37 S Pacific Islands

SOUTH PACIFIC ISLANDS                                                            March 2008

A travel without Dipli

 

It was the long way round from South Africa to Dipli waiting in Arizona, USA.

 

We had been in South Africa for our grandchild’s first birthday and could welcome a second grandson (thus both our daughters had started families). We also enjoyed some real “Africa” in the Kalahari Desert with friends. A weepy farewell followed our 7 months in South Africa.

Many hours of flying via Perth and Auckland took us to the Islands of the South Pacific.

 

FIJI

“Bula!” was the “welcome” greeting at the airport of Fiji. In the middle of the mundane luggage carousel were containers of growing pink orchids. (We soon found out why the blooms were flourishing as we were wilting in the hot and humid hall).

 

Jan negotiated a good deal on the rental of a station wagon. The first dirt track after the airport led into the jungle. Unused to low ground clearance, we scraped the underside of the Toyota. We stopped for a photo in the tropical forest and it would not come out of park. We were hoping that cannibalism had really ended in 1800…

A delightful cottage surrounded by hibiscus and frangipani right on the shore of the Coral Coast was ideal for shedding our jetlag. The restaurant nearby, decorated with hangings of beaten bark cloth, served tasty “talu” fish meals. In the Suva museum we learned more about this “tapa” cloth which is used for exquisite traditional wedding garb and had been a precious item for bartering. We saw the double-hulled canoes which had brought people to these islands from far away millennia ago. We reckoned that is why the Fijians, Samoans, and Tongans are such huge people.  Only the fittest/fattest survived.

 

After the 2006 and umpteenth militaty coup, Indo-Fijans had fled in droves; tourists were fewer and the handicraft market was deserted. One evening at a beach resort near Nadi, we watched fire-dancing on the sand. The drum beat was intense. The men with big hairstyles drew designs with the flames in the darkness. The girls in grass skirts and coconut shell tops did hip swaying dances.

 

TONGA
The sumo–wrestler-types awaited us at the airport only to say: “we have to refuse you entry to Tonga because you do not have a visa.”  No persuasion, argument or appeal to logic could find a solution. (Our travel agent in SA had assured us that we do not need visas for any of our island stopovers!)

At the aircraft the air hostess exclaimed “But you just came off this plane!” She brought us more of the same sandwiches but also a bottle of champagne.  Back at the sweltering Fiji airport we tried to find an open internet to try to get a visa for Tonga online... Battled. Failed. Decided: “to hell with Tonga” and found a 1 am flight direct to Samoa.

 

We crossed the International Date Line and arrived the day before we left…?

 

 

SAMOA

When we arrived on Upolu island, the sun was just rising.  We saw rugby fields and counted numerous Christian churches between the airport and the capital, Apia.


Our hotel’s terraces had a cooling sea breeze. We loved the charming soft-spoken Polynesians. The waiters wore black wrap-around skirts with an overhanging shirt. Local fish and fruit were good and the Vaillima beer excellent. The table decorations were tropical flowers arranged in large sea shells.

 

Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, (“Treasure Island”, “Jeckel and Hyde”) wrote 13 of his 40 books in Samoa. His park-like estate is now a museum. His grave, from 1884 is on an adjacent hill.

 

After researching our Lonely Planet guidebook, we located Litia Sini beyond the forested rocky interior of the island. It was the perfect white beach fringed with palm trees. Accommodation was in our own “fale”, a wooden structure thatched with woven palms. The balcony was almost above the lapping waves. Yummy meals were enjoyed on a deck next to the ocean. Snorkelling in the warm azure waters was brilliant from the shoreline at any tide; with a variety of corals and colourful fishes visible. Late in the sultry afternoons a man would come carrying fresh coconuts in a green, freshly woven palm-leave basket; calling: “Coconut juice!”

 

At our resort the “fafia”-dance show was more demure. The girls were in elegant long dresses and the tattooed men had matching loin cloths. They wore whale teeth necklaces while the women were adorned with garlands and tiaras of flowers.

Every Samoan village contains a group of extended families. The palm-roofed dwellings are oval-shaped with wooden posts and open walls, to combat the heat. Many houses have ancestors’ graves in the front garden where the verdant green grass and red, yellow and orange tropical shrubs were always neatly trimmed.

 

COOK ISLANDS.

We were on Rarotonga the largest of the 15 islands, so far apart. The islands are extinct subsided volcanoes with coral forming around the submerged perimeters. Migration from SE Asia ensued from 4000BC. The country has been independent since 1965. However, New Zealand currency is still used.

 

From the capital, Avarua. there is a coastal road around the island. We used the regular bus service, which runs clock- and anti-clockwise around the rugged mountains in the middle. On the bus and even in the supermarket, women would be out with a flower behind the ear or a circlet of fresh flowers on a hat.

 

The wide fringing coral reef was far out. We snorkelled from a glass-bottom boat. Most budget accomodation was self-catering (and pricey) but we enjoyed our main meal out. Raw fish marinated in coconut milk and juice of lime, was a tasty speciality. The local staple food is cassava, sweet potato and “taro” (calocasia esculenta) another stodgy root.

 

The souvenir shops were filled with patterned shirts and “pareu” (sarongs) in vibrant colours. Other stores specialised in black pearls. These exquisite gems are often baroque and pear-shaped with a dark rainbow-lustre. Leone could not resist… They are found in the black lipped oyster which is cultivated in deep seas around the Cooks’ Manihiki Atoll.

The dance show here had all the movements from the slow and seductive, to the fast and frenzied. The accompanying music consisted of a banjo and many different wooden drums which were carved logs with hollowed out slits.

Thanks to first-rate Air New Zealand, the long haul to the USA was quite agreeable.
 
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