The word “Bula” literally translates to “Life” in Fijian, but is commonly used as a friendly greeting around the islands. After two days in Fiji we heard and repeated “Bula!” hundreds of times. Sometimes the friendly locals practically shouted “Bula!” to us from 30 yards away. The greeting often led to questions about our nationality and somehow transitioned to invitations to buy coconuts, local trinkets, taxi rides, or even overnight cruises.
Before traveling to Vitu Levu—the largest of the 333 islands that make up Fiji—we knew the country was a beautiful island getaway. But what we learned on arrival is that Fiji really thrives on tourism. While Andrew and I are definitely tourists, we are also planning on traveling for a long time, so we are trying to be careful with our finances. We gracefully declined offers for most of the bargains. While the Fijians may have been disappointed that we weren’t purchasing, they seemed genuinely happy to help us.
On our first day in Fiji we took the local bus from our cluster of hostels on Wailoaloa beach into downtown Nadi to buy Andrew some sandals and look around. (Bula, Bula, Bula!) As soon as we got off the bus, we were a little overwhelmed with the noise and commotion of the bustling little run-down town. Almost immediately, a local man struck up a conversation with us and pointed us in the direction of a sandal store. After we purchased Andrew some $3 island flip flops (I give them two weeks max before they break), the gentleman was rather insistent we visit a small tourist office. Once there, he highly recommended we hire a driver for the following day to see the Coral coast. Since there wasn’t much to do in Nadi, and he had been so helpful, we were easily convinced and paid for the full day tour. (Later we got the feeling that we might have overpaid. Oh well. Live and learn.)
The following day, our driver, Baboo (love that name), picked us up at 9am with another “Bula!” We Bula-ed back and got on our way. We drove south along the beautiful, lush, and spectacular coast. Our first stop was a waterfall hike just outside of Sigatoka. When we got there, the local village men conducted a welcome ceremony for us. Pretty cool! We chanted, clapped, said “Bula!” about a dozen more times, and drank Cassava juice together. The juice tasted a bit like dirty water and since the water is not safe to drink on the island, Andrew and I sneaked some Travalan (Bali belly protector) to head off any potential stomach issues.
After the ceremony, we said “Bula!” once more and met our waterfall guide, Sunny—a local man with a giant belly and a friendly smile. He walked us up the hill to view the waterfall. We chatted with him the entire way about his life in the village, his children, our jobs, and the dreary winters in Portland. Sunny decided he would like to visit America, but not Portland because as he said “if I visited there, I would die.” We weren’t offended since we weren’t all that comfortable in his country’s 90-degree heat with 90 percent humidity.
When we got to the waterfall, we all went in for a swim. While Andrew and I swam and took photos, Sunny shaved and cleaned his ears on the side of the swimming hole, which we found a little odd but also strangely efficient. On the hike back to the village, Sunny explained to us that he fought to be our guide for the day because “Americans are known to be big tippers.” So much pressure! What is a typical tip for a guided walk along a clearly marked path?!? We had no idea and tipped what we thought was fair. Sunny seemed slightly disappointed with the amount, but never the less he still gave us a hardy “Bula!” send off.
We spent the rest of the day grabbing lunch and driving back up the coast of Fiji. Our afternoon plans of visiting a white sand beach were called off because of a torrential downpour in the area. I guess that is why summer in Fiji is not the typical tourist season. Even though we spent most of it in the car, we ended up having a lovely day. The Fiji coastline was beautiful, the locals were friendly, and the food was good. I would call that a success!
Tomorrow morning, we leave Fiji and fly to New Zealand where we will spend the next 16 days in a camper van. Bula!!