Fiji Jim's Blog - Part 2

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An afternoon view of Natewa Bay, from the private lanai of our bure, Lomalagi Resort, Vanua Levu, Fiji - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 

In Vanua Levu, Fiji - Hot or Cold,

It's The Water

Tuesday August 21, 2001

12:00 PM - The gates to Lomalagi (Fijian for Heaven) Resort were not actually "pearly".  They were the same washed green color that my aunt and uncle had painted their company house in Oildale, California in about 1951.  That was my first trip away from home that I remember.  I was allowed to be away from my parents view for the first time in my life.  I ran with my brother, sister and cousins around the hot, hard and dusty yard.  There were no plants there at all, but there was freedom, sweet freedom from all cares and worries.  We ran shirtless and felt the Sun on our bodies.  We were safe and free.  What more could we ask for?
 
The Big Tree at Lomalagi Resort, overlooking Natewa Bay, Vanua Levu, Fiji - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)My emotions were mixed.  As we drove under the Lomalagi arch; the tropical setting made it all seem old.  The walls leading away from either side of the entry arch were made from long-dead coral reef material stacked in like building blocks.  A single-track causeway, wide enough only for our Jimny's wheels led us to a motor court and the office, also painted green.  There we met Collin, our hostess and Terry, our host. 
 
They were hard at work at their computers, communications for which go out over an old-fashioned radiotelephone modem, then link up with a land-line somewhere back in town.  From there the link is to the Southern Cross fiber optic cable that runs from New Zealand, straight through Savu, Fiji and then on to Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast.  At that time, the resort's internet service was available only in the office and ran at about the speed of a 14.4 KB modem, if you can remember how slow that was.  Still, it was their window on the world. 
 
On a green lamp post at Lomalagi Resort, Vanua Levu, Fiji sat this unusual insect - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)12:05 PM - We checked in, which consisted of saying hello in person and getting a key to our bure.  Cagey and Collin (the proprietor) had been emailing for weeks regarding our visit, so we felt like we already knew her.  We drove the car along another path, which led across the rolling grounds until we parked beneath a huge tree, whcih was planted in a raised rock planter, perhaps 60 years ago. Not waiting for any help with the luggage, we dragged it up some wooden stairs and along a raised wooden walkway, all the way to our new home away from home.  Of course, the walkway and the bure were paint... green.
 
When you look around the grounds, you notice that almost everything is green.  There are darks and the lights and shades in between.  There are pale greens that dazzle the senses; some so light that they reminded me of the burst of spring in Michigan, where I lived a decade before.  After getting out on the water, we realized that the resort could not be seen from a mile out on Natewa Bay.  It appeared to just be part of the green.
 
Myna Bird in a papaya tree on the lanai, Lomalagi Resort, Vanua Levu, Fiji Islands - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Our bure was simple in concept.  The outside had a (green) cyclone-proof roof and a lanai facing the bay.  Inside there was a great-room, with a bed and a closet to one side, and a living room space to the other.  Ahead was the bathroom, with its room-sized shower and tub, all in tile.  The kitchen was along the bay side, with its own views toward the head of Natewa Bay.  The floor was of  hardwood, with rag rugs that mopped up the dust like magnets.
 
12:30 PM - Time for lunch.  We worked our way back along the green wooden walkway to the center of the complex.  There, rising from the central hill stood the dining room with its high ceiling and skylights all around.  Nearby was the saltwater pool, in a lava rock setting.  When we arrived inside, there was a guest at the table.  He was a man in his early sixties; a New Zealander, by his accent.  With Collin, Terry (co-proprietor) and Terry's mother, Linda (who was there from Seattle) we enjoyed our meal.  Over lunch, I told the story of our Air Pacific flight ordeal, including the venerable 747 playing the roll of a "flying baggage car".  Only later did I learn that the lunch guest was the chief pilot for Air Pacific Airlines.
 
Author, Jim McGillis exiting the Saltwater Pool at Lomalagi Resort, Vanua Levu, Fiji in 2001 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)1:30 PM - Back to our room for what seemed like a minute. 
 
3:30 PM - Two hours later, our time-warp ended and we found our selves alone in the saltwater pool.  In order to keep the saltwater fresh, a pump brought seawater up from Natewa Bay and directly into the pool. An overflow pipe returned the excess to the Pacific Ocean. In the buoyant saltwater we swirled around and around its lava-rock center island. Soon, we realized that we were the only guests that day at Lomalagi Resort.  We had our own private resort in our own tropical paradise.  Now what are the odds of that happeni... really?
 
