Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fiji Day 6: Namale and Vatulele - Transit, Snorkeling

We left Namale as we arrived, to the sound of singing from the staff.  We left behind a concrete hexagram with our names engraved, and with a large “VINAKA” (“thank you”) spelled out in coral.  I asked them to add our hexagram to the slowly-growing walkway down by the dive shop.

Namale was a truly special place.  I’m certain that it will be one of the very best places I visit in my life.  We are so lucky to have been able to come here for our honeymoon.

Next we boarded the same small plane back to Nadi.  A man from Vatulele met us at the airport, got our bags checked on to the next plane, and asked us to wait a couple of hours.  We found a surprisingly awesome coffeeshop called Esquire in the domestic terminal of the Nadi airport, and whiled away our time there.

Then, it was time to board the plane to Vatulele.

This plane was worth writing home about all by itself!  Probably the smallest plane I’ve ever been on, it had room for two pilots and six passengers.  Lauren and I had front-row seats and got to see the (very, very chill) pilot work his magic during the 25-minute jump from Nadi to Vatulele.

It was clear from the moment we landed that Vatulele was going to be a different experience from Namale, though hopefully wonderful in its own way. The Vatulele airstrip is just a cleared length of dirt and grass.  Whoa!  And the road from the airstrip to the hotel isn’t paved.  Heck, it’s not even a particularly nice dirt road.  We had a big, four-wheel-drive truck, and we felt every bump.  I was excited to really, REALLY get away from it all, and I was curious as to what we’d find at the end of such a road.

When we arrived at the Vatulele Resort, the staff here greeted us with singing as well. They showed us to our bure, which is quaint and is in the same Santa Fe style as all the resort buildings.

Vatulele is the more “beachy” of the two resorts on this trip, and our bure was no exception.  We had our own private path down to the lovely white beach.

Comparisons to Namale were impossible to avoid, and at this early stage they did seem quite different.  Namale was much more luxurious.  The amenities at Namale are very nice, and the nearby villages and the town of Savusavu are a bit more developed than the small island of Vatulele, from what we understand.

By contrast, Vatulele’s amenities struck me as “very, very nice summer camp.”  They’ve done much less to drive out or contain the elements here.  No real windows (just screens).  Mosquito netting on the bed.  A jungly walk between our bure and reception which – though short – has already inscribed a few itchy mosquito bites on Lauren’s skin.  There are some manicured and landscaped bits, but mostly they’ve cut narrow paths through what was already growing there.

Some of these differences are probably due to resources – there are just fewer people here, and the infrastructure is less developed.  And some of the differences are probably also philosophical.  Vatulele bills itself as being very eco-conscious and very integrated with the surrounding land and communities.  This is all good with us, but it does result in some compromises on the creature comforts.

We spent our first Vatulele afternoon on some really amazing snorkeling, seeing probably more fish per square meter than we’ve seen anywhere else thus far.  We also saw a handful of white-tipped reef sharks, and some “magic coral” that changed color.  Although diving is not included in our room price here at Vatulele, we’ll probably spring for a few dives and enjoy the fantastic reef literally yards from our hotel room.

Dinner was fish for Lauren and steak for me.  The food has really shone here at Vatulele so far.