When we left off last time, I was talking about fresh produce and Farm Boy. We made another discovery that involves farm-to-table. We first became familiar with the farm-to-table concept many years ago when in the US Virgin Islands. Simply put, the concept is fresh locally grown organic food is sourced and served. The menu is obviously very seasonal and tends to favor vegetarian diets. Most places don’t get much past one location since the logistics are difficult and how can a chef possibly train multi locations to cook dishes as the ingredients can vary day to day.
On Viti Levu, we discovered Grace’s. And, we did so completely by accident. It was lunchtime and we were looking for a place to eat. We were near a retail center and notice a restaurant called Grace’s. It had quite a few customers already dining so, how bad can it be, right? The menu had a really nice mix that included pizza to stir-fry. I had a stir fry lamb dish and Cindy enjoyed a stir fry chicken dish. Yum!
As we sat and waited for our food, we read the signage in the restaurant and realized it was all farm-to-table. Everything was organic and any meat served was natural and no artificial colors or additives were used. In the restaurant, they also sold fresh veggies. And, to be honest, we haven’t seen lettuce this fresh in a long time. I since then, I have read about Grace Farm and learned they have 20 large farms in Fiji and are on a mission to get Fijians to eat healthier.
Grace has stand-alone restaurants and also sort of a one-stop roadside center. These have a gas station, a supermarket where all the produce is from the local farms, and a restaurant. I never thought I’d be excited to stop at a gas station to eat. But, as we were out and about in the car, these became a bit of a destination for us. In addition, they have spotlessly clean bathrooms. The men’s room even had an arrangement of fresh flowers.
I always seem to get confused when it comes to the seasons. It’s winter time here (August). Many Fijian people are wearing long pants and light jackets. Our daily temperatures are very pleasant (not nearly as hot as Tahiti’s winter). I think what throws me off a little bit are the flowers. I’m used to seeing flowers in the spring and summer. This has been the case for my entire life until we crossed the equator. We’re a couple of months away from spring but some trees are in full bloom. I didn’t know trees bloomed in winter. This adds a really picturesque color scheme to the mountainsides. Cindy captured a couple of pictures of these trees so you can see what we mean.
If you recall from a ride-share with Charlie in the previous post, he mentioned the Gardens of the Sleeping Giant. Well, these were also in full bloom making my seasonal perplexity more trying. It feels like summer perhaps because of the flowers, who knows.
The gardens were nice, but I’m not sure I’d recommend them as a “must do”. Yes, it’s beautiful there, green with tons of flowering shrubs and trees. They are just what you’d expect from a south pacific island garden. But, their trails were a little confusing. We eventually figured out there is just one trail with a few side paths. None of the flora was tagged so most of the time we had no idea what we were looking at. It was like, well that’s a pretty flower – move on.
The road to the gardens is unpaved. Our little Suzuki is not the best off-road vehicle. Heck, it is barely a decent on-road vehicle. Since, as with most rental cars, we are responsible for tire damage, we drove slowly and cautiously much to the dismay of the passenger vans loaded with tourists.
I thought the entry fee was a little steep at FJ$25 each. Once on the paths, I notice a lot of workers and realize the fee is going to good use providing jobs and upkeep of the grounds. The entry fee includes a drink when returning from the circular trail through the gardens. It takes about an hour to walk it. We walk slowly since we take pictures. I imagine some people complete the lap in much less time. The drink was some fruit punch powdered concoction. It was horrid. The artificial sweetener was overpowering. On the bumpy ride back to the main road, this all bounces around in my tummy.
When I read Elton John’s autobiography, ‘Me’, there was a really funny piece about how he purchased a tram car while on a bender in Australia and made arrangements for it to be shipped to his London home. He had absolutely no recollection of the transaction at all. Elton said,
“I really don’t recommend going shopping in the depressing aftermath of a three day cocaine binge unless you want to wake up the next day confronted by bags and bags filled with absolute crap you don’t actually remember buying.
Or in my case you wake up the net morning to a phone call informing you that you’ve bought a tram.
Not a model tram, that the voice at the end of you is now informing you has been shipped from Australia to your house where it can only be delivered by hanging it from two Chinook helicopters.”
