Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
57Trip End May 2010
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Where I stayed
Tribe Wanted, Vorovoro Island
But that can wait. We landed in Fiji with a plan to cover some territory (see more than one group of islands) and finish our trip in Blindsey style: make our last destination an adventurous and a learning experience. Sure we wanted time to relax as well, but that will happen on its own when you're on Fiji time. In the end, we divided our two weeks amongst three areas: in the Mamanuca Islands, the Coral Coast and Vorovoro Island.
We landed in Fiji at sunrise (a little after 6am). It's quite a trip, literally and metaphorically: you arrive jetlagged by timezone changes to a quiet airport and disembark the plane via an open gangway that connects the plane to the rather tiny terminal. The air is cool, but humid and smells of tropical flowers and a hint of the Pacific, and birds serenade you as you enter the terminal. A group of NFL-sized Fijian men greet you dressed in bright floral Hawaiian-esque shirts and wrap-around sarongs (called sulus here) playing guitars and singing in perfect South Pacific harmony as you line up for your tourist visa! We had a few hours to kill before we departed for our first adventure and we picked up a FeeJee Experience flyer that mentioned Tribewanted. It didn't say much, but what it did say sounded really interesting.
"Head north to Fiji’s second biggest island, Vanua Levu, and travel on to Vorovoro Island to be welcomed as a member of Tribewanted. Here you’ll live for seven days in a Fijian environment on a spectacular tropical island, learning the Fijian way of life in an eco-tourism project and play a part in a 21st century sustainable community, building local and global awareness of the human impact on the planet. A truly unique and rewarding experience!"
We didn't forget about Tribewanted and thought that we'd investigate what this was all about when we'd come back from Malolo island.
Malolo Island in the Mamanuca Group
Mamanuca Islands: Malolo's Funky Fish
Malolo, the largest island in the Mamanuca group, is home to the Funky Fish resort, a low-key resort that caters to the backpacker budget and is far enough out the way to still feel Fijian. It's run by former New Zealand All Blacks rugby captian, Brad Johnston (who lives there year round on his hill above the resort), and he is always ready to share stories from his All Blacks time or coaching the Fujian National Rugby team. Funky Fish has the ammenities to make your stay super comfortable while still maintaining a more authentic Fijian feel. You don't feel sheltered in your own bubble but rather are welcomed into an integrated, social environment where other guests and the local Fijians become your temporary family. Four days on Malolo flew by, filled with kayaking and snorkeling along Malolo's vast reefs, playing afternoon beach volleyball, taking sunrise hikes to the island's highest point, and of course dancing, partaking in kava ceremonies and learning about Fijian culture from the friendly Fijian staff.
Up to Malolo's highest point for sunrise
Airtime over Malolo!
Apo kicking it on top of Malolo - in the distance on left is Fiji's "mainland" Viti Levu and on the right is where reef meets the Pacific for some serious waves (including Fiji's most famous wave, Cloudbreak)
Some of the gang at the Funky Fish
Fiji versus the world - another day, another afternoon volleyball session
Ben drinking kava
Coral Coast: Pacific Harbour
The Coral Coast makes up the southern coastline of Fiji's main and largest island, Viti Levu. It's known for great value get away resorts, but what interested us most, was its proximity to Beqa Lagoon (pronounced "Benga"), a massive area of water that is known for its great reef diving and reef surfing at Frigate's Passage and other good offshore breaks. Though Ben was instinctively drawn to get out in the surf, he bailed on the idea when he heard that the swell, which breaks over the reef, was rolling in at double overhead (9-12 foot waves - measured from the back of the wave).
Our cheap accommodation and dive package put us up in the modern Uprising Resort (in dorms), which is right on the beach in Pacific Harbour, overlooking Beqa Lagoon. The resort is beautifully done and the facilities are pretty much immaculate. Dorms are dorms, but all we did was sleep there and spent the rest of the time in the pool, beach and out in the water in kayaks and snorkeling. Oh, and the food was near perfection too!
Uprising's big dorm room!
Not bad for $28 FJD per person per night ($14 US per night)!
We dove Beqa Harbour with Beqa Adventure Divers and joined in on two shark dives. A shark dive sounded a bit unnerving, but we went for it anyway, and on the boat trip out to the reef, we were all a bit nervous. Our first dive took us right down to 30 meters (100ft) where we rested on the bottom behind a short, man-made reesf wall and watched as the shark feeders descend with large garbage bins full of tuna heads. By the time they had secured the bin down, we were being circled by grey reef sharks (medium sized), white tip reef sharks (smaller) and a few black tip reef sharks. Due to the depth, we didn't stay here long, but it was pretty intense to have the shark feeder pull out a tuna head to attract a big grey over and then watch it open its jaws full of teeth and tear the head out of the feeders hand. We moved up to 10 meters where we watched more feeding of these sharks, but this time there were groups of red bass and giant treveli circling constantly to add to the action.
