Our driver forgot to pick us up from the Taunovo Bay Resort in Pacific Harbour, Fiji.
We were to drive the two hour road trek to the Sigatoka River for an unforgettable jungle river safari.
“Hey, it’s Fiji time!” the receptionist from Taunovo Bay told me in a warm and reassuring manner. Fiji time found me and my river runner sidekick, Shannon side tracked with an alternate driver, whose name I learned was Orisi. I was concerned that we would miss our scheduled 1 p.m. Sigatoka River Safari departure. I was reassured that the entire boat would be on “Fiji time”; waiting is synonymous with Fiji time.
Jetboating on the Sigatoka River.
Two hours later we jumped out of Orisi’s mini van and whisked away in yet a larger van. The seven other river adventurers were also now on “Fiji time” because of our late arrival. If I was late like this back in the United States the seven passengers would be annoyed.
In Fiji the locals have a saying, “Seng a na lenga”, which translates into “no worries” or “no problems”.
Allen was on Fiji time.
It was apparent that locals and tourists alike adopt and practice this saying. In fact, I was most happy to see two recent friends, Allan and Judy, who we met on a previous boat trip, a seven day cruise around the Fijian islands and sure enough they were here on the Sigatoka River Safari tour too.
Sigatoka sits on the southern side, otherwise known as the Coral Coast, of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. It is about 70 km from the Nadi international airport. This side of the island is home to about 10,000 Fijians.
Our driver transported us from the small but bustling seaside town of Sigatoka to the depths of the jungle interior along the Sigatoka River Valley. Climbing up through the luscious green hills it was apparent that this would be an unique adventure.
We were escorted down a small trail to the wooden dock where the jetboats were docked. At the boating dock we were given the typical bright life jackets in hues and shades of red and yellow. We boarded the jetboat and braced ourselves. Josh Ratukuna who likes to call himself, “Captain Jack Sparrow” introduced himself. We were set for the thrill.
Captain Jack was on Fiji time.
We raced across the surface of the glassy Sigatoka River with exhilaration. Captain Jack dodged tree branches, rocks and sandbars; the jetboat skimmed and zig zagged along the undulating river. Captain Jack made short stops along the way to educate us about village life in the Sigatoka River Valley with added historical glimpses of his life as a jetboat driver. Jack was as native as the flora, fauna because he had grown up with the valley people.
The villagers farm much of their terraced land along the river; crops mainly consist of cassava and taro which are both root vegetables.
Villagers raise crops along the Sigatoka River.
After we docked the boat along the river’s edge we were greeted by a Fijian man in a Bula shirt (typical Fijian button up short sleeve shirt) and a sula (long, straight, below the knee wrap around skirt). He helped us out of the boat and introduced himself as Mark. He would be our host in the Naveyago Village. We trekked through the bush and down a heavily used dirt road to the village.
To enter the village it was important that we were dressed appropriately. This requires all men and women to wear a sulu to protect exposed knees and shoulders.
Take a village tour.
On the village tour we stopped at the small church, various houses, and outdoor kitchens. The village did not have a municipal power supply since their electricity was washed out by a major flood that swept through the valley some time ago.
At the main village house or community center we were asked to remove our shoes and come inside for a traditional Kava Ceremony a ritualistic and proper welcoming. Sitting crossed legged on the floor, Mark explained the Kava ceremony; Allan was elected our Chief Representative. The traditional offering of a kilo of Kava, called a Savusavu, was presented to the village Chief. Each guests was given a bowl of kava which tastes earthy and watery.
This pastoral village is definitely on Fiji time.
As part of the ceremony, a lunch was prepared of chicken, curry potato, small cabbage salad, flat Indian bread called Roti, fruit and sweet cakes. It was washed down with the local drink of water, lemon and sugar; a sweet version of lemonade.
Before I knew it we were singing and dancing to traditional Fijian music with the village children. The Fijian people love to show and share their culture with the outside world; their form of entertainment. Fijian leis were presented as gift to us for visiting the village. The woman of the village painted a white stripe on each of our cheeks to symbolize peace. In the hot and humid day the dancing was quite a workout!
We said our good byes to the villagers and Mark escorted us back to the jetboat. Captain Jack revved up the engine and the jetboat’s speed gave us a welcome breeze as we skimmed maneuvered across the placid water.
Unfortunately, even Fiji time doesn’t last forever as we were soon back on dry land.
To experience the Sigatoka River Safari for yourself and to learn Captain Jack’s amazing piloting skills, please contact:
— Feature by Michelle Schoser, Jetsetters Magazine San Diego Correspondent; photos courtesy of Michelle Schoser, Shannon Bundy and Sigatoka River Safari.