Eat. Laugh. Splurge. (Part 1)

There is an old Chinese proverb that says “He who returns from a journey is not the same as he who left”. This could not be anymore true of my recent travels. I have journeyed to a distant country, away from the hustle and bustle of city life, a spiritual (and food-laden) journey experienced in a small cluster of islands situated in the South Pacific Ocean humbly known as Fiji.

What a journey it was in remote and tropical Fiji. The culture, the food, the land and its people were comparable to the most beautiful and valuable jewels inside a treasure box. There is definitely no other place in this world like Fiji.

For one to totally feel at peace, to be rid totally of stress, worries and hardship, one would find this peace in Fiji.  Since having returned, I am a changed person for the better.

It is said that it takes a total of five days to feel completely relaxed, to embody peacefulness amid a time of stress; a modern day man or woman’s daily routine of hard work and chore. And because of this, I will recount my journey in Fiji in five separate parts.

I have done this so as to allow you to fully appreciate the wonders and marvels I experienced in sacred Fiji.

And the journey begins…

1

Looking out the window from our plane, we landed to a dreary and rainy Fiji – totally not what we were expecting. Our picturesque visions of a sunny, gloriously weathered Fiji had vanished.

One thing we forgot, though, was that Fiji, which is situated below the equator, is no stranger to tropical weather. This meant that within the next half hour of our landing, the sun had come out. And with a vengeance the sun illuminated the lush, rich, green scenery of Fiji.

This is more like it, we thought.

Our first stop on our culinary journey, although short and sweet, saw us at the Chicken Express in Port Denarau – Fiji’s premier marina facility and commercial centre. Chicken Express was the KFC of Fiji, if you will.

We wanted a quick snack before our big traditional Fijian banquet later that day. The ‘Chicken Bites’ priced at $7.50 Fijian dollars would suffice. Strangely, they were tasty and didn’t have that processed artificial-flavour you would find at fast food restaurants.

Later that day, we decided to explore our gorgeous, five-star, living-in-a-lap-of-luxury hotel, the Westin. Spreading over 1,350 square meters of land, the Westin is beautifully designed with unbelievably beautiful gardens.

From every angle, the gardens looked like something you would only see in a postcard. Lush green lawns and trees of the deepest green, scattered with an array of brightly-coloured tropical flowers, the gardens permeated beauty and tranquility. It was almost as though it were tailored for meditative practice.

It was no wonder the porter who led us to our room walked at half the speed we did. In a deep, calm voice, he drawled, “No need to rush. Fiji time”. I suppose one would need to slow down to appreciate the exquisite beauty surrounding us.

Soon we found ourselves seated in a secluded area of the hotel gardens, partially sheltered by a dry grass-covered hut. Here we saw a traditional Fijian ceremony in which a drink called ‘Yaqona’ made of the piper methysticum plant and water is offered by the tribal chiefs to guests as a welcoming. The Yaqona ceremony is typically performed at social events ranging from village fundraisers to weddings.

Following the display of cultural ritual and performance, it was time to eat. This was my first tasting of Fijian cuisine. A fusion of Indian and the native Fijian flavours, Fijian food makes for an unusual tasting cuisine. I found there was an ever so common sour taste in most dishes I ate that night. Not to be crude, but the food was bordering bland; you could tell seasoning was very minimal.

Coconut cream or milk is a popular supplement to Fijian cooking. Fruits like pineapple and papaya were abundant on the dinner table. Might I add though, the papaya was one of the sweetest papayas I’ve ever tasted. The fruits are at their prime here in Fiji due to the volcanic rich soil.

We were stuffed by the end of the feast. Afterwards, we walked around the hotel to help the digestion. At night, the hotel was just as beautiful as it was in the day time. The pool area was a pretty sight of dark night blue sprinkled with candle-like flames that emanated from small torch structures which stood just above water-level in the pool and water features.

The following day we planned to visit another island of Fiji. It was a tiring day and I couldn’t wait to get some sleep on those big comfortable, impeccably-made, white satin sheeted beds in our room. Lying there, I wondered what more beauty, if possible, Fiji had to offer us.