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A ‘reluctant swimmer’ jumps into Fiji’s vast waters

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Practical tips

Sun protection: If you are prone to getting sunburned, go snorkeling and surfing in a long-sleeved shirt and leggings. No matter how strong your SPF, sustained sun-exposure can do you in. Let my painful, bright-red upper back and thighs be a lesson.

A sunset in Coral Coast, Fiji.
A sunset in Coral Coast, Fiji.  (JADA YUAN / The New York Times)

Money matters: Credit cards are accepted all over the mainland, but every transaction, in my experience, was subject to a 3 to 5 per cent surcharge. That includes your seven-day bill at a fancy resort. Carry wads of Fijian dollars to avoid it.

Eat: The Indian food here is as authentic as it gets, made by the descendants of Indian nationals who were brought over as indentured servants. The real surprise — and what I ate every single day — is fish in coconut. Try kokoda, a ceviche made with coconut milk and lime. I’ve been craving the coconut fish curry at the beachside, Fijian-owned He-Ni-Uwa restaurant on the Coral Coast ever since I tried it.

Stay: Fiji lodging seems to fall into four categories: isolated outer-island retreats, family- and honeymooner-friendly resorts, beach bungalows and backpacker lodges. I started off at the new Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay, but felt most at home down on the Coral Coast at funkier beachside lodges like Tambua Sands, Fiji Hideaway and Yatule Beach, or the gorgeous backpacker complex Beach House, where each private hut has an outdoor bathroom. Wi-Fi was inconsistent or nonexistent everywhere, which makes sense for one of the most remote parts of the world. Consider it an opportunity to truly unplug.

Remember to breathe

I tried to remember my Fijian instructor’s directive: “The most important thing is to breathe.” Weighted down with an oxygen tank and a belt of stones around my waist, I sunk below the surface of the South Pacific on my first-ever attempt at scuba diving. My breathing was fine; my mind just couldn’t compute that this was possible. I surfaced and ripped out the mouthpiece. “I can’t do this,” I said.

I grew up in landlocked New Mexico and qualify as a “reluctant swimmer,” according to the YMCA where I took swimming lessons for the first time since childhood last year. Snorkeling comes easy to me — close to the surface, a constant source of air — but going deeper didn’t cross my mind until I got a message from a friend who’d spent his honeymoon on a dive boat in Fiji with his equally scuba-loving wife.

Fiji’s 333 islands and the warm ocean between them have some of the most colourful soft-coral reefs in the world, home to turtles, sharks and a gazillion twirling, neon fish. If my friends John and Heather had travelled across the world to see those underwater treasures, how could I miss out?

Being in an unfamiliar environment is the perfect time to try new things, and I can think of few places on this 52 Places trip that have been as different from where I’d been living (New York City) as Fiji. Back home, I loved my routines. But here on the road, I’ve felt a freedom to push myself, whether it’s been paragliding in Lucerne, Switzerland, eating an ant taco in La Paz, Bolivia, or jumping off a cliff into a freezing river while “canyoning” in Megève, France.

Emboldened, I signed up for a tandem scuba dive with Captain Cook Cruises, which would let me try the experience without going through a certification process. Once my initial freak-outs dissipated, my instructor, Joe Lum-On, helped me descend a little at a time, flashing an OK sign with his fingers and asking me to nod and flash one back at each stage. My ears hurt from the pressure as we linked arms, like we were doing a square dance, and moved forward. I had to stop myself from gasping as we came upon schools of tiny blue devil damselfish, or my favourites, parrotfish, in such a riot of neon they could have been crafted in Las Vegas. Joe picked up a sea cucumber and a blue starfish and let me pet them. We didn’t dare touch the sea urchins poking their spines out of coral nooks and giant clams that I’d heard could cut a person’s limbs off.

When Joe pulled out a loaf of bread and the fish began to swarm around us, I was so fascinated I didn’t notice that I’d stopped reminding myself to breathe.

The real Fiji

So much of Fiji felt thrillingly, spectacularly unfamiliar. Unlike many tourist destinations on this 52 Places trip, the real Fiji never seemed far away.

Each day, I’d set out for a drive on the left side of the road, with horses and cows and dogs crossing at will. At Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay, I befriended a hotel worker, Inia Nailiko, who’d proven particularly helpful when my rental car broke down. As a thank you, I took him and his wife, Sera, for a ride down the coast. They told me about their courtship process, which involved meeting in church and dating chastely for a year before Inia declared his intentions, in traditional Fijian fashion, by presenting a whale’s tooth and several drums of kerosene to Sera’s family.

