Elizabeth the Island Enthusiast

a celebration of unconventional adventures

Tag: Fiji Travel (page 2 of 2)

Greetings, Taveuni Island!

BULA and hello from mesmerizing Taveuni Island, Fiji’s third-largest island and otherwise (appropriately) known as the ‘Garden Island of Fiji’!

I can safely say is one of the most gloriously scenic destinations I’ve ever had the privilege to visit. Taveuni has proven Fiji is indeed full of wonderful surprises, and I already know I’ll be returning again someday in the future!

MajesticTaveuniIslandFiji

Let’s talk about the journey here:

I flew to Taveuni Island (Matei) from Nausori International Airport in Suva on what I’m pretty sure is the tiniest airplane I’ve ever been on thus far in my life, which was also the closest thing I’ve experienced to a roller coaster ride in a long, long time. It was wildly thrilling in the oddest, yet most natural way… At least the trip was quick enough I didn’t even have time to think about being scared!

TinyFijiAirwaysAirplaneReadyToBoardFromSuvaPeeringOutThePlaneInsideTinyFijiAirwaysPlane

Thankfully, the crew didn’t mind when I asked to move to the front of the plane upon boarding (as I had way too much carry-on luggage, per usual – I did appreciate the fact that the airport gate checkers weighed ME and my belongings as a whole though, not just my hand baggage!). I wasn’t sure if they assigned our seats based on our weight in efforts to ‘balance’ the plane, but there was no way my giant backpack, pillow, and tote bag were all going to fit underneath the seat in front of me, much less on my lap!

There were no overhead bins, seatback pockets, nor tray tables. I ended up tossing my over-stuffed backpack on the floor in the empty row next to me, where there was space.

FrontRowTinyPlaneRow1

After take-off, a few thoughts occurred to me as to perhaps why no one wanted to sit in the front row… It was situated directly next to the propellers, so needless to say it was a very loud trip (headphones helped). My entire 1-seat row shook forcefully for the duration of the flight as well, seemingly in time with the propellers…

I find it fascinating to watch them though – I remember the times I’ve taken prop planes back in the States, the windows in these rows are blocked out, so you hear the propellers’ loudness but can’t see a thing!!

Good thing my windows weren’t blocked out on this flight, because the scenery we flew over was amazing!

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Another fun part about this flight was getting to see out the front of the plane, as well as watch what the pilots were up to… It’s been a LONG time (as in over 15 years) since I’d been on a fight where I could actually look into the airplane cockpit.

The copilot appeared to double as the lone flight attendant on this little plane (which made sense considering there really wasn’t time – or room – for any in-flight service!).

It’s so much fun to watch what the pilots are doing while flying!!

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As much as I enjoyed myself up in the air, flying through a huge cloud of mist, I still wanted very badly to land, only because I couldn’t wait to see what Taveuni has in store…

Now I’m here. And so far, Taveuni Island has definitely not been a disappointment!

Golden Celebrations at the Vuda Point Marina

After Fiji won the rugby sevens Olympic gold medal on Friday, I met some volunteer friends later that evening over in Viseisei at the Vuda Point Marina, or more simply known as ‘Vuda Marina’. We’d heard they were offering $2 Fiji Gold beers all day long in apt commemoration of Olympic Team Fiji’s historic accomplishment, so obviously we had to celebrate.

Plus, generally speaking, I’ve found Vuda Marina isn’t a bad place to be, regardless of the occasion!

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Vuda Point itself is traditionally considered the initial landing site of Fiji’s Melanesian ancestors in their canoes to the island of Viti Levu, and the entire nation of Fiji. Today, Vuda Point serves a similar purpose, boasting a convenient marina for sailors and yachties arriving at the Fiji Islands from all over the world, settled alongside a classy waterfront restaurant and bar.

Fiji’s Favourite Yacht Haven,” as Vuda Marina’s website puts it.

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To my delight, Vuda Marina is one of the few places in Fiji I’ve visited so far where I feel I can wear my Lilly Pulitzer attire without any strange glances. So, I got all dressed up for the Vuda Marina gold medal celebration, even wearing my favorite 5-inch gold wedge heels (seemed appropriate).

