Travel Channel and the Esquire Network are both set to air TV shows that ask celebrities to give local perspectives on their favorite destinations. While one can argue that Travel Channel is taking Esquire’s already developed idea and running with it, it’s undeniable that this fascination with celebrity travel is nothing new. In fact, celebrities have been popularizing places for years. Here’s a few examples of places where the stars have come out to play (and crowds of people soon followed).
Elvis Presley and Hawaii
It’s no secret Elvis loved Hawaii. From his first visit in the 1950s, it remained his favorite vacation destination. Elvis made three movies there, including the immensely popular “Blue Hawaii.” It’s also the setting of the first broadcast concert via satellite, “Aloha from Hawaii,” which Elvis starred in.
Sir Richard Branson and Necker Island, British Virgin Isles
Sure, he owns the island, but he also made it a popular vacation spot. Famous names like Steven Spielberg, Mel Gibson, Oprah Winfrey, Harrison Ford and Pamela Anderson have all visited at one time or another. For those that can afford to go to Necker Island, it’s ultra-luxe accommodations and private submarine make it one of the ultimate destinations.
Britney Spears and Turtle Island, Fiji
Britney Spears and Kevin Federline famously vacationed to this private island after their marriage in 2005. It was also the honeymoon locale for Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson. Both marriages ended in divorce, but the island still remains one of the most sought-after (and priciest) honeymoon destinations.
On Saturday, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee announced this year’s newly inscribed locations to their list of World Heritage Sites from their 37th session in Cambodia. Each year, the UN agency evaluates the most culturally and naturally significant sites that have been proposed to them from countries around the world. Then, they elect the most outstanding to be put on their renowned list.
This year sees Japan‘s iconic Mount Fuji added to the list after previous nomination attempts were rejected due to garbage disposal problems on the summit as well as a perceived lack of uniqueness of the mountain. Japan successfully lobbied for the stratovolcano to be included this year due to the incredibly prominent role it has played in Japanese history, religion and art. One of the most famous Japanese works of art, “The Great Wave,” features the beautifully shaped mountain in the background. The woodblock print even comes from a series named “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.” Today, Fuji-san has come to represent Japan as a whole.Also added to the World Heritage List this year was China‘s gorgeous Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, which have been continuously cultivated for over 1,300 years. Located in Southern Yunnan, the rice terraces cover more than 64 square miles of farmland, where many of the locals still live a very traditional life, living in thatched huts and small villages.
The nations of Qatar and Fiji received their first ever World Heritage Site inscriptions this year. Al Zubarah, a walled fort town in Qatar, was a successful trade post before it was abandoned at the turn of the 20th century. In the years since, much of the site has been covered in sand blown in from the desert, helping to preserve it. Fiji’s Levuka Historical Port Town has been inscribed after more than 25 years of lobbying by their government. The port town was Fiji’s first colonial capital and received strong architectural influences from both it’s British colonial rulers as well as from its own indigenous culture.
In total this year, 19 sites were added to the World Heritage List, from countries in almost every corner of the globe, with the possibility of even more to be announced before the session ends on June 27. Sites that have been given designation by UNESCO receive increased protection under international law, funds for further preservation as well as greater public awareness and tourism. There are presently 962 World Heritage Sites in 157 countries. Other sites include Yellowstone National Park, the Pyramids of Giza, Uluru in Australia and the Darjeeling Railway in India.
Children crowded the simple wooden benches on the right side of the church. Village elders and older children filled the benches facing in from the wings, while we sat with other local adults on the benches to the left of the aisle. Tapestries of the Good Shepherd and the Last Supper spread across the white wall above the pulpit, while a minister spoke in compassionate Fijian to the children.
After a pause a boy raised his hand and spoke, perhaps answering a question put to them. Mynah birds squawked outside as a quiet giggle rippled through the congregation, then the minister spoke on, smiling.
Sitting on the bench behind me, Al, my Fijian guide, tapped my shoulder and explained in a whisper what had just happened.
“The preacher was giving the children a lesson on the evils of alcohol. He explained that he put an earthworm in a bottle, then filled the bottle with alcohol, and the worm died. ‘Now what is the lesson here?’ he asked the children. The boy raised his hand and said, ‘You have to drink a lot of beer to kill the tapeworm inside.'”
