The beginning of this story starts with a lot of luck and me ordering a cab from the Radisson after visiting Sam and Bev… So after I asked for my cab and was waiting, I decided to ask the ladies at the concierge any advice on how to get to Kadavu, an island Sam had mentioned he’d never been to but that was meant to be untouched and absolutely beautiful. It turns out one of the ladies Meline was actually from a village on Kadavu, called Nolotu. So she then made a phone call and some Fijian later, she had proceeded to arrange me staying with her village.
Now my instructions were to go to Suva (the other side of the island a 4 hour bus ride away) and head to Narain jetty where the boat would be leaving. So I headed over to the bus station grabbed a few bits for the island and a gift of sevusevu to take and then hopped on the bus. After heading to a shopping centre to use some wifi and charge my phone, I had a Google and saw a schedule that said the bus in fact leaves a night earlier… Slightly concerned by this but still thinking ‘I’m sure that’s not right’, I called Meline to check and she said she’d get her cousin to meet me worst come to worst. After asking a few friendly Fijians and wandering down a dark slightly precarious looking street, no sign for the jetty later I saw a man by a barrier. This turned out to be the port, no sign no ticket office, just a metal barrier and some boats, unfortunately I was informed by the man that the boat had indeed left yesterday… There only being one boat a week I was slightly buggered. I also later found out that the day the boat leaves and returns, also tends to vary some weeks so isn’t regular, very helpfully. So I called Meline and explained what had happened, after sounding slightly mortified she said her cousin Paul was coming to meet me. It turned out luck would have it he literally had turned up pretty much when I had. So after being slightly disbelieving in this luck, we hopped in a cab and he said I could stay with him that night until I figured out what to do. Now this probably sounds very strange having just met Meline for about ten minutes and never met Paul, but Fijian people are the most hospitable and friendly ever. So I ended up going back and having dinner with his wife and mother and then sharing some cava with some relatives while pondering how I could get over to the island having made it all that way to Suva. So at this point the dilemma over how to get to the island still existed… As it transpired the only way I was going to get over was a flight at 8.30am the next morning, and this flight was back in Nadi (where I’d just come from that day…). So after they spelt my name wrong and a couple of phone calls and data used to check all my ticket later, I had the flight booked. After more cava and a brief nap, I hopped in a cab back to the bus station to catch another bus all the way back at 2am. As you might have guessed buses aren’t too common at this hour but Paul and a friend drove me to the minibus station where the minibuses (like I got with Sam and Bev from the beach house) leave. so I found one of these going all the way to the airport about four hours drive for 20 Fiji dollars (about £7), and we bumped along back to Nadi, reggae blaring, and me fidgeting trying to find a comfortable position to sleep most of the way.
After getting to the airport and some micro naps and Oreos for breakfast later, to my pleasant surprise the plane was tiny! As in the stewardess was also copilot and the plane fit about 20 people on it… Imagine my surprise when someone climbs on, reads the safety information then proceeds to climb in the cockpit. We even had to jump on the scales ourselves at check in with our bags to make sure there wasn’t too much weight for the plane to handle (luckily I hadn’t had too many pina coladas). It ended up being great to be in such a tiny plane and worth every penny.
After landing in the tiniest ‘airport’ I have ever seen, I was greeted by a couple of friendly guys from the village then taken to the boat to meet Turaga (Meline’s father) who was to be hosting me. After a quick stop at the post office and meeting a lot of locals (Turaga was a pastor so is known and respected all over the island) we set off to the village Nolotu. The boys threw a fly fish line in the water and two minutes later a huge fish was attached, I was extremely impressed at how easy and quick this was. Unfortunately though that was to be our only catch for the day on the way back to the village. After a quick nap I was offered tea and biscuits with Turaga and encouraged to eat many biscuits by the word Quiliarmo (spelling definitely incorrect, made up word by his son meaning finish it all). This became a word all the villagers then shouted and I shouted it in return creating much amusement whenever they saw me, because it turned out, the word was made up by Turaga’s son and not used elsewhere in Fiji. Turaga told me that lot of the local villagers were keen to meet me, even from outside the village as their weren’t often white people visiting. Now in Fiji it is a custom to offer a sevusevu (the root used to make cava) as a gift, so after presenting this to Turaga he told me we would be presenting it to the chief later on and if accepted that would be my official welcoming to the village. Luckily all went according to plan and I spent the evening with the men of the village enjoying a fair amount of cava. The cava on Kadavu is made in a more traditional way to elsewhere in Fiji and tends to be more pure so I found it easier to drink. I also tried one of the cigarettes the villagers smoke, which is literally just pure tobacco rolled in a very thin cylinder of newspaper, I soon learnt why it’s rolled so thin because without a filter and with pure tobacco it’s pretty strong!
