An update from Outdoor Adventures seniors Reagan and William on the group’s Kadavu, Fiji, kayaking trip in May (view more photos here):

fiji6.jpg“Bula” and greetings from Kadavu (pronounced “Kendavu”), Fiji! We’ve just gotten back from remote Kadavu Island, part of the Fijian Archipelago, where our SMU Outdoor Adventures group kayaked, snorkeled, scuba-dived, trekked and truly immersed ourselves in the Fijian culture for 11 days.

Day 1: Good-luck dolphins
After arriving at the Nadi International Airport after an 11-hour flight, we met up with our Tamarillo guide, Anthony of Tamarillo Tropical Expeditions, who would serve as our main contact and also our guide throughout our time in Fiji.

At the airport, we had a quick debrief, got to hang out in Nadi and to pick up the last necessary items for our upcoming trip. We had our first cultural experience by picking up slices of pineapple and jack fruit at the local Fresh Produce Market before jumping on the small island-hopper for the short, 45-minute flight to Kadavu.

Arriving at the airport on the small island was quite a surprise! The “airport” was a small house-sized building with only a few workers and a couple of benches. We didn’t hang around long – just long enough to pack our bags into a truck and walk to a small store to pick up chicken for the night’s dinner.

From the store, we walked to a cove to join Ratu, a local plantation owner whom we would be staying with for two nights, and his two motor boats, which we gladly hopped on.

The one-and-a-half-hour ride to Ratu’s place was beautiful, with only slight rainfall and overcast skies, but accompanied by a large pod of dolphins who playfully jumped and swam at the bow of our boat through the choppy water. Ratu said that dolphins were a blessing because they signify a change in the weather – either for the better of worse! But either way, Ratu believed that rain or shine, every day in Fiji is paradise.

Ratu was right about the dolphins, as the next day was absolutely sunny and beautiful, without a cloud in the sky. That night at Ratu’s place, we stepped out of the motor boats to reveal beautiful palm trees and the thatched-roof “Bure” we would all sleep in for two nights, and were invited to join in a ceremonial Kava welcome ceremony with Ratu’s family, Anthony and our three Fijian guides – Gus, Mox and Joseva. We felt like the luckiest people in the world as we entered this pristine environment and culture.

fiji2.jpgDay 2: Paradise
The next day and night at Ratu’s were equally enjoyable, starting off with part of the group watching the sunrise and slowly rising to another day in beautiful paradise.

We had a kayaking technique and safety review in the morning, followed by a full kayak trip along the coast and mangrove patches. It was beautiful seeing the perfectly untouched wilderness that is Fiji. The tropical fish were especially colorful, which we got to see a lot of – we even saw a black-and-white-banded sea serpent, one of the most poisonous animals in the world.

We kayaked to a small island for lunch, and because it was too windy and the water too turbid, we returned to Ratu’s for a snorkeling session. We walked through a village with Sulus – the traditional dress that resembles a sarong, worn around the waste and falling to the floor. We stumbled upon a magnificent waterfall, which first appeared to be a small creek, but then the waterfall came into view. We jumped off a boulder to get to the waterfall, climbed over and took our first look at the 100+ foot waterfall. We climbed up and took turns jumping off, while watching one of our guides, Mox, jump from over 150 feet into the pool below.

Day 3: A muddy hike to Vathalea
The third day, we trekked to Vathalea to stay in the village for two nights. The trek was enjoyable and challenging, trying to navigate through the thick mud (or Fijian mud, as the locals describe it). We trekked through a mangrove forest, took off our shoes in the quicksand-like mud, and arrived at our destination covered in mud.

We crossed a river to get to the village, played with a pet iguana and watched Daniel and Paige help a few locals take up their fishing net out in the ocean. We got a little cleaned up when we reached our Bure, had a welcome Kava ceremony, quick dinner, and more Kava.

