4 surfs and one snorkel session. Aside from that, I pretty much spent my time cursing at the sluggish internet connection that we were getting out in the middle of the ocean. Slow internet will really test your patience.
All that said, Fiji is an incredible country. A melting pot of South Pacific / Asian nations, Fiji has three official languages: Fijian, Fiji Hindi and English. I am fascinated by language so it was cool listening to people interchangeably speak all three. The first few days I was giving Fijian a genuine try, but once my work load picked up, the learning stopped there.
As you would imagine, the Fijians run on island time, seemingly never in a rush to go anywhere. Apparently the warm weather and stunning, tropical landscapes keep everyone in a good mood. Even the strangers will give you a smile and greet you with “Bula” when you pass by. Island time definitely clashed a little with my strictly on time work style. It was a little challenging trying to work fast when my shuttles or meals were in no rush at all.
An overarching theme with most of my work trips, I got just a small taste of Fiji and was left wanting more. Of Fiji’s 300+ islands, I only saw a small part of two of them. I really just hit the tip of the iceberg. I would say a return trip is definitely in the cards.
After a week of working from a mediocre hotel on the main island, I shipped out to Tavarua where I would set up home base for the week of competition.
Even though I couldn’t take full advantage of my time there, I didn’t take staying on Tavarua for granted for one second. This is probably the only time I will stay on Tavarua in my life. Not necessarily because I will never have enough money one day to stay on this private island, but more because of the way I spend money. Expensive hotels are usually not the top item on my travel budget.
As my trip drew to a close, I hadn’t really had much time to talk to any Fijians in depth outside of work, taxis, restaurants and hotel interactions. Those interactions are pretty basic and while you surely do learn something about the country from them, they don’t really tell you the whole story.
On my second to last day in Fiji, the day after the end of the contest, I decided to go on a SUP tour of the local Mangrove forest in Port Denarau with my guide Moses. Moses lost his job in the hotel industry after the cyclone earlier this year and recently wound up guiding SUP tours.
Surprisingly my first time ever on an SUP, I paddled through the canals formed by the Mangroves while chatting with my guide. Moses started by giving me a lesson on the Mangrove forest, which plays a crucial role in the ecosystem in Fiji. He gave me some impressive detail about the trees, adding that he didn’t have to study to guide the tour, he simply just learned about Mangroves growing up in Fiji.
The Mangrove lesson transitioned into Moses and I shooting the breeze, which is where I got some cool insight to Fijian culture and a serious case of wanderlust.
He told me of an island far away to the north that he grew up on called Rotuma. It’s the farthest Fijian island from the main island and they speak a completely different language. A smaller island called Split Island sits just off the coast of Rotuma, which appears to be one island from afar, but is in fact two separate islands with a narrow split down the middle that you can paddle or swim through.
Moses explained how it takes three days by boat to get there, so he doesn’t go back too often to visit his grandparents. He travels back for christmas once a year and the three days consist of lots of singing and dancing on the deck. According to Moses the girls ask the guys to dance, and saying no isn’t an option.
Moses’ long term plan is to start a SUP tour company on Rotuma to take tourists through the split island. When I asked him when he plans to start that business, he told me that he estimates that it will take 10-15 years to save up enough money to do so. Someone send this guy a few boards!
This is a running theme in my posts, but the people you meet tend to leave a more lasting impression on you than the places you see. If you go back to my posts from Joshua Tree and Costa Rica, you’ll see that this is just another example. Moses is a humble, inspirational guy. Hope to see him on Rotuma one day.
Two weeks in Fiji was great, but I don’t think I can cross it off the travel destination list quite yet. I feel like I only scratched the surface as far as what this beautiful country is hiding when you stray away from the airport. I can cross two islands off the list, but there are still 300+ Fijian paradises waiting for me. Vinaka vaka levu Fiji.