Monday, March 14, 2011

Days #37, 38, & 39. Fiji/Sydney.

3 am.  Loud knocking on the door and a woman's urgent voice.  She told us to get up the nearest hill.  A huge earthquake had just rocked Japan's coast and tsunami warnings had been issued.  I went from groggy to wide awake faster than you could blink an eye.  Couldn't believe it.  Did I really just hear that word?  Tsunami???  Since I was a little girl this has been my recurrent nightmare.  I am petrified at the thought of it.  More than any other natural disaster that exists.  And that night, on the little island of Waya, I was terrified.  Despite my fear, I packed my Camelback with the "essentials": laptop, camera, chargers, passport, wallet, and an extra set of warm clothes.  What did I think I would do with a computer if a tsunami hit?  Don't even ask me.  My roomies and I climbed up the dark path to the top of the hill.  Everyone else from the resort was already up there spread out on tarps.  I heard hushed voices whispering that we were surrounded by reef which would break a wave if it tried to cross.  That was a very comforting thought.  However, I looked around for a coconut tree just in case and then tried my luck at catching a little sleep.  That was impossible due to the sleeping, elderly gentlemen next to me who breathed in my face.  Also, one of his eyes was open and that was just creepy.  So I opted to sit by the small campfire and shoot the breeze with Dominique, one of the resort managers.  The other manager, a Scottish guy named Frasier, passed out chocolate bars to all those awake.  We waited on that hilltop for 3 1/2 hours.  The sun was getting ready to rise when we received word that the tsunami warning had been cleared.  With relief I practically ran down the hill and back to bed.

Woke up a few hours later to catch breakfast.  The morning was spotless.  Bright, beautiful sunshine streamed from the sky and bathed Octopus Resort.  A beautiful last day on the Yasawa Islands.  Sadly the adorable Swedish couple and all my new UK friends left that afternoon.  But there were others to replace them.  A group of about 10 Mormon dental students.  They were spending a few days vacationing on the resort before setting up clinics in more remote villages.  DAD you are not going to believe this… one of the guys knew Dr. Ambler!  Unbelievable, huh?!  They were a unique bunch.  Nerdy in the extreme, most under the age of 30, and every single one of them married with at least 1-3 kids.  Or "two and a half" as Doug said.  His wife was due in March.  Yup, they were certainly unique.  But also super cool.  Some of the nicest, most down to earth people I'd run into.  And they played volleyball!  Sort of.  We had many a match over the next 24 hours.  Confusing, hilarious, energetic round after round of my favorite sport in the universe!  Nerds colliding everywhere, spectacles flying, many a selfless sacrifice of the body for a dig in the sand… except most of the time contact wasn't actually made with the ball :)

Dinner that night was a BBQ, and oooOOOhhhHHH was it GLORIOUS!  There were grilled steaks, chicken wings, sausages, fish filets, and veggie kabobs.  To accompany it was a table piled high with bowls of tangy 3-bean salad, fresh pineapple coleslaw, pasta salad, baked potatoes, and garlic bread.  I went back for a second plate.  Following dinner was a beach party complete with a coconut bar, games, and music.  But I was so freaking exhausted (only got about 4 hours of sleep) I went straight to bed and passed out.

The next afternoon I said goodbye to the Mormons and left Octopus Resort for the mainland.  As if to wish me luck, Fiji gave a full rainbow on my way out :)  After a wonderful 10 days of island hopping, I found myself once again at Bamboo Hostel.  It was good to see everyone.  "My friend!" the locals would exclaim while giving a big, sweaty hug.  They offered me more kava but I happily declined.

Woke up way too early in the morning.  It was 5:30 am.  So I went out to pay a few bills online, do some writing, catch up with the gossip on FB, skype with my boy… all that jazz.  Paid my car off finally too!  I ate my free breakfast of passion fruit and toast while having a chat with the hostel owner, Richard.  He brought out a plate of "eggplant jam" which you might think would taste horrible but was actually very delicious.  Like raspberries!  Richard and I were discussing the recent tsunami warnings.  He said before the scare they hadn't had a "tsunami action plan", but now they do.  I asked what the action plan was.  Richard replied, "Get up to the top floor over there and get the party crankin'!"  This was the old Kiwi's "Fiji time" type of outlook.  He is so laid back it's ridiculous :)

When I went up to my room around 9 am to pack my stuff for the AP, I couldn't find my wallet anywhere!  Thank GOD I had my passport in another backpack!  But my cards, $200 Aussie dollars, driver's license, and Peter's e-mail address were all in that wallet.  I emptied everything out, searched under the bed, under the couch pillows, in the closets and drawers.  No wallet.  I was devastated.  In tears, I rushed over to the office, thinking that one of the roomies had stolen it before they left early that morning.  Richard called the police to file a report and I was about to cancel my cards when… I picked up my laptop case to put my computer away and out fell the wallet!  SUCH RELIEF!!!  Do you know how scary it is to face 3 days in 2 different foreign countries with NO MONEY?!!  I thought I was gonna have to sleep the next few nights in airports and ration out the 2 Luna Bars and 2 Raman noodles in my backpack.  I felt really bad for causing such a panic for the staff.  But Richard assured me that this has happened 4 times now, and every time the "stolen" item was found.  Make that 5 times.

