Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fiji Day at Taveuni Paradise

Our last full day on Taveuni was spent at Paradise, snorkeling, relaxing, indulging in a massage in the open air Serenity Spa where sea breezes cool what a deft masseuse comforts, learning about Fiji culture and experiencing a traditional lovo dinner.

Seeing bright blue coral and equally blue star fish was a revelation. So was seeing how coconuts are cracked, used and prepared.

Coconut trees are to Fijians what pigs are to Southerners who utilize everything but the oink.

Young leaves are woven into baskets, old fronds into thatched roofs. When green, the nuts produce juice good for drinking, hangovers and mild illnesses. As the nut ripens its juice becomes oil for cooking and its flesh is worked into creams and balms. Fully ripened, coconuts fall by themselves one or two at a time. The juice is gone but the flesh is at its best.

A sharpened metal pole and elbow grease are used to husk the nut which is cracked with a machete or rock at its soft spot.

Husks are used for straining the juice from the grated flesh. The nut itself is planted and will sprout another coconut tree.

Fronds are woven to hold the meats and strips from the coconut tree roots are used to make a basket for the meats and vegetables steamed over coals in an underground fire pit.

Sauce made from the flesh and its oil becomes the tangy sweet condiment that enhances the contents of a lovo dinner.

While it was cooking, Mai Keli taught the women how to tie their sulus into skirts and dresses and the men how to fold theirs together.

Tied and folded we enjoyed cocktail hour (s) in Fijian style before sitting at the long table for our lovo feast.

Meanwhile, villagers and their children gathered for a party featuring the traditional kava ceremony, singing and music-making with some unconventional instruments.

We ate, drank and danced until well past bedtime.

Morning arrived all too soon for those of us taking the early flight out and the beautiful morning made it even harder to bid farewell to Paradise.

Leia Mais…
Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Taveuni Paradise - More on this Fiji getaway

Day two at Taveuni Paradise, Fiji, proved several things:

One, You don't need an alarm clock. Between 5 and 5:30 a.m., light sleepers may not note the switch from night time to daytime generators, but the the roosters do. Despite the hour or so of darkness remaining, they start crowing the sun up. This you no doubt will note.

 Two, there's a whole lot of difference between "Oh, it's easy," and "It's a little steeper."

Touring Taveuni

The day's activities began with a visit to the Catholic Church of the Holy Cross in Wairiki village. We had stopped by the day before to see inside so we sat outside and listened to the singing. Fijian infants seem to emerge from the womb knowing four-part harmony and carrying tunes. Any that don't I suspect are tucked into a canoe and sent to Tonga. Everyone sings and does it so beautifully choir directors will want to bring them home.

Next it was the three-part Tavoro waterfalls in Bouma National Heritage Park. It is, as advertised, an easy 5-10-minute walk along a wide grassy path to the first waterfall which plummets 65 feet into a pool for swimming. There are changing rooms, bathrooms and picnic facilities, but wet bathing suits dry in a hurry here so wearing one under a shirt and shorts is very doable.

Tip: Access to the first fall and pool are easy but I don't advise the trek up to the second, Levelers, and do NOT try to reach the third. 

Having worked up an appetite we stopped by Coconut Grove for lunch with owner Ronna Goldstein. This delightful three-bure mini-resort overlooks one of the island's only soft sand beach and caters to honeymooners and other romance-seeking couples. The food is marvelous and the views are stunning.

Tip: As you can see there are stairs and steps here but they aren't that bad.

Ronna, a Connecticut native, is a kick. "Ex boyfriend, the usual story," was her response when asked how she wound up here.

Animal lovers will fall for her cats and dog. 

Skip the slide

Warning: Levelers, if anyone urges you to visit the Waitavala Sliding Rocks thank them but respond with a firm "No." This switchback fall of water rushes over rocks that have become so smooth, the locals use them as a water slide. Youngsters come down on their feet! Fun to see but treacherous to reach, especially if it has rained recently. I still wonder that our stalwart guides got us up then down that steep slippery slope and two of us only went halfway up.

Two days in one

 Muddy and soaked with sweat, we hit the road again, only to pull over and  discover why Mai Kel had us take pictures of white hibiscus flowers growing along the roadside that morning. The white flowers had turned pink!

Called yesterday, today and tomorrow flowers or baubau, they really are something else and the perfect segue-way to our last must-do for this lo-o-o-ng day of touring.

It was almost dark by now but we were determined to stand at the 180th degree of longitude line with one foot in today and another in tomorrow. There's a sign at the Taveuni Time Line, tucked unobtrusively between a house and a soccer field, that is divided in half.

