TRAVEL DIARY: BULA FIJI!

The water is lovely, but not a souvenir

I have to admit that as a thirty-something, who despite being pretty well educated, the only real things I knew about Fiji were that it was A) relatively close to Australia, B) as a result, part of the South Pacific and C) the source of lovely but expensively-bottled drinking water.

I didn’t know much else and so on a recent trip where I was fortunate enough to visit (for what was my first time and definitely not my last time) I decided to learn and add more points to the list of things I now know about Fiji, like:

D) The country is actually made up of over 300 islands – 333 to be exact, not all of them are liveable, but most of them are home to communities, facilities, and enough white sand to make your eyes water.

E) Yaqona or Kava as it’s known on most islands is a spiritual ceremonial drink and no matter which island you’re on it almost certainly will taste like peppery mud mixed with water, but it’s a great experience to try at least once in your life.

F) Tourism is worth over $900 million fijian dollars to the country and is essential to the country’s survival – considering most of the residents that are not high-level professional staff work for between $2 and $5 an hour, it’s a really nice idea to spend a bit of your holiday money in their paradise.

G) Suva is a big culture shock – it’s almost as if someone plonked Sydney city down in the middle of paradise. I entered via the port and was immediately immersed into the middle of this big little city.

H) Everyone is super friendly – at home if someone were to come up to you and yell in your face you’d probably run, here it’s definitely normal to have every day Fijians greet you with a hearty BULA! The word itself translates to something like “good life” or “good health” but it’s essentially a form of well-wishing from them to you. It’s just a bit rude if you don’t bula back.

I) Port Denarau is lovely but oh-so-touristy –  I’m a big fan of exploring and supporting local businesses but even after I have I’ll probably also get a McDonalds breakfast or a coffee from Starbucks. That said, the first thing you’ll most likely see when you arrive in Port Denarau is a huge Hard Rock Cafe and a series of expensive restaurants. Take lots of photos, have a laugh, but then go a bit off the beaten track if you want to have an authentic experience.

J) Speaking of McDonalds … there’s three of them in Fiji, the first one opened in Suva in the late 90’s and saw queues of up to 8 hours, according to my local guide. She also informed me that considering half the people that live in Fiji are Fijian indians that do not eat beef because of their religion, the ubiquitous Big Mac is a big no, but the Chicken Mac (which replaces the cow-bits of the original burger with chicken-bits) is featured on their menus as the hero of the chain.

K) Fiji Water is actually made in Fiji and is a whole lot cheaper than it is in Australia but it’s not a souvenir, so please don’t buy it in a souvenir shop, buy it at a local supermarket, it’ll be even cheaper.

L) Fijian souvenirs are rarely made in Fiji – like most tourist objects in any country, you’re likely to find objects that were made in china, thailand or india, but have ‘Fiji’ written on them in gold Sharpie. If you want to find an authentic souvenir check the tag or purchase products like Coconut Oil/Cream toiletries, Fijian coffee and tea or material. When in doubt ask the staff, even in the big tourist chains like Jack’s of Fiji they’ll be more than happy to point out what is sourced locally.

M) A tiny bit of language goes a long way – Vinaka (vee-nacka) means thank you, Bula can also mean bless you (after a sneeze) and Sega Na Lenga means no worries, and will probably get a chuckle when you say it.

I’m sure I could go on but let’s just say it’s worth a visit to experience things yourself. Fiji Airways (formerly Air Pacific) flys from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne each week and fares are usually cheap as chips.

If you have a Fiji fact to add to the list – comment below.

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