In the first few days of our two-week trip to Fiji, Smart Guy and I were truly blown away by the natural beauty of the place. Hard not to be; it’s stunning beyond stunning. Crystal clear waters in more shades of blue than I knew existed, and an underwater world like the best aquarium you’ve ever seen, color, color, color everywhere; what’s not to love? We were blown away, from the time we got off the plane!
But everywhere we went, we heard the same thing: it’s about the people of Fiji. You hear that a lot when you travel to other countries, and generally it’s true. But, we heard it differently in Fiji. People said it with such emotion. I’ll admit it; I was a bit skeptical. As one commenter, Renata, noted in my last post on Fiji (see comments section): these people are being paid to be nice to me; they have to be kind, funny, and helpful. But that’s selling the people of Fiji short; it’s a view that is based on a jaded western concept of service and obligation, that isn’t the same in Fiji. What Renata clearly doesn’t understand, is that the people of Fiji are different than we are; they are truly special. Their smiles light up a space, in an already bright and colorful world. They sing greetings of welcome and songs of farewell, in voices full of soul and heart. They sing from a pride in place and culture, and not just for a tip.
In fact tipping in Fiji is not expected– like many European countries, their service industry is not based on tips. While many places accept and appreciate tips, this is a newer change and still not widely expected. At both islands that we stayed on, Matangi Private Island Resort and Turtle Island Resort, tipping was part of a decision made at departure. Turtle Island is fully all-inclusive, with the exception of the spa, while Matangi included all food and many activities but did not include alcohol and spa activities. As with any all-inclusive, one of the enormous perks is that you are not constantly worrying about prices; that’s done up front– Fiji is an expensive place to travel to, but worth it!
This was a unique travel choice for us, for many reasons– first and foremost is that we rarely stay at resorts, and virtually never choose all-inclusives. However, this time we opted for two weeks of truly disconnecting with all the thought that goes into many vacations, and reconnecting with each other, and we never looked back. We wondered if things would be a bit perfunctory, if an all-inclusive would make things robotic or impersonal– not the case at all, and again,– that’s because the Fijian people are truly remarkable.
Everywhere we went we were greeted warmly, warmly, with “Bula!” There was an ease in communication that was magic. If I’d preferred to be treated like a guest only, that would have been what I got, but I wanted to connect, and we did. Every night I was one of the last, or the last to leave the kava bowl. We gathered nightly in community, at Turtle Island, and sang songs– I let go of any insecurity about my voice and sang loud and proud, and I was rewarded with warmer smiles, and enthusiastic pats on the backs, or hugs– from people who can sing like songbirds. At Matangi I shared meaningful conversations about life and personal choices. Both places, we laughed as we talked about marriage and children, as I would here with my friends. We swam together; we spontaneously danced together on the beach, for a spectacular sunset; we laughed; we made pyramids on the beach; we sang… and we sang some more.
Renata is right to a point. Inequalities in life can create gulfs that cause us to treat each other inauthentically and keep us from connecting for real. However, a smile and a sincere heart are the ultimate game changers. I brought both to Fiji and was given the same in return. I will long remember the spectacular blue waters that surround the nation of Fiji. I will remember the endless song, the sweet air and the wonderful smells and sounds. I will miss the incredible snorkeling– with countless fish and fantastic coral. I will miss Fiji for a long, long time; its many wonders will linger in my dreams and daily thoughts. But, it’s the people I will truly remember and miss most … until I return.
Thank you to Bidi, Litty, Kay, Bette, Winnie, Sireli, Marica, Cynthia, Flora, Noel, Christene, Simmy, Nemo, Soro, Rini, Ato (R2D2), Tommy, Losalini, Ben, Sam, Matt, Gerry, Lu, Kobi, Lai, Ana, Kata, Nai, Alison, Bill… and all of the wonderful people whose names I can’t spell or say properly, at both Matangi Private Island Resort, and Turtle Island Resort. All of you made our two weeks magical beyond magical. You hear it all of the time, but it’s true: YOU are the heart of Fiji. You are what makes it special. Don’t forget it! Vanaka vakalevu!
Listen to the beautiful sounds of the Turtle Island Choir and staff:
Read Part 1 of my Fiji adventure, here.
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