A statue in Fiji honors a native who ate nearly 1,000 people, and with a sly grin Fijians are quick to add that no parts went to waste. But it’s easy for them to make reference to a cannibalistic history when the South Pacific nation has long since swung 180 degrees in how visitors are treated.
Simply put, I’ve discovered nowhere in the world where people are more forthcoming, less pretentious and genuinely friendly. Maybe that’s why – despite the considerable distance from my home in Florida – I’ve been to Fiji twice and yearn to return whenever possible.
The allure of this nation of over 350 islands – most of them uninhabited – obviously goes way beyond the glow of the constantly heard “bula” (hello) Fijian greeting. Independent from Britain since 1970 and despite a few coup d’etats since then, Fiji’s culture, geography and history make for a perfect South Pacific tourism nugget.
My son and I visited not quite two months ago. Our day began at a Fijian village where an annual festival was taking place. Proud of their heritage, villagers wore colorful native garb and everyone from school children to elders took the event very seriously. I was blown away at the hearty good looks of these people and their ceremonial vigor.
Our next stop was the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, with the splendor of over 2,000 species of orchids charming visitors of all ages. Actor Raymond Burr originated these magnificent gardens and woodlands on the main island of Viti Levu in 1977.
After a tour of the grounds, we enjoyed a fabulous three-course lunch prepared especially for us by chef Lee Acreman of Taste Fiji. While a choir sang three native songs to us, we sampled delicious beef fillets, a green papaya salad and roasted rice. Next came spiced mahi-mahi, chana chicpea and minted yogurt, and a sweet finale of coconut panna cotta and mango salad. Everything was perfect. How unforgettable to be seated on a lovely lawn under a shaded bamboo tree, savoring a delicious lunch while serenaded by smiling Fijians.
We’d hoped to obtain a scenic water view of the volcanic island via a boat ride from Denarau Marina, but rain clouds surrounded us. But not to worry, because we basked in the glow of an awesome 30-minute deep-tissue massage by Fijian masseuses at Spa Denarau in the Port Denarau Retail Centre.
The tour guide throughout our odyssey was Tupou. He related the history of Fiji, its ethnic meld of Melanesians and Indians, the historic conflicts and partnering achievements with surrounding island nations as well as the influence of Capt. James Cook and arrival of other foreign visitors. Besides the many attractions noted, Tupou brought us to a huge fruit market in town and thereafter a fish market. The enormous variety of all things edible really drove home the point of Fiji’s bounty. No one goes hungry here, and with the advent of tourism dollars, Fiji has become one of the more stable countries in the South Pacific.
We hated to leave Fiji. It’s unquestionably worth the extensive travel time to get here from the U.S. In the first few moments after arrival you get a dose of the lovely Fijian persona – a friendly “bula” cast your way. And yes, you quickly come to realize that a fate that involves being cooked in a boiling caldron belongs to a long-ago era.