Hopped off the plane at LAX…

…with culture shock.

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You would think that growing up in America and living here for 20 years that I would have no problem adjusting back. I’ve been in Lax for an hour and am already feeling some weirdness and reverse culture shock back into my known world. This is keeping me busy while waiting for my boarding time. Here are some of the observations:

  • America is a plugged in society. Everyone is tied to their phone. Sitting here in Starbucks, every other person is either talking on their phone or looking at their phone. Even the girl in the bathroom was talking on her phone, in the stall! I’m now able to be plugged in just as much now that i have AT&T and 4G networks on my phone. I suppose it is because lots of people are traveling for work so they need to work from the road (or air). This is different from the mostly backpacking travel that I have been experiencing.
  • It was so uncommon to see American clothing brands while abroad. It was almost easy to spot an American in Australia because we do dress differently. The typical brands of longchamp bag, ugg boots, and clothing styles of boots, cardigans, leggings have now re-entered my lifestyle.
  • I bought lunch here and was so pleased with the prices agin – even though they were high airport prices, they are cheaper than the Australian prices. It was different to use the notes and change of our country again and to have a tax charged to the price.
  • There are definitely two extreme food cultures in the US. In the airport terminal, there is a Burger King and Starbucks where the two cultures are really apparent. There’s the half that eats fast foods because they are cheap and easy but unhealthy. The people then often struggle with obesity and inherent health problems… This is its own issue of America above and beyond my airport observations. The other extreme is a skinny mindset where the people obsess about avoiding the bad foods. This was apparent at the Starbucks line where the woman ordered a salad with no dressing and a coffee with nonfat foam. The people sitting at the tables were talking about cleansing diets and others walking by are talking about their exercise routines.
  • Even though I don’t celebrate Christmas, I do always appreciate the spirit of the season leading up to the holiday. A lot of that spirit comes from the weather changing and since I’ve gone from summer to spring to summer to tropics, there has been no sense of winter. The airport has Christmas decorations all over, wreaths, ornaments, and trees and music playing. People are wishing eachother a happy holidays.  In Fiji, there were lights and few decorations and I almost forgot it was the holidays.  Even though Hanukkah is in 2 days!
These differences have been the norm in my life. Traveling and experiencing the opposite side of the world has made me apparent of all of these differences that make America, America.  It will be interesting to transition back into this society.
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Moce (Goodbye) Fiji

Today, December 6, I finished my tour of the island. I enjoyed the morning talking with girls who have been traveling and working in Fiji for 3 months. They shared their experiences working in a village and how much it had meant to them. I’ve really valued meeting people from all over the world and sharing stories. That’s a big part of traveling that ties people together.
We left the Volivoli Beach Resort after lunch and drove a couple of hours. In between Nadi and Lautoka, we stopped at a Sabeto Mud Baths and hot springs pool. We went in the mud pit and lathered ourselves up in a soft mud.  It was squishy and felt good to rub all over my skin. To wash off the mud, there was a hot spring to dip into. The combination was relaxing and made my skin soft. Although I really wish I had a nice shower before my flight.
Soaking in the mudbath before rinsing in a hot spring

Soaking in the mudbath before rinsing in a hot spring

After the baths, we did another cultural experience. We visited the largest orphanage of Fiji located in Nadi. I have to say, I did not like this experience. I felt that it was not right for us to tour a children’s home by just stopping in, looking at their home, and playing with them for a short period of time. It was hard to interact with the children other than a short jumprope or exchanging names. We did buy presents to give to them that were only just accepted in by the host mothers. The briefness of the visit and the small exchange made me feel really uncomfortable being there – and wish we had just donated the presents. I suppose, it was all part of the experience but I really felt that the tour could do without that. The timing of the experience was also misplaced because right after, we were dropped off at our different locations – others to hotels on the island and me to the airport. I’ve checked in and am waiting while my flight is delayed half an hour. I may as well enjoy my last Fiji gold beer while I wait for this late flight. At least I will sleep the whole way there.
I’ve taken tons of photos playing with my SLR here has been keeping me busy and been lots of fun.  I’ve been posting a lot on Facebook and may end up making a photography site to share more.

