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Fiji - A Beautiful Contradiction




A situation in which inconsistent elements are present.

Touching down on the 31st of December, the excitement of an unplanned New Years and the prospect of an island getaway were at the forefront. The moment we stepped off the plane, feeling the heat (and 90 percent humidity), and being greeted by a man on a guitar, singing a Fijian song in a flower printed shirt, was enough to make my soul sing along with him.

But as we got into a taxi and moved through town, there’s no denying that apprehension began to set in. It’s interesting how sometimes our preconceived idea of a certain person or place can set us up for either disappointment or a pleasant surprise. This was most certainly one of those moments. The postcard perfect picture did not match the sight laid out in front of us. With the abundance of rain, roads and surrounding land had flooded. At first glance, the infrastructure looked to be crumbling; incessant pot holes, buildings constructed with basic materials, road side stalls hand built in skewed displays of craftsmanship. It was a stark contrast to where we had just come from, and one we were not prepared for.

On top of this, I had insisted that we book a 34-person mixed dorm room at the closest hostel. I had justified this with a) the price, b) the fact that it was New Years, and probably wouldn’t be in our rooms much anyway, and c) having loved my previous experiences travelling in hostels. What was not accounted for was the torrential downpour we faced for the following couple of days. Feeling as though we had made a misstep in coming to a tropical island during the wet season and forcing my best friend beyond any realm of comfortability she had ever known, our saving grace came in the form of human beings.

Within the hour, we had somehow formed a group of energetic, fun, adventurous and like-minded people that communicated in a varying range of accents. This dynamic and ever-changing group was made up of an American, an Argentinian, three Germans, two British, one Hongkonger, a Korean and us; two Australians.

If you asked me now how this happened, I’m not sure I would even have an answer for you. But it eventually led to us partying on a boat to bring in the New Year, surrounded by some of the kindest, fun-loving humans I have ever met.

It also helped in easing our apprehension for the next couple of days. Although the rain persisted, instead of dwelling on our misperception of an island getaway, we spent the day zip-lining, hiking through a jungle to chase waterfalls, lathering ourselves in mud, jumping into natural hot springs and eventually dancing like carefree children. Our conversations were simply getting to know each other and by the time we had to say goodbye, it was filled with a mixture of sadness and immense gratitude for the brief time we spent together.

In a similar vein, I was lucky enough to have family not too far away. Upon seeing our (poorly hidden) distress, they were beyond kind to offer up a room at their resort for the following nights.

There aren’t too many times that you are directly reminded of your own privileges in life, but as we crossed the access gate onto Denarau Island, the contrast was astounding. Gardens were manicured, buildings polished and the lush greenery was peppered with bursts of colour from vibrant hibiscus and frangipanis. Stepping into this world that is catered purely to serving tourists who have the financial ability to spend money on holidays in such a manner was staggering considering the area we had just come from. And to be honest, this recognition of comparison may have never occurred had we not experienced the hostel to begin with.

This disparity was further highlighted with one of my favourite days of the trip. A bus organised to transport around 30 family members to Ba, a town in which parts of the family had grown up. In terms of experiencing culture, this was as authentic as it could ever get. The property lay on a chicken farm an hour and a half from Nadi and the drive through multiple villages and countryside was the beginning of a slow understanding of Fiji.

First, we were presented with handmade leis to welcome us into their home. Simultaneously, more family members and friends arrived and congregated in small conversations while a large spread of traditional Fijian dishes were being prepared. Having no inkling of the food laid out in front of us, it was a collective effort in describing the foods that already smelt incredible. Among them was a traditional Fijian dish made from coconut milk wrapped in taro leaves which was cooked in an underground oven known as a lovo. Combining culture, flavour and tradition, this quickly became a favourite of mine.

With full bellies and hearts, a Kava ceremony soon followed where we were privy to, and learnt the customary way of drinking the famous drink. For all the hype, the honest truth is that it looks and tastes like dirty water that makes your mouth go numb. And while the locals live by it, the biggest challenge seemed to be keeping a straight face after downing the bowl of murky liquid. But despite the questionable substance, the experience of sitting under the greenery on hand-woven mats, watching kava being brewed and passed around among the group, made the numb mouth worth every second.

In reflection, this moment is very much a representation of Fiji itself. If you can look beyond the glamour (or lack thereof), then you see functionality, generosity, happiness and a spirit for life that many of us lack too often.

Everywhere, kids could be seen playing outside, creating their own fun. They used sticks on tin sheets to create a beat, played rugby on a field with all of their friends, jumped in to the rivers and oceans, played with the animals and etched hopscotch into the mud. Their imagination endless and all so gloriously happy to be out playing. Likewise, the adults were forever singing or tapping a tune, enthusiastically bellowing ‘Bula!’ to anyone and everyone that passed by, and sharing their knowledge and story with those who listened. It was a large reminder that life is what you make of it. Forced to slow down (as everything runs on ‘Fiji time’) and appreciate the people and connections around you. At first it was all about seeing beautiful places. But as time went on, the beauty in the people is what stood out the most. Their inherent kindness and joy was contagious, and I caught myself smiling more often than not.

1 Comment

Mar 20, 2023

That is first rate Sam. Captured the true essence and spirit of our wonderful time away. 😁

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