I hate that i have to say this, but i arrived in Frankfurt yesterday after 24 hours of flight and one night in Korea for transit.
It was a strange feeling to finally get back to Germany, a completely different world. It was sad to say good bye to the people I had spent almost everyday with during the last 6 weeks, although I am of course happy to hug my family again. My German family.
I learnt many lessons here in Fiji and I am going to write down some of them as well as I can.
I learnt about giving. People in Fiji don't have much, but they still give. Some even give more than they should. Having been raised in a society in which everyday life mainly deals with earning more, having more and keeping what you have, this was new to me. But once I tried it myself, I learnt that giving feels good. That being to attached to your belongings holds you back. Of course I did not give away my phone and my credit card, but still I became a little less attached, a little more giving.
I learnt about smiling, about being friendly. It is hard to believe how much a smile from a random stranger in the bus who you have never seen and who you will never see again improves your quality of life. Especially compared to the anonymous, neutral faces in the buses back home. I mean, I remember that I used to be afraid of people because I did not want them to think that I am flirting. Isn't that ridiculous? Hell, smiling does not hurt!
I learnt about patience. "No hurry, no worry". Of course being on time is important in some situations and being to relaxed about work and studies is not good either, but it is easier to be happy as soon as you stop putting pressure on yourself. When the bus is late, you can not do anything about it anyway. It does not help to be in a bad mood about delays, that is just bad for yourself. The world will not end because of you arriving half an hour later than planned. Or one hour. Or even two hours. And when you keep hurrying up wherever you go it is hard to enjoy the nice things of life. Sunshine, flowers, whatever. Things you only see when you slow down.
I learnt about travelling. Before I came i was eager to go to as many countries as possible, but the number is not the point. I met a lot of backpackers who had travelled a lot of countries in few time, but I doubt that many of them really experienced the culture of those countries. Fiji is tiny in contrast to countries like China, but even two months living there have not been enough to experience it. You can only truly experience a country by living there, working there. A few weeks wandering from hostel to hostel are not enough, at least not for me.
If you ever get to this part of the world, Fiji is certainly worth a visit. A long one if possible ;)I have fallen in love with this beautiful pacific island and it changed my view on the world and life.
It is time to say Moce now, for now. I will be back as soon as possible. Vinaka Fiji, vina valevu Sigatoka. I will miss you!
During the last two days on Taveuni we managed to explore the Island despite of my flue (with a veeeery slow walking pace... I guess I will be called "grandma" or "baby giant" for the rest of my life...)
We did the Lavena coastal walk, a 4,5 km walk which starts where the road ends ands goes along beautiful beaches, villages, over three small rivers and finally ends in a stunning whaterfall, way bigger than all the whaterfalls on the main land.
We also visited the Bouma national park, famous for its three waterfalls: The first, 60 meter high one close to the street, the second one a thirty minutes walk up in the jungle and the third one (a triple waterfall) another very slippery twenty minutes away.
Taveuni is called the Garden Island of Fiji for a reason, it is full of wonderful tropic flowers and colorful birds which make it a stunningly beautiful place full of life.
But, of course, in the end we had to leave... But Taveuni is a place to come back to and I didn't go diving there, which ist a must do. So, one more reason to come back :D On rainy winter days in Germany I will certainly think of this place. So, we had to say "Moce (good bye) Taveuni".
We had to get back to Sigatoka because there was a big charity event in a fancy hotel for the national park. The food was amazing, but the rest of the evening was quite boring... Well, the first and only time I had put on make up in Fiji :,D.
I started my PADI diving course, but after the first day I caught a horrible ear inflammation. Whatever you do, NEVER EVER go diving with a cold. I went to a doctor (which in Fiji you only do when it is REALLY bad, because medical care in Fiji sucks) and was told not to dive for the next two weeks.. hm, so much about my diving in Fiji. But as I said, I will come back anyway.
