Robinson Crusoe island, Vousama village, Nadi, Mango Bay
27.12.2009 - 08.01.2010 35 °C
Bula welcome to Fiji.
After such an exciting adventure in New Zealand I was worried what it would be like coming back to a country that was harder to travel. I didn't have a hard time adjusting, in fact I loved it from the moment I got there, it was hot and humid and a little rickety car transported me to my hostel that had a broken bed in a room with just a fan and a sheet and broken internet and a pushy receptionist who wanted to sell me loads of tours, that's what I love about travelling :-)
The hostel in Nadi was very basic but i got there late on the 27th and although i thought I had booked Robinson Crusoe island for the 29th it turned out when I went to the internet on the morning of the 28th that I was due to leave half an hour later so I rushed to grab some money and water to take to the island and ran to the bus stop where a bus picked me up to leave for the jetty.
I wasn't sure what to expect from Robinson Crusoe, I had booked it whilst in Oz as it looked like somewhere that might be lively for the new year. When I got on the bus I was greeted by a man with a painted black face and a machete who sang songs from countries all round the world to pass the time on the bus journey to the jetty. I then got on a boat that took us to a small island 7 acres big with palm trees in the middle and beach round the edge and a few huts. As we approached a group of Fijians were singing a welcome song on the beach for us and then our boat was attacked by a group of Cannibals....hmmmmm my introduction to Robinson Crusoe Island!
I did wonder how I would spend 5 days on such a small space of land with no escape, no internet, no food or drink except that they provided you with, and with a bucket of water for a shower, but I LOVED IT!!!!! Robinson Crusoe were some of my best few days of the whole trip. I soon discovered that I was one of only around 20 people staying on the island alongside the staff who worked there, on Tuesdays and Thursdays they had day and evening guests come to the island and on the Mondays and Wednesdays they had just day guests. The rest of the time the island was ours to do as we pleased. When the guests were there there was free snorkeling out to a reef where there were blue starfish and clams, kayaking, jewelery making from the coconuts, learning about the plants on the island, turtles viewing, crab racing and watching the traditional hula and fire dancing. As soon as the guests left the islanders would play games, drink Kava, light a bonfire on the beach and sing songs until way past bedtime and then relax on our own private paradise island in the morning.
Kava plays a big part of life in Fiji, and every time it is drunk there is a certain ritual to follow regardless of how informal the atmosphere. Kava is made from the root of a pepper plant which is crushed and mixed with water in a big bowl. It has the opposite effect of alcohol and makes you feel very relaxed and slow. Kava is drunk to welcome you to any place in Fiji, on any celebratory occasion and to say goodbye again.
It was New Year whilst I was there and we had 52 people stay on the island. We were allowed to pick whatever we wanted from the island to make tribal costumes for the evening and we had traditional warrior markings put on our face and bodies. The staffed cooked a massive dinner for us and then we had a Kava ceremony to welcome in the start of the evening. We then played some brutal island games which resulted in the majority of our tribal outfits being ripped to shreds and plenty of bruises being kept as mementos of the evening. After that it was general dancing, drinking and merry making to welcome in the New Year. As the sun came up on New Years day those survivors (of which I am proud to say I am one) went to the eastern side of the island and lit a bonfire to watch the sunrise, we sang songs and it was a very memorable moment, perfect way to end one of the best years of my life and start another one.