Despite being bedraggled and covered in mud from the trek up and down to the water slide, we took turns posing and taking one another's pictures in impossible light.

Clarification: For time keeping purposes, the line was shifted around Taveuni so all of Fiji would be on the same day.

However late, however silly, a must-do is a must-do and tomorrow we could relax, spending the day learning Fijian skills and customs and enjoying our last day at Paradise.

Leia Mais…
Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Taveuni Paradise

Taveuni, in the northeast of the Fiji Island group, is called the Garden Island with good reason. As one resident put it, "Anyone who goes hungry on Taveuni is one lazy Fijian."

Coconuts, mango, papaya, banana, cassava, guava and edible hibiscus, bele, a delicious form of spinach, can be plucked from the roadside. All grow wild naturally. Volcanic springs provide pure drinking water and the waters of the South Pacific provide marine edibles galore.

Taveuni Attractions
With its volcanic spine, Taveuni boasts lush beauty and scenic delights from waterfalls to blow holes. Rainbow Reef with its 32-kilometers and dozen-plus named dive sites is considered one of the best in the world for SCUBA enthusiasts. Even snorkelers will be enchanted by the bright blue coral and star fish to be found just beyond the shore.

What Taveuni doesn't have is island-wide electricity, traffic jams - most Fijians walk where they want to go, pollution and hordes of tourists. Paved, or "sealed" roads are also scarce as are sandy beaches of any width.

Three of us Taveuni-bound travel writers went from the 10 1/2-hour Air Pacific flight from Los Angeles to the Nadi International Airport on Viti Levu directly to the one-hour and a few minute Pacific Sun flight in a Twin Otter to the tiny Matei Airport.

The road to Paradise Taveuni Resort was a culture shock - 30-40 minutes of really rough road, stretches of which required four-wheel drive. Our first Taveuni "massage".

Hearty "Bulas!" and flowered leis were presented by smiling staffers (there were no other kind!) and we were escorted to a seaside dining area to meet owner, Aussie Allan Gortan, and sit and relax with a cold coconut beverage.

First day at Paradise
Hammocks strung between coconut palms, a beautiful pool and lush landscaping pleased us. The resort's custom of a foot bath and massage as we reached our individual thatched roof bures charmed and soothed us. The lack of air conditioning worried us, especially this Florida girl.

Tip: No steps, Levelers, and the resort is on a flat bluff above the sea.

At lunch (I had a wonderful Thai-style fish) Alan offered us a choice: take a tour to a village and the blow hole farther down the south end of the island or relax at the resort. After 30-plus hours of traveling the latter was oh so tempting but not wanting to miss anything we pressed on.

On our beds we had found gift sulas, the strips of colorful cloth men and women use for skirts and sarongs, which we females would need. Fijian village protocol decrees that women cover shoulders and wear skirts covering the knees and that neither sex wear hats or sunglasses.

None of the pre-planned kava ceremony or meles at Vuna Village on Taveuni, but we did present the traditional waka, the bundle of dried red pepper plant roots used to make kava, to the acting chief at his house (the village chief had died and they had not yet selected another) and receive his permission to visit.

Tip: If you want to see how few trappings of civilization are needed to be happy on Taveuni or to feel like the Pied Piper with ever-growing hordes of children following you, visit a village.

Our Paradise guide, Mai Keli (Michael), was a font of knowledge, identifying and describing the uses of the many plants, filling us in on the island's history and customs. The blowhole. Kanacea, was interesting but what we really loved was seeing and hearing about the island and knowing that for once, we really had gotten away from it all.

Especially when we finally turned in. The outdoor shower was refreshing but my bure was stifling despite the comfortably balmy night. After tossing and turning a bit I got up to check windows. The housekeeping staff had closed them all to make the burning mosquito coil more effective!

Open screened windows throughout the bure and overhead fans made a world of difference. One more trapping of civilization could be dispensed with at Paradise Taveuni.

Days two and three coming up.

Leia Mais…
Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fiji's Coral Coast

The Coral Coast is resort central for Viti Levu, Fiji's largest and most Westernly-developed island.

If you hadn't been to one of the smaller, more pristine islands as I had, CC would seem like a lot of heaven - palm trees arched over blue water-lapped beaches, exotically landscaped resorts with all-inclusive or a la carte arrangements that are filled with jolly Aussies and Kiwis, a city with ATMs and shopping (Sigatoka), and excursions - jet boat trips to inland villages, rafts to cannibal caves, jaunts to waterfalls and pottery villages.

You can walk the beach, loll around the pool (this one's at Hideaway) where smiling servers will bring you food and beverages or knock yourself out on activities and physical challenges.  What's not to like?

