Wednesday, June 06, 2007

“The” Trip To Fiji: I Wish I Had More Money To Stay Longer…

Fiji is amazing!
We’ve been to 2 other exotic tropical places, Tahiti – Bora Bora and Kauai, those places don’t even compare. Well, Bora Bora is really nice – but seriously Hawaii feels more like Disneyland with Starbucks and Wal-Mart compared to the others (although, I must admit… having a KFC on Kauai did come in handy a few times.)

Great weather, the friendliest people we’ve ever encountered, beautiful beaches, amazing islands (there’re like 300 that make up Fiji) a Bure on the beach on a secluded private” island, top-notch food every day – I swear it felt like we were in some movie or as if we’ve stepped into somebody else’s life the whole time there.

We were contemplating our visit since the government had a military coup a few months ago back in December 2006 and isn't planning on elections again until 2009. After some research and some advice, we decided to move forward with the trip. Fiji is extremely dependant on tourism and since the incident the industry has dropped about 33% leading to the loss of much needed jobs primarily at the resorts.
After meeting the people (and talking to other guests), we were happy to have made the decision to go. Nothing even remotely dangerous was evident anywhere and everybody we encountered was more than happy to have us there. Although we hear, the Fijians are always grateful to have visitors - that was evident.

Where We Stayed
Vomo Island Resort – an incredible 5-star resort, with only 29 Bures on the entire 200-acre private island (pictures). Where guests arrive by private helicopter or seaplane. We chose the helicopter for the full affect! (it felt more Indiana Jones-ish…if he had a helicopter.) Other resorts (islands) we considered were Jean-Michel Cousteau (the famous dude’s son), and Turtle Island.
We chose Vomo because Cousteau didn’t have air-conditioning in the Bures (you NEED it and French in a hot place with no air-conditioning is just WRONG) and Turtle…well, I would need to sell both kidneys and maybe a lung too. Vomo is pretty much on pare with Turtle.

Everything Included – They Even Do Your Laundry!
The only things not included were booze (wines from New Zealand and Australia) Cuban cigars, we paid extra for “the nanny/sitter”, and the village visit day-trip. Oh, and you don’t “tip” in Fiji BUT you can give money to a staff Christmas Fund that gets divided evenly among the entire staff. We did put money into that at checkout (oddly, they don’t ask; I asked to contribute – because the staff really went out of there way for so much.)

What About “The” K.I.D.S…?
If you check out the website, you’ll probably think, “Hey! Wait a minute - this place doesn’t want kids messing up the place -- peeing on the furniture and burning things like rock stars”. I read a few things and talked with an agent – so we went ahead with the trip thinking we would be the only people there with a kid (a toddler!) Totally not the case! The Fijians adore children, everybody was always hugging her, playing with her, running up to her like she was a real princess (even the housemaids and gardners.)
This whole resort was either couples, or couples with kids around 2 to 5-ish. There’s really nothing to do for older kids (especially teenagers) unless they’re pretty laid back and are content with just sleeping, swimming, eating really fancy food, and getting waited on like royalty – you know, all the things parents with kids (and maybe couples) want.
We were assigned a nanny/sitter at the beginning and our daughter loved hanging out with her (Emele – pronounced Emily), and two other 2-year-olds and their nanny’s (we felt like the Kennedy’s or Rockefeller’s with the ‘nanny’ bit.) My daughter did stuff like hang out with endangered turtles, feedings fish in the ocean, and being entertained while the wife and I slept, went on snorkeling adventures, slept (did I just say that again), ate quiet fancy meals together, slept, sat on the beach, slept (pretty much anywhere…) What a paradise!

Where’s Everybody From?
I’d say 80% of people are from New Zealand, 10% from Australia, then the rest were a mix from Japan, Germany, U.K., then one other family from the U.S. (or “the states” as its always referred as overseas.) This is one of my absolute favorite things about traveling to places like this – meeting all the interesting people from around the world. And these people had interesting lives. We got some travel advice on other places we’ve been considering – Australia, Malaysia, Cook Islands, Hong Kong (and China), and India.

