Tuesday, October 11th, 2011: Port Denarau, Fiji
Port Denarau, Fiji, is the gateway to the western part of the main Fijian island of Viti Levu, and to the city of Nadi. Unfortunately, if you travel to Port Denarau and no where else, you will spend all of your time in Fiji in an artifical resort town, away from the Fijian people, their warmth, hospitality, villages, and over 300 beautiful islands.
It was our goal to get out of the tourist center and to see as much of Fiji as time and distance would allow. We connected up with Great Sights Fiji and did a private half day tour called “Discover Nadi”. After a somewhat lengthly tender ride to shore (watching the parasailers in their colorful parachutes as they soared over Nadi Bay helped to pass the time), we met up with our super guide for the day, Solomon, just before 9:30am.
We hopped into our air-conditioned Toyota Land Cruiser and Solomon began to share amazing stories, not only about Fiji and Viti Levu, but also of his own upbringing and how the landscape of Fiji, for its people, its goverment, and its culture, is in a constant state of change, but with all hopes that it brings about a more positive and prosperous future.
Our first point of the tour was to get off of the tiny resort island of Port Denarau and to head towards the Nadi airport area and to begin our trip to the north, along the western edge of the island. As we wound our way through open communities (no fences, no walls, no property lines), he explained how most of the communities, even in modern times, continue to act as villages, where the communal needs are as important, or sometimes more important than individual needs. When someone needs, the community can help and support the process and in time, these same expectations will reciprocate.
We learned about how Fiji was utilized during World War II and how the population has become heavily integrated with Indo-Fijians from India. In earlier times, the British brought over laborers from India to help cultivate crops, grow business in trade, and provide additional manpower to the many exports and activities on the island that the naive Fijians simply could not, on their own, keep up with demand. This included, amongst others, sandalwood logging, sugar cane farms, mining, and other activities. Today, the islands of Fiji are about 60% native Fijians and about 40% Indo-Fijian. Native Fijians are still masters of their natural resources and agriculture, but the Indo-Fijians are business savvy and master negotiators. Though it seems likely an unlikely pairing, the two groups provide balance to one another and the relationship is for the most part a strong one.
Our first stop on the way north was to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant. Established as a 250 acre garden by the late American actor Raymond Burr, the tropical climate of Fiji is a master location for orchid farms and here, he established a “summer home” and a huge collection of orchids from all around the world. As we arrived, we were welcomed and provided with a map and a pathway to walk through the property, admiring hundreds of orchids and other plant life on the property as we made our way through. We plenty of shade provided by the huge canopy of trees on one side of the property, and lots of warm sun in another, it strikes the proper needed balance of warmth and moisture to see these flowers thrive.
As we finished with our tour of the property, we were invited back to the lobby area, where we were served ice cold tropical fruit juice and we relaxed as Solomon shared with us some information and details on the handicrafts of the Fijian people, including woodworking, weaving, and building. Once this stop was completed, we jumped back in the car and continued north towards our next destination, a traditional Fijian village of Viseisei.
As we arrived to Viseisei, we really didn’t know what to expect. What we came to find was simply that each village is its own self-sustaining community, made up of different “roles” such as Chief, Spokesperson, Warrior, etc. Each has specific and important responsibilities to the people and to the ongoing health and survival of the community. Viseisei village was made up of about 60-70 homes, in which many included multi-generational families, and all were about the same size, structure, and similarly furnished. Again, there are no fences or property lines as the village is community space and everyone knows everyone else. There is a system of rules and laws within the village and the policing is accomplished by the Warriors of the village. Spokespeople represent the village to outsiders like us, or to other villages in regional matters or to the government, and other villagers perform tasks such as builders, farmers, teachers, etc. to meet the needs of the village as they require.
At the center of the village are two key components — the chief’s hut and community center and the church. Both of which are deemed equally important and sacred within the village. People who break laws of the village are still punished in the open in front of the entire community, to not only accept responsibilities for their indiscretions, but also to ensure that the village sees that there are always consequences for actions that violate the village rules and code of law. The church provides daily and weekly mass as well as to support the village in ongoing ministry to support education and other community projects.
We had a chance to see a number of homes, meet the local people, and our spokesperson shared with us the unique balance of traditional and contemporary in today’s Fijian villages. The same rules of community and sharing exist today as they did hundreds of years ago, though today, the owner of a flat screen TV will open their home to the entire community to watch a rugby match, whereas in the past a hunter that killed the wild pig would bring it back to the community to share with all the people as a feast. Same concept, but changing ways.
As we left Viseisei, we made a small donation to the local school and continued north to our next stop at a nearby sailing ship and yacht port. Fiji is a tremendously popular amongst boaters and the need for more and more calm water ports to anchor sailing ships and yachts continues to grow. (That, and the Fijian people would like to cash in on the needs of these visitors as they need gas, supplies, food, and more as they travel from place to place.) As we drove through the area, we saw a huge harbor with more than 300 boats, with Solomon telling us that in just a few years’ time, the harbor will be able to support 3 times that amount.
From here, we got to see a hillside resort and a sugar cane train. The sugar cane train runs along a small track that is parallel to the highway and as we pass by hundreds of sugar cane farms, the locals will harvest, cut, and pile hundreds of canes onto small little train cars that the Sugar Cane Train picks up twice a day to take to the sugar mill. Each train car is owned by a different farm and farmer, and based on the number of canes in each pickup, is how they are paid. The Cane Train was working its way up the road as we were driving down it and we watched as dozens and dozens of train cars filled with cane were being pulled by a miniature locomotive to the sugar mill up the coastline.
From here, we made our way back into Nadi town, the largest city on the west coast of the island. With a population of about 50,000 people, it was the largest and most bustling place we had seen thus far on the trip, so we got to spend some time downtown looking into the shops and seeing the locals at the nearby fruit and veggie market.
As we left Nadi town, we made one final photo stop at the Siri Siva Temple, a beautifully crafted Hindu temple, one of the largest in the world outside of India and admire its amazing architecture, vibrant colors, and quiet calm and beauty in the midst of an energetic and busy town.
At this point, it was time to end our tour, and superguide Solomon returned us to our departure point, much wiser having seen and experienced the true spirit, sights, and sounds of Fiji. He was an exceptional ambassador to the area and we were fortunate to have him introduce us to this amazing place. It only made us more excited for the coming days in Suva, Savusavu, and Dravuni.