Fiji is one of those destinations you dream about, but never think it will happen. So when Wally said he was attending an event in Fiji, I was all about going on a luxury Vacation. I was ready for sunshine and sandy beaches, but let me tell you, the trip turned out to be not your typical Fiji Vacation. It was a trip I will never forget, one that opened my eyes to new experiences and appreciate the kindness of others.
When you think Fiji, do you daydream about luxury resorts surrounded by pristine blue water? How about sitting by the beach relaxing with a drink in hand. Sounds great, right? That’s what I thought it was going to be as well.
We landed in Nadi to a downpour of rain; apparently, this was the worst rainy seasons they had seen in years. After the second plane ride, we are on the island of Savusavu. I hadn’t realized it would be this remote. We make it to the resort… at this point of the trip; I’m tired from the 11-hour flight, it’s raining, humid and the property is so remote it looks like the set of Survivor.
The room is not as expected, but hey, good news, the rain has stopped which gives us the opportunity to explore the grounds. We walk down the road, not far from the resort, and you are not going to believe what we found….. I can not make this up people; they are filming interviews for the show Australia Survivor. I’m not kidding; apparently, they always shoot here.
Next day at the resort, we are introduced to the Activities Director Jope. He will turn out to be the saving Grace. With my new friend, I will experience a little of what life is like in Savusavu. My not your typical Fiji vacation begins. When I wasn’t hanging out at this ocean view pool, I was out exploring the local culture with my new friend.
On small islands such as Savusavu, you will find Fijians living in villages with long-standing traditions, where the order of importance is God, Family, and Community. Jope told me; it is considered disrespectful to lock your door during the day. Their motto is…whatever you need, come on in. Even outsiders such as myself would be invited into community and home. Once again, this is not your typical Fiji Vacation.
It turns out that Jope is a phenomenal individual who loves his heritage and sharing knowledge about the island. A personal tour of a town he loves… this is my thing, I LOVE experiencing the local culture.
Driving down the highway, people we pass along the road call out, Bulah! Which means hello in Fiji. Everywhere we went, he knew somebody, but as we drove by one village, I noticed a difference in his voice.
He mentioned- that was my mom‘s Village, and those are my cousins. I haven’t seen them since my mother passed two years ago. Wally and I looked at each other; we need to turn around Jope, go back and see them. We are here for you, he said. No, Jope!, we need to turn around…go back and see your cousins.
Even from across the street, we could hear the excitement from everyone’s voice; they were so happy to see him. Back in the car, he was very thankful for taking the time to stop and very much enjoyed the visit. Back on the road, we are off to the waterfall.
The village where we stopped for Jope Cousins
The waterfall we are heading to is on village land. It is a tradition to give an offering to the elders; therefore, we stopped at the farmers market to purchase a plant. The market was a fun experience as well, plants and fruits I had never seen. We bought the plant, coconut oil, and some fruit. Arriving at the village… the women elder sits with us, chants and offers her blessing to enter the land. So far, this has been a better Fiji vacation than expected.
Let’s take a moment to recap… early on in this trip; I wanted to go home, now I am enjoying a part of the local culture I would not have experienced had I not been open. Buckle up; it is nothing compared to what’s next.
I have wanted to walk the town of Savusavu, instead of going alone, my new friend Jope offers to take the cab with me. We stopped to visit with people he knew, cousins, aunts, friends and we ran into his family. It was just the local experience I was looking for.
The island is beautiful, tropical and when not raining the water is spectacular. We managed to go on a couple of hikes as well as Kayaking along this fantastic river. While all of this is why most people come to Fiji, I am enjoying the local experience and happy that I stayed.
Okay, we are down to the last full day on the island, which turned out to be my favorite day of the not your typical Fiji vacation.
It was Sunday morning breakfast when Jope asked if I wanted to attend his church. I leaped out of my chair… let me change; I will be back in 10 minutes. We jumped in a cab, about a 25-minute drive from the resort, down a long dirt road, through the overgrown trees… we pull up. No one was around…are we late? I walked into the door…it was Jopes home.
Are you feeling the emotion- he brought me to his home! Introduced me to his wife, kids, father- in law and aunts- I am honored.
I walk over to the kitchen and greet his wife; she is preparing the after-church meal. I bend down to say hello to his grandmother; she doesn’t speak English, but the smile she gave and the way she held my hand… I felt the kindness of her heart.
We stayed a few minutes and headed out the door for church.. walking along the dirt road across the lightly flowing river and over the bridge and continued up the grassy hill. I could see it, sitting at the top is a beautiful A-framed church with large windows on each side.
Sitting on top of the hill… inside the idyllic building, are church pews filled with well-behaved children, the choir is singing, local villages worshiping and one blonde girl nodding, smiling as if she understands a word. You don’t need to understand the language to feel the spirit of the lord. Can I get an, Amen!
I am reminded that as human beings; we are all connected with the same goals; belong to a community, feel loved, and know that we matter.
As it turns out, it was the best experience I could have asked for- thanks to the kindness of our new friend Jope.
Out of respect, I did not take photos of the Village or the Church.
One last story….on the way to the airport, our driver asked if we wanted to stop for water? Stop at the store? Nope, he pulled off to the side of the road. This is fresh Fiji water, the kind we get from a bottle and pay money for back home. Can you imagine what they must think of us paying for water? LOL
A once in a lifetime experience for sure, I don’t think it would have been the same without the kindness of Jope… he showed us his Fiji, and I can not be more grateful for the experience.
Being Socially brave is about getting out of our comfort zone, to experience something beyond what we are accustomed. Getting to know the community was more than I could ever imagine. I mean, I even went Kayaking, go Wendy! For me, this is being socially brave.