When you paddle with Warren in Fiji, it’s always downwind!
That’s how I had planned to start this story about a multisport trip to Fiji, but that was before I met the children of Malake Village, who touched my heart with their warmth and playfulness. That was before I met mountain guides Kali and Poli, who almost literally hauled me up the 3,600 feet to Mount Batilamu, and kept me laughing all the way. That was before we visited the thatched village of Navala, where people live as simply as they have for a hundred years, but the son of the turaga-ni-koro, village headman, was preparing to go to Iraq to provide security for U.N. personnel.
Don’t get me wrong; kayaking with Warren in Fiji is an experience not to be missed. And it is mostly downwind. Warren Francis owns Safari Lodge, a watersports center near Rakiraki, on the north side of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island. His guided kayak trip to Malake Village was the first step on our 10-day multisport adventure trip. I was traveling with Douglas King, my husband and photographer; Karen Prell, an adventurous vacationer from Cincinnati; Jonetani Tavigetaua, from the Fijian Ministry of Tourism; and Robin Maivusaroko, our trip leader, from Southern World Fiji. The adventure trip, organized by Outdoor Travel Adventures in the United States, follows in places the path of the 2002 Eco-Challenge Fiji, and includes sea kayaking, mountain biking, trekking, and whitewater paddling.
After an 11-hour flight from Los Angeles, we arrived in Nadi, the international airport, at 5:30 in the morning local time, and were met by Warren, Jon, and Robin. A few hours later, we were checking out the big Perception tandem kayaks at Safari Lodge, and sorting out who would paddle with whom. “This is the front?” Jon asked, fiddling with the rudder on one of the kayaks. I decided I’d take the stern and steer. Jon turned out to be a strong and enthusiastic paddler, given to raising his paddle in the air each time we caught a wave.
Our trip was arranged by Outdoor Travel Adventures, www.otadventures.com.
In Fiji, the travel company is Southern World Vacations, www.southern-world.com.
Sea kayaking was with Safari Lodge, www.safarilodge.com.fj.
Mountain biking was with Wacking Stick Adventures, www.wackingstickadventures.com.
Batilamu Trek, www.batilamutrek.com
Whitewater trip was with Rivers Fiji, www.riversfiji.com.
Matana Beach Resort, www.matanabeachresort.com
Stoney Creek Resort, www.stoneycreekfiji.net
Tui Tai Adventure Cruise, www.tuitai.com
Koro Sun Resort, www.korosunresort.com
Crusoe’s Retreat, www.crusoesretreat.com
With the wind at our backs we paddled to the island of Nananu-I-Ra, where we lounged beneath palms and snorkeled around a coral reef dotted with vivid blue fish, yellow-striped fish, and bright blue sea stars. At the end of the afternoon, a support boat carried us back against the wind to Rakiraki.
The next day we paddled with the wind to Malake Island, cruising among the mangroves near Volivoli Point and stopping once again to snorkel amid the coral that juts out from shore. We lingered beneath the palms and red bead trees, waiting for the tide to come in enough so that we could paddle into the harbor at Malake Village. There we were greeted with the offer of a hot shower (the only one in the village) and a formal Fijian welcoming ceremony. We gathered in the village meetinghouse and shared a bowl of kava with the locals. Kava is a mudlike drink made from the powdered roots of the yaqona plant and is a mild euphoriant.
In the dusk, we walked up the hill behind the village to get a closer look at a fire that appeared to be burning half the island, to no one’s great concern. Field fires are common during the dry season, and we were to see many throughout our trip. Some children broke off from their play to walk with us, and we watched in amazement a boy who zigzagged down the grassy slope on homemade skis, neatly skirting our group.