Taveuni, Fiji – Final

March 10, 2008 at 12:23 am | Posted in Travel, Travelogues | Leave a comment

Diving continues to be good.  Visibility seems to be getting a little worse but still pretty good on average (around 50 feet).  It seems the morning dives have better visibility than the afternoon dives.  There are some good currents here so we’ve done several drift dives, but fairly slow, no more than 4 or 5 knots.  Saw some soft yellow coral which only grows in this one place in the world.  Learned that the coral and fish life is much more abundant in places with currents.  Got to touch a puffer fish that the divemaster caught. I spent a lot of time writing about the diving on my last entry so I’ll move on to other aspects about the trip.

 

Golf course panorama shot ->  golf_panorama.jpg

 

We went golfing on Thursday.  A very cool (not literally) little 9-hole, par 3 course (with one par 4) meandering around the lush hillside next to the water.  The place is managed by a very friendly, beer guzzling Australian guy with great stories.  A very quaint little open-air clubhouse with a pool area connected.  The place has only two sets of golf clubs to use (and they are very old) and one set of left handed clubs.  So they provide the clubs and balls.  There is no charge for anything (except food and drinks in the clubhouse.)  They are trying to get the word out they exist even though the course has been there for some 28 years if I recall.  It was quite challenging.  We divided into two teams and did a best ball scramble competition.  Our team lost by one stroke.  Even though we started at 9 in the morning and it took about an hour and a half to play (about 1,300 yards total), it was VERY muggy.  By the 6th hole we were all soaked in sweat even though it was probably only in the low-mid 80’s out.  The humidity here is practically unbearable most days.

The golf course made their own wood fired oven so you could order wood fired pizzas to eat that were quite good.  Kind of bizarre considering where we were.  Jumping in their pool at the end of the round was a great end to the round.  We asked the manager how many people golf there.  He estimated a total of 60 people, a YEAR golf there.  So our group of 9 was a big surge for him that week.  Scott and John played again the next day while I hung out working at the café for a couple hours.

I saw some of the houses the local people live in here and they are indeed very poor from the looks of them.  Many of them live it what is essentially a one room shack.  However every stranger will always greet you with a “Bula!” and a smile (equivalent of Hawaii’s “Aloha.”)  So may they don’t have much money but they all seem to be happy, living on a beautiful island that has all they need to live happy productive lives. We visited the Mission with the Church of the Holy Cross, the cross I mentioned before that inspired them to win the war against the Tongans in the mid 1800’s.  What I didn’t know was that on one of our dives the divemaster pointed out that our Island was the only Island the Tongans never took over and the Fijians finally defeated them when they tried to invade the beach area near our resort in the mid 1800’s.  Many of them swam back in retreat to the little island Scott kayaked to.  The Tongans that were not so lucky were cooked in a big oven on the hillside near where the church is now and eaten.  Yum.  Supposedly Fiji used to be called the “Cannibal Islands.”

 

There are also been several government coos in recent history, one as recent as 2000 which have greatly hampered tourism development since tourism advisories go out when the government is not stable, keeping the Islanders from growing more prosperous (economically) from increased tourism.  The managers of the resort we were staying agreed with me that the small Island’s tourism would grow rapidly over the next 10 or 20 years bringing more money to the locals and unfortunately the problems that undoubtedly will come with it.  It will be interesting to see if a balance between economic growth and the preservation of their simple, yet happy lifestyle will be able to be maintained.

In visiting here, the only thing I mildly regret is not exploring the small island much beyond the immediate vicinity of our resort.  We never hiked up to the natural water slide in the forest.  It sounded pretty cool.  Nor did we go on the other tours to the waterfalls and snorkeling.   I did visit a few of the local shops which were nothing special.  Everything here has a very run-down third-world look/feeling to it.  The owners of the resort I think are really taking advantage of the cheap labor.  For the prices they charge for food and drinks, etc., they have to be making a killing considering they are paying their staff $1.50 U.S. per hour.  And yet everyone I saw around the resort was always working diligently and happily.  As far as the rest of the naitives, no one was pestering you for a hand out or asking to braid your hair like in Mexico or the Caribbean.   They all live off the land in a very simple lifestyle, they’re major export being Taro and Kava.  Driving to/from the airport you could see many of the wives washing their families clothes in the river. And most don’t drink alcohol as it is something that was only recently introduced on the Island from what the resort management tells me since it is now imported for all the tourists to consume. 

One thing I noticed is that several times I observed European guests on the Island being a bit more demanding to the locals, than the Americans to the point of being slightly rude.  This may have been a few isolated cases though. Sort of like the words “please” and “thank you” were not in their vocabulary sometimes.  Almost as if because this was once a British colony, some, not all, of the European tourists a times seemed to have more of a condescending attitude towards the locals.  I mentioned this to the manager and he did confirm that the locals like the Americans better than the Europeans in general  as they considered us more friendly.

