By Christine Potter

You hear it throughout this Pacific archipelago: Bula! Fijians call it in greeting, huge smiles gleaming in their handsome Melanesian faces. It means welcome and it’s meant sincerely.

fijifijime.com

Fijians are the stuff of travel brochures – courteous, friendly, patient, and generous. They’re also renowned for their leisurely pace. If it doesn’t get done today, it’ll be done tomorrow. What’s your hurry? And the further you travel from Nandi, the crowded capital, into any of Fiji’s 300-plus islands, the more apparent is the leisurely way of life.

I was initially sceptical about Fiji’s legendary hospitality when, while staying at one of the luxury island resorts, I confessed to the room maid that I’d hoped to visit a local community and meet the people. In near-perfect English she invited me to join her the next day at 2 p.m.

We walked about a mile to her pretty village compound. Children scurried to greet us, and led us back to their palm-thatched huts where mothers welcomed me inside. The huts felt comfortably cool, even without fans. There was little furniture – a bed, a chair or two – and bamboo mats covered floors and walls. Then I was taken to meet the village chief, who introduced me to kava, a traditional welcome brew made from the root of the pepper plant. It looks like dirty dishwater, tastes vaguely of chalk, and is said to be mildly narcotic. In ancient times, the root was prepared by virgins who chewed it into a soft pulp before adding water. Today it’s sold in powdered form, but its drinking remains an important ritual. The effect was a slight numbing around the mouth and a general feeling of well being.

To my delight, the women presented me with a beautiful length of tapa cloth made from tree bark and dyed with berry juice. I’d coveted similar pieces in their huts, and it’s now a treasured wall hanging in my own home. In return, my gifts of Maple Leaf lapel pins seemed measly, but were happily received.

A tropical storm had turned the road to the resort into a quagmire, but with the whole village in procession, and me under the chief’s umbrella feeling like a queen, it didn’t seem to matter a bit. Or perhaps that was another effect of kava. This special visit helped make Fiji unforgettable.

Other Fiji highlights include:
• Sailing, diving, and snorkelling, supreme adventures among the reefs which kept Fiji isolated from the West for so many centuries.
• Hiking and trekking up mountains, behind waterfalls, along pristine beaches, and into caves.
• Pampering for all budgets, from beach massages to high-end spas in fabled island resorts.
• Weddings, with all the planning done for you, on the beaches, in the rainforests, in a colourful village, or among the orchid gardens.
• Nightlife in bustling Nadi, after a day’s activity that might include shopping along the busy main street, enjoying a mud bath in nearby Sabeto Hot Springs, and checking out the picturesque Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple.

Fiji is a multi-faceted destination, and you can find out more from www.fijime.com.

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