Monday, July 19, 2010

THE JOY OF FIJI TRAVELS

THE JOY OF FIJI TRAVELS
By Promod Puri
Our years of build-up excitement of Fiji holidays began when we landed at the Nadi (pronounced Nandi) airport at 5.30 in the morning on June 14, 2010.
It was an overnight flight from Los Angeles June 12, but for the time difference it took an extra calendar day to reach our dream destination.
Nadi, which is on the west coast of Fiji’s biggest island of Viti Levu, is the entry point by air to this South Pacific country. Fiji has quite a dominant Indian population.
At the Nadi airport we were warmly received by the affectionate relatives of our daughter’s in-laws.
Our baggage was dumped in a pickup van, and in another vehicle our three – week – long Fiji journey began as we started driving to the capital city of Suva on the east coast of the Island.
The highway from Nadi to Suva, called Queens’ Road, has its own majestic allurement, and it can truly claim to be one of the most dazzling drives in the world.
Lush green vegetation on small hills and flatlands, intercepted with villages and small settlements; adorn the natural display on the left side of the highway. And on the right an almost uninterrupted and extended panorama of the exalted and somewhat composed Pacific Ocean, sometimes just a few hundred feet from the winding Queen’s Road completes the picturesque drive.
The west- east Nadi to Suva drive took curious and visually-absorbing three hours when we checked in at the centrally-located Tanoa Inn, just a ten-minute walk from the main downtown hub of the city.
After freshening up and with a heavy load of breakfast as we were starving, thanks to the extra-degraded frugal in-flight food service from the “friendliest “ Air Pacific Airlines, that we really re-energized ourselves to venture into Suva, the commercial, cultural and political center of the South Pacific.
We were in Suva for three days, and despite almost continuous drizzle and rain, quite competitive with Vancouver, that we covered some interesting and highlighted city’s attractions including the popular, lively and brisk vegetable and fruit Municipal Market to get a down to earth flash of both Natives and Indian Fijians.
Another interesting and recommended place is the Fiji Museum which displays a stirring and adventurous brief history of Native and Indian settlements on the Fiji Islands.
While the migration of Natives to these South Pacific Islands happened perhaps centuries ago from Africa or Polynesian group of countries, the Indian settlement is comparatively quite a recent one which began in the 1800s. The latter were brought to the island of Viti Levu by Britishers as farm laborers under permit regularity called “girmit”.
Their lifestyles and early settlement challenges under the agreement with Britishers of providing temporary immigration and jobs on the vast sugarcane plantations in Fiji provide a very fascinating history of Indian migration to this far-away land which was for sure never heard by them.
The “girmit” system, which became quite popular and acceptable, was a sort of an agreement between the British contractors and the poor and destitute Indian laborers. Since the Indians, who were mostly illiterate, could not easily pronounce the word “agreement”, the rhyming word “girmit” was thus coined.
Over the almost two hundred years of the history of their establishment in this part of the world and considerably far away from their root country, the Fijian Indians have effectively carved out quite a distinguished community in itself. The most remarkable aspect of their culture is the evolution and establishment of the Fijian Hindi which is now quite a distinct and sweet Hindi dialect itself.
Indians run most of the shops and small businesses in Suva. The city is a typical urban center with few shopping malls and a special souvenir center to buy exquisitely carved and creatively crafted Fijian handicrafts. However, the most popular and useful item is the bold flowery print “Bula Shirt” which can certainly draw complementary attention in a summer outdoor party.
Besides wandering around in Suva we made two trips to the nearby in-laws’ birthplace and hometown of Nausori. Cordial hospitality from the relatives as part of the Indian traditions over dinner invitations gave us more glimpse of the Fijian Indian way of life.
From Suva we took a local trans-island comfortable bus to go back towards the west, in the Nadi direction, for our next holiday stopover. The Club Oceanus near the city of Pacific Harbor and nestled amidst a forest and beside a calm river, seemed to be a backpackers’ favorite. It is a superbly and divinely place, but turned out to be not much exciting for us as it rained heavily throughout our one- day stay.
