The very morning we arrived in Fiji, we joined the MV Reef Endeavor in the middle of a seven-day “Discovery Heritage Cruise” and soon learned we were in for a busy day. Instead of taking us to the ship immediately, they put our group of eight writers on the bus with all the other passengers and we were off to visit the Bouma waterfalls. Despite the fact that we had had so little sleep in the past 40 hours, we were not about to miss this island highlight.
We were on the northeastern Fijian island of Taveuni, known as the “garden island” because it receives tremendous amounts of rain and is so green and lush that it is similar to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The trip to the waterfall was made in an open-air bus over dirt and gravel roads. It took about 45 minutes to get there, followed by a ten-minute walk. There are actually three waterfalls but all but four of us only went as far as the first one which was quite spectacular.
Not only was it high and full, but it fell into a lovely pond suitable for swimming and most people went swimming, except for some of us who were still in our flying attire. There was a high ledge next to the waterfall, and some of the more stalwart (including several teens) took to jumping off the ledge into the water.
A light rain fell during much of our visit and it cooled those of us who could not swim. After our waterfall visit, we returned to the park headquarters for a picnic lunch provided by the ship. This gave us our first change to meet our fellow passengers. There were 41 aboard the ship, including three families with children, before we joined them. The ship will actually carry a max of 168, however, this seven-day itinerary has not received lots of publicity.
Most of the passengers are from Australia and New Zealand…in fact, most visitors to Fiji are from these two countries, which are a 3-4 hour plane ride away. The rest on board are a mix of American, Dutch and Fijians. All speak English and as they have already been traveling together for four days, they are a friendly group.
Finally, about 2:30 p.m. we actually board the Reef Endeavour and find our assigned cabins, only to learn that we must leave at 4:30 p.m. to head to the local village for a kava ceremony and a feast. Again, this experience is not to be missed so we all quickly shower, don island attire, attend a quick safety briefing from the captain and head into the village of Naselesele for the evening’s ceremonies.
A Fijian village is a collection of homes and outbuildings and usually everyone in a particular village is related. Some are large enough to have a church, or a community hall or a store…but many are just family enclaves. We find this village to be quite large…it has a community hall with electricity and a church under construction. Hosting groups such as ours helps enable them to fund such improvements.
Tonight the people from two villages have come together to host us under the auspices of the local tribal chief Ratu Talema who controls almost half the island. There are perhaps 150 men, women and children present, most dressed in their best Fijian finery. All, except the fidgety children, sit on woven mats while we Western guest are permitted to sit in chairs.
After we arrive, we witness the solemn kava ceremony, performed by seven young men under the keen eye of the village elders. The chief and our captain exhange gifts and formal greetings in this welcoming ceremony, which is centuries old. After it is complete, the women came forth and gave each of us lovely Fijian leis, which they made by hand. Some of these were quite elaborate.
Our dinner here is a feast called a lovo where everything is cooked in an underground pit. Most of the meats and vegetables are wrapped in banana and tarot leaves. (The ship actually provides and prepares the food, which the villagers dig the pit and assist in cooking.)
After dinner, the villagers perform songs and dances for us. Such performances are called mekes and they are quite exuberant as Fijians love music. A choir of men and women sang various songs while different groups performed. The most outstanding was a group of young men, garbed as in grass skirts, who danced as warriors. Many women and children also performed and it was a memorable evening under the clear Fijian sky.
That night, finally, I managed to get nine hours of sleep. Whew! What a great first day in Fiji.