A special thanks goes out to the operators of the Sigatoka River Safari for providing Greg and me free admission for this adventure in return for our honest review. All opinions are my own.
On our last visit to Fiji Greg and I had the opportunity to join a small group on a unique experience down the Sigatoka River to an authentic Fijian village. This tour was particularly unique because it combined nature, culture and even some boating adventure in one action-packed half-day tour. The Sigatoka River Safari is an educational and fun experience for all ages.
A Little about the Sigatoka River Safari Enterprise
Before I tell you about all the fun we had on this safari I want to mention just a little about the business behind it. Unlike some other tours in the area, the Sigatoka River Safari was designed with the remote villages of Fiji in mind. The tour only goes to each village about once every two weeks so as not to interfere with the daily lives of the villagers. In addition, part of the cost of each ticket goes directly to the villages to help with the essential health and welfare of the villagers who live there. Each Sigatoka River Safari guest can be assured that their visit has a positive impact in helping Fijians maintain their customs and traditional way of life.
The Trip up the River
Once our van arrived at the rendezvous point we were fitted with life jackets and wasted no time boarding our customized jet boat. As it turns out we wasted no time getting to the village either! The jet boat raced down the river sliding sideways in a controlled “skid” around sandbars and turns in the river. I was sure we were going to go aground at several points along the way but our driver knew exactly what he was doing.
The scenery was beautiful as we sailed by pristine Fijian forests. We saw feral goats and several different species of birds. The highlight was seeing many of the locals out fishing and washing their clothes while the children played in the water nearby. The ride up the river was a memorable adventure in and of itself!
Upon arrival we women all put on the sarongs we were given so that our knees would be covered while visiting the village. We were then met by the village chief who kindly escorted us around the village. We got an up close and personal look at the individual houses, gardens, fruit trees, livestock (goats and chickens) and general community life. The chief spoke excellent English and enthusiastically answered all our questions. The smallest children of the village curiously followed us around from place to place – but from a safe distance. It was difficult to tell which was the stronger influence – their curiosity or their caution!
- Cultural Note: Fijians dress very modestly, especially in the remote villages. Both men and women are expected to cover their knees and shoulders when inside a village.
Visiting the Chief’s House for the Sevusevu
After our tour we took a leisurely walk to the chief’s house. It was a traditional bamboo and palm frond structure called a bure. It was much larger than the other homes in the village (which were made of more modern-day materials that hold up better in storms). This bure had a very high ceiling and there were mats woven of local palms placed on the floor.
Before entering we were asked to remove our shoes, hats and sunglasses. The men entered first and sat on the floor, closest to the front. Once the men were all seated, the women were allowed to enter and sat towards the back behind the men.
- Cultural Note: Fijian villagers believe that wearing anything on the head – such as a hat or sunglasses – means a visitor has something to hide. Therefore, you should never wear anything on your head when visiting a Fijian village.
Our sevusevu ceremony started with a village man playing a primitive loli – a Fijian drum made totally of wood. The sound coming from it was amazing as it bounced off the bure walls and throughout the large open space. He played for quite a while and it was very enjoyable. When he finished, our chief – the eldest male member of our group – presented the village chief with our offering of kava. Following the exchange, the village elders prayed, chanted and sang for several minutes. Although they were speaking Fijian, you could still understand the solemnness and importance of the ceremony. It was quite fascinating and thought-provoking.
- Cultural Note: A sevusevu is a ceremony where visitors offer the village elders a gift of kava and ask permission to visit the village. It is quite formal and spoken in the Fijian language. Although they are each a little different, the basic premise is the same from village to village.
The Kava Ceremony
Once the formal sevusevu ceremony was completed the real fun began as the village men mixed the kava with water in a large communal bowl. Small wooden cups were dipped into the larger bowl and then taken round to the visitors. There is a certain formality and sequence of action associated with the accepting and drinking of the kava, but I’ll deal with that in a future post. After everyone had been offered three cups of kava we thanked our hosts and began making our way to the community building for lunch.
- Cultural Note: Kava ceremonies are still very much a part of traditional Fijian culture. Contrary to what some may think, they are not something staged simply for the benefit of tourists.
A Traditional Fijian Lunch
In a word, lunch was awesome. The people of Fiji are very generous and welcoming to visitors, and this certainly showed in the lunch they prepared for us. Colorful cloths had been placed on the floor and were covered with dishes of food. Once again we removed our shoes before entering the building and then sat on the floor on either side of the food.
Our proteins were curry chicken and sausages. The side dishes were steamed white rice, roti stuffed with eggplant, sliced cucumbers, yam, yucca and a couple of other things I did not try because I was so full! We were also served some sort of orange drink similar to Kool-Aid.
The women of the village were excellent hostesses and scurried around as we ate, making sure everyone had access to all the offerings. One of the women at our “table” could tell I was warm, and she sat by me with a woven palm fan to keep me cool while I ate.
- Cultural Note: Thirty-five to 40 percent of the population of Fiji is made up of people of North Indian descent. Consequently, curries are a very common Fijian food.
After Lunch Entertainment
After lunch a group of the villagers gathered round with their instruments and began playing and singing traditional Fijian songs. It wasn’t long before they came and took us each by the hand to dance with them. Now, I typically don’t like doing this sort of thing, but there was no way I could turn down their offer after all the delightful and heartfelt hospitality they had showed us.
So we all danced. And laughed. And continued to dance and laugh right along with our gracious hosts through several songs … we even did the ubiquitous conga line, although they called it something else that I cannot recall. I don’t think there was anyone in our group that didn’t have a fabulous time.
We all said our thank yous and good-byes and made our way back through the village and to our boat. It was interesting to me to note that I saw the village entirely differently as we left than I had when we first arrived. Now I felt as though I was saying good-bye to friends and wondered if I might be lucky enough to see them again someday.
Our Adventurous Speed Boat Ride Back
Now, on most tours I’ve taken, the ride back is often quiet and subdued with many of the people reading a book or even catching a nap. But this is another thing that makes the Sigatoka River Safari stand out from all the rest. This tour was not nearly over yet!
I had read and heard from others who had been on this safari before that we were going to do 360s in the water on the way back. That sounded interesting and maybe even a bit fun … it was certainly something I had never done before and I’m always up to try something new.
Oh-My-Goodness! I’m going to go out on a limb and say that these “360s” were the most daring and exhilarating thing I’ve ever done in a vehicle of any kind! I can’t even come close to explaining the adrenaline rush I got as our driver raced down the river and then suddenly (but in a controlled fashion – if that makes sense) turned the wheel sharply to send us in a complete circle. It was a cross between being on a carnival ride, a whitewater rafting trip and doing donuts in the high school parking lot when we were kids! Amazing! Yeah, we got a little wet (some of us more than others), but it was well worth it. It was a fantastic way to end a 5-star trip.
An additional note from Cher:
This may be the longest post I’ve ever published because I didn’t want to leave out a single bit of the Sigatoka River Safari experience. It truly was a great trip. If you’re ever in Viti Levu, Fiji, I very highly recommend this tour.