It has been said that the spirit of the people in a region conforms to the landscape they live in. The weather, neighbors, resources, and terrain serve to influence a way of life and thus an attitude towards it. Fiji to me is the best example of this concept. The warm welcoming weather and crystal-clear waters of Fiji mirrors the warmth, sincere kindness, and hospitality exuded by its people. Fiji was the first stop on our journey to Australia and later New Zealand. It was a terrific opportunity to unwind, adjust to a new time zone, and ease into the trip ahead of us.
Fiji is an archipelago of over 330 islands in the South Pacific. This tropical country sits 1,100 miles northeast of New Zealand and has close ties to England as a former English Colony since 1874, only recently becoming independent in 1970. Europeans first visited Fiji in the 17th century and were drawn to the island by its natural resources and strategic location as a shipping stopover to and from Asia. The population of just under 900,000 is predominantly native but over one third of the population is Indian in origin. Indians were brought over in large numbers during the late 1800s to work as indentured laborers in the sugarcane fields. Many chose not to return home at the end of their work contracts due to the exorbitant cost and effort. The island is now one of the most developed economies in the South Pacific due to its abundance of forest, mineral, and fish resources as well as its robust tourism and sugar industries. While 110 of the islands hold permanent residents, a majority live on one of two major islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.
Our arrival in Fiji was a bit rocky to begin with. Our bags missed the connection from California and did not arrive. Given that it was the beginning of a long trip and we were completely without any clothes or supplies, it was a stress. Compounded with the fact that the airline never confirmed the possession or whereabouts of our bags, our stress morphed into frustration. Through those first few days, the staff in our hotel were incredibly kind, helpful, caring, and thoughtful. We immediately felt like there was something special about the people in this country and this suspicion grew as the trip wore on. In dealing with or hearing of the ordeal with our luggage, staff who we barely interacted with, would stop us days later to ask how we were doing and if our luggage was recovered. There was truly no need for the interest or empathy, but it is part of the DNA here. Luckily, after three days and countless hours on the phone with customer service, our bags arrived and we were able to breathe a sigh of relief.
We spent a clear and warm day out on the water snorkeling and exploring some of the many islands and reefs of the country. Unbelievably clear water, an abundance of ocean life, and interesting people on the excursion made for an enjoyable day. The following day was spent on “Cloud 9” – a floating bar way out in the middle of the ocean. Cloud 9 floats about a thirty-minute speedboat ride from shore and had a fully stocked bar, pizza oven, and a second story platform to jump into the clear water below. On our ferry to Cloud 9, we met Tony and Paul, a couple from London on vacation in Fiji and Australia. They were incredibly funny, kind, and fun to hang out with so we decided to spend the day with them. Paul really enjoyed the diving platform so he had Mandy film him for a few headfirst twenty-foot dives. On what was supposed to be his last dive, Paul dislocated his shoulder on impact with the water. The pain caused him to pass out as soon as he got back on the bar but after a few minutes he was in more stable condition aside from a lot of pain. Mandy felt awful since she was encouraging the dives and filming it from below and even more so when we found out he would be needing surgery. But Paul was an incredibly good sport and took the injury in stride. I have never seen someone have as good of an attitude in the face of a tough situation as Paul and I think of it as an example of how attitude can make any dire situation a little better. In the coming weeks we found out that Paul and Tony were able to continue their travels in Australia and in fact had their trip extended. The universe really looked out for them in the end.
We spent our last full day hanging out and relaxing by the pool trying to adjust to the new time zone. Our hotel was perfect for lazy days and we enjoyed the rest of our time on the property. Whether interacting with staff at the hotel, on an excursion, or the people passing us by on the street, the people of Fiji have a warmth that you can sense almost immediately. They truly care about those they interact with and the hospitality I felt was unlike anywhere I have ever been. It felt like being treated like family. The Fijian people look into you as opposed to at you. This is surprising given how many tourists flock to the country annually and how jaded most locals would be from any other country in a comparable situation. I think it is a real testament to the kind hearts present in this country. Although far away, in my mind Fiji is incredibly easy to visit because the spirit of hospitality makes the journey a little easier. I plan on returning to this small country someday and hope that the kindness doesn’t dull – I doubt it will… // Jeff