Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fiji Day 1: Namale

Tired but happy, Will and I left Lana’i on Saturday afternoon, surprising the Lodge at Koele staff by filling our “private transfer” Cadillac SUV with our last remaining family members off to the airport – Auntie Brenda, Uncle Craig, Catherine, Aiko, and Kung Kung.  We’re all about doing it “family style!”

The small plane back to Honolulu was also filled with our family.  Will and I said goodbye at the airport, and headed back home to Kailua.  After a very welcomed home-cooked meal at Grammy’s house, some heavy-duty laundry, and watching Planet Earth with Auntie Brenda, we headed towards Waikiki.

Mom had reserved a beautiful room at Outrigger on the Reef for us, and we were welcomed to the hotel with cold champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries.  We drank the champagne and ate the strawberries on the balcony overlooking the beach, listening to the waves.  It was wonderful.

In the morning, as we woke early to catch our 8:00 AM flight, we looked out our glass balcony doors again to watch the surfers stretching before going out.

As soon as we stepped on the airplane, we were greeted with “Bula,” the Fijian equivalent of “Aloha.”  The airplane to Fiji was a full-sized jet, yet was only about a third full.  Not only did we score exit row seats to fit Will’s legs, but also had an entire row of three seats to ourselves.  I slept for nearly all of the six-hour flight.

When we stepped off of the plane in Fiji, greeted by a singing Fijian band, I was struck with how much Fiji is similar to and also how different from the outer islands of Hawaii.  The temperature, humidity, speed of life, and casualness of formality is so much like Lanai, where we had just been.  However, people are a little different – there is a very high Indian population here, and the haole folks tend to be from Australia rather than America.  There are very few Asians here, and no Japanese tourists.  Fijian dress uses lots of tropical print and Aloha shirts, but nearly everyone wears wraps instead of shorts or pants, and women’s wraps are always long – below the knee.

We took a little plane from Nadi to Savu Savu, the airport on the second-largest island.  Because the planes are so small, they weigh you to get total weight:

As we flew over Fiji, I was struck with how green and verdant the islands are, with most areas covered with mountainsides and forests – again, similar to Hawaii.  However, unlike Hawaii, most of the areas not covered by forest are separated into agricultural plots, and nearly all the towns I saw remind me of Lanai City – small, sleepy, with plantation-style wooden houses.

We arrived in Namale again to the sounds of singing.  After a week of receiving a lot of attention, the last thing we wanted was … more attention.  However, the music sounded great.

That evening Vili showed us to our rooms.  It is amazing – everyone here knows our names, but unfortunately for my poor husband, immediately after convincing everyone to call him “Will” instead of “William,” the staff began calling him “Wili,” something like our friend Vili.  Hence, in Fiji, Will is “Wili.”

The wonderful travel agency was able to get us an upgrade, and hence at check in, we found that we would be staying in Namale’s one “deluxe villa,” or the Dream House.  Vili took us around our new digs, which included two separate bedrooms, a luxurious living room filled with covered patio beds, a spa hot tub, an infinity pool, a gorgeous shower.  Most luxurious are the dozens and dozens of cut tropical flowers, either in vases or simply lying on counters.  Staff here is so sweet – they leave messages written in flower petals on the towels, bed, or door mat.

Dinner featured a band and Kava Bowl in the main restaurant.  Kava is a powder made from a ground, dried root that is placed in a sack, soaked in water, and then squeezed out.  The result is a rather tasteless fermented drink that makes your tongue numb and gives you a nice buzz.  During the kava drinking, musicians that reminded me exactly of a Hawaiian jam band played for us – two guitars, a rather weak ukulele, and an interesting bass box played by stretching the string like a rubber band.  We would take breaks from the music to all sit around the kava bowl and drink together.