Fiji Culture

I’ve continued my tour on FeeJee Experience.  Yesterday, December 5, was a long day of riding in the blue frog.  After finding John stumbling in from  the beach, we had our continental breakfast and packed up.  We drove through Fiji’s capital city, Suva, to see the president’s house, jail, and government buildings.  We continued on through the beautiful green land to a village called Nasautoka.  The village practices traditional Fijian customs and have their own set of values.  One of them is covering your legs with sarongs.  We were greeted off the bus with flower necklaces and brought into the gathering room for a Kava ceremony.  This one was very traditional and the people spoke in Fijian to pray and pass around the Kava.  After a cup of kava, we shook each villager’s hand.  They were the most genuinely friendly group of people I have every met.  Every one of them had a huge smile on their face, said thank you and nice to meet you.  They sat and sang songs inside the hut while we had a traditional lunch – a large spread of fish, chicken, taro, cassava dishes placed on the floor with only a napkin to wipe your fingers.  After trying the different dishes, which were really different, we set off for an activity.  We took the bus upstream a little to go rafting.  The rafts were long bamboo poles tied together that held 4 people afloat.  It was so relaxing to lay down, partly submerged in water, and be carried down the river.  The stream took us right to the backyard of the village – where we got off and dressed in our sarongs again to close the ceremonies.  We danced, drank another cup of kava, and shook hands with everyone to thank them and say goodbye.  This was a great way to understand the Fijian culture and an experience that I will take with me home.

After, we took a 2 hour ride to our next accommodation.  We’ve made it to the west side of the island to Volvoli Beach.  At the resort, we put our stuff in the dorm and went straight to the pool.  The water was warm and we hung out until my fingers were pruney and it was time for dinner.  Again we sat at a large table, ordered rounds of Fiji Gold beers and picked a delicious dish from the menu.
This morning, December 6, I woke early around 6:30 to watch the sunrise.  I didn’t see the actual sun but the colors in the sky and clouds were beautiful.  I layer on the hammock before falling back asleep.  We’re checking out after lunch today for some more activities.  I’m looking forward to a fun day before being dropped at the airport for my flight.

Flashpacking

I’ve had two days filled with fun activities, time to relax, and nice accommodation.

On December 3 I was picked up Bamboo Hostel by FeeJee Experience to tour the main island. I was greeted by a guide, Cameron (he stole my name and made it a guys name), a driver William, and a group on the bus. Everyone was from different places – London, Wales, Denmark, Sweden, and Gebrolta. I am the only American and I quickly learned that I was the only girl and the youngest. We began the day by going into the town of Nadi (pronounced Nandi). We walked around the markets and streets and bought some supplies: bug spray, waters, a serong, and lunch stuff. We then hopped on the blue frog bus and went to the beach to relax and have a picnic. After we packed up, we drove further east to a large sand dune. The sand was really hot but we climbed up. The view from the top was amazing overlooking the green land and sea. To get down the hill, we layed down on buggie boards and sled down. I did it twice, the second time tandem style with Cam. It was lots of fun and made me excited for some snow sledding when I’m home. We then continued to our stay via a shower stop in the ocean. The first night we stayed at Mango Bay Resort. We had a quick kava and watched the sun set even though it was cloudy.

The next morning, December 4, we woke early to have breakfast and check out. Then it was onto activities and on the plan – a rainforest trek. We drove up in our bus and swished vehicles to a 4-wheeler that could go through mud and brush. We were dropped off and began the hike. It was a short hike through the rainforest with steams to cross, muddy pits, and log bridges. We arrived at a series of waterfalls and went to the top most one where we swung off of a rope swing. We hung out there for a while and made headpieces out of ferns and painted with muddy clay. John, now Tarzan, went a little overboard and really got into the jungle feel. I myself felt like Jane amongst the Fijian Jungle. We continued our hike out through the rain and finished with a boat ride down the river. After such an eventful morning, we went right to our next accommodation, Uprising Resort. This was also beautiful. We enjoyed fruity cocktails and lunch next to the pool with ocean views. Paradise. After lunch, I explored the resort through the garden where they grow their own papaya, cassava, tomatoes, mint, and watermelon. The FeeJee experience really spoiled me by having a special on massages. I hit a true paradise having an hour massage by the beach. Our group gathered later to go into the village. Everything was closed so we found another resort for happy hour. We had dinner back at our resort. I had the traditional Fijian Fish, Kokoda. It’s fresh fish pieces marinated in lime juice and coconut served with cassava fries. It was very tasty and I loved how it was served in half of a coconut shell.

The resorts have been amazing with friendly staff, beautiful beaches, and great food. I’ve been staying in the dormitory which are large rooms with bunk beds. Both have been comfortable enough. This kind of resort backpacking is different from the other kinds because it doesn’t feel budgeted – Flashpacking.

Bula (Hello) Fiji!

Bula!

Pronounced, boolah. This term is heard everywhere here.  It literally means “life” and is most commonly used as a greeting meaning hello or welcome.  Used in this manner is a way to express wishes for one’s good health.  It is a cheery thing to hear when walking around and seeing locals.  They are happy to greet tourists this way and they often receive a bula in return.

