“Bula” was the first word we heard as we arrived in the airport at Nadi (pronounced Nandi). It is the Fijian equivalent of the Hawaiian “aloha” and represents not only a warm greeting, but also a mindset and a way of life. In spite of the 4 consecutive flights it took to get there, our spirits were buoyed by the smiling faces of all airport employees. We were given shell leis and quickly got into a taxi to get to Port Denarau where we would board a catamaran for the final leg of the trip to Tavewa Island, the part-time home of our friend Rhonda and her husband Henry and son, Ben. Henry grew up on the island, and it is entirely owned by members of his extended family. We had been looking forward to our time in Fiji as a chance to relax (i.e. stay in one place for a couple of weeks), see Cam’s mother Janet, and visit with an old friend whom we had not seen for almost 20 years. We optimistically thought that we would get “caught up” with our blogs, but I guess we forgot how energetic Rhonda is! Almost every day, there was some fun activity to do, from mango picking (and eating, of course!) to snorkeling and kayaking, we were enjoying the sights and tastes of the island. Which is also why I am writing this 10 days after leaving Fiji, from a beachfront bungalow in Port Olry, Vanuatu.
Rhonda is actually the reason that Cam and I met back in 1992. At that time, she was guiding canoe trips with Canadian Wilderness Trips and teamed up with Cam to offer a “wolf howl weekend” in Algonquin Park. Apparently I was the first client to sign up! Awooooo! The last time we saw her was on a backcountry ski trip she organized for friends in the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia in ’96. Rhonda’s amazing skills as an outdoor guide and cook took her to Fiji to take clients on kayak trips there. Enter Henry; the local guide, skilled fisherman and all-around great guy! Rhonda, Henry, and Ben (8 yrs) now divide their time between their homes in Canada (Skookumchuck, BC) and Tavewa Island, in the Yasawa chain in Fiji (a country which is actually made up of about 330 islands!)
They were amazing hosts and we learned so much about island life, reef fish, and local foods thanks to their generosity and enthusiasm. Just to give an idea of what the Yasawa Islands are like, it is here the movie “Castaway” with Tom Hanks was filmed, as well as the Brooke Shields classic, “Blue Lagoon” (you can see Henry’s beachfront in the movie). Yeah, it was pretty idyllic.
The catamaran trip on “Ocean Dreamer” from the main island out to Henry and Rhonda’s was not insignificant: it took over 5 hours! Along the way, passengers were being dropped off and picked up from various resorts. Small tender boats would meet the larger boat and exchange people, luggage, and goods. It is also how islanders can get food and fresh vegetables delivered from stores in the city.
Henry and Rhonda came out in their tin boat to meet the “Ocean Dreamer” and took us for the short ride to their island. By this point, we were hot and exhausted!
Tavewa Island is fairly small (about 2.5km in diameter) and has an interesting history. At one time, there were probably cannibals on its shores (and maybe pirates who buried treasure?) And we heard from Henry that it had a large sugar cane plantation at one time, using the slave labour of ni-Vans (people of Vanuatu). Henry’s great-great-grandfather purchased the island and the family ran a coconut plantation for some time. We loved hearing stories about Henry’s childhood, spent in and on the water, climbing coconut trees, cracking open enough native almonds to fill up a jar. Henry went to school on the next island over, where he boarded during the week. Although he was meant to come home every second weekend, he usually snuck out of the dorm each Friday or even Thursday afternoon. A quick swim or wade across a shallow bay took him to a trail that he could follow to a small village. There, he would get a fire-stick that allowed him to light a fire on the rocks across from his home. When his father saw the small fire burning, he knew it was time to row across the channel to pick up his youngest son. His dad made him work in the coconut plantation, so he didn’t exactly get a “weekend off”, but Henry preferred to be at home. And his family made us feel very “at home” during our stay on Tavewa!
More blog entries to follow about our sun and fun-filled days!