I’m sitting here in causal talanoa after a traditional welcome kava ceremony in the cool, dim village-hall of Nabutautau but my mind’s hardly on the conversation in the room. I am staring out the low doorway of the bure at what looks very much like a sacrificial rock alter and encircled open space where perhaps once-upon-a-time chiefly tribal ceremonies took place. This remote (remote as remote gets ’cause we’re smack-bang in the middle of Viti-Levu today) Fijian village sits nestled on a lower mountain and from that spot outside, one can get a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. My brain’s already dazed itself into a frenzy. I can hear loud rhythmic lali beatings, conch shells, let’s throw in some Jumanji style tribal chants for a good measure! Muscled men in loin cloths glistening in sweat from different tribes are pouring down, climbing up the ridges to converge around at the alter – this village has hosted many a tribal gathering in its history. There’s tension in the air, possibility of a clash between the clans…
I’m almost about to reach out for my club in war cry when Etu our trekking guide for the day announces that we’ll be heading out for a short trek soon. Ahem!
I’ve never been able to figure out what it is about ancient practices that’s always fascinated me. It probably goes all the way back to ’95 when Bollywood rolled out a movie called “Prem” which went down as one of the lamest ones ever made but it’s on my top ten all-time favourites. Whether it’s vicariously through Shantanu and Laachi’s love story, or trekking the Andes tracing the Chavín people, climbing all the way up to Machu Picchu to see the last of the Inca empire or hanging out with the Konyak tribe in Nagaland – my wanderlust has gloriously fed my fascination. And here am I today (a practicing Hindu), drinking kava with descendants of a tribe who killed, chopped up and ate Thomas Baker, a Christian missionary to Fiji in the 1800’s.
Though for our morning tea when we arrived, we were served vegetarian yam samosas (I’ve never heard of yam samosasss!) by the lovely Adi Kaveni! I’m a samosa person whose biggest samosa regret is not eating mutton samosas at the tea stall in Kargil so I can say with samosa authority that Adi Kaveni’s are pretty good and I can’t wait to go home and tell Suruj how to make them!
On our way to the trek, we stop by Mr. Roko’s who brings out an old and well-kept axe. As always, I’m a little behind others so I missed Mr. Roko’s talk about it. Upon reaching everyone, I thought a compliment should cover – “that’s a nice axe”. 3 pairs of eyes oogled at me till kind Rob not so kindly said “yeah…that’s the one they used to chop up Thomas…” 🙃
Set then – let’s walk!
I first met Marita when curating an industry talk featuring innovative tourist ventures impacting change <watch her talk here>. Marita together with her husband Matt run Talanoa Treks, the only dedicated hiking and trekking companies in Fiji. Set-up as a social enterprise, Talanoa Treks works with selected highland villages and communities.
While community-based tourism business concepts sound and look great on paper, as a traveler I’ve seen how difficult it is to pull-off and successfully run one. When working with Marita for her talk, there was something she said about the Talanoa (conversation) in Talanoa Treks has always been about the communities’ stories but I didn’t really understand what exactly she meant till this trip. From the moment we arrived, Marita, Matt and however they run their administration disappeared into background. From then on, it really was about the community and how they hosted visitors in their villages.
It’s really difficult to find something that works in Fiji especially that benefits the locals on a social level and not just the large international chains. And despite operating in such remote and isolated locations far from the tourist hubs, there are so many things that Talanoa Treks gets right.
Perhaps because Matt & Marita really didn’t get into this business just to make money is why they’re able to make this work <read their story here>. Community-based tourism at the heart of it, has to be about the people and this venture has authentically managed to do just that without trying to change the Fijian highland way of life while connecting the rest of the world to them.
Talanoa Treks offer a number of options for trekking including day trips & a full 4-day cross-country hike. Head over to their website for more detailed itineraries. https://talanoa-treks-fiji.com/ A word of caution from yours truly – a certain level of fitness is required for all treks (even for the short 45-minute loop). Both your not scrapped knees will thank you later.
Also to keep in mind, Talanoa Treks closes down towards the end of the year when it’s too hot and wet which gives them and the communities some downtime and preparation time for guide training, trek maintenance etc.
Their trips depart on pre-determined dates so just rocking up might not always work. They do offer special bookings to large groups on school field and corporate team building trips.
While they are based in Suva, pickups can be arranged from Nadi. They are very friendly and flexible so it’d be a good idea to pick up the phone and give them a call to arrange something that helps your Fiji travels easier.
Prices are on quote basis – you will need to get in touch with them directly for pricing via their website & email.
Not one for the budget traveller. However I’m going to put myself on the line and say, it may work out to be what your entire budget for your ideal Fiji trip is, but forgo the beers and the island-hop – spend it on this one, 10 years from now…the stories you’ll tell, my friend!
For many of us when we take to the road, we seek something from it. We travel and take paths less traveled to maybe find ourselves. In Fiji, we’ve over the years managed to establish ourselves as a ‘beach & cocktail’ destination and I don’t blame you if you’ve managed to steer clear of us in your travel plans, but we do have stories to tell that travel brochures don’t and Talanoa Treks is doing just that.
Navigate yourself to our highlands, you’ll find Fiji’s soul here.
Where is Shyamni? was invited by Talanoa Treks on a day trip as part of my storytelling work with The Genda Project. As always, all opinions expressed in this post are mine. Photos unless otherwise credited remain property of this blog.