Monday, June 29, 2015

Thursday: Moce Fiji

Today was probably the longest day of life because of the time difference between flights. We spent our last day in Fiji driving up to the beach to go surfing and hang out by the waves. I decided to chill out with Miriam and Grace on the sand instead of surfing, but I also got some nice shots of other people surfing.

Jamison surfing.
Meghan surfing.
Jacob surfing.
Claire surfing.
When we got back from the beach, we had to make sure we got everything packed, and we sat around outside in the hammocks. Ulla left for the airport early, but everyone else went across the street for dinner. Everyone had some kind of pasta, and Brett got everyone ice cream for dessert. We did our final highs and lows for the whole trip, and then we left in a rush for the airport. We had our final chance to shop in Fiji at the airport; I got a few more gifts for my family. This is where we parted from Brett and Ulla, they were great people and great photographers; I am so glad to have met them. I am very sad to be leaving Fiji, but I am happy for the memories that I made while I was here; Fiji is an incredible country, and the people here are so welcoming and kind to everyone. I really hope to come again one day to visit the new friends that I have made, but until then I will try to keep in contact with them through email. I had a very long and tired flight back (I had trouble sleeping until the last two hours). We had hamburgers for lunch in Los Angeles, which is the first red meat I’ve had in a long time. This is when we said our goodbyes to Lisa as well, she has taught me so much throughout our journey. On the flight back, many people were very sick, and we are still unsure of how they got sick, but now we are back at home. My trip to Fiji has changed my life and helped me view the world in a different perspective. I hope to not only keep in touch with the Fijian friends that I made, but also the friends I made who came with me on this trip. Moce Fiji.

Tuesday-Wednesday: Hot Springs and Final Presentation

Woke up early to watch the sunrise.
We spent the beginning of the day eating breakfast, packing all of our stuff again, paying our bar tabs (from all of the milkshakes and snacks we have bought), and organizing our photos. There was some difficulty getting onto the bus around midday because of the rain, but we got on and began to head back to Nadi. On the way there, we stopped at a fairly large souvenir and artifact shop to buy stuff for ourselves and gifts for our families. When we got back to Nadi, we went to Smugglers Cove (the place we stayed during the first day). There were a few complications as to where the boys were sleeping at Smugglers Cove, but we got it all sorted out and went to dinner at a local Fijian Chinese restaurant. We got back to Smugglers Cove and began Ulla’s second presentation; she showed us how she organizes her photos and how she creates a photo story. When we went back to our dorm room, there were two random girls sleeping in our room (one of them was sleeping in Meagan’s bed, the other in an unoccupied one); we asked Lisa about the two girls, so she talked to the reception, and the two girls got kicked out (one of them seemed very upset about this). I spent a lot of time going over my photos in preparation for the final presentation the next night, and then I went to sleep. In the morning, I showed Ulla my top photos during breakfast, so that she could help me pick the photos that I want for my final presentation at night. We got into vans again and set out to a small village, where we met the chief and had a kava ceremony. After this, tour guides from the village led us on a very long and tiring uphill hike to a small waterfall and creek. The water was so cold up there, so almost nobody got wet or swam. We hung out by the waterfall for some time, and then we hiked back to the village.

One of the guides under the waterfall.
View of the trail to the waterfall.
When we got back, we had lunch, and headed out for the hot springs. First, we had to cover ourselves in mud, which was one of the weirdest things I’ve felt in my life (especially when it dries). We took some group photos, covered in mud, with the Nat Geo flag. Before we got to go in the hot spring, we had to wash of the mud in this really gross and cold muddy water, but it was all worth it. The water in the hot spring felt so good (it was around 40 degrees Celsius). We all just kind of swam around in the spring for some time, but eventually we had to leave. We drove back to Smugglers Cove to eat dinner and begin final presentations. Unfortunately, I was first since we were going in first name alphabetical order, but it turned out fine. I was really nervous about what people would think of my photos and what I would say about them, but now I feel like I did pretty well. We decided to skip highs and lows, but we would do them for the whole trip tomorrow. Brett and Lisa told us the schedule for tomorrow, then we all went back to our rooms.

Monday: Boat Trip

We began our day with breakfast and preparing for another boat trip out. We split up into two boats and set off for one of the villages on a smaller island. On the way there, Bora caught a tuna fish, and the boat drivers showed us how they kill the fish after catching them (which was a very disturbing image). When we arrived at the village, we went uphill to the village school. At the school, the children were very excited to see us and sang for us; they had wonderful voices. We introduced ourselves and looked inside some of the classrooms.

