Saturday, June 21, 2014


Well, I made it to LAX. Now I'm just sitting enjoying the free wifi and waiting for my flight to Chicago. America feels so foreign, and there's white people EVERYWHERE.

Saying goodbye in Nadi yesterday was so hard. At least I had one more beautiful day on the beach. I don't even know how to sum up everything right now. I have things to post about the last week, but I feel like now is not the time because I don't want to start crying in the airport again. I'll finish this up later.

Friday, June 13, 2014

"Study" week

I've put off updating this re: study week vacation because it was too beautiful to accurately put into words. I stayed a few nights in Nadi at a dirt cheap backpackers hostel with some friends before heading up to the Yasawas for the real vacation and lost my phone there. Fortunately I had just switched out my Verizon SIM for a Vodafone SIM barely 2 weeks prior, so I can just buy a cheap phone off craigslist when I get home. The thing that upsets me most about it is that I lost all the pictures on my phone and don't have a camera for the rest of my time in Fiji. So, I had to wait until others posted their photos from Waya Lailai to be able to put any on here, thus the delay. I'm still waiting for Matt to put his up (he's got the nicest camera and about 600 pictures from that week, so I'll definitely update again when he does put them online), but at least now I've got something.

Because the others went to Manta Ray Island before heading off to Waya Lailai, I traveled alone (or so I thought) and met them up there. When I got on the bus to go from the hostel to Port Denarau, though, Bre and Chase and that whole group happened to be taking the ferry the same day, so I ended up having company after all, which was a pleasant surprise. Port Denarau was weird, because I literally had not seen that many white people in 4 months. The ferry was pretty nice though, and it took about 2 hours to get from Nadi to Waya Lailai Island. I got there about 4 hours before the rest of the crew, and the other group on the ferry with me stayed on the boat to keep going towards a different island, but I couldn't even be bothered by that or feel lonely because I had stepped into paradise. White sand, aquamarine ocean as clear as pool water, blue skies, and rows of hammocks under the palm trees calling my name. We stayed for 3 nights/ 4 days and they were some of the best days I could imagine.

One of the coolest parts is that this particular island is known for having one of the best views in the area from the top of the small mountain. It took us less than an hour to hike up it, and it was indeed breathtaking.

This is overlooking the resort. I love that you can clearly see the reef from all the way up there.

We had nearly a 360 view of the surrounding area from the top.
This is the other side. We thought that island kinda looked like a turtle.

You can see some of the other islands dotted in the distance

Rocks and stuff. I can't get over how pretty it all was.

On top of the world.

The hike up was pretty cool too, we kept finding these natural branchy archways

Buuuut being Fiji, it was a pretty sweaty hike and we were happy to reach the top.

I don't have pictures of the snorkeling yet, although I think somebody did take some. It was incredible though, I FINALLY GOT TO SWIM WITH SHARKS. That was the one thing I really wanted to do while in Fiji more than almost anything else, so I was so happy to do it. One of the staff on the island took us out on the boat to a reef about 15 minutes away to snorkel at where they knew the sharks would be. Mind you, they were just reef sharks, but it was still exhilarating and oddly incredibly serene. They were reef sharks, so they were only about 4-6 feet long and pretty friendly. I immediately could see the truth to the claim that sharks are grossly misunderstood creatures. Yes they are still dangerous, and yes these small sharks still could have taken a decent bite out of me, but they really had no interest in doing so. There were probably around 20 in the area we were at, and being able to swim with that many sharks in their natural habitat was by far one of the coolest things I've ever done. Even if I were to post pictures, there is no possible way to convey the beauty of that experience. 

The rest of the time in Waya Lailai was spent snorkeling by the shore, where there were these neat tunnels through the reefs that you could swim through if you took a big enough breath (I also obtained a number of cuts and scrapes doing this - if you didn't know, coral is SHARP), playing drinking games with Germans, Brits, and a French guy (I wasn't drinking though because I was on antibiotics for an infection), and just lazing around on the beach getting our tan on. It was like something out of a dream, and even better because I got to spend it with people I've come to love. 