We surfaced, exchanged looks that spoke out "did we just do that??!!" and then feasted on some cookies and tea. Our second dive took us down to 15 meters where we literally laid down on the ocean floor behind a small wall (1-2 ft high) and peered over it as the feeder prepared the feeding. This time, there weren't any reef sharks, but instead, a huge group (what's the word for sharks??) of bull sharks! They were huge (some 12 feet long), had rows of huge, sharp teeth and were being fed just meters in front of us. They circled constantly in search of more and more tuna heads. They seemed insatiable! We watched for 40 minutes as the feeders took turns carefully and constantly keeping the sharks fed and focused on the food. A quick tap on the tank and it was time for us to "crawl" back from the wall and make our way up to the boat. Leaving the dive site was a wee bit terrifying as the bull sharks will still cruising around pretty steadily!
Lindsey stoked after the shark big share dive (here's a shark dive video)!
We also got in contact with Tribewanted and after a few broken up conversations, we'd set up a plan that would give us six days on Vorovoro - less time than people generally stay, but we decided to make the journey despite the time and cost in getting up to this relatively remote island in northern Fiji. And it sure was worth it.
Vorovoro Island: Tribewanted
In 2006, two young backpackers from the UK hatched a plan to lease an island, build an eco-community on it and thus create a tribe. But this is only half of the concept. The other half was an online presence, a blog full of virtual tribe members that would cast their votes on initiatives and management on the island. Anyone could join, from anywhere in the world, and everyone would take part on the internet by voting for a tribal chief, entering debates and thus make critical societal decisions on behalf of the tribe, all on tribewanted.com. It's evolved a long way since then, but the idea, idealism and community are still very intact on beautiful island in paradise! One of the founders and now the sole proprietor, Ben Keene, wrote a book about his experience as well, and this Ben powered through it during our stay and definitely recommends it to anyone who thinks they are remotely interested such an experiment! There was so much press and promotion of this concept in the early days. There was even a reality show (Kind of like Survivor, which was actually initially going to be filmed on this island if Tribewanted hadn't got here first! Instead, Survivor was filmed on a nearby island that can be seen from one of Vorovoro's peaks).
Sunset from Tribewanted's site on Vorovoro
But we didn't really know any of this when we joined. We had just seen the statement in the FeeJee Experience flyer when we landed in Fiji, did a little research on the web and called the current Tribewanted team on Vorovoro Island (but with the poor reception on the island, we really only got the most basic of details). We sat down, talked it over, understanding very little about the place, but agreed that we should give it a go: it'd probably be a good adventure and the extra money we'd have to spend on travel there would be worth the risk--we hoped anyway.
Landing in Labasa, pronounced Lam-ba-sa. Yes, this is the airport--the WHOLE airport: runway and terminal building
We flew into Labasa on Fiji's second largest island, Vanau Levu, landing on a the mini-runway that's splat in the middle of sugarcane fields. A quick run-around Labasa to buy yaqona (the kava root) that is presented to Vorovoro's Chief, a sulu (the traditional wrap around Fijian sarong worn by men and women as a skirt) that is to be worn when visiting the Vorovoro's village and the neighbouring island's school, and copious amounts of bug spray (not to be forgotten) and we were to off to this island paradise. It bucketed rain down the entire 45-minute boat ride from Labasa to Vorovoro, but the weather did little to mask the beauty of Vorovoro. The 20-acre island is stunningly beautiful island with coconut trees lining the beautiful beaches and a steep, rugged interior that's common on so many Pacific Islands.
On the boat to Vorovoro Island
Our six days on the island was a truly immersive experience into Fijian culture, sustainable and eco-friendly living and fun in the sun! Beyond these vague descriptions, it's hard to explain what to expect on Vorovoro. It's different for everyone and it depends greatly on who else is on the island at that time. Here's some photos and snippets that give a glimpse into this unique and wonderful place.
Basically, life on the island is split between performing your "karmic duties" and other projects you decide to get involved in, partaking in orchestrated activities, and just enjoying Fijian life and culture with the people on Vorovoro in between.
Karmic Duties and Vorovoro Projects
Lindsey and Levina watering the Euphoric Eggplants and the rest of the garden. Each tribe member volunteers to take on a few 'karmic duties' to keep the place running smoothly. Lindsey would often be seen watering the garden, and feeding, talking and singing to the chickens!
