Fiji-time on Mana Island

Patrycja sitting in the water on the beach, Manuriki Island, Fiji.

Fiji-time is not just an expression. It’s not only a name for the time spent in Fiji. Fiji-time is almost a lifestyle. This is something that we – Europeans – are missing, and what we will never fully understand. After all, it’s worth to take an example from the Islanders and live just a few days in the style of Fiji-time.

Islanders

Fiji culture is unique. They’re very open and friendly, and by far the most relaxed of all people we have ever met. Even while staying in Nadi and traveling around the area, we were able to catch some very specific elements. However, if you want to get to know the culture better, enjoy a Fijian province. Or even go and live for a while in the village on some small island away from the 5* tourist resorts.

Village on the Mana Island
Village on the Mana Island

It was just such a small island that we landed on eventually. We lived in a small, backpacker hostel in the village. Every day, on the way to the buffet or the beach, we passed by the villagers. We did often talk with some of them – especially with children, who were interested in basically everything.

As we mentioned – Fijians are quite open and ask a lot of questions. Although some people might find their questions too direct after barely knowing each other. We answered numerous times to the questions “are you married?” (To Dawid), “is he your husband?” (To Patrycja), “do you have children?”, “why you don’t have children?”, “why your skin is so pale and burns from the sun?”. Well, in our opinion the winner of all was – “so how many months in a year there’s no sun in Poland?” 😀

Kids from the village
Kids from the village

The islanders are simple people – very humble, but sincere. Often they are smiling and greet you. They respect their traditions and expect respect for others. The communities typically consist of large, family groups. They live in small houses, often with very questionable design, made of wood or metal nailed to wooden poles.

They spend most of the time in the open air – on a terrace or in a hammock under the palm trees. If you are not employed in a resort, their main job is to rest and sleep. The islanders never go anywhere in a hurry. They have time for everything. Soooo much time… Fiji-time, so no need to rush.

Village on the Mana Island
Village on the Mana Island

In each village, there are clear rules. Residents know them very well, but the tourists can sometimes be surprised. When visiting such a place, one must always be appropriately dressed. Light beach clothing must be covered – shoulders and knees covered – the traditional sulu can help in this case. Also, do not wear any hats (or other headgear) and sunglasses, because it is perceived as a lack of respect.

The same about touching or striking someone on the head, entering the islander house in shoes or lacking a gift for Turaga Ni Koro, which is the village chief. Just make sure these to cover these few things, and you’ll be warmly accepted by the local community.

ManaMana

Our Couchsurfing host from Nadi recommended us the place for our tropical holiday – the Mana island. All we needed was a cheap room in a small paradise in the middle of the ocean. A place where we can relax, walk on the beautiful beaches and snorkel while watching colorful fish swimming between corals. Mana had all of the above.

Mana Island
Mana Island

As already mentioned, our hostel was located in the village. As a result, we had a much better contact with the locals and therefore – a better view of the traditional culture of the islanders. We would not have a chance if we stayed in an elegant resort. In the hostel, we all knew our names – guests, staff, manager. People arriving or leaving each day were greeted and bid farewell by a three-person team of entertainment specialists. Wise (Aisea), Tika (Etika) and Phillipe had organized various activities and entertainment for the residents of Mana Lagoon.

Mana Island
Mana Island

During the day, they encouraged us to play volleyball and, go snorkeling in a group, or to the “jungle” to look for coconuts. In the afternoon, they gave lessons on tying sulu, weaving baskets and hats from palm leaves, or learning fire stick dancing. Fortunately, the first exercises were with just the stick (not fired), so Dawid didn’t have to worry about setting fire to himself 😉

Fire dance show
Fire dance show

Every evening shows or co-educational evenings were organized. And so – one day you could see the guys showing off during the dance shows with fire or cane knives. Another evening, almost all the gentlemen of Mana Lagoon did makeup, dressed in women’s dresses and paraded the catwalk in the canteen, to the judged by all the ladies.

Tiny crab
Tiny crab

Betting on crab races or winning beer in a quiz about Fiji and the Mana island was another fun evening. And, albeit without competition, we had a lot of fun on the evening of the nations, when everyone had to sing their national anthem in front of the rest. Not everyone stood up to the task… Some, however, did come out unscathed – Clair from Taiwan sang a lullaby in her language, and four Brits, did proudly hum their anthem…

Sworkeling in the ocean
Sworkeling in the ocean

It was all quite nice break from our main activities – snorkeling as much as we can and “sunbathing” in the shade of palm trees. Days passed by in Fiji-time, and we liked this very much 😉 The village children accompanied us quite often, willing to have fun and some conversation. Our favorite colleague was Aliferedi – a 9-year-old boy, who arrived at the Mana to spend the Christmas holidays with family and cousins. Very smart boy, articulate and curious about the world, and he wanted to learn a few words of Polish.

