Wednesday, January 10, 2007

You must visit the smaller islands...

When I told people in Vancouver that our first stop was Fiji, the response was almost unanimous. “Are you visiting the islands?” When I said that I wasn’t sure, the response was equally unanimous. “You must visit the smaller islands. And so we did. On Saturday afternoon, we boarded a small cruise ship out of Denarau Port for a 4 day 3 night tour of the Mamanucas and south Yasawa Islands. The cruise line was recommended by the hotel, and a charming retired German banker who I met in the pool. He said it was very good, and I decided that if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for us. While it wasn’t as luxurious as some of the other cruise lines we have been on, it turned out to be a very enjoyable experience.

We met very interesting people, primarily from Australia, and did some things we don’t normally do in Vancouver. These included snorkeling, listening to school children singing nursery rhymes from the 50’s, and drinking the infamous kava.

The cruise included a tour of a number of native
villages. I expected charming thatched huts, somewhat sanitized by the continual arrival of cruise ship passengers. While there were a few such buildings, the majority were very run down wood structures, without running water and electricity.

However, one village did have solar panels and a satellite dish for emergency telephone service.
When we arrived at one of the islands, the children were assembled outsid
e their school to perform for the visitors. They did so in return for donations which they could use to buy supplies for their school. While I found it a bit difficult to get over the odours, and general lack of cleanliness, I was overwhelmed by the

kids’ happy faces, and general sense of joy. At dinner that evening, we all agreed that these children certainly seemed much happier than the school kids back at home.
As for kava, it is not alcoholic, but I’m told it has a certain narcotic quality. It was served following a ritual ceremony that
included grinding the natural root of th
e kava plant, mixing it with water, and straining it through straw and cloth. Some people told me that it would taste like dirty dish water. It’s hard to describe the taste, but it certainly wasn’t as bad as Anne had feared. A spinster teacher at an Australian private Catholic girls’ school, she confided to me that one of her colleagues had warned her the only way to rid your mouth of the taste was to lick a dog’s bum!

Following the cruise, we decided to check out The Pearl, which a guidebook described as a very over designed, contemporary resort, with a Robert Trent Jones golf course. Located in Pacific Harbour, on the road to Suva, we were quite amazed with what we found. While our photos do not do it justice, it really is a very impressive place with a fabulous bar looking out over the pool and ocean. No expense appears to have been spared by the new Australian owner, in renovating what we were surprised to discover had been a 40 year old place. He particularly went overboard on the extensive indoor and outdoor cushioned seating and lighting. At night, rock videos were played on the wall above the lobby reception, and throughout the day the background sound track is similar to that heard at John Evan’s Opus Hotel. But unlike the Opus, this place is almost deserted. It’s like walking through a movie set.

There are a couple of explanations. One is obviously the coup, and our proximity to Suva, the country’s capital. Indeed, we did have to go through a few army road blocks to get here. However, we are also on the rainy side of the island, away from Nadi and the airport. We were told that even when there’s no coup, in the past this place has struggled. However, it is very lovely, and it will be interesting to see whether the stylish renovations can turn it around.

As for the coup, we’re hoping to find out what is really going on, as we set off for Suva to meet Sandra, the daughter of one of Sally’s friends, and her Los Angeles trained architect husband. It truly is a small world.


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