When I was employed at the UN Headquarters in New York, the thing I prized the most was the opportunity to travel, both on assignments as well as for leisure. The annual leave was generous, for every 12 months at work we would get 6 weeks off. This applied to everyone irrespective of rank, from the Secretary-General on the 38th floor, to the maintenance guy in the basement.
The UN made the deal even sweeter for those of us who were recruited from abroad. It would pay return airfare for the whole family, including dependent children, to our home country. This was known as ‘home leave’ and we were entitled to the trip every two years. The fare would be calculated for the shortest route but you could take any route you wished, with any number of stopovers, as long as you paid for the extra costs involved yourself.
My official work took me to various parts of the world for conferences, consultations, and other meetings. I was also posted in Cairo for two years and then, three in Manila. I had shorter assignments in places like Venezuela and Geneva. I must have gone around the globe, literally, at least a dozen times. I have been to some exotic places, one way or another, in my 26 years with the UN. From Alaska to Zanzibar, i have seen it all, done it all. Some of the things I have done, you probably don’t want to know, for instance, that nudist beach in Ibiza!
What I am trying to say is that I know a thing or two about places. So, if I am asked to name a place I would like to return to, say for a destination wedding for my granddaughter, I would, unhesitatingly, say, “Fiji.”
I spent my childhood on the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu. But I would not go there. That is where most of Fiji’s commercial activities take place. I would head for one of the smaller islands, many of them so small that there is space for only one resort. The islands of Maldives are similar but unlike the Maldives that caters only for the super rich, Fiji’s resorts are suited to all budgets.
Hollywood stars and millionaires fly in on their private jets to stay in resorts like Laucala island and Wakaya Club. You shell out a small fortune to spend a night in such places. They will pamper you with gourmet meals and premium wines and spirits. In some places, these are included in the price of your accommodation.
There are also more modest resorts on small islands where backpackers can stay in a unisex dormitory for very little money. They’ll probably have a better chance of scoring, if you get my drift. Beachcomber Island is one such place, and yes, I have stayed there a very long time ago. There might not be a swimming pool, but the beach and the ocean will be just outside your door.
There is a reason why tourists return time and again to Fiji. In addition to comfortable accommodations at reasonable prices, Fiji is renowned for its exceptional hospitality. Fijians are the friendliest people on earth. they love to pamper their visitors; Fijian women go gaga when they see babies. In most resorts, you are not even allowed to tip.
For my granddaughter’s wedding, I would avoid both ends of the hotel market, the very expensive and very frugal. I would rather choose a resort somewhere in the mid-range. Whichever resort you choose, you will still have amazing pearl-white sands, and share the same crystal-clear seas and blue skies. There will be facilities for scuba diving, snorkelling and deep-sea fishing, and they will even throw in a massage.
Over the years, I have stayed in most of these resorts. The first place I stayed was Mana Island, way back in 1973, when the resort was relatively new and my wife and i were newly wedded. At that time, Fiji’s tourist industry was not as developed as it is today and choice was limited. Mana island is favoured by Japanese tourists, which is rather odd since it does not have a golf course. Mana has undergone several renovations since we stayed there, some of them due to destruction of property by passing, bad- tempered hurricanes.
I have fond memories of the Castaway Island Resort not far from the mainland. I have stayed there several times. Here I remember dancing till the wee hours with strangers, recently met, to music provided by off-duty resort staff with their guitars, ukuleles and repertoire of native songs. I have not met a Fijian who can’t play an instrument or cannot sing. One would be mixing yaqona—the mildly intoxicating local grog that stimulates socialisation—and someone else would pass it around.
All these resorts are easily reached by boats from the mainland. Or you can fly in on a helicopter if you are the impatient, seasick type. Breakfast is always included with the room. It will be buffet style and you will not find more delicious tropical fruits—pineapples, papayas and passion fruit—anywhere else. The chef will make your eggs any way you want. Bread will be freshly baked on the island itself.
For lunch and dinner, you can have the harvest from the seas as well as steaks and burgers. If you ask the chef, he will make you an authentic Indian curry—goat, chicken or fish—since the chefs are invariably Indians, descendants of labourers who came from north and south India more than a century ago to work on sugar plantations. Unless it is raining, the candlelit tables for dinner are always laid out in the open among palm trees. Nowhere do the stars shine as bright as they do in the South Pacific. The vast area has little pollution.
Watching television is not encouraged but there will be a set on the premises for the television addicts. If you are allergic to noisy children, as I am to other people’s children, there are resorts that don’t allow them under a certain age.
It is a difficult choice for a destination wedding for my granddaughter. But she is still a child and so I have time. Keeping in mind that most of the guests at the wedding would be friends of the bride or the groom—the young crowd is difficult to please—I would probably choose either Likuliku or Tokoriki. These lovely resorts are relatively new and I have enjoyed my recent trips to both. I am not much into activities these days but there are plenty to keep the new generation busy. I’m no longer capable of playing volleyball on the beach; I prefer to sit by the pool with a good book and a tall glass of the local beer. It’s heaven.
As for the wedding ceremony, I would want it out in the open, with the sun setting in the background. In the evenings, a cool breeze is guaranteed! The hotels would be happy to bring in a Christian priest for the vows. But we will, most likely, need a Hindu one. And well, there is no shortage of them in Fiji.