Patrycja and kids from the village
Patrycja and kids from the village

During these nearly two weeks we found some time to finally read a book and browse the photos taken in Peru. Dawid tried fishing a couple of times, but kids often perfectly disturbed the water.

Mana Island
Mana Island

Several times we went for long walks along the shore or climbed the highest hill on the island, with a fantastic view over the island. Once we even wanted to go around the island. Even though we gave up after 4 hours, during this time we were able to see almost all the expensive hotels, the airport and a small chapel on the shore of the Ocean, where people can take a romantic wedding in the tropics.

That day also we had our first “fresh” coconut. Dawid climbed a short palm, picked it straight from the tree, and then opened with a small pocket knife. It’s hard to describe how happy and satisfied we both were.

Mana Island
Mana Island

The smell and taste of freshly opened coconut – gentle, but very characteristic. So far Patrycja never ate anything with coconut flavor. But at that moment she fell in love with the taste. By the end of our stay on Mana, we always tried to have at least one coconut in the room 😉

Green coconuts have tastier milk and delicate, almost watery pulp. Yellow coconut’s milk is less sweet, but the flesh is denser. Revelation!

All of this made us slightly sad on the day we had to leave the Mana island on our last day.

Traditional YAQUONA (KAVA) ritual

Like any culture – the islanders have their traditional ceremonies. Almost across the whole Pacific, the most common is Yaquona (pronounced yangonah) aka Kava drinking ceremony. In many places, it is regarded as the absolutely essential addition to all kinds of meetings and events. Powdered yaquona is also offered to the sevusevu, as a gift for “the head” of the village during a visit.

Kava ceremony
Kava ceremony

Kava is mildly narcotic drink, prepared from dried and powdered roots of piper methysticum, called simply yaquona or kava, mixed in water. The main effect is usually a gentle numbness or tingling around the mouth and tongue, which usually can be felt after a few minutes.

In addition, drinking kava relaxes and calms, creates a sense of relaxation and carefree state – at least theoretically 😉

Kava ceremony
Kava ceremony

The ceremony itself looks very interesting. In a specially prepared, decorated bowl, the ceremony master mixes powdered yaquona with cool water. After mixing will give a cup (bilo) filled with kava to each person, starting from the main guest or the most important participant of the ceremony. Taking the first bilo, one must clap his/her hands once before and once after drinking this beverage.

The order of serving kava is completely dependent on the person leading the ceremony. It is worth to remember that being you can skip a turn, but do not ask about “your turn”, as it can be perceived as rude.

What is certain, common consumption of kava is quite socializing, and usually, leads to a much more open conversation. Conversations with kava were sincere and friendly, and the card games we played to it amused us a lot. As for the taste sensations and other things…

Kava ceremony
Kava ceremony

Well, kava tastes just like what it exactly is – a powdered root mixed with water with a slight earthy taste. Neither good nor pleasant to drink. But with no doubt, we felt a slight tingling on lips and tongue. And we were relaxed the whole time (in the end it was our Fiji-time ;)), yet somehow we didn’t notice this feeling to improve after trying kava.

After kava, we got easily talked into sleeping on the beach 😉 But it was not any big challenge – after all, from the very beginning of our stay in Fiji, we wanted to fall asleep under the stars while listening to the ocean!

Christmas under palm trees

Who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas under palm trees just once? We managed to do it! It was completely different Christmas but was it better? Well – it was different.

The hostel got quite empty with a lot of visitors left – also much of the staff went to “the mainland” to spend that time with their families. It got even calmer and lazier than before.

Mana Island
Mana Island

No one approached us, no one tried chatting, asked to join some activities. The girls from the staff did some Christmas decorations, put fresh flowers on the tables in the cafeteria and hang some more colorful decorations here and there.

Also, the village during Christmas time has changed beyond recognition. Usually quiet and relaxed, was now teeming with life and clatter. A lot of people came from the mainland to Mana, to spend the Christmas time with their families.

Houses were decorated with flowers and colorful lights, floors and terraces lined with palm leafs and almost everywhere you could hear the traditional Fijian music. It was interesting to look at the Christmas traditions in a different cultural environment, so very different from our own.

Christmas Sandman
Christmas Sandman

It’s quite embarrassing, but we didn’t have any special Christmas Eve dinner. On Mana, there was no carp, no beetroot to make traditional barszcz (with ravioli-like dumplings), and dumplings with a lucky coin (a tradition in Patrycja’s family home). There was no breaking the bread and wishes before the supper. No family atmosphere and gifts under the Christmas tree. But there were the sun, beach and palm trees.

And even before the start of the trip, we decided that at Christmas we’ll share coconut with each other (instead of breaking bread).

