Cyclone and Smiles in Fiji

I noticed a cool breeze that cut through the humid air and felt good against my skin. I sat furiously typing about my short but amazing trip in the Fijian Islands to make it in time for one last kava ceremony. The draft grew stronger as reports of Cyclone Evan became more frequent and frantic on the crackling hotel radio.

Detailing each day of the week, I titled my piece: How Fiji Stole my Heart in 7 days.

Calm Fijian waters (Pre-cyclone.)

Calm Fijian waters (Pre-cyclone.)

Idyllic white sand beaches, stunning coral reef diving. The ever-friendly Fijians, kava ceremonies, live acoustic music. Swaying hammocks. Fire dancing. Cold coconuts.

And a class 4 cyclone.

With a little more foresight, I might as well have called it: How Fiji Stole my Heart and Smashed it into Smithereens with 250 km/hr Winds.

My Fiji experience was more of a lesson in humanity, endurance and perspective, rather than a leisurely holiday. In true Fijian style, I choose to look at my time spent in these wonderful islands as a lesson and not just bad timing. Although, I would recommend traveling during cyclone season should not be taken lightly.

Cyclone winds howl through the hotel window.

Cyclone winds howl through the hotel window.

Cyclones happen. The cyclone arrived the same afternoon we were meant to fly out of Nadi. Realization sank in that I would miss my flight when I heard that the airport was closed and they had sent all the workers home (of course, without any formal announcement to the public.)

Nonetheless, Fiji made a severe cyclone bearable. The most explicable way to summarize the feeling that Fiji exudes is one word: BULA.

“Bula Bula!”

These are the first words you hear upon arrival to Fiji, accompanied with a smile from ear to ear, the rhythm of Fijian strings and warm words of welcome.

Although the country is beautiful, it’s the people who make you fall for this place.

Just another sweet Fijian kid that stole my heart.

Just another sweet Fijian kid that stole my heart.

Bula is like aloha but tenfold. Not only does it mean hello, love and life, it also means cheers, good health, awesome and something to the extent of “F*CK YEAH.” It can be used literally in every scenario. Young kids and the elderly will give you a warm BULA BULA, no matter if you are local or a traveler; they treat everyone kindly. The Fijians I’ve encountered in my brief visit have made it clear: here you will find some of the friendliest people in the world.

We arrived to Nadi International Airport to learn the true meaning of “Fiji time.” Again, Fiji time is like island time but tenfold. Everything takes a REALLY long time. Our flight arrived a half hour early but we waited for our bags for about an hour and a half. Even the most intrepid traveler might sigh in desperation but the airport was filled with smiling Fijian faces; frustration faded with every cheerful Bula.

Many things require a simple shrug and a sing-song, “Fiji time” as an explanation. You hear this phrase often. You get used to it.

Light bulb broken in the hostel? Fiji time. Accept that there will be no light in your room.

Boat runs out of gas? Fiji time. They were too busy playing with kids on the beach to fill the tank. (Just pray they remembered the paddles…)

I love this about Fiji. Family and friends take precedent over everything. People are more important than things.

A friendly cleanup crew at the Nadi International Airport.

A friendly cleanup crew at the Nadi International Airport.

The Fiji way of life is a simple, positive outlook combined with a laid back attitude. This is exactly how the locals approached the aftermath of Cyclone Evan. After a sleepless night of howling winds and the sound of trees uprooting and aluminum roofs peeling off, the streets of Nadi were surprisingly full of smiling happy families. The morning revealed huge trees snapped in half, billboards misplaced, power lines tangled and glass windows smashed into shards. Instead of weeping over the devastation, Fijians looked on the brighter side. They rose bright and early to drag trees out of the streets, laughing and joking as they worked and happy that a few of us foreigners joined in to help. They even found benefits; some quickly gathered copious amounts of fallen fruit that littered the ground and others grabbed surfboards to ride the sloppy tidal surge.

Locals take advantage and surf the cyclone swell.

Locals take advantage and surf the cyclone swell.

I know many travelers felt extremely unlucky to have been in Fiji during Cyclone Evan. In a strange way, I felt fortunate to have had an experience that shed light on what could have been a very dark situation. Natural disasters happen and all you can do is be prepared.

Many island homes were bent out of shape, unlike the Fijian people.

Many island homes were bent out of shape after the cyclone, unlike the Fijian people.

Here are some small precautions you can take while traveling during cyclone season:

-Stock up on bottled water.

-Purchase some previsions that need no cooking.

-Have candles and flash lights handy.

-If near coastal waters or rivers, move to an upper level in a concrete building.

-Move beds and belongings away from glass windows.

Some useful websites:

Red Cross Safety Checklist

Australian Cyclone Survival Checklist

US NOAA Hurricane Preparedness

Safe Travels!

I mean it!

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