Going back to Suva was a letdown. I had to spend all of the next day (Sunday) studying for my Literary Criticism exam on Monday (I actually do go to school here too). The exam was to write 2 essays on our choice topics from a list of 10 questions and we were given three hours. I finished mine in a little over two hours, and I think it went okay. The setup for final exams here is kind of stupid though, in my opinion. Rather than having one exam week and taking the tests in the classrooms, they spread it out over 2 weeks, have 2 exam sessions per day, and have 1200 students at a time take their tests in the Vodafone Arena down the road from USP. Being herded like cattle through turnstiles, given a desk number, and sitting in a giant arena with that many other people doesn't exactly help with any test anxiety. But I don't run things, so whatever. I have one more exam this coming Wednesday, then I'm finally done.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Everyday life in Suva

After looking over my blog, I realize that not only have I been pretty bad about updating it regularly, but I also only seem to update after adventures to exotic, exciting places. Most of my time is spent here in Suva, and I haven't even put my city in the spotlight yet. Granted, Suva is easily the dirtiest part of Fiji and not somewhere I would recommend staying more than a day or two to the average tourist, but it's still my home in this foreign land.

Today is a pretty good example of an average day that I don't have classes. I woke up, made some eggs, sat on the balcony drinking coffee and reading a book, went for a run (okay maybe that part isn't average for me, but I was feeling motivated today), then met up with Sami and Josh to take a bus into the city. I went to the post office to pick up a package, finally got the Easter package my mama sent godonlyknows how long ago. But hey, new underwear and candy still made me pretty happy a month and a half later! Not being in much of a hurry, we wandered around town for a while and of course hit up the market. I'm going to miss the fresh market so much back in America. So much fresh food that's so cheap. I've made myself learn to cook more dishes over the last few months because it's cheaper and healthier to make meals with food the veggies I pick up there. I would still kill for some Domino's delivered to me though.

I miss real coffee, but the instant stuff is good when I have it on a sunny balcony

Tried taking a pano of Little India, ended up smooshing the cars

Some of the signs in stores make me giggle

Pineapples are gloriously abundant

Cream buns are also an obsession of mine. SO GOOD.

This is only the outside part of the market. The whole thing is huge.

Shipping area on Suva Harbor.
I don't know how to make this not sideways on here.

Sweet chili sauce makes most things better

My homemade veggie sauce is way better than the stuff in jars

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sand and sun to soothe the soul

Bula! So it's been a while... again.... so I'm just gonna skip over the crappy parts and get to the good stuff.

I'M FINALLY 21! Very exciting, and I can't think of a better way to have spent the day. Me and a handful of friends who didn't mind missing some Tuesday classes headed out to Uprising mid-morning to spend a couple hours lounging, swimming, and sipping some drinks on the beach. Nothing else really noteworthy about the trip - just a relaxing afternoon with good company. That alone was exactly what I wanted.

 After getting home to get ready to go to dinner, my roommates surprised me with some lovely gifts. One was a box of good beers from New Zealand and Mexico from Rowan (I actually received this in the morning)

The future English teacher in me really loved the alliteration

Then Sam and the girls gave me this outfit and tried to get me to wear it downtown. Note the pointy Madonna boobs.

And I got a ukulele! Further proof that my friends are awesome.

Dinner turned out really good too. We went to Bad Dog for half price pizza and sangria (their Tuesday special). There were three pizzas though that took nearly an hour to come out, mine included, and even though we didn't even say anything to the wait staff about it, they felt bad and told us that they wouldn't charge us for the late pizzas and brought us out another jug of sangria for free too. And cake! They gave me cake! And it was delicious!
And they wrote my name in strawberry sauce. So cute.

Being a Tuesday night, the bars were pretty dead and a lot of people didn't really want to stay out super late. I was still happy that people came out though, and we still had a great night. I did anyway. And I did not throw up once that night or the morning after, so heck yeah.

This weekend was so cool too. A decent sized group of us headed out to Sigatoka yesterday morning for a camping trip. Sigatoka's main claim to fame is the sand dunes, the same ones Kyle took the UWP group to during our first week. Because Sigatoka is like 2 1/2 hours away, we only had a couple hours of daylight left when we got there, but that was okay because the weather cooperated and it was so much fun out there playing on the giant dunes and in the ocean while we could. Once the sun went down, we built up a giant campfire with driftwood and bamboo that were scattered all over the beach and cooked hobo meals in tin foil in it. Being a remote area, the stars were incredible and it was the beginning (or end?) of a meteor shower too. It was seriously an all around perfect evening. Sleeping on the beach is something everyone should do at least once too. It was sandy and cold (yes, I was cold. It's winter here now - nothing remotely like Wisconsin winters, but it does get kinda chilly at night), but falling asleep looking at the stars and listening to the waves crashing is the most serene thing. Plus, seeing the ocean first thing when you wake up is pretty darn cool. We spent the morning today frolicking in the waves again and just hanging out until it was time to hike out to catch the minibus back.

