I explored the lesser-known interior of Fiji
Day 3,228 since October 10th 2013: 197 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic!
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
The Saga is paradoxical – Fiji is beautiful
This week was for the most part spent between mountains and forest. It was possible because of the support of Thomas, Kenneth, Poul, Jesper, and Jakob whom are friends I made in HK, and possible because Swire Shipping has greenlighted our passage to Samoa
Last week’s entry: From New Zealand to Fiji without flying – and then some!
I would much rather be home than anywhere else. And home is Copenhagen, Denmark, together with ultra-wifey. Yet, the Saga has not been completed yet and we have six countries left. Soon five as I will join Swire Shipping’s good ship “Vanuatu Chief” on Sunday. And a week later we will start exploring Samoa, which is set to become country no. 198 in an unbroken journey completely without flying.
Colonial Lodge, Suva, Fiji.
Before we dive into the lesser-known interior of Fiji’s largest island Viti Levu, I will quickly address two paradoxes which I am dealing with and which you might not be aware of. The first is the obviously privileged position of being close to reach every country in the world vs. the feeling itself. I’m well aware that one must be at the pinnacle of Maslow’s pyramid to embark on such a resource demanding quest. And yet, it has been so resource demanding on my part that it has become valid to pity me – especially for those who know the full story. Mentally tormented as I have been stressed across many years, and overworked from being the spearhead of a project which demands far more hours on a weekly basis than most will ever work. The paradox is of course that I could always quit it and return home. But can I?
Street food in Suva. Most of Suva closes down at 6pm. Parts of central Suva becomes really dodgy after nightfall. I don't remember it being this bad in 2019. I feels like it has changed. But this mamma was a true delight and a lot of fun to chat with. She starts at 6pm and works through to 6am.
The second paradox relates to how I seem to be viewed by many vs. how things really are. A case of perception vs. reality. It has always been the goal to promote every country in the world from a positive angle and refrain from the negative as that is overwhelmingly covered by others. As such the social media of Once Upon A Saga most often portrays smiles, gratitude, beauty, and curiosities. Anyone who observes that would naturally come to the conclusion that I am on some sort of holiday and furthermore enjoying it. Reality on the other hand couldn’t be further from it and the very same social media takes a lot of work to create and manage. I could portray the reality of disappointment, failures, hardship, routine, dedication, focus, and other “behind the curtains” elements. But it would be counter productive to much of what this project aims at accomplishing. So, the social media and much else stays positive and lighthearted while the grind continues. And most people’s perception of things will remain distorted from reality. Yeah, enough about that. The Saga is followed by over 100,000 people and these weekly entries are usually just read by a few thousand – including you :)
Fiji possesses unfair beauty.
Let’s get into this week’s adventures, beauty, kindness, and curiosities. Most people undoubtedly think about beach life or bottled water when they hear about Fiji. A tropical paradise enters the mind which involves white sand beaches, azure blue ocean, palm trees, tropical fish, and drinks with umbrellas in them. And you cannot default anyone for that as Fiji has an abundance of it. Fiji simply has so much more to offer and that side is even unknown to most Fijians. The largest island is called Viti Levu which means “Great Fiji”. Viti Levu is home to the three largest cities/towns: Suva, Lautoka and Nadi. And across Fiji’s many islands people generally live close to the coast. Viti Levu is however host to a great deal of mountains, waterfalls, caves, and highlanders. Once you get a bit up into the elevation the temperature drops and it gets really pleasant.
Rugby is immensely popular in Fiji!!! And they are good at it!!
The mountains have many small farmer villages with some of the kindest people living there. Really hard workers who start their days long before the sun rises. And stories about how previous generations used to hide and live inside caves during raids are common. So where are these caves? The locals know but do not see the tourism potential as they are busy making ends meet. The mountains are covered from top to bottom in lush green plants and there is a massive hiking potential which is not being fulfilled. Many of those who live their lives within the mountains do plenty of walking on a day-to-day basis and could not imagine why people would go hiking for fun. There isn’t much which could harm you in Fiji’s forest. Most snakes seem to have been killed off by the mongoose which the Brits introduced. A story I recognize from Jamaica where snakes are now protected in an attempt to restore natures balance. There is a variety of stinging nettle, which unlike the plant in Denmark, stings/burns for a few hours, apparently stings quite bad for more than a week! So don’t touch that plant. And be careful of a delicious but heavy pomelo fruit dropping from a tree.
The entrance to KANU, Suva, Fiji.
With some time to spare in Fiji before Swire Shipping’s ship would carry the Saga onward, I looked into where I could potentially find some solid hiking. And after a while I found some pretty good suggestions. However, it did not seem straight forward and easy to arrange on my own. It was in fact more complicated than what I anticipated. First of all, most of Fiji’s land is owned by indigenous Fijians (90%). So, you can’t just head up any mountainside without prior permission. And you cannot easily arrange for public transportation within Viti Levu’s interior. There is definitely transport available, which the villagers take advantage of every day. But you would need to know where they leave from, when they do so, and you would need to know some fairly specific place names to pull it off. It can be done. But it requires a lot of work. You could rent a car or pay a taxi driver, which would give you the advantage of mobility. But you would still need to approached the headman or the chief of various villages and offer sevusevu while stating your intentions. You could definitely also do that – but hiring a guide is just so much easier. Sevusevu is a really interesting traditional protocol in which you typically present a bundle of yaqona (kava) roots to the chief (or headman) upon arrival and state your intentions. In this case to hike a mountain or visit a waterfall. If the yaqona bundle is accepted then so is your request. It is a gesture of respect and it sets up a meaningful relationship. The village will then provide you with a guide which you pretty much need anyway as the trails are unspoiled and unmarked.
