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120x60 - Hotels JOHNNY JET'S
December 16, 2004
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*Picture by Rosanne Pennella
Bula! Last week we left off from the beautiful island of Taveuni, where we were given a typical Fijian send off by the Maravu Resort staff. (Most Fijian resorts sing welcome and goodbye songs to guests, and hand out beautiful leis). We were sad to leave Taveuni, but I was even sadder to get on another Sun Air flight after last week's nightmare. Fortunately, the 20- minute flight to SavuSavu was smooth and quite enjoyable, as we flew over some insanely beautiful coral reefs.

SavuSavu is located on Fiji's second largest island, Vanua Levu (pronounced vah-NEW-ah LAY-vu). Vanua Levu is 100 miles long, and largely undeveloped. That's a rare combination these days anywhere in the world.

At the SavuSavu airport we were greeted with almost a dignitary’s welcome (I kept looking over my shoulder to see if it was for another plane). We were serenaded by the Koro Sun string band (they are now famous, thanks to my colleague Renata who aired their music on BBC radio, given more leis, and handed little bottles of ice-cold Fiji water. Don't you just love Fiji water? In the States I know people who refuse to drink anything but Fiji water (it's almost cultish). I don't drink it much since it's too damn expensive back home, but here in Fiji it's usually the only bottled water sold in stores -- and it's cheap. Check out these prices -- and remember, they are in Fijian dollars, so take another 40% off. Those prices alone are worth a trip to Fiji!.

Most resorts/outfitters located in SavuSavu cater to adventure travelers. That's why we’ll explore first a unique outfitter that is probably at the top of the adventure scale. Just before we left Taveuni, our group was split into two. Four of my colleagues spent two nights on a really cool adventure sailboat called the Tui Tai. When the trip was offered to me I passed for a couple of reasons: I am not a big fan of spending a lot of time on small boats (though I admit the 140-foot sailing schooner Tui Tai is really not that small except, to a freak like me). The other reason is that I didn't want to miss out on the Koro Sun Resort (more on that later).

To learn more about the Tui Tai, let’s fast forward to when we caught up with my colleagues as they arrived in SavuSavu. That's when we all got a chance to check out the boat, and do one of their half-day excursions. On board they carry enough mountain bikes, snorkel/scuba diving gear and kayaks for everyone. That way passengers get to visit some of Fiji's most remote spots by kayaking to beaches, snorkeling/diving around incredible reefs, and biking to local villages.

The owners, Tige and Morika, showed us around their boat, introduced us to the crew (including the captain) and served delicious snacks (hot coconut rolls with papaya butter -- oh yeah, those things were good!). The boat comfortably holds 25 passengers and a crew of 18. There are 8 "Seafari Style" bunk beds and 6 private rooms, including the luxury cabin on the top deck. They call that the Honeymoon Suite. It's not that sweet, although it does have its own bathroom and a queen bed. Everyone else uses the toilets/showers down below. Passengers are also allowed to sleep on the top deck under the stars, which would pretty damn cool (if I weren't afraid of rolling overboard in my sleep).

Tige is a good-looking guy, and the girls were drooling all over him (I had to remind them he was married, so their tongues went back in their mouths). He took us on a typical Day 1 adventure, while the boat is docked in SavuSavu getting a thorough cleaning. We jumped in a Zodiac and cruised 30 minutes across SavuSavu Bay to the mouth of the Nasekawa River, a very remote area of Vanua Levu. When we arrived at the black sandy riverbank, the other Tui Tai guides were waiting for us with kayaks.

We each had our own* kayak, and paddled down the calm river together surrounded by lush green vegetation. We saw some friendly locals fishing and hunting for fresh-water mussels. The trip was very easy and relaxing* -- a beginner could do it. After an hour in the hot sun we got shuttled back in a motorboat to our starting point. There we were served an incredible lunch of noodles, chicken, pineapple and peppers, and finished with juicy fresh fruit. Ummm ummm!

After lunch the winds picked up, and so did the waves. That made crossing the bay on the Zodiac an adventure (my tail bone still hurts). Tui Tai has 3- and 4-night adventure cruises available. Singles are welcome without paying double (I love that!). Rates range from $570 to $2,150 USD, and include all activities, meals and VAT tax. Scuba-diving packages, massages and bar purchases are extra. The boat is also available for private charters, at $4,000 USD a day. The Tui Tai is so popular that a second boat is being built. Tui Tai Adventure Cruises: tel.: (in Fiji) +679.885.3032, or from the US: 877-682-5433.

