The main purpose of our trip to Vanuatu and Fiji was to relax and enjoy the paradise of their south Pacific islands, but of course, we were also eager to learn about the culture and people of these two distinct island nations.
In both countries, most people speak the local language of their village, which is often entirely different from the language spoken in neighboring villages. Vanuatu, in particular, has the highest density in the world of languages per capita: 113 indigenous languages actively spoken by about 243,000 people, or roughly one language for every 2000 people.
In addition to local village languages, both countries have a unifying language. In Vanuatu, this language is called Bislama, a type of pidgin English that is fun to attempt to speak and understand. The waiters at our hotel thought it was quite amusing whenever we ordered a local “popo salat” (papaya salad) or “scallop shel oli rusum” (grilled sea scallops) for dinner. This is the same language that we were exposed to during our trip to Papua New Guinea, and we heard that it’s also spoken in the Solomon Islands. In Fiji, the unifying language is Fijian, which is a Malayo-Polynesian language (in the same family as Malaysian and Hawaiian languages).
In Vanuatu, English and French are also official languages, and are taught in school. Everyone we encountered spoke at least one of those fluently. In Fiji, English and Fiji Hindi are also official languages. We found that English is widely spoken by all. Fiji Hindi is spoken by the many Fijian citizens who are descendants of Indian contract laborers brought to Fiji during British colonial times, in the 19th century. These comprise about 38% of the Fijian population.
Although the native population of both countries is Melanesian, the cultures feel very different. While Vanuatu’s population is still primarily of Melanesian descent, Fiji is a melting pot of Melanesian, Polynesian, and Indian cultures.
Local foods in both countries include cassava, taro, yams, plantain, and lots of fish and seafood. Coconut and coconut milk are widely used, and wrapping ingredients in banana leaf to preserve their moisture during cooking is common. Fruits are abundant, especially papaya and mango. We truly enjoyed our taste of island food and culture!
Today we arrived at our hotel in Port Havannah after a long journey from the United States. We flew from Seattle to Los Angeles to Nadi (Fiji) to Port Vila (Vanuatu), then rode in a car to the resort. Time to rest!
This was a day for relaxation. We explored the resort’s pristine white beach, the pool, and the gardens. We rounded out the day with a quiet dinner by the waterfront.
Hanging in there…
The first of many romantic dinners.
Not far from our hotel is the island of Lelepa, where the “Survivor” TV series was filmed. Today we took a boat over to the island, where we roamed the beaches and snorkeled among the coral reefs. Snorkeling was superb, and the beaches were gorgeous! We played by “Survivor” rules, though — no camera, so no pictures.
Sunset on the beach.
This morning, as we were having breakfast overlooking the beach, we noticed two dugongs swimming in the shallow water — a mother and a baby! A dugong is a sea mammal with a tail like a dolphin’s and a face sort of like a dog’s. We watched them for a long time, from the beach and from the jetty, as they gently drifted through the transparent water, surfacing occasionally. Beautiful animals!
We spent a good part of the day visiting the nearby village, where we met more of the friendly local people.
The resort where we stayed in Vanuatu was beautiful, but it didn’t take long for us to start wondering about the culture and people of Vanuatu. So we decided to venture beyond the resort and have a look at a nearby village. As we walked along, we encountered friendly people who pointed us in the right direction. We were especially pleased to encounter Edna and her uncle Tosong, who chatted with us for a while and then invited us to walk with them through the village. We gladly accepted, and they pointed out the local school, church, bar, market, and houses. But the highlight was when Edna offered to show us around her house.
Edna showed us her kitchen, an open-air structure of wood poles and a corrugated metal roof. She has a table and chairs, a wood-fired brick stove with a large cast iron pot, and a pit in the ground that’s used to cook banana-leaf-wrapped food with hot rocks. She was too modest to mention it, but we were impressed by her collection of tropical potted plants of impossible shapes and colors, all lovingly cared for. She then showed us her house, and a separate house for her adult daughter’s family, both made of corrugated sheet metal. Nestled between the structures was a half-completed brick house that she and her husband have been working on for years. Whenever they’re able to save up some money, they buy more bricks and concrete, and with the help of friends, add another layer to it. Edna said that building the brick house gives them a purpose to work hard and save their money.
At one point, Bea asked Edna about the traditional type of dress that we saw many women in Vanuatu wearing. Edna pulled a dress from her house and encouraged Bea to try it on. When she saw how well it fit, Edna insisted that Bea should keep it. Though we appreciated Edna’s generosity, Bea politely declined, as it simply didn’t seem appropriate to accept the gift. Edna then went on to say that next time we come to Vanuatu, we should come and stay with her. We didn’t know what to say. This was just one more example of a pattern we’ve seen in our travels: some people have so little and yet they find so much to give!
Tosong and Edna happily showed us around their village.
Kids at the local school.
Today we flew from Vanuatu to Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. We’re staying at a hotel close to the airport because we’re flying to another island early tomorrow morning. We can’t wait!
