Vegan and (Mostly) Raw in Fiji
Filed under Traveling in the Raw by Frederic Patenaude
I just came back from a visit to Fiji, and I can’t wait to tell you about what I discovered there. So in today’s article I’ll share my thoughts on Fiji, from the perspective of a fruit lover and raw food enthusiast.
The word “Fiji” itself conjures images of tropical paradises, beautiful beaches, and perhaps even the upscale “Fiji Water” that you now find in your grocery store (which actually comes from Fiji for real, but more on this later).
When I planned my trip around the world, a few years ago, I knew I wanted to stop in Fiji. I’ve always felt this irresistible attraction for distant and mysterious South Pacific islands, and Fiji was no exception.
I knew a little bit about the history. When Captain Cook landed in Tonga in 1772, he named these islands the “Friendly Isles,” as the Tongans welcomed him with baskets of fruit and invited him to a party! A couple of years later, the same famous Captain Cook arrived in Fiji, where the islands were called the “Cannibal Isles,” due to the ferocious appetite natives who regularly ate human flesh (generally their enemies).
Nowadays, no one eats humans in Fiji, as the practice has been reluctantly abandoned when the islands embraced Christianity a long time ago. But the Fijians like to joke about their cannibalistic past, as I discovered onsite!
Fiji is comprised of over 300 islands. As you can read on the back of the Fiji water you buy at the grocery story, Fiji is situated in between Australia and Hawaii, 1300 miles northeast of New Zealand.
The main island is called Viti Levu, which is about the same size as the Big Island of Hawaii (actually, Viti Levu is slightly larger).
We flew from Sydney to Nadi, the main airport on Viti Levu, which took around three hours. My first impression upon landing, after needing to eat all of my leftover fruit near a garbage bin before reaching customs (otherwise it would have been confiscated by customs, due to some agricultural restrictions to prevent diseases on crops), was “how friendly!”
As soon as we got into the terminal, a group of smiling Fijian were playing a song for us and greeting us with a big “Bula,” the equivalent of the Hawaiian greeting “Aloha” that you’ll hear a hundred times a day while in Fiji.
Fijians are world-famous for their hospitality and friendliness, and after having visited many countries in the world, I must say that they certainly rank among the top friendliest people I have met, close to the Thai and Costa Ricans. But the thing that Fijians have that other cultures don’t is a wicked sense of humor. As I quickly discovered during my stay in Fiji, the locals love to joke around, and are usually in a very happy and playful mood.
When you arrive in Fiji, you’re greeted with a free 4-month visa, which you can extend for another two months if you want. Compared to other countries, with their restrictive and punitive visa rules, this felt much better.
When we first arrived in Fiji, we stayed a night near Nadi, and then we headed for four days to the Yasawa group of islands. This is a string of islands Northwest of Viti Levu, where a lot of people go for the “Castaway” experience.
We boarded a boat that took us to the island where we would spend the next few days (called Nanuya Lailai), and during the five-hour ride we passed many little islands, some of them so small that the only thing that was on them was a resort! One of these islands was where the movie Castaway was filmed (if you haven’t seen this classic with Tom Hanks, go rent it immediately, you’ll love it!).
Our island was pretty small too. On low tide, I managed to run around it in around 45 minutes. The reef in front was superb, with lots of undersea wildlife and coral. Besides snorkeling, there wasn’t much to do other than laying around and enjoying the weather, but we did manage to go visit a cave that was featured in the movie The Blue Lagoon with Brooke Shields, in 1980.
Now I’m sure you’re wondering… what the hell did you eat on this island? To be honest, there wasn’t much to eat. In fact, the big problem with all of these island resorts is that there are literally no options besides the hotel restaurant. We contacted many of these places in advance to ask if they could at least prepare vegan meals, and all of them said “no,” except the one where we went to, who seemed happy to accommodate any dietary needs.
All the islands get daily supplies from the mainland, but it’s pretty limited. There was fruit available, but only bananas, papayas and watermelon. Fortunately, we brought some food with us, and managed to explain to the chefs at the restaurant what we wanted.
When I first told them our basic requirement was that we wanted foods with no dairy products, eggs, meat or fish, they were truly dumbfounded. However, once I wrote down a list of actual meals we could have, suddenly it made more sense to them and they actually managed pretty well to prepare new and interesting meals every day.
Needless to say, I did not stay 100% raw on the island. But I managed to stay vegan, which was not a small feat! Overall during my stay in Fiji, I found the hotel chefs rather good and able to accommodate special requests, as opposed to the semblance of chefs they have in the Philippines, who have absolutely no culinary skills whatsoever and could not prepare a meal without grease or meat to save their lives! Yes, the food is that bad in the Philippines…
The only unfortunate thing that happened on this little island was that a power surge from the power generator destroyed both of my computer adapters, which meant I was without computers and unable to work for almost 10 days! I took that as a sign to take things easy and enjoy some “Bula” lifestyle.
