Nobody is taking pictures. The gasps have vanished. Our boat has steadied. Husbands and wives who once stood for a better view, leaned for a better photo, now sit beside one another, hands interlaced, cameras forgotten. A group of Fijians is singing to us. They stand on an arrival dock perched on a tiny island nestled in a lagoon. A few of the men wear grass skirts. All of them sing with reminders of a church choir, exuding warmth that carries an unspoken edict: This welcome is best shared with two eyes, two ears and someone you love. For me, this is a problem.
“Will your wife be joining you?” Tom, a bellboy, asks as I step onto the dock.
“No,” I tell him. Thirty minutes later, while standing in my over-water bure, Tom asks the same question. He’s obviously worried. He just finished showing me my over-water hut’s bathroom pavilion, its bathtub for two and its dual sinks with unique windows for views into the lagoon, similar to the glass-panel floors in my living room. Tom pointed all this out already, yet he lingers here, not for a tip, but out of concern.
I’m staring at a bed adorned with flower petals. Tom knows my wife is far away. “Solo travelers love our beachfront bures,” he offers. He sounds more like a personal counselor than a bellhop. I look outside. Is there anything here that doesn’t drip with romance? “There’s a snorkel trip in an hour,” answers Tom. Perfect. Where are we headed? “Honeymoon Island.”
“What else you got?”
The next day, Marian, a native Fijian with short curly hair, a quick wit and a beaming smile, is pointing to an unfurling wave off our fishing boat. We’re touring the Mamanuca Island chain. Marian is not a tour guide. She manages Likuliku’s nearby sister resort, Malalo. She could be back in an office but instead is on this boat, idling alongside Namotu, a small isle few guests take the time to see. Even our Fijian crew seems charged by the op. “Tomorrow I’ll take you to a church,” proclaims Marian. Her personal attention is staggering, genuine.
“Namotu is [surfing legend] Kelly Slater’s favorite place in the world,” Marian boasts just as a giant wave detonates on the island’s reef. Her eyes are filled with fear, and a touch of lust. Kelly Slater? She blushes. The crew razzes her. I ask if she finds sulus (dresses) worn by Fijian men attractive. “Do they look manly to you? Sexy?”
“Of course,” she answers. “Men wear sulus. It’s the Fijian way.”
“What about outsiders?” I tell her my over-water bure offers his-and-her sulus for guests. “Can I wear a sulu? Can I pull that off?” I motion slightly to a crew member’s dress. Marion looks puzzled. “I would not recommend you pulling his sulu off.”
Laughter erupts. A misunderstanding. A good one.
An hour later, all of us are shouting “Wiiilllson!” We’re just offshore Monuriki Island, where Cast Away was filmed. Unlike in the movie, the island is a stone’s throw from other islands.
“I don’t know why Tom Hanks befriended a volleyball,” says Marian, shaking her head. “He could’ve swum over and joined us for happy hour anytime. Nobody is alone in Fiji.” Indeed.
This article first appeared in Twenty of the World’s Greatest Escapes, in the January/February 2012 issues of ISLANDS.