By the way, even if you are not an Elton fan, the book is a great read and, like him, highly entertaining. The story came to mind as we drove past a house where somebody has outdone him. I couldn’t help but wonder if this person recalled actually buying the submarine, or not. Either way, it’s not every day you see a submarine in someone’s garden.
Let’s talk about Jack’s for a bit. In Fiji, Jack’s is everywhere. One of the things Cindy and I have discovered when sailing to islands or small countries is there is usually one person who winds up with all the money. As a person’s business becomes successful, logic dictates they buy up other businesses and merge them into their portfolio. Over time, they pretty much own everything or at least dominate a large segment of the local economy. Think of the game of Monopoly. Eventually, someone winds up with all the money.
In Granada, it was the guy who owned the hardware store and amassed a small fortune, and even owned an island adjacent to Grenada. In French Polynesia, the Wang family had a hand in just about everything. Fiji has Jack. Jack’s has businesses in retail, manufacturing, garments, restaurants, farms, handicrafts, and spas. I’m pretty sure the owner isn’t named Jack. We have found the Jack’s branded businesses to be quite good.
Jack’s restaurants include a few of our favorites. This includes the Corner Café in Nadi. We have found the stores carry a good assortment of merchandise at reasonable prices. Recently we shopped for shoes. You probably know how much I hate shopping for shoes. I was so happy the clerk suggests a pair, measured my feet, and then returned from the back stockroom with the shoes I wore out of the store. My old shoes hurt my toes on long walks and I desperately needed new ones. I handed the clerk my old pair and asked him to throw them away for me. You should have seen his face.
My old shoes were only slightly worn, I purchased them in Panama in a bit of a crunch and later regretted how tight they were across the toes. I put up with them in French Polynesia since I didn’t wish to spend US$300 on new athletic shoes (things like this are stupid expensive there). Now we have lower-cost retail, shoes moved up the list.
The clerk asked why I didn’t want them anymore. I could tell by his face he didn’t wish to discard them. I explained they just didn’t fit right and offered him the shoes if he could put them to good use. He told me he belonged to a few athletic organizations and they have members who cannot afford good shoes. He was so excited to be able to offer them to a friend. I hope someone puts them to good use.
A shout-out to Cindy here. She has taken many of the pictures you see of the countryside from the car as we travel at 60-80km/hr along the not-so-great roads. Bravely hanging out the car window with a camera in hand to bring you our latest adventures. Got to love the dedication. We find very few places to pull over once along the roadside.
One place where we did manage to find a spot was actually an access road to a resort. At the entrance was an entrepreneurial soul who opened up a massage parlor just outside. I notice it as I was taking some pictures of the old train. It’s not exactly where I’d go if I were a person into massages. As I walked back to the car, I remained perplexed. What is “Branding”? Cindy set me straight, “braiding”. Oh, thank goodness. I can’t begin to tell you what horror images that sign conjured up in my head.
We didn’t quite make it to the other side of Viti Levu. The last day with our rental car was met with some heavy rain. It didn’t deter us from driving about aimlessly, but it didn’t yield much in the way of picture opportunities. Ironically, we saved the rainy side of the island for a rainy day. On the eastern side of Viti Levu, the landscape is more rugged and thick with green vegetation.
To end this on a bit of a funny note, we went to Burger King. We didn’t attempt the drive-thru since it involved going clockwise instead of anticlockwise around the building due to the steering wheel being on the right. At the counter, we were asked what condiments we wished to have and how many. We asked for five ketchup packets and really didn’t think anything more of it.
At BK they give out a number and you take it to a table and they’ll bring the food. I like this better than being called back to get food. I don’t remember BK doing this in the USA. The fact is, staffing at businesses here is really good. In department stores, like Jack’s that I mention earlier, every department is well-staffed. Now that I think about it, all stores we’ve been into are well-staffed. There is always someone ready to help. In grocery stores, we never wait long to check out. And, in restaurants, tables are immediately bused and cleaned.
When the food was bought to the table, Cindy happened to look at the receipt. They charge for the ketchup. It’s not much. We were charged FJ$1.00 for the 5 packets, 20ٖ¢ each. A friend told us this would happen when we got to Australia so, it wasn’t too much of a surprise. I guess we are closer to Australia than we thought. When seeing this, I couldn’t help but think how this would never fly in the USA. I think the right to free condiments there is in the same part of the constitution allowing guns.