Fiji - February 5th thru 12th, 2000
Review (By Kit Hudson)
After almost a full year of planning, 17 people from the Bluegrass Dive Club participated in a trip to Fiji. The primary purpose of the trip was to do a week of scuba diving aboard the live-a-board boat, the NAI'A. Fiji is 17 time zones west of Lexington in the Southern Hemisphere. Members of our group were from Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi, and Texas.
Since our week on the scuba diving live-a-board boat, the NAI'A, was to begin on Saturday, we decided to rest up for a few days of R&R and also to experience some "Fiji-flavor" by staying at an island resort. Fijian are very proud to be known as "the friendliest people in the world", which we found to be quite true. Everyone loves to greet you with a very friendly smile and a hardy "Bula", which means "hello".
We found our 2-bedroom, 2-story villa accommodations to be somewhat rustic by American standards, but quite comfortable. We investigated what "extras" we had available for us to do over the next 4 days & nights. Options such as scuba diving, deep sea fishing, side tours, sailing, & kayaking. The resort’s dive shop offered something unique.... a shark-feeding dive. Sharks here, sharks there, sharks everywhere. No problem as it was a very controlled operation that has been going on for years. These creatures are so unbelievably graceful and have been doing this for so long, they know exactly what their roles are. They definitely entertained us to our wildest expectations.
One of Johnny’s "extra" activities turned out for him to be a dream comes true. He was one of four that chartered a boat for some deep-sea fishing. The boat managed to hook a GIANT marlin. We were told that the tail dancing by this monster fish was a sight to behold and something that they will long remember. They are still wondering how an estimated 300-plus pound fish can walk across water as long as it did. Truly amazing!!! Well, unfortunately the fish won out as it snapped the line. Talk about excitement when the boat returned to the resort...wow!!!! In addition to this wonderful fish story, they did manage to bring back an extremely nice Mahi Mahi (Dolphin fish), which Johnny managed to hook & bring in, and several nice Bonita by all the fishermen aboard. And as a nice treat, the Mahi Mahi was prepared for our entire group for dinner that evening. Now that was fresh fish!!! Several in the group managed to enjoy a bit of hiking around the island, but required taking some water along. The resort did have its pluses & minuses. With the heat & humidity of a seaside resort in the middle of the Fijian summer, it could have been enhanced a bit more if we could have had air-conditioning in our villas. Most everything about the resort was "open-air". In summary, those five days & four nights proved to be mostly enjoyable and a little bit different than anything that most of us had experienced previously.
On Saturday morning, we boarded the transfer boat back to Nadi, where an air-conditioned bus picked us up. Normally, we would have had a 45-minute bus ride to the north. However, due to unexpected delays in shipyard maintenance, repairs, & enhancements to the NAI'A in the preceding week, we had to endure a 5-hour bus ride to the capital city of Suva on the opposite side of the island. We found the landscape of Viti Levu to be quite similar to some semi-mountainous islands in the Caribbean. Fiji appears to be quite dependent on tourist trade, as we passed several seaside resorts along the route around the southern side of Viti Levu. It was very common to see Fijians waving to us on the bus, further supporting their claim that Fijians are the friendliest people in the world.
It was just about sunset when we boarded the boat in a makeshift fashion by jumping and/or climbing over a railing. The boat itself was given a fresh coat of paint and was certainly very presentable and clean looking. While our luggage was taken to our cabins by the ship’s crew, we gathered in the ship‘s salon for an orientation presentation by Stuart and Helen, who were serving as our ship’s hosts for the week. The salon, the dining room area that was adjacent to the ship’s galley (kitchen), was nicely decorated in hardwood materials. In my opinion, it was the most attractive part on the ship. There was quite a nice display of books, magazines, and an entertainment center from which one could play music, either from our own CDs and tapes that we might have brought, or from a selection that the ship had accumulated. In addition to a nice display of fresh fruit, free for the taking, there was a refrigerator, which contained soft drinks and beer that were not free for the taking. We were on the honor system to mark a list of our names when we decided to consume a beer or soft drink. Some of group felt that the extra charge for the soft drinks and beer certainly should have been included with the price we paid for the cruise. Especially since the soft drinks were bottled in Fiji and the beer was Fijian beer. There were ten passenger staterooms, each supplying sleeping arrangements for two passengers in a compact space. The staterooms for the most part were quite clean and fairly well maintained. Four of the staterooms offered one large double size bed for two people. Four staterooms offered a double bed below and a single bunk above. The last two staterooms offered a pair of bunk beds, one over the other. Nine of the staterooms had attached bathrooms. That tenth stateroom shared the crew’s bathroom.