School children singing.
When the children set off for lunch, we went back downhill to take some photos in the village. We all split up, which is when I met a very kind woman who was washing her young son’s clothes outside in the grass. I had a very interesting conversation with her about her life and what the village is like; she also let me take some photos of her washing clothes, which was nice of her.

Village washing her son's clothes.
After our conversation, I spent some time with the village children (who were too young for school). They were very cute and loved to have their photos taken.

Village children playing with Ulla.
Playing with the village children.
Then it was time to leave the village, so we hopped back on the boats and set off to another part of the island. This is where we ate lunch and hung out on the paddleboards and by the beachside, it was very calm and relaxing.

Brett doing a headstand on a paddle board.
After some time of just chilling, we started a volleyball game on the grass, which was probably the best part of the day. We had so much fun, even though most of us were pretty bad at the sport (especially me). Eventually, we had to start heading back to Mango Bay, but along the way, Alex caught a tuna fish with shark bites on it.

Boating back to Mango Bay.
We arrived back at the resort fairly late; we ate dinner, watched a crab race, and listened to Ulla’s first presentation, which was about how she has gotten to this point in her life. She has a very interesting life and such an inspiring story, and she still has a long way to go.

Saturday-Sunday: Welcome to Mango Bay

We started our day with breakfast and packing, then we hopped into the vans for the last time in Taveuni, and got to the airport. We flew from Taveuni back to the airport in Nadi; it was fairly short and quiet flight. At the airport, we met Ms. Bottoms, a former photography teacher at Memorial who now lives in Australia. Ms. Bottoms if going to be joining us for the remainder of our trip. At the airport, we got into a very large bus, and began our long journey to Mango Bay Resort. A few hours into the drive, we decided to stop at a zoo-like park called Ecopark. There were so many cool birds, iguanas, turtles, and interesting plants of Fiji there. It was a lot of fun, and I got some good photos of the animals.

Not to long after, we arrived at Mango Bay. Mango Bay is really nice compared to the places we have stayed so far; I am staying in a room with Miriam and Katie. Since we arrived a little late at night, we ate dinner soon after we got there, and watched an interesting dance performance (with fire and machetes) at the resort. After the performance, I went to my room and edited and organized my photos for the critique that we are having the next day. The next morning, we woke up and had breakfast (as per usual), and spent the whole morning chilling by the beach and/or editing and organizing photos. Around midday, Katie and I went out to get henna at the resort’s salon; it turned out pretty cool and was pretty cheap. Later at night, we had dinner and met Ulla, a very kind and interesting German Nat Geo photography expert. After meeting Ulla, we started our critique presentations; it was very interesting to see the photos that everyone else has taken so far and to hear what people think of my photos and how I can improve them.

Friday: Goodybye Nakotalau

Almost everyone decided to wake up very early this morning, so that we could say our goodbyes to the kids who had to go to school and the adults who had an early work time. I was one of the first people to get up, but the majority of kids ended up skipping school to stay and say goodbye anyways. In the remaining hours that we had left, I packed my stuff, prepared my gifts to the village, took any final photos that I needed of the village, and played hot potato and other games with the kids.

Playing hand-slapping games.
Leaving was probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life. Before we left, everyone in the village gathered together and the villagers sang a beautiful goodbye song to us about being family, and we took some group photos of everyone at the community center. Then we all hugged, cried, and said our final goodbyes to everyone; it was so sad to leave after becoming such good friends with the people at this village. It was especially hard to say goodbye to Wani and Leonie because I had become so close to them on this trip. Driving off, everyone in the buses were crying, and you could see the villagers all hugging and waving at us. The bus ride back, everyone was thinking about the villagers and the great memories we had with them. We organized our stuff back at Tovutovu, ate lunch, than hopped back into the trucks to a snorkeling/diving site. We arrived and split up into boat groups: one boat with the three divers (Brett, Lisa, and I) and two snorkelers (Miriam and Lucy), and the other boat with everyone else. Diving was incredible; it was probably one of the best experiences I’ve had on my trip in Fiji so far. There were so many interesting fish, clams, coral, and other creatures swimming underwater. The visibility was amazing, and the temperature was basically perfect. The boat ride back was also an incredible experience for many reasons: a beautiful view of the ocean and an incredible sunset, the nice wind blowing in my face and drying me off, snacks that the people driving the boats provided for us (including the best banana bread I’ve ever had), and remembering the good memories that I have from Natokalau Village, and the people that I grew so close to. For dinner, we went to a nice restaurant that made delicious fresh pizzas with a beautiful view of the ocean. We did our highs and lows at the restaurant because it was getting late, and when we got back to Tovutovu, I went to bed.

