Thursday, June 9, 2011

Wayalailai in the Yasawas

Wow- so things just got touristy! I just went through Denauru Marina, and it is nothing like the Fiji I have seen so far.  White tourist families wearing matching Bula shirts and dresses, people with sunhats everywhere, and Australian, German, American and French accents make this place the most touristy I have seen yet in Fiji. Since these few days with Awesome Adventures Fiji will be my first solo trip ever, I am happy to see that it is really touristy, because that usually means there will be a lot of backpackers and travelers for me to meet. I am pretty nervous about traveling alone (who will I sit with at dinner?, but know that I will be fine. I am so happy that I won the trip, and have been studying its details; I spend two nights on one island resort, then transfer to another island resort, with all meals included.  The package that I won is a very popular one that many ‘alternative travelers’ (backpackers) choose, so I am sure that there will be lots of other people with me…
Mr. Ali picked me and two friends up from the Beachouse around 6:15am this morning, and we made the 1.5hr drive back towards Nadi (I gave him USD$25 for the trip, tip and all). The Yasawa Flyer, my boat over to the islands, departed at 8:30, and I disembarked at my destination, WayaLaiLai Ecohaven Resort, around 10:30am. On the boat ride over I got to see lots of different little island resorts, and magnificent views of the Fijian mainland Viti Levu. On board the boat I met a big group of students on a summer trip from University of Georgia; it was so nice to hear the drawl of southern voices and meet people who, like me, are so far from home.
When I arrived on my island there were lots of people out playing volleyball, lying on the beach, snorkeling, and lounging in one of the 15 hammocks scattered about. I was welcomed by at least six Fijians singing down on the beach, introducing themselves and shaking my hand. I learned what times breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner were (all included), how to sign up and pay for activities, and the layout of the resort.  I decided during check-in that the beachfront bures looked so nice, and that because I am traveling alone it might be worth it to have a private room and bathroom (and also because I haven’t spent anything to be on this trip).  I worked with the organized and nice Fijian receptionist and upgraded my stay to right on the beachfront (USD$90 for 2 nights).  I went from a little single bed in a eight-person dorm (up a mountain from the beach) to a beachfront hut with a front porch, private bathroom, and twin and double bed. I am so happy with this decision (right now, I am currently listening to the sound of waves and sway of palms on my porch), and might even look into an upgrade at my next little resort.
As soon as I put my bags down and got my bearings I headed out to snorkel.  I got out to the reef right off the beach, but for some reason was feeling little stings all over my body.  I asked some Fijians, and they said that the coral around this area can sting, along with little things similar to sea fleas, but that they are harmless.  I did some laying out, and before I knew it the Fijians were beating drums to sound the call for lunchtime. Lunch consisted of a buffet of rice, fish, squid, beef and pasta, salad, and juice. I met some girls from Switzerland, and a couple traveling from England, and enjoyed talking to them about the places they have been. I was planning on getting on the internet to call home, but learned that the resort does not keep the power on during the day; the solar powered island only has power from around 6pm until about midnight.  After lunch I joined a big group of village women and visitors on a tarp set up in the shade to learn weaving. With the help of a sweet lady I made a bookmark; she patiently fixed my work when I made an error, and made it pretty for me when I finished. The ladies had handicrafts set up on tables in the shade, too, and I enjoyed looking at their wares, promising to come back and purchase (I found a Christmas ornament!).
After making my bookmark I was dying to get back into the water, so I got a kayak and headed out towards the reef. The kayak was stable enough for me to stand up on, so I made it into my own little paddleboard and observed the reef from the top of the water. The wind stopped blowing for awhile, and I could see down into the reef almost perfectly.  I explored the island in both directions from the resort, and even kayaked down to check out the village. In some places the coast is pretty rocky, but the main beach area is perfect. The coral is really awesome, and there are TONS and TONS of fish. After my kayak I was a little worn out and starting to sunburn, so I decided to sit on my porch and read. The sound of the waves and palms and the sticky humid heat made me drowsy, and I went down for a nap really quickly. Around 5pm I awoke and returned to the porch to my book.  A big group of male villagers showed up at the beach volleyball court; after stretching together and before playing, they gathered into a huddle and sang a song, completely in harmony. The sun had sort of gone behind the clouds, and rain had began, and it was truly beautiful melody; I had one of those moments when I feel like I am experiencing something I might never again, glancing into someone else’s culture and life. I think I may have been one of the few people watching, so I know they weren’t putting on a show, but it was such a natural and special thing to see them outside singing several verses to a song they all knew before playing a sport together.  They even included a traveler in their huddle, and though I doubt he knew the words to their song, I am sure they made him feel welcome.
I showered and headed to dinner around 6:15; we had some more rice, chicken, sweet potatoes and cooked carrots. I sat with a big group of kids studying at the University of NSW in Sydney, so we had a lot to talk about.  There were probably 8 or 10 of them: several from all over Canada, one from Norway, two from Mexico, and another from Denmark. After dinner one Fijian man told us all about tomorrows activities and how to join in, and then lead some entertainment, like a Fijian line dance lesson and some games.  I sat down for another kava ceremony with Fijian elders, and realized that the kava I drank at Beachouse must have been fairly weak, because the kava here was a bit stronger. It still didn’t effect me though, but I enjoyed the socializing with the Fijian men (they had lots of advice, like where to snorkel, and how to avoid stingers) and the other travelers also enjoying the kava ceremony. While there is still tradition here, the ceremony seems to be less defined. The men sit together on a mat, without shoes, and whenever someone comes up to drink kava and join, they must all drink another bowl around the circle.  And then they continue to sit, and talk to each other and the visitors, and enjoy the night.
I can already tell a difference in the culture of the Wayalailai resort and the Beachouse. A white family with Fijian and Australian roots owns the Beachouse, while Wayalailai is owned communally by the village on the island. While Beachouse employs many people from the village, one of the girls told me they don’t pay them much (USD$3/hr).  One day when the owner was gone from the resort, things did not get done as quickly or efficiently, but even when he was there things were a bit unorganized.  The village also seemed like it was more separate from the Beachouse, and the villagers only came to hang around when they were working. As soon as I got to Wayalailai, however, I noticed how neatly the staff were dressed in matching uniforms, and how efficient everything ran. They seem to really have invested themselves in the resort, and strive to make each traveler’s stay enjoyable and easy. The village is very close by, and many villagers come to hang around the area. Around dinner time many of the men came to drink kava on the big dining deck. Young Fijian children  are here at the resort, too, with their mommies (‘nay-nay’ in Fijian). The 40 or 50 travelers, mingle with other travelers and the villagers, and almost everyone wants to introduce themselves and asks about your stay. The genuine friendliness is very obvious, and it’s nice to feel so welcomed. I really enjoyed my stay at the Beachouse, and feel that it was a WONDERFUL paradise, but as far as authentic Fiji goes, it seems that the Yasawas do a better job at giving travelers the real experience, because it is actually owned and run by the local Fijians, communally… However, I have only been here for one day, so my feelings could change. 

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