Meals were fairly good and a variety was offered for breakfast and dinner each day. There were always two dinner selections each evening, with fish usually as one of the choices. Over the course of the week, there were several selections of meats - beef, lamb, and chicken.
For the week, our agenda was...wake up, grab an early morning snack, dive at 8-AM, sit-down breakfast, dive at 11-AM, lunch, dive at 2-PM, mid-afternoon snack, dive at 4-PM, dinner, night-dive, sleep..... Life’s definitely tough when all you do is dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, dive eat, dive, and sleep. The toughest question that I had during the week was ...... do I want to dive this dive, or do I want to take a nap? As for the diving...Fiji has some THE best diving in the world!!! The numbers of tropical fish on the reefs, the variety of fish, and the unbelievable colors and varieties of the hard and soft corals was phenomenal. Fiji is the world’s largest aquarium. It is totally awesome!!! In addition to the beautiful little fish, there was big marine life also...sharks, manta rays, turtles and giant moral eels. Just all kinds of creatures.... small, big and huge!!! We were even treated to a another shark feed during the week on the boat, which proved to be another awesome event. Fiji is acclaimed as being "the soft coral capital of the world," and there is no argument from me on that matter. The layout of the reefs are very similar to what we have experienced in the Caribbean. Lots and lots of wall diving, swim-throughs and coral heads.
A couple of interesting things that happened during the week…one that probably was quite embarrassing for the ship’s captain, we ran aground on a reef! We had to wait until high tide to free us from the reef. The second was a very interesting visit to a real-life Fijian village of about 300 people on one of the smaller outlying islands. The villagers were extremely friendly and happy for us to visit. There were many children running about. They were very delighted to have their pictures taken by us. Fijians are quite well educated on a local level. Most are able to converse in at least two languages. Americans are expected to complete at least 12 years of formal education at a local level, but for Fijians it is 15 years.
Most of the village structures were made of concrete blocks with tin roofs. There were some structures that were the traditional type with thatched roofs. After a "personalized" tour though the village, we participated in a ceremony which Fijians take a lot of pride in presenting for their guests. This ceremony is held in structure that is like a village center. Most of the participating men sat up front, with the women and children behind them. Everyone sat on a very large mat made from woven fibers such as palm-fromes. We were given a piece of material, referred to as a "sula" (ours to keep) and given instructions on how to tie it around our waist. Everyone, including guests, is expected to wear a sula, which is a wrap-around type of skirt. We were asked to wear shorts underneath to as to not offend anyone when seated on the floor. We were also asked to please keep our legs crossed and to have the sula covering our knees. The main feature of this ceremony was the consumption of a liquid substance called kava. This drink is made from the roots of a locally grown kava plant. It has a numbing affect on the mouth and varies in strength depending on how it is prepared. Several villagers serenaded us with Fijian songs accompanied by several guitars and a ukulele. Our hosts are very proud of this traditional ceremony and treat its presentation seriously.
On Saturday morning, we returned to the homeport for the NAI'A, which is in Lautoka. Since we had a 15-hour layover before our L.A. flight, four members of our group decided to take a white-water rafting trip to the interior part of the island. Some decided to make their way to a Sheraton for a day or rest and relaxation beside the pool or on the beach. And the rest made their way to a hotel-resort that is close the downtown area of Nadi for shopping.
We departed Nadi as scheduled at midnight on Saturday night. We made it back safe and sound but very tired. An estimate on the total travel time, including layover time since leaving the NAI'A was 45 hours. Wow!