For the record, I bring these gold heels virtually everywhere I travel (I’m capable of running in them, if necessary) – I just love these shoes. Yes, they’re impractical. No, I don’t have opportunities to wear them often. But when I do… Well, let’s just say it’s always a memorable night, one way or another.

I guess I’ve never really regarded myself as an especially practical person, anyway. I DIGRESS.

Not taken at Vuda Marina, but these are the gold shoes I'm talking about!

Not taken at Vuda Marina, but these are the gold shoes I’m talking about!

AmazingVudaPointView

Not only does Vuda Marina have delectable food, they have a fairly outstanding cocktail selection. I highly recommend the ‘Polynesian Iced Tea’ (although I’m pretty sure it should be called the ‘Melanesian Iced Tea…’).

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Apart from the great drinks, cuisine, nightly specials, and delightful live musicians that have me convinced the best renditions of most overplayed top 40 radio songs are performed with soothing acoustic guitar, Vuda Marina features a whimsical nautical-themed play area and tire swing.

While I’m certain this fantastically realistic faux-vessel, complete with striking indoor plumbing replicas, is intended primarily for the use of children (considering the boat’s facilities are entirely scaled down to pint-size), that did not stop us from thoroughly taking advantage of the site. We at least waited until the end of the night when all kids had retreated elsewhere, of course!

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Olympics in ‘Fiji Time’

For me, one of the strangest things about living in the South Pacific is the utterly confusing time difference.

Coming from North America, I’ve grown accustomed to being an entire day ahead of everyone back home, though being ‘behind’ hour-wise in whatever day I’m in. It’s self-explanatory while looking at a map of time zones, but still makes my head hurt.

This confusion is especially prevalent during this year’s Olympics.

VudaPointSunset

Lately I’ve been volunteering at a local kindergarten, where, like everywhere else it seems, the hot topic is Fiji’s acclaimed Olympic rugby team.

At one point earlier this week I couldn’t help but notice the head teacher sternly fixated on her phone, fervently reading something clearly quite serious.

“Everything alright…?” I asked cautiously.

“Ah yes,” she responded “All good. Fiji won.”

“What’s this?”

The teacher laughed. “Rugby! They just beat Argentina. New Zealand is already out, which is very good. Fiji plays the U.S. today, so good for you either way!”

Rugby isn’t a particularly common sport where I’m from, and I’d been trying to watch a legitimate rugby match since the day I arrived in Fiji, so this was definitely something I wanted to see.

“What time are they playing?” I asked.

“4:30 tomorrow morning.”

“I thought you said they’re playing today?”

“Yes, they are.”

“Wait…” I thought for a second, and then realized technically it would still be the same date in Brazil as it was currently in Fiji at 4:30 am Fiji time the next morning. Confusing to say the least!

Considering I hadn’t been remotely conscious at 4:30 am anytime in recent memory, not even with my intense jet lag the first few days here, I did not rouse early enough to view that particular game, as much as it would have pleased me to see the Fijians absolutely wallop the American team. To be honest, I was surprised the United States even had an Olympic rugby team.

“Blahhh umm errrr is it over already? They win?” I mumbled half-asleep to my roommate, a far more disciplined slumberer than I, as she quietly snuck back into our room approximately 15 minutes after attempting to stir me awake around 4:25 am for the game.

“Yep, they won,” she said grinning, after reminding me once more the fast nature of how rugby sevens work, as opposed to the ‘rugby union’ and all the other various forms of rugby, which I still have a hard time differentiating. “I think they have a real shot for the gold.”

“Wow. Yeah, that’d be cool,” I replied, not aware at the moment exactly how big a deal that would be.

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The following morning, I woke up to the news Fiji had just beaten Japan, thus ensuring them a place in the Olympic finals and chance to win a gold medal. At the very least they were guaranteed silver, which meant no matter the outcome, it would be the first time Fiji had ever won an Olympic medal in any sport in the nation’s history.

You could just feel the air buzzing with elated trepidation.

I decided that I couldn’t not watch this monumental game. After all, I’d still never seen an actual rugby game in my life, so this felt like an appropriate introduction to the favorite sport of my temporary island home.