The next day like opening a surprise gift-wrap, we saw a cloud- free blue sky as we checked in at the Uprising Resort right on the beach front. And true to its online praises on TripaAdvisor and in the Lonely Planet the resort, a well- managed, reasonably priced and sitting on an enticing scenic property, reassured us that the Fiji’s waterfront vacations were worth all the planning.
Here at the Uprising we had our first experience of beachfront living in a “Bure” which is a sort of log house cottage built in traditional Fiji Native style with thatched roof. It was spacious enough with kitchen, living and bedroom areas with a balcony in the front and back, all under one roof. The spread-out and far-reaching Pacific Ocean with gentle non-stop waves going back and forth on the clean, soft, sandy beach was merely some hundred steps away from our “bure”. And that was a real bliss of holidaying in Fiji.
As Uprising molded us with the joy of Fiji voyaging, we put in our next flagstaff on another beach-front resort of Naviti, near the city of Sigatoka, where our daughter’s in-laws, Prem and Savita, joined us to spend one week together to explore and luxuriate more in the Fiji’s coastal tourist favorites.
Naviti on the Queen’s Road is really a big resort, and the oceanfront room we got gave us quite a panoramic view of the sea, thou the beach is not that big to have a lengthy walk.
Our two- day stay at Naviti was among a large number of winter-escapee vacationers from New Zealand and Australia, who came in groups of large families including children. And at times the resort gave the impression that Disneyland has moved to an ocean-front on the Fiji Islands.
Our journey continued west-bound with next stop at the Sonaisali Beach resort near the city of Nadi.
The resort was just ok with well-furnished and well-kept room we were in. But the overall stay here was a bit disappointment especially with the unrealistically expensive food and exorbitant extra charges on phone and internet services. The management seemed to be more interested in squeezing money at every step of the way from guests than providing services.
Anyway, a smart move on the part of Prem that he hired a taxi for just 10 Fijian dollars to buy the popular Fiji Gold and Fiji Bitter beer bottles from a nearby market. And we had our favorite Bombay Sapphire that we enjoyed our evenings at the Sonaisali.
In the spirit of having a good time we moved on to our next destination, Lautoka, Fiji’s second biggest city after Suva and just about half an hour drive pass Nadi.
In Lautoka our stay was close to the downtown area at the Waterfront Tanoa Hotel along the well maintained sea walk-way.
One of the highlights of our stay in Lautoka, beside little shopping and inexpensive but very effective massage treatment, was a dinner visit to one of Prem’s Indian relatives. The freshly-cooked home-made food was certainly a welcome and excellent change, and which gave us the real taste of Indian Fijian cuisine. Another good food experience we had was in Nadi where a brother-in-law of Savita feted us with authentic Fiji treat of “Lovo”, the underground popular Native Fijian cuisine but with little Indian touch.
In Lautoka, our dinner host’s daughter and tour helper, Doreen, gave us a quick tour of the city, explaining that the two expensive neighborhoods here are named “Kashmir” and “Shimla”.
Lautoka is a historic town from the Indian point of view as it is here the migrants from India started working in sugarcane farms and sugar mill. But now it is a shopping town as well both for the locals and tourists.
The Lautoka Municipal Market which seems to be a landmark of every Fijian city or town was full of vendors selling locally-grown produce, extremely cheap. And here one can get dried cava root which when powdered grounded make the traditional and symbolic ceremonial Native drink of cava or nagona.
Another highway picturesque scenic drive from Lautoka to Rakiraki, on way to our next destination of Nananu-i-Ra Island, was the King Road going from the west to the east on top of the Island. Beside the ocean view and green mountains on the left and right respectively, the King Road passed thru many sugarcane fields. And we came across several Hindu temples and Indian schools on our way. We passed thru the town of Ba, which proudly displays on a big billboard as the “Football Crazy” town, where its landmark is a huge football- shaped structure in the city, perhaps housing a small coffee shop.
We reached Rakraki in about three hours and bypassed the city to reach the marina for our 20-minute boat ride, amidst soothing breeze, to the McDonald Resort on the island of Nananu-i-Ra.