Thursday: Field Trip to the School

After breakfast, it was time to work on the community center by moving rocks and cementing bricks together. Then Volau and Leonie took a group of us to walk down to the beach to help dig sand/dirt into bags for the cement. While we were by the ocean side, Alex, Brett, Claire, Leonie, and I were skipping stones across the water. I was pretty bad at this, but Alex and Leonie were very good.

Loading the trucks with bags filled with dirt.
When we got back, I went over to Angie’s house to help prepare for lunch (since I have cooking duty today); this is how I got to know some of the village women a lot better. They asked me to help with making the juice, which requires many more fruits than I had expected it to (bananas, lemon, mango, papayas, and passion fruit).

Preparing crackers and sandwiches for lunch.
After eating lunch, we all got on a local bus and went to the catholic school that the students from the village attended. At the school, Wani showed us around and told us about the school; we got to see inside the classrooms, an uphill overview of the school and ocean, and we watched/participated in their P.E. volleyball games.

Children studying at the school.
After observing the kids play volleyball, we split up into groups again: one group went the water slide to swim in the cold weather, while the other group (the group I was in) went back to the village to spend more time with the villagers and finish taking photos before we leave tomorrow. When we got back, I played with some of the younger children and helped a little more with work on the community center. They returned from the waterslide fairly quickly because it turns out to have been too cold and it was shut down. This is when I spent a lot of time with the kids who got home from school; Lela (a different Lela) and Jannet showed me a game they played with rocks (which I am awful at) and sang for Grace and I; they have such beautiful voices.

Lela playing a game with rocks.
Tonight after dinner, we had the best kava ceremony yet. All of the children were allowed to stay up later with us, instead of listening to the Fijian guitar music we normally have, they brought speakers out and played popular songs that you would hear on an American radio station, and we got to stay up an hour later than we normally do. Everyone danced and hung out with each other for our last night in the village; I got out a card pack and taught Leonie, Ruby, and some other teen village members how to play common card games in America (like Slap Jack). After a long night of dancing, we tiredly stumbled to bed, and waited for our last day in the morning.

Wednesday: Adventure to the Farms

As per usual, we started our day with an early breakfast, and then most of us went out to go help build the foundation. At first I was given a simple job of moving large rocks around the foundation into a pile, but then they showed us how to cement bricks to the bottom of the foundation. After some hard work, Grace, Miriam, and I went out with Volau, Jimmie, and a boy my age named Leonie to go get coconuts. I thought that this would be easier than the manual labor of shoveling and cementing bricks, but I was wrong. It was a very long and steep hike up and down the mountain, and the coconuts were much heavier than I imagined them. It was all worth it though, the coconut milk was so good (especially compared to the coconut milk that the man gave to us on our first day at Smugglers’ Cove), and I really got to know Leonie, who I am becoming very good friends with. Although carrying several coconuts and a handful of bananas downhill was very hard, the trip was definitely an experience to remember. We had lunch and then Wiki took some of us uphill to go see his kava farm. It is very interesting to see how they plant and cut the kava roots. Leonie came with us on this trip too, and I got to learn a lot more about him (including that Jimmie, Wani, and Lela are all his siblings).

Jimmie planting kava roots.
Wiki cutting kava.
When we returned from the farms, one of the village men showed us how he can crack a coconut in half with his hand.

Smashing a coconut in half.
Soon after this, the children came home from school, and I got to hang out with some of them. Leoni also showed me how he can chase and catch a chicken. After this we went to volleyball, but I decided to take photos instead of actually playing today; during the game, there was a beautiful sunset by the beach side.

Beach side sunset.
 After volleyball, we had dinner and began the kava ceremony. Today’s kava ceremony was different because many of the children allowed to stay up later since we were celebrating Jacob’s birthday. There was cake, music, and more dancing than ever before; tonight was truly an exciting night.