To finish my two month I spent a week on the Yasawa Island, the number one tourist spot in Fiji. The Yasawas are an island chain in the west, mainly characterized by its beautiful white beaches and blue water. It certainly was beautiful over there and I certainly enjoyed it, I swam with manta rays (man, those were hudge), visited a cave, enjoyed beautiful sunsets and the stars. But, honestly, after a month in different villages the resorts on the Yasawas were just a fake Fiji to me. I mainly spent my time talking to the staff anyway. Still, I had a really nice time over there and goin by boat from island to island was a lot of fun. It felt good to come back to "my" vilage though, especially being welcomed by a beautiful little girl screaming "Vavalangiiiiiiiii"
So, in the end we finally did make it to the ranger's place and solved the misunderstanding!
The village we stayed in, Waisali, is amazing. It is located half an hou's walk (or let's say climb) downhill from the main road next to a river. People live in a very natural way, in decent huts with solar energy (sometimes...). They mainly eat what they grow and cook on open fire. The cows and horses I have seen there looked quite happy, too.
Once again the hospitality of the people made me speechless. Not only did we get our own hut and bathroom, they also went wild pig hunting for us (on horseback, with a speer and dogs) and caught freshwater prawns to cook us the best meals they could offer.
The nearby river is perfect for swimming and even the one hour's walk to the next (tiny) shop was fun as I am simply not used to the jungle vegetation.
We were sad that we could only stay two nights (first night: welcome kava party. second night: good bye kava party. I kind of like their way of thinking ;,D), but we had to leave for our boat to Taveuni. Still, I promised to come back and I absolutely intend to keep this promise...
Taveuni is a smaller island right next to Vanua Levu, also known as Fiji's garden island, and it is famous for its beautiful national park and waterfalls, as well as its reefs. We arrived after a quite tiring journey and as there was literally nothing moving in town (sundays on the islands are quite calm...) we just had a calm night to regain our energy and good mood.
The waterfall-slide we visited the next day certainly helped us doing that. There was nobody around, so we could enjoy the natural slide on our own. (If I may quote my best friend back in Germany: "O man, a natural whaterfall slide? Mother nature is so cool!!" Jep. I was thinking the same ;) )
Unfortunately, I caught a huge cold that day. I would have really enjoyed the bus trip along the shore to the lodge at the end of the road, if i hadn't been shaking from fever. When we finally arrived I was just happy to lay down. Luckily I had my private nurse with me who cooked me soup. Thanks Jim. (I decided to ignore the comments about how shitty I look and the pictures you took of me :P )
It took us the next day to get cash and food as the transport situation is quite bad in Lavena, the village at the end of the road where we stayed. So, we went two and a half hours in bus to the next cash engine, went shopping for half an hour and then waited three hours for the bus back. Hm, at least we could wait in a beach.... And I couldn't have done anything else that day anyway. Another important thing I have learnt on my first big trip: Always stay positive! :,D
Sorry that it took me so long, but the internet situation during the last two weeks was kind of hopeless..
So, I am going to take a break talking about cultural differences and update my Fiji-adventure-status ;).
I left the national park for one and a half weeks to explore Vanua Levu, the smaller one of the two big Fiji islands, and my Fiji foster brother Jim eventually decided to come with me. After five hours in a bus and ten hours on a boat we finally arrived in Savusavu at 5 am, a really pretty small marina town with boiling hot springs.
We waited for sunrise and then took a bus up in the hills to a national park as we planned to stay at one of the Rangers' place and we anticipated that he would be there. Well, a nice plan in theory, but it didn't quite work ourt. Although the park was supposed to open at nine, after one and a half ours of waiting in front of the closed gate in the rain, there was still no ranger to be seen. Hm.
I will never forget the face of a passing by truck driver certainly wondering what the hell a white girl was doing there in the rain, in the middle of nowhere in the jungle brushing her teeth. Well, after 20 hours of traveling I simply needed to. :,D Without battery on our phones and really tired we finally caught a cab back to town and found an okay room in a guest house... The bus ride to the park was completely worth the waiting though.
Everything is green and full of life and flourishing. The view from the top of the hills over the rain forest and the sea was absolutely amazing.
After a night in Savusavu we continued to Labasa, a city on the other side of the island where Jim had a cousin and a friend we wanted to visit. On our way there we finally got to enter the national park and do the rainforest walk. We met a ranger there, but we didn't know that this was not the ranger we had talked to via Facebook before. We kind of wondered why he didn't expect us at all but we were to shy to ask, so we just continued our trip. Big misunderstanding. We would need some more days to solve it... What a chaos trip! The jungle track we did was really fun though.
