Saturday was our day for being tourists and learning a little more about the culture of Fiji. One of the important things we learned was the concept of “Fiji time”. Our itinerary said that we would be picked up at 8.30am so we were all waiting at the end of the drive at 8.30am! We were still waiting in the hot sun an hour later despite phone calls to the tour operator and were feeling frustrated and overheated, all ready to complain and ask for some recompense. However, when our drivers arrived they were friendly and smiley, telling us stories of life in Fiji and pointing out places of interest along the way. They charmed us all and as the day went on we realised that we probably just had to accept that Fijians live their lives to a different rhythm. Our driver pointed out the high security prison which has no fences, flood lights etc that are the usual signs of a place that houses a country’s most dangerous criminals, and explained about the experiment i n providing the prisoners with training and educuation to reduce recidivism which has been a huge problem in Fiji. Lack of educations and opportunitis is als othe biggest root cause of criminality (apart from addiction to cava, which you can argue is the result of not having a job or any prospects of one.) That is linked to the chauvinistic heritage that the man earns a living and the woman stays at home and looks after the house and family) In more recent times the economy and trade has meant that there are plenty of jobs for women in the low paid service industry and factory line manufacturing and little for men. So men have essentially become disenfranchised and have lost their sense of self-respect and pride.
We soon reached our destination and were kitted out in lifejackets before climbing into the long, narrow dugout boats. These were powered ny an outboard motor – very similar to the ones in Vietnam we crossed the river in. The local boatman revelled in racing up the river, the spray from the water as the boat cut through it going upstream soaked us but it was all part of the fun. It is a wide river with lush vegetation on either side but unfortunately many of the native trees seem to be being strangled by bindweed which is rampant. Our guides told us that the local community are fighting a losing battle against it and are worried that indiginent wildlife will disappear as the flora does.
We soon came to the “Village” – a tourist village which tries, like places like Whakarewarewa in Rototua to preserve the ways of the past for posterity. A so-called living and working village where we were treated to the traditional Cava ceremony – welcomed onto the whare, offered cava and became part of the community. Cava is a strange brew – maybe I don’t have a discerning palate, but to me it tasted like muddy water with a kick. After that we were taken on a tour and shown the “traditional” school, shop and local crafts where we were encouraged to part with as much money as possible! I am being rather cynical; the tour was informative and interesting and the people were very welcoming, but, at the end of the day they just wanted to tyake our money off us! And why not? As long as it was going to the people that needed it and not into the coffers of the already well-off! I bought some trinkets and Christmas presents which were very pretty to send back to the UK.
Then we carried on upstream to the waterfall; an opportunity for a bit of a walk – it reminded me of the Waterfall Walk in Ingleton; it was a relatively roughly made track that led along a tributory to the river up the valley for about 10 minutes to a waterfall. The water dropped from about 40ft into a brown pool. We were assured that the water was clean despite the murky colour which was due to the recent rain. Since it was hot and humid we decided to dive in. The girls were keen to sample the water and Jo, Jill and I follwoed them in. I swam out to the waterfall to recce it for the girls and ascertained that it was okay, kept a close eye on them as they swam out and shepherede them all back to the rocks at the edge of the pool where they splashed around until our guide beckoned us out of the water to go back to the boats.
On the way back downstream we had the opportunity to go on the traditional “Billibillis” – basically a few thick bamboo poles lashed together to make a raft that is punted down the river. We all piled onto a large, very stable Billibilli but we saw young boys and girls on the river in crafts made of just 3 or 4 bamboo poles which looked very lightweight and not a little dubious! I was disappointed that we were transfered back onto the boats for the rapids – I had secretly hoped that we would have had the excitement of shooting the rapids on the Billibillis! But then, I guess safety comes first!