From staying at a 5-star resort one night to a remote island with no air conditioning on the next, I got to experience two different sides to the beautiful islands of Fiji during TEAN’s pre-semester excursion. The differences between the luxurious Raddison Blue and the simple accommodation at Naviti Island were vast, but the juxtaposition between the two made my experience in Fiji extraordinary.
The Raddison Blue was lavish enough with our huge rooms and wide selection of swimming pools to choose from. The bathwater temperature of the ocean exuded paradise and when the hot sun and 90 degree weather got to be too much, we slipped easily into our cooled rooms to recharge. Along with the full bar service, we had it really good… probably too good.
Day two, and we said goodbye to the 5-star luxury and hopped aboard a 3-hour ferry ride to Botaira Resort, located on the small island of Naviti. After living like royalty at the Raddison, I figured staying on a small hot island without Internet or air-conditioning wouldn’t exactly be easy. However, as our boat pulled close to shore, my weary thoughts of the island were replaced with excitement as we were greeted by a cluster of energetic Fijians welcoming us in song. After letting out a hearty “Bula!”, the Fijian term for “hello” or “welcome,” each of us received a palm frond and flower necklace. This warm welcome set the tone for the rest of our three days on this secluded island. By the end of our stay, we were on a first name basis with most of the resort employees. Without a doubt, these people made my experience here unique and memorable.
The biggest difference between the two lodgings was the immersion of culture I got to experience on Naviti Island. On the second day, the Fijians led a Kava ceremony, which is a traditional welcoming ceremony. This ceremony requires that everyone sits in a circle while each person is handed a drink made by soaking the kava plant in a large bowl of water. Some compared the drink to herbal tea and even muddy water, but we all felt a sense of unity with each other and the local Fijians. Now for the kicker: After a few cups, my tongue and mouth started feeling numb. It was quite the sensation—kava is supposed to soothe the mind and body, but it has a side effect of a numb mouth! This intimate night stands out as my favorite of the three nights I spent at the Botaira resort on Naviti Island.
Now, I’m not going to write out a list of things that I could complain about from my stay here on this little island. I am, however, going to let you know that the never-ending cycle of sweat, sunscreen, and sand wasn’t quite ideal. But, I never once thought back to the 5-star air-conditioned haven. To be able to enjoy the company of the local Fijians was a unique opportunity that I couldn’t find anywhere else. I learned that to really enjoy a different country, it is key to immerse oneself into its culture and lifestyle. Although I enjoyed my comfortable day at the Raddison, the three nights I spent on the island of Naviti hold a dear place in my heart, as I grew to love the people and culture of the local Fijians.