So after a great nights sleep post cava, and only a ‘slight’ disturbance from the village cockerels talking to each other in the early hours (by early hours I mean 3/4 am and by talking I mean crowing as loudly as they could), I had breakfast with Turaga and a few others. Today I was going to head up to where the men grow most of the crops in the hills, lead by Turaga’s nephew Tui. After about half an hour and some great views along the way, one of the village boys John kindly (and very casually) climbed a tree to grab us some coconuts. Now if I sound like I’m making light of this I’m not, it was extremely impressive! We had some coconut water and fresh coconut then headed down a different route, going briefly through another village and then coming back along the beach past the local nurses station. We then had some fish and onion soup for lunch which was absolutely delicious! After which I went and sat by the beach with Tui watching the world go by, including some of the kids catching fish and the village pigs having a sniff around for what they could find. Later after we finally found the ball which surprisingly had gone walkies (I say surprisingly as the young men in the village play touch rugby every day bar Sunday), we played some touch rugby in which I was obviously out paced and out skilled… After this we had a dip in the sea post sunset, a bit of natures shower. It was great spending the day with Tui and hearing about what he does here and what he wants to do. Having worked in the city and on the main island he now wants to settle in the village for the freedom and the lifestyle, and I can’t blame him. Also I may not have described what the village is like in detail, although the village is traditional and Fijian, the houses have solar panels for electricity, most have televisions, a few with sky for the rugby and a lot of people have a mobile. It seems you can get great reception anywhere on the island I’ve been so far and families even if not all still in the village seemed to be regularly contacting each other throughout the day. So still a lot of modern comforts (if you’re on the local network that is!). We finished off the day with some delicious fried fish and casava (a very common root vegetable in Fiji) and then had a small bonfire on the beach.
With the next day being Sunday it was the day when all the local villages come together to go to church and also the day of rest. Christianity and religion is very big in Fiji and important to the people here, it is also a big reason why Fijian people are very positive towards the relationship with the U.K. as the missionaries brought Christianity to the islands. After a breakfast of what were like lemon infused scones with butter, freshly baked and still warm (which were as tasty as they sound), I was lucky enough to be invited along to church so Turaga lent me a sulu (the traditional Fijian male formal dresswear) which I wore with a shirt, I also brushed my hair for the first time in a long time (you can tell it’s not a common occurrence by how I looked)… There was lots of singing and a real sense of community and I saw how important religion is in Fiji first hand. We came back and had a big lunch with chicken, curry, soup and vegetables which was all delicious. In the afternoon after a nap I heard some more singing and some people from the village were singing church songs, after going to check it out I stumbled upon a very cute puppy who I’d heard but had eluded me so far, and later even found out I was going to be the one naming it! I then went with Tui to explore a couple of the local villages I hadn’t yet been to, so went along the beach, crossing one river mouth section on a bamboo raft and then through the forest passing by the local school and other villages. Once again all the people were very friendly, the kids in the village all laughed and went all shy when they saw me and I shouted a ‘bula’ their way (hello in Fijian). We were invited in for some Cava with the men of one of the neighbouring villages so I had a few and shook hands with all of the villagers there before we headed back, as it was getting quite dark. After another delicious dinner and some tea (luckily they drink tea almost as much as we do in England) we sat talking for a while before going to bed.
With this day being Monday most of the men were at work so I had a relatively free day. After breakfast Turaga and I went for a swim by the mouth of the river and I swam out to sea a bit before the tide went out, then after watching the world go by, the hermit crabs trying to be subtle, the tide going out, the pigs nosing around in the sand for worms; I lay down under a tree to relax in the shade. In the afternoon I played touch rugby with the men from the village again, was significantly out paced again, then cooled off in the sea before a delicious dinner of pumpkin soup.
