Most people who visit Fiji tend to take a couple weeks to see what the secluded islands have to offer. I, however, only had a couple days. At the time, I was working on a boat and just passing through, but was fortunate enough to have a weekend off to explore the islands. Upon arrival, my first objective was to escape the tourist plagued island of Denerau and experience Fiji as a local would. I booked a ferry ticket to the Yasawa Islands for a co-worker and myself and we set off the next morning.
Although we were just steps away from the departing ferry, we nearly missed our boat, but boarded just in the nick of time. The skies were a gloomy shade of grey – dumping buckets of rain down, with no end in sight. Needless to say, the weather made for some unpleasant riding conditions. You’d think after working on a boat for over two years, I’d fare better in rough seas, but no. The evil sea gods must get a good laugh every time they swirl up the deep blue and make me turn a pale shade of green. Luckily, I held it together and we arrived at Wayalailai two hours later.
The locals greeted us ashore in the pouring rain and escorted us to the main hut of Wayalailai Resort. The term “resort” is used very loosely here: think a cross between a hostel and summer camp. Wayalailai Resort was, and still is, the only resort 100% owned and operated by the local people, which is why I chose to stay there. After finding our room, we headed back to the main hut to see what the other visitors were up to.
The six bed shared room was quite cozy and electricity was only available for several hours after dark. Running water was always available, but never warm!
Right away, one of the staff members offered to take us scuba diving to see some bull and tiger sharks. We jumped at the chance. The rain had let up a bit, but after driving the dinghy around for awhile, the guides were unable to find the buoy because of the rough water. They suggested option two, which was cave diving.
Even though the sun was not shining, the visibility was surprisingly good and we used up all of the air in our tanks while exploring different underwater caves and tunnels. When we surfaced, the boatsman was frantically signaling to us that the pull cord on the engine had broke. So there we were – in the pouring rain, drifting towards shore.
To get there quicker, we used fins as paddles and the dive guides got in the water and swam. Not too much later. we made it ashore at the next resort over. Luckily, they called a boat for us and we were towed back to our home base after warming up with a cup of tea! My friend and I were laughing the whole way back. This was not what we had imagined sunny Fiji to be like, but it sure did make for some unforgettable memories!
Drifting and paddling our way ashore after the motor broke
Later that evening, after dinner, we were invited outside to see how they prepare the Kava. In a halved old yellow fishing buoy filled with water, the men were mixing the concoction. Wikipedia explains what happened next to a T:
“Fijians commonly share a drink called grog made by pounding sun-dried kava root into a fine powder, straining and mixing it with cold water. Traditionally, grog is drunk from the shorn half-shell of a coconut, called a bilo. Grog is very popular in Fiji, especially among young men, and often brings people together for storytelling and socializing. Drinking grog for a few hours brings a numbing and relaxing effect to the drinker; grog also numbs the tongue and grog drinking typically is followed by a “chaser” or sweet or spicy snack to follow a bilo.”
We had our Kava initiation, but after few cups I couldn’t drink anymore. It tasted horrible, like muddy puddle water and it made my tongue tingle! One of the men said you have to drink over 50 cups to receive any effects and once it does hit you, “keep your mind, but lose your body.”
As the night went on, other backpackers joined in the fun and the locals started singing and playing music. They even performed the haka (a traditional war dance) for us, during which once of the villagers told me that they never do this for guests, so it was quite special.
Partaking in a traditional Kava ceremony
The following morning, the sun was beaming down, making for a perfect start to the day. We decided to make the most of it and hike up to the top of the island. The locals were a bit hesitant to show us the start of the path, as they usually don’t let guests go without a guide. We were limited on time and Sunday was their day of rest, so they allowed us to head up on our own. It was one of the best hikes I’ve done to date and view at the top was incredible! We sat and admired the view for awhile, holding tight so the wind wouldn’t blow us away before heading back down in time for lunch.
The very beginning of our hike
About half way to the top
View of the local village and resort from above
The rest of the afternoon was spent chatting with the locals and walking along the beach collecting shells before catching the boat back to the main island. It was the perfect Fijian experience for such a short stay with some of the most friendly, welcoming people I’d ever come across. I hope my travels take me back there someday.