In the morning, we flew from Nadi (on the island of Viti Levu) to Savusavu (on the island of Vanua Levu). We then drove east along a bumpy road for over an hour, and finally caught a boat that took us the rest of the way to our hotel, which is appropriately called “The Remote Resort.” We were received with live music, drinks, and a massage. Not a bad start!
The resort has just 8 cabins, only 3 of which are occupied at the moment. Our wooden cabin has a rustic charm, with beautiful décor that makes it welcoming. We love the way all the windows catch the ocean breeze, and the outdoor shower hidden under the jungle canopy. We couldn’t feel more relaxed here.
Our villa for a week in Fiji.
The resort’s lounge and restaurant.
Today we woke up early and went for a swim in the unbelievably transparent water. We love our private beach. We spent the rest of the day snorkeling close to the resort, where we saw stunning coral and fish.
When we got to the resort restaurant for dinner, the staff surprised us by leading us to a dining table on the beach. They made a fire near our table, and we discovered that the little crabs on the beach were attracted to the warmth of the fire. We joked that this was the resort’s way to provide us with the freshest seafood. 🙂
Today we kayaked to a small hidden beach and spent the day snorkeling and exploring the nearby area. The friendly staff of the resort packed us a delicious lunch and snacks for us. The water was particularly calm today, so the snorkeling visibility was outstanding.
We were wading through the shallow waters at low tide, observing the rich marine life, when we spotted a man not too far from us. He seemed to be looking for clams or some other seafood. Given the remoteness of our location, we were surprised to find another person there, so we waved at him. He seemed friendly, so we approached him and struck up a conversation. In perfect English, he told us that he lives in a small house in a former coconut plantation nearby, and that he’s mostly self-sufficient between the vegetables he grows and the seafood he catches. Interesting to meet someone who’s clearly big-city educated and chooses to live a reclusive life here — a very tempting idea!
We kayaked to this secluded beach.
The nearby reef provided fantastic snorkeling.
We absolutely love falling asleep and waking up to the sound of the waves. We’re getting used to the routine here and wish we could stay a lot longer than the time we have left.
Today we went on a guided snorkel trip to the nearby Kioa area. There were five people on the boat: the two of us, the captain, one staff, and our snorkeling guide. We’ve snorkeled a lot on this trip by now, and thought we had seen most of what these waters have to offer, but our snorkeling guide showed us a stunning type of black coral that is unique to Kioa. She also told us names and facts about the local coral and fish. We asked about the multicolored cone-shaped feathery things that we saw on the coral, and she told us they are “Spirobranchus giganteus,” commonly known as “Christmas tree worms” — appropriate, given their shapes and colors.
Spirobranchus giganteus (Christmas tree worms) on a coral head.
One of the attractions of this area is the opportunity to snorkel with mantas, so today we decided to do that. We took a boat to an area of open sea where the current was strong and the water choppy, which made swimming a challenge, but we were more than rewarded for our efforts by swimming very close to several mantas. They are large but graceful creatures, and we were excited to get so close to them. What an unforgettable experience!
We finished the day with a fabulous dinner on the jetty. The water is so transparent here that we don’t have to snorkel to see the marine life, which kept us entertained.
One of the highlights of our stay in Fiji was the opportunity to snorkel with mantas. Just a short boat ride from our hotel, we spotted five or six mantas skimming along near the surface, and we even saw one breach — jumping completely out of the water and diving back in. We grabbed our snorkels, masks, and fins, and eagerly jumped in to swim with them. Most of the mantas kept their distance from us, but one got so close to us that it sent shivers up our spines!
Mantas are large, impressive sea creatures. Closely related to sharks and rays, they can grow to 23 feet (7 m) across! Even though the ones we saw had wingspans of 6 to 8 feet (2 to 2.5 m), they still looked huge as they swam toward us with their mouths wide open.
Unlike their predatory cousins, mantas are serene and gentle animals, so we never felt unsafe. They feed by straining zooplankton (microscopic sea organisms) from the water as they swim. In fact, they never stop swimming, since they must keep water flowing through their gills in order to breathe.
We marveled at their graceful motion, as they steadily flapped their wing-like fins and “flew” by us underwater. We were drifting fast in a strong current, with choppy waves on the surface, making it impossible to get any photos, and also challenging to swim back to the boat. The tough swim was worth it, as we were able to join the mantas and see these amazing creatures in their natural habitat several more times.
Relaxing before dinner on the jetty.
After yesterday’s excitement, we decided to have a low-key day today. We went for a quick swim, socialized with one of the other couples in the resort, read lots, and relaxed. We had our daily massage (that’s right, we’ve been having an amazing massage each day), and ate amazing food.
Our dinner today was served on a wood platform under a tree, right by the ocean.
This was our last day here. We snorkeled a lot, and spent time socializing and relaxing at the resort. Dinner was served in a different location by the beach.
We can’t remember being so sad to go back home at the end of a trip. Maybe this trip was too short, maybe it was too good, or maybe both. Either way, we must come back.
Climbing in paradise.