The first time I heard of Fiji was in the movie The Truman Show. Fiji, the pearl of the South Pacific, was the dreamland of Truman played by Jim Carrey. In Truman’s opinion, this beautiful paradise was a tranquil, mysterious, and idyllic land.
I travelled to this majestic location earlier this year and saw the blue sea and sky, met the passionate and friendly locals and ate their unusual food – all of which seemed to contain spinach. I also experienced being a ‘mud-woman’ which was a must-do and unforgettable part of the trip.
My friend and I were guided to a tranquil spot that was 30 minutes away from Fiji’s second-largest city, Nadi. It is a totally natural, small place without restaurants, concrete pathways and man-made infrastructure, except for a shower and toilet.
“This way,” said an elderly local woman who guided us to the mud pond and asked us to remove our clothes, but keep our underwear on. Suddenly, a pile of warm mud appeared in front of us and we were instructed to smear it all over our bodies.
The mud itself was warm, which was nice, but it was lumpy with bits of leaves and twigs. I saw other people covered in warm squishy mud from head to foot, but we just smeared each other’s backs. We did not choose to put it on our faces so that we did not have to put our heads under the water.
“Look, you are a mud-woman,” my friend laughed at me when I finished the smearing.
“You too,” I laughed.
Now we were mud-women standing in the sun and looking around. A breeze was blowing, birds were chirping and I heard the surf breaking on the reef not far away. At that moment, I understood the meaning of Fiji for Truman. Fiji was a paradise that let us forget our worries. For me, I just needed to feel the calmness on a quiet sunny day so that I could let go of built up tension and anxiety.
The mud dried quickly and I felt it harden on my skin. I saw others, who had covered their faces with mud, struggling to so much as smile. It was time for us to take the next step and jump into the mud pool.
The muddy water pool was warm and lined with grass on the bottom. I dared not jump into it at the beginning because it did not look clean. Getting into the pool of thick mud was a weird feeling. It was like using muddy water to remove the mud, but I ignored the squeamish factor.
Ten minutes later, we were called to another still hotter thermal pool to soak as the third part of the exercise. The source of the spring was very hot and steam rose above it. The local people described it by saying ‘you can cook an egg’, so I escaped it as soon as I touched the water. At the same time, the smell, like rotten eggs, was beyond anything I had imagined but it showed the quality of the hot springs. The sulphur, which is so smelly in the hot springs, is believed by locals to have healing properties and is a popular spot for both visitors and locals. As one local said, the worse the smell, the better the medicinal properties of the spring.
I walked beside a stream that originated in the pool and noticed that the amount of steam that came off the water diminished as I drew closer to the pool. The temperature ranged from ‘cook an egg’ to ‘ woo, the temperature is perfect’.
I enjoyed the hot springs with a local villager, who greeted me by saying “bula” which means “hello” in Fijian. She told me that relaxing in the springs was part of her daily routine.
“Can you see the volcano there?” she pointed to the distant place.
“Fiji is made up of 332 islands and located in the Pacific volcanic belt. Most of the islands are volcanic and surrounded by coral reefs, so it explains why the geothermal hot springs are here.”
To my surprise, the hot springs were made famous just 10 years ago by a Japanese visitor, rather than a beautiful Fijian legend.
The local woman told me that a Japanese traveller visited the mud pool and found that his skin disease was healed. Since then, the pond and the hot springs had become famous for their healing properties. The locals, of course, had known about the healing properties of the mud for many generations.
I am not sure whether the story about the Japanese visitor was true, but I liked to talk to the locals and feel their happiness. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, enjoyed the hot springs and tried to feel the atmosphere. I envied the village locals because they lived the life that was Truman’s dream.
Getting there: Qantas, Air Pacific and Pacific Blue operate between Australia and Nadi International Airport in Fiji. From Brisbane the flight to Fiji is approximately 3 hours and 40 minutes
Extra information: Pools themselves are basic but for FJD15 + (if you want it) FJD30 extra for a 30 min oil massage