Fiji is comprised of 300 small islands, the largest of which is Viti Levu. The Viking Sun docked in the port of Suva, the largest city in the South Pacific, on a bright, sunny morning. The image of Fiji that comes to mind is one of alluring sandy beaches, magnificent emerald-clad hills, and stunning coral reefs, but the capital city of Suva looks very much like most busy port towns with a bustling shipping industry and commercial district. Just a few steps from the pier, we were greeted with friendly “bula!” the Fijian word for hello. The Fijian people seemed welcoming and eager to have us experience everything from a taxi ride, to a massage, to shopping, to touring the rain forest. We soon stumbled upon the wharf’s market where mostly women and children display row upon row of ripe produce, beautiful flowers, and the fresh catch of the day, along with a wide variety of roots, oils, and herbs. Wandering through the market was a fun way to start our day.
Moving on, we climbed a steep hill to catch some gorgeous views of Suva Harbor.
We also got to see the Great Council of Chiefs building and the colonial-style President’s Palace. The palace guards wear traditional uniforms and ensure that the president and his family are well protected.
A visit to the Fiji Museum provides fascinating insight into Fiji’s cannibalism period as well as the world’s largest collection of Fijian artifacts, including relics dating back 3,700 years. And the Thurston Gardens surrounding the museum provide an idyllic setting with palm trees, water lilies, ginger trees, and other local flora. The island’s beloved clock tower sits proudly in the middle of the gardens.
The food and beverages of Fiji range from the traditional to contemporary, but the one beverage that piqued our interest most is kava, and we wanted to try some. Kava is used for medicinal, religious, political, cultural, and social purposes throughout the Pacific. In Fiji, a formal yaqona (kava) ceremony often accompanies important social, political, and religious functions. The beverage is made by pounding sun-dried kava root into a fine powder, straining and mixing it with cold water until it takes on a muddy appearance. Traditionally, kava is drunk from a dried half-shell of a coconut, called a bilo. Kava is very popular in Fiji, especially among young men, and often brings people together for storytelling and socializing. Drinking kava for a few hours brings a tongue-numbing and relaxing effect to the drinker. Denise decided to try it…her facial expression tells it all. In the future, she’ll likely stick to the OTHER Fijian beverage.
We were a bit disappointed that we didn’t have more time to get to see other parts of Fiji, but we did take a quick tour around to see where the people of Suva live, work, shop, eat, worship, and play. We learned that there is great religious freedom in Fiji, and people tend to live in tribes that are related to the work they do. Each tribe is governed by an elected chief, and our guide was quite proud to tell us that his tribe had recently elected its first woman chief.
As we sailed away from Fiji, we realized that we had only seen a small piece of this lovely island, but perhaps our travels will bring us back…we wouldn’t mind that a bit!