After spending four days on this tiny island, we headed back to Viti Levu to discover the “real” Fiji.
I know that some tourists only go to expensive resorts and stay there the whole time, or hop from one tiny island to the next. I really don’t understand why, since all of these islands are pretty much the same. The only thing that’s different is the resort itself, and perhaps the dinner menu!
Although I enjoyed my Robinson Crusoe adventure on this little island, I found the rest of Fiji more interesting. On Viti Levu, we rented a car and got to discover some interesting local stuff.
The Cost of Living
The South Pacific is not cheap, but of all the island nations Fiji is the most affordable. They use the Fiji dollar, which converted at $1.85 Fiji dollars for each US dollar when we were there. This favorable exchange rate meant that most things were priced affordably.
Frankly, the most expensive thing in Fiji is staying at expensive resorts or island hopping. On the main island of Viti Levu, we found a nice little hotel with a very friendly staff, a pool and access to a beautiful beach, for only US$45 a night. This was a very good deal and you can find decent places even cheaper.
Cab rides are cheap, car rentals are relatively affordable (compared to other destinations like Australia or Europe), and restaurant meals are generally much cheaper than in Western countries.
Fruit on the side of the road or at farmer’s markets was downright cheap, as long as it was locally grown. For example, on the road we found “papaya stands” where locals were selling them for US$1.10 for five Hawaiian style papayas.
Speaking of fruit, Fiji is not a fruit paradise like Thailand or even Singapore. When we were there, papayas were in season, and they were delicious and cheap, so we ate a lot of them.
The pineapples were mediocre, but the watermelon was okay. There was plenty of locally grown bananas, and of course coconut, which is heavily used in Fijian cuisine. The local bananas were not very tasty at all so we opted for some imported navel oranges instead because they actually tasted better.
Surprisingly, there were a lot of greens. That’s probably due to the fact that the Indian-Fijians consume a lot more vegetables than the locals! Speaking of which…
The Fijian population is divided in half. Half of the locals are Melanesians, the same line of people that Captain Cook met when he first arrived in 1774. The other half are Indians, descending from the workers that the British brought when they added Fiji to their world empire almost 150 years ago. They’ve been a British colony since 1970, but technically the Queen of England is still the head of state, and that’s why you see her image on the face of coins and bank notes.
Due to the British influence, most Fijians speak fluent English. That’s because all formal education is done in English only. Even though the locals speak Fijians among themselves, and are very proud of their language (the Indo Fijians speak a variation of Hindi), the only official language of Fiji is English.
I was very surprised at how well the Fijians spoke English. I thought that they spoke it even more fluently than the Filipinos, who are considered to be the Asian nation with the best English skills. In fact, everything in Fiji is written in English, so you’ll have no problem communicating if you ever go there.
Internet Access, Infrastructures
The roads in Fiji are in pretty bad shape, reminding me of Costa Rica, with an endless number of potholes. If you rent a car, try to get one that might withstand the assault!
Most places offer pretty bad Internet access and charge for it too. Our savior in Fiji was a mobile 3G Internet stick from Vodafone we got at the airport and could use throughout Fiji, including on the remote island in the Yasawa group that we first visited! If you ever go to Fiji and need your Internet, I would suggest you get the Vodafone stick upon arrival!
What’s There to Do?
Most people who go to the smaller islands end up spending most of their days at the hotel, laying in the sun, reading a book and perhaps go snorkeling. That’s fine for me for a couple days, but after that long I don’t see the point anymore. I flew all the way here to actually see and do something!
On the main island of Viti Levu, there was just more cultural stuff in general to do.
The highlight of our trip was a visit to the “Robinson Crusoe” island, a small island off the shore of Viti Levu where a friendly company organizes day tours that feature snorkeling, fun in the sun, and an awesome evening Fijian dance performance. This was truly one of the best tours we have done anywhere all over the world.
When I was in Hawaii for my honeymoon, we went to a traditional Luau in Maui (an evening dance/performance in Hawaii), and I thought it was cool. However, after seeing the evening performance in Fiji, I now think the Hawaiian Luau sucked in comparison (and was seriously overpriced)!
What was interesting about the Fijians running the Robinson Crusoe island adventure is that they did everything. They were our tour guides, our drivers, snorkeling guides and free diving experts. They opened coconuts, told us about the medicinal plants on the island… and finally at the end of a busy day, they transformed themselves into awesome performers and dancers! I was literally blown away.
If you’d like to check out the highlights of this performance, you have to see the video below.
Watch the Video Below!
Compared to the Hawaiian dancers who are for the most part fat and out of shape, the Fijians were ripped and ready to replace Mekhi Phifer in the next Hollywood action movie!
