The potato chips scared me. Who wants chicken-flavored chips? Okay, cassava-flavored potato chips make a certain amount of local sense, but what on earth is Twistix, and why would anybody want to eat a potato chip flavored by it?
These are probably not things that concern most people when they come to Fiji’s 330 or so islands. But there I was, on a ferry loaded with Fijians, headed to the outer islands—me for vacation, them for work—and they were all laughing so hard and talking so happily around mouthfuls of chips that I feared the joyful noise might cause me ear damage.
Weird potato chips aside, Fiji is, flat out, paradise. It’s Hawai‘i before jets; it’s Nirvana with swank resorts.
Or at least that’s its public face. Fiji works kind of like a Broadway show: Everyone sees the shiny stuff up front—which is amazing. But the most interesting stuff happens backstage, in the village on the other side of the island from the gorgeous resort where housekeepers use flowers to spell out your name on the bed. Or on a neighboring island a short ferry ride away.
Throughout Fiji, at even the swankiest resort, guests and workers come together in the evening over bowls of kava—a drink made from a kind of pepper plant, Fiji’s social and ceremonial lubricant, sort of like mixing mud with a good anesthesia. As the night progresses, the Fijians start telling you about home. Their village.
So on my most recent visit to the islands, I strayed from my posh hotel in the Mamanuca island group to explore the Fiji beyond the resorts. Fiji’s heart, I discovered, is in its villages.