Staying on the Coral Coast, Fiji – Things to Do, Getting to Suva, Finding a Toilet

A lovely lady called Emma contacted me through the Facebook site Clean Up Fiji after listening to the 4BC Australia Radio Interview last month where I was asked about recycling in Fiji and what I am doing personally to combat the issue.  She is going to be staying at the Fiji Hideaway Resort on the Coral Coast, Fiji shortly and has offered to help by taking some photographs and doing a blog post or Facebook post of her experiences.  I recently went to the Hideaway to visit some other friends, so thought I might give Emma my tips.  It seems the tips might be useful to others, so here they are with some extra bits added for clarity.  For more travel tips click here:

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Hare Krishna Temple, Sigatoka

Things are moving along here now. My husband and I are organizing a recycling program at Fiji National University,, Koronivia Campus and also Levuka Town, Ovalau Island and some of the other islands. Community support is growing. I visited Hideaway recently when some other friends were there, and found out that they do recycle there, which is great. My friend said that she asked about the coral planting project and it is no longer going. I believe at Hideaway resort that they used to have a program where you can replant coral http://marineecologyfiji.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Micro-reef-building.pdf . Also, just to let you know, if you plan to swim or dive, take care as there could be nutrients from sewage in the sea which you can’t see as it leaches from the resorts and villages. It can be a  real problem on the Coral Coast. My friend went diving and really enjoyed seeing the fish.  She also went on a reef walk which she enjoyed.  The best time for diving is at high tide so you may have to get up early!

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Source: Facebook ecoCafe

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Horse riding, outside ecoCafe, near Korolevu

My suggestions to you while you are there – visit Kula Bird Park which is nearby and apparently lovely. My friends went there. Sigatoka Sand dunes is also good – an archaelogical site (ask at the hotel). Sigatoka town is nice to wander around, and you can visit the beautiful Iskcon Hare Krishna Temple there. If you go in the other direction (towards Suva) on the normal bus (just wait by the side of the road – it costs about $1 each) ask to get off at Votua Village near Korolevu village. I have a friend there who might be able to meet you if you like. Anyway, once you get to Votua village, then just walk (ask anyone) about 3 minutes down the road towards Suva and you will find the ecoCafe. It is run by a German lady and a Fijian man. They have a nice deck over the beach where you can eat and have a drink, and you can walk on the beach and your daughter can paddle around. They also cook a Lovo (earth oven feast) there sometimes. They sell some nice handicrafts there at the cafe also (better than the ones I saw at the resort).

There is also a waterfall near Korolevu but I have never been there.  You could ask at the hotel if there is anyone who could take you.

A great site for local activities near Korolevu (which is close to Hideaway) with contact numbers and websites is https://sites.google.com/site/fijibeachcottage/local-activities.

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Dining room, Beach Cocomo

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Sign outside Beach Cocomo

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Marie cooking dinner

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Marie at Beach Cocomo serving breakfast

You should also see if you can go for dinner at Beach Cocomo (contact details and pics here).  It is run by a Korean lady, Marie, who cooks the most delicious Fijian/Korean fusion for about $35 a head for 5 course dinner and you eat in a traditional bure with a sand floor, overlooking the ocean.  It is about 10 minutes drive from the Hideaway by taxi and Marie can order a taxi to take you back after dinner.  Tell her I sent you and give her my regards!  It is really not to be missed.  She may ask for a deposit by credit card so that she knows you will come.  Don’t be concerned by that, as she has to buy the fresh food and if you don’t come it will be wasted!  She also does breakfast which is lovely and you can go for a walk on the beach there.  She makes the best babakau. (Well actually, I think I make the best ones, but hers are second best!)

If you have any room at all in your suitcases to bring over some stuff, my friend at The Gap has been collecting donations of second hand sheets, towels, clothes etc that are much needed here. Maybe you could bring a few as she has too much to bring with her? I can come and meet you, or you can leave it at reception with my husband’s name and he can collect when he passes by for work.