Back to land and the Koro Sun Resort. I was fortunate to stay at the Koro Sun 9 months ago for 4 nights. In that short time I became such good friends with some of the staff members that when it was time to leave and they were singing the goodbye song, I started to cry. I know it sounds ridiculous, but if you go to Fiji, meet these wonderful people and then have them sing that sad farewell tune, see if you can hold back your tears. I don't think so.

The Koro Sun Resort is 15 minutes from the airport. The roads are paved, but there are not many cars. However, the ones you do see are flying, so watch out when crossing the road. The Koro Sun is great for what it is: a moderately priced all-inclusive resort perfect for adventure travelers, couples or families. Guests are fed 3 meals a day (the food is good). The package includes guided mini-adventure trips led by one of the coolest human beings on earth, Dick. He will take guests on hikes through the jungle to an incredible waterfall, canoe a salt lake, swim at the nearby "blue lagoon*," visit a village or go mountain biking. There is a slew of other activities throughout the 150-acre resort that keeps anyone less adventurous busy too, including ping pong, billiards, tennis, volleyball, golf, hiking, and swimming in 2 pools (1 for adults, the other – with a water slide -- for kids). Neither pool is impressive, but they are refreshing. A bonus is that once a week there is a "lovo" -- a big feast of traditional Fijian foods like pork, chicken, beef, pumpkin and taro, cooked underground. The feast is followed by an entertaining meke (Fijian song and dance).

The Koro Sun currently has the only golf course on the island. Guests can play rounds on their 9-hole course, and get free lessons from the golf pro, Vijay. I should have taken him up on the free lessons, because when we played he kicked my* ass silly. After he birdied the first hole (and I double bogied) I asked if he was related to Vijay Singh (the world's #1 golfer, who is from Fiji). He laughed, and I went back to take more of my beating. The golf course is an adventure: There are lots of ruts, high grass, and more frogs than you get shake a club at. Guests don't come here to play golf, of course; it's just an added bonus, and brings a great feel to the property.

The Koro Sun has 17 bures. On this trip I stayed in two different ones: #15 and #7. Bure 15 is on the hill, with awesome views of the Koro Sea. It has 1 bedroom, with indoor and outdoor showers. The highlight of the room for me was the screened-in patio. I could sit out there all day, just writing or reading. Bure #7 is a 2-bedroom bure, on the ground level. One of these bures is ideal for a family or close friends to share. Here's a bure tip I learned real quick the last time: Because SavuSavu is in the tropics, bugs are part of daily life. So don't leave the front door open; never leave food out, and throw away the fresh flowers that maids leave on the bed and sink. They attract ants.

No stay at the Koro Sun Resort would be complete without getting a massage in their rainforest spa. Actually, just walking up to the spa is a treat in itself, because it requires a walk through a colorful path filled with fruit trees and plants. Last year I had a massage in one of their screened-in bures. This time I was on a table outside, by the edge of a trickling river. Before lying my naked body on the table, I asked the masseuse if I would be eaten alive by mosquitoes. She said no. She was almost right -- until the very end, when two beasts got me good. My advice is to at apply insect repellent. What makes this spa so special is the location. There are not too many places in the world where one can get a massage without a boom box. Instead, the only sounds a customer hears are water flowing down the river, and birds chirping above. Pretty cool, huh? A 1-hour massage costs $60 USD. The spa offers many other kinds of treatment as well.

But without a doubt, the best part about the Koro Sun is the people who work there. Everyone is so cool, from Dilai who cleans the rooms to the owner, Jack Young. They genuinely care about people and make it a habit to learn guest names. Rates range from $275- $420 USD for two. Koro Sun Resort: 877-567-6786; email: res@korosunresort.com.

Before leaving SavuSavu, visitors should stop at the local market. The best day to visit is Saturday, when it's in full force. The place is classic. Customers will find Fijian and Indo-Fijian women and men selling all kinds of inexpensive fruits, vegetables, fish, woven products, and of course kava* (a tranquilizing, nonalcoholic drink that numbs the tongue and lips). Speaking of which: We got a tour of the market by the mayor himself. That made it impossible to refuse a bowl, because most sellers offered free cups of kava when they saw the mayor. It would have be an insult to refuse. Don't get me wrong: It was a privilege to walk around with the man himself, but I drank enough of that murky, nasty water to fill up a small bucket. Yuck!

