Ahhh…Fiji…what do you think of when you hear that word? Are you like me and imagine swaying palm trees, clear blue South Pacific waters, and endless white sand beaches? I’ll wait while you conjure up your image of Fiji…. Are you done? Ok, let’s move ahead.
You can take those pictures in your head and throw them away like I have mine. Fiji is nothing at all like I imagined (I need to clarify this is the portion that we saw, perhaps there is a different Fiji out there that we bypassed). We were looking forward to our first South Pacific island visit and planned a tour with about 40 other Cruise Critic members. Our tour was called the “Awesome Foursome” and the itinerary included a stop at a local village for a welcome and kava ceremony, a canoe ride down the river, a stop at an amazing waterfall, and a bamboo raft ride along the river.
Our group left the ship quickly and found our guide and the two waiting busses, the one we got on was “quaint” with no air conditioning, a clock flopping off the wall at the front, and torn seats. Of course, we are unfazed – Lance and I looked at each other and proclaimed it to be part of the experience. This part lasted an hour sitting at the dock waiting for something but we didn’t know what. One couple left the bus deciding that they had enough, but not us – we were in for the long haul!
Finally, we took off from the port and through town and on our way. Typically a tour guide will let you know the plan for the day, where you are going, etc, but not this time. We had no idea where we were going first and how long it would take. The guide did take his time to make how way down the aisle of the bus and collect payment from everyone – that was a little unusual, generally payment is made before getting on the bus or at the end, but I digress. For an hour we drove past some of the saddest looking homes you have ever seen – small metal shacks that were barely holding together, some of the nicer ones actually had wood siding.
After pulling down a dusty road and crossing a couple of small bridges definitely not made to support busses we arrived at a small village – I wish I could tell you the name, but no one ever told us what it was. Everyone took off their shoes and went into the welcome center for the welcome and kava ceremony. This was fairly nice and a good introduction to the culture of the island. The women served lunch and sang some songs making for a pleasant hour.
A little confusion ensued and then we were taken to another part of the village to board canoes. Everyone received a life jacket and we were loaded into long canoes with motors for our trip down the river – again, no information was given as to the length of the trip, what would follow, etc. The men loading the boats kept adding seats so that we ended up with 12-14 people in each boat that was meant for 8-10 people. Still game, we considered it to all be part of the adventure.
The first 30 minutes or so were fairly uneventful, the river was fairly muddy and scenery consisted of an occasional cow lounging riverside. Lance and I mentioned we had seen more scenery along the Wabash and Ohio Rivers! Further down the landscape became a bit hillier and we saw three or four small waterfalls trickling down the hillsides. Then we came to the “rapids” and I say that in the most generous of terms! Several people from each boat had to get out and walk the 300 yards or so to the end of the “rapids” since the boats were too heavy with all of the riders. At the end we stopped, picked the back up and continued on our way.
Turning a corner, we thought we were going to get out and see the amazing waterfall that was part of our tour. It is one of the good ones with divers jumping in and lots to ooh and ahhh about. No such luck, there was a gaggle of canoes all blocked together with no room to go in and see the falls. In addition, lots of members of our group were becoming quite concerned with time as we only had a couple of hours before we had to be back on the ship. The canoes were turned around and we retraced our route back to the village.
With one hour to get back to the ship, we loaded back onto the bus and headed for town. The driver drove incredibly slowly and traffic passed us all the way back, the only reason we could think it was so slow was that it rattled violently whenever we gained speed so it was probably best not to push our luck.
We made it back to the ship as one of the two stairways was being loaded back on board, we had ten minutes to spare – way too close for my comfort! It ended up being a day of disappointments – disappointment in our tour and the island. Our tour ended up being the “ok twosome” instead of the “awesome foursome”. Of course this colored our perspective of Fiji, but it was more than that. We didn’t see any sign anywhere of the Fiji we had imagined with beautiful tropical scenery and foliage,instead we saw an island awash in poverty and a place ready for tourism. Hopefully this doesn’t sound snobbish, we have been in many areas with poor economic conditions and enjoyed them thoroughly, Fiji just didn’t fit in with our preconceived expectations nor did it offer anything that made it exceptional or special.
Tomorrow is Groundhog Day – tonight we cross the International Date Line and we get to repeat April 25 making up for April 12 which we missed on the way to Sydney. After another sea day we will be in Pago Pago, American Samoa on the 26th.