As we had plenty of grocery supplies, including the now addictive Fiji Gold and Fiji Bitter, the self- cooked food by the ladies and washing the dirty dishes by men became a delightful past time activity beside walking around the island and feeding the colorful fish at the resort’s beach.
However, one memorable activity was when Prem did some acrobats by impressively showing his revived skill of climbing a tall coconut tree and grabbing a big prized coconut with his two bare hands which we really relished.
Prem and Savita departed from us as they took a bus from Rakiraki in the north to their home town of Nausori. And we carried on with our journey back toward Nadi to a place called First Landing, where it is said the first people who settled on the Fiji Islands landed here centuries ago and thus reserved their title of being Native Fijians.
We stayed at the Anchorage Resort at First Landing for two days. The narrow-gauge train carrying sugarcane from the fields passes thru the resort which otherwise offers a vast view of the Pacific Ocean as well as the city of Nadi across the bay. Anchorage is another laid-back resort to enjoy activities like light reading while gently swinging in a hammock, walking around or to watch the train pass by with its own rhythm.
The grand finally of our Fiji sojourn was on the Bounty and Walu Beach islands, the two among the several islands forming the famous Mamanuca Group of islands in the South Pacific.
Staying at the Bounty and Walu for four and three days respectively was a definite change to experience the taste of island living, which was unlike the big Nananu-I-Ra island or at mainland beachfront hotels in Fiji.
Bounty that was it! The ultimate in relaxed holidays.
In the middle of the ocean, but only 25-minnute boat ride from the Nadi Bay, Bounty is a small island with soft sandy beach all around and plants and shrubs in the middle, like a round pizza with all the toppings in the center. The island is so small that one can leisurely walk around it in 20 to 25 minutes. However, smaller than the Bounty is the Southsea Island, which can be covered in three minutes, but if one takes a little brisk walk it can be done in just two minutes.
Those seeking real solitude and bountiful of tranquility in the company of crystal clear beach with soothing waves Bounty Island is the place worth coming. And for those looking for adventures in the water sports like scuba diving or snorkeling Bounty offers free equipment and services. We did not indulge in any of these activities. Age factor!
A smooth ride from Bounty to nearby Walu Beach Resort on the Malolo Island, the biggest in the Mamanuca Group, gave us the chance to briefly touchdown the other famous islands like the Beachcomber, Treasure,Castaway (of the film fame ) and Mana. The Walu Beach Resort with its spectacular view of the ocean was our final holiday spot.
And from the Walu Beach we returned to the real world to Nadi on July 7 to catch our Vancouver flights same evening.
Well, beside the natural beauty, Fiji is a place to have a good feel of India, but quite away from India. The shops, the bazaars, the markets, restaurants and hotels, everywhere you’re roaming about, the Indian presence and influence are all over. Indian programs of news, music and entertainment are prominently featured on Fiji radio and TV. The Indian immersion is so much that visitors, especially with Indian background, feel like if they are touring India, except that Fiji is spotlessly clean.
Fijian people, both Natives and Indians are extremely friendly and cheerful. They love talking, asking questions, want to know “where you’ve come from”, perhaps to relate to their many relatives and friends who have migrated from Fiji to other countries like Canada, the USA, New Zealand and Australia. Bula is the greeting word to make an acquaintance and start a conversation. With genuine smile on their faces they say Bu-----la in an extended and pleasing tone.
Fiji is a relaxed and laidback country and so are its people. It seems “take- it- easy” is the guideline of Fijian living which was aptly captured by a wall clock we saw in one of the hotel lobbies. It displays in bold print “Fiji Time” as its second, minute and hour hands were missing and all the numbers were jumbled up.
Well, in the relaxed and carefree “Fiji Time” spirit and with Bula smile our rousing Fiji tour was an interesting and enjoyable vacation.
Bula Fiji! We’ll be back.
THANKYOU NOTE: Our special thanks to Chandar Prakash and his team of Doreen and Raju of Awesome Holidays in Nadi who arranged all our Fiji resorts stays, some local transportation and boat rides to different islands in Fiji.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Who cares for slumless