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I had a very relaxing day today, December 2nd, reading, swimming, meeting new people, carving a kava bowl, tanning, and walking on the beach – such a hard life.  I saw a few friends off today, some people that I have met here and Dylan and Kyle from the study abroad program.  Seeing them off, I realized that while I am still very far away from home I am even further because I am the only left one down under.

Tomorrow, I’m getting picked up from the hostel and going on an island tour with FeeJee Experience.  Its a four day tour of the main Viti Levu Island with activities and 3 nights of hotel stays.  I expect to have plenty of time to relax, snorkel, swim and hopefully dive, visit the villages, sand board, go in hot and mud pools, and trek in the jungle.  I’m excited and will keep you all posted on the adventures!

 

Fiji Time

Time on an island doesn’t run in the same way. Fiji is in the same time zone as New Zealand but operates on a different schedule. There is no need to start anything on time or even within the same half an hour. People move slowly, taking their time. That seems to be okay because there is not much to do with your time all day. So people spend the better part of their day simply passing the time.

For me, I will always hold a sense of time on my watch or on my phone. But I have lost track a little and I can’t believe it is December 1st – how my time abroad has flown by! I had a great time today in Fiji. I woke up and went across the street to the beach to stretch out before making my eggs and lounging after. The common area at the hostel is an open air hut next to a book sharing place and kitchen with a bar. A few of the girls I have met joined me while I was lounging. They are each from all over the world – France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Virgina. We made some plans for the day – caught the bus into the town to walk around. We walked through the market which was a really unique experience. There were vendors selling their produce of corn, eggplant, pineapple on the ground and vendors up higher on tables. There was also a whole kava section. Wait – I haven’t explained kava.

Kava, is a plant which they take the root from and pound and grind it into a fine powder. It is then added into a cheesecloth strainer and seeped into water in a large bowl. The Fijian people of the island have made drinking it a ritual. They gather on a woven mat in a circle with their shoes removed. A smaller bowl is used to dip into the larger one and take a cup of the kava and it is passed around to each member. The drink tastes like… mud. Yeah, muddy water. It has unique qualities though – it kind of acts like novacain. It makes your tongue and back of your mouth go numb. It’s not unpleasant but it’s not anything to rant about – it is certainly different.

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Serving Kava at Bamboo Hostel

The rest of my day was spent hanging out with these new friends. We took the bus towards our hostel area that dropped us off a bit further. We stopped for a happy hour drink at the corner expecting to walk the rest of the way after a drink, but it starts to rain – and when it rains in the tropics, it pours. So we hung out at the restaurant for a while and chatted and got to know each other. After 3 hours, the rain was just going and going – so we split a cheap cab back to the hostel. Here, we will just continue to pass the time, hanging out, having dinner, and then it’s kava time.

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Travel Troubles

After checking out of xBase in Auckland, I took a Airbus from the city to the airport.  Shortly upon arriving to the airport I learned that my flight to Nadi was cancelled.  UGH.  I was informed that the plane never left Sydney because of mechanical errors that It would take until tomorrow to get redirected.  After waiting in line for an hour I was given a voucher for  transportation, accommodation, and meals at a nearby hotel.

I was able to make the best out of the situation pretty fast by making friends with the guy in front of me in the que line.  We had a connection of both being from the states and studying abroad for the term and going to Fiji to vacation.  We instantly made the best out of the best out of the situation because we kept each other company though the long cue lines at the airport, waiting for the shuttle, at lunch, and dinner.  We checked into the hotel, the Jet Park Hotel.  We walked got a ride to the nearby shopping area to poke around and get a bottle of wine.  We enjoyed fine dining with 2 courses of soup and a main chicken salad at the hotel’s restaurant with our waitress, Minnie.  Even better, we split a bottle of wine and did tam-tam slams at the hotel bar, yum.  Then enjoyed a personal shower and comfy bed – oh the luxuries I have learned to appreciate especially after hostel living.  The only thing that is going to be rough is the 5am wake up call for the airport shuttle tomorrow.

Hostel Living

After having such a nice hotel stay I’ve realized more of the differences between the hostel stays. I assume most people reading and following my blog have never really experienced living in a hostel. A hostel is certainly a budget accommodation with a different standard of living.  They have different room options – shared rooms that are single sex or even coeds of 4 person ranging up to 12 people or private rooms.  They each cost around $20 a night.  They have lots of people living in them looking for work or just traveling.   I wouldn’t say that I have completely enjoyed it, but it has been an experience that I would like to share.