Our home for the night

Taken from our campsite, dunes in the distance

Beach sleeping: thumbs up

You can run, jump, tumble, whatever down the dunes and not get hurt.
It's a workout getting back up, though.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Loving life

Bula, blog readers.

Today was a beautiful day. An email went out last week about a trip to St. Christopher's orphanage, and at the last minute, I decided to sign up. I'm so happy I did. This wasn't a volunteer trip or anything, it was simply to see the orphanage and spend the morning playing with the kids. There were somewhere between 20 and 30 kids housed at St. Christopher's ranging in age from toddlers to 18, and every one of them was beautiful. They loved singing and a few could play guitar, so they greeted and entertained us with songs. They then introduced themselves and each said what they want to be when they grow up. Despite being orphaned, those kids were so happy and full of life with big dreams for their futures. It was very humbling and inspiring to observe and talk to them, and they brought genuine smiles to my face.

This girl right here is my new friend, Mary. She's 13 years old and will some day be one of the best teachers in Fiji.

Going back a bit, last weekend was also fantastic. On Thursday, I finally put my scuba certification to good use and went diving. Some people found a deal for $70 FJD for a one tank dive, which is about the cheapest I've heard of here. The diving conditions weren't fantastic; the water was a bit stormy and visibility wasn't at its best, but I still loved every minute of it and thought it was incredible. I'll post pictures/videos as soon as Rowan or Sam sends them to me. We dove down along an enormous coral wall that went down about 100 meters. We only went down about 25-30 meters, but that's still pretty deep. Swimming with all the colorful, strange looking fish was so cool, as well as being able to look up and realize how far in the ocean I was.

We did the dive in a spot that was a 15 minute boat ride out of Suva Harbor, and the dive shop was based at the yacht club. That weekend happened to be the Suva Jazz and Blues Festival, and the yacht club was one of the three venues around the city that was hosting it. So, when we got back from the dive and got everything put away, we stuck around and got some food while they set up. This means that we effectively skirted the $30 entrance fee and got to enjoy a gorgeous sunset and some really good music from some folksy New Zealand band. 

Two days later, I went with 6 friends to stay at Mango Bay, a backpacker resort about an hour and a half away on the coral coast. It was pretty much like most of the other backpacker places we've been, but it's always good to get out of Suva every now and then, and of course it was gorgeous and so nice to be at the beach. Aside from lounging and swimming, I went kayaking and snorkeling too. It wasn't the most impressive snorkeling I've done, but it was still, as always, a great time. Plus, I saw a sting ray while kayaking! I got way more excited about it than a normal person probably would. I don't know what I'm going to do back home when I can't just get away to gorgeous beaches on the weekends by taking an hour long bus ride.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hello there, neglected blog

I suppose it's about time I post on here before I have even more adventures to tell. Last week was spring break and it was one of the best I've had (of course spring breaks in Kiawah will always be treasured memories -- lookin at you, Becca).

Soooo, we started off on our adventure on Saturday morning last week. The whole UWP clan was back together, even Kris and Kyle (the coordinators), and it was nice because we haven't really done anything all together since the beginning. Dylan, Kaci, Alex, Jake, and Josh came with us too, so we had a pretty sizable group. We were supposed to board the minibus at 9:30 sharp, but naturally it ended up coming at almost 11 because the driver had too much to drink the night before and forgot he was hired to drive that day and his brother had to replace him. Typical Fiji, really. Anyway, we didn't even really know for sure where we were going until that morning, but our first destination was Robinson Crusoe Island. It's an island that's roughly a square mile, so the resort is the only thing on it, similar to Leleuvia. It's kind of a touristy place, but it was still really fun. The staff all seemed super into their jobs and did a good job of getting everybody to participate in the games and dancing and other silly stuff. We went snorkeling that day too, but most of the coral I saw was dead and there weren't as many fish as in other places. Still though, if my weekend consists of snorkeling in Fiji, I'm not going to complain.
The island