Once on the Sydney-bound plane, I finally relaxed.  Amazingly, I had met this girl at the Smuggler's Cove Hostel pool that morning named Sarah.  She was from Chattanooga, TN of all places!!! :D  Small world.  If that wasn't crazy enough, she was on the same flight to Sydney.  I told her about my plans to visit Bondi Beach tomorrow.  "No way!" she laughed, "That's where I live!!"  We decided to definitely meet up tomorrow at the beach around 10 am, get some sun, hopefully catch a scene from Bondi Rescue (should be absolutely retarded, lol), eat some wedges, get a pedicure, and mayyyybe catch a show at the Opera House.  Assuming there is actually a show going on.

Fast forward.  I am once again at the Blue Parrot in Sydney, Australia.  Decided to eat cheap tonight as tomorrow may be a bit expensive.  Spicy lentil dahl soup out of a can.  Oh stop gagging, I warmed it up first.  It was quite tasty.  As I finish this blog I am serenaded by the snores of the Irish boy below me.  Upon entering the room 20 minutes ago, he warned me that he has asthma which has been acting up lately, and he also has a sinus infection.  When I arrived at Blue Parrot earlier, I was told by Chris at the front desk that I had 2 choices of rooms: A. a 6-bed dorm with 4 boys in it (smaller room) or B. a 6-bed dorm with 4 boys in it (larger room).  Wasn't totally stoked on either of them but I picked the lesser of 2 evils and went with the bigger room.  HUGE MISTAKE.  This guy will not stop snoring, slobbering, or coughing.  It's 11 pm.  Is it too late to ring Chris up and tell him I want to switch rooms STAT?!!!!!!

Plan:  Bondi Beach tomorrow


Fiji day #11 (Octopus Resort) - $22 room (moved to a 15-bed dorm), $35 food, $10 other, $5 internet 
Fiji day #12 (Bamboo Hostel) - $65 boat transport to mainland, $10 room, $10 internet, $4 dinner, $2 water
Fiji/Sydney day #13 (Bamboo Hostel/Blue Parrot Hostel) - $4 lunch, $3 taxi, $2 water, $10 taxi, $38 room

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Days #35 & 36. Fiji (Octopus).