The congregation broke into song, and it was a good thing because I couldn’t hold back my laughter and Al laughed along with me under the cover of the hymn that bounced off the simple white walls and flowed over the community and out to sea.That encounter in the community church at Vatudamu, just 30 minutes down the road from Savusavu on Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island, encapsulated my experience here. Vanua Levu offers everything you could want in a South Pacific islands escape: superb snorkeling and diving, luxurious resorts, every imaginable tropical fruit plucked straight off the tree, seafood pulled from the ocean only minutes before eating, boat journeys up jungle-covered rivers or out into Natewa Bay – the second largest bay in the South Pacific – even golf. But while I enjoyed all that, what I took away most was the graciousness of the people.
I was booked into La Dolce Vita, a little bit of Italy in the South Seas thanks to the efforts of Luigi (Lui) Giuliani, who emigrated from Abruzzo, Italy, to Melbourne, Australia, in 1955 when he was 15 years old. He played semipro soccer there until he was in his 30s and got his introduction to Fiji when touring with his club in the 1970s. It planted a seed that germinated over time, and after a career as a civil engineer and owner of his own high-rise construction business, he bought 43 acres of land on the island and began something of a Swiss Family Robinson project to improve on what nature had provided.
He did it all with local help and his own ingenuity, beginning in 2000 when he bought the property and built himself a house. Always looking for the next improvement, he hired a local named Joe who had minimal carpentry skills and trained him to build. Over time Joe became a master and helped build the five bungalows that form the core of the resort that can accommodate 14 guests.
In 2003, Lui met a local woman named Margaret Cornish, who was managing the Copra Shed, a small shopping center in Savusavu, after she’d worked 11 years for the Marshall Islands Embassy and eight years for Air Pacific. Soon they were a team and then they were married and their business took on a new energy.
Within a few years they’d added a 6-hole golf course that Lui built himself, hired a local man named Michelle to cook and helped him, through experimentation and reading books, become a superb chef (he now lives on site in his own bungalow), hired two local gardeners and a woodcarver to carve faces of traditional Fiji Island warriors to display around the property and, in a nod to Lui’s native Italy, two gladiators to flank the entrance to the lagoon.
The lagoon might be Lui’s most impressive project. All along he knew that his property was vulnerable to storm surges and he wanted to build a seawall and lagoon to protect it. A few hundred yards off the beach the reef ends and beyond the breaking surf the sea drops quickly to 100 feet or more. To do what he felt was necessary, he needed to lease the seafront. It took him two years to get the government to agree to a 99-year lease, but a few months before they closed the deal, a cyclone blew through and the storm surge trashed the place. Part of the front wall of the house blew out, the doors went, the swimming pool brimmed with rocks, sand filled the house, and they had a resort full of guests coming in 17 days.
“Before something like this happens you worry about it,” Lui said, “but after it happens, there’s nothing you can do but clean it up. If you keep your mind to it and don’t lose your spirit, you can get it done. I must have hauled twenty loads of sand out of here. We had people from the village working with us picking up everything and putting it back together. Well, we got it done in 14 days.”
I was a grateful beneficiary of Lui’s grand vision and hard work. Each meal I had could have challenged anything served in the top restaurants in my hometown of San Francisco (for instance, cabbage stuffed with shellfish, blackened walu, cassava fries that had to be tasted to be believed, homemade ice cream and meringue cakes).
One memorable day we took a boat excursion up the Galogalo River to Salt Lake surrounded by imposing jungle-covered cliffs as if we were in the middle of a caldera; we had to wait until the tide was low enough to get under the bridge, then took a tide pooling walk to Lui’s Island, 20 minutes across the strait at low tide, where we saw deep blue sea stars and countless tentacled creatures poking out of the sand looking for nourishment. Little fish-like worm-like creatures zipped away from our clomping feet, and small crabs scuttled off to avoid us.
One of Lui’s next projects is a tree house on the island, and soon he’ll have a caretaker there to watch over his property. Another neighbor told us a “mad German” who lives in a mansion across the way rows across to the island and steals the sand from Lui’s beach, but Margaret just laughed when we mentioned it. “Nature always brings it back,” she said. “The tidal flow always changes things.”