Before the final match against Great Britain, which thankfully was broadcast at the much nicer hour of 10:00 am Fiji time, the network played all of the semi-final rounds, first being France vs. Australia in a fight to place 7th and 8th overall, then New Zealand vs. Argentina for 5th and 6th, and then Japan vs. South Africa for 3rd and 4th place, deciding who won the bronze.

It was fascinating.

I’m a huge fan of ice hockey back home (because who doesn’t love watching men crash into men on ice!?), but what I observed in the Olympic rugby sevens took my expectations as a sports spectator to an entirely new level. These good-looking men not only crashed into each other – they tackled; they rolled; they leaped; they lifted each other up in the air; anything to get the oval-shaped ball to their end of the field.

The fast-paced nature of rugby sevens added to the intensity with no tedious breaks or unnecessary time-outs, which is the primary reason why I have extreme difficulty sitting through American NFL games. These guys just kept moving.

After finding myself wildly impressed by the players’ immense athletic skill throughout the first enthralling hour and a half of rugby pre-finals, it dawned on me Fiji had defeated all of these teams. Prior to this, I’d read a number of articles describing the Fijian rugby team’s inspiring journey to the Olympics, lead by a British man named Ben Ryan, who evidently first took the coaching job down in Fiji as a cure for burnout. Now that was something I could really relate to.

Regardless, when it was finally time for the final match of Fiji vs. Great Britain, I had a strong hunch they’d win even before the game commenced – once the Fijians emerged, they ran onto the field with such gusto and pride I could practically sense their overflowing confidence bursting through the television screen all the way from Rio.

Like all the others, this game went quickly, but the poor Brits didn’t even score in the first half, much less succeed in getting the ball over to their side of the field. These Fijian men were literally human blockades. I’d never seen anything like it.

It was immediately obvious Great Britain had no chance.

Cheers could be heard all over the neighborhood throughout the game and afterwards, combined with bounteous firecrackers and the occasional live daytime firework. I found myself almost as emotional as the Fijian rugby players on TV as they accepted their well deserved gold medals.

The celebration continued on for the duration of the afternoon, and as it was conveniently a Friday, intensified throughout the evening and night (rightfully so). It was truly a historic day for Fiji!

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Weird Adventures at the Sugar City Mall

The other day I took a quick jaunt around downtown Lautoka, just for the hell of it.

Although it wasn’t a particularly lengthy expedition, it did involve a some mild exploration and tons of accidental mischief. Without trying, I have the strangest tendency of getting myself in the most entertaining situations…

Okay, some of these situations might not seem that entertaining to a lot of people, but I really enjoy taking otherwise mundane circumstances and transforming them into wildly thrilling adventure stories. I guess that’s partly why I started this site.

Like all things, the term ‘adventure’ is pretty subjective though, right? As is ‘wildly thrilling,’ but I digress…

SugarCityMall

I found myself wandering towards Lautoka’s notorious Sugar City Mall, which is one of the more decrepit shopping centers I’ve visited (if we’re being honest here), featuring a handful of seedy electronics stores, desolate kiosks and knick-knack shops, all blaring festive, upbeat Indian-style music. I will say the shops along the exterior of the mall far exceed the selection inside.

To my disappointment, the Sugar City Mall only had actual retail on its lower level, despite the fairly misleading outward appearance.

Because it seemed like the only logical thing to do, I decided to wander up the mall’s motionless moving walkway, beckoning me with its absence of signs advising the area might be ‘out of bounds.’ What I discovered was… Well, just watch the video, and you’ll see:

Time Flies When You’re Getting Sun…

I’ve been in Fiji exactly three weeks now, which feels incredibly bizarre. It won’t be long until I can say this is the most extensive amount of time I’ve ever spent abroad at once. Woohoo!

Even more bizarre, though, was the moderately-fierce storm that appeared to be brewing outside all day yesterday, at first resulting in nothing more than a sweltering, gusty wind ominously increasing momentum throughout the afternoon, accompanied by a noticeably stark increase in humidity.

