Room with a view

Room with a view

Monday, June 27, 2011

Paradise in Fiji

So we finally made it!

It wasn't easy. But before we find our way to Fiji, there was more to see and explore in Christchurch. We last ended with a 6 hour wait in the airport , only to be told that the best we could do was get to Fiji on Sunday at 5pm. Sadly, we would miss 2 days on the island. But we had to make the most of our time in the city. We all felt after shocks from the earthquake...some more than others. It was really disorienting. Mine woke me up from sleep and shook the bed. We got to experience the Antarctica museum which was filled with interactive fun. There was a 4D movie which made me want to go there. We saw the smallest penguins, rode out a snow storm that got down to 8 below and rode the rocky ride in the transport vehicle.

The next day, we bought rugby balls and went to the Botanical Gardens and played rugby and frisbee and took some photos. Later some of the students went see NZ students play Net Ball, which is sort of similar to our basketball only there is no backboard and it's mostly played by women, and boys playing rugby. That is such a rough sport and we found a new interest in the NZ teams that are quite good and should do well in the World Cup in September. I volunteered to stay at the hotel with Van and Makenna who were not feeling well and it was an evening filled with movies and rugby on television while the others went bowling.

Then it was time to head to Fiji and one of the longest days of my life. When we got to the airport, we found that our Quantas agent, Jan, had only booked our flight to Fiji and ticketed us which was our first problem and wait. Then we were only on stand by. Finally after an hour and a half, we were ticketed and check in could begin. By this time we are all starving by happy to see our bags moving along the conveyor belt to Fiji. The plane was delayed due to steering around the ash cloud and we finally boarded at 2 about an hour later than we were to take off. Then we sat on the plane while they drew up a new flight plane around the problematic ash clouds. Air Pacific was one of the few to fly under and around it. So we take off at 3... and its a 4 hour flight. It was one of the most unpleasant flights I can remember due to turbulence and the fact that I'm on the back row in the corner near the bathroom. It was a roller coaster ride. When we finally touch ground, it's dark and raining. There was a long line to get through customs. When we emerge, we find that our bus transport has given up on us and gone home. He had to called back so we waited another 2 hours and tried to dig up some airport food which was pretty disgusting and all the shops and restaurant were closed. We ate mostly chips and cookies for dinner. Once the guy arrives in the van, we pack up and head out for another 3 hour trip to Volivoli, a dive resort on the north side of the island. It's a very bumpy ride and no one can really sleep. Just as you would try to drift off, the pavement would turn to pot holes and gravel. The roads can best be compared to what I hear the Costa Rican roads are. When asked, I found that the government has no money to repair them and they have had the most rain this year than ever. So they wash out easily and often and then don't get repaired. Fijians make money either through tourism our the sugar cane industry. We also passed the Fiji Water plant where they gather and bottle water to send all over the world. The water at the hotel is full of minerals and making tea looks like mud. So a bottle of Fiji Water is placed in every room. We finally arrive in Volivoli at 1:30pm. IT looks like a beautiful resort, but it's raining and we were all so tired from the day.

We wake to the pouring rain that stayed with us all day off and on. Miles and Brianna and Gemina went scuba diving. I could brave the cold and wet. They said it wasn't bad and they saw amazing coral and a shark and sea worms. The rest of us stayed behind for a relaxing day. Some swam and went beach combing when the rain would turn to drizzle. They found a lot of mini-starfish and sand dollars. After lunch, we took vans into the nearest town called Rakiraki. It reminded me of Mexico long ago. Van said it reminded her of Vietnam. The coolest part was going to their open air market where farmers came down from the mountains where they would grow their produce and sell. It was under a huge tree and was not too successful with the rain. There was a covered part where the kids bought hats and coconuts. Our guide, Soni, showed us around town and then to the sugar mill which was built in 1881 and it's one of only four on the island. They work 6 months on and off. A worker cut some cane for the kids with his machete. Of course, Miles, Kevin and Van all had to have one which we found at the local grocery story in town. Hopefully they can get back to the states with them. Then Soni took us to a graveyard where the last Chief of the Ra provence was buried. He was also a cannibal and all the stones around his grave symbolize the 900 sacrifices that were made. Supposedly, it would give the chief power. Yum.

Last night, we had our farewell dinner together and afterwards, some locals performed a ceremony of drinking Kava together. Supposedly it brings peace among the people. It looked and tasted a bit like dirty water and had a tingling feeling briefly on your tongue and lips. Then one of the staff showed the kids a few dances and they taught him the Cuban Shuffle. Finally, we all went out under the stars on a sandbar for our last pow wow. It was hard to talk and concentrate while the kids yelled out, “ I just saw a shooting star.” The stars were amazing...more than I've ever see expect maybe in Colorado. But the stars are different and you can see different constellations in the southern the Southern Cross which navigates this hemisphere.

Today we wake you to magnificent sunshine! A group went deep sea fishing. Others kayaked and sunned and walked the beach harvesting shells and coral. I found a shell to use as a dish for my outside shower at home. We will stick around until 3 before heading back to Nadi to try a bit more shopping and finally leave for home at 10pm. We arrive at 10:15pm on the same day. Go figure.  

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Will we ever get out of Christchurch?

