Bula from Fiji!

RAZZLE-DAZA - Pat-P Daza - The Philippine Star
Bula from Fiji!
The author’s son Paolo poses with the resident greeter and is warmly welcomed with a ‘Bula’!

After spending a couple of days of pure bliss with my cousin Maya and her family in Sydney, my son Paolo — who is a vagabond for travel & adventure — convinced his sister Gabbie and I to go on a quick island getaway to what he called an “off-the-beaten-path” destination.

We originally planned to go to Auckland, New Zealand from Sydney, but our visas from the Australian embassy took quite some time to process. By the time they were released, my travel agent said it was too late to apply for a New Zealand visa. Somewhat disappointed, Paolo checked to see where else we could go from Sydney.

His research led him to consider the tiny island-nation of Fiji in the South Pacific, which was only a three-and-a-half-hour flight away and did not require any visa for Filipino tourists.

With no expectations at all, next thing we knew we were on a plane to this place which was most famous for its premium bottled water and a history of cannibalism! Pretty soon, however, we would soon discover Fiji to be a mystical paradise booming with flora and fauna. 

White sand beach and pristine waters at Mamanuca island, 30 minutes away via catamaran from Nadi.

Upon our arrival at Nadi International Airport on the island of Viti Levu, we were immediately greeted by the warm Fijian hospitality. Because Fijians speak English fluently, there was no language barrier. In front of us in the immigration line were a band of local performers decked in floral polo shirts, singing folk songs of welcome and praise!

After getting out of the airport, we hailed a cab and went straight to the newly opened Crowne Plaza resort in Wailoaloa beach, where we would be staying for the next three nights. During the 15-minute ride on the way to the resort, our taxi driver struck up a conversation with us and immediately knew we were Filipinos. Why? Unbeknownst to us, the Fijian people really enjoy watching Filipino telenovelas! Their favorites are “Gulong ng Palad” starring Kristine Hermosa (who is very famous there), and “Lobo” starring Angel Locsin and Piolo Pascual. These two shows are considered “ultimate” classics.

A beautiful and magical sunset view from the poolside of the hotel.

The driver also mentioned that the timing of our arrival on the island was perfect, and that we had “struck gold.” He explained that before we arrived, Fiji had been experiencing adverse weather. Following two weeks of heavy rains and floods, the result was roads riddled with potholes that he even apologized for.   

Though still undergoing some construction, our resort was wonderful. As we checked in, the staff placed seashell necklaces over our heads and served us ice-cold Fiji water, which got Paolo super ecstatic over this unique Fijian welcome. Also, everyone we came across, whether they were locals or foreigners, greeted us with a smile and the word, “bula,” which is universally synonymous to “hello,” “welcome,” or “live.” It’s a term of endearment similar to our “mabuhay!” We immediately felt the love, energy and positivity of the place right away.

Our room was spacious with two queen beds and a view overlooking the pool area which had two large infinity pools. After resting a bit, we left for the hotel restaurant and had a very satisfying dinner. We then retreated to our room and turned in early.

The following day, after a hearty breakfast that Paolo and Gabbie enjoyed immensely, we decided to explore Nadi. The town proper is quite small and only covers a couple of streets, with everything being within walking distance from one end to the other. We first headed to the iconic Sri Siva Subramaniya temple, which was very vibrant and colorful.

We then wandered around the local handicraft market across, as Paolo had really wanted to buy a wooden cannibal fork which was a symbol of Fiji’s culture and brutal past. As you may have heard, Fiji is a country where cannibalism was practiced and was even once known as the “Cannibal Islands.” Researchers say that the last incident of human flesh consummation happened in the 1860s.  

We went back to our hotel for lunch since the kids wanted to swim in the infinity pool. Late in the afternoon, we had our hour-long massage at the hotel spa and my kids and I all agreed it was very relaxing and what our bodies needed after traveling for more than a week.   

The next day, we signed up to join a half-day tour to visit the Mamanuca islands. The tourist bus picked us up at the hotel at 7:30 am and brought us to the marina for the 30-minute catamaran ride to the island. The water was so clear, pristine and clean, and I couldn’t help but compare Mamanuca to our very own Boracay and Palawan, which can surely give Fiji’s beaches a run for their money.

Part of the tour was a “Finding Nemo” experience which takes you on board a submarine so you can enjoy the scenery underwater. The corals were vibrantly alive and colorful, and schools of rainbow-colored fish were everywhere. After this, we enjoyed the beach and went snorkeling. What a beautiful and relaxing experience!

By 1 p.m., we were back at our hotel and famished. Since it was our last day, we sipped on piña coladas by the pool area and lunched on fresh fish and chips and took a last dip in the pool before going back to our room for an afternoon siesta. For dinner, we walked to a nearby restaurant and had pizza, pasta and ice cream. 

The following day, we flew back to Sydney and spent two more nights there before heading back to Manila.

A couple of weeks after our trip, I’m still mesmerized by memories of Fiji. What a wonderful slice of paradise it was, with its friendly locals, kaleidoscopic sights, and my beautiful tan to remind me of the magical experience.

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