One day we drove the dirt road along Vanua Levu’s narrowest point to a boat launch where we were greeted by several local people with an exuberant “Bula!” and a handshake, one after the other as if at a wedding reception. By then I had learned that for Fijians this was nothing special, they were just saying a genuine hello and making me feel welcome.
We were planning to look for spinner dolphins and snorkel on the reef in Natewa Bay. Lui’s carpenter, Joe, served as boatman and guide. Margaret said that nine times out of ten they see dolphins when they go out, and usually when they don’t spot them it’s because of the weather. “If you go out on a nice day and you don’t see them, you can expect a storm to come in the next day.”
Her assessment fit the pattern of my experience. The wind picked up as we headed out, and the calm sea turned choppy. An hour out Joe said we’d better turn back because the wind had shifted, so we swung around to a coral reef, a long patch of green in the limitless blue sea, observing a few flying fish along the way. Thick jungle hung off distant cliffs and banana and coconut trees dropped to mangroves at the water’s edge. We snorkeled in our tropical aquarium with small fish of every color, Joe diving deep to touch patches of coral that instantly changed from yellow to white. Back on the boat, he said he’s able to dive to depths beyond 100 feet because he’s been doing it so long. When we’d had our fill, we headed in to do what comes naturally in the tropics: read, nap and enjoy doing nothing.
Not long after we’d returned, the thunderheads formed, marching across the sky all around, dropping huge swaths of rain across the horizon. Here, at La Dolce Vita Retreat (“not Resort,” Lui said, “because it’s a retreat from the rat race rather than a place that offers every possible activity”), only the wind came up, the local mongoose came out, the flying foxes (giant fruit bats) lumbered across the sky like antediluvian spirits and the mynah birds kept up their incessant musical chatter.
Lui, meanwhile, enjoyed his peace and quiet. “I’m more Basil Fawlty than true host,” he said. “You know, ‘the only thing wrong with this hotel is the bloody guests!’ I always say the only thing missing from our place is a big No Vacancy sign.” He may say that all he wants, but he’s a superb storyteller and excellent host, and I’m sure he knows it.
That day at the church, after the ceremony where I’d been welcomed from the lectern by a tall man with a booming voice, I exchanged greetings with many of the people. One tall fellow with a friendly but dignified air wore a broad tie with an image of the bible woven into it and “The Bible” inscribed above the image. I thought it indicated a fine sense of humor so I asked if I could photograph it. Of course, he beamed, and afterward I learned that his name was Romulus, he was the brother of Wilson, the man with the booming voice, and Wilson was the husband of Leola, the exceedingly warm La Dolce Vita staff person who served our meals every day.
Of course it’s a small world in a village, but I was tickled nonetheless. Romulus and Wilson were as welcoming as could be, and elders of the community. They’re the fifth-generation owners of the local estate that measures more than 100 acres. Romulus’s house is visible just across the way from the church on the hill, a house that I’d photographed because I found it and its setting picturesque.
I’m not a churchgoer. I’m barely a believer. But that Sunday morning in Vatudamu, Vanua Levu, Fiji Islands, I felt right at home and at peace with the world, just as I had at Lui’s La Dolce Vita. And isn’t that what a church service, and an island escape, are supposed to do for you?
A powerful cyclone that left at least four dead as it ripped through Samoa late last week caused flooding and structural damage when it hammered Fiji on Sunday, The Daily Telegraph is reporting.
The worst of Cyclone Evan, the first tropical cyclone of the season in the South Pacific, seems to have passed, but the storm left a path of destruction as it made its way through Wallis and Futuna, Tonga, American Samoa, Samoa and Fiji.
Fijian authorities scrambled to evacuate more than 8,000 residents and tourists in low-lying areas on Sunday, and airlines suspended flights in and out of the country. Two ships ran aground near the entrance to Suva Harbour as 160 mile per hour winds hammered the Fijian capital.
The storm is said to be the worst cyclone to hit the island in 20 years. It caused flooding, structural damage and downed power lines, but so far there have been no reports of deaths or serious injuries in Fiji.
Four deaths have been confirmed from Samoa, where 10 people remain missing and thousands of people have been left homeless.