Village Trip: A Fijian School And Our Meeting With The Chief
We did something most of the other guests don’t usually do – we booked a boat to take us to visit a real Fijian village and school. We did some reading about this before going, so we were a little prepared – but not as prepared as we would have liked.
We visited Namara Village and the school nearby (it’s a boarding school that has kids from about 4 neighboring island villages.) The kids live there during the week and go home on the weekends.
When we arrived during lunch, a group of 4th and 5th graders ran out extremely excited. They all wanted to hold my daughter (they took turns) and gave us a tour of their classrooms while asking us a million questions in their best English (better English than most people in L.A.!) One of the kids asked me what grade I was in (I said 33rd) and then a few had asked me to point out where we’re from on a globe.
We brought Jolly Ranchers (they rarely get candy) to give out; we had our daughter give them out to the shy little ones—around kindergarten age. She loved going up to kids and giving candy. She kept coming back for more to hand out. The kids and adults all thanked us a million times over for bringing candy.
Then we were off to visit the chief in the traditional “chief bure” (I didn’t take any pictures out of respect.) We sat on the floor of this REALLY cool hut (he later said they built it for around $400 Fijian dollars - I want one in my yard!) while we presented the chief with Kava powder (we had bought earlier on.) He, and our guide, did a welcoming traditional ceremony and then he talked to us for about 15 minutes before we were allowed to walk around. He was extremely friendly, for a real chief, as asked us to visit anytime.
The majority of Fijians are poor. They, on the outer islands, live in communal villages of about 100. People cook outside, sleep on floor mats of their small one-room houses, and have some basics like minimal electricity and running water from fresh-water wells. They don’t watch TV, but get radio, and there are no computers.
But from talking and walking around, you never get that feeling that there is poverty or that they're missing out on anything. They're very traditionaly people.
We were asked if we wanted to buy handmade goods from the local women – we brought money just for this (research came in handy.)
The all came out and set sheets on the ground, like a swap-meet, and unwrapped all sorts of cool things – just for us.
We bought something from each woman, when we had left we spent around $200 Fijian dollars (about $140 U.S.) -- pretty much all the money we had with us. They all were very happy that we bought so much. I really wished we had taken more money; most of the stuff was really cool.
A few of the kids gave us the school’s address and asked us to write them. They were very excited about that prospect when we said we'll write and send some things along too. Not only are we going to write the school and the kids, we’re also sending a huge box of stuff (we get a lot of kid-stuff from work too.)
When we got back to the resort, the staff got wind of our visit and were really excited we had taken the time to see what real Fijian life is like. The vast majority of them are from the outer island villages and work at the resorts for 10 days (they all have staff quarters) and then go home for 4.
We felt a pretty humbled after the village visit and knowing how much they work hard to make sure visitors, like us, vacations were absolutely perfect. Everybody wants to work at the resorts, and they want more visitors so they'll be more jobs.


The End Of Vacation
Waking up knowing we had to leave really sucked. The staff met us at the outdoor reception and sang us a tearful song and the manager and his wife (New Zealanders - "Kiwis") came out to chat with us (we talked to them a lot while there, since they had a 2-year old my daughter played with.) and then we were off in our helicopter.
We never like to travel to the same place twice, the wife and I have a huge list of places we want to visit before we get really old and have so many robotics parts installed in our bodies that we can't be near electronic devices or airplanes.


But we are seriously considering going back to Fiji - soon.

30 comments:

wayabetty said...

That sounded like an awesome vacation Tony and that's my kind of vacation. What? They didn't give you the key to the city? Isn't it amazing seeing how other people live in such simple but happy lives undisturbed by all the materials in the world. Nice just to be back to the basics again, huh?!

Lisa said...

Cool! Looks like a great place to visit!

Absolutely Bananas said...

WOW that sounds like the trip of a lifetime! very jealous.

Whit said...

Man, that sounds awesome. I'm glad you had a good time.

BTW, thank you for not being the "ugly American", not that you would of course, but the stereotype is common enough that it has become, well, a stereotype. It is refreshing to hear you talk with such obvious respect and passion for the people and the place. Kudos.

Mrs. Chicky said...

Well, color me green with envy.

But Jolly Ranchers? Really? You couldn't have at least brought them Smarties? ;)

metro mama said...

Sounds heavenly.

"Kelli BoBelli" said...

OMG! If the fam and I had gone, we would have just stayed in our little hut all day and never ventured out. I just LOVED the things you guys did...like celebs or something! How totally fantastic.

I think it's awesome that you brought your daughter. We would NEVER have done that. Vacation means "without kids" to us. Well, unless it's a family vacation, I guess.

Thanks for letting most of us, who will never get to take a vacation quite like this, live vicariously through you! :-)

Batch said...

So glad you enjoyed your stay on Vomo Island. I'm one of the shareholders of the Island Resort and we are delighted to have hosted you and your family. We are working on a small coffee table style book for the resort. It wont be ready for a couple of months. However if you send me email to sales at vomovillas dot com I'll have a copy sent to you as a momento. Returning guests always get special treatment at Vomo! Cool story and great that you visited the local village also. A little bit of genuine interest and the odd donation/purchase (as you did) goes a long way to help the local people. vinaka vakalevu.
Andrew B.

radioactive girl said...

Thank you so much for sharing all of that! It sounds like a wonderful experience for sure!

kittenpie said...

Wow. I really shouldn't be groaning with longing at work, but, well, MAN I WISH I WERE YOU right now!

chanchow said...

We almost honeymooned in Fiji... I think it's time to plan that second honeymoon!

epixstix said...

I wanna go! I wanna go!

Ruth Dynamite said...

For just a few short minutes, reading your vivid descriptions and seeing your photos, I was in Fiji.