My first dinner at Octopus was lovely.  I was so happy to see Hilly and Dave, a middle-aged couple from the UK I had met earlier in the week at Blue Lagoon.  It's nice to travel alone because you meet ridiculous amounts of people that you probably wouldn't have even noticed had you been with a companion.  But then again, sometimes it becomes exhausting to go through the motions with new people day after day.  "Where are you from? How long have you been traveling? Where have you been? Where are you going?"  Same 'ole.  You have no idea how nice it is to actually be with the same people for a few days.  Then you can talk about new things!!!  Like good books, sports, family, and my favorite… food :)  Hilly, Dave, and I shared a table and a bottle of Marlborough region (NZ) Sauvignon Blanc.  Two very adorable Welsh girls and a Swiss couple also sat with us.  They ate chicken cordon bleu and I had the most incredible stuffed eggplant.  For dessert we were served a delicate custard with fresh fruits over a rum-infused crust.  Divine.  Following dinner was "Quiz night" where each table had to put their brains together, coming up with answers to the sometimes random questions.  Categories included things like "Fiji Facts" and "Complete the Lyrics".  Then each table had to come up with a "talent act" to perform for everyone else.  Each act would be judged and given scores, and the highest scoring table would win $100 bar tab!  There were some neat acts.  Jonas and Sophie, a young Swedish couple who also happen to be gymnastics coaches, walked across the stage on their hands.  They were the absolute cutest ever, with their matching platinum blond fringe and tanned, toned bodies.  They should be on the cover of a magazine somewhere.  They asked me to come down to the beach and take a picture of them doing handstands.  They said this is tradition everywhere they travel.  I told them to e-mail me when they're 70 and I will fly out to wherever they are to take the handstand picture.  Jonas said "I hope so."  How sweet was that?
Ok, so back to the talent show.  Some people sang, some danced, one guy rapped the entire Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song while his friends beat boxed.  I came up with the idea that we should do a "midgets" show.  To be a midget, I put socks on my arms, sneakers on my hands, then shorts up my arms, and finally Hilly put her arms through the armholes of the oversized T-shirt I was wearing.  Dave and the Swiss guy hung a sheet over Hilly so no one could see her, a table was pulled up to my "feet" so I could stand, and the Welsh girls stood on either side to help out in case I couldn't find something.  After all, my "hands" couldn't exactly see anything (and that is what makes this act so insanely funny).  I told the audience I was getting ready to go on a date.  I did a few jumping jacks and pull-ups.  Put deodorant on, brushed my teeth, and applied a little rouge and lipstick.  Of course, I was super clumsy, looked retarded, squeezed toothpaste all over the place, and applied the lipstick to my chin.  The audience laughed non-stop!  Finally, Hilly's hands crammed potato chips in my mouth, put my shades on backward, and I proceeded to sing a tune.  The Welsh girls danced.  It was HA-larious!!!  Hilly was brilliant.  My face was a complete mess.  We won the $100 :)
Slept beautifully that night.  Breakfast at Octopus is served buffet style.  All you can eat tropical fruits, fresh doughnuts or muffins, pancakes, omelettes, cereals, juices, toast, and muesli.  It's insane!!!  The only problem is I stuff myself to near bursting.  The sky was clear.  Finally, no rain!  I played in the volleyball tourney against the local rugby team that afternoon.  They were, as expected, like Olympians.  Other than that, it was simply a relaxing chill-by-the-pool kind of day.  A new group of tourists arrived and I found myself in the middle of a rather large, boisterous group of kids from UK.  They knew Jonas and Sophie from another island.  They were real clowns, those Brits.  One of the girls got a massage and came back complaining it was the worst ever!  "All she did was rub me" she said.  They were half starved.  During lunch, if anyone had any scraps leftover whatsoever on their plate, Sam, Joe, Johnny, and Totty would all be fighting over it.  "Are you gonna eat that fish?"  Then forks would start jabbing, shards of lettuce flying through the air like shrapnel, french fries disappearing within mili-seconds.  Obviously, they had spent the past few days at the cheap "resorts".
My otherwise perfect day was marred by several things.  First I was bitten by fire ants on my buttocks.  Two bites.  They stung like fire.  I could barely concentrate on volleyball due to the constant urge to submerse my throbbing bum in the pool.  Secondly, my leg was attacked by a walking stick type thingy looking bug.  Thirdly, I had an allergic reaction at dinner.
It was "Fiji Night".  All the guest sat around the pool and watched the staff do their cultural dances and songs.  They put on the best show I'd seen all week.  Then we were served a Fijian-style buffet that had been cooked in the ground (like the Maori's "Hangi").  It was quite the feast.  Each table received a whole chicken, pork, fish curry, eggplant in coconut cream, cassava, a tangy fish ceviche, salad, and what they called "spinach" but looked and tasted more like collard greens.  Halfway through dinner, I felt like a fish bone was jabbing me somewhere in my throat.  So I went to the bathroom and tried to find it, but no fish bone.  Then my throat started to feel like it was swelling shut, and I really started to panic.  I decided that, despite my ill appearance, I should go back out to the dining area cuz it was better to collapse there than in the bathroom.  I asked if anyone at my table had a pen and explained how my throat felt.  "I think there is a fishbone in there but i can't find it!" I told them.  The Swiss guy said he also felt like there was something stuck in his throat.  Then I knew it was most likely an allergic reaction.  After about 15 minutes the tingling, swelling, sharp choking feeling went away.  I felt better, so I helped myself to another serving of the "spinach".  The sensation came back.  Bingo.  No more spinach for me!  Found out later that a few other people had similar reactions to the stuff.  What the heck was it?? I kept asking the locals, "Tell me the real name of that plant you called spinach" and they would look at me like I was an alien and say "Spinach".  I got nowhere with them.
After dinner, one of the UK girls named Emily and I grabbed a glass of Shiraz and sat out on the veranda.  It was a gorgeous night.  The moon was up in a crystal clear sky.  The stars were so bright.  Emily told me about her brother and his upcoming marriage to a Vietnamese girl.  Emily was excited for the 10-course Chinese dinner they were going to have after the ceremony.  She really likes her future sis-in-law.  I started talking about my late grandmother.  As I told Emily stories about my spunky, adorable little Gramma, I could picture her white curly head just barely poking above the front seat of her Oldsmobile.  Was it the wine?  Or the sentimental beautify of the night sky?  I don't know.  But for some reason I started crying and couldn't stop.  I sure do miss my Grandma Nina.  It just isn't the same without her.  I miss our weekly dates.  And helping her get ready for the day… shopping with her… talking to her.  
Budget:  Fiji day #10 (Octopus Resort) - $30 room, $35 food, $10 snacks/pop, $7 vino, $5 internet

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Days #33 & 34. Fiji (Mantaray/Octopus).

It was curry night at Mantaray Resort.  A long table stretched in front of me, heavy with platters of naan, rice, pad thai, salad, yogurt sauce, savory split pea soup, and finally 3 different kinds of curry - fish, veggie, and chicken.  The fish was incredible, bathed in a rich tomato and garlic sauce.  How glorious was that dinner!  Sleeping arrangements were in a 30-bed dorm, every 4 of which were divided into their own cubicle.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I saw fans, mosquito nets, and the cleanest most whitest of sheets.  No bed bugs tonight!  It didn't even phase me that one of the girls I met had a back covered in bites from an unfortunate stay on another island.  

During dinner I was able to meet some of the guys who work at Mantaray.  One was a younger dude from UK who runs the dive shop, think his name was John.  He said he left London to do some traveling, ended up at this resort, and hasn't left in 5 years except to visit home once.  He said it was total culture shock when he went back.  Then there was Justin, a 40 y.o.'ish Aussie handy-man who made sure we had running water and things like that.  I asked him if he had kids and he said "Hundreds. That's why I'm here."  Then there were the locals who do all the rest.  After dinner, everyone emptied into the main lodge for game night.  The lodge was so comfy.  It had huge modern looking couches with bright squishy pillows to lean back against.  We played limbo which I lost to a girl named Heather from Georgia.  Imagine that! :)  Then the games kind of sizzled out.  Everyone was sitting in circles on those big cushions just getting to know each other and taking turns playing DJ with the community iPod.  The funniest thing was when John started having everyone do rum and coke snorkel bongs, lol.  You should have seen the people with those goggles on, mouthpiece flailing and them sputtering as if they'd just swallowed a gallon of ocean water.  Went to bed minus the snorkel bong :)  I fell asleep that night to the sound of soft rain.

