Three weeks worth of blogging goodness!

Trip Start Feb 11, 2006
Trip End May 27, 2006

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Monday, May 1, 2006

Many apologies for the lack of posts in the last few weeks! Things have kicked into busy mode around here, so I've just had a lack of time to sit down at a computer for a few hours and put everything online. We formally finished the classroom portion of the semester about two weeks ago and we were traveling as a group last week to Vanua Levu and Taveuni, the second and third biggest islands in Fiji. As soon as we got back from the islands we started our Independent Study Project (ISP) time where we have until May 23 to do our research and write our big paper for the conclusion of the semester. After weeks of hemming and hawing, I've chosen HIV/AIDS awareness and education in Fiji for my ISP topic. The number of known HIV cases here has doubled here in the past five years so I think it's an important topic to take a look at. I'm particularly interested in what is being done to make HIV/AIDS awareness culturally appropriate since talking about sex is "tabu" or taboo. My plan is to cram as much research and writing into the first two weeks so that I can travel around Fiji for the remaining time. So far the plan is working!

Here's the synopsis of what I've been up to since I last posted. Be sure to check out the map that's in the photo album associated with the post to see where I've been:

14-17 April: Leleuvia Island in the "Leleuvia" album

Easter weekend found me on Leleuvia Island, a teeny little island northeast of Viti Levu. I think it's the closest you can come to paradise! Liz and Lauren had been there the weekend before, and Jordan and I decided to join Liz on a return trip for the long Easter weekend. We traveled from Suva to the "landing" where a small boat takes you to the island - the landing is just a few concrete steps that lead down from the highway to the river where a few boats are tied up (picture 1). We were supposed to meet at 10:00, but in true Fiji time, the people who were taking us didn't show til noon. Fiji has helped me to be a much more patient person! The trip out to the island took about half an hour and it was actually a tricky ride because the tide was out. We got stuck on a sandbar and we all had to get out and push!

As we approached Leleuvia, I honestly could not believe my eyes. The island in front of me had white sand beaches, palm trees hanging down over the ocean, aqua blue water and you could see the reef coming right up to the shore. It was absolutely gorgeous! I'll let my pictures speak for themselves. Jordan and I shared a little cabin to ourselves (pictures 34 & 35). All the facilities were rustic and pretty basic (bucket showers!) but that added to the charm of leading a simple life there. All our meals were provided and the food was excellent. No organized group activities were shoved in your face like some of the previous places I'd been. I spent the three days there just reading, hanging out and snorkelling. You can just wade into the water off the beach and stick your face in the water and it looks like you're in an aquarium. The reef is healthy and there's an abundance of beautiful and colorful fish. The only drawback is that there is also an abundance of poisonous sea snakes (pictures 14 and 15). Luckily they aren't aggressive at all (the boys on the island pick them up and chase each other with them), but for someone who is snake-phobic it's still a bit scary. They didn't keep me out of the water though! On the other side of the island (a quick trip to get there - you can walk around the entire island in about ten minutes!) there are huge trees that have drifted up on the shore. They are fun to play on and make for some great pictures!

At only $30 Fijian per night including all meals (about $20 US) plus $30 each way for the boat trip, it's probably the most inexpensive way to experience paradise. I certainly hope to go back!

18-21 April Vanua Levu trip in the "Vanua Levu" album
**if you don't have time to read, be sure to at least scroll through the pictures**

Tuesday morning we departed from the Nausori airport (about a 20 minute drive from Suva) for Labasa, one of the biggest towns on the island of Vanua Levu. It was our first in-country flight. Anyone who flies frequently would appreciate the speed of the boarding process here! You saunter through one metal detector, out a door and onto the plane. The second everyone is on board (not even necessarily seated), the plane door shuts, the pilot mumbles something and you're headed down the runway. The flight was only about 50 minutes long. I was hoping to be able to see more of the islands from the air but it was pretty cloudy. See pictures 1-13.

We met our academic director Taomi at the airport in Labasa (where her permanent home is in Fiji; she usually travels home for the weekends) and we took cabs to her house. Labasa is known for it's opressive heat, but luckily it was surprisingly cool there. We bummed around her house for a bit and enjoyed the best pineapple I've ever had in my entire life. I won't even describe it further because I'll probably start salivating. I'm going to have a hard time eating pineapple from now on because it just won't compare!

We also took a tour of a sugarcane farm that afternoon. Labasa and surrounding areas are where much of Fiji's sugarcane is grown. Even though sugarcane is one of Fiji's main industries (aside from tourism where something like 70% of the revenues leave the country because so many resorts are owned by foreigners), Fiji still only produces 5% of the world's sugar. The European Union provides a subsidy to Fiji that is triple the market price. Unfortunately that is probably going to fall through at any minute, leaving Fiji in the lurch. After seeing how many people are affected by sugarcane both directly and indirectly, it's easy to see that any sort of event that wipes out cane can easily put a huge number of people who are already struggling financially into even deeper economic distress.

That night we stayed in pairs with Indian families. Jordan and I stayed together with a family that lived about 20 minutes from the town. The mom was a schoolteacher, the dad was a office machine technician, and they had two kids, Gareth age 13 I think and Samantha age 9. Both grandmothers lived there as well. With Jordan and I there, it was a full house!