4:30 PM - We returned to our bure, looking forward to a hot shower.  We turned the faucet and felt the cold fresh artesian water splashing down.  We wondered if here in the Southern Hemisphere perhaps the faucets were reversed.  Maybe here water ran uphill and the hot water was falling behind in the race.  We finally realized that no matter what we tried, there was no hot water.  I put my clothes on and trekked back to the office, where I told Terry of our plight.  He said something about having turned off the pilot light to save fuel. There was, he said, a tankless, on-demand water heater beneath our bure and that he would get someone out to relight it.  Being in a tropical zone, I had the feeling that if we were lucky, we might feel hot water sometime before dinner.  So I indicated that we were really looking forward to a shower, NOW.  Ten minutes later it was up and running.  What a glorious feeling.
 
From one quarter mile offshore on Natewa Bay, Vanua Levu, Fiji, the Lomalagi Resort is hard to see amongst the lush greenery of the island - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)4:45 PM - Now, it is time to write a few words about Fijian water.  When we arrived, there was a glass pitcher in our fridge, filled with ice-cold water.  Upon using it, we would refill it from the tap, which might be a risky thing back home in Santa Monica, California.  At Lomalagi they have an artesian well on the property, which they filter and send direct to your tap, for your pleasure.  The real pleasure was to see the water run out of the faucet and form tiny bubbles as it hit the water in the pitcher.  Each time I performed this act, I was amazed to see water as clear, clean and bubbly as the type that Adam & Eve had available in the Garden of Eden.  This was excellent, pure water.  Where else can filling a pitcher with water be so entertaining?
 
Fiji Water Logo - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)5:30 PM - Since it was winter in Fiji, sunset was a little after 6:00 PM each night. In keeping with its tropical location, twilight was brief, By 7:00 PM, it was dark.  That first evening, we began our tradition of sitting out on the lanai each evening and taking pictures. It was a spectacular sight to see the Sun make its way down behind the mountain across the head of Natewa Bay.  There was peace on the land and the sea.  The coconut palms planted forty or more years prior framed the bay.  Large-leaf vines clung to each trunk and the fronds looked like skyrocket bursts against the fading light.  Soon it would be time for the Kava Ceremony.
This is Chapter Four of ten chapters. To view the previous article in this series, click HERE.  To view the following article in this series, click HERE.

 


The author, Jim McGillis, next to the Mother of All Kava Bowls, almost three feet in diameter, at the Tenoa Hotel in Nadi, Fiji - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

The Kava Bowl Connection - Fiji and the George Harrison Guitars

Tuesday August 21, 2001
 
6:00 PM - It was almost dark when we made our way along the wooden path leading to the pool area and the dining room at Lomalagi Resort, Vanua Levu, Fiji.  It was winter in the Southern Hemisphere and the air was cooling slightly. Even so, short sleeves and shorts were the perfect dress.  As we approached the pool, we could hear guitars playing and men singing softly.  Between our hosts, Collin and Terry, plus Terry's Mom, Linda, Cagey and me, we became an audience of five. 
 
"The Boys", as Collin calls them were about eight of the various native Fijian workers at the resort.  With them was one of their elders.  All of them sat near the lava rocks on several woven mats.  They sat facing in various directions, loosely making up two groups of four.  The elder sat facing us, with a large Kava bowl in front of him. 
 
Regarding Kava Bowls - The bowl is traditionally carved in one piece, from the trunk of a Raintree, or other forest hardwood.  Some of the bowls (such as the one in the picture above at the Tenoa Hotel, Viti Levu) were carved from truly massive trunks, none of which exist today in the forests of Fiji. Fir the tourist trade, locals offer moderate sized bowls for $10 - 12 USD.  Needless to say, I bought one, complete with a coconut shell scoop.Traditional Fijian Kava Ceremony, at Lomalagi Resort, prior to delivery of the George Harrison Guitars - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
 
Back to our story - The elder's assistant mixed the ground-up root of a native pepper plant with water and wrung it out, through fabric, into the ceremonial bowl.  A polished piece of a dried coconut shell became the communal cup.  Terry explained that the Kava Ceremony is the fabric that holds the Fijian social and spiritual community together.  The ceremony, conducted only among the men of the village, involves some simple but solemn rituals of offering and accepting one's share of the slightly muddy looking liquid.  Its effects are described variously as mildly narcotic or as a slight natural sedative.  If you could call the affects a "buzz", it is at a frequency that is well below the audible level.  You know you have experienced it, but you are not sure exactly what, if anything, has changed.
 
