Here's how the day of Fijian Bliss unfolded....I went to the hotel across the street from the airport, had breakfast there and then asked about getting a cab to take me around exploring. This really nice Fijian woman said she'd call the cab driver her family uses. Raj, a jolly Indian man who's native to Fiji, showed up and welcomed me with a big genuine smile.
Raj took me to The Garden Of The Sleeping Giants botanical gardens first. He told me to take as much time as I wanted and that he would happily just sit and relax while I explored. A sweet Fijian woman served as my guide for part of the walk. She wore her hair in the hairstyle so common among Fijian women: a short afro. I enjoyed visiting with her as we slowly strolled the amazingly lush gardens and she shared her knowledge of many of the plants we encountered.
My favorite part of the walk was after the guide left me and I saw a small side trail that I decided to check out. It ended up being a steep climb but I was thrilled when I got to the top. I was on top of one of Fiji's many rolling hills with a spectacular view of the farmland and ocean below. It was an unexpected surprise!
The next place Raj took me to was the thermal mud pool and hot springs which was just up the road a ways.....a one lane very bumpy dirt road. We parked and he led me to the welcome hut where I paid my entrance fee and was instructed to change into my swimsuit over in the ladies dressing room hut. As I stepped out of the hut there were two Fijian women waiting for me. One had a five gallon of freshly harvested thermal mud and the other woman asked for my camera so she could document my experience for me at each station. The woman with the bucket of mud began helping me to slather the mud all over my body as the woman with the camera took a video. It was pretty hilarious. Then I was led to an area that had several makeshift stalls with shade where local women had their handicrafts on tables for sale. I still think about that string of Fijian black pearls that I wish I had gotten. Oh well, maybe next time.
The next step after the mud was fully baked on was to get into the mud pool for the first rinse. As I got to the second step on the rickety stairs leading into the pool I could feel the thick layer of debris - mostly dead leaves I'm guessing. It did feel a bit unpleasant and the fact that the water had zero visibility was ever so slightly concerning but I was having an adventure and this was part of it! Down another step, and another....and SQUISH - my foot sunk down half way up my calf into warm slippery ooey gooey mud! It was quite a sensation and took me by surprise. I laughed out loud and decided that even though the top half of me was submerged in a sea of dead leaf particles, my bottom half quite liked being engulfed by warm slimy mud.
The next stations I was lead to were two more thermal pools. The one for the final rinse was made from concrete and had a system for draining and refilling so the water was clean. After I was rinsed well, I treated my de-mudded self to an half hour massage. It felt so great, other than the fact that I had to leave my bathingsuit on and that the woman who was giving me the massage was speaking in Fijian to some guy outside the window most of the time. Different massage etiquette than I'm used to. All in all I was feeling pretty darn fantastic and was reunited with Raj, my cab driver.
He took me downtown to explore a bit and then to a hole in the wall authentic Fijian restaurant. I invited him in to dine with me - my treat. We ordered a couple fresh fish entrees and shared them. It was the best food I'd had in a long time. The textures and flavors were divine with lots of lime juice and fresh local coconut cream. I'm salivating just thinking about it. ;-)
After romping through lush tropical gardens, looking out from surprise hilltop vistas, being mudded and massaged, having my taste buds tantalized and my tummy full, it was time to head back to the airport to catch the long flight back to the USA. I was feeling so grateful for my day of adventure and experience and particularly grateful for my cab driver Raj. His hospitality, generosity and Fijian warmth really made my 9 hour layover special. I got his contact info so I could hire him next time I came through. He asked if I would be a guest at his home next time for a traditional Indian meal that his wife would make. I gladly accepted to his very kind gesture and said I am already looking forward to my next layover in Fiji!
During the last part of getting back home I unfortunately lost the scrap of paper that had his contact info on it. I am working on tracking him down through the hotel that referred him to me and and hoping to reconnect with him during my upcoming trip. I hope to explore more of Fiji, meet Raj's family and experience more of the culture there. I do have another 9 hour layover there coming up and plan to make the most of it yet again!