To see more of the damage in Samoa and Fiji, click through the gallery below.
“You want some grog?” a 20-something Fijian man asks me. He’s very fit and is wearing nothing but surf shorts.
It’s 10 a.m. and he’s sitting with four other local guys on a linoleum floor around a faded wooden bowl the diameter of a large pizza. We’re in an elongated, sparsely decorated room with one wall made entirely of open, sliding glass doors and windows. Through the open spaces is a palatial, hammock-strewn wooden terrace, and beyond that blue water spreading to three or four small, fuzzy, green islets. The bowl is on four short, rounded wooden legs and is filled with what looks like dirty river water. I realize these guys are drinking kava, a narcotic beverage that’s as famous in the South Pacific for its calming effect and putrid taste as it is for its cultural and ceremonial significance.
I wasn’t expecting my first taste of Fijian kava to be in such a casual setting. In my head, kava is supposed to be enjoyed at a chief’s house with lots of etiquette in a grand cultural moment. Getting stoned at 10 a.m. doesn’t sound particularly appealing, either, but I say yes to the “grog” anyway. Who knows when I’ll get offered it again? After 15 years living in Tahiti, where they don’t drink kava, I’m ready to give it a go.
I take a seat around the bowl and say hello to everyone.
“High tide or low tide?” the guy at the head of the bowl asks me.
“Um, I don’t know. What does that mean?”
No one answers, but they all smile at me as I’m handed a coconut shell cup that’s half full. I’m not sure what the protocol is, but I remember my dad drinking kava with the locals when I came to Fiji with him as a kid, so I just do what I remember him doing. I clap once with cupped hands, say “Bula!” (an all-purpose word that means hello, cheers and welcome) and toss it back.
It’s not all that bad – a little bland actually. There’s a slightly bitter, almost medicinal aftertaste and a metallic tingly feeling lingers on my tongue. I hand back the empty coconut cup to the guy at the head of the bowl and he scoops out another coconut full to give to the next guy. Each person drinks in turn and they mostly clap but no one says “Bula!” I take another bowl in turn, then another.
“High tide,” I eventually learn, means a full cup. I start to opt for “low tide” (a small cup) so I don’t risk overdoing it.
We were supposed to leave to take a boat to another island at 11 a.m., but it’s soon well past noon and no one seems remotely interested in leaving the kava bowl. As for me, it’s as if “Fiji Time” has finally sunk in. I’m in no hurry at all and sitting here talking and laughing about nothing feels just about right. This isn’t a blurry drunk feeling, it’s just a sense that all is right in the world, that the beautiful ocean out the front door is moving in time with my breath and everyone on the planet is my brother. My mouth is also a little numb and my tongue feels half a size too big.
A few more people show up, some guitars come out and soon everyone is singing. Eventually we finish the big bowl, which then gets refilled. By 1 p.m. the second one is done too, so we make the difficult decision to finally leave this mellow scene and go to that other island. No one looks haggard or staggers when they stand up; in fact, I too feel pretty normal, just happier. Within an hour my kava high is gone and all that’s left is a little headache.
After another week or so in the islands, it became clear that I didn’t have to worry about never getting offered kava again. It’s everywhere in Fiji. The most unlikely offering occurred when I was walking through a busy schoolyard and a few women who were moms of some of the students asked me in for a bowl. But unfortunately I never got to drink with a chief or experience kava with all the proper ceremony. I would have liked this too, but I still think I got to experience a part of what kava means in the culture: the aspect of sharing a drink with friends, being on the receiving end of great Pacific hospitality and getting a narcotic nudge into the headspace of the locals.
I bought a bag of kava to bring home to Oregon, a kava bowl, the sock to steep it in and even some coconut cups. Six months later, it’s all untouched in the cupboard. Perhaps I’m afraid that kava out of context would somehow taint my blue water island memories, but I continuously blame my home life’s busy schedule. Still, kava is all about slowing down and enjoying the moment, which is exactly what many busy Americans need – desperately. As I write this I’m imagining a day on a sunny Pacific Northwest river with friends, ukuleles and a big bowl of that wonderful murky tonic. Can “Fiji Time” work outside an island framework? I’m not sure, but even if it only gets my friends and me to that sunny riverbank, it will be worth it.