Health Information for Travelers to Fiji
Care in what you eat and drink is the most important health rule. Stomach upsets are the most likely travel-health problem, but the majority of these upsets will be relatively minor. Don’t become paranoid, trying the local food is part of the experience of travel after all.
For Fiji Travelers the most basic rule of thumb is be very careful about drinking water in villages. If in doubt, boil it or treat it with water purification tablets. Generally tap water is safe outside of village scenarios but if in doubt, bottled water is also available everywhere.
Salads and fruit should be washed with purified water or peeled where possible. Thoroughly cooked food is safest, but not if it has been left to cool or if it has been reheated. Take great care with shellfish or fish and avoid undercooked meat. If a place looks clean and well run and the vendor also looks clean and healthy then the food is probably safe. In general, places that are packed with travellers or locals will be fine, empty restaurants are questionable.
In hot climates make sure you drink enough, don’t rely on feeling thirsty to indicate when you should drink. Not needing to urinate or very dark yellow urine is a danger sign. Always carry a water bottle with you on long trips. Excessive sweating can lead to loss of salt and therefore muscle cramping. Readers should note, however, that in Fiji (and most of the Pacific island nations), there’s no need to consider adding salt to your food, as there is enough salt in the local diet.
Many health problems can be avoided by taking care of yourself. Avoid excessive sun and always wear a hat as well as sunscreen. Sunburn is all too easy to get. I even got a nasty dose the last time I was in Fiji. (Nobody’s fault but my own.)
Wash your hands frequently, it’s quite easy to contaminate your own food. Avoid climatic extremes, keep out of the sun when it’s hot, dress health warmly if it’s cold. Avoid potential diseases by dressing sensibly. You can get worm infections through bare feet or dangerous coral cuts by walking over coral without shoes. You can avoid insect bites by covering bare skin when insects are around, by screening windows or beds or by using insect repellents.
If you are going to take a dip in the sea look first to see if others are doing the same. There may be strong currents or water pollution that is not readily apparent. Seek local advice, if you’re told a swimming area is unsafe. In situations were there is no information, discretion is the better part of valor.
Snake bites are virtually unknown in Fiji. Highly-venomous black and white banded sea snakes, which are often found along Fiji’s shores or swimming in lagoons do not bite, unless severely provoked. In the evenings sea snakes will venture on land and I have even observed them come into my room. Despite their disturbing appearance, these creatures are docile and I have seen Fijians pick them up and handle them (though this is rare). For cultural reasons (perhaps through superstition) Fijians will never purposefully kill, much less touch, these serpents.
The bolo, another venomous species, is so rare that even herpetologists cannot find it, and it’s not aggressive anyway. Pacific boas are the most common land snakes (on the islands where they haven’t been exterminated by mongoose) but are not venomous or aggressive. If you are lucky enough to see a boa (usually in a tree), enjoy the sight.
Certain cone-shell creatures found in Australia and the Pacific can give a dangerous or even fatal sting. There are various fish and other sea creatures which can give dangerous stings, bites or be dangerous if you eat them. Again taking local advice is the best suggestion. Reef walkers might consider asking locals about the presence of stone fish. Also, many sea creatures are endangered and should not be harvested for ecological reasons (doing so is sometimes also against the law).
Dangers in the Sea
As a general rule, inexperienced snorkelers and swimmers should be extremely careful about plunging into areas of the sea with strong currents. There are no warning signs in Fiji for areas with dangerous currents or for hazardous swimming areas; every year novices drown. If you have the least hesitation about swimming or snorkelling, ask about local conditions before you get your feet wet. (See also Diving & Snorkelling later in this chapter.)
Fiji is still a terrific place for solo women travelers; rape is rare in Fiji. However, taking precautions is prudent, especially if you are by yourself late at night in Suva. Women should also understand that when a man asks you out, chances are he expects more than a good-night kiss – even on the first date. Likewise, an invitation to a midnight stroll on the beach implies more than gazing at the stars and holding hands.
In the same vein, women should realise that though bikini tops and lots of exposed skin may be the norm on the streets of Waikiki, in Fiji, anywhere except on the beach or in resort areas it is not the norm. Women wearing (what locals would construe as) overly ‘sexy’ clothing may as well wear a flashing green light.
Should a solo woman traveler accept an invitation from a family to stay with them? More often than not it will be a great experience, especially in a village setting. However, one solo woman traveller, Lucy Kunkel of Ithica, New York, remarks that in the more well traveled areas of Viti Levu, ‘perhaps families were not as innocent as they once were’. Her experience on several occasions was that invitations ‘carried strings’. In one instance after accepting an invitation to stay at a family home she was immediately shuttled to a store and given a laundry list of what to purchase. Her conclusion:
This happens, I’m sure, because travelers have taken advantage of them in the past, but I felt very uncomfortable, and don’t recommend solo females accept any such offers. This is also because of the rude way a woman traveling alone is treated. Wear a wedding ring and make up stories…it saves a lot of hassles.
Finally, I’ve had letters from several women, including a Peace Corps volunteer with years of experience, who suggest that I bring up the subject of ‘peeping toms’. My Peace Corps reader tells me that this behavior is relatively common throughout the South Pacific. Without probing the socio-cultural aspects of this practice or judging whether or not it is innocuous behavior, just be forewarned that ‘they’ are out there, and visitors are fair game.