Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series.
Readers who are aware of my distaste for just broiling on the beach may wonder what would entice me on such a voyage. In the past, I have visited Tahiti, Mangareva, Easter Island, Robinson Crusoe Island, Pitcairn, Galapagos and other Polynesian Islands.
One could spend their whole lives trying to see them all.
Honolulu: My first stop was a night in Honolulu to catch the plane to Fiji. Since I have made many trips to all of the islands in the past, there was no need to extend my time here on this journey.
Fiji: Several scuba diving friends urged me to visit Fiji. It sounded great for a honeymoon, but this particular island is super expensive. Also its population is comprised only of guests and resort staff, and it’s not a destination for a solo traveler like me. I like to meet and interact with the locals.
In Fiji, I stayed in Nadi with a couch surfer Fijian couple, Tom and Luisa. They also had a Japanese woman boarder and her young son. The woman, who was from Nagoya, was studying English in Fiji for three months, because it is fairly inexpensive to do so.
Tom performed a kava welcoming ceremony for me. Friends and relatives squatted around a large wooden bowl. In the past, cassava would have been bitten, chewed and spit into the bowl and allowed to ferment into kava. Thankfully, now the cassava is ground into powder, put into a cloth pouch and water is added. The powder is kneaded in the water and the resulting liquid is the kava. Since I was the honored guest, I was instructed to cup my hands and clap once. A hollowed out coconut shell was dipped into the brownish milky liquid and handed to me. I said “bula” (much like the word “aloha,” it has many meanings, and in this context it can best be meant as a to toast to life) and drank the contents without pause and finished by saying “vinaka” (thank you). While drinking, the others clapped. Each person who was present repeated this procedure until the bowl was empty. It didn’t taste great, but wasn’t that awful, either. It is supposed to be an intoxicant, but only my tongue felt numb. I was now considered part of the family.
Tom and Luisa are devout Catholics and they say grace before each meal. There is a large Indian presence in Fiji; Hinduism is a dominant religion. There is also, however, a large Muslim mosque here. The other major Christian religion is Methodist, but there are many other missionary groups here.
One night, I treated my hosts to dinner at an upscale restaurant that had an Indian buffet. I left a 15 percent tip and received effusive thank-yous. Tom later told me tipping is not customary here.
An all-day boat tour to visit several of the small resort islands was a pleasant way to spend the day. Luisa knew the captain, who allowed me to sit in the VIP lounge during my tour. Each resort was priced according to how exclusive it was and the amenities it offered. I would have been bored on any of them. It was pointed out to me that “Cast Away,” which starred Tom Hanks, was filmed on one of the islands. Several other movies, such as “The Blue Lagoon” with Brooke Shields, were filmed at various locations here.
On another day, Luisa took to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, which is below a mountain formation with the same name. Raymond Burr, of “Perry Mason fame,” housed an extensive orchid collection housed here. We also visited an authentic Fijian village. Only Fijians are allowed to live here, and tourists are charged to visit. Since I was with Luisa, there was no charge. We visited several of her friends. Prominent buildings in this area included a large bure (wood and straw hut) where the chief holds ceremonies and a Methodist church.
My tour concluded with a visit to the largest Hindu temple, after a tour of the shopping area and lunch in Denarau, a luxury seaside area with five-star-hotels. Men are allowed to visit the Hindu temple (they must remove their shoes) but women can visit only if they have not eaten meat or fish within the past seven days. (I wonder how they check.)
Some random observations: There are many large families that include five to 10 children, high unemployment rates, high cost for advanced education, and a high cost for most imported goods, all of which do not bode well for the future. Many roads have potholes, and are in poor condition. There was a military coup about six years ago, and most people prefer civilian rule, but they do not complain because the economic conditions are improving. I didn’t see any homeless people. I was told Fiji Water is bottled on the other side of the island. It rained off and on, but I was fortunate because it kept the temperature cooler. In the dry season, temperatures can climb into the 100s, with high humidity.
Guam: My next stop was Guam, where the tourist center was useless in providing maps or information because they don’t want to compete with private businesses. I saw Two Lovers Point. I took my couch surfer host to dinner at Proa (type of boat native Chamorro people used) Restaurant. A car rental clerk told me it was an excellent restaurant. If so, I would hate to eat at a poor restaurant. The U.S. Navy has a large presence on the island and must provide lots of employment because the island seemed to be quite prosperous. There are many World War II battle sites and museums but I did not visit because my plane left early the next day.
My computer crashed and I lost many photos. I did upload them to Picasa before it happened. Those who are interested can see them online here: http://bit.ly/IjBlQZ. The photos printed are the only ones I could salvage and I am embarrassed about it.
Las Vegas Tidbits
I was invited to tour the revamped Plaza Hotel and Casino (One Main St., Las Vegas, (702) 386-2110). They have done a marvelous job of renovating most of the hotel from its previous shabby state. They were able to do it in part because the planned Fontainebleau by Boyd Gaming was put on hold and the Plaza was able to buy all the marble, rugs, and furnishings at a good price. Their room prices are extremely cheap at $50 a night, and includes a $20 daily breakfast credit midweek (check their Website: www.plazahotelcasino.com/hotel). They have added some great dining including Oscar’s, which has the best view of any dining room downtown. I was treated to lunch at Island Sushi and Hawaiian Grill, which is owned and operated by Terence Fong, who is originally from Hawai‘i. He also owns Island Sushi and Grill at 9400 South Eastern Ave. #102 in Henderson. I tried his oxtail soup and it was as delicious as any I’ve had. I loved his garlic chicken and his signature spicy tuna roll.
The poke is renowned throughout Las Vegas. His desserts, such as malasadas (hole-less Portuguese doughnuts), are real treats.
Incredibly, he has a contract to provide them to the Big Island with plans to expand to Oahu. He has concocted a malasada chip coated with cinnamon, and they may be soon for sale here as omiyage for visitors.
I could go on and on, but this space is only for a tidbit and you will have to visit the Plaza and especially Island Grill to judge for yourselves. If you e-mail me the date you will arrive in Las Vegas and the hotel at which you are staying, I can have a 20 percent discount coupon to use at Island Grill left at the front desk of your hotel. This offer expires June 30, 2012, but I will be traveling from May 12 to 27.
The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at KaeruKid@yahoo.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.