I was really sad to leave Robinson Crusoe but one of the staff on the island, Jowie, invited me to stay at his village for three days and to celebrate my birthday there. I was very honored and went back to the mainland to buy some Kava as a gift to the village for my welcoming ceremony. Jowie waited for me at the bus stop and brought me to the village of Vousama. 48 houses were in the village along with a church, it was far away from the main road so a supply van brought food twice a week but they had no refrigeration so only dry foods or food to be eaten that evening could be bought. I stayed in a house with Jowie, his grandma was also called Rebecca and i was told she would look after me as if i was her own grandchild so I should called her Nene yather (mother namesake), Jowies, brother, aunty, and two cousins also lived in the same house. I was surprised at how poor they were, when I had met Jowie working on the island I was naive to the fact that at home he would sleep on the floor with 6 of his relatives, use the same room for cooking, dining, sleeping and living all in a room about 14 ft by 10ft, the village had no running water so everyday they had to go to the local well to fetch some up for using to wash and cook with. Despite the little that they had they welcomed me and gave me everything they had. They welcomed me with crackers and butter and black tea and then it was time for my Kava ceremony. In the village they had an open air communal area,the chief of the village and around 30 other people all crammed in and sat around me. i was really nervous as I knew how important the ceremony was and didn;t want to get the procedures wrong. After they had mixed the Kava and blessed it they passed me a cup, i had to clap once and say Bula and then drink it down in one go, after I had finished I had to clap three times and hand the cup back. I had to do this with every new person that came in...that was a lot of Kava! Most people could speak some English but they taught me some Fijian so that I could be polite and converse with Nene yather and some of the older people in the village, everyone was so friendly and interested and let me ask them whatever questions I wanted about their life and life in the village. One of the guys had a job that took people from the Intercontinental hotel on his horse down the beach, he told me the next day he had a day off and would take me for free as a welcome gift from the village. I went to sleep that night and slept so well (probably the kava).
The next day was the 4th January, although it wasn't my birthday until the following day Jowie had to go back to work so he told me that they would celebrate my birthday that day instead so he could join in. It started with roti and coconut for breakfast followed by my horse ride on Natandola beach. The horse ride was great, we went to a cave and some ruins first where archeologists excavated the first people to arrive in Fiji, then we took the horse down through the water onto Natandola beach where we went swimming before heading home. The guy who took me was very nice but one of the first questions everyone in Fiji asked me was whether I was married or single and he was dropping lots of hints about how he would love a wife from England!!!!
When I came back from the horse ride Nene yather had been down to the mangroves and caught a mud crab which she then boiled in coconut milk for my birthday lunch. I was really honoured by this as the crabs can sell for a lot of money in the market, it was so delicious but I felt a bit awkward eating in front of everyone. I then went for a sleep and when i woke up they had made a garland of frangipani flowers to go round my neck and Ebbi, Jowies cousin, had brought me in one of her dresses to wear for the evening. To wash we went down to the local village well, I found washing really awkward as although they all wash down there and it is normal for them, lots of the children were staring at me as I looked different to them...it was an experience!
My birthday celebration began with the village preacher coming to give me a blessing, it was all in Fijian but Ebbi translated for me and I felt really emotional. After the blessing finished and we all sang a song in Fijian they brought out a big birthday cake with my name on that they had made and sang me happy birthday. Then the Kava began......some of the guys who could play the guitar came and played and sang traditional songs and before long we were dancing and a having a great celebration. I think I was the first to go to bed being a Kava novice and I slept soooooooo well!
On my birthday the 5th it didn't really feel like it was as I had celebrated the day before, one of the girls who I met on the Robinson Crusoe island came to the village for the day so i spent time with her and we were invited to various different peoples houses for Kava and lunch etc. That night was my final night in the village so we had a farewell Kava ceremony which replicated the first nights opening ceremony but instead of saying Bula to accept the drink, it was Mothe soto tali....goodbye and hope we meet again soon.
I headed to Mango Bay along the coral coast and stayed in a backpacker resort for 2 final nights before flying to Hawaii, the resort was lovely and I did my first dive since completing my open water in Thailand which was scary but fun, I swam in the sea and met some nice people but my heart was still back on Robinson Crusoe island and with the people in Vousama village.
My last day in Fiji ended on a high, I went back to Nadi for my flight and was greeted by the dive master from Robinson Crusoe Island Dan, he and his family are Indo-Fijian and I had told him all about my time in India and how much I loved the food there. He took me back to his families house in Nadi and his mum prepared me a big vegetarian Indian feast of chapati's and dahl and okra, and peppers it was really good and after wards he waved me off at the airport. I am so glad that Fiji is so close to Australia, I will definitely be going back there, the people and the culture have made me want to explore more of the South Pacific islands in the future.