We had just arrived in Labasa, when we were told via message that BOTH the cousin and the friend had gone to the main island that same day, so we had to stay in a hotel at the river side for two nights. Although our plan hadn't worked out at all again, we were compensated by a beautiful view out of our room in the morning.
Next day we had a beach day at a small private beach behind a valley of coconut trees to relax a little...
I had my first sugar cane that day and it is SO delicious! (Although I was a little worried about breaking my teeth...) You just take a mouth full, soak the sweet juice out and then spit the rest out. Normal sweets are boring compared to this!
Walking back through the beautiful landscape made us enjoy our dinner afterwards.
After all, despite of all the failed plans we managed to haver a great time! It would be boring if everything worked out anyway ;) !
Okay, how to understand Fiji 2.0:
• Life at home:
Houses here in Fiji are quite different. Because it never gets really cold, they don't need to be as massive as in Europe. Buildings with more than one floor are very rare in the villages, as well as brick-built houses. Corrugated iron is quite a common building material.
In the houses, a lot of family members live together. There are hardly any massive doors, the small rooms are mostly separated from the main living room by curtains.
In a Fijian house it's unlikely to find chairs or a table as people eat, relax and even sleep on woven palm tree mats in the ground. As soon as you get used to it, it is really comfortable. And kind of more natural than sitting on chairs, when you think about it.
When relatives or friends come for visit, they usually sleep in the living room on the floor with a blanket. Many Fijians prefer to sleep with everybody else in one room than sleeping in a separated room.
Oh yes, the Fijians love their carbs... It's normal to have kasava (Fijian potato), rice, noodles AND bread in one meal... Furthermore, they eat kilos of breakfast crackers and French loafs (white soft bread) during their several daily tea times.
Besides that, the markets boast in tasty fresh fruits and vegetables which of course find their way into the meals. Pork is usually reserved for special occasions, so fish, chicken or vegetarian meals are usual. As almost half of the population has Indian roots, there are very good curries to get, too.
My personal favorites are the roro, some spinach-like vegetable cooked in coconut milk, and the kokonda, fish cooked in coconut milk.
The ugly truth is: Good chocolate is very expensive here as it is imported from other countries ???. The Indian sweets kind of keep me alive though.
still to be continued ? ...
Well, I think it's time to talk about the aspects that are making my Fiji experience so unique and fascinating, the reasons why I had travelled to the opposite side of the world. The things you only get to understand when you leave the hotel areas: the cultural differences.
Of course, I don't claim to understand this amazing culture after such a short time, but people here are excited about explaining their customs if you're just a little curious and interested.
• First and most importantly: Family. Okay. You may have to read this two times, it's really complicated ?. Families are huge, everybody has a ton of aunties, uncles and even more cousins. There are two kinds of cousins: If your cousin's mother and your mother are sisters, in Fiji then you are regarded as and raised like siblings. Same when your fathers are brothers. When your cousin's father and your mother are siblings, you are just "normal" cousins (tavarlays). To make it easier to understand for foreigners, they call the first kind of cousins "cousin-brothers and cousin-sisters".
Tavarlays constantly make fun of each other, and because everybody has round about 100 tavarlays , life in the village seems to be one big joke. People are constantly laughing and screaming.
Families care for each other. For every marriage, birthday or any big event you are expected to contribute in some way, as well as children (especially the boys) usually finance their families. That maybe doesn't sound like a big deal for us, but as families are so big, there is some event almost every week, which can turn out to be quite... let's say demanding. But in return, when you are the one to marry or whatever, you can be sure to get help from everybody.
• Second: Fiji time.