I want to go back.

Thanks for a great trip.

Darren said...

Wow. That does sound great. It makes planning our family's trip to the Caribbean sound like going to Branson, MO.

carrie said...

Amazing. Thank you for sharing your vacation and beautiful pictures.

Carrie

dadinprogress said...

hmm...makes my upcoming jaunt to Cape Cod seem inferior. Thanks for sharing -- looks like it was amazing and a good way to recharge the family batteries!

L.A. Daddy said...

Sounds like a great adventure! We'll definitely have to keep it in mind for our next trip (although we so desperately want to return to Kauai! Wal-Mart and All!)

Good to know. Glad you're back!

creative-type dad said...

Mrs. Chicky - I'm a huge Jolly Rancher fan. And Smarties sometimes...

wayabetty - Do you mean a key to the village? Yeah, I think we got something...but they were speaking in Fijian. I hope it wasn't anything bad.

Redneck Mommy said...

Sounds like you had a brilliant time.

And thanks for the post. I do believe Fiji is now in first place when it comes to choosing our holiday destination this year.

I love the idea of going to visit a school...

Lisa said...

Am SO envious. And happy that you guys had a cool vacay.

creative-type dad said...

Redneck Mommy (of anybody else)- if you need any info, email me directly creativetypedad (at) gmail (dot) com

h&b said...

Glad you had such a good time. I don't think we Australians appreciate Fiji as much as Americans do ..

Did you get a ukelele ?
My boy *loves* his ukelele :)

JayMonster said...

Oh great, now I have to add Fiji to the list of places I want to visit.

Thanks for the superior round up of it all.

Glad you had a good time.

Amy said...

Hi there "Creative Type Dad".
My husband and I are planning on going to Vomo Resort in November this year with our 1 year old daughter. I just wanted to ask you if the hillside villas are too far away from all the pools etc? For example, could we put her to bed and lock the door and go for a walk? or would she be too far away from us?
Also - if you don't mind me asking, how much was the "nanny"? and could you book her for a couple of hours, or is it something you have to pay for for the whole visit?
I LOVED the idea that you went and visited a village - that's a great thing to do - I wanted to do something similar so I might take your advice!
Thanks in advance - we're an Aussie family from Sydney in dire need of a holiday!!

Look forward to hearing from you.
Amy

creative-type dad said...

Amy - How fun! You're going to love it. To answer your questions--
Yes, the hillside villas are a distance from the pool. They're very nice since they're VERY private. We didn't stay in one since we were in a beachside, but we did go up there to look at the views.
I would TOTALLY recommend using a nanny for just about anything (dinners, snorkeling, day naps, spa, evening drinks, etc.) You can use them for a few hours at a time since they charge by the hour (If I remember correctly it came to about $6US/hour) We used ours off and on - some days 4 hours during the day and then about 2 or 3 at night when the wife and I went to dinner- the nanny watched her in our bure.
The nice thing is you're assigned the same nanny the entire visit, our daughter was always asking for Emele, even when it was just us. Also, all the nannies get similar aged kids together to play together.
She was amazing with our daughter --we wanted to bring her back with us!

As for the village trip: ask "the captain" (an older very friendly man who's a staple there, he does the trips) to take you to HIS village (we visited) AND take money, this is pretty much your only time to "go shopping" and the people are extremely grateful for anything you buy.
ALSO-- take hard candy (like Jolly Ranchers - they're called that here in the states) to hand out to the kids.
Oh and HUGE advice, go to the bathroom BEFORE heading out.

Let me know how the trip went when you get back!

Amy said...

Thank you!!
I will definitely take your advice on the island - we are going to Vomo for sure - confirmed today. Cannot wait!
I'll be back in touch to let you know how it goes and I'll let "the captain" know that you recommended his village!
I think I know what you mean by Jolly Ranchers - I'll do my best :)
Cheers
Amy

Jackie said...

I am so glad your family did. I went to Africa and I must say it was an eye ipener too. What website did you go through to get everything arranged? I am planning on going but can't decide as to what island to go to. Any advice?

creative-type dad said...

Hi Jackie-
The website we booked through was fijivacations.com
We didn't visit the other islands only Vomo - the other great one we've heard a lot about is Turtle Island.
Let Melissa know I sent you! Who knows? Maybe she'll give you something extra.

Anonymous said...

Thank you much. I will try to book once I find a package that fits in our budget. Anything else I should know about Vomo Island and how to prepare meaning what to bring and not to bring?

creative-type dad said...

Don't over pack since they have included laundry service. When we were there it was warm- so no jackets or heavy clothing. A big tip is if you visit a village, make sure you cover your arms and legs - that's a custom for women. Bring reef shoes for the water and lots of sunscreen.
Although not a must, but we registered with our embassy while visiting.
There were no TV's in the Bure's which was great! Bring books and if you could, your own snorkel gear.