Fiji: The touch of untouched.

June 1, 2018

by: Austin Gunther

I’ve done tropical before: Hawaii, the Philippines — both wonderful places. But this post is about unknowns. Fiji. New to me. Also a revelation: what it’s actually like to experience a trip with Destinations and its partners.

If you’re familiar with Destinations, you know they have a knack for wowing you on these incentive familiarization trips — and every trip for that matter.

Me. I had heard about the wow. But I was optimistically cautious about the wonderment I’d encounter; simply, I looked forward to beach time under palm trees, eating some good food and enjoying a new culture. What I didn’t anticipate was walking off the flight home a changed human being.

Skepticism washed away by sincerity.

Was this fake? It had to be a show. Prepped with advertisements of beauty and welcoming, I stepped off Fiji Airways flight 807 greeted with humidity and smiles. Music. A lei around my neck. And Fijians. Beautiful people with eyes that saw something in myself I couldn’t see yet. When you travel somewhere, you expect to be an outsider. A tourist. I waited to feel out of place.

“Hello, Family!” “Bula, Family!” The voice of our guide, Roni. The next thirty minutes on the bus ride to our first destination, Marriott Momi Bay, was filled with dialogue about Fiji, its rich heritage, its unbelievable transition from a cannibalistic culture to the friendliest people on earth.

“God. Nature. Family,” Roni kept saying, “that’s who we Fijians are,” trying in a short amount of time to help our group understand his culture, to get it. “You are special, we believe that if you’re here in Fiji, you’re meant to be here.”

Bula. Forever.

Off the bus. Into the resort. Marriott Resort Momi Bay was an oasis: luxurious, stunning over-water villas — truly five-star. Greeted again with music and the Fijian Bula, I looked at our group being welcomed with leis and those smiles again, and I started to understand that I was family here. Not a tourist, but truly welcome in this paradise.

How would you be different if throughout your existence, others breathed positivity and life into your being and you did so in return? That’s Bula. And you feel it. You want to make it a part of you. Share it with your friends and family. Live a little lighter and experience the daily motivation. Bula is rooting you on and rooting you to the Fijian culture.

Behind the breeze.

Fiji and Destinations just go together. The hospitality and the attention to my every hope throughout the trip seemed at one moment to come from the culture and the next to have been seamlessly facilitated by Destinations. The magic of it all is I can’t pinpoint how it all happened. It just did.

As our tribe went from one awe-inspiring event or destination to the next, I let Fiji in. The clean air. The trees. Flowers. Unreal water. Beaches. Adventures. The relationships. And the surprises.

(continued below)

I am a Tuvu village member.

Captain Jenni told us to hold on. The first adventure was here — the Sigatoka River Safari and visit to Tuvu village. Fijian society has maintained its village structure with a chief and hierarchy and rules. To enter a village by permission is one thing. It’s another to become a member of the village.

That was the surprise.

We arrived as a visiting tribe, with Chief Bob — bearing the gift of Kava root.

The whole village was there. We partook in the welcoming ritual, drinking the Kava, saying our Bulas and Vinakas. This wasn’t a show. It was a true ritual. With white baby powder on our faces representing our connection with deity, we danced and ate. That day I became a member of the Tuvu village.

Castaway for a day.

Every day was rejuvenating. Visits to the beaches, Mala Mala Island and spas. A stop to paint a school and give back to the culture that was giving us so much.

And yet another surprise.

Destinations said they had something special planned for us. Stepping from the sand of the resort’s beach onto a boat, I felt grateful. Cared for. Fijian royalty. Our destination: the Sheraton Resort & Spa, Tokoriki Island. Or so we thought. It was beautiful. Turquoise water. A secluded escape. But after a tour, Roni said, “Back to the boat!”

Monuriki Island.

I let out a gasping “wow” as we approached the island. Staff sang on the beach. The sound carried over the waves. This was going to be our island for the day.

Destinations and the Sheraton crew had arranged everything. A personal chef. Umbrellas and towels. Snorkeling. Volleyball. The island where the film Castaway was filmed was ours. Not a commercialized location. An unadulterated place as it’s always been — untouched.

Moce (Mo-they) — not goodbye.

“Keep waving family; it’s tradition,” reminded Roni kindly as we left one location to the next. And then came our last night — a farewell dinner at Sandy Point at the Sheraton. A night I won’t forget. The beach was lit. Our tribe sat side by side, ate delicious food and smiled. A private band serenaded us and dancers entertained us. And I didn’t want it to end.

Moce is not the end. It’s the beginning. That next morning before our flight I thought about something over and over. Fijians share. No one goes hungry. Everyone is uplifted.

Everyone is meant to be here.