Yep. Fiji has its own time. And I am not talking about time zones. In one month here, I have hardly ever seen a Fijian walking in a hurry or running (except of when they play sports, of course ?). Fijians take their time, whatever they are doing. The buses, ships and vans do,too. If you miss the bus, well there will certainly be another one. If the bus is 45 minutes late, well, why bother about it? As long as you arrive... The relaxed and completely unstressed attitude is hard to understand for some of us western people who are used to get everywhere and do everything as fast as possible. But once you adapt to Fiji time, take a deep breath and leave the stress behind, you will understand why they say "no hurry, no worry" here. It's way easier to be happy like this. Still, I understand why this mentality is not really helpful for establishing a competitive and well working economy. There are also disadvantages in procrastination, which is definitely an important word in Fiji. Even in Fiji's most important sport, rugby, this gets obvious. There is always a notable change in the intensity of the game towards the end ?.
To be continued... ?
Did I write "I think I will find something to do here" in my last blog entry? I did, and actually a lot faster than I had expected. I left the resort I stayed in after five days. It was a really beautiful location and I met a lot of nice people there, but in the end I got a little bored, so I decided to move. I went to Sigatoka, a very small town next to a river. The resort I went to was completely empty, so the staff (which was incredibly nice) gave me a bungalow for myself although i just paid for the dorm (12 euros). So I had my OWN bathroom and kitchen and there was no one else in my bedroom! You really start getting happy about small things while traveling low budget. Like clean laundry. Or one night without snoring Australians in your bedroom ?.
The staff was quite bored because nobody was there, so I chatted with them and it didn't last long until they invited me for kava to their village. So, that was my first "original" kava. In the villages here there are no closed doors. You will always be welcome and they don't really make a difference between "yours" and "mine". The kava ceremony was fun, although everybody was very young, so you could call it a modern version. Usually when you are invited to a village you are supposed to bring a sevu-sevu, a small gift, mostly a little bag of kava or a kava root. You give it to the chief of the village, but in my case we didn't. Before you get the coconut bowl filled with kava, you clap your hand and say "bula!", then you drink it and clap three times after. I didn't really understand what you are supposed to say after drinking ?. Kava makes you sleepy and relaxed and after one hour I was really ready for bed... I had very interesting dreams that night.
Next day I went to the Sigatoka sand dunes national park because I really felt like using my legs. It is a beautiful and special place, unique in the pacific. Thousands of years ago people here used to burry their dead here, which is why bones and parts of pottery are still found frequently.
When I told one of the Rangers my turtle volunteer story, I was immediately offered to volunteer in the park for a time. As this was exactly what I had hoped for, of course I said yes. One of them even invited me to live with him and his family in his village. The people here are really poor compared to the standards of Germany. They live under very decent conditions, and I what I have seen is still the more developed part of Fiji. Up in the highlands it has to be way worse. Nevertheless people here are incredibly giving and hospitable. I was welcomed like a family member and I'm really looked after. Actually, everybody seems to be related to everybody in "my" village. I have given up remembering who is whose cousin, brother in law or third aunt once removed.?
Work in the national park is absolutely relaxed. It's a Fiji style kind of of volunteering, as I spend most of the day hanging out with the Rangers, drawing, eating or accompanying student groups on the walk through the park. I even built my first tipi.. Don't ask for the purpose, it was fun ?.
Oh yes, we had REALLY good food on world Rangers day...
I'm sorry if I keep repeating myself, but I keep being overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people. I've been in Sigatoka only for a short time, but I already have a new big brother and a little sister who happily cries out "vavalangi" (which means white girl in Fijian) whenever I enter the house and doesn't give up until I carry her around or play with her.
Well, the last days have been interesting. The "turtle conservation program" was shut down after the police came (there is a law in Fiji to protect turtles as they are threatened by extinction). A girl made a... ehh... Let's say critical Facebook post. I think "inhuman" and "animal torture" were some of the words she used. However, Green Lion (the organization here in Fiji which is responsible for the coordination, accommodation and the actual projects) informed us (after a lot of semi-true excuses and explanations) that we could choose if we want to try a different project or get our money back. It wasn't really a hard decision. I'm just glad that I got my money back without any problem because I know about 7 people who had to go to court to get some of their money back because the agencies made a lot of great promises without keeping them. What they offer is not really volunteer work, here they call it voluntourism. A lot of money which doesn't actually help anybody but just finances the international agencies. I got quite disillusioned about volunteering here. I left the volunteer house as soon as possible and went to a resort. The turtles were set free, but they are probably dead because they have been in the tank for too long and weren't able to survive anymore. I'm so sorry for them.