Mantaray Resort was a really neat little spot.  I rather liked it.  It was worth the extra $25 bucks.  Breakfast was served buffet style.  I was so stoked that I actually found wifi!  Got to skype my amazing b/f for a bit and also send my dad an "I'm safe, everything's ok, love you" e-mail.  Poor dad, he was concerned because I hadn't posted a blog in a week.  But here on the distant Fijian islands internet is scarce, expensive, and s…l…o…w… 

I had an amazing morning in beautiful weather.  Played a few great games of volleyball, 4 on 4 this time!  That's an improvement over the typical 10 on 10 or whatever the Fijians usually like to do (=MAYHEM).  Right after lunch it just out of the blue started pouring sheets of rain!  It let up a little in time to get on the Yasawa Flyer, but as I got closer to Octopus Resort it started again with a vengeance.  The Flyer couldn't even let us off in front of the resort.  We had to enter from the other side of the island and trek up the slippery muddy side of a hill.  By the time we reached Octopus we, along with all our luggage, were completely soaked.  Any discomfort from this was immediately quelled by..….

The vision that is Octopus Resort.  

WOW.  Phenomenal.  By far my new favorite!  Part of Waya Island, Octopus sits on the longest white sand beach I've seen yet.  Rocky prominences jut out into the ocean.  The resort has a beautiful open-air, wooden dining area and bar.  The middle of it is soft sand with beautiful mission-style tables and chairs all around.  Huge wooden beams are adorned with green leaves woven around like Christmas lights.  In front of the dining area is a covered veranda with comfy chairs and a breathtaking ocean view.  To the side is a swimming pool surrounded by lush plants and flowers.  The staff all match in their blue Hawaian shirts and glistening white smiles.  Breakfast will be buffet style, lunch is a-la-carte and includes fresh unique salads, sandwiches, curries, and other Fijian fair.  Dinner is "family-style" where everyone sits down together.  I can't wait :)

I'm staying in a lovely 4-bed suite with it's own bathroom and warm shower.  At the moment all my clothes are spread over the bed on a beach towel, hopefully drying.  I sit here in the twilight, writing this blog, breathing in that cool, refreshing smell.  You know, the one after a heavy rain.  It is delicious.  Keeping my fingers crossed for brilliant weather tomorrow!

Plan:  3 nights at Octopus, yes! :D


Fiji day #8 (Mantaray Resort) - $25 additional resort charge, $10 internet, $10 Fiji Gold
Fiji day #9 (Octopus Resort) - $30 room, $35 food, $10 snacks, $5 internet

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Days #33 & 34. Fiji (Long Beach/White Sandy Beach).

The caves were fantastic!  Took a motorboat out in a torrential downpour, climbed some rocks and stairs, and jumped into the cold dark water at the entrance.  Then we got to hold our breath and swim underneath some rocks and through a channel for about 12+ feet to the inner chamber.  Some of the resort guests refused to swim through the channel which had no air pockets in it.  It rained the entire morning, so I chilled in one of the bean bags and read my book all morning.  So far it's a really endearing book about a little girl and her foster parents in Nazi Germany.  After a rushed lunch, I boarded the Yasawa Flyer for Long Beach Resort (Matacawalevu Island) which I'd heard from other travelers was a really basic but nice spot.  Also, Long Beach was a place I wouldn't have to pay the additional resort charge.

Now I know why it's better to pay the extra $25 for a "better" resort.  Because the other ones are like 3rd world countries.  My night at Long Beach "Resort" was horrific.  Now mind you, the island that it's on is ridiculously, beyond belief beautiful.  In my opinion, one of the prettiest I've been on so far.  However, the place is very run down.  My dorm room had a bathroom with a beat up sink, toilet, and shower all in one area.  The shower was cold and squirted in all different directions (basically around you but not on you).  The beds consisted of a thin mattress and a top sheet.  NO bottom sheet.  Trust me, I was awake half the night scratching at the bed bugs I just knew were climbing all over me.  Surprisingly there weren't any.  But still, who knows what condition the people were in who rested their (likely filthy) bodies on that same bare surface.  The mosquito net may as well not have been there as it had holes all throughout.  I fell into a fitful sleep with that incorrigible high buzzing sound in my ear.  For dinner I was served rice and a handful of veggies in a sauce that I cannot even guess the ingredients of.  Everyone else had just the rice and a single chicken leg.  This was accompanied by bread and thickened chicken broth.  Breakfast was porridge and a pancake type thing.  Lunch was rice with a few shreds of tuna scattered around and maybe a piece of carrot or pepper if you were lucky.  Next time I come to Fiji I will GLADLY pay the $25 for great food, clean comfortable beds, air conditioning, warm water, and a nice bathroom!!!