Tip: Well, if you are a Leveler, many of those resorts come with lots of stairs and not all activities are worth the effort.

Resort Reviews
I visited five - Shangri-La's Fijian Resort & Spa, Outrigger on the Lagoon Resort, Fiji Hideaway Resort & Spa, Naviti Resort and Warwick Fiji. Stayed at one, Hideaway, and compared notes with guests at all the others.

Naviti received universal thumbs down from its guests despite its sophisticated landscaping and appearance. Management intransigence and inadequate supplies of basics such as towels and soap seemed to be the major problems. Good number of stairs here, too.

Shangri-La has everything which is a problem - there's too much of it; part of the joy of visiting Fiji is the feeling of intimacy. However, its convention facilities are excellent... once you reach them. Lots of walking but it does have outstanding cuisine and a "camp" of huge, flying fox bats.

Outrigger has stairs everywhere. Although there is a very slow elevator, it will only eliminate stairs in the main building. The resort does have an ATM, great "Bula!" greetings and a very friendly staff. This is where the firewalkers perform.

The Warwick has almost as many stairs but a good beach and a most unusual way of serving a festive buffet breakfast: they set up tables on the beach and float the food on kayaks. Guests wade out to serve themselves. Again, a signature of Fiji, friendly staff.

The Hideaway is the most Fijian in spirit and despite its proximity to the highway it is the one I recommend. Accommodations are in bure-like duplexes that face the ocean and come with indoor and outdoor showers, a porch and sitting hammock. When chef gets back to his Indian roots, the cuisine is hard to beat. Best of all, steps, just a few, not stairs, although you will have a set of stairs down to the beach.
Tip: This is the best choice for Levelers, but get a room midway between the often noisy poolside bar and the end of the line of duplexes, which is a hike from the center of activity.

Tip2: If you don't want to be deluged by children and teens, avoid the dates of New Zealand and Australia school spring breaks. Personally, I found the older ones fun; it was the crying babies that got tiresome. 

Excursion Reviews
Sigatoka (SING-a-TOE-kah) River Safari. Basically, you pack into jet boats and hurtle up and down the Sigatoka River before stopping at one of nine participating villages for the traditional kava drinking and greeting ceremony, the mekes singing and dancing and, depending on the time and village, lunch. On the way back there's an opportunity to do 360-degree spins.
Warning: Getting from riverbank into the boat isn't bad but depending on which village you visit getting out, up the bank and then back down can be a challenge, although villagers and guides team to get even the haltest and lamest there. Still, it can be a bit scary. Watch where you step and ask for help before you need it.

The singing and dancing is great fun and our lunch was excellent (it helps not to be a picky eater). You'll fall in love with the people. All in all, a fun experience.

Cannibal Cave. Levelers, in a word, DON'T. The tour group, Adventures in Paradise, is great but you will drive seemingly forever along a rough stretch of road, cross the Sigatoka River in rickety rafts, scramble up a bank, hike along a stream crossing its rocky and slippery bottom four times then head up a hillside.

When you reach the cave its opening is tiny and you have to wade through water to enter. There are rougher stretches inside - or so they told me. One look at the opening and claustrophobia took over.  There was a "cannibal oven" more like a simple sacrificial spot, but other than that, not much. The tour crew can get you up to, through then back out again and even bring lights. The countryside is beautiful but if it has rained lately, getting back into the rafts can be treacherous. Best part: beer at the end.
Tip: Better to take the same company's waterfall tour.

Pottery Village. It requires no physical dexterity to visit one of two area villages where residents make pottery as it has been done for thousands of years by their ancestors as well as in North Africa. Rosie Holidays provided the tour and guide Rony was excellent, filling us in on Fiji and the area's background, life and village etiquette - Don't touch the top of a Fijian's head, ladies keep your knees and shoulders covered and how to accept, drink and give thanks for a bowl of kava, the ubiquitous, muddy looking, mildly narcotic, non-alcoholic beverage from the roots of the pepper tree.

The women of the village - this is a farming community and most of the men will be out in the fields - will perform the singing and dancing meke, a gay potter will conduct the kava ceremony and then the ladies hope you buy some of their pottery. No, you don't have to but you'll feel like a heel if you don't.
Tip: Keep your purchases small; this pottery chips easily and doesn't ship well, even wrapped in dirty clothes in a suitcase.
There will be a short stop for shopping in Sigatoka. This is a pleasant way to spend a morning or afternoon, especially with a guide as affable and informational as Rony.

Kula Eco Park was a hit, especially with photographers.

Not worth it was the consensus on the salt making, red train and Robinson Crusoe Island tours.

Tourism Fiji

Leia Mais…