Pacific Nations Cup in Fiji

After arriving in Suva, Fiji on July 30th following a very long travel day from Colorado, needless to say we were exhausted. We played Canada in the first round of the 2019 Pacific Nations Cup the previous Saturday beating them 47-19. We would be in Fiji for the remainder of the Pacific Nations Cup and during that time we’d play against Samoa and Japan. 

Our welcome in Fiji

Welcome ceremony at Suva Airport.

After arriving in Suva airport, we were given a traditional welcoming ceremony and fed plenty of Kava. Kava is a very popular drink in the pacific islands. It is made from the roots of Piper methysticum, a plant native to the islands. The roots are dried out and then crushed into a powder form. Once a powder it is mixed with water in a big bowl and often served in coconut shells. People living on the Pacific islands such as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga have used Kava for hundreds of years in social gatherings and traditional medicine. From a non-natives perspective like myself Kava gives this strange tongue numbing sensation. They say that the stronger the kava, the faster it numbs your tongue. As for the taste, well it tastes like what you’d imagine the water in a puddle on the side of the road would taste like, mud water. It’s definitely not the tastiest drink in the world however, the social aspect of the whole kava thing is very enjoyable.  

Fresh coconut and flower necklace.

Upon arrival at the Holiday Inn in Suva we were treated like royalty, all the staff welcomed us to the hotel and presented us with a necklace and a fresh coconut to drink. After such a long travel day everyone was exhausted but the warm welcome made everyone feel very at home.

The view from the hotel was nothing short of amazing.

View from Holiday Inn at Suva.

Celebrity spotting in Fiji

After relaxing and soaking in Fijian atmosphere on day 1 it was time to get down to business and train. Our training field was directly across the road from the hotel in Albert Park, named after Prince Albert. It was very handy for the majority of us as we’d have a team meeting in the hotel, walk 50m and we were on the training field. However, for some of the sevens boys, the second they set foot outside of the hotel the locals were running up and getting their photos taken with them. The sevens lads were like celebrities in Fiji. On one occasion, we were walking across the road to training when a car that had seen better days came to a screeching stop. We were all thinking to ourselves “what was that about” and next thing all you here was the lads inside in the car shouting “Oi, Madison Hughes…Bula (hello)” same thing for Pinkleman and Iosefa. These lads were extremely popular in Fiji. As Fiji won Gold in rugby 7s at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, it’s no surprise that the USA lads were so well known. After Fiji won the Olympics, the Fijian government introduced two million $7 bills to commentate their gold medal victory.

Fiji $7 bill front and back.

I’m lucky enough to call two of the lads on the $7 bill friends and former teammates. Osea Kolinisau, the captain and Jasa Veremalua. I played with Osea at Houston Sabercats and I played with Jasa in my short stint at San Diego Legion.

USA V Samoa

Team for USA V Samoa

We played a very physical Samoa in ANZ Stadium on August 3rd and scraped a victory out of it, winning 13-10. Samoa is always a tough game, big lads and very physical. The conditions in Suva on August 3rd were wet so it going to be a forward’s game.

Recovery day

Following the Samoa game, we were all feeling some pain, rather than lay around the hotel and feel sorry for our bodies, a few of us went to Colo-I-Suva Forest Park, a nature reserve just outside Suva on our day off. There were loads of waterfalls and pools to swim in but the rope swing was by far the most popular. Colo-I-Suva was a great place to get away from everything and relax and recover after a very physical game against Samoa.

Colo-I-Suva rope swing.

Following our day off in Colo-I-Suva we were straight back into the training week to prepare for a ruthless Japan on August 10th.

Fire Spinning

One night after dinner some local lads showed up and put on a fire dancing display. Rather than try to describe the entertainment I’ll let the video below do the work. Needless to say, it was nothing sort of fantastic.

Uprising Beach Resort.

On our day off this week was much more relaxed. A few of us went to Uprising Beach Resort in Pacific Harbour, its where the Fijian 7s team had their training camps. A beautiful resort located right on the beach. We had a great time there between swimming, kayaking and a little bit of beach volleyball.

USA V Japan

Team for USA V Japan

We lost to Japan 20-34 on August 10th in ANZ Stadium. Following the Japan game, we hung around ANZ Stadium to watch Fiji play Samoa. When in Rome… Well, while we were in Fiji, we got hooked up with our own USA Rugby bula shirt, sulu (dress-like garment) and a pair of flip flops. Needless to say, we fitted right in with the locals… well kind of!

USA in bula shirts and sulu’s

The Fijian taxi

After returning to the hotel and after a hard-fought game, a couple of us decided to go for a cheat meal in one of the more internationally recognized food establishments. McDonalds was about a half mile walk from the hotel, after playing Japan each of us were carrying a few knocks and that walk seemed like a trek. We passed five heavily armed members of the Fijian police force as they were packed into the back of a truck. In an effort to save us some struggle we tried to convince them to give us a lift back to the hotel, in return for few Big Macs. They didn’t seem too convinced, maybe they didn’t believe us? In any case, it was one of those moments when you think sure it’s worth a shot anyway as we hobbled onto get a snack. A few minutes later, up pulls the police truck fully loaded with all five police officers inside in it, they asked us if we were serious about the offer? Indeed, we were! We got the Big Macs, three of them hopped, we hopped in and the rest is history.

Fijian taxi

Fijian marketplace

On our last morning in Fiji I was in a last-minute scramble to find a souvenir to remember my time in Fiji. There were lots of the typical run of the mill souvenirs, but our liaison knew of small shop that sold Fijian handcrafts. This little gem of a shop was hidden in the local market place and if it wasn’t for the liaison, we’d have never found it. The one-man-stall sold all sorts of Fijian handcrafts and at a much more reasonable price than the lads up the road on the main strip. Needless to say, I picked up a few tidy souvenirs, and felt good about it as I felt like the money was going straight back to this man’s family on another Fijian island.

Fijian handcrafts stall.

Goodbye Fiji

After spending close to two weeks in Holiday Inn Suva we made great friends with the hotel staff. They couldn’t have been better as they helped us out with everything from hotel related stuff to things to see and do in Fiji. As we were leaving, we got a photo with some of the staff and then they sang a farewell song as we were going out the door. A beautiful gesture and something I’ll never forget.

Farewell to some of the hotel staff.

All in all, Fiji was a beautiful country and someplace I look forward to going back to visit.

Until next time Fiji, Moce

The sign just outside Uprising Beach Resort.