Let's suppose for a minute that your family isn't dysfunctional. That there is no underlying tension, that everyone delights in your presence and that the minute you walk in the door, every one of your kin lights up in a neon-bright smile.
Well, I'm here to tell you that if you go to Fiji and book one of 19 bures at Namale Resort and Spa, you'll get that family, an always-happy, functional clan that puts Beaver Cleaver's loved ones to shame.
Sure, this 525-acre resort on the Fijian island of Vanua Levu has five stars, made the cover of Architectural Digest and throws in all the over-the-top amenities you've come to expect of such showcase resorts. But the reason it stands out -- I mean really stands out -- is because of its open, loving, big-hearted staff.
Every single person from the driver who picks you up at the airport to the woman who writes bula (it means "hello," "to life" and "let's celebrate) in pink ginger petals on your pillow makes a point of introducing him or herself, learning your name (and even remembering it, a favor I wasn't able to return) and looking you straight in the eye.
And you feel confident that when you leave the table at the barefoot restaurant where you just had the most amazing dinner of your life that Bale, Toops and Villi (okay, I remember a few names) are NOT rolling their eyes and snickering behind your back about the way you pronounce kokoda, a delicious Fijian speciality made with mahi-mahi, limes, green chiles and, of course, coconut cream. Think what you will, but it's not an act. It's the Fijian way.
Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the amenities of this remote resort on the Koro Sea. Of Namale's 525 acres, 200 are protected rainforest. Each of the bures (Fijian cottages) is locally handcrafted (the only power tool being a drill to anchor fittings into the lava outcroppings) with native hardwoods, floor-to-ceiling windows, thatched roof and infinity pool.
Tony Robbins, the self-help guru who turned the former coconut plantation into the five-star haven, aptly describes it as "killer plush." It has everything from its own private waterfall to one of the best fitness centers in the South Pacific. It even has a gorgeous hardwood basketball court, a digital golf driving range and a two-lane, 10-pin bowling alley where you can bowl sans shoes.
From the hydro-aromatherapy room of the 10,000-square-foot spa (you can't miss it. Just look for the smiling giant Buddha out front), you can dreamily gaze out over the Koro Sea, and if you're lucky, catch a glimpse of spinner dolphins, batfish and the resort's signature blowhole. As Robbins likes to say, "At Namale, the real you can't help but show up."
Here's to hoping this is the real me. When my daughter and I arrived from the nearby tiny one-strip airport (no air traffic control, just locals shooing cows off the runway), we found our carved names (one of Namale's many special touches) hanging from the door of the 2500-square-foot Dream House. Suffice it to say, it was bigger and far better appointed than my digs at home with outdoor showers, two pools, its own kitchen and maid quarters, a couple hot tubs and a giant projector that pulls down in front of the 200-foot windows on which we were able to watch The Bachelorette episode that was filmed there.
That was fun, of course, to say, "Oh look, Ashley (Hebert, from Season 7) is sitting next to the same pillow I am. Wow! Doesn't she look cute being interviewed out on our deck overlooking the ocean," but again, the best part was meeting our gracious, content Fijian hosts.
On Sunday, we were invited to attend a church service (couldn't understand a word, but those familiar Methodist hymns sounded even better in Fijian) in the nearby village of Vivili and the following day, we drove out to Baqata, another village in the rainforested mountains, where the chief, in an elaborate ceremony that involved pounding sun-dried kava root into a powder and straining it through what looked like an old sock, ceremoniously presented us with the milky, tongue-numbing drink in the half-shell of a coconut.
Perhaps, Billie, our Indian airport driver, summed it up best. I asked him if he ever sat in on any of Tony's seminars. After all, the motivational speaker/author teaches such classes as "Business Mastery" and "Life and Wealth Mastery" right on Namale grounds.
"Well," he said, looking me in the eye, "I have listened to him speak a time or two, but really for us, where else would we ever want to go? What else would we ever want to master?"
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