They’d spent the morning before our drive hitchhiking to the market and back with their two children since, as Inia explained, it would take a Fijian at least 10 years of working hard to earn enough money to buy a car. Most people seemed to get around by bus, horse, hitchhiking or on foot.

A boat on Malolo Island, Fiji.
A boat on Malolo Island, Fiji.  (Jada Yuan/The New York Times)

On a wonderful jet boat safari along Fiji’s longest river, the Sigatoka, I visited a village of around 70 inhabitants, where we ate a home-cooked meal, sang and danced, and drank kava, a ceremonial drink made from a dried root that makes your tongue numb. And I sated my new-found addiction for all things under the sea with half a day on a private boat with a local islander, Nox. For 400 Fijian dollars ($186 (U.S.), a steal), he took me to a sandbar in the middle of the ocean next to a reef so full of shapes in bright greens and purples it could have been drawn by Disney cartoonists. I jumped in without hesitation.

Riding the waves

“Are you ready to catch some waves?” asked the Fiji Surf Co. instructor Koto Vakamoce when he picked me up in the company van, surfboards stacked on top.

I was not ready, I said, half-joking, but I had already paid for an introductory lesson and we were on our way, so it seemed like this was happening.

Koto is from the small island of Fulaga, so far south it’s practically Tonga. There’s no tourism there, only fishing; he’d grown up in the water, but hadn’t seen a surfboard until he made it to the big island eight years ago. That’s also when he met his wife, Mary, who was in the van with us and took a nap while we surfed.

An hour south of the city of Nadi, Koto turned onto a hilly dirt road, which led to beautiful Natadola Beach, where loose horses moseyed around. Our surfing spot would be in front of the Intercontinental Hotel, where the waves broke far from shore at high tide — gentle enough for a newbie like me.

Koto wasn’t much of a talker, which helped make for simple instructions. On shore, he ran through his four basic commands. “On your board,” “ready,” “paddle” and “stand up!” I would start out on a super-buoyant, 10-foot board and, if all went well, would graduate to a nine-footer. And without much ado, we were in the water, Koto leading me through small waves that appeared utterly massive. I was freaking out, until I realized that the water was shallow enough for my feet to touch the bottom.

The bar at Tambua Sands Beach Resort on the Coral Coast, Fiji.
The bar at Tambua Sands Beach Resort on the Coral Coast, Fiji.  (JADA YUAN/The New York Times)

For the first few waves, all I remember was staring straight ahead as I lay face down on the board. Koto held me still until the right wave came along, and suddenly he said, “ready!” and “stand up!” And then I was flying toward the shore, knees bent, arms out, feet firmly planted like a champ. (Or at least I thought I was killing it, until a nice, real surfer who had been in the water with us joked, “I could use a push like the ones you’re getting.”)

Wave after tiny wave went fantastically, and then one didn’t, and I fell off my giant board and was “eating water,” as I came to call it. Koto taught me to hold my breath from the second I knew I was falling until the time I surfaced.

By the end of three hours with Koto, I had stood up more times than I could count. I loved the feeling of flying across the water, past kayakers and boogie boarders. I loved it when Koto high-fived me after a particularly good ride and told me, “That was your best wave. I didn’t push you. You paddled it all by yourself.”

As the sun set, Koto asked me if I wanted to go in. “One more wave,” I told him. “Or two, or three, or four.”

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Travel & Escape

Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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Travel & Escape

How to make the most of summer travel

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(NC) One of the best parts of our short Canadian summers is the opportunity to enjoy them a little bit extra on long weekends. If you need ideas, check out these creative things to do whether you decide to stay in town or go away.

Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Travel & Escape

Lottoland: Here’s why Canadians love it!

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

The Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are hitting record highs with their prize money, in what the organizers claim to be the largest jackpot in the history of the world. However, the U.S. has gambling laws that are state controlled and buying your ticket through an online broker can be considered gambling.

“No one except the lottery or their licensed retailers can sell a lottery ticket. No one. Not even us. No one. No, not even that website. Or that one,” Powerball’s website says.

Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

Currently, there about 8-million players on Lottoland, a figure that points to the reliability of the website.

One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

Lotteries aren’t the only games Canadians enjoy playing and Lottoland recognizes this by providing players with other types of gaming. As an industry leader, video designers of online games often make them their first choice when it comes to publishing their works.

Online games such as slots, blackjack, video poker, baccarat, keno, scratchoffs, roulette and many others are always on offer at the Lottoland Casino. There’s also the option of playing with a live dealer and a total of over 100 games.

Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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