Ordinarily I wouldn't complain.  I've stayed in worse hostels in New Zealand (Auckland!).  And I love camping which is certainly not 5-star.  Maybe I should have started out with the cheap "resorts" and finished with the really good ones.    But like I said, the location was amazing.  The people there were so nice and always happy.  We played a game of volleyball - locals against the tourists.  We beat them horribly!  There was this old man named Noah who had a few teeth missing.  He liked to yell orders to everybody while he himself hit the ball in every direction but over the net.  If he managed to set the ball, he'd shout "SMASH IT!!!" at the top of his lungs.  And if the ball rolled out of bounds down toward the water, he'd holler at the local woman to go and fetch it.  "RUN Martha! Run! Teamwork! RUN!!!"  He also liked to say the popular phrase "No worries", but in his own broken English.  "No to the worries" he'd assure us, "No to the worries."  He was a real clown, that Noah!  The next morning a girl named Judith from Denmark and I took a small motorboat out to the actual Blue Lagoon beach where the movie was filmed.  It was amazing!!!  I can see why they did it there.  We basked in the sunshine and tried to snorkel, but there were little jelly fish and I'd already been stung twice by those stupid mitochondria things just by walking through the water.  After spending 2 hours there, we motor boated back to Long Beach.

I boarded the Flyer again after that despicable lunch I mentioned earlier and made my way south to the White Sandy Beach Resort (Naviti Island), also no additional charge.  I heard the food was better there, and that the beds had bottom sheets, although it was suspect as to how often they were actually changed.  Despite the questionable frequency of their linen washing, the resort was charming.  There were some of the friendliest staff yet who made it a point to memorize every guest's name.  The dorm rooms were much nicer than the last place, mosquito nets fairly intact, and a big wooden veranda at the front was quite welcoming.  More volleyball ensued.  This time the locals were much better.  Some guys were playing Rugby on the next field although it looked like a miserable sport to play in this sweltering weather.  Dinner was also quite an improvement from last night.  They served lamb chops and sausages - for me they fried a couple eggs - with soup, cheese bread, boiled potatoes, sweet chili sauce, and still-warm banana cake.  The cake was so fluffy and sweet!  

After dinner everyone sat on some benches and watched while the Fijians danced and sang, their favorite pastime :)  Then it was "International Night" where each nationality had to perform a song or skit, tell a story or joke… anything specifically having to do with their nationality.  This couple from the UK did a dance and sang "For he's a jolly good fellow."  A couple of Swedish kids pretended to dance around a maypole like frogs while singing their song of independence.  I told the story of the midnight rider Paul Revere, demonstrated how his horse sounded as it pounded the dirt roads, and sang "Yankee Doodle."  I was the only American :(  After all the songs, stories, dancing, and games people started migrating down to the beach for a bonfire.  But by this time I was exhausted so I hit the sack, cocooned in my mosquito netting, head nestled into the egg crate that was my pillow.  Once the fire got started, I fell asleep to lovely wafts of smoke coming through my window.  

For breakfast we were served homemade chocolate doughnuts which were glorious!  I walked the whole length of the beach past the other 2 resorts.  Sunned for a bit.  Watched a man climb a coconut tree, cut about 10 off, and come back down head first.  Drank the refreshing juice of the green coconut.  Watched the Swedish kids build what they called the "Pit of Doom."  This was an elaborate creation complete with a big pit, coral "house", bridge, castle, moat, and assorted seaweed garnishes.  Inside the pit were poor confused tiny little crabs, the kind that live inside teeny shells.  I'd say about 40 of them.  They scuttled around, attempting to climb the wall.  Climbing and falling.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  A few extra smart ones made their way to the top of the coral house and across the bridge to…. freedom?!  No.  They still had to get over the seaweed AND the moat.  Poor exhausted creatures.  Very entertaining though, hahaha.  When the Swedish boys ran off to do something else I rescued most of them.  Lunch was fried rice with a little onion, carrot, and very mealy peas.  I can't tell you how relieved I am to be going to a nicer resort with a real chef tonight!!!

Plan:  Stay the night/morning at Mantaray and then go to Octopus Resort in the afternoon


Fiji day #6 (Long Beach Resort) - $10 Blue Lagoon trip, $5 internet, $2.50 water, $5 soft drinks (pineapple Fanta and orange-mango Schweppes… love these tropical flavors!)
Fiji day #7 (White Sandy Beach Resort) - $2.50 water, $2.50 ice cream

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Days #30, 31, & 32. Fiji (Beachcomber/Blue Lagoon).

Where to even begin.  As I write this blog, I sit in a squishy oversized beanbag, looking into the turquoise ocean waters, basking in soft sunshine, enjoying a nice breeze, sipping on a pina colada.  A good one too, with fresh pineapple and coconut cream.  This is the Blue Lagoon Resort, Yasawa Islands, Fiji.  Did I mention I was going to paradise?  Oh, and I'm also listening to the resort's revolving soundtrack which would include Black Eyed Peas "Good Night".  For the 3rd time in a half hour :)

Although it actually has rained every single day since I stepped off the plane in Nandi, at least half of each day has been drop dead gorgeous.

