Today (Tues 5/27) we arrived at Crusoe's Retreat, which is back on the mainland of Viti Levu. Once we landed in Nadi on Thursday morning, we were taken to the small island of Beqa...and you have to REALLY want to go there! Very remote, it's a premier dive resort. Did we, as non-divers, know this? Of course not! Leave it to Renee again to look for "remote"! Anyway - connecting there not a reality. So here's a big dump to catch up:
Thurs 5/22-Take a windy 2.5 hour ride to a dock in the middle of nowhere - driver says "wait here for boat". Renee says "Boat will come?" Sami says "Boat will come" No phone, no people, no nothing. So we wait. A dive boat comes about 45 minutes later. The two guys on the boat don't speak but we get on anyway. Water is very rough - it's quite windy and they've been having bad weather for a couple weeks. So it's a rough hour crossing to the island of Beqa (mmm-Benga). Wind is whipping, can't hear much, but there are 11 Fijian people standing on the beach in sarongs and sulus (the man's version of a sarong), playing instruments, clapping, and singing. The dive boat stops quite a ways from the beach, and we notice no dock. Hmmm, interesting. Tiny ship is tossed. A small aluminum launch comes to get us - so we move from the small dive boat to the row-boat sized launch. Still wondering how we get to land. Answer? We get wet! So the group keeps singing, the wind keeps blowing, and Bulo (Boo Low) puts handmade leis around our necks and welcomes us. Bula is how you say hello, Bulo is the day manager of the dive resort.
Our first meal there is lunch - and we learn it's based on when the divers get back from diving. Up until that time, it seemed like we were alone on the island with the staff. Very remote, very quiet and very beautiful. In reality, there were 24 of us there - wow, 24! We talked at lunch with the managers...Mock, Sue and their 20-yr old son Blair. Mock is from Australia, Sue is a New Zealander, and Blair is going to a small college in N Carolina on a tennis scholarship, with hopes to work for Int'l Olympic Committee. Very interesting family. Couple has been married 30 years, both with backgrounds in hospitality, never stay in one place more than 5 years - have raised multiple kids this way.
Jumping ahead to Friday...
5\23...Lazy day by the pool. Read some, sunned some and generally relaxed. In the afternoon, we had a cooking demo by Emosi (more on him later) showing us how to make kokoda (a fish stew 'cooked' by marinating in lime juice)...nummy. Met a few other guests during the demo (Matt & Elizabeth from Columbia TN and Jessica from OR - here with the Peace Corps). Also met Dave and his daughter Coral (he's a sea urchin 'farmer'--seriously--) and tried our first 'Firewalker' @ the Bula Bar (Lt/Dk Rum, juice & Grenadine). The evening, had a performance from the local village...women danced a Meke...courtship dance...and the young warriors dance with traditional Fijian war clubs.
Sat - 5/24:
Weather has been perfect to this point - light breezes, sunny days, starry nights. On Saturday several couples left the island - they are "sung off" as we were "sung on" but with a farewell song. It's a really beautiful tradition, and the staff and managers all gather on the beach for it. Each departing guest is given a hibiscus to wear behind their right ear. As the launch pulls away from the beach, you throw it toward shore. If it makes it, it means you will visit again. Anyway, several couples left, and they were replaces by 12 members of Shark Divers Int'l. Over the top shark group...and the resort really caters to them. On a fun note, two other couples arrived, and we ended up calling them the Stockton Four. Yes, all from Stockton, CA...and get this, all CPAs! But they are really fun! All mid-forties, about 15 years ago they agreed to take an annual vacation together, each one of the four taking a turn at deciding the location. Graham picks sunny spots - this was his choice this year. Larry picks cycling destinations, and Italy was his last one along with another to Austria. Kathleen, Larry's wife, chooses the off-beat destinations - Renee totally connected to her. She's chosen Macchu Pichu, Galapagos and Cambodia. Abby, Graham's wife, picks whatever she can get - she's a procrastinator. They had a two-day stopever to complete Abby and Graham's dive certification. Kathleen and Larry were two of the few non-divers, along with us. So Saturday was another great day of sunning, kayaking, and snorkeling. Emosi took Dale and I on a walk to his village - 300 people, very primitive.
Sun - 5/25: Had considered hitting the church... After discussing with Blair, found that the choir would be performing onsite in the evening...so...more fun. I grabbed my snorkel gear and Renee grabbed a kayak...and off we went to search the reef. Saw many starfishes and other reef-dwellers...and a lil' shark (Sami...the 4' white-tipped reef shark - mascot to the resort). After some time in the lagoon, dried-off and returned for the choir's performance...which was simply amazing. Singers and conductor were fantastic!
Mon 5/26...hmmm, more sunny weather, more snorkeling and kayaking. Keep forgetting to mention how good the food is too. LaLa is the chef, and she works with a tiny kitchen staff to make gourmet meals three times a day. In the morning, we watching the Stockton Four as they were sung off the island, throwing their hibiscus into the water. The moment was made less sad since we exchanged contact info for wine-tasting in Lodi! Emosi (who happens to be the "activities guy" at the resort) led 5 of us on a steep, muddy hike to a pretty waterfall on the island. This was followed by a demonstration of Fijian fire-walking - which may be better left to pictures. Needless to say, we wouldn't want to do it! After dinner, Emosi came to our bure (hut) to have a private farewell kava ceremony. Kava is a root, and it's dried and ground up, then mixed with water. Color of dirt, served in a big hardwood bowl, you drink cups of the dirty water with small coconut shell halves. It has a drug effect - and it's cheap and plentiful, which is how poor villages get their buzz. It's not illegal (Mom & Dad) but it is only done at the resort on Wednesday night, which is how the managers control it. Emosi got the okay to come do a private kava with us, and it was very interesting. No lasting effects, just numbs your mouth for a short time.
Time to leave Beqa... Packed last night after Kava...and ready to go @ 7am. Renee didn't sleep for more than an hour...must be the kava? Early breakfast...then the wait...and wait...and @!#$%@$^ wait for the 'Shark peepul' to get ready for their trip. They finally got off for the day...and Renee and I and the couple from TN loaded up to be 'sung off' the island. Tossed our hibiscus and...realized we were missing a passenger... Headed back for Sue (manager) and again we were off. Weather was 'iffy' on the trip to the main island...had a little rain and some promise of more later. On the way across, we were counting bags... When we arrived @ the dock to load out for the trip to our respective resorts, the bag count overwelmed the lil' station wagon they'd intended to use. We switched gears and reloaded the (eight or 9 or ???) bags for the other couple into a van...and headed out to Crusoe's. Arrived after an hour. Had a few beers and were intending to take a glass-bottomed boat tour...which evaporated into 'fiji-time' and may occur tomorrow. Glad to have an opportunity to share this with our friends...
More from the road...if we can connect...which isn't likely.