So often it's the random, unexpected moments that define a trip. Case in point: contributor Lanee Lee went to Fiji for a quiet rest but was thrown into a stranger's big party.
TURTLE ISLAND, Fiji – Myself + a muscular islander = a piggyback ride. This is how I arrived on Turtle Island. Since the seaplane landed on water deep enough to keep a plane afloat, piggyback was the only way to get to Turtle Island, the all-inclusive resort where I was staying.
This was only the first surprise of the visit.
And hello, momma. A Fijian woman in her mid-50s named Waimie would be my "mom" for the next few days. Each of the private island's twelve bures (thatched huts) is assigned their own caretaker throughout the entire stay.
Turtle Island mothers not only clean your room daily and iron your clothes but also cater to your every whim. They schedule activities, pack your lunches, deliver Champagne at any hour of the day or night, and even offer foot massages and treat sunburns with a thorough aloe rub-down.
After a nap in the hammock with the waves as my lullaby, I saunter to the bar. I order a fruity cocktail made by Bill, the gregarious barman with the million-watt smile and notice two buff, bare-chested men decked out in grass skirts carrying a woman on their shoulders.
She is wearing a simple, strapless dress. Was this a bride? I leap from my chair to find out where they were taking her. To a wooden raft, it turns out, decorated in flowers and greenery. It's the "limo" ride to her nuptials.
Mother Waimie shows up and beckons me to follow. I protest, happy to stay put, watching the sunset from the bar.
"No, it's a grand wedding. Come," she insists. With childhood obedience deeply ingrained from my deeply religious background, I comply. Begrudgingly.
The local Fijian staff, sitting crossed-legged on the ground, faced a simple stage, dressed in their Sunday best — men in traditional skirts (sulus) and flowered shirts and the women in brightly colored sula jaba dresses. I want to blend in and, hoping not to be noticed, sit with the staff.
Waimie pulls me up off the ground in a gently scolding manner, tells me, "Guests don't sit here," and directs me to a seat in the semi-circle of chairs on stage. And just like that, I become a part of the official wedding party for a couple I have never met. I know what a big ordeal choosing a wedding party is for Americans, and I feel awkward, face flush with embarrassment.
But everyone else pays no attention as the bride, carrying a tropical bouquet of flowers, glides down the aisle to meet her beloved.
The ceremony was short and sweet, officiated by a Protestant Fijian minister. But not short enough. Due to a cold I caught on the plane, I hack through the whole thing. So much for blending in.
Sealed with the traditional kiss, a cheer went up from the staff in celebration. Champagne is passed around. Then it is time for pictures. I try to escape again to no avail, corralled once again by Waimie.
Trying to make fast friends with whispered introductions, I pose with the newlyweds, hoping the discomfort I feel does not translate on my face.
"I'm so sorry to crash your wedding, but our bure mom forced it. I just got here and had no idea what was going on," I explain through my plastic smile.
The bride and groom both reassure me that everyone staying on Turtle Island during a grand wedding is invited to be a part of the party.
A full-on Fiji style wedding reception ensues. The staff, with their rich, melodic singing voices, belt out Fijian songs. And no party is complete in Fiji without a traditional kava ceremony. Kava, an herb from the Pacific islands pounded into a drink, tastes like sweet dirt, its effect akin to a natural Xanax. As the guests of honor, the bride and groom receive the first bowls of kava along with blessings and prayers.
A homey wedding cake made by the resort's kitchen staff appears and Champagne glasses are topped off. By the end of the wedding, I was glad my Fiji mom coerced me to participate, as it was one of the highlights of my stay in Fiji. Who knew becoming a wedding crasher would be one of the best decisions of my vacation?
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Turtle Island, located in the Yasawa island group, was originally the private getaway for American businessman Richard Evanson. After hosting the Blue Lagoon film crew in 1980, he realized how much he enjoyed sharing his treasure island with others. Word got out over time, and it became a celebrity favorite in the '90s, frequented by the likes of Al Gore, Britney Spears, and Jessica.
At roughly $2,500/night, Turtle Island is not budget-friendly. The rooms are outdated, but a remodel is underway. To get the most out of the hefty price tag, complete the form they send you before arriving. Be very detailed about what you want in regards to food and drink. Like a Manhattan with Bulliet Rye, Bar Keep bitters and Luxardo cherries? Put it down. Want Camembert cheese and Cheval Blanc everyday at 4 p.m.? List it. Whatever little extras define a luxury vacation to you — don't be shy about asking for them during your stay as well.
Getting There: Fiji Airways, formerly Air Pacific, offers non-stop flights on new A330 Airbus aircrafts from major cities like Los Angeles and Hong Kong almost daily. From Nadi International Airport, a Turtle Island staff member will escort you to the seaplane transfer. It's roughly a 30-minute plane ride, with epic aerial views of Fiji along the way.
FOR YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE
Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu, by J. Maarten Troost (2006)
On Fiji Islands, by Ronald Wright (1986)
Typee, by Herman Melville (1846)