After dinner and a Fijian toffee making demonstration (just sugar and coconut shavings in a pan until it caramelizes -- simple but sooo delicious), the staff started their show and it was amazing. They did traditional dances that reminded me that Fijians of the past were fearsome warriors, and did a lot of dances involving machetes and fire. The fire dancing blew my mind, they were all so good at what they did. Later on in the night, one of the dancers even brought out his torch and let us try some of it ourselves on the beach. One of the most impressive things I saw them do was put the torch in their mouth and have fire remaining on their tongue, so I asked him to teach me how. Turns out there's nothing more to it than just sticking a lit torch in your mouth, so of course I tried it anyway. I wish I had a picture of that, I felt like such a badass, even if my tongue did get mildly burnt.
This place was also like Leleuvia in that they turned off the electricity on the island at midnight. A couple of us went out on the beach at midnight to look at the stars without any light pollution, and it was absolutely incredible. I've never seen so many stars, and the Milky Way stood out clear as day. We sat there just stargazing in awe until Jake went to pee in the ocean. Once he had taken care of his business, he called us over but wouldn't tell us why. When we went over and asked what was up, he didn't say anything but kicked at the water and we immediately saw why we had to go over. Turned out the water was full of bio-luminescent plankton, and they glowed when the water was disturbed. So now not only did we have all the stars in the sky, but we had a whole ocean of green "stars" to play with too. We were probably out there for a good hour or so taking in everything and enjoying the beauty of it all, until Carl said to me, "Alex, get out of the water right now." I looked down and lo and behold, there was a big sea snake just inches from my left foot. We didn't know for sure if they were poisonous or not, but I wasn't about to find out, and the safest route is to always just assume that most things in the ocean want to kill you. I found out later that they actually are highly venomous but have small mouths that make it hard to bite much more than fingers or toes. Still though, I don't want to think of what would have happened if Carl hadn't seen it and I had taken another step to the left. That was the point where we all decided to just go to bed.
This is the snake. Or maybe its brother.

The next day, we left around noon for our next stop on the trip, Natadola Beach. This is the same beach that we went to our first week in Fiji, the one where Diana got her face messed up by the giant waves. There was talk of surf lessons, but unfortunately the surfing never happened. Still though, the weather was perfect and we had a beautiful day just playing at the beach together. Kris and Kyle arranged for us to stay in some beachside villas, so when the sun went down it was like a big slumber party with all of us.

Our final destination was to Abaca (pronounced aum-ba-tha because Fijian language doesn't make much sense), which is a village at the base of Mt. Evans, the 4th tallest peak in Fiji (which is saying something since most of Fiji is mountains). We got there a little later than planned (Fiji time) and ended up starting our hike up the mountain around noon. The first half of the hike was out in the open under the noontime Fiji sun, so we were all just dripping sweat. I started struggling, but I didn't want to be the whiner that held the group up. I paid for it though when we took a break. I sat down on a rock to take a drink of water, and suddenly all the colors in the center of my focus started getting very bright and vibrant while the rest of my vision tunneled out to black. I tried just taking deep breaths and not make a big deal of it, but then I realized I was in trouble when Michelle ran over to me and asked if I was okay and her voice sounded distant. I never fully lost consciousness, but I got to the point that apparently I was white as a sheet and my lips turned blue and Kyle had to dump cold water over my head, at which point I gasped and felt like I had suddenly come back to life. After I was "revived" to the point that I could see and hear properly again, Kyle helped me over to a shady spot to lie down for a few minutes and rehydrate. I stayed there for about 15 minutes to make sure I'd be okay to continue while the rest of the group went ahead at my insistence. After that I paced myself a bit more and allowed myself to take breaks when I needed it.

This sums up my feelings during the ascent

Fortunately, I was fine the rest of the day and caught up to the rest of the group soon enough. I was a bit embarrassed and felt bad for scaring the others, but in my defense, it was a very difficult hike. Not only was it hot, but it was ridiculously steep and slippery in some spots, and to call what we were on a path is to use the word path loosely. A lot of it was crashing through blade grass and undergrowth or clinging on to tree branches to pull ourselves up. It took over 3 hours, but we finally made it to the summit, and the view made it all (in hindsight) worth it.

We were in the clouds!

Almost a mile up

You can see how sweaty and tired I am, but I did it!

For the second half of the week, almost everybody I know and hang out with left either on multi-day field trips or up to Taveuni. I spent one day doing nothing other than nap, eat, and read, then went to watch a movie with a friend who was actually still around (Searching for Sugarman is a fascinating documentary, by the way). Then yesterday, I hopped on an early bus to the Beachouse and got there by noon. Sam, Jeremiah, and Dan were already there, so it was a good excuse to get out of Suva for the day. I rented out a surfboard again and gave it another go. Sam helped me and gave me tips again, and I did a lot better! I still got pummeled plenty, but I managed to stand up almost as many times as not, so I was pretty proud of that. Discovering a love of surfing is just reconfirming my belief that I am meant to live near the ocean. Plus I was still out there by the time the sun set, and a surfboard out in the ocean is really the place to watch a sunset.