But well, you don't make experiences without trying things, and sometimes something goes wrong. Maybe it's all for the best. Now I have 7 weeks left in Fiji. I think three weeks of traveling will be fine, but after that... The resort life is nice and you meet a lot of interesting people, but it has nothing to do with real Fiji. People here don't live in nice resorts and have a beach right in front of their doorstep. What you can learn from the Fijians you don't learn in the resorts. And I actually came to do something here. So maybe I'll find a project which actually helps somebody and is not just a way of making money. I'm sure I will find something to do.
Yesterday was amazing. We did a horse trip to some waterfall (well, that's what they called it ?) actually it was maybe half an hour's ride and then an hour's walk through the jungle. Barefoot. Through the muddiest mud you can imagine. I loved it. He whaterfall was beautiful and I had so much fun. I think I've never been that muddy and dirty ?. I think I broke a toe, but it will be fine.. I guess... However, it was worth it!
I had my first kava (or however it's spelled...). It's the typical Fijian drink, made from some root. It actually tastes like mud water, but I like the ritual ?.
So, my tourist days are over now, my project has started...
The days before I went to Suva for my Fiji introduction week were quite great. The Fijian people are incredible. One afternoon I went to Nadi by bus (it is located maybe 10 km from the hotel I stayed in). If you want to experience a culture, just go by bus. Window screens are completely overrated, aren't they? The bus actually sounded like a volcano just before eruption and I had at least five oh-my-God-I'm-going-to-die-moments, but the unlimited view of the Fiji landscapes and the really REALLY loud music just made me happy.
There was a woman in the same bus who started talking to me and then eventually decided to show me around in Nadi, she even accompanied me back to my bus and waited With me for 30 minutes because she was worried about me not finding my way back. She even invited my to her village.
The market was a nice place (especially for vegetarians ?????). I ate the BEST pineapple ever.
Next day I went to a so called "eco friendly adventure park" where I did some zip lining and visited a whater fall in the jungle with a Girl from the UK. We had a great time (especially doing the zip lining upside down ?) and the jungle (well, the touristy 500 meters we actually saw...) is beautiful.
I'm getting really used to wearing a sulu (a sarong)... They are quite comfortable ?
Well, after these days I was really optimistic about starting my project, but I got very disillusioned as soon as I arrived in Suva (fiji's capital town). The accommodation for the volunteers is okay. Let's call it decent, although there still is a big difference between dirty and decent I think. But I can cope with that, this is not the actual problem. I talked to some people who already did the so called turtle conservation program (and stopped it, for good reasons). It actually consists of two perfectly healthy turtles kept under awful conditions in some kind of bathtub like pool. So, they kind of torture turtles just to be able to call it a "project". And I actually support this with my money. I will take a look at it all as soon as I get there as the project takes place in another island. The location has to be beautiful and I'm sure I can still have a great time with the people there (25 people for 2 turtles... Makes sense, doesn't it?), but this is simply wrong.
We will see what I can do about it. But I will certainly not be the first one to complain.
I finally arrived! Meeting people lasted exactly 16 hours (flight included). It is so easy to start a good conversation here. Fiji is amazing, I haven't seen anything yet but I am already in love. My taxi driver even gave me his phone number in case I want to do a home stay... People are laughing and joking all day although I imagine life is quite tough for the locals here.
When I first arrived at the hostel, I was completely done ( I think I have never been that tired ??) but this view helped my to overcome that quite quickly:
I had to wait for my room some hours, but here is a good place to wait and my only struggle was not to fall asleep to early... The room is okay, although everybody else pays half the price I do. Next time I will book with hostelworld.com....
I enjoyed my first sunset here and went to bed at seven... I have never slept that well, although I share a room with three guys. Luckily nobody snored ?
On my first day I did a daytrip to a small island called Tavua with a British guy I had met the day before. It was just a tiny island in the middle of the sea, but it looked like paradise. We did some snorkeling and the food was veeery good, but the stay was way to short. Fijians smile and sing and laugh a lot, what is even more wonderful than the beautiful landscapes.
All of this made me overcome my jetlag quite fast. I think I got a beautiful first glimpse at fidji ? I am just happy to be here!