From my stays in a few different hostels I’ve learned that they are each different. The hostel in Sydney was probably the hardest for me due to the lack of sleep. Ann and I booked the private double room at Maze Backpackers.  We figured would keep our safe stuff and offer that security. Unfortunately in exchange, the hostel common area was right outside our door which meant people were outside our room drinking, cooking, or socilaizing until late. Then the people on the street were right outside of our window doing the same thing all night. The matresses were the worst part – you could feel the springs poking through! The combination of the noise and the bed made for a really rough’s night sleep.

What's on at Maze? Lots of goon

What’s on at Maze? Lots of goon

Melbourne’s hostel, Elephant Backpackers, had some differences. The kitchen area was downstairs and it was so busy as a gathering spot. People brought drinks and cards and hung out at the tables passing the time. The room didn’t have walls connecting to the ceiling so you could hear the neighboring room. The beds were at least comfortable and I was able to sleep.

Card Games at Elephants

Card Games at Elephants

I only stayed in a hostel in Surfer’s Paradise and Noosa for a night so I wasn’t integrated enought to share details but they were both decent stays.

After my study abroad program in Auckland, I stayed in XBase in the CBD. This was a comfortable hostel but had some weird aspects. I stayed there for 5 nights in a 4 person shared room. Over the days I had people moving in and out everyday. The weirdest part was that the room didn’t have windows so I would wake up at 10 thinking it was the middle of the night.

Entrance to XBase

Entrance to XBase

With our HWSUC group course, we stayed at the YHA in Wellington and YMCA in Auckland.  These were the nicest and cleanest accommodations we stayed at.  We shared rooms with others in our group and had field trips and lectures during the day so we didn’t interact much with the backpackers or hostel.

The structure between all of the hostels is all very similar.  The hostels are usually convieniently located in the CBD near public transportation.  There’s always a group of people outside smoking.

Within the hostel, there is a main check in area and bag storage area.  There are floors with private doubles or shared rooms of different sizes with bunks.  The kitchen areas have communal utensils and cooking supplies but you keep your food labeled in storage bags with your name, room number, and departure date. The staff must routinely go through and clean out old food and you have to trust that no one else will steal your food. Lots of people eat noodles – like cups of noodles or ramen because they are so cheap.  I’ve seen people eating them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I’m sure they are sick of them but they are for budgets.  The other amenities are also shared.  The bathrooms are usually one or two per floor.  You definitely want shower flip flops to wear otherwise it’s not like you’re even showing.  Within the hostel there is a Wireless network, usually Global Gossip, which is a pay per time or usage system.  The rates vary from place to place but it’s usually worth going to find the free wifi.

What they all have in common is the backpackers lifestyle. This is a really friendly, open personality that they are always looking to talk to and meet new people.  Most of the people staying are on work visas looking to work and travel in a foreign country. Except what I’ve found is that the ones who haven’t found a job are the ones living in the hostel, while the ones who found work have moved into flats – at least, that’s what I’ve found.

It’s been a good experience staying in a hostel in a city. It’s not a lifestyle I would exactly want to continue with but it was an efficient way to travel on a student budget. It will certainly work being in Fiji where I will just be hanging out on the beach for a few days then taking an island tour.  I’ll be staying at Bamboo Backpackers in Fiji which has been the least expensive of all of them ($8 Fijian about $4 American a night!)

Kiwi-osities

Down under, Australia and New Zealand are both very far from and different from the US.  They take on new slang terms and meanings to words and also adapt different lifestyle things.  I haven’t been fully immersed in this country long enough to experience it all, but I have had enough time to pick up on some of the differences.  And now that I am traveling on my own time, I have time to share some of the New Zealand-isms and I have to share them before I leave tomorrow!  These are the lifestyle quirks and words of New Zealand that I have personally observed:

Sayings – New Zealand vocab is a mix of Australian, British, and Maori expressions.  They still have a tendancy to shorten lots of things as well as different names for things

  • Kia Ora – Maori word meaning hello or welcome in Maori, the native people’s language
  • Sweet As – sounds like sweet ass, so when someone says it to you think, whoa rude, but in context, it’s a good thing meaning cool, awesome, I’m good with that
  • Choice – great, as in that would be choice
  • Are you keen – Do you want to…
  • Heaps – a lot
  • How ya going – How are you doing?
  • Good on ya: way to go!
  • No worries: It’s okay

Things: Some of the things (items, places, and people) that have significance here

  • Shoes – No shoes, no problem.  Lots of people walk around barefoot
  • Dairy – Corner shop, convenience store
  • Coins – Still the $1 and $2 have to be the most annoying form of change because the coins add up and get heavy in the wallet.

