Bula! Welcome to Fiji.

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Bula! Welcome to Fiji and the best day that never was. On February the 8th my good friend Brooke and I left California for an adventure in Australia. But with the time change and long flight we would essentially skip right over the February 9th and instead land on the morning of the 10th. A strange concept when thinking about the nature of time. We hadn’t intended on visiting Fiji this trip, but whilst researching flights to Australia, much to our surprise, a layover in Fiji would be the cheapest route. We could choose from either a two hour layover, or an extended stopover that would allow us two days to get out and explore the main island. Without hesitation, we chose the later, because when the cheapest route happens to land you in paradise, you have to get out and put your feet in the water.

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We flew into the town of Nadi (which is actually pronounced ‘Naan-di’), grabbed a handful of Fijian dollars and hopped on the 7:00 am express bus towards Suva. We were headed to a hostel for a night recommended to us by a good friend who had visited the island when passing through just a few months prior. This little oasis was called The Beachhouse. Located two hours South East of Nadi was this little beach bungalow hideaway. Tucked away down a long path off the road that opened to a palm tree filled lawn that trickled out to the sand. We arrived at low tide, early enough to catch the tail end of breakfast and a walk down the beach just before a bout of rain came pouring down. Within a matter of seconds the wind would bring the clouds over us and turn the sky grey, the ocean turbulent, and mask the boats that were anchored just off shore. But we were indifferent to the storm as we ran barefoot in the puddles down the path to our shared six bed bungalow. That evening we gathered to watch the most majestic pastel sunset that was unreal even to the naked eye. Black palm trees silhouetted the bright pink sky as we sat in awe and with failed attempts at capturing a photo that would do it justice.

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Just after dark we gathered around a table to share locally made island beers and drinks made with banana rum as we met the other guests. The hostel had a policy that with your stay you must also add a meal package that included a breakfast, tea and biscuit happy hour, and dinner that would be shared with all other guests at the hostel. They wanted to encourage communal meals, and also felt this allowed an opportunity for guests to get to know one another. Each person we met had their own unique story of how life brought them to Fiji at that moment and it was so nice just to listen and take it all in. There were two sisters form Austria traveling the world together for 6 months, and a lone Scottish accountant who hung up is suit for a while as he explored the islands of the Pacific. A solo traveling gal from Australia, who’s job was to test gear multiple months out of the year for an outdoors company called Kathmandu. There were a few South Africans, a traveling couple, whom when not traveling resided in Mozambique, and a man with a love for sport fishing who was in the process of opening his own charter fishing business on a small island in the Fijian Lau group.  Hearing everyones stories that evening was life giving and encouraging. It gave me new ideas and got my wheels spinning. I knew I had made the right decision in getting back out on the road. It’s where my heart beats the strongest.

The following morning I woke up early and quietly lied in a hammock as the sun rose. I sat and wrote a bit before joining Brooke and some of our new friends at a morning yoga class out on the open air deck. The warm trade winds would blow in as we sat in meditation. The breeze feeling like a calming affirmation that in that moment we were right where we needed to be. A peaceful way to start our second and final day on the island.

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After breakfast we gathered with a small group and went on a walking tour into the jungle and up to a hidden waterfall. The tour was led by an older Fijian man called Juta who told us he had walked this trail everyday for the past 17 years. He told us the day he will stop is the day there isn’t a single visitor that wants to explore and learn about his homeland. Juta was accompanied by his trusty side kick pup, Bucha, who led us along the rocks of the low tide and up the hill to a village. About a mile up the dirt path our feet became fully submerged in mud and then again washed off as we crossed the weaving river countless times. The trail led to a multi tired water fall that we could swim and climb up to. At the base off the falls you could sit in a small pool and have the water pound onto your back like a nice massage. A refreshing feeling after a long hot hike. On our way back we stopped at one of the village huts that happened to be the home of whom Juta said was his cousin. For $4 FJD she would prepare us a roti wrap, a Fijian style meat and potato wrapped in a tortilla, and a fresh coconut to drink. The hut she and her sons lived in was thatched with a dirt floor, and clothes were blowing in the wind on the line. The young boys would run past barefoot chasing chickens and waving and shouting “Bula!” to anyone that walked by. Bula has a lot of different meanings in Fijian culture. From hello and goodbye, to health and happiness.

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We caught a bus back to Nadi that evening a booked our last night a hostel closer to the airport since we had an early flight the next morning. After dinner, a few local guys with guitars and hand drums gathered and sat in a circle on a woven mat in the foyer and asked us and fellow guests to join them. They were preparing a large bowl of a Kava, which upon first glance looks a lot like dirty water. It is made from combining water and a smashed up local plant root. The best way to describe the taste is like minty dirt, with an after taste that slightly numbs your tongue. This is a traditional Fijian drink that serves as their form of alcohol, but works in an opposite way. Rather than riling you up for a night out, it is meant to be relaxing. After every few songs one of the guys would shout,”Its Kava time!”, and pass around a small cup with the liquid he would scoop out of the bowl. Before receiving and drinking from the cup the polite thing to do is cup your hands and clap saying “Bula!”. After your cup is empty you pass it back, clap your hands 3 additional times and say “Vinaka”, meaning thank you. I ended up sitting there for a good 3 or 4 hours as more people began to gather, listen to the music and sing along, enjoying the mellow vibe of the evening. The most serene moment listening to the local guys, along with travelers from all different parts of the world, all joining in and singing an acoustic version of the song “Hallelujah”. Relaxed and eyes closed, that moment signified how I felt being able to experience Fiji even for the short time that it was. Best layover yet.

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