We woke up by 7am with little effort. Jetlag or island time? The resort goes quiet so early at night and you just roll with it. We dug into a buffet breakfast and then went to grab a 2-person kayak before the rest of the crowd descended upon them. There was a small island not far offshore that we could kayak to, occupied only by seagulls. There were very few restrictions in general for kayaking or paddle boarding, and you often saw people wandering far into the distant water. Leaving our phones behind, we dipped our paddles into the cool water and set off to the little island, dragging our boat onto the abandoned rocky beach as the waves helped us in.
“Left…Right…Left, Left, LEFT”
Our coordination could be improved. The island was just a rocky spit of land with nobody as far as the eye could see. We sat in the shallow water by the shore as fish swam right up to our legs.
On our way back, a staff member said we could find some beautiful snorkeling by “tying our kayak to the big stick in the water” thus securing it while we swam nearby. The “big stick in the water” was an old worn-out rod that was almost impossible to maneuver around from a rocking kayak, so we abandoned that plan. I tried to press only my goggle-covered face into the water while balancing the bottom half of my weight in such a way that the kayak wouldn’t flip upside-down. Katie leaned in the opposite direction with an unhindered look of skepticism as I awkwardly attempted this maneuver 2-3 times before accepting defeat. I saw nothing but dark water and the tail of a scurrying fish.
After returning our kayak, we dove into the water right by the shore and went to see what kind of fish were hanging around the shallow end. Amazingly, the reefs just offshore were almost as beautiful as the ones deep in the ocean from our island-hopping excursion. We moved slowly across the top of the water and moved through schools of neon-colored fish, some that were 2 feet long and nipping aggressively at things deep within the reef. Nowhere else can you explore a sight like that only yards from your pile of towels on the sand.
Once we finally found our flip flops on the beach again (you become accustomed to leaving your things everywhere—bags, shoes, keys—like you’re staying at grandma’s house), we changed for hike up the resort’s nature trail, a short but steep climb that promised a pretty view. The sun was now high in the sky and that blistering Fijian heat was becoming heavy upon us. Half a mile felt like 3 and the mosquitoes were ravaging us, so we only managed to enjoy the view from the top for a minute before retreating to the breezy comfort of the pool at the base.
Before long, Katie’s skin had turned a peachy-pink and neither that poolside Corona nor the shaded outdoor daybed were remedying things. I hauled her and her British skin into the A/C and crashed for a heat-induced nap.
That night we were scheduled for a sunset cruise with one other couple. Because of some looming clouds, a staff member came by our room worried and asking if we still wanted to take the cruise that night “even if it wasn’t perfect”. It was our last night so we consented, and besides, an imperfect sunset here is nicer than the prettiest ones at home. The cruise was tiny and intimate. We sipped champagne and ate snacks while staff played guitar and sang songs on the water. The other couple in our boat had gotten engaged that day, and we hesitated initially to mention our honeymoon (old habits die hard when visiting new countries). But when we did, everybody was instantly welcoming and congratulating. Our briefest worries faded into the orange horizon, and everything just flowed.
Back on shore, we leapt from the boat and rushed towards the pool deck to see if we could make it in time for the 6:30pm Kava ceremony. We landed on the straw mat with 8 other guests with seconds to spare. Kava is a ceremonial drink made from a special tea that is popular at village gatherings and known to make your tongue numb (..um). In larger doses, it “chills you out” and makes you relaxed and sleepy. Our guide assured us that it was completely safe to drink, even for children (…..). A chief is responsible for grinding and mixing the roots into tea and serving the Kava to the group via a small bowl. When you are passed the bowl, you clap once, say “Bula” (similar to “Aloha” in Hawaii, a term for hello/good wishes that is heard dozens of times a day), drink the contents of the bowl without stopping, and then clap 3 more times. I received my cup, sipped it down before I could think about it too much, and soon felt that infamous numbness in my tongue and cheeks. The tea itself has an *ahem* unique flavor—think twigs and tepid water. But I did feel relaxed for the rest of the night and slept like a baby.
After dinner, we walked back towards our room past cheers from the hermit crab races being hosted for kids by the beach bar. We grabbed some coffee mugs full of wine from our room (the only available vessel for such) and went for our nighttime beach walk that had become a tradition each night that week. Down the sandy shore and just out of sight of the jetty stood a flood light projecting onto the water. The ocean was normally still after dark, but a school of hundreds of fish had swum to the light by the shallow water and we stood in awe as they created chaos in the otherwise silent ocean.
Walking back was so serene with just the twinkling lights of boats reflecting off the quiet water. By 9:30pm, the crab races had ended, and it was whisper silent. Peaceful to the bone.
We do it wrong at home. The hospitality here is natural and is not driven by the promise of seniority. The collaboration is family-like and draws from a relaxed confidence which forces your mind and body to chill. I find this kind of feeling so many places I travel, but each one has its distinctive traits. Everybody here is family.