On the West coast of the Fiji main island, a series of bits of land popped out of the ocean surface. These sandy mounds group together in 2 archipelagos, the Mamanuca and the Yasawa. To get there, it's rather straightforward since everything gets organized from Nadi and most of the people take a package including the bus transfer up to the Denarau pier, the shuttle by boat then an all-inclusive option on one of the islands. But if we have a little bit more than a few days, we can hop from an island to another one and stay as long as we want.
When I get on the morning bus full of young westerners, a great dose of a priori overwhelms me as for the kind of tourism on those islands. The harbour check-in area reinforces my suspicions and I'm very far from the serenity of Taveuni. I don't really feel comfortable among this flock of tourists. We board the « Awesome Adventures » catamaran and leave the bank. The sight of the first island clears away my bad thoughts on the mass tourism because this outcrop of wild life symbolizes the happiness for thousands of holidaymakers. This idyllic image often related but seldom precisely located. As if the one who knew its site doesn't wish « his » shangri-la be visited by other people. To talk again about this first island called South Sea Island, a hardly-50-meter-wide disc encircled by a broad white-sand beach and in its center, a few bungalows nestled in banana- and coconut trees. The ideal site to perform the XXI-century's Robinson Crusoe. In this connection, it's on one those islands the « Castaway » movie was shot. We pass by some other islands of the Mamanuca group such as Bounty, Treasure and Beachcomber islands and head for the Yasawa archipelago to finally arrive on « my » island, Kuata.
A wooden boat comes to pick up the tourists (only 3) who set their heart on this bit of land. A nice committee starts the invigorating welcome song and we land on the beach. Flowery shirts, large smiles, relaxed rhythm and brief introductions, we already feel well.
The gathering of bungalows belongs to village located on the opposite island. A fair-tourism since all the spent money goes to the community. And this island has a human dimension that cheers the heart up. Because in addition to the superb beach, the breathtaking view from the top of the rock and the lavish submarine scenery what we keep in mind of such an experience is the encounters that sum up with this sentence: At Kuata, you arrive as an unknown person and you leave as friend. Perpetual, infectious smile and exhilaration, and despite all the tourists who get to these islands every year, the inhabitants kept real ties in their traditions with the kava ceremony which happens every night at the bottom of wooden hut. Special slice of life where we chat, joke and play music and each one, whatever his origin and colour is free to take part in.
After sharing a lot during my sojourn here and having the feeling to know each member of the community, it's with the heavy heart I move away from the shore to go back to Nadi. Because in addition to the emotion of the departure, this last crossing sounds the end of my Fijian escapade and the unpleasant feeling of not staying enough time.
Saturday 4 October 2008
By dorian on Saturday 4 October 2008, 08:47
Wednesday 1 October 2008
By dorian on Wednesday 1 October 2008, 16:35
Since my South-African bath with the great white sharks and the sandtiger sharks, I developed a certain fascination for this often extraordinary-sized cartilaginous fish. The animal which stands at the apex of the food chain reached such a level of perfection for predation that it has hardly evolved for the last 200 millions years.
After a fruitless attempt a week ago, I go back to Pacific Harbour where two dive centers offer the shark-feeding, an activity we can condemn on one side since it interacts with animal kingdom but respectful on another side because it serves to promote the protection of this sensitive fish which often finishes in the too tight-meshed nets or hooked up a rod of a stupid fishing game.
On the boat, we receive strict orders because no protective cage will surround us. We'll stay behind a rope flanked by two stick-equipped divers who will move aside a possible oncoming shark. 2 other divers will be in charge of feeding the sharks, opening two big dustbins full of tuna leftovers. And the festival begins. A lot of opportunistic fish such as big-eyed jacks or remoras swim around and try to pick up a chunk on the way. But these fish give way when the cartilaginous predators arrive, among them the two most aggressive ones in the world, the tiger shark and the bull shark. Lemon-, tawny nurse- and reef sharks will complete this great diversity.
