Recently just for a few hours a place in Santa Monica was transported to the South Pacific islands of Fiji. Billed as the 'Crossroads of the Pacific" these 333 islands have invented themselves a vacation fairyland of beach resorts overlooking white beaches, clear water lagoons and a laid back life-style
Actually we were at Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica as guests of Lli Matatolu, regional director of Tourism Fiji who presented our group of Writers with "Veitalanoa Taki Viti, a gathering about Fiji. All of which proved to be so inviting that we wanted to rush home, pack a bag, and get aboard Air Pacific at LAX for a ten hour flight to the real South Pacific.
First off we met a charming group of Fijians who were there to show a culture of Fiji tapa making and weaving. And also a man seated on a mat with a large wooden bowl of Kava before him.. We had already heard a lot about this traditional Fiji drink which is made from the root of the pepper tree and the exotic effects it produces when used to excess.
At last we were about to try Kava for ourselves. Seated in ceremonial style facing the Kava bowl we first had to cup our hands and clap once. Then the man stirred and handed me a bowl of tannish colored liquid. Having heard all about Kava before, I asked that the bowl be only quarter filled. The taste was mild and pleasant and I quickly emptied the bowl and exclaimed my pleasure and thanks. Behind me, the Kava bowl, and host, was a comely Fijian woman showing her skills at tapa making, also on the mat. Starting to feel like one of the sailors of Dutch Captain Abel Tasman, who was the first European to discover the islands in 1643, I decided to move on leaving more Kava for another time.
Also about this time tantalizing aromas were coming from the handsome buffet serving classic Fijian food. Here we went all out starting with Dhal, vegetarian soup, then to Kokoda, which is ceviche styled white fleshed fish marinated in lime juice, coconut cream, and served in a lettuce cup.
We unabashedly went back for second and thirds for Kokoda. But there was more, a chicken and squash soup, spiced prawns with almonds and curry sauce, Fijian meat balls served on a bun, grilled Aubergine in Lolo, an eggplant dish, Fijian coconut chutney and barbecued beef, shrimp and chicken served on skewers.
There was also the bar with wine, cocktails made with fruits and sake and Fiji water. After the Kava we stayed with the Fiji bottled water. Between trips to the buffet we moved among the tables that presented some of resorts and other attractions of those 333 South Pacific islands. All the resorts are built to fit in with the traditional culture of the region. No high rises here. As Lli Matakolu pointed out, the rule is no building higher that the coconut trees surrounding it.
Then came the dancing. The men, strapping warriors doing traditional war dances and looking most fierce.. Giving good reasons for Captain Bligh and his remaining loyal sailors to move on as quickly as possible as they passed through these islands in their frail craft.
The women dancers were graceful, very feminine and with charms that fascinated seamen for generations.
For those of us living in Southern California the Fiji Islands are only a ten hour flight from LAX. The resorts we studied offered much at modest prices compared to many less exotic places.
Leaving that evening the drive home on the 405 freeway was a real downer. I wanted the Fiji Islands and my own bowl of Kava.
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