Since the first try of a fresh coconut, we always tried to have at least one in the room. Usually, we collected them from the ground from under the palm trees. But we ran out of coconuts and on Christmas Eve we didn’t have a single one. Unfortunately, we don’t have the natural talent to climb the palm trees. But fortunately, the village children came to help – Aliferedi and his cousins. We got three beautiful green coconuts, and in exchange, we gave them a large pack of cookies.

Christmas in the paradice
Christmas in the paradic

We dressed up in our Sunday best – obviously Fijian outfits – Patrycja in sulu, and Dawid wearing the bula-shirt, a shirt with a floral motif, very popular in Fiji. We made a festive “snowman” out of sand and Dawid opened the coconuts. We sat on the beach and symbolically shared them, making our next little dream come true.

Monuriki Island

What is it like to live on a desert island? This question could be answered by the protagonist of the Cast Away movie – Chuck Noland, played by Tom Hanks. When his well-organized life fell apart suddenly (along with the plane) in the waters of the Pacific, a charming island in the middle of the ocean has become for him a paradise and a curse at the same time.

Monuriki Island
Monuriki Island

But why do we write about it? Because the movie Cast Away was shot mostly on a small islet belonging to Fiji. Its official name is Monuriki, but by the majority of local residents and tourists call it Cast Away Island.

Manuriki is truly a desert island. No one lives here – not even Fijians. There are no resorts, not even a single guard booth. Camping and overnight stays are prohibited as well. However, you can freely visit it during the day. So we took advantage of the opportunity and went there for a few hours trip.

Monuriki Island
Monuriki Island

Monuriki is a small island, where beautiful sandy beach quickly turns into a rocky hillside to reach the 180-meter summit. So if someone remembers the island from the movie, might be slightly shocked after getting here. It’s surprising how they managed to get so many interesting scenes on such a small island. It’s also interesting that more than 100 people from film crew were living here during the filming.

There are no traces of the cinema hit, especially the famous volleyball (Wilson – the imaginary friend of the protagonist). Only tourists made a “HELP ME” sign out of empty coconut shells, referring to the movie.

Monuriki Island
>Monuriki Island

The beauty of the island Manuriki lies in its nature. Lush green jungle and the hill, from which you can admire the breathtaking panorama. Add crystal clear water, in which swimming and diving is more than a pleasure.

In warm water, you can spend many hours watching the beautiful colorful fish swimming between corals. And if you’re lucky enough – you might also see a turtle. So if you ever have the opportunity to go to Fiji, we highly recommend taking a trip to Monuriki/Cast Away Island!

 

Practical tips:

  • The important reminder from the previous post. On the two largest islands of Fiji (Viti Levu and Vanau Levu), called “mainland”, you can drink tap water. On all the other islands it’s not a good idea. So if you don’t want to spend the tropical vacation with food poisoning, better drink bottled water/drinks. On many islands, it’s, of course, a good business. On Mana for instance, a bottle of water costs as much as a bottle of beer – 10 FJD (4,90 USD). Interestingly, we met people who collected rain or water from the leaves of the plants using empty bottles.
  • Leisure on the island can cost very little (relatively) or a lot. It all depends on which island do you choose and what will be the standard of the hotel. Backpacker places offer beds in dormitory rooms from 40-50 FJD (19,50-24,50 USD), sometimes including meals. Of course, the higher the standard – the higher prices. However, there are attractive offers when buying e.g. five days you get one day for free. Our place had such an offer and we took advantage of it!
  • Usually, the price of the stay doesn’t include the cost of the ferry or boat, i.e. transportation to the island. In our case, it was 75 FJD (6,50 USD) per person each way. The official ferry connections can be found, among others, on websites: www.ssc.com.fj or www.awesomefiji.com. You can try to find cheaper connections by asking in local hotels and bars in Nadi.
  • You can also take advantage of the many offers from travel agencies, and book so-called island hopping (i.e. traveling around to different islands) or Bula Pass. They’re also available with an overnight option. For more info, you can visit www.awesomefiji.com/bula-passes.
  • The trip to Monuriki (Cast Away Island) from Mana costs 60 FJD (29 USD) per person (for a minimum of 6 people). The price will probably be higher if you go from other islands. It’s worth mentioning that there’s another island officially known as the Cast Away island and is a completely different place than Monuriki. Its real name is Qualito, and there’s an elegant resort on the island. You can even look them up on castawayfiji.com.
  • Another very popular tourist attraction in Fiji, which we did actually visit, is Cloud 9. To describe it in brief words – it’s a bar in the middle of the ocean. The cost of the trip from Mana to Cloud 9 is 60 FJD (29 USD). If you got interested by the thought of having a beer at the bar in the middle of the ocean, visit Cloud 9 for more info.
  • Because a lot of the Fiji islands are surrounded by beautiful coral reefs, we recommend you to go come here for diving. If you haven’t done diving course yet, there are many places here where you can easily do one. Sample prices can be found on pages www.diveawayfiji.com or www.padi.com.

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