  • Bach a summer holiday home, many on Waiheke
  • Geography – New Zealand is located on a fault which builds mountains throughout the country and fault lines of geothermal activity creating hot springs and natural gas.
  • Paua – an iridescent blue green shell known found on the beach and often made into jewlery elsewhere as abalone

  • Rubbish: Garbage
  • Wool
  • Jandals – flip flops
  • BoganRed neck
  • Op-shopOpportunity shop selling used and secondhand goods
  • Kiwi – a flightliess borwn bird, a fruit, or also used to describve someone from New Zealand.  The Kiwi bird is endemic to NZ and the national symbol.  Because they are endangered, they are rare to see
  • Chemist – pharmacy
  • Footpath – sidewalk
  • Eftop – debit card

Food and Drink

  • Kai – mauri word for food or eating, a feed
  • Chippies – potato chips
  • Cuppaa hot ‘cup of’ drink of coffee or tea
  • IDs –  International travelers need to show their passport as a form of ID when purchasing alcohol or getting into bars or clubs.
  • Burger King – it is the real Burger King, not Hungry Jacks
  • Dunkin Donuts, Wendys, Starbucks – Thanks America for making these chains worldwide
  • No Goon: The boxes of wine are reasonably priced and not the cheap statement drink
  • Skrumpy: This is the cheap drink.  A cider drink in either apple, pear or boysencideder.  It’s less than$10 for 1.25L  of drink in a plastic bottle.
  • McDonalds – They don’t have 30 cent cones, instead they are 70 – quite the splurge but worth it with free wifi.  They also have lamb burgers

  • Fish and chips – pronounced fush ‘n chups
  • Chooks – chicken
  • Pies – They make a lot of savory pies filled with meat.  They are small and made for an indivudal serving
  • Kiwi – A yummy fruit that is sold cheap here.  It is fun to eat with the spoon knife combo utensil
  • Pavlova – desert, a baked meringue cake topped with cream and fruit
  • Hokey pokey ice cream – ice cream popularly made by Tip-Top with a crunchy honey comb toffee
  • Sushi – In Australia, the whole roll was sold for less than $2 and it wasn’t sliced.  Here, they have lots of sushi stands too but they are sold by the slice.  Soy Sauce still comes in a little plastic fish
  • takeaway – to go meal
  • Countdown – the supermarket.  It has the same W symbol as Woolworths.

Other

  • All Blacks – Rugby Team see stats
  • Rivalry with Australia – Kiwis like to poke fun at the australians following a competitive nature  that they know they are behind in.  It’s all in good humor and there is no political tention or anything else
  • Backpacking: there are a lot of people living this lifestyle – both New Zealanders travelling within the country and international people.  People come from overseas with a 2 year work looking to do anything even fruitpicking.  They stay at the hostels (post to come)
  • Maori: the indigenous population of New Zealand.  They have their own traditions and language
  • Tramping: hiking.  Bush walks are really popular because of the beautiful landscapes
  • Lord of the Rings:  Middle earth isn’t exactly based on New Zealand but it was filmed around the island.  Mount Doom was filmed at Mt. Tongoriro where we hiked!  People in Wellington are going Hobbit-crazy.  Their airport has a huge sculpture and people walk are psyched for the premiere.
  • Haka: the traditional Maori war dance, the All Blacks rugby team performs it before games
  • Exchange rate: The US dollar has a better exchange rate to the New Zealand dollar.  Currently, the US dollar equals about 1.2 NZD.

Mas Vino

Another day of exploring outside of the city center of Auckland. I took a ferry out further to Waiheke Island. This island is known for there fertile soil for growing grapes and olives and produces some fine wine and olive oil. I took an hour and a half bus tour of most of the island to outlooks of beautiful ocean scenery. After the tour, I was able to hop-on and off the local bus which I took the the vineyard area. I went to Wild on Waiheke to sample their wine, a Shiraz. After I went to the next door to Stoneyridge Vineyard. I sampled their red and whites – a merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Both wineries were beautiful – they had nice indoor cafes and tasting areas with a full wine menu. I enjoyed sipping on the fine wines and photographing the beautiful area. All that was missing was a tour bus filled with rowdy college kids but I’ll get that back in Geneva.

New Zealand has been great – it was great studying the country and touring with the group as well as traveling on my own. But now after almost 3 weeks, I’m ready for my next destination – FIJI! I’m so excited! I’m flying out midday tomorrow and staying in Fiji in a hostel for a few nights and then I have booked a FeeJee experience trip that will take a tour around the island.