Leslie is a jerk. She criticizes everything I write. I just want to record my thoughts of places I go, and it’s not good enough for her. She said “that isn’t a blog post, it’s a diary. Do I want her to publish my diary?” But my Diary is a manly Diary. It doesn’t have one of those tiny locks with two keys hung on a pink string and hidden inside a hole carved in my mattress. So, why not?
After much ado, we determined I have a point to convey. Fiji seems like one of those difficult places to see and absorb in the small amount of time we have. Why?
Geography: Fiji is really big. The more ambitious vacationers come here and spend a few days on the main land and a few days in a handful of the outer islands. There are small fiberglass boats that can zip between the close islands, there are catamaran ferries that regularly transit between the mainland and the out island resorts and for the well heeled there are sea planes and helicopters that will take you from one place to another landing in front of the most remote white sand beaches. For sailors the geography adds a significant amount of travel time into the itinerary. The hops along the island chains are 4-10 hours, sailing between island chains will be 10-24 hours and require a lot of planning to transit reef passages only in the daylight. Of the six weeks we spent here, a solid week was spent transiting from place to place. Weather and lack of time forced us to miss the Lau Group, famous amongst sailors as a remote, traditional, tropical paradise. Fiji has an overwhelming amount of space to explore.
Culture: Fiji has three large groups, Polynesian, Melanesian, and Indian. When you think of Fiji you will likely think of the Polynesian and Melanesian people, but the British brought large numbers Indians here when it was their territory to harvest the sugarcane. This creates an interesting mix of curry and Indian temples into the food and landscape. Add to this, large differences between the people in the “cities” and the small villages on remote islands. Experiencing the culture of Fiji would be to understand all of these facets, and it is a lot to accomplish. This is a place that would take years.
People: Bula! Fiji has the most outwardly friendly people I have ever met. Bula means hello and it is a deeply ingrained trait that they must express. EVERYONE says it and EVERYONE means it. This is not something that was trained into your resort employees, this is something that they have in them from birth. The little tiny children love to come up to you and say “Bula!” even if that is the only word they know. Americans are fairly reserved and the previous islands countries I have visited have been friendly, but usually we are passing by and they understand that. Fijians will turn even a passing “Bula!” on the street into a full conversation. It is wonderful, they truly care if you are having a good time and want to do anything they can to help. But, as you will rapidly get to know many people it makes it difficult to weigh anchor. There is no such thing as a one or two day stopover. Fiji is sticky, you will have good friends in every place you go, and that makes it difficult to leave.
Sailing: Beware of the reefs. Fiji is a place full of reef and the charts of the out islands are poor to nonexistent. I got very familiar sailing thru waters marked as “not surveyed” on my charts. Everyone says that it is not “if”, but “when” you hit a reef as you explore Fiji. Fortunately, cruisers have put together some web sites where they share their routes and way points that you can download and give you some measure of knowing where things are. Additionally, the navigation program I use allows you to load in Google Earth maps which are extremely useful and accurate. You can see your boat sailing in amongst the lighter color waters marking the reefs on the images. With these additional tools I was able to avoid any intimate contact between my boat and the land of Fiji. Nonetheless, the risk requires a higher level of diligence.
Fiji is an amazing place, if you want a white sand beach dream vacation, you will not be disappointed. As a long term sailor, you could spend many years making friends on island after island and find a remote white sand beach as needed to relax. But as a sailor making way on a five year circumnavigation, you will barely get a taste and leave an amazing number of friends behind in a short time. Everywhere we go, we meet sailors who planned to sail further afield but fell in love with where they were, decided to stay, and ended up buying land-based homes. Fiji beckons to me at least sweetly enough that I can see the appeal. But as usual, my traveler’s spirit remains strong and I must leave westward and to the next exotic location of Vanuatu.