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.