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.