Friday, May 13, 2016

Peace and serenity

or a story about a tiny little island in the middle of nowhere...

Far away from noisy streets, commercial tourists areas, with limited access to water and electricity, surrounded by lush and wild plants, blue water and soft sandy beaches - this is our wild oasis in the middle of nowhere.

It was love at first sight. So strong that it was difficult to leave it behind. We were already packed and had our boat transfer arranged when we changed our plans this morning and decided to stay here one night more. You can't simply leave such a beautiful and serene place.

Calaqai is a tiny little island, about 40 minutes by boat from Levuka. It takes only 15 minutes to walk around it and it never ceases to amaze us. Our bure overlooks an even smaller Snake Island, which can be reached... on foot in the low tide. Right on the beach with the perfect spot to watch the sunrise - our bamboo bungalow is located in the best part of the island.

And the best thing about it? We are the only tourists here! There are some volunteers living here with the mission to help the local community from the neighbouring islands and village of Moturiki. They also help to preserve the nature and repair the damages caused the cyclone. A few residents of the nearby islands stay and work here from time to time, in the evenings you can hear them laughing and talking in the traditional kava circle.

We joined the kava session too. A local dive master told us this is the best kava in Fiji. Each of the 14 regions has a different way of preparing this tongue numbing drink, the taste varies as well. You can use the kava root and grind it or choose the easier way and buy kava powder. Then you need a big bowl filled with water. Add some kava powder to a small linen bag, sink it in the bowl and move around. Soon the mixture will be ready. Take a little coconut shell or any other cup made of natural materials, sunk it in the big bowl to fill it with some kava and pass it around. Before drinking you need to clap once and say 'bula' to show respect to the host. You drink the whole cup whether you like it or not, and pass it back to the host. Now - depending on the region - the host, everyone or just the drinker claps three times. Then the next person in the circle gets to drink the muddy liquid. And so it goes, for hours and hours, until everyone is fully relaxed and numb. This local and natural alternative to alcohol brings together people of different ages and backgrounds. Kava sessions are all about socialising and sharing stories rather than drinking.

And the island turns around wildlife, peace and harmony. It is surrounded by a beautiful coral reef with plenty of colourful fish. We watch them everyday while snorkeling and exploring the underwater world.

The island was hit by the cyclone, although not us much as Ovalau. The birds are all gone and many trees landed on the ground. The hills of the neighbouring islands lost their lush green plants and crops.

Soldiers from Australia and New Zealand that came to Fiji to help out after the cyclone described the landscape of many islands, towns and villages as a war zone.

It's a shame that thousands of tourists come to Fiji to stay on privately owned islands paying as much as 7000 USD per night without even experiencing the real Fijan life, without looking at the devastated houses and torn villages plunged into darkness. Luxurious resorts are all worth nothing if they don't serve local communities. Especially in times like this, right after the biggest natural catastrophe this region has ever experienced.

We keep finding out about the effects of the cyclone every day. Someone just told us there are no bananas in Fiji anymore as most of the banana trees were damaged in the hurricane. In some regions it's difficult to get fresh fruit and vegetables, which we have already experienced.

To explore more about the life after this fierce catastrophe we're staying away from commercial and tourist zones, far away from fake resorts and glittering attractions. That's why we extended our stay on Calaqai. Closer to nature, local people and their real stories, we're trying to grasp the secrets of Fijan perseverance and contentment.

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