When most people think of Fiji, they think of islands, beaches and resorts. While these are certainly prevalent, they are not really what Fiji is all about. When I think of Fiji, I think of my childhood Fijian neighbour, who I thought was the funniest and friendliest man alive. Because of that man, I was expecting a lot of friendliness and a whole pile of laughs in Fiji. I was not disappointed! Read on to find out more about the friendliness and festivities in Fiji.
Being a chain of hundreds of islands in an endless sea means that Fiji has a culture and vibe all of it’s own. Aside from the friendliness that was noticeable instantly, one thing that struck me on arrival was that everyone was happy. This could be because they have their own version of time over in Fiji. This concept may be a bit hard for busy people to get a handle on. I’m sure you’ve heard of island time, but Fiji takes it to a whole new level with ‘Fiji Time’. They even have the t-shirts to prove it.
Fiji time is really something else. Things move slower and no one is stressed by deadlines. This means that everyone always has time for others. Fiji has to be one of the friendliest and most welcoming places on earth. In fact, when you visit, you’ll leave with a new word in your vocabulary; Bula, the Fijian word for welcome. You will hear and see it everywhere!
All travellers arriving in Nadi are even given a welcome to Fiji serenade by locals in their colourful local threads. We may have had no idea what they were singing about, but it sounded cheery and quickly put us at ease.
One interesting thing about Fiji is that alcohol is super expensive. Like really, stupidly expensive. So much so that when locals have friends flying in, they ask them to grab some duty-free booze for them from the airport. It’s half the price! I had therefore agreed to grab some bourbon for my host, Save, who in turn met me at the airport.
Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji – A Local Experience
Save lived in a very simple house in an area not too far from the airport. It was very green and lovely but I was disappointed to find that I was on the wrong side of the island to climb the mountains. The area only had a few small hills.
As soon as we got to Save’s house, I met some of his family and we immediately sat down for dinner. As I mentioned before, Save’s place was rather simple, so they didn’t have a dining table. That meant that a rug spread across the floor became the dining table for a delicious local meal. Mostly eaten by hand. I like this idea actually. Who needs to wash those pesky knives and forks anyway?
Save’s place was about a 10 minute walk down from the main part of town, where the buses to the city left from. On the way I saw some kids swimming in water that I wouldn’t think was good for them, but they seemed to be having a lot of fun! I also saw horses and chickens wandering around. It wasn’t until further into my South Pacific travels that I realised that chickens wandering around was a normal everyday occurrence on many Pacific Islands!
I also passed a store that claimed to have all my needs. Although I found this claim dubious, especially considering the rather small size of it, I went inside to check it out anyway. It turns out that they didn’t have all my needs, but the lovely shopkeeper was eager to chat to me. With all that Fijian friendliness flying around, I didn’t leave that little store for over an hour.
More Friendliness and Chats On a Fractured Fiji
On my many walks through the area that I was staying in, I noticed that there were a lot of Indian restaurants around. I’d also noticed Indian places of worship. I didn’t give it a second thought until the local bus into the city broke down. The bus driver invited me to sit in his bus and wait for the replacement bus to come. While waiting, he filled me in on why there was such a huge Indian population in the area.
Under British colonisation in the early 1900s, Fiji was a part of the indentured labour scheme. Indentured labour is pretty much just a nice way of saying slavery. While the labourers did get paid, the wages were very low and the conditions could sometimes be atrocious. These indentured labourers had been brought over to Fiji from India at the expense of the colonial government. Yet the government decided that, even though these labourers had contributed greatly to building the colony’s economy, they would not pay for them to go back to India.
That left many displaced workers with little to no money and no way of getting back to their birthplace. With nowhere else to go, they made Fiji their home. While I’d like to say it was all smooth sailing from there, according to Mr Bus Driver, it was not. Even though they outnumbered the indigenous population at one point in history, they remained under-represented with in the country’s parliament for several years. They also endured many years of racism. It seems like things may be getting better if this sign is any indication.
Friendliness in The City
As this impromptu history lesson ended, the replacement bus arrived. Mr Bus Driver made sure I was the first person to step onto the bus. He indicated that I should take the seat behind him. The 30 minute drive into the city cost only FJ$1.5, which is around AU$1. It wasn’t long after getting off the bus that a friendly local had stopped me to say, “Bula!”.
He introduced himself to me as Will and said that if I needed anything while I was in the city, I could go to him. After showing me where the cheap local food was, he insisted that I go to his friend’s shop. He had told me the story of his friend being a struggling artist just trying to sell some traditional handmade crafts. I was expecting a small shop, but it was huge.
While I suspect that story was a bit of a speil, Will didn’t get pushy. With their proximity to Australia and New Zealand, Fijians are no strangers to cashed-up tourists. So I can’t really blame the guy for trying. Even though I didn’t buy anything, he still seemed happy. When I left he asked me to tell all my friends about the store, of course!
Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji – Christmas and New Year
Given their colonial past, you would be correct in assuming that Fijians are big on celebrating Christmas and New Year. But of course, they do it with their own island twist!
I don’t remember seeing many Christmas trees while exploring, but I did see many sets of lights arranged to look like Christmas trees.
When the new year is almost upon them, Fijians like the light up the sky with fireworks. As is done in many places. But what they do after is a little more unique.
As I was walking to a house party I’d been invited to by some people I’d just met outside a club, one of my new friends told me to stop. I was a little puzzled and wondered what was going on. My friend advised that there were people behind a gate getting ready to throw buckets of water at us. We quickly crossed to the other side of the road, where he explained that this is somewhat of a local tradition. Throwing buckets of water at unsuspecting people walking past. Considering it was summer, I could think of worse things to endure.
Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji – Islands
I guess no trip to Fiji is complete without seeing a few different islands, right? But what’s a budget traveller to do? Would you believe there is actually an island resort in Fiji that caters to budget travellers? It’s still not what I would consider cheap, but the price is considerably lower than other islands.
Someone from the family that I stayed with for the second half of my stay, was able to get me an industry discount. That meant that I only paid FJ$190 (AU$125) for a day trip to Beachcomber, one of the Mamanuca Islands. The regular price at the moment is FJ$219 (AU$145).
A free bus transfer to Denaru Marina comes with the purchase of an island package. That was great because I really had no other option to get to the marina, which was several kilometres out of town.
The boat ride out was quite enjoyable. As you could imagine, there was plenty of blue water to keep me mesmerised. Along with some famous islands.
There were sporadic announcements about upcoming islands where different movies had been filmed. Some islands were even named after the movies that were filmed there.
We even stopped at a few of the bigger resort islands on the way to drop off passengers. They got their own special island welcome.
Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji – Beachcomber
Beachcomber itself is clearly set up for a younger, more active crowd.
Even though the whole island is less than one kilometre long, there’s a lot to do, if you’re willing to pay a bit extra of course. You could play mini golf on a fairly well-used course. Or do some kayaking. Although that option wasn’t available on the day I was there.
The first thing you might notice is The Sand Bar, where you can get yourself a local beverage for about FJ$8.
But if you take 10 minutes to have a walk around the island, you might see some wildlife too.
Or there’s a small boat tour included in your day trip. They’ll take you out to the middle of the sea to let you do some snorkeling and feed some fish.
Perhaps you’d just prefer to sit on the beach and admire the view?
Keep an eye out for the next stop on my South Pacific tour; Tonga!
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