Day 212 – 221: Fiji

The end of the year marked the final phase of our trip (the international part of it anyway), and it also raised some key questions like: where would we be for New Year’s, and what should we do? Given our proximity to the Pacific islands from New Zealand, we figured that Fiji would be a good way to close out 2011. And the prospect of returning to New York in the dead of winter just reinforced the notion that one last hit in the tropics would be necessary.

Fiji is comprised of 300+ islands of which about a third are inhabited by people. They are nicely scattered throughout the Pacific Ocean and many are within just minutes of one another. The idea of an island tour stuck from the beginning so we signed up for 7 days of fun in Fiji sun. The island hopping started out about 5.5 hours north of the mainland (by boat), in the Yasawas Islands. From there we were to bounce to 3 other islands before making our way back to the mainland. This proved to be a winning formula versus our initial thought of spending more time on the mainland in Nadi (which proved to be far less exciting and a lot more rainy).

Fiji’s islands (most of which are volcanic), come in various shapes and sizes and they all have their own charm. From our boat ride up to the Yasawas we became fully aware of what laid ahead – beautiful sandy beaches outlining lush island vegetation or long beaches interrupted by rugged volcanic rocks. Some islands seemed very desolate which explains why movies like Cast Away were shot out there. Not to mention that they all sit in the most appealing shades of blue waters with deep clarity. Snorkeling and scuba diving are big here and the coral reefs around some of the islands are simply underwater magic. On one of the days we went snorkeling (on a guided tour), several miles out in the ocean. It was a bit rainy at first so with the hanging mist there was no sight of any land. It was ocean all around with the exception of our boat which for some reason disappeared at one point. From then on it was all water and the beautiful world underneath. The coral reef and tropical fish were quick to put our minds at ease as we took it all in. But the real reason we were there was reef sharks (white fintips), which appeared after sensing our presence. There were about 6 or 7 ranging in size anywhere from 3 to 6 feet. They were curious and somewhat friendly swimming around us. Sam (our guide), kept grabbing and holding some of them so we could touch their silky smooth skin while taking intimate notice of their firm musculature just beneath. Apparently this is a daily ritual for Sam, talk about a hands-on job! The other thing that struck us was how two of Sam’s friends went spearfishing a couple of miles away from where we snorkeled. We had dropped these guys off on our way to the reef and after our swim with the sharks we went to pick them up. We located one of them right away but the other guy took some time to find. After all the ocean is quite big and it all looks the same. Apparently they do this everyday as well. It’s the Fijian way of life as we learned.

Another aspect of Fiji island life we quickly adopted was the islanders’ laid back attitude. Time seemed completely irrelevant except for meal and tea times which were announced by beating drums. Our days on the islands were about enjoying some of the world’s most remote places in the vastest of its oceans. Total relaxation in a far away land. The dream we often have when we long to escape reality became our daily life. The only other thing we engaged in was to meet people and make new friends. Starting with New Year’s on the first night in the Yasawas Island, we met a bunch of people and kept running into them from island to island. We met people from all over and interestingly a bunch of them were also doing trips around the world. It’s funny how we all converged on Fiji whether we were east or west bound. Some of us were at the end of our journey while others were just setting out to see the world. And somehow we all knew Fiji was a place that should not be missed.

With Fiji’s location on the map, we were first to slip into the new year. No big crowds, no major firework displays, not even all the hype. Instead we made some new friends, drank the local kava with them, and danced the Bula dance. Here’s to Fiji and 2012, “Vinaka” for the everlasting memory!

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