I started my island hopping venture with the "party resort" called Beachcomber (Beachcomber Island).  I heard this island was spectacular, and it was.  It is ridiculously small.  Not even as big as a football field.  When we were approaching Beachcomber I kept looking at it and thinking, "If there is a ripple in the sea this place will be swept away!"  So far, the waters surrounding the islands have been the epitome of calm.  I dodged an earthquake, hope to do the same with any tsunami that may be thinking of crashing the party.  There wasn't a whole lot of action going on when I got there.  Everyone was leaving as I arrived!  Did some snorkeling but had to quit after 15 minutes due to those pesky stinger things that attack me every time!!!  Did see some beautiful fish though, even an albino one.  And some blue starfish.  Played a little volleyball.  I'd say the best thing Beachcomber has going for them is their food.  NOTE: if you are trying to lose weight DO NOT go to Fiji.  They stuff you nearly to death!  Well… I guess I stuffed myself nearly to death as it was a buffet :)  Breakfast, lunch, dinner - heaps and heaps of Fijian delicacies: curries, stir fried veggies, kasava, eggplant chips, salads, rice, pan fried noodles, fish poached in coconut cream, sweet and sour meats, fresh baked breads, and fresh fruits and juices.  For dinner they even served bowls of vanilla ice cream topped with a cinnamon covered fried banana.

Like I said earlier, everyone seemed to vanish from the island once I arrived.  However, after lunch people started coming out of the woodwork.  There were a few middle aged couples, a family with young teenage kids, and then the 20-30 y.o. crowd.  About 40 of us total.  The room had such a good, fun vibe going.  I had met two very beautiful girls from San Francisco earlier that afternoon and we were having fun swapping traveling tales and stories from home.  After dinner Beachcomber put on a cultural show with music and dance.  Then they invited all of us to come up and learn the "Bula Dance".  Practically everyone was up and dancing.  So happy, not a care in the world.  There was a Bula dance off.  Which I won ;)  Fun evening.  Not so fun trying to sleep.  I was in a 30-bed dorm, lights off, a handful of other girls trying to sleep also.  Around 2 am four German girls came in and engaged in conversation as if there was absolutely no one else around.  I couldn't believe it!!!  In my entire 5 weeks of travel, I have never had people be so rude before.  It was obvious girls were asleep, it was really late, and there they were in their beds talking loudly about something very exciting, I'm sure.  So yea, slept like crap that night. 

I've been at Blue Lagoon Resort (Nacula Island) the past 2 days which is so much nicer in terms of facilities.  It's definitely the 5-star resort of the Yasawas.  I'm in a 10-bed dorm with pretty good roomies (except the old man from Holland who snores soooo loud!!!  And coughs, sneezes, and clears his throat intermittently).  There are cute garden villas, hammocks, and a long white sand beach.  Nice showers with warm water.  A-la-carte lunch and amazing dinner prepared by a Fijian chef.  Last night was tapas: gazpacho, grilled eggplant bruschetta, garlic and coconut steamed mussels, beef satay, chicken lettuce wraps, veggie kabobs, savory mini pumpkin pies (delish!), Mediterranean salad, and margarita pizza.  The chef made me a special grilled fish skewer in place of the mussels and meats.  Very accommodating!  Dessert was by far the best thing I've had in ages.  Fresh pineapple slices with chocolate rum balls rolled in coconut and topped with the richest, warmest, most delicious of chocolate sauces.

It was "Metro Night" last night, which consisted of hanging a huge white sheet between 2 coconut trees and playing a reel of the most cheesy music videos from the 80's.  "Can't Touch This".  Classic.  Then the one with the white guy who can't dance crooning something about never gonna give you up never gonna let you down never gonna make you cry… yea that one, and the video where the girls are dressed like prisoners and they're singing, "I'm guilty of love in the 1st degree!"  Really?  How did people get away with that stuff back then?!  The 40+'ers were absolutely loving it!  Singing along and shaking some boot-ay.  They were contagious.  By the end of it everyone, including me, was dancing :)

Today I had a really nice time sunbathing, eating, playing vball, talking to new friends, and reading a new book I bought in Sydney for a small fortune.  Tonight is movie night.  Tomorrow I'm stoked to take a boat ride out to some caves which definitely need to be explored.  Then around noon I depart for the next Yasawa destination which is yet to be determined.

Plan:  continue Yasawa Island hopping

Fiji day #3 (Beachcomber Resort) - $400 island hopping "Bula Pass", $25 additional resort charge, $5 delicious fruity frozen drink, $12 internet ($4/15 min - awful!!), $4 coconut lotion, $15 other
Fiji day #4 (Blue Lagoon Resort) - $25 additional resort charge, $6 internet
Fiji day #5 (Blue Lagoon resort) - $25 additional resort charge, $25 cave trip, $6 fresh pineapple pina colada

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Days #27, 28, & 29. Sydney/Fiji.

Spending the night in the Christchurch AP wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.  I actually got a couple good solid hours of sleep.  However, I didn't realize all the food places closed pretty early, so I did go to bed a little bit hungry.  Had a bag of chips and some trail mix.  Now this is the part where you will say, "Heather is retarded."  I spend the night in the friggin airport, right?  And somehow I end up making it to the gate with only 30 minutes to spare!  