The next morning I went with a couple of the villagers to the local primary school. So in the school lunch is prepared by a different person from each village for their village each day. I had a little wander around the school before seeing a lot of excited friendly Fijian children who I don’t think had ever seen or met and English person before. I was soon surrounded by smiling staring faces and created mass mayhem when I said I would take a photo of them all! Having walked around the school I was really impressed at the level of English the kids are learning for example words like dashing and handkerchief all under 10, also the lessons are often taught in English. After lunch we headed back to the village and stopped by the pig pens on the way, now I’d seen a lot of pigs wandering around the village and they always seemed a bit weary and ran away. However near the pens I had little piglets coming up and sniffing my feet and was even lucky enough to see some new born piglets trotting around. In the evening I was treated to some incredible sunset views over the still water as well as seeing the fresh catches of the day from one of the ladies.
The next day I was kindly allowed to borrow one of the villager’s kayaks and paddled up the coast and back before exploring a river a short way up the beach (the one you have to cross on the bamboo raft). This was a lot of fun having to duck under various trees with completely flat water, truly feeling like I was going into the unknown. Also the lack of waves and wind definitely helped my enjoyment of the kayaking bit! When I came back I had a quick dip in the sea to cool off then went back to the house to hang my stuff to dry. To my pleasant surprise Turaga’s daughter in law had laid out cookies, papaya and juice for me, another example of how amazing Fijians are at hosting, always wanting to make sure you’re happy and especially to make sure you have enough food! I then went to the beach for a bit of a relax as I had been warned of a long and heavy cava session in the evening, after a few more biscuits and papaya we headed to the community hall at around half six. We then proceeded to drink cava until half ten, and the village men kindly sang me a goodbye song to wish me well on my way. This was another touch that was really lovely especially as I wasn’t really a tourist and they didn’t have to do this for me.
So after packing my things, and another quick cava session, I said goodbye to he villagers (I also had waved a quick sleepy goodbye to Turaga’s granddaughter Avikali as she left for school as we were leaving in the middle of the day), I was then surprised by being given some flowers to wear around my neck before grabbing my things and jumping on the small boat for the half hour boat ride to the ferry jetty. Now after a bit of a hullabaloo getting out because the jetty was a lot higher than the water we then watched a second attempt of the captain to dock the boat, this took a while… Then the ticket purchasing progress also took about five minutes per passenger with a lengthy queue, but luckily a friendly guy from a neighbouring village who’d remembered me offered to buy on my behalf so I could avoid the lengthy queue. We headed up to the lounge area which would be our base for the journey and they had a soppy looking film with Keanu Reeves I didn’t recognise playing. A good five or so hours later around 7/8pm maybe the boat left our dock and we were on our way. We ended up getting a cab back to Paul’s house at around half one in the morning, after a few cups of cava and some food very kindly prepared by Paul’s wife, I called it a night around three and went to bed. The next day we went to a wedding of a man from Nolotu to a lady from Suva, there were plenty of ‘bula shirts’ lots of food, singing and dancing, and of course plenty of cava…
Now having spent a week in the village there are certain things that you just don’t find elsewhere. Firstly everybody is extremely friendly and welcoming, the expression what’s mine is yours really is shown here, if anybody walks past your house at meal time or if anyone is spotted outside, Turunga would shout ‘hey, some tea?’, inviting them in for some food or tea, whether they are from your village or not. Everybody knows each other and says hello and good morning to each other and there’s always lots of laughter (a lot of the laughs here are really infectious too!!). Also a lot of the villagers have family living and working in the city or have done so themselves and come back. Turaga and Tui both used to work on the main island but have said that life there is a lot more stressful with more money worries, on the island the people can survive months without money by living off the land, fishing and farming and sharing what they have. Also the sense of community here can’t be overstated, every day bar Sunday the young men play rugby together while all days of the week the other men will be in the village hall afternoon and evening having cava, or ‘grog’ as it is more commonly called by the locals. All the Fijian people I have met have been incredible hosts, always offering you the best of what they have and making you feel welcome, and having stayed here I really do feel like I have another family and somewhere I am always welcome on the other side of the world.