Several years ago, my Mom and I joined the Far West Ski Association on their annual dive trip. That year they went to the islands of Fiji. Even though we don’t scuba dive, non divers are always welcome. FWSA travels to different locales each Fall. We have been on several of their trips, including to Cozumel, Roatan, and Grand Cayman. Wonderful trips!
After a ten hour flight to Nadi, we drove over two hours to Pacific Harbor. The weather was hot and some humidity. Then we took a boat for one hour. Lastly, we went on a very small boat to the beautiful Beqa Lagoon Resort on the tiny remote island of Beqa. The water was very shallow. We had a wet landing meaning we had to remove our shoes and socks and roll up our pants to walk in the shallow water to the resort about 60 feet away. The resort staff carried me in my manual chair over the water to the resort. The same thing with my heavy power chair. Power chairs and water don’t mix. Four strong guys carried my power chair over the water safely. Then they carried everybody’s luggage over the water. My first experience doing something like this. Very cool.
After an orientation by the manager, we enjoyed a delicious lunch in the outdoor restaurant. Then we got settled in in our bure overlooking the Pacific Ocean. They placed a large board over the one step to our bure. It worked well for me. Our room, or bure as it is called in Fiji, was very spacious and cool and I could get around in my power chair easily. There was also a small wading pool in front of our bure overlooking the ocean. The resort itself was pretty accessible for wheelchair users. We had to bring a transformer with my battery charger to charge my chair since Fiji has different electrical voltage.
The next day was Sunday and we asked about church services. We went to church but we had to walk 20 minutes to get there with a guide. One area of path was sandy, so I had to go fast to keep the momentum and not get stuck. The guide helped and pushed me through the sand. Many times during our walk, he had to move big branches and rocks and some areas were very uneven (and I thought LA sidewalks were bad). Just part of the adventure!
The island of Beqa has no roads or cars. Everyone walks to their destination, and everything has to be brought in my boat and person power. When we arrived, they gladly carried me up to the church. By the time I turned around, they had already carried my power chair up about 15 steps to the church! They helped me transfer into my chair. It was an interesting service with Scripture and music mostly in their native tongue. We walked back to our resort and had lunch. I picked out a book about Fiji and read on the beautiful beach. I had a glorious foot massage. The sugar felt good rubbing on my feet and legs. The choir from the church came out for an evening concert just before dinner.
The next morning we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on our patio overlooking the ocean. After lunch there was a coconut and basket weaving demonstration and we sampled fresh coconut meat and water. Then I went in the pool before dinner. Such is island life. Beautiful sunsets.
The next afternoon we walked to the village and visited the primary school. The kids sang and performed for our group. Then we toured the school and dorms. The kids and teachers live there. Some of the teachers also act as den mothers for the students.
We took a tour of a different village and they took us by boat the next day. I went in my manual chair and the guards helped push me. Some of the paths were barely wide enough for my chair. Some paths were concrete and some dirt. I was glad I didn’t have to drive my power chair along the narrow paths. We took a tour of the preschool and the children sang for us. Beautiful! We toured the village and stopped at a vendor village. Before we left the village, I stopped to give a sweet little girl the bracelet I was wearing. She gave me the biggest smile!
Before dinner one night, we enjoyed a firewalker performance and several firewalkers walked on hot rocks. Amazing!
Our first week in Paradise came to an end and it was a 90-minute drive to the airport in Suva after the boat ride to another island. They made sure there was space for my chair in the back of the van and four guys lifted it up into the van. We boarded a small 20-passenger airplane to the island of Taveuni after they loaded all the luggage and my power chair. The power chair I had then came apart. Pressing on two levers, the seat came apart from the battery case. Needless to say, the battery case was very heavy to lift and put in the plane. It took some time to fit my power chair and everybody’s luggage in the tiny plane. It was like a puzzle.
For the second week, six more people joined our group. After almost an hour, the twelve of us landed on the island. We arrived at Paradise Taveuni resort an hour later and were greeted by the resort manager with floral necklaces. We were treated foot massages just before our first lunch overlooking the ocean. Our bure was pretty spacious with a living area, bedroom, and a patio. They had built a temporary ramp which was steep but I made it work by going up backwards so my chair wouldn’t tip. I usually go up steep ramps or hills backwards to be safe. In our bure, they had recently installed safety bars in the bathroom and in the outdoor shower. Each bure had a private outdoor shower.
One evening, we enjoyed a traditional Fijian feast with different meats and vegetables. Beautiful Fijian dancers performed and the wait staff sang and danced. Then we shared in a kava ceremony where everyone sits in a circle around the big bowl of kava and everyone shares in the kava. Kava is ground up root and mixed with water. Very tasty! Every night a trio of musicians provided the music for dinner.
We learned the resort suffered major damage when a big cyclone hit and destroyed the resort a few years prior to our visit. They rebuilt the resort in 3 weeks thanks to their staff. They were still building a few additional bures. I had to go over the uneven grassy area from our bure to the outdoor dining area and to the pool. On one side of the resort on the property line, we noticed the down trees from the cyclone. The second week at this resort on Taveuni was great but there was no opportunity for me to venture outside the resort due to uneven dirt roads. So, there were no extra activities unlike on Beqa. However, I was able to go on a boat ride with the others while they went diving. Most of the divers had diving excursions daily with one night dive. My Mom went snorkeling almost everyday. I enjoyed listening to their underwater adventures. It was a wonderful and memorable trip.
Gordon Cardona lives in Long Beach, California and is the Communications Director for The Unrecables, a non-profit, volunteer-based disabled sports organization offering sports and recreational opportunities for people with disabilities. He has previously served as President, Vice President and Membership Director on the organization’s board. He currently serves on the Community Advisory Committee for Access Services, the paratransit service for Los Angeles County. He is a graduate of California State University, Los Angeles and enjoys traveling, taking cruises, learning about different cultures, snow skiing, and river rafting.