As members of our group “gave sugar,” i.e. served some members of the village their bitter Kava drink, we learned the difference between a “high tide”-sized drink and a “low tide”-sized drink, we chatted with the locals, listened to soothing Fijian guitars fill the room, and rested up for the next adventure-filled day.

fiji1.jpgDay 4: Catching dinner
The fourth day was Clay’s birthday, and we spent our second day in Vathalea. We were immersing ourselves in Fijian culture, by trekking through the jungle in search of basket-weaving, prawn-catching and fern-gathering for our upcoming meal. We learned to weave baskets using palm tree leaves, caught prawns, and either took another trek through the jungle or took a boat ride without a motor back to Vathalea.

With a meal prepared in an earthen oven, we dined on fresh fish, prawns, vegetables, and cassava.

Day 5: Camping
The fifth day, we took pictures with the local families, attended a special morning Kava farewell ceremony, and kayaked to Waisalima, a local resort that we would camp on for the next two nights.

Day 6: Starfish sightings
The sixth day, some group members attended a local church, while others took a short trek to a massive Banyon Tree. We took long walks on the beach, snorkeled, picked up shells, and played with starfish. Later, we kayaked out into the bay to watch the sun set.

Day 7: Hula Haca dancing
The seventh day, part of our group went scuba-diving in the morning at a site called Cabbage Patch, while others took a bush walk with the three guides. The scuba divers, after seeing all sorts of fish, sting rays and colorful coral, returned to a startling surprise of the other half of our group dressed up in grass skirts, headdresses and charcoal/mud mixed to be paint all over their bodies. They performed Mox’s famous Hula Haca, Ice Block dance while we came ashore. Everyone was in high spirits and truly enjoying their Fijian experience.

We then kayaked over to Ono Island, where we stayed at Nukubalavu, an unfinished resort where we camped for a night. We stepped foot on the island with bread, tea, and coffee waiting for us: a welcome treat after a rather challenging paddle. We set up tents for the night, and had a huge meal with snapper, trout, and Wahoo, and fresh veggies from Joe’s garden. We had a Kava welcome ceremony during which Joe and Jason, the owners of the resort, swapped stories of Fiji and Australia with us.

The night ended as a small crab was introduced to the Fijian mat we were all sitting Indian-style on, and we played around with it until the night came to a close. One member of the team mentioned how each day felt as though three days had passed because of the high intensity of the program and the diversity of the activities of each day.

Day 8: Trip to Ono Island
The eighth day was filled with a tour of Joe’s garden and drinking water/irrigation system, followed by a rather challenging kayak to circumnavigate around Ono Island to camp at Kenia Resort. We had a nice night’s stay at Kenia, with a Kava ceremony, a big dinner, and star-gazing followed by a bonfire to end the night. We finished the night with our daily haiku readings and fell asleep to the guitar playing and accompaniment by local Fijians.

Day 9: Back to Nadi Bay
The ninth day, we unfortunately would up at the airport back in Nadi, where we stayed at the Nadi Bay Hotel, and dined on super spicy Indian food at a very good local restaurant.

Day 10: Souvenir shopping
The next morning, we checked out of the hotel, dropped off our bags at Anthony’s apartment, and took about an hourlong public bus ride to Lautoka, where we spent about four hours at the vegetable and fruit market, along with a handicraft market. Several hand-carved masks, hand-woven mats, jewelry, and colorful fabric rugs were purchased in order to retain the memories of Fiji once back home.

fiji5.jpgDay 11: Already missing Fiji
On the way back, we reflected on our trip and already began missing the beauty and culture of Fiji. Flying out that night at 10 p.m. was sad, as memories of the lyrics to a traditional Fijian song played in our heads:

When I’m dreaming, please don’t wake me,
Please don’t make me open my eyes.
‘Cause I’m dreaming, dreams of Fiji,
Pacific Islands, Paradise.
I’ve searched the world wide over,
Nowhere could I see,
Anywhere to compare with the Islands of Fiji.
Now I’ve drifted far away
From thoughts of my mind,
All my strength and everyday I’m lost in my dreamtime.
I see people, different races,
Friendly faces smiling at me.
Now my heart goes to where I must go,
To the islands of Fiji.