Part 2: “People come here, and they’re tired from the long trip, they’re uptight from their busy life, and they really relax.”
Story and Photography by Kim Kavin
It’s an incredible combination (Surprise’s highly efficient steward, for instance, is the son of a tribal chief) that makes a charter aboard this yacht truly unlike any other: polished Western accommodations and service in the midst of local church services, feasts, and celebrations.
“The Fijian way of life is quite different, and it’s really mind-blowing,” Dunlop says. “People come here, and they’re tired from the long trip, they’re uptight from their busy life, and they really relax.”
That’s easy to do aboard a 115-foot yacht with spacious staterooms and plush couches, especially after an evening of passing the bilo around the kava bowl on a quiet island in the Yasawa chain. I was happy with everything and everyone in the world when I stood up after my four or five helpings, and I had nary a concern as I walked toward the steaming hump of dirt that was covering my supper.
The kava ceremony was part of a lovo, a traditional style of cooking in which the locals dig a hole the diameter of a wading pool and build a fire within it. They stack rocks in rows above the flames and heat them like a grill, then place fish, chicken, and other food atop the rocks. Banana leaves (and their more modern variation, canvas bags) cover the food, and dirt is piled atop that. The whole thing is left to simmer underground for several hours until men with garden shovels reclaim the evening’s feast. White smoke pours onto their bare feet as they dig, and they take frequent breaks to wipe the sweat from their foreheads.
To be honest, some of the meat tasted like tree bark, but our charter party ate heartily nonetheless. We were starving after what had become our daily itinerary of shelling, snorkeling, and diving under the searing sun.
Huge, healthy reefs ring the shorelines of Fiji’s islands, just as they appear to in the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, which was filmed in Fiji’s Mamanuca chain. Surprise must anchor fairly far out to avoid disturbing the coral around each island, so the crew brings guests to the beaches and reefs in a tender, then stays to snorkel and dive with them, being especially attentive to beginners.
I’m no beginner at watersports, but my sunburn made me look like one after the crew dragged me away from the glorious cobalt-blue sea stars, giant clams, and “magic coral” that fades from purple to white, then back again, at the hint of movement nearby. There are parrotfish and Moorish idols, just as in other parts of the world, but there’s also a form of coral I’ve not seen elsewhere. It looks like trees—if branches were made of marshmallow clouds and tipped with exploding red, blue, and yellow fireworks.
Next page > Part 3: Fun-filled days always seeped into culture-filled nights, even when we stayed aboard. > Page 1, 2, 3, 4
This article originally appeared in the September 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.