Hiking in The Yasawas, Fiji
First off, let me say that I did not go to Fiji in order to climb or hike. In fact, I literally arrived in Fiji with no plans. That's right, I showed up in Fiji by myself, at night, with no idea where I was going or what I would be doing for the next seven days. I hadn't even made a reservation for the first night's hostel. Some people call the reasoning behind this peculiar lack-of-planning "stupidity"; I call it adventure.
After arriving, I quickly befriended a local and found myself at his house, drinking kava
. I told him that I wanted to go someplace to relax, away from the bulk of the tourists. The next day I was on a boat to Waya Island, in the Yasawa group.
Although Fiji's high point (Tomanivi, also known as Mount Victoria: 4,334 feet)
is on the mainland, every island has its own high point, making peakbagging a fun, island-hopping adventure. I would love to go back to Fiji with a small boat and do a traverse of the entire Yasawa chain. But alas, in June of 2004 I found myself swaying in a hammock on beautiful Waya Island. A 500 meter craggy peak surrounding by rolling grasslands hovered above us.
I quickly decided that it would be a fun group activity ('group' in this case consisted of me and the 3 other foreigners staying on the entire island) to climb the peak. A trip to the nearest village secured a guide, who I very unnecessarily 'reserved' for the next day's hike. For some odd reason, convincing the other 3 backpackers to go on the hike was a more difficult task than I had imagined. It turned out that I had to abandon the idea of reaching the high point in order to go on what we agreed would be a short, guided group hike. I secretly packed a sack lunch for the 4 of us just in case I could convince everyone to stay out longer.
Once we met up with our guide, we began hiking up the hillside through steep jungle. After a couple of hours one of the girls complained of hunger and sore feet (she was wearing flip-flops after all), so we stopped for a break. The guide cut open some coconuts growing on a nearby tree and I passed out the sandwiches. The food was enough to convince everyone to push on to one of the big lookout points of the island. After hiking for a couple more hours, we broke through the jungle and arrived at the top of a prominent peak on Waya Island. Perfect white sandy beaches fringed by warm turquoise water and dense green jungle erupted into view. The other backpackers were so delighted with the vista that a spontaneous group hug seemed like the only thing to keep us from all breaking into tears. While this was the extent of my "peak-bagging" in Fiji, the rest of my trip was just as spontaneous, and just as amazing. I wrote this trip report in order to hopefully convince a few fellow SummitPosters to head down to the South Pacific in search of small peaks and adventure.
Another Day in Paradise
One of the highlights from my trip Fiji took place on an ordinary day sometime between the standard hours of banana breakfast and lobster lunch. I was relaxing in a hammock, leisurely making my way through pages of a novel detailing Captain Cook's first sea voyage, when I heard someone yell: "Bryan, lets go fishing. Grab your fins and snorkel." It was a local villager that I had met the night before, Zeus -- I shit you not, that was his real name, and it fit. The man towered above me at 6'6", weighed around 290 pounds, and had a handshake like a vice grip. I never doubted that he had the ability to unleash a dozen well-aimed lightning bolts at a target of his choosing.
While I really had no idea what was going on, I was pretty excited to be asked for help. I grabbed my gear and headed over to the beach just in time to see an old man slowly rowing a rickety canoe out to sea. When he got about 100 meters from the beach, he dropped a long net parallel to the shoreline, just beyond the edge of the final coral formations.
Only seconds before jumping into the water, Zeus gave me my sole direction: "Swim to the net. Make lots of noise." Simple and sweet; not a word wasted. So I began swimming towards the net alongside five Fijian men, feeling quite unprepared and vulnerable: none of us had a spear, fishing line, or any other traditional fishing gear. About 20 meters from the beach, I glanced over towards Zeus, faithfully swimming besides me. Finally, the "make lots of noise" part of my brief intro to fishing course came into play as we reached the shallow side of the reef. It all dawned on me when Zeus and the other locals began slapping and kicking the water, all the while continuing to swim head-on towards the outstretched net. The slapping ignited a fireworks display from the reef: red snapper, blue-green parrot fish, and yellow wrasse sped from the coral, swimming away from the threatening noises and heading directly, and unknowingly, into our net.
I continued this ritual, swimming towards the net, slapping at the water, all the while amazed at the simplicity of the system. Upon reaching the net, I was met with our next obstacle. Without any instruction, Zeus took a deep breath and dove down to the net, fully submerged a good 5-7 meters below the surface. One-by-one he wrapped the net around the partially entangled fish and snapped them in half, breaking their backs and killing them instantly.
After several unsuccessful attempts to reach the net with enough air in my lungs to perform even the simplest of actions, I finally found myself face-to-face with a struggling fish. At around 10 inches long he wasn't a remarkable specimen, but was beautiful nonetheless. After feeling a brief but overwhelming passion for all sentient beings, I began to feebly attempt to kill the fish, only to be cut quite badly by a spike on his dorsal fin. Failure turned to disappointment as the fish scuttled away into the open ocean, spraying a stream of freshly ground coral polyps out of his rear -- and in my general direction -- in a victorious, in-your-face mist of freedom.
While I didn't catch anything that day, I was still invited to feast on our treasure trove of fish. It was quite an honor to be invited to the traditional lunch, and while I stood out like a sore thumb -- I was, after all the only white person, non-villager, or man shorter than 6'4" -- nobody seemed to mind. It was a great end to another day in paradise, and the exceptional thing was that it cost only $30 a day.