On the Thursday night the entire staff of the resort puts on a show followed by a buffet feast, essentially a smaller/simpler version of a Hawaiian Luau I would guess. So the week came and went and on the last day trying to leave the Island was as big of a fiasco as trying to get there.  The night before we were told we would leave on a 4:30 flight.  Then at 11 AM the next morning, they said we would be on a 12:30 flight.  (Luckily I gave someone my local cell number as I went to the café to work.) We took the 25 min drive to the airport to find out our flight was canceled due to mechanical problems so we ended up hanging out at a nearby  hole-in-the wall, or I should say, hole on the cliff, restaurant overlooking the ocean for a couple hours.  It was HOT and HUMID out.  Seems like Pizza is actually quite common in Fiji as this place served it also.  We ended up having to take a 6-person plane back to the main island.  It was a fun, smooth ride.  Really neat being able to see out the cockpit while landing.   Scott waited for the later plane as he was too scared to ride in the 6-seater.  I didn’t realize he was scared of small planes.  Turns out the bigger plane had quite a bit of turbulence though.  He wasn’t happy getting off the plane.  Scott did get his money worth as far as sun bathing. By the end of the trip, you almost couldn’t recognize him as being Caucasian but could possibly pass as a local now.

All in all this was a good trip.  The diving was great, the island was beautiful and most importantly the people are genuinely friendly and more than made up for the hot weather and mediocre accommodations and food.  By the end of the week you felt like you were leaving long time friends – they all gave us a hug good bye.  I’m not sure I would return here any time soon though.  Just too much of a hassle to get to and a bit too rural.  As far a scuba diving destination it was superb but I imagine there are places closer that are almost if not just as good.  The Cayman Islands is one place that comes to mind.

I’m finishing this now as I wait for my last flight from LAX to Seattle.  We left the hotel yesterday at 4 PM Seattle time and I will get home probably about 7 PM tonight.  That’s 24 + 3 = 27 hours of travel time.  So I spent in total about 57 hours total on planes in airports, waiting in lines, going through customs or some sort of immigration, security or quarantine checkpoint (a total of 10 checkpoints on the trip), standing at baggage claims (I had to claim and check baggage a total of 6 times), and eating crummy airport food (covered in sweat half the time).  I thought maybe this wouldn’t seem so bad to someone  if they were a frequent business traveler (aside from the immigration checkpoints).  But all of this was to get to and from only one destination, one time.  I think that’s too much travel time for just a week stay. Heck that’s like spending more time during the week traveling than you would working if you weren’t even on vacation!  But I guess it’s the price you pay for being able to say you dove off of Taveuni Island, Fiji.

It was definitely a test to one’s ‘traveling stamina.’ I’m sure there are other trips though that would make this look easy. This trip would be a nightmare for anyone with little patience, doesn’t like to sit in one place for long periods, a low threshold for discomfort in general and/or lack of sleep, etc., hot humid weather, and fear of small planes and/or very long air flights.  If I did come back it would definitely be during their winter (July/Aug) when it isn’t as humid and possibly not with a large group so that I could make sure the transfers went quicker/smoother although I did really enjoy getting to know many of the people in our group.  I would stay on the main Island unless the outer Island offered more reliable/quicker transfers (like Hawaii) and had developed more so it had a little more diversity in the selection of resorts and restaurants.  Nevertheless it was a worthwhile adventure to have dived there, (and I love an adventure and seeing new places), but at times exhausting.

One note is that I never really found I was able to completely relax during the entire trip, like one might typically think they would/could on a vacation to a remote paradise.  This was for a combination of several reasons.  First, there’s a least a day recovery from the traveling.  Then there’s just getting oriented and used to the pace of things and customs.  Then there’s the hot humid weather which I never got used to.  The diving is somewhat tiring and you need to be thinking about everything you are doing preparing for and actually diving.  Then, probably most of all, there’s the fact I’m self employed with no one to take over for me when I’m on vacation combined with the most difficult to find Internet access of any place I’ve been, it was tough staying in touch.  Even though I let my clients know I will be on vacation and less accessible, I sometimes miss having the option to just say goodbye to a Boss and put my e-mail on auto-response on that says I’m not answering e-mail for a week.  I find there is always some lingering trepidation in the back of my mind about returning home to the ‘fast life’ with all the numerous responsibilities and bills to pay, but at the same time I also found myself looking forward to returning home to my family, some, not all of the modern-day amenities,  and a more comfortable climate. Trips like this can sometimes prompt you to ponder, who’s better off as far as their overall life, the Islanders living an incredibly simple life (any of whom will never leave that island for all their life), or us rich, busy Americans?  Maybe the ideal is somewhere in the middle?

It’s been 9 days since I’ve seen a television.  (They had none in the Fiji airport or the resort) And even though I am not a big beef fan, I never knew a McDonald’s Big & Tasty would taste so good.  But maybe it’s less the taste and more the symbolic, comfortable reassurance I’ve returned to “my” reality, to my family, to my home.

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Link to naitive show video:

 http://www.crist.com/blog/fiji/show.wmv

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