Rairai Vinaka

These past two weeks plus in Fiji have been the most full of my life.

The Fiji is beautiful, the people are giving, friendly and open, and my study abroad group has so many fun and amazing people. All these things are impossible to describe from a whole experience, too much has happened in the last two weeks to describe in detail. I am living life like I never have before out here on these islands. Hopefully this one story can be used to encompass my experience thus far and I will attempt not to make you sick by how much I brag about this country.

Hiking in Ovalau:

Ovalau is a 5 by 4 mile island, a few miles off shore from Viti Levu (the largest island in Fiji where I am staying). Ovalau is a mountainous, lush, now inactive volcanic island fringed by a vibrant coral reef. The rocky coast has a dirt road that traverses the entire island which has population centers featuring numerous tribal villages and one town called Levuka. Levuka is a World Heritage Site due to its unique connection between traditional Fijian and colonial influences resulting in a town that looks straight out of an American western movie, with the only difference being it is directly on the ocean.

The first night the 8 of us arrived in Ovalau, myself and two others where sitting on the low tide rocks just past the sea wall in Levuka. 3 locals, around our age, approached us and we started talking, laughing and joking with each other like old friends. The locals suggested we hike up “Gorilla Mountain” (named because the top of the mountain looks like a gorilla head) with them, just up from their village, in the morning. The next morning we met the locals, Lincoln, Sammi, Samu and Erremos in town, took a short transport into their village to begin the hike. Of course we had misgivings and worry just trusting these locals to bring us up a mountain (you know Fiji has a tribal past that featured cannibalism) and as these thoughts spiraled through our heads, locals began emerging from the village with big machetes in hand. Pretty sure we were all looking for the quickest escape route at this point. The locals continued to be as friendly as you could imagine, trying to teach us Fijian words, laughing with us and inquiring about our home. We found out that the Fijians villagers hike up the majority of this mountain everyday just to get to their farms on the flanks of the inactive volcano which features nutrient rich volcanic soil.

As we started and continued to hike up the mountain the majority of the villagers split off to their various farms leaving us only with Lincoln, Sammi, Samu and Erremos. We hiked over a variety of landscapes, grassy hillsides, around cliff sides with views of the turquoise water and reef, their farmer’s fields, up rocky hillsides and through lush rainforrest. The whole time breathing hard while talking to our local guides as they easily strolled up the mountain. Along the way we stopped for coconut, papaya, sugar cane and bananas, all supplied by the surrounding rainforest.

After about an hour and a half of hiking the “trail” (I use trail as a very loose term here) came to a dead end abruptly in the forrest. Now the second wave of doubt came. The locals said that the trail was over grown because it had not been used for 2 years and to their knowledge we would be the first Americans to hike to the top. We decided to continue and the locals began to machete their way through the rain forrest. We hiked up steep grades of muddy hillside, barley hosting ourselves up using tree trunks, roots, and rocks (using the locals helping hand at many points). Within 10 mins we were all covered in mud and our shirts soaked in sweat. The small glimpses of the brilliantly colored ocean and reef were as sweet as the fruit that we picked off the trees and revived us as we continued. Multiple times we voiced to our companions, wondering if we should stop and turn back but the challenge of the mountain and promise of the view on top kept us going. Meanwhile the locals seemingly effortlessly climbed up the mountain and exchanged joking curse words with us as we continued to climb (learned a lot of Fiji curse words during the hike) while playing American music on their phones.

After another hour and a half the ground began to even out and Lincoln said we had reached the gorilla’s head. Suddenly the forrest cleaned and we looked out onto a breathtaking view of the whole island, the reef with turquoise waters and breaking waves as well as green islands in the distance. Easily the best view of my life and made so much better by the fact that we had made it to the top just as it seemed like we could not go any farther. We walked out onto the gorillas nose and climbed up onto a rock and looked out on the ocean as we chatted with the locals, drank some water and ate crackers. We stayed at the top for about an hour and exchanged facebook and cell phone information with the locals.

The hike down was essentially a gigantic slip and slide because mud made it impossible to gain footing, I fell straight on my behind countless times but it was much quicker than the hike up. On the way back down we stopped at a waterfall with cold mountain water and a deep pool to swim in. We filled our bottles with the cold water from the waterfall and drank it….so delicious, real “Fiji Water”. We jumped off of the waterfall with the locals and chatted again like old friends.

Lincoln and the locals guys hung out with us for the rest of the trip which included a beach day, rugby, swimming out to the reef, a walk around the island and jumping off the town bridge.

Ok I think I have said enough on that now. What an amazing wild, experience. I’m going to call that the best worst decision I’ve ever made but it turned out to be one of the best days of my life. And like I said earlier, I hope this experience is able to encompass my entire Fiji experience and impressions of the country thus far.

As another side note Lincoln didn’t charged us a dime for this, he did it cause he wanted to, wanted to get to know us better and show us a good time.

Man I love this country.

Oh and what an experience to have my 21st birthday in Fiji, thanks my fellow globalinks travelers: Dillion, Alex, Josh, Dan, Sami, Dan again, Jeremiah, Darcey, Sarah, Chase, Brie, Spencer, Anne, Alena and Melissa. Could not have been a better birthday week and night.

As another side note, this is my first blog entry ever so bear with me, its going to be a rocky start.

Rairai vinaka (Rairai vinaka is the Fijian phrase for beautiful). The literal translation is essentially “thank you for your beauty”


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