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Volavola at home with our Tanoa

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My husband and his father and
our nephew cook the lovo at home

The big bus stand is also right next to the big vegetable market which is interesting and there is a women’s section inside where you can buy some nice patchwork bags in Fijian fabrics. I bought one a year ago and use it every day for shopping and it still looks great. Also, go upstairs, as that is where they sell the Kava (Yaqona pronounced “Yangona”) If you want to visit the museum, then get a taxi from outside the flea market or vegetable market. It will cost about $3.50. The museum costs about $7 each to go in. It is surrounded by a botanical garden and is next to the Presidential Palace where you can see

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Suva Museum, Thurston Gardens

the guard who is there 24/7 in his white sulu with the zig zag bottom. It is also next to Albert Park. If you want to eat, across the road from the museum, on the sea wall is the Bowls Club. They are members only, but will most likely let you in and serve you if you say that you are new in town and it was recommended. Just ask if a member can sign you in. If you are a member of any club in Australia such as a football club, bring your membership and ask to be signed in as an affiliated club member. It is a nice walk back from that area past the Art Deco government buildings towards town. Once you get to the

Suva City Libarary (also a nice building to go inside) and Olympic Pool, turn towards the sea wall which goes behind MacDonalds and IMGP7389you can walk all the way back to the big bus stand over the bridge past the fish market. Once you go over the little bridge, you can see the vegetable market. Cut straight through the vegetable market and it takes you out to the bus stand where you can get the Sunbeam bus back to the Hotel. The trip to Suva is about 2 and a bit hours by bus, so leave early in the day and come back in the afternoon about 3pm to avoid the rush hour. It is a lovely bus ride and you will get to see a bit of Fiji. A few tips regarding

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Mats and Masi at Suva Flea Market

finding toilets: Make sure that you take some toilet paper and wet wipes with you as most of the toilets will not have toilet paper or soap as you are expected to bring your own. If you want to go to the toilet when you get to town then you have to be strategic. There are some pay toilets (50cents each) which are very clean, and you can find toilets most of the way along the route to the museum if you know how. I will put the details and a toilet map in my next message as I have to go and do some gardening now before it gets too hot!

Learn to Weave Fijian Voivoi Mats – private classes

Do you want to learn how to weave mats in a Fijian home, rather than at a resort?  Eat real Fijian food? Enjoy a real Fijian home atmosphere and relax?

To find out more, click here and I will be able to contact you.IMGP1938

Weaving Fijian Mats and Baskets

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Coconut frond basket which I made for our house

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My first voivoi mat with a shell Dominic collected at Levuka sea wall

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My friend Vuli weaving

Learn how to make a Fijian Mat – classes

 

 

One way to keep yourself amused in Fiji is to learn how to make mats and baskets.  First, you need to find yourself a friend!  I found Vuli – a wonderful woman from Lau who was my neighbour at Koronivia.  The Lauans are very clever at mat weaving.

If you want to ask someone to teach you to weave a mat, you can ask around the neighbourhood where you stay, and find out which ladies know how to weave.  Offer to teach them something in return, like how to cook something, or if you are a gardener, you can offer to do some weeding in return.  You should also buy all the materials (the voivoi, which is the dried leaves of a relative of the pandanus plant), plus some extra for them as a gift.

You should also know that it will take many sessions of several hours each to learn, and that you should bring food for morning or afternoon tea (crackers, bread and butter is always a good choice).  You should also make sure that it fits in with their schedule.  For example, many Fijians (including us) do not have hot water or a washing machine, so washing needs to be done by hand every morning for the family.  This is  big job, and normally not finished until about 9.45 am after the kids and husband have gone to work, or if the man is retired, after he has done his “farming” which is what they call planting and weeding in the yard or “compound”.

Also, it is very important to realise that most iTaukei (indigenous Fijians) people are Christian, and there is strictly no “work” at all on Sunday – this means no playing in the yard, no gardening, no cleaning, and definitely NO WEAVING, even though it may suit you, as to Westerners, no work on Sunday means simply that you do not go to your normal workplace, but pottering about at home is fine.  Here, Sunday takes on a whole different meaning.

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Rolls of voivoi ready for weaving, sitting on a completed mat

You can buy voivoi from any market – Suva, Nausori, or the smaller towns.  It is usually $20 to $25 Fijian dollars per roll.  Each roll has between 80 to 120 pieces.  If you happen to travel to a smaller town like Rakiraki, you can buy a roll for about $15. Make sure you ask them for a roll which has all long pieces, or take your mat weaving friend with you (make sure you also pay their bus fare).  There are also smaller rolls of the black voivoi which you need for the accent stripes, and they cost around $6 Fijian dollars.  The black colour is made by boiling the voivoi in a special leaf (which to me looks like a mid sized shrub with little yellow flowers and very small leaves, but we think it is a weed and would normally pull it out), or failing the availability of the leaf, chucking in a pot with  couple of batteries and water and boiling for a few hours.