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It was muggy. And brutally hot. Hot enough to transform the most minor hangover from the previous night’s casual ‘talanoa’ into a feverish, plague-like condition, reminiscent of last year’s experience at Beachcomber Island, which will forever be remembered as one of the most harrowing nights in my life.

Rest assured, once I get around to writing that story, it’ll be a fine read…

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Not even an absurd amount of time spent hanging out by the open freezer door with a pouch of frozen vegetables over my face could possibly emulate the soothing bliss one’d gain from a nice, chilly blast of air conditioning…

Oh, to feel the cold again…

I knew going into this trip there would be moments I’d miss the luxury of air conditioning, but I never realized just how much I’d learn to appreciate temperate weather.

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Neighborhood views… Always something burning nearby

When I visited Fiji about a year ago, I distinctly remember the temperatures being unexpectedly mild. To my surprise, I found myself wishing I’d packed extra long-sleeve shirts, or even a pair of jeans. At the very least, jeans would have been a preferable attire choice during my lengthy Coral Coast horseback riding adventure…

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This time around, I made a point to bring along a variety of clothing options appropriate for cooler-weather, but I’m pretty sure no jeans or coats will be used anytime soon. I’m also almost entirely certain my fuzzy hooded North Face fleece jacket and Patagonia parka (otherwise known as the “Pata-Gucci”) will remain inside my suitcase for the duration of my stay in Fiji.

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To my knowledge, no noteworthy precipitation actually occurred in the vicinity yesterday. While a suffocatingly warm, stickiness continually lingers in the air, I awoke this morning to a glorious sound – rain!

Apparently Lautoka hasn’t received a true rain storm like this in several months, which is highly unusual for the region, especially combined with the incessant heat wave.

LautokaSunsetClouds

Others grumbled slightly about the rain, appearing distraught at the absence of sunshine. I adore the sun – don’t get me wrong – but I honestly love an overcast day every now and then. Overcast weather always seems to make bright colors brighter.

Fingers crossed this storm brings a much-needed cool front over to Viti Levu’s Western Division… It is technically winter here, after all!

WailoaloaHammockSunsetFunAtWailoaloaBeach

Resort-Crashing at Natadola Beach

This past weekend I was in the mood for a fun-filled, seaside adventure. So, I headed towards Suva to check out the highly-recommended Natadola Beach, located adjacent to the town of Sigatoka on Viti Levu’s stunning Coral Coast. To get down there from Lautoka, I was given a slew of very specific directions:

Hop on a van to the Nadi bus station, then get on a bus to Suva; be sure to tell the driver you’re going to Natadola Beach only, which is the first stop, NOT all the way to Suva; you ought to sit near the front of the bus to make certain you don’t miss it. Then, once you’re there, hail a taxi to drive you the 8 kilometers over to the beach; ENSURE YOU DON’T PAY MORE THAN $8; the cabbies will do their absolute best to rip you off…

Groggy and still recovering from an asperous sinus infection, I made a number of key mistakes.

Luckily, these mistakes, some albeit arguably expensive, turned my otherwise lame morning into a wonderfully delightful afternoon.

First, rather than smartly opting for an express van to Nadi, I took what I’m fairly confident is the slowest bus on the entire island – prior to this, I was under the false presumption that the Fijian open-air ‘party buses’ blasting reggae music drive notably faster, simply because of the thumping bass and lights flashing in rhythm. This ‘party bus’ deceived me, creeping along the road so slow I realized 50 minutes into what should have been a 35-minute drive I probably could have jogged to Nadi faster.

I didn’t arrive at the Nadi bus station until almost noon, which irked me tremendously, considering I’d left the house in Lautoka just before 10:00 am. Well aware the crystal clear azure blue water along the Coral Coast would disappear with the tides in due order, I made a mental note to leave much earlier next time.

The glittering waters of Natadola Bay on Viti Levu's Coral Coast

The glittering waters of Natadola Bay, situated on Viti Levu’s Coral Coast

As I pondered whether it’d be best to just stay in Nadi and lounge in a hammock by the murky waters at Wailoaloa Beach all afternoon while staring blankly at the bus schedules to Suva, a perky Australian woman wearing a fluorescent hot pink button-down and khakis interrupted my thoughts.

“Yeh alright, love? Where yeh headed?”

