Bula! Faces of Fiji

I recently travelled to Fiji to escape Melbourne’s winter and enjoy some warmer weather. The plan was to sit by a pool and read as many books as possible, without expending any energy. But, of course, that didn’t happen. I’m not the kind of traveller that finds it easy to just laze around at a resort (even though it always looks great on the brochure). Seeing beautiful places, meeting interesting people, trying new experiences… perhaps add in a bike ride or a hike… this is generally what travel means to me.

So, after a day or two at the resort, I began to explore and, a week later, I came home with memories of Fiji that are less about a tropical paradise and more about the wonderful people I was fortunate to meet.

We enjoyed cultural performers and fire dancers each evening at the resort, but the highlight for me was a visit to the traditional village of Navala. We journeyed through coastal towns and into the picturesque highlands, and then got to spend a few hours with the locals. On arrival in Navala, we donned sarongs, removed our shoes, hats and sunglasses, and then entered the bure (thatched hut) to take part in the sevu sevu and kava ceremonies.

Our guide (or host) requested that the Chief accept us into the village and presented him with kava (as a sign of our respect for the village). Then the village elders began to mix the kava powder with water in a huge ceramic bowl, until it was ready for us to drink.

It’s a leap of faith drinking the murky concoction (especially as everyone uses the same bowl), but it’s one of those cultural experiences that you don’t want to miss either. As our guide was constantly reminding us, if you don’t partake in kava, you haven’t been to Fiji.

So, I clapped my hands once, accepted the bowl, said “bula” and drained the contents (in one gulp as is the tradition). Then I handed the bowl back, clapped three times and said “vinaka” (thank you).

The Fijians tell us that kava is an acquired taste; rather like the Irish tried to convince me that I’d love Guinness after three attempts. But I personally think, the more you drink, the less you care about taste (of either drink). One thing I did notice was the numbing sensation inside my mouth, but this passed after a few minutes.

Once the ceremonies were over, we were free to wander around the village and meet some of the children (who were not in school due to the Queen’s Birthday holiday). They were very excited to see us and many of them saw my camera and asked me if I would take their photo.

Later in the week, we visited Ratu Namasi School on Yasawa Island, where the gorgeous children gave us a tour of their classrooms and library. At Matacawalevu village, we met locals who were happily preparing a feast for 700 guests (to celebrate a one-year-old’s birthday). On every occasion we were welcomed with big smiles and enthusiastic greetings of “bula”.

These were the days that I enjoyed the most in Fiji, even though the pool, sunshine and palm trees were definitely agreeable. I also enjoyed the traditional dance performed by the guys on our cruise ship… for the obvious reasons you can see in the photo below.

Have you ever travelled to an exotic location purely for rest and relaxation, but then found yourself on a different path? Or perhaps discovered paradise, when you really weren’t expecting it?

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2 thoughts on “Bula! Faces of Fiji

  1. I tried kava once and from memory I thought it tasted awful. Your village experiences sounded lovely and I think I would have also enjoyed the traditional dancing on the cruise ship! A resort holiday to somewhere warm sounds very appealing at the moment.

    • I totally agree… somewhere warmer would be nice… it’s a cold & wet in Melbourne today and Fiji seems like a very long time ago.

      I tried the kava on two occasions and didn’t think it tasted any better on the second attempt!

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