The Fijians in general, like most Polynesians, are a sturdy people. They are tall and tend to grow massive muscles and stay ripped (we Caucasian males hate you, of course). In the Cannibal days, the used to grow massive afros. The women on the other hand are often rather masculine and manly-looking, for the most part. Like I said, it’s a sturdy race.
If you go to Fiji, you’ll surely hear about kava, a drink concocted from the roots of the local kava plant, that is used in traditional ceremonies in many island nations.
The drink is rather famous because when people drink A LOT of kava, they can feel stoned, as the plant has “tranquilizing” properties.
Kava is actually raw. It’s made from the roots of the Kava plants, which are dried and then turned crushed. The resulting powder is put in cheesecloth or fabric sheets and then infused in water.
Most people find that it tastes disgusting and looks like dirty dish water, but having been used to strong green juices over my years of raw foodism, I found it easy to swallow my kava (which is served in a coconut bowl).
As expected, as soon as I drank the kava, I felt a little tingling sensation of my tongue. Other than that, I felt perfectly normal. I drank about half a full bowl (a “low tide”) Later, I heard that the locals drink over twenty “high tide” bowls to start feeling seriously stoned! I personally did not notice any effect after one bowl.
Here’s a video of me drinking Kava… watch it!
Note for Vegetarians, Vegans, Raw-Foodists
As mentioned previously, Fiji is not the fruit paradise that South-East Asia is. Although I ate plenty of papaya during my stay, I did not commit to 100% raw.
Like in most island nations, the supermarkets suck for the most part, although you should be able to find plenty of survival foods to eat. If I ever come back another time, I would certainly bring a supply of goods that are hard to find, such as raw nuts and seeds.
There’s actually a few vegetarian restaurants in Fiji, almost all of which are owned by Indian-Fijians and serve vegetarian Indian food. In Nadi, there was a place called “Shakti” that was vegetarian, and in Suva (the big city), there was at least four vegetarian Indian restaurants.
Note that most Indian restaurants in Fiji are not that great, as they appeal mainly to the locals and serve mostly meat dishes, with lots of grease and optional fried potatoes. The best thing in Fiji is to go to hotel restaurants, who have better trained chefs, and ask them to prepare something for you. I’ve had no problems with that approach during my stay.
The Mystery of Fiji Water
Okay, just admit it. Don’t you love Fiji water? It tastes better than most bottled water, and it actually comes from Fiji!
The weirdest thing is that in Fiji, “Fiji Water” is found everywhere and is relatively cheap, compared to the outrageous prices some people pay for that water overseas. However, it’s clearly marketed for the tourists and not for the locals, who are happy to drink regular tap water.
There’s something weird behind the success of Fiji. The water actually comes all the way from Fiji, but the company will claim that the more you drink of it, the more you’ll save the environment!
I agree, their water is not bad. However, will drinking more bottled water do a thing for the “environment”? I don’t think so.
When I arrived in Fiji, I was determined to find out where Fiji Water was produced and go there to shoot a little video.
I soon realized it was a bad idea. A few years ago, a reporter who worked for the magazine Mother Jones went to Fiji to investigate Fiji Water, and she came back with a shocking story of controversies and drama, after running into some troubles with the authorities, too. You can read about it by googling the terms “Fiji Water, Mother Jones.”
On the back of the Fiji bottles, they put an address where Fiji water is produced. While I was in Fiji, I tried everywhere to find that location, and it is nowhere to be found! I asked the locals, but nobody would tell me. It seems that they don’t like to have journalists sniffing around. Apparently, it’s a really remote location that’s very hard to reach anyway, so I decided to just give up and swallow the blue pill.
I thought I would make a shocking video about Fiji water, but instead I decided to enjoy the rest of Fiji.
Would I come back?
The main keyword I would associate with Fiji was “fun.” It was fun to be in Fiji, even though the weather was a little grey and rainy due to the rainy season South of the Equator. There was still plenty of sunshine, people were friendly and we had a good time.
The islands are very pretty, but I must say that I’m a little spoiled, having visited other beautiful tropical islands in the past. The Seychelles were truly stunningly beautiful (more so than Fiji), with the best beaches I have ever seen. I also think that French Polynesia has the most beautiful lagoons in the world, at least that I’ve seen.
Still, I don’t think anyone who would go to Fiji would ever say “That sucked!”, unless they insisted in having an tremendous variety of ripe tropical fruit all the time.
I would definitely go back to Fiji, mainly for the cultural experience. Most likely, I don’t see myself going back there anytime soon… but if you end up in Fiji, please send me some warm “Bula” my way so I can remember the great times I had on the Cannibal Isles.
Do you wonder how I manage to travel the world doing what I love? Check out my free tips for making a living in the natural health movement at my other website, www.dowhatyouloveuniversity.com