Arrived Sydney around 10 am and got to my hostel - The Blue Parrot - at 11:30.  I had looked up the hostels in Sydney and Blue Parrot got some good reviews.  After spending some time in this very expensive ($50 American) dorm, I realized that it's not so popular because it is especially nice.  It's because the two Kazakhstani sisters who run it are drop dead gorgeous!!!  Seriously, they are soooo pretty.  They greet you with a smile and a whiff of perfume.  Dressed to the nines in the latest fashions.  Perfect make-up.  Yup, they'll keep the rave reviews coming for the Blue Parrot :)

Took the metro to the Opera House and Harbor Bridge.  Walked around that area for a while.  Worked up an appetite, so I stopped at a pub and ordered the Australian version of the amazing NZ wedges.  NZ's are better :)  Of course I was thirsty too.  An ice cold pear cider did the trick.

Got up at 5 am the next morning to catch my flight out of Sydney to Fiji!  Accidentally left my Nalgene water bottle with the "Welcome to OB: Please do not feed our bums" sticker on it.  Anyways, made it to Fiji in the afternoon and wandered around looking for my driver.  I waited for quite a while.  Finally this slightly feminine Fijian man in a lime green "Hawaiian tourist" type shirt, with sculpted eyebrows and a flower in his hair, came up to me and asked where I was going.  "Bamboo Hostel" I replied.  His eyes got wide and he said OMG I used to work there!  He ushered me outside and called a taxi over, insisting I take it to the hostel and they'd pay the driver.

As soon as Bamboo came into view, I saw that there were tons of people playing volleyball and I immediately fell in love with the place!!!  Got checked in by a guy named Samu who was slow as molasses.  Oh I forgot, I'm on "Fijian time" now :)  A very tall lady showed me to my room and another Fiji boy carried my huge pack up the stairs for me.  Such service!  After paying for my room, I immediately went down to their cafe/kitchen and ordered some fried eggplant slices and a banana pineapple smoothie.  I was STARVING.  The eggplant was amazing.  The cook dipped each slice in a batter and fried it to a golden crisp.  Served with sweet chili sauce, of course.  My smoothie was really frothy, blended with fresh fruit and ice cream.  MMMmmmm.  After that I got in on the volleyball action.  So much fun.  It was more like jungle ball though, as everyone seemed to think it was a one-person team and that one person was THEM.  A lot of confusion on the court, but still such an awesome time.  It started to rain.  I dropped out after that and just watched from the thatch-roofed open air dining area.  One by one the locals started joining in, and eventually they had the entire court to themselves.  Now they were good.

I sat in the stifling evening heat, swatting at mosquitoes and eating a most tasty traditional dinner.  A slice of tuna baked in garlic, fried eggplant, and boiled kava (like a sticky potato) covered in a silky, dreamy coconut sauce.  Hit the spot!  Then I participated in the Kava ceremony.  The locals took a bunch of this ground up root and seeped it in water like a tea.  Then they passed around coconut bowls filled with the brown liquid for you to drink.  It tasted like mud.  And it made my mouth numb.  How the process goes is, when they hand you a bowl, you have to clap and say "Bula!" (means "hello"), drink, and clap 3 more times.  Some people were playing guitars, some were singing - mostly Fijian songs, and the hostel owner, Richard, was playing his clarinet.  After a few rounds, I went to bed and slept the whole night through.  Guess it's like Nyquil too, haha.  (I know I will prolly be getting an e-mail from dad on this one, hi dad!  love you!  :)

The next morning I woke up to beautiful sunshine pouring through my window!  No more rain.  After enjoying Bamboo's "free breakfast" of toast, papaya, and tea, I went over to the main office to try and make some headway with Samu.  We decided the best plan for me would be the 7 day, 6 night Yasawa Island hopper.  This package costs about 400 US dollars and includes transport, boat fair, lodging at the resort/hostel of my choice on the island of my choice, and most meals.  For the 5-star resorts, meals would cost extra.  It took Samu over an hour to call and book me this package, write a receipt for another night at Bamboo, and reserve my last 4 nights at the Octopus Resort on Waya Island.  ONE HOUR.  This Fijian time…. I've never experienced anything like it!  At any rate, I was glad to have it all sorted.  After that, was going to walk the 15 feet over to Smuggler's Cove hostel and bootleg their pool, but one of the locals, "Rico", had a better idea.  Take a taxi out to these secret rocks and jump into the river!  Yea!!!

This sounded way better than sitting around at a boring pool.  A guy from Germany wanted to go too, so we hopped into a taxi with Rico and took off for the rocks.  After a bumpy 45 minute ride during which the driver careened all over the road to avoid "obstacles" (i.e. semi's crossing, horses, muddy sink holes), we made it safely there.  My first jump was off the high rocks, and of course, I hurt my ear.  This always happens when I go deep in any kind of water.  I get an earache :(  This one was really painful too.  We stayed at this beautiful spot for a few hours, basking in the sun and swimming in the cold water.  I ate a can of baked beans for lunch.  I wanted protein, but something healthier… not fried, in other words.  This seemed an easy answer.  However, it didn't taste quite as good as I hoped.  I watched while everyone else kept jumping off the rocks.  But for me, my earache just kept getting worse.  All the way back I had to hold my shirt over my ear trying to keep the wind out (the taxi's windows didn't work, you had to either manually push them up or down).  Then I went to lie down for a while, hoping the water would eventually run out.  No such luck.  So I finally went to the office and they poured peroxide down my canal.  It feels a little better but I'm hopeful it will clear up overnight.

