It is that first Fijian glance – an openness of greeting. Wide eyes are big, brown and somewhat cheekily mischievous. An almost sideways smile flashes blinding pearly whites. A face radiates a laid back nature. Mixed, this is a most welcoming Bula from the island nation – a ‘welcome to Fiji’.
Some travellers will say despite a country’s spectacular scenery, exceptional experiences and amazing architecture, it is the people that make the journey complete. Of all my travels, this was never more evident than in Fiji.
This island nation in the South Pacific Ocean is inhabited by almost 850,000 smiling Fijians. With such infectious smiles, it is hard to escape without catching one yourself.
Do not expect anything to happen quickly in Fiji, or on time for that matter. There is no hurry. They work off their own time. Some call it island time, others call it Fiji time, but for now, it was my time. Time to explore what makes these people smile the way they do.
It does not take long to get into the groove of island life on Viti Levu, the largest island in Fiji. Surrounded by blue waters, beaches and palm trees and warmed by the Pacific sun, it is easy to label Fiji as paradise. Add the local Fijians into the mix, and you discover a paradise beyond what you see. A paradise in how you feel.
To do this, venture beyond the beaches and you find scatterings of villages, thick with local culture and characters. As if stepping back in time, stepping into a local village shows the strength of a community lead by a chief and engaging with traditional Fijian customs.
Being invited to drink Kava in a ceremony performed by the villagers is a fantastic introduction to the Fijian culture. The ritual is a welcoming gesture into the homes of these friendly people.
They are unchanged and unaffected by modern technology. The importance of family and friends are evident throughout the village. It is a warm and ancient culture of community with a nurturing and teaching nature.
The Fijian people are proud and eager to share their stories and knowledge of their islands. I learn of fearsome warrior’s wielding wooden weapons, productive women’s weaving wonders and laughing children’s magical tales that have been passed down by their ancestors.
They share what they know of the sea life and coral, demonstrate how to fish in the traditional ways and teach the medicinal uses from the surrounding plants.
I feel spoilt with hospitality.
The same smiling faces that welcomed me send me off at my visits end. Content in Fiji time, there is no hurry to come home. There is no need to purchase souvenirs from the gift shop, leaving Fiji I take the best gift home, the infectious Fijian smile.