Holly barefooting it in Colo-I-Suva Forest Park.
If we backstep a bit then I met Chantae a week ago who is lovely as can be! Chantae reached out to me long ago and offered to be of assistance once I reached Fiji, where she lives with her partner. We met at KANU which is a trendy restaurant within an old colonial house on Knolly Street. It was formerly known as “Governors”. The walls are adorned with all sorts of memorabilia, old photos, movie posters etc. The food was good and the company was exquisite. Chantae describes herself as an adventure writer and enjoys freediving, surfing, and kitesurfing. Before everything fell into place with the ship to Samoa, Chantae told me about Holly who goes by the name @boatlizard on Instagram where she shares stories about single-handing her (Danish built) Grinde 27’ sailboat around the world. Yes! A young woman sailing around solo. I naturally got in touch with her and a few days later Holly and I met up, had coffee at Royal Suva Yacht Club and then we proceeded to do some light hiking in Colo-I-Suva Forest Park, which is just a ten-minute drive from Suva. Holly was as cool as you might imagine and we had a great time together talking about social media, creating content, having an online following, the work behind it, the misunderstandings, and the strange comfort in being able to use social media as company.
Who has the best beard!? Junior (in blue) was our guide for Mount Tomanivi. Joji is on the far right.
My first two night up in the mountains were spent here at Stone Bowl Lodge. An old colonial house which Una took care of. It's a stone throw from the source of the Singatoka river.
Junior points into the vast landscape with his machete.
Junior and I at the peak of Fiji's highest mountain: Mt. Tomanivi which reaches 1,324m (4,341ft) a.s.l. Of course we brought the Ross banner to the peak!! :) three hours up and three hours down.
Una preparing dinner at Stone Bowl Lodge. She goes to bed at 9pm and gets up at 3am. She doesn't have much but she is grateful to the lord for every little thing. Her husband passed away years ago. He had a stroke which paralyzed half his body. She took care of him for ten years while his temper worsened. Now she is left taking care of her children, grandchildren, and her business selling roti's to the villagers. Una is a hard worker and has a wonderful smile.
On our second night at the Stone Bowl Lodge Una got creative with our dinner.
I spotted this within the Stone Bowl Lodge. The pandemic was hard for many in Fiji. There were regional lockdowns which lasted 8-9 months. When I asked Una if the Fiji Red Cross were doing a good job she was quick to reply: "Yes! Very!". I had an opportunity to make a brief re-visit to the Fiji Red Cross Monday this week. They are indeed doing a good job.
Horses play a large role up in Fiji's mountains. A lot of places they are the only way to get around.
Joji and I met with Mr Roko in Nabutautau village and he joined us for a circular hike (Sasa/Lolo Circuit). We even explored the ruins of Visi, which was a powerful village long ago. Mr Roko appologized for the weather as it limited the otherwise amazing views. I tend to find that a rainy day can add another level of beauty. Mr Roko was however glad to see rain in and around his village as they had had no rain for several months. He thanked me for bringing the rain.
Mr. Roko is a direct descendant of the village chief who sealed the faith of Rev. Thomas Baker who was cannibalized. It is quite the story and worth a read. Mr. Roko is very gentle and kind. At sixty years of age he has seen a thing or two and showed me a lot of kindness. He threw a stick at this pomelo which dropped to the ground. Afterwards we shared it. Delicious.
Fresh Fijian pomelo.
Joji snaps a photo of the Western Province which is far dryer that the east.
We spent our third night in a farmers house. Really nice people. Due to the rain they had been drinking grog (kava) since 3pm and continued until 9pm. I observed an interesting custom as a woman walked between some of the other farmers. She said: "jilou, jilou, jilou, jilou, jilou". It roughly translates to excuse me - but not quite. It is specifically for passing between two people in conversation or a similar scenario. You keep your head down while doing so and remain humble. I liked that.
Joji told me to take this picture as this is a sign few Fijians would have seen: the intersection between Nausori Highland Rd, Nanoko Rd, and Sigatoka Rd :)
Dangling my Salomon X Ultra 04's over the Lolo/Qalivunda waterfall as the proud Salomon Ambassador I am :)
Ah yes, Fiji surely has beautiful beaches - but I belong in the mountains. And Viti Levu's mountain life is as authentic and unspoiled as it gets! It's a hard but also good life up there. And I felt it heal my heart. Fiji, thank you for now. I will be back again for round three soon enough. Sota tale (see you again). Vinaka (thank you).
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - looking forward to joining another Swire vessel!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga