Myself + a muscular islander = a piggyback ride. This is how I arrived on Turtle Island. Since the seaplane landed on water deep enough to keep a plane afloat, piggyback was the only way to get to Turtle Island, the all-inclusive resort where I was staying.
This was only the first surprise of the visit.
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After a nap in the hammock with the waves as my lullaby, I saunter to the bar. I order a fruity cocktail made by Bill, the gregarious barman with the million-watt smile and notice two buff, bare-chested men decked out in grass skirts carrying a woman on their shoulders.
She is wearing a simple, strapless dress. Was this a bride? I leap from my chair to find out where they were taking her. To a wooden raft, it turns out, decorated in flowers and greenery. It's the "limo" ride to her nuptials.
Mother Waimie shows up and beckons me to follow. I protest, happy to stay put, watching the sunset from the bar.
"No, it's a grand wedding. Come," she insists. With childhood obedience deeply ingrained from my deeply religious background, I comply. Begrudgingly.
The local Fijian staff, sitting crossed-legged on the ground, faced a simple stage, dressed in their Sunday best — men in traditional skirts (sulus) and flowered shirts and the women in brightly colored sula jaba dresses. I want to blend in and, hoping not to be noticed, sit with the staff.
Waimie pulls me up off the ground in a gently scolding manner, tells me, "Guests don't sit here," and directs me to a seat in the semi-circle of chairs on stage.
And just like that, I become a part of the official wedding party for a couple I have never met. I know what a big ordeal choosing a wedding party is for Americans, and I feel awkward, face flushed with embarrassment.
But everyone else pays no attention as the bride, carrying a tropical bouquet of flowers, glides down the aisle to meet her beloved.
The ceremony was short and sweet, officiated by a Protestant Fijian minister. But not short enough. Due to a cold I caught on the plane, I hack through the whole thing. So much for blending in.
Sealed with the traditional kiss, a cheer went up from the staff in celebration. Champagne is passed around. Then it is time for pictures. I try to escape again to no avail, corralled once again by Waimie.
Trying to make fast friends with whispered introductions, I pose with the newlyweds, hoping the discomfort I feel does not translate on my face.
"I'm so sorry to crash your wedding, but our bure mom forced it. I just got here and had no idea what was going on," I explain through my plastic smile.
The bride and groom both reassure me that everyone staying on Turtle Island during a grand wedding is invited to be a part of the party.
A full-on Fiji-style wedding reception ensues. The staff, with their rich, melodic singing voices, belt out Fijian songs. And no party is complete in Fiji without a traditional kava ceremony. Kava, a herb from the Pacific islands pounded into a drink, tastes like sweet dirt, its effect akin to a natural Xanax.
As the guests of honour, the bride and groom receive the first bowls of kava along with blessings and prayers.
A homey wedding cake made by the resort's kitchen staff appears and champagne glasses are topped off.
By the end of the wedding, I was glad my Fiji mom coerced me to participate, as it was one of the highlights of my stay in Fiji. Who knew becoming a wedding crasher would be one of the best decisions of my vacation?