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“Bula!” is an exclamation that rumbles from deep within the heart of all Fijians hundreds of times a day. Much like the multi-purpose aloha, the word embodies a general greeting as well as the good-natured spirit of the people who inhabit the 322 South Pacific islands of Fiji.
All this “Bula” (pronounced boo-lă) means Fijians are surely among the most warm and hospitable hosts on earth, which makes Fiji more than just another archipelago with profoundly beautiful coral reefs and tropical fish. Scuba divers, snorkelers, and water enthusiasts of all types will certainly find plenty to do, but fans of simple libations and lodgings and an all-around simpler life will like it here, too. That English is one of the two official languages – Fijian being the other -- makes Fiji an even more pleasurable getaway for North American travelers.
5…Rough it, or live it up with running water and electricity
A bure (pronounced “ber-ā”) is a typical thatched hut home or lodging. Most homes in Fijian villages do not have running water indoors, requiring everyone to gather water from a central well or pump. While many have electricity, an equal number do not, thus requiring everyone in the family to gather firewood for cooking.
However, many visitors to the Islands of Fiji can stay in better equipped bures, which are very common at any eco-lodge or environmentally friendly lodging. The Coral Coast on the southern side of Viti Levu is perhaps the most developed area of Fiji and provides a number of excellent resorts in which to enjoy a bure with all the modern amenities, such as the resort Outrigger on the Lagoon.
4…Be prepared to drink the kava
If you are fortunate enough to be invited to a Fijian village, you will be expected to participate in a kava ceremony, one of the most culturally significant moments non-islanders may enjoy. Kava, the drink of Fijians, is made with the root of a kava plant. The root is either pounded into a powder and mixed with cold water, or shredded and washed through water. When prepared and ready to drink, kava looks a bit like dirty dishwater, but has a slight herbal taste.
Better kava that has been aged a few years may leave your taste buds numb for a few minutes. You may notice a heightened sense of calm and satisfaction. The ceremony requires that visitors sit cross-legged on a grass mat, cover their knees, and remove hats and sunglasses. Everyone drinks from the same cup, and yes, you must drink the whole thing, clap three times and shout a word that sounds like “matha,” which means ‘it is finished.’
3…See where Fijians used to get cooked…literally
The Fijians were practicing cannibals until the time the Methodist missionaries came to the islands. But the Fijians embrace their past and explain that much of their joy in life today comes from the knowledge of how far their culture has grown away from such practices. Cannibalism is discussed openly, tours are available of cave ovens, and of course, the best souvenir ever is a matching set of cannibal forks. They are for sale everywhere and range in price from about three to twenty U.S. dollars. Other great souvenirs are wrap-around skirts -- “sulus” for men and sarongs for women -- a common site throughout the islands. You’ll need either a sulu or a sarong when participating in a kava ceremony.
2...Fijian food of the non-human kind
The present-day Fijian diet relies heavily on the bounties of the Pacific Ocean, which is literally is at their doorsteps. Many dishes are seasoned heavily with a variety of peppers and in some cases just as heavily with curry. That said, most North Americans find the food in Fiji quite palatable. Watermelon and grilled tomatoes are as common as French fries in the United States, and if you’re fan of fresh papaya and coconut as well as coconut milk, you’ve come to the right place. It’s very common to see women selling fresh fruits on the side of the road and it’s well worth your while to pull over. If you spot a pot boiling nearby, it’s fresh corn-on-the-cob, ears of which can be enjoyed for less than 50 cents apiece.
1…Cruise Fiji, “see” the International Date Line
With so many islands to choose from and each beautiful in its own right, a small ship cruise is one of the best ways to explore Fiji in comfort. The small ships, such as the Reef Endeavor of Captain Cook Cruises, can snuggle up to some of the smallest islands and wiggle in and out of coves that larger ships can’t manage.
Shore excursions might bring you to the lovely island of Taveuni, where you can spot the marker for the International Dateline -- which Fiji straddles – or swim at the island’s Bouma Falls on the island of Taveuni. And if you tire of swimming, snorkeling, or soaking up the sun, you can take in a Fijian language church service and afterwards just kick back with some kava and practice your Fijian, even if “Bula” is the only word you master.