The answer to that question is not til Sunday. Quantas was not helpful and we spent 6 hours in the airport while Peter and Gemina tried to work it all out. The last word is we have a direct flight to Fiji, but it's not til Sunday at 1pm which means we won't see Fiji but 2 days. Everyone is trying to stay positive. But they kids were all looking forward to the warmth of the beach and the scuba diving. Thankfully it's direct and we won't have to lay over in Auckland. Dave has found us a nicer hotel than what we're used to so that is some consolation. We hope to go to a pub and watch the rugby match between Australia and ? tonight. Tomorrow night, The New Zealand team, the All Blacks, play so that will be fun. They love rugby like we love football. NZ is quite good and has a chance to win.

The weather is nice here in Christchurch too. I heard of another earthquake in Alaska today. When it all stop?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Off to see the results of the earthquake

We leave this morning to see what's left of of the most beautiful cities in the world. So many people have left, but many are waiting to see what the government will do to compensate them for their loss. Our bus driver, Karl, lives on the beach there and he has no toilet or running water since the February quake. Many have port-a-potties in their front yard for that reason. Should be a wild scene. The center of the city has been closed off and it's also the old part of the city and most historic. Sadly, it will never be the same.

Hi Ho Silver....Away!

Ok so we got up and made our way to Hanmer Horse Farm where we divided into two groups of ten and got our horses to ride. I was the last one to get saddled up and Tino and I were matched. He was a beautiful and quite spirited horse with lots of get up and go. We crossed creeks and up the sides of mountains...or rather large hills. We had the opportunity to trot several times and Kelsey and I, who had the faster horses, had the chance to canter...or as I said gallop. The only issue is that this was the first time I have ever been on an English saddle with no horn to hold on to. Well, it was exciting I might say. I felt Tino and I might ride off into the sunset. My legs aren't too sore tonight, but my tail bone is speaking to me.

Afterwards, the kids had an opportunity to help the owners, all females, spread hay in the arena. They helped her a lot since she was down in her back. It was a gorgeous day and fun to see everyone in a new environment. Even Karl, our driver, went with us.

After lunch, we all went to the Hanmer Hot Springs for a 2 hour soak. Some of the kids met with Ulla to talk about their photos. This was their last night with us and at the restaurant, she projected some of her photos and gave one last inspirational talk. She talks the talk and walks the walk. She dreams it and then makes it happen. I couldn't do what she does. She sleeps in jungles with all the snakes and insects and humidity...just to get the shots. We are all in awe of her.

Tomorrow is Christchurch. We are all interested to see the horror of the destruction. It should be a photographable day.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

another beautiful day in paradise

We're up for breakfast and then we're going horseback riding to the top of a mountain to photograph the view. then spend sometime in the stable with the locals for a little flavor. Then to the hot springs which are natural. We smelled the sulphur as we walked past last night to dinner. This is our last day with Ulla as she and Sebastian will leave us tonight. she will continue working with students through the day but not on the ride as she is allergic to horses. Should be a fun day.

I feel so small in a place so grand

The started on the west coast in Hokitika and ended on the east coast in Hunmer Springs. The trip across the southern alps takes about 4 hours from one side of the country to the other. It took us basically 9am to 6pm. We had a few stops along the way. Our first stop was what is called the Devil's Curve. Second, we crossed into Arthur's Pass and finally the best, Castle Hills. I believe it's where a Narnia movie was filmed. It was spectacular. It was so huge and grand that I felt so small. The hills we filled with the enormous boulders that looked down onto a valley and a sheep farm. The weather couldn't have been nicer. We ate our packed lunches and then explored the area. Finally, Sebastian, Ulla's fiance, demonstrated how to boulder climb. He is an instructor in Germany. He also leads trips all over the world to climb. Then is was back on the bus and over the mountain and into the clouds. It seemed like a different day and a different season in 15 minutes. The rest of the trip was long as I've been bitten by many sand flies and I think a flea or two at the last stop.  But we finally made it and finished the day at a wonderful Thai restaurant.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Just when you think you seen it all...

What an amazing day and night. We were out on the road early and drove up the coast toward what is called Pancake Rocks. Our family driver, Karl, somehow was distracted and we ran out of gas. But fortunately we were only 1000 meters from the entrance so we set out on another expedition along the road side. When we arrived, we were spellbound by the blowhole, the waves and the panoramic. We spent a long time there exploring and photographing. Ulla was teaching the kids some new techniques and tricks. They are really beginning to get the hang of it and taking shots I'm envious of. I hope some of my photos tell you how magnificent and powerful the sea felt today.

Once finished, we ate at the local Pancake Rocks Cafe and some had what else....pancakes. Then we drove further north to the Truman Track and had to hike down through a rainforest to get to and yet another beautiful rocky beach where we sat at tried to take it all in. You felt the rage and the power of the sea as we got down really close to the waves. The sound was deafening. The sun was making it's way down and we enjoyed the light not only on the beach, but also in the rainforest as it would light new things to see.

Once home, we ate pizza and went to see the glow worms up on the hill and tried to photograph them which was not easy and I didn't get a great shot of them. But on the way, I found something I'd been searching for. The symbol of New Zealand that you see a lot in jewelry, on t-shirts, pottery...everywhere, is the fern just unfolding. It's sort of a circular rotation. there are ferns everywhere and I mean everywhere. I've never seen a country so lush. Enjoy.