People living in the slums of India are indeed lucky as atleast they have some shelter and community to belong to,compared to thousands,if not millions,of those ultra poor men,women,children and infants, sick,hungry and lost who dont have any shelter at all and who spend their days and nights in rain,severe cold or severe hot weather living on the sidewalks of busy streets full of dust and pollution.

The movie Slumdog Millionaire certainly highlights the extreme poverty and plight of those living in slums, but what about those destitutes who dont have any shelter at all.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

EXTENDED HOLIDAYS IN PUERTO VALLARTA,MEXICO

"Modern travelling is not travelling at all; it'a merely being sent to a place, and very little different from becoming a parcel". John Ruskin

Rather than taking a week or 10-day package tour both myself and Rita decided to holiday in Puerto Vallarta in mid December of last year and stay there for one month.

Here,I would like to make some distinction between two aspects of holidays.

The first one is a short vacation to a place for few days, visit some places of interest,museums,parks,historical buildings, etc or just relax and return or proceed on to another place.

And the second one is an extended vacation mostly to just one place,stay there for longer period of a month or more; soak into and enjoy the life, culture and customs of the city or the region beside the usual sightseeings.

Keeping the latter aspect of vacation in mind with its lengthened feature we ventured out to the beautiful bay city of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coastline.

It took almost whole day to reach there from Vancouver,thanks to extra hours set aside for air security checkups.

Our neighbour in Vancouver, Angelo, who arranged for our stay and who was already in PV, received us at the airport. A 45-minute drive brought us to downtown of the city,called Centro, and there up the little hill our condo, a one-bedroom, furnished with workable kitchen was all set by our very friendly host Octavio.

After the brief settling down and freshning up, Angelo walked us down the hill to the grocery store, and said 'adios' (good-bye) to let us find our way back to our apartment.With grocery bags we started to figure out which 'calle' (street) goes to our new home, and despite being overly confident we lost the way but somehow managed to come back to the store to hire the taxi as we decided to play it safe on the first day of our aspiring vacation.

Tired because of the exhaustive journey overladen with two hour ahead time difference that after a quick dinner we retired for the day.

From the balcony of our centrally located unobstracted view apartment an awesome spectacle of the semi-circle Pacific ocean bay with rhythematic beats of the ever busy waves greeted us the next morning.

And down there along the beach, right in the heart of the town,was the main hub of the city, called Centro, which was merely a five- minute cobblestone walk from our place.We instantly got the subtle vibration that our stay in Puerto Vallarta was going to be exciting as our base camp up on the hillside was conveniently located to offer an excelling combination of typical city hustle and bustle and the nature’s own mighty waves' non-stop show.One can turn toward the ocean or turn toward the city,both ways it was fun.

Maxico is indeed a great country to visit,stay and have full pleasure which is worth every peso. It is indeed very much culturally rich,in music,arts,architecure and of course its ever exciting cuisine.

The hub of the Centro area is the vibrant Malecon Street with quite wide paved and illuminated sidewalk just along and above the shoreline.It is a place not only busy with people,tourists and locals both, but with venders selling from snacks to paintings along with super sales people marketing timeshares with lure of free tequila shots.The sidewalk itself is an open museum dotted with well-carved sculptures every few feet. And then there is an open stage where comedians and other entertainers perform their hillarious acts for free every evening.

Beside the Malecon the side streets are as exciting selling typical colorful handicrafts. The closeby public market is a great place to explore and shop a large variety of indigenously produced items from hats to dresses, decorative articles to useful household stuff.

Our favourite purchase was the handmade colorful glass wares including the stem ones for wine. And we got so many of them that as these were showing up prominently in our suitecases at the airport scanning machines that one inspector assured us “don’t worry your glasses are not broken”.

During the stay our major activity was the walk up and down the little moutain where our apartment was. Atleast three or four times a day with an average of forty-minutes to an hour which was almost 10 km of strolling around everyday, was our daily recreational mini Grouse grind. Naturally,one major chore of our daily life was buying grocery , of course it included tequila as well.

Octavio, seemed to be a tequila connoisseur, guided us to buy which one was best brand of this copyrighted famous liquor by differentiating between rapasado and anejo types, and from where to get it cheaper .

We prefered to eat the "home" cooked food and for that we did venture to try some popular Mexican items which included tortllia,napole (flat cactus leaves),beans and lot of lemon and tomatoes.We did go to some restaurants to try some authentic Mexican food,but somehow each time it was disappointment.The ready to eat Mexican delicacies at the grocery deli was a better choice where the curry-looking dishes were great in taste,reasonably priced too.

Our month-long stay included day trips to the popular Missmaloya beach,Canopy zipline mountaneous area, historical town of Tuito,beautiful beach city of La Panita, moutain sorrunded town of San Sabastian and the famous pilgrimage city of Talpa.

Talpa is a small beautiful town, about three-hour mountaneous drive frorm Puerto Vallarta and where beside the “miracle- promising” church ,the town offers freshly made guava rolls (worth buying), locally produced coffee beans and handicrafts.

Visiting these nearby towns around Puerto Vallarta one typical charectaristic emerges out of any Mexican city or town is its centro area with big park-like central plaza sorrounded by a church,a government building and shops.This architectural feature certainly provide a sense of community for town dwellers. And no wonder,Mexicans are perhaps one of most friendliest people in the world.

All in all Mexico is a welcome and genial place to visit and Puerto Vallarta provides hundred percent gurantee of that.