The assistant makes the rounds, offering a cup in turn to each of the guests and then to The Boys, as Colin called the band.  Then a song or two are sung before another round is offered.  In their traditional settings, the ceremony occurs when there is an event of significance to celebrate or deliberate.  If there is a conflict between neighbors or even enemies, the gift of a kilo or two of Kava will erase all conflict and peace and friendship will be immediately restored.  Powerful stuff, this Kava.
 
Between songs, Collin told the story of when George Harrison visited Former Beatle, George Harrison (1943 - 2001) now rests comfortably on Cloud Nine - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Lomalagi, soon after the resort had had opened.  As we now know, (but did not, at the time of this writing) doctors had diagnosed George Harrison with what turned out to be a life-ending illness.  However, those were happier times and he still had a measure of good health to enjoy.  He had been traveling between England and Australia, where I believe he had property.  On his visit to Lomalagi Resort, Harrison was scouting Fiji as a place to buy some property, kick back and enjoy life at a slower pace.
 
As George arrived at the Lomalagi Kava Ceremony, he immediately decided that his place was among The Boys.  So he sat among them and played guitar with them as they sang.  Noting that their instruments were of undetermined vintage and held together with tape and glue, he said that The Boys deserved better than the sorry instruments that they had.
 
Several months after his departure, unmarked crates arrived from George Harrison received this guitar, the second double-bound Rickenbacker 360/12 ever made on February 8, 1964, as a gift from Rickenbacker. Its ringing sound embellished "You Can't Do That", "Eight Days a Week" and "A Hard Day's Night" - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)England.  Inside were new guitars and a ukulele for The Boys.  From that time forward, the instruments have been known throughout the Fiji Islands as, "The George Harrison Guitars". 
 
And a beautiful sound they made.  Sam, the dive master and guide to the dolphins always played his guitar a little flat. Even so, the bluesy influence of his playing fit right in.  Often there appeared to be no leader for a song, while individual tunes would diverge and converge in a lazy way.  Somehow they always came back together at the right moment.  Maybe it was the Kava and maybe it was the songs, but between the voices, words and guitar melodies, it was easy to let your mind drift and your body relax.
 
I just searched the Lomalagi website for the word to the Lomalagi Song, which was written by one of The Boys.  Alas, it was not posted there, but the "best line" from that song goes something like, "Lomalagi, where the views are brighter than you."  By the end of the Kava Ceremony, it all made perfect sense.
 
7:30 PM - With a couple of "stiff belts" of Kava under our belts (Is that a mixed metaphor?), it was time for an elegant dinner of Wallau, which is a light, not quite flaky local fish, along with all the best of accompaniments.  Hmm... that's about all I remember regarding dinner, other than our friendly hosts and servers.  Could it have been the effects of the kava? As George Harrison, might intone, "My sweet Lord".
 
 
9:00 PM - We found our way back to our villa. 
 
10:00 PM - It is five hours earlier (as you will recall) in Fiji, but we were ready for bed at what would be 5:00 PM back home in California.  So that wrapped up what seemed like three days in one.  There were the two days in suspended animation in L.A., the overnight to Fiji and the long day's journey into Lomalagi.  Soon,  we went to sleep on a moonless night.
 
This is Chapter Five of ten chapters. To view the previous article in this series, click HERE.  To view the following article in this series, click HERE.

 


Upper Natewa Bay at High Tide in the Morning, August 25, 2001 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Vanua Levu, Fiji - Morning Breaks on Another Day in Paradise
 

  
Tuesday August 22, 2001
 
4:00 AM Fiji Time - Since it was 9:00 AM back home in California, Cagey awoke, hungry for breakfast.  She arose and the fruit plate, which contained some juicy leftovers from our arrival, the previous day.  She ate while I slept.
 