They are serving lamb or chicken tonight, neither of which I particularly like.  Instead I made myself the last of my Easy Mac that I brought all the way from America!  Can you believe I still have some after a month of traveling??  And I also cooked my last package of instant mashed taters.  Rico had never tried mac n cheese before, so I gave him a taste, apologizing that it really wasn't the "real thing" and don't judge it until you've had a big bowl of cheesy, bubbly homemade goodness straight out of the oven.

I can't believe how dirt cheap everything is here.  Seriously.  Can't wait to explore the Yasawa Islands!


Plan:  Yasawa Island hopping - tomorrow should be Beachcomber at Mamanuca Island

Sydney - $37 hostel, $16 shuttle, $4 metro pass, $9 pear cider, $8.50 wedges, $7 Indian food  ***in Ozzy dollars which means everything is way more in US dollars :'(  

Fiji day #1 - $8 hostel, $1 fried eggplant, $2.50 smoothie, $4 dinner, $2.50 drink
Fiji day #2 - $8 hostel, $20 taxi, $3 lunch, $1.50 water

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Day #26. Kaikoura/Christchurch.

Whiting fritters.  I waited until the very last minute to try them.  Mostly because they looked so unappealing.  Like a sardine pancake.  It was ok, but the texture was really weird for me.  I was glad I only tasted it instead of ordering a whole one.  Don't understand why, but people in NZ love their whiting fritters!

My bus didn't leave from Kaikoura until 3'ish, so I took a nice, long, lazy walk around the point to where the seals like to lay out and sun.  Along the way I caught up with this guy named Sam.  He's a 22 y.o. primary teacher from UK, taking a whole bunch of time off to travel.  Why isn't extended traveling encouraged in the US???  I've met heaps of people who told me their companies/jobs were totally ok with them taking a few months to a year off.  In America, this would be frowned upon as shirking one's responsibilities.  Education 1st!  Career 1st!  I'm not saying these things aren't important.  But I do think it would be a wonderful thing to encourage a little traveling, especially between high school and college.  We all rush into college, and half the time, we don't even know what the heck we want to do!  And once we begin school and careers, it's nearly impossible to ever take that time off again in our lives.  Exploring the world, seeing new places, meeting unique people… these experiences will only encourage growth and provide clarity to our young minds.  Ok, that's my speech for the week  :)

Back to Sam.  So we started talking about our families, homes, the places we've been.  Turns out he'd just gotten back from Fiji and had stayed at the very same Bamboo Hostel I booked for my 1st night!  He had rave reviews for the place.  Said the owner is a big Kiwi man who always has a smile on his face, and who goes out of his way to make sure you get to do everything you want on the island.  Sam said he'll even arrange for you to stay with family members and friends, plus he's got all the local hook-ups.  WOW.  Random, huh?  I told Sam I was headed to the Christchurch Airport that afternoon, and he was like, me too.  Want a lift?  I couldn't believe it!  Ride in a nice roomy van with music and the windows down vs. a stuffy stinky bus.  Hmmmm…. 

I had a quick lunch at a little seafood stand along the road.  The fresh grilled fish was succulent with lemon and garlic.  Really cheap too - only $8 - with salad and rice.  Tried a bite of the whiting fritter.  You know how that went.  Totally chickened out on trying the crayfish.  Got my things together at the hostel, said goodbye to the awesome owner, Katie, and hopped into Sam's camper van.  He was heading to Christchurch to visit his rich auntie.  Sweet little van.  Paid $2,600 for it.  After he's done traveling NZ he's gonna try and sell it for nearly the same, so he'll basically get all his money back.  This is awesome.  Think about it.  You have a bed and kitchen in the back, so essentially little to no lodging expenses.  He'll get most of his money back when he sells it.  To rent a van for even a month would be about 1,500 anyways.  All he's paying for is Petrol, food, and an occasional holiday park for showers and electricity.  Really killer thing to do.  It's what I would have done if I weren't by myself.  But to do it alone would have been a disaster for me.  I can barely drive as it is, let alone read a map and drive simultaneously ;)  J/k.  I'm an excellent driver!!!

Got to the AP around 4 pm.  Thanked Sam for the ride, handed him the list of things to do in SoCal that I'd written up on the way, and headed into the airport to spend a long 12 hours waiting.

Passing through Christchurch, I caught a brief glimpse of the devastated city.  Buildings were completely destroyed.  It's the closest I've ever been to a disaster-stricken place like that.  It was sickening to look at.  I started talking to a middle-aged mum of 2 on an airport bench.  She told me one of her friends died in the quake.  It's a really sad time for her right now.  Even amidst all that pain and stress, she told me she would have taken me home with her for the night if they didn't live so far away.  Such kindness and generosity.  It's really beautiful to see in people.  I told her I've been thinking about her city this entire week, and wish them the very best as they rebuild.

I am so thankful for the amazing life that I have!

And tonight, I am incredibly grateful to New Zealand for giving me the trip of a lifetime.  

Cheers!!! :)

Plan: catch an early flight to Sydney and spend the night there before heading to Fiji for 12 days!
Budget: $18.60 food/snacks, $14 bus fair that I didn't use, $28 book (The Lovely Bones) so I have something to read in Fiji if it rains… keep your fingers crossed