“Er, Natadola Beach, I’m looking for the bus to Suva…”

“Ah! Natadola’s so lovely, has the best water, that’s for sure. Anyone with you?”

I explained to her it was just me.

“Well no worries, I’ll look after yeh, that’s where I’m headed as well.”

“Oh terrific, are you also out for a beach day?”

The woman laughed, adjusting her blonde hair, piled on top of her head in a large messy bun. “Oh no, love. Today I’m off to a goat farm.”

Before I could ask her why, exactly, she was headed to a goat farm near a bunch of world-class beach resorts for the afternoon, we found ourselves shuffled aboard an overcrowded charter bus marked ‘SUVA,’ which was jammed with three people per row nearly all the way to the back.

I hurriedly found an open space on half a seat next to two elderly Indian ladies, who both raised an eyebrow at the nautical-print romper I’d picked as my swimsuit coverup and prayed aloud as we drove past Nadi’s colossal Sri Siva Subramaniya Hindu temple.

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Finally we arrived at the stop, where a huge ad for the InterContinental and an even bigger sign with an arrow reading something to the effect of “This way to beautiful Natadola Beach! Only 8 km!” pointed towards a winding dirt road.

“Okay love, now this is where you need to find a taxi to drive you the rest of the way,” instructed the Australian woman, who though seated several rows ahead, had kindly turned around to check on me approximately every 5 minutes for the duration of the bus trip. “Oh look, there’s one now, grab it quick!”

I had already flagged it down and darted across the road. If there’s anything I learned from living in New York City for a summer back in college, it was how to hail a cab.

“Be sure you agree on the price first!” I heard the woman yell in the distance as the rusty cab floored it, speeding away down the gravel in a poof of dust.

“So uh… I’m only paying $8,” I told the driver, who promptly demanded $10 in return.

Little did he know, New York also taught me how to be a hard-ass, when necessary.

After a few minutes of squabbling, he ultimately gave in, murmuring “fine, but only because today is a holy day, I’ll agree just because it’s Sunday…”

In an instant, the driver’s embittered discontent transformed into deviously warm regards as he inquired when I aimed to return from Natadola that day, followed by an overtly-friendly questioning in blatant attempts to earn my future commerce.

“Where are you from?” he asked with an enormous smile.

“The United States.”

“Ohhh, ahhh! United States! I love the United States! I have been to San Francisco and Sacramento in the United States. I like San Francisco better than Sacramento. Are you from near Sacramento?”

“No, not really.”

“That is good,” he said, grinning. “Sacramento has much crime. San Francisco is very nice. Are you from near San Francisco?”

“No, where I’m from is pretty far from California,” I replied, glancing at my phone. It was almost 1:00 pm. I desperately hoped the tide hadn’t retreated too far, so I could have a glorious swim in that amazing, clear water…

“You want to go to the InterContinental, correct?”

“Uh sure, whatever’s easiest, I suppose…”

Then I noticed we were parked at the front gate of the resort. At once, a uniformed guard swept down from a tidy brown hut marked ‘InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa’ and asked if I had arrived for check in.

Trying to seem as legitimate as possible, I informed the guard I was just visiting for the afternoon. Surely that’s fine, I thought to myself.

“So you’re here for lunch?”

“Yes, absolutely,” I responded, doing my best to appear relatively affluent.

“You will need to buy a voucher.”

“Pardon?”

“You need to buy a voucher, then you can redeem at any of the restaurants,” the guard continued. “The minimum spend is $40. No cash.”

I sheepishly handed over my credit card after confirming the cost was in Fijian dollars, and decided that wasn’t so bad; I needed lunch anyways. Plus, $40 FJD was a price I was gladly willing to pay if it meant I could feel blissfully at ease for a couple hours.

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Escape to one of the world’s most luxurious beachfront resorts!” touts the InterContinental Fiji’s website.

Here’s a fun personal detail – a long time ago, I used to live at a 5-star luxury resort. At heart, I am a resort girl through-and-through.

Even despite the mild interrogations from numerous hotel staff members as I found myself dumbfoundedly stumbling my way towards the resort’s adults-only beachfront infinity pool, I immediately felt at home.