One of the crew members approaches me, seizes my arm and pulls me to the stage. A tawny nurse shark lays down on the bottom when my hand holds out towards the animal and gently strokes its rough skin. Because the skin of a shark is not smooth; it's dotted of countless mini-teeth and was formerly sold as tool to sand the hulls of the boats. These bumps serve to break out the vortex of the water which forms when the shark swims and improve its hydrodynamism. I take back my position behind the rope and keep my eyes wide-open in front of the show. A dive not as the other ones among the kingdom of the predators.
Sunday 28 September 2008
By dorian on Sunday 28 September 2008, 16:26
Nadi airport on the main island of Fiji, first contact with a Pacific island. I arrive for two weeks and am going to try to live in a local way for that time, that means not looking beyond the present. In the arrival hall, a travel agent unsuccessfully tries to sell me an all-inclusive tour. Despite my stubbornness not to book one of his excursions, he keeps on smiling and gives me a precious piece of advice which will prove to be essential for the next stage of my trip. In substance, he encourages me no to stay on the main island (Viti Levu where there are the towns of Nadi, Lautoka or Suva) and get to the small islands which are the heart of the Fijian spirit.
The population is a mix of Melanesians and Indians whose ancestors emigrated to Fiji in order to work in the sugar cane fields. These workers finally stayed and today represent 40% of the total population. This racial disparity is the main cause of the political instability where each community reproaches the other one its hegemonic desires. These last years, 2 coups d'état shook the country and consequently, the tourism dramatically dropped down.
Nadi is not really appealing. The next day, I hop on a minivan and head eastwards. My intention is to stop in the village of Pacific Harbour where we can dive with sharks. Unfortunately, I haven't booked in advance and the dive center is full for the next three days. Too much waiting, I pack my bag and set off again the next day. After one hour by car, I reach the capital city Suva where I board on a ferry in direction of the island of Taveuni. A long 20-hour cruise which drops me off on one of those remote islands where I hope to meet the Fijian culture and joie de vivre (exhilaration) praised by the travel agent at the airport. The ferry moors to a mere pontoon with no building around. A few taxis wait for the passengers but I prefer to stretch out my leg by walking along the coconut-tree-flanked coastal road. On the way, I stop at a dive center where I book an outing for the next day then I take to the way again towards the village of Naqara. A short hour of stroll where I pass alongside the local dwellings stifled by an invading vegetation. Native people offer me large smiles followed by a welcoming « Bula » (Welcome or good morning in Fijian). Life serenely goes on this small bit of land.
The dive center stands comparison with the villagers, laid-back atmosphere, certain joie de vivre and contagious smiles. On the boat, the warm-hearted ambiance carries on, we talk about rugby and I state that I'm coming from a city (Toulon) where rugby resembles a religion and is the topic of countless impassioned conversations. During our chat, I says that two Fijian players belong to the team (Sissa Koyamaibole et Gabiriele Lovobalavu). To these words, Jimmy, who officiates as captain of the boat this morning, suddenly turns back and says « you know Gabiriele Lovobalavu ! ». He informs me that his elder brother Kanito lives and works on the island in position of health inspector for the ministry of Health. He takes his phone, immediately calls him and an appointment is got for the next day. On top of the exceptional seabed that the Somosomo strait and the Rainbow reef offer, I'll be able to dip into the Fijian intimacy.
The next day, I go to the police station where all the team mustered around a bowl of Kava to celebrate an event I forgot the name. That's here Kanito have given the appointment to me. I sit down as discreetly as possible when someone holds a microphone out to me asking to introduce myself. About thirty of pairs of eyes riveted on me, I stand up and explain why I'm here ; Then I keep on shaking the hands of all the guests. The following of the meeting is more informal when every two minutes someone holds out to me a coconut bowl full of kava I must knock back. The kava is the national beverage, a pounded root mixed with water which has the taste and the colour of the muddy water. With friends, family or workmates, there is no lack of opportunities to meet around this elixir.
outside this celebration, I take part of the sporting events as spectator with an athletic event and then a rugby tournament where each team represents a parish of the island. Guaranteed fervour around the playground. I will finish my evening at the Kanito's house with his family. Great time of sharing and laughing around the dinner with a special feature. At the other end of the world, a poster of the rugby club toulonnais is hanged to the wall.