The highlight this week was attending an incredible celebration with just the locals. This was an unscheduled visit that our photographer, Rosanne, spotted as she was driving by taking pictures. She was invited to come back later with us. I don't think they were expecting a van full of whiteys. It turned out to be once-a-year celebration for all the men in the village. It was an incredible festival, and experience. I was able once again to feel first hand the warmth of Fijian hospitality. This was not in a controlled environment. No one set it up for us, so it was as pure as can be. We were outsiders – not even wearing appropriate attire – yet the Fijians couldn't have been nicer to us. They offered snacks and tea, while we watched the most incredible meke yet. Afterward they took us around, showed how they prepared the food, and introduced us to family members. As I was leaving, a group of men signaled as if they wanted me to take their picture. I did, then showed them the digital photo. They got a big kick out of that. Then they offered me – yes, a cup of kava! I said, "That is very kind, but no thank you." But they pushed it closer to me and offered it again, with more intensity. I could tell I had insulted them, and figured I had a choice. I could ruin the entire day by refusing to drink, or suck it up, sit and cross my legs, give a clap, lift that bowl of brown water and drink until my tongue got numb. I’m getting addicted to this stuff, don’t you think?

Next week we close out Fiji by saving the best resort and experiences for last. Then we hop on a plane, and head to another nearby country.

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet
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  • The Fiji newsletter was terrific! I went there vicariously! Thanks, Johnny. James Mondschean, Illinois
  • Johnny Jet ... you live quite an amazing life. Fantastic narration and gorgeous photos. Good for you! Sheila T. - Norwalk, CT
  • Oh, Johnny. Brad and I, once frequent travelers, now parents of George, have been living vicariously through you and your travels. We got up the gumption to fly several times with the baby this year and it was grand! (Except for everybody else on the plane.) Now we're pregnant with #2, and I fear our travels will be limited for a long time to trips in the minivan, alas. Thank you for giving me a little journey out of Ohio every week. Take care of yourself! Vicki Rentel - Columbus, Ohio
  • I thought it was pretty funny - no shoes in church! I went to Belize for my honeymoon and when we went to mass we were the only 2 w/ shoes on, luckily it was just flip-flops! Fiji again = I'm jealous once again! Steven - Fort Worth, TX
  • I've been reading you for 2-3 years now and I'm a travel agent here in Auckland. Last time I went to Fiji I did a day trip on the yacht 'Seaspray' and we anchored off Mondriki island. We all jumped off to snorkel and then went ashore to explore - not that there is much left to see - only "CAST AWAY" spelled out on the sand with driftwood logs. So I'm not so sure about the 'sacred' thing. Anyway it was a fantastic day out - morning and afternoon tea, BBQ lunch and unlimited drinks - what else could you want? It's kind of funny that Fiji is our 'bread and butter" (agency-wise) because it's the closest and most developed pacific island so most Kiwis have been to Fiji for a holiday at least once or twice (some go every year) yet Americans see it as somewhere quite exotic. We look further a field for exotic travel (although lets face it most places are quite far from NZ). My favourite is Asia - Bali, Thailand, Malaysia because the beaches are so good, the food is fantastic, the people are friendly and it's sooo unbelievably CHEAP (my wife especially likes the last part - she has a black belt in shopping). Obviously next time you're in the south pacific you'll have to come to "middle earth" and check out our scenery. cheerz Jeff Miller - Takapuna, N.Z.
  • Dear Johnny: This week's column was very good. Very informative. In fact, the letters back to you were equally informative with tips from travelers who have had problems with airlines, hotels and reservations generally. I would suggest that you consider editing these letters when they go on and on. Of course, the reader can use his or her own discretion. You have a good thing here with many avid, loyal supporters. However, I think you need to grow faster and ask each of your readers to tell at least five of their friends about your informative, travel site and in that way grow much faster. Keep it up you're doing great. Love, Dad
  • I think your newsletters are amazing! How's Amber? Any peace talks in the works? Of course I don't know the whole story, but for some reason I believe you two should get back together. Ashley - Boca Raton, FL
  • Read both of the articles (one from last week too) today. Looks like you had a blast and went to some amazing places! Can’t wait to hear more about it. April - Las Vegas
  • I wanted to forward an offer that I've used twice now.. SAS ( Scandinavian Airlines ) has a deal every year in December where, upon signing up, they send you an email every day until the 25th, each with a great offer to a random European city. The fares are 229 from the east coast, and 299 ( plus tax ) from Seattle. I'm booking another trip to Europe using them again this year, and from Seattle to Rome ( it's always on their list ), it's about $450… not too shabby. Todd - Portland

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