6:00 AM - The Sun comes up shortly after 6:00 AM and sets shortly after 6:00 PM.  The dawn and twilight are shorter in the tropics, leading to the impression that you are in something like an old Walt Disney cartoon, where day breaks, the rooster crows and life in the barnyard is moving at full speed in just a few seconds.
 
7:00 AM - Somehow, I was able to stay asleep until about 7:00 AM.  By that time, our "barnyard" was so full of bird squawks, chirps, squeaks and caws that I had to pay attention and finally get up.  As usual, it was not cold, but not hot either.  I made my way out on to our Lanai.  There I discovered the Myna Birds who had awakened me.  Their habit was to make a lot of noise after sunrise, then to disappear about thirty minutes later, when there was no chance of our going back to sleep.
 
Natewa Bay, Fiji - Blazing Sun in the Afternoon - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)7:30 AM - Natewa Bay, which takes up the foreground, background and the middle ground of our view from the Lanai is one of those natural phenomena that takes some time to figure out, but absolutely no time to appreciate.  "Discovered" hundreds of years ago during early English voyagers, it was called "Nateva Bay" on reproductions of the original charts that we later saw at the Museum in Suva, The capital of Fiji.
 
The Lomalagi Resort website has a few wide-angle shots of the bay and its sunsets.  Before we arrived there, we had read on the website that Lomalagi was the only resort on the Bay, which encompasses 600 square miles of water, surrounded on three sides by lush volcanic mountains of varying topography.  Just like you, I was trying to picture a bay of that size with only a spot or two of human habitation.  I just could not picture it, or maybe I could not believe it.
 
When we arrived, it was at New Moon, which made the nights very dark Fishing Family, traversing the shallows to their billybilly (fishing raft), upper Natewa Bay, Vanua Levu, Fiji Islands - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)and the tides of the Bay come in and go out at levels known as "astronomical".  We tend to use the word astronomical to mean huge or large.  The term takes on its true meaning here when you wake up and see sand bars miles off shore and an empty bay at you feet, only to find it brimming full only a few hours later.  Similar to Mont Saint-Michel, a castle in France that sits on a tidal island, you can almost watch the tide fill in or recede in the bay, depending on the time of day.  As the Moon entered a fuller state, the tides moderated and the bay did not go through the major highs and lows, as it did for the first several days of our visit.  As our host Terry said, "I have never seen a bay that looks good at low tide".
 
I know it is only 7:00 AM, but I must tell you about the nights on Natewa Bay during the time of the New Moon.  Before our arrival, I was disappointed that we would not have a Full Moon during our visit, figuring that the Moon over the water was probably a sight to see.  Little did I know that the most beautiful nights are those with no Moon.  You must remember that "light pollution" has not yet occurred along Natewa Bay.  Most of the surface area is ocean, which emits no light.  What land that exists, is mainly not "electrified", even in many places on the main island.  The few cites that have been built have neon and streetlights and many cars.  However, they are over an hour away by airplane!
 
Polling home, after a night of fishing on Natewa Bay, Fiji Islands - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Upon returning to our bure (or villa) at night, turning out our room lights and looking out across the water it is a remarkable sight.  The Milky Way is above, brighter than anywhere else you might see it (other than Antarctica, I suppose), casting enough light to dimly illuminate the basic features of land and bay.  Across the water, we could see three or four lantern lights at our end of the bay.  We saw several more lights from a village across the bay, which apparently has a small generator.  That was it.  The entire bay had a couple of electric lamps and half a dozen lanterns.
 
Later we found that the lanterns on the water were from the fishing families who ventured out on "billybillys", which are watercraft made by lashing about eight coconut logs together.  They "pole out" into the shallows, where they drift until dawn, with their fishing hand-lines in the water.  We learned that a few years earlier there had been a fishing craze, with many billybillys on the water each night.  Predictably, the villagers had over-fished the shallows of the bay and thus they reverted to the "specialists", who fished for all within their villages.
 
Night fishing scene, from a Japanese painting - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)If you have ever sat and contemplated a Japanese painting and seen the vision of the artist come to life, you will know what it is like to stand at our window at any time of the night, even 3:00 AM. Reassuringly, the fishers were there, each billybilly displaying a single lantern as it glided along in the shallow bay. Peace, harmony and beauty prevailed.
This is Chapter Six of ten chapters. To view the previous article in this series, click HERE.  To view the following article in this series, click HERE.