Jason working with Team Fiji and other Vorovoro village members to build a bilibili, a raft made from local bamboo. For the Fijians' extra efforts, Jason presented a sevusevu (a cultural presentation of kava) to them to show his gratitude
Jason takes his just-completed bilibili raft out for its first spin on the water with Lucas and Bethany, Jimmy and Jenny's kids
Cyclone Thomasi came through in early April and did a fair bit of damage to Vorovoro. Luckily the buildings were spared but there was plenty of clean up to be done. By the time we arrived, the major jobs had been done, but the garden still need attention. It's important to keep the forest floor around the village fairly clean otherwise the rotting leaves and debris attracts more ants, mosquitos and other nasties into our daily life. Plus, burning these piles acts as a natural mosquito repellent.
Ben, planting with Liavi (front, also called "Crime Stopper" by some of the Tribewanted members) and Poasa (back, near Ben)
Ben helping irrigate after a big storm with Epeli (also called "Pupu")
Snorkeling on the world's third-largest reef...
Heading out to the third-largest reef in the world. It's a hidden gem that Tuimali, the chief of Vorovoro, Mali, and other surrounding islands has near-exclusive access to. That's Jenny talking to Lindsey. She and her husband Jimmy are from Indiana and now run Tribewanted.
Api, our trusty boat driver, took us everywhere around Vorovoro. Watching him spearfish on the reef was quite the experience! We had civeche prepared right on the boat from his catches and the nearby sharks smelling the kills came by to check out the scene and try for some lunch too!
Hiking the four-peaks challenge...
Jimmy pointing out some of the nearby features from the third summit of the four-peaks challenge hike
Jason taking in the sweet Fiji air and having a spiritual moment atop one of the summits
Visiting students at Linglaulevu village...
Our visit to Linglaulevu village's school was definitely a highlight. We broke into groups and picked a class-Lindsey with the grade 5 and 6ers. We read stories and highlighted vocabulary; the kids practiced English words and we learned the Fijian equivalents.
The school-wide teeth brushing ceremony (http://www.flickr.com/photos/benkunz/4560920394/in/set-72157623755692959/): two prefects drum and count slowly to 10 while the students brush their teeth to ensure everyone gets a good scrub!
The students performed for us and these kids sure know how to sing!
The kids sing all the time!
Vorovoro Island Life
Bebe (her Fijian name, pronounced mbembe), Fran, Becky, and Lindsey getting things ready for morning tea. We quickly learned the Pavlovian response since all five meals on the island are announced by ringing a bell!
Api showing off his lovely octopus dreads! (Yes, that's a real octopus!) Api is the boatman for Vorovoro; he's been with Tribewanted's Team Fiji since the beginning and his passion and dedication to the project really shines--all the time. Watching this dude spearfish on the reef is something else. That's Bethany, the daughter lovely couple currently managing Tribewanted on the island, Jimmy and Jenny.
The Tribewanted crew was invited to Vorovoro's village to partake in a lovo, a Fijian traditional feast, complete with the quintessential roasted pig (cooked on a bed hot rocks...). Fran and Ben excited to partake in the feast!
Pounding the kava root into powder for the night's grog-drinking session is hard work!
Sunday's are chill out time! Api and Chloe, Tribewanted's current Chief elect, catching up on some much needed rest after a long Saturday night!
A whale skeleton that the locals dove for off a nearby island to remove the area of it's stink and thus attraction of sharks--now kept in the local's village on Vorovoro
Ben's best buddy, Oliver! He and Ben were always out mucking about; here they have collected grubs that they'll use for fishing!
Ben and Olli out fishing
Lindsey and Poasa; Poasa has lived on Vorovoro all his life and he's got a million great stories to share! He taught us all about the history of his family's life on Vorovoro island, filled in gaps in our knowledge about Tribewanted, helped us prepare for our Sevusevu to the Chief, Tuimali, who is Poasa's brother, and even had some pretty gruesome stories to throw in. Poasa was Lindsey's favorite Fijian on Vorovoro!
Saying goodbye to Jason the Vorovoro way, with traditional song and personal goodbye's before he crosses the threshold and steps off the island
Our last night on Fiji, and interestingly enough our last day our 500-day adventure abroad, was a night of ceremony. Tui Mali, the chief, visited Vorovoro to meet us and check in with the village. It is Fijian culture in many remote islands of Fiji to need an invitation or permission from the chief to come to an island, which Tribewanted orchestrated for us. As a thanks for Tui Mali's hospitality, we presented kava for our Sevusevu ceremony. It was hard to say goodbye to our lovely Vorovoro family, and to say goodbye to life on the road, but our travel-weary bodies are ready to embrace the road home.
More Fiji photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/benkunz/sets/72157623755692959/