According to my voucher, non-overnight guests were strongly encouraged not to utilize the majority of the resort’s facilities, especially during high season.

Use of the resort amenities including (but not limited to) the swimming pools, complimentary poolside service, beach towels, sun loungers and/or beachside cabanas are exclusively reserved for paying overnight guests of the hotel… We sincerely thank you for your cooperation and understanding.

InterContinentalFijiResortMapNatadolaBeachNatadolaBeachCoralCoast

By the time I reached Toba Bar & Grill, where I planned to redeem my meal voucher, it dawned on me the resort grounds were quite empty. Exceptionally empty. Empty enough that no one would notice nor care if I chose one of the thirty or so vacant poolside chaise lounges to relax for a bit.

I safely determined it was not in fact high season and parked myself on a lounger chair, boasting a fabulous view overlooking the infinity pool with the sparkling Natadola Bay beyond.

InterContinentalFijiInfinityPoolInterContientalFijiResortInfinityPool

Not wanting to get in heaps of trouble for taking advantage of the discreet “CALL FOR SERVICE” flag cleverly attached to the side of my lounger, I sauntered over to the bar area with every intention to enjoy my lunch there, but was straightaway advised to go take a seat by the pool and order via poolside service.

Okay, if you insist…

I treated myself to a frozen strawberry daiquiri and possibly the best hamburger I’ve ever had in my life, followed by a few invigorating swims in the infinity pool to cool off from the blazing South Pacific sun. At one point a server even came by offering delectable, bite-sized skewers of watermelon – a refreshing touch to say the least!

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Once I concluded I’d roasted enough for the day, I meandered back towards the resort entrance, pausing for a just moment longer to indulge in a cup of outstanding macadamia-flavored New Zealand ice cream.

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Without question, the front desk of the hotel gladly called me a taxi for transport to the main road bus stop, thanking me for my stay as I departed.

Vinaka,” I replied, using the Fijian term for ‘thank you,’ still glowing from the generous dose of vitamin D.

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Fully expecting another tedious journey home involving multiple bus transfers and a moderately unpleasant layover in Nadi, it was by some serendipitous chance an express bus to Lautoka happened to pass by, uncrowded and air conditioned to my liking.

Thankfully, the return trip from Natadola took significantly less time than the laborious trek there, complete with entertainment the whole way consisting of an Eddie Murphy movie marathon playing on a gigantic mounted flat screen TV up front.

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There’s no doubt in my my mind I’ll be returning to Natadola Beach – I look forward to giving the InterContinental Fiji a thorough inside-and-out evaluation in the future!

******

ResortCrashingNatadolaBeach

BULA!

I’m just about finishing up my third full day here in beautiful Fiji, where I’ll be living until mid- September. Currently, I’m on the main island Viti Levu in the western division city of Lautoka, the second-largest city in Fiji (following the capital, Suva). Lautoka is also known as ‘Sugar City,’ and for good reason – it’s tucked away in the heart of Fiji’s major sugar cane growing region, encompassed by fields of sugar cane belts as far as the eye can see…

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Today was also my third day volunteering at a fairly remote Fijian primary school that was severely affected by Cyclone Winston.

I’ve never seen such a picturesque locale for a school, perched atop a mountain with striking, panoramic views of the surrounding hills and sugar cane fields with the glittering blue Pacific Ocean beyond.

FijiSchool1FijiSchool3It’s just one other volunteer and I helping out here, where we’re scheduled to assist for approximately 2 weeks. During our orientation, the headmaster of the school told us about 40% of the kids are behind in terms of literacy, so tasks largely consist of  tutoring small groups of students on basic phonics and letter pronunciation. A lot of the children come from very poor families that only speak either Hindi or Fijian at home, which is very good for maintaining cultural traditions, but not necessarily the most encouraging environment for studying English reading and writing.

As someone with zero pedagogical experience, it’s safe to say the last few days have indeed been a bit of a challenge. It’s rewarding all the same though; even in my first days here, it’s dawned on me just how severely we take certain things for granted, such as literacy or basic educational resources.

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Also, as it turns out, geckos really do make a sound like a cheeky air kiss.

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