It is a big time commitment, so be prepared to go on the first day thinking you are going to make a mat, but realising about two weeks later when you finally finish, that you have made a life long friend.

Weaving is done in rows (or roads as Vuli calls them).  Voivoi is made by cutting the leaves off the voivoi plant, stripping off the thorns, then hanging in the sun to dry.  Once dried, a mussel shell is used to scrape over and over and make each leaf smooth.  Then they are rolled and boiled, and dried again.  A very long process takes place before you buy it at the market.  Once you get it home, it has to be unrolled, and sorted by size.  You want to start the mat using the long pieces first.  Then the spine in the centre of each leaf is cut out carefully using a small kitchen knife, and each half is cut into either two, three or four long strips, still joined at one end, depending on the fineness of your mat.  The left side pieces are separated from the ride side.

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Vuli and Metui (grandfather) relaxing at the beginning of the second row

Weaving is always done sitting down, so make sure that you are wearing something comfortable (and that will cover up your privates while you sit for hours with your legs spread eagled!) and be prepared for an almighty backache.  Take a sulu (sarong) and wrap it around your lower half, and it works quite well.

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The black accent is woven in as you go

Also be prepared that the ladies will be very surprised that you want to learn, and will want to do most of it for you, as at first they think that you just want a free mat, and don’t really want to learn.  You have to persist in your own way and be really willing.  It is not as easy as it looks!

The mat is started by placing two cut pieces crossed over, and starting to weave the cut strips, then another is added and so on until you have the length of your intended mat.  At the beginning, for the first 10 weaves you also weave a piece back on itself to lock it in place.  Once you get to the end of each row, you fold the second last piece over itself, and that makes the edge, and you weave backwards to start the new row.

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Making the edge of the mat (which is at the width ends)

As each piece is running short, you splice a new piece into the weave.  Each piece of voivoi has a back and front with one side being smoother with less imperfections, but it is very difficult to tell, but you must learn as a few times during the weaving the mat has to be turned over and woven upside down.  If you don’t do this, your mat will be crooked.

When you finally, finally get to the last row (the intended width of the mat), then you have to cut each small piece into half and weave it backwards on itself to create the side edge.  This is very complicated, but my favourite part.  The black accents are put in as you go, and only appear on one side of the mat.  The process of weaving them through is something I tried but did not fully master, so Vuli did most of that for me.  At the very end of all that a very fine plait is done to finish it all off.

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Left to right: Save Jnr, Dominic and Kutu – firm friends at the end of the mat!

After that, you have tea and crackers to celebrate, and you get to fold up your mat and take it home.  Mats are the traditional floor covering here, and are used every day.  It is a very poor home that does not have any mats, and a home of pity.  Many iTaukei women do not know how to weave mats, so they buy them in the market for around $80 FJD.  Considering a large mat uses about $75 FJD of voivoi, the ladies making them are really doing it for almost nothing.  Mats are folded up and taken everywhere, picnics, church, family gatherings etc.  They are also a traditional gift for weddings, funerals and important family occasions.  Chiefly and important families have many many mats.

But for me, it started as a way to make our house a home, and learn something new.  It ended after several weeks of spending hours a day with Vuli and her loving family (Metui, Koto, Vulisere and Tadu, Sukulu and Iliesa, Bula, Tua, Little Metui and Vili) as a loving friendship and being truly part of the family.  Guests to our home are very surprised that I know how to weave, and I feel immense pride.

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Sitting on my first small mat at home

Here I am sitting on my first mat.  I have since made a much larger one which covers the whole room, and we have been gifted many mats by friends.  Now we have mats in every room, and we use them for sleeping, sitting and relaxing with each other and our friends and family.  The smell of the mat when you sleep is very comforting.  If you keep the mats nicely and take good care of them, they can last for generations, hopefully as long as the friendship formed between our two families – Vuli and me!