Wednesday we spent driving around Labasa and seeing the various sights. We spent part of the morning at the secondary school and we had an opportunity to go into some of the classes to talk to the students. I told them a bit about myself and where I was from and then they had an opportunity to ask questions. The most popular questions were about September 11th and if I had ever been to Hollywood and met any celebrities.

That evening we celebrated Liz's birthday with a barbecue feast, birthday cake and, of course, lots of kava. We all camped out on Taomi's floor a la slumber party that night before getting up in the morning to make the drive to Savusavu, on the southern part of the island of Vanua Levu. We got to drive through the mountainous interior of the island - talk about amazing views!

We had two nights in Savusavu, another port town that is making it's way into the world of tourism. It's pretty popular with the yachting population - I even saw a boat there with New York listed as its home port! Our time in Savusavu was very relaxed. The highlight of the trip was our excursion to Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, which was voted the number one eco-friendly hotel in the world (pictures 66-75). We had arranged to meet with the marine biologist on staff there to talk about eco-tourism and he took such good care of us. We arrived and were welcomed to the breakfast buffet. In a hotel that costs upwards of $1000 US per night, that's a big deal! We also got a tour of the property and what's being done to keep it eco-friendly: replanting mangrove swamps, developing their own waste water treatment system, using solar power and other things. We also got to go snorkel on their reef, and drumroll please... we saw two sharks! They were white tipped reef sharks which aren't aggressive, but I was still happy to observe them from a nice distance.

22-24 April Taveuni trip in the "Taveuni" album

In the morning we hopped on the big ferry for the four hour boat ride to Taveuni, which is known as the Garden Island. Just the short trip from the ferry to our backpackers was enough to prove why: there's greenery and vines and lush trees and undergrowth everywhere! The air is fresh and clean; it made it hard to come back to Suva! We stayed at Beverly's Campgroup, a little place on the beach with pre-pitched tents and one dorm building. I made sure to take a picture of me hugging the Beverly's sign since it's the closest I've been able to get to my mom since I've been here! We slept in the dorm with mattresses on the floor (pictures 79-82). There's a common covered area with a kitchen and picnic tables where we cooked our own breakfast. The beach is absolutely beautiful and the campground has kayaks that you can take out for free. I went out twice - once at sunset! It was amazing!

Highlights from Taveuni include the Lavena Coastal Walk (pictures 14-37) and Bouma waterfall (50-57). The walk along the coast took about an hour and a half out to the waterfall. After getting hot and sweaty on the walk up, a swim up the creek to the base of the falls was perfect. The pictures I have can't really do it justice because the best view is from right in the basin of the falls and you have to swim to get there so I couldn't take my camera. The Bouma waterfall was equally as impressive. You could climb up behind the waterfall and jump into the water. The village kids were happy to take us all under their wings and show us how it's done!

The trip home from Taveuni was an adventure in itself. We were supposed to leave
Taveuni at 10:15am and we didn't get back to Suva until 10:15pm. With my typical airline luck, our first flight got cancelled because three of Air Fiji's planes were down. We finally got to leave around 4pm, but we had to split the group up. There was room for two people to go directly to Suva on the 4:00 flight, but the other five of us had to fly to Nadi at 4:10 and then connect to Suva. The direct flight to Suva made it without incident, and we made it to Nadi safely as well. We had to switch planes at the Nadi airport. That flight left on time at 5:30 as planned, but five minutes into the flight we had to turn around and land back in Nadi due to "mechanical difficulties." One of the wing flaps got stuck. The only other flight to Suva later that night was on that same plane, so we were
left high and dry. When they finally found another plane, there were 27 people for 15 available seats. We ended up having to drive back to Suva and let's just say we're lucky to have made it back alive. Never again will I take a minibus along that road at night! Apparently passing on blind curves and driving in the other lane is common practice for minibus drivers, but it certainly sent my blood pressure through the roof. But all's well that ends well I suppose and I have another interesting story to tell people.

My current status

I'm in research mode right now and hoping to have the majority of my paper complete by the end of the week. I spent the last few days in Cuvu, the first village we visited in Fiji. There's a nursing station there as well as a bigger health clinic in town and I was able to visit both and get some good interviews with the staff. I stayed with Paul, one of the Peace Corps volunteers who is assigned to work in Cuvu. I picked a great time to go to Cuvu - when I arrived a wedding reception was in full swing and on Friday afternoon there was a big community even to raise money for a valenikana, or dining hall for the school. It was really cool to see the events from more of a village perspective. In the past when I've seen similar events, it's been as a performance or special treat for the six of us girls on the program. This was awesome because it was really real - I just happened to be there. It also took me out of the insular bubble of being with the other girls. I didn't have five other people as a crutch, nor could I stick to Paul's side because of the gender divide. I had to forge my own way with the other women. It was an awesome few days for researching and experiencing more of Fiji. I'm already sad to be back in Suva!

As of now, I've moved out of the Colonial Lodge and I'm spending this week in Suva with Spencer, another Peace Corps volunteer. He lives within walking distance of campus so it's easy for me to get here to use the computers. I have interview appointments all this week, and I hope to spend all other free moments writing so I can get this thing done and over with!

That's all for now! Love from Fiji!
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