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A canoe ride to swim in a Fijian waterfall, then a ceremony by locals that left me thinking

There is a great scene in the first season of the White Lotus in which the Hawaiians perform what are billed as traditional dances for the benefit of the rich white tourists. It is a profoundly embarrassing moment and you are made to feel that the dancers are exploiting their heritage (or a Disney version of it) for cash while the onlookers are ignoramuses for making the locals go through the motions.

I have thought about that scene often as different groups of people in different countries on this trip have dressed in cultural garb and performed what we are told are traditional dances for the mostly European (and a few North American) passengers.

But there is another side of it. In almost every port we have visited, we have been told that tourism is a top contributor to the local economy. If people can make money by keeping their heritage alive in dance, surely that is a good thing. How different is giving a paid demonstration of a traditional ceremony to selling paintings that reflect local culture, or busking songs passed down by grandparents? And what is wrong with proudly showing off your culture to people who have never been exposed to it and are eager to learn?

Of course I bring that up because, in Fiji, we were treated to a local welcoming ceremony that our guide said is still performed in his village when folks from other parts of the island come to visit. And I had to fight that feeling of being the ignorant and privileged white-lady gawker. But I have decided to forgive myself.

More on that later.

First, I gotta say that Josie, Virginia and I had a pretty fantastic day in Fiji. The ship landed in the capital of Suva on the south side of the island - which is not where most of the fabled beaches are located.

Fiji is very different to Samoa - far more developed and far poorer.

We took a ship excursion into the mountains to a small village where the economy is based on demonstrating Fijian culture to tourists. Along the way, we passed village after village of dilapidated tin-roofed houses, rusting cars and mounds of used tires interspersed with soggy grassland and some green jungle.

Our guide was Albert (not his real name but the one he gives to tourists who can't remember the multi-syllable name he was born with.) He was an extremely kind man and his face, while quite handsome, reminded me a little of the stone statues you see on Easter Island.

From the village we took a motorized canoe ride 45 minutes down a muddy river.

It was extraordinarily beautiful passing between the high green riverbanks, splashing through rapids and, just once, getting out for a portage.

We arrived with about four other of the long canoes, each carrying six passengers (most aged between 60 and 80 because such is the nature of the passengers on the Poesia).

Then we walked for about half a kilometre along a narrow and slippery concrete path, clinging to ropes to prevent a calamatous fall (and I saw at least three old people go down) until we reached a magnificent waterfall spilling into a green pool.

I was one of the few who braved a swim ... but it had to be done. That's me on the left.

Josie, who took this photo below, says I look uncharacteristically like I have not a care in the world.

We returned to the boats and headed back to the docking spot through torrential rain. Several times as we navigated the rapids, the water came over the sides of the boat like a tsunami. Twice the motor conked it but the lovely driver got it started again. We were soaked to the skin when we reached the village shore and our stomachs hurt from laughing so hard.

The Fiji villagers put out a lunch spread of sandwiches and also hot food that included curried chicken (parts unrecognizable but delicious) pumpkin, rice, and other island treats.

We ate in the sun hoping our clothes would dry out but no such luck. So I bought a sarong and ditched my capris.

Then came the aforementioned welcoming ceremony and the performances by men (billed as a warrior dance) and by the women. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

That done, they asked the various nationalities in the room to sing their national anthem. The French went first. Then Josie, Virginia and I (the only Canadians) belted out O Canada.

It was a great day - though we could have skipped the cheesy trip to a Fiji shopping mall that ended the trip.

Our dinner companions, John and Judy, had less luck. They attended just an Indigenous dance and skipped the long boats: they said it was hot and so crowded they couldn't see anything. And the English undertakers spent the day on the beach - in pouring rain. So it's a bit of luck of the draw whether shore excursions will be a hit.

But I loved the time spent in Fiji.

Off to New Zealand!


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