We found it very fitting to put your photo on VAPOR TRAIL … for different reasons of course!! ;o) We love you despite your vapors!!
Category Peace Corps Fiji 09-10
Happy Mother’s Day!
Since returning from New Zealand we have noticed a marked change in the weather. I think the hot season is finally abating a bit and we are in store for milder temperatures. Last November I was speaking with a third year volunteer and he advised that if I could make it through February, the worst would be over. I’m beginning to think April is a more appropriate cut off for the transition from hot to mild. Regardless, it is better now and I’m trying to enjoy every minute of it.
Today I weeded the path to the compost bin, which was clear just two weeks ago. Before I hacked away at it like a drunken cricket player I couldn’t even tell where the original path was. My old garden, which was wiped away by Tomas, is now almost completely covered with weeds. Even the Baca tree is starting to green up again. I’m amazed at how quickly the vegetation has recovered after the widespread destruction caused by a category four cyclone.
Yesterday I made a big step towards re-building the garden and re-establishing the green zone around our house. The bele patch across the footpath from our house was blown down by Tomas. Thankfully a few of the stubborn plants continued growing in their cyclone induced horizontal position. Bele is pretty easy to plant as all you have to do is take a stem, cut it half, and stick it in the ground. I gathered up 26 stems and planted them along the fencerow in our front yard. It is much easier to weed this area and hopefully they will provide good growing paths for the long beans I’m trying to start there as well.
I threw a few cabbage and eggplant seeds out among the second garden I built on the east side of the house before we left to New Zealand. Several sprouted up and now I have about 8 cabbage and 5 eggplants on their way to healthy plants. I transplanted a tomato plant from my nursery to the new garden and moved a struggling capsicum and basil plant from the first garden. Hopefully the shade the new garden receives will help the plants fair better during the hot days.
In other news, the dogs are getting much worse. I have come close to loosing it several times since returning from New Zealand and am trying desperately to maintain my sanity. The main problem I have are the owner’s absolute refusal to try and control their mangy mutts. Not only do they not feed them, give them vaccinations, or spay or neuter them, but they completely ignore the incessant barking of their dogs all throughout the night and dog pack fights right outside their front doors. Most recently dogs have started cornering other dogs in the bush and barking at their victim for hours on end. One night I got so frustrated I grabbed my cane knife and climbed the hill outside our house fully prepared to decapitate one of the four-legged demons.
This particular dog had been barking for hours at a helpless smaller dog stuck in the bushes. I could hear the owner playing the guitar, drinking grog, and singing songs next door so I new they were fully aware of what was going on but for some reason they either choose to ignore it or just don’t give a crap. I really don’t comprehend how a responsible dog owner can stand by when their dog attacks another dog for hours on end and do nothing about it. This is especially disconcerting given the number of small children, many barely able to walk, strolling around the village at all times of the night and day. It would take less than a minute for one of these disease ridden hell beasts to seriously maim or kill a small child. I’ve personally witnessed our neighbor’s dog attack a nine year old girl at least 5’-0” tall. If one dog will do that, I can’t image what they could do to a small child while roaming uncontrolled in a pack of 10 other dogs.
A few nights ago during a full moon I felt like I was in the middle of a coyote pack. About 100 dogs starting howling and yipping in unison and then eerily stopped after about 10 minutes. This cycle continued throughout the night while in between the group howls, packs of 10-20 dogs would dart up and down the village footpaths viciously growling and fighting each other.
We know we aren’t the only ones bothered by the wild dogs as the chiefs of the village brought the dog issue up in January’s community meeting asking all the owners to respect the one dog per household rule. Samalu, the council chairman, said he would bring it up in the February council meeting to discuss a resolution. Before that council meeting I noticed it wasn’t on the agenda and asked him why. He said he forgot and would bring it up during the meeting. We reached the end of the meeting and he had still failed to mention it so I brought it up before the 13 councilors. It was discussed in Tuvaluan for about a minute and the meeting was over. I asked Samalu what the resolution was and he changed the subject. Later that week when discussing dogs with Samalu hoping there was some sort of plan to address this problem he joked around that even he was breaking the rule on the number of dogs allowed per household and then conveniently changed the subject.
Every time I bring the subject up with other councilors they give me a blank stare and start talking about something else. When I ask my neighbor to control his dogs he either keeps walking without responding or simply ignores the request. I’m quite frankly flabbergasted at the whole thing and often it feels like I’m in an episode of the twilight zone. Third world or not, nobody has an excuse to be an irresponsible pet owner.
2010-05-05: Pre-dinner Drinks
I’m a big fan of pre-dinner drinks. During our tour of New Zealand every bed and breakfast we stayed at offered free pre-dinner drinks. At Quickenberry it was great fun yarning away with a couple of glasses of wine, a large fire, and warm hospitality. We met folks from Switzerland and Alaska and perhaps would not have spent much time with them if it had not been for the pre-dinner drink programming. While staying in Wanaka the bed and breakfast had a special area designated for pre-dinner drinks and we got to know a father and son from Florida. Again, this probably would not have happened without the pre-dinner drink festivities.
Besides the good conversation and meeting new people, it is also a good way to keep from over consuming. Even if you have a few too many during pre-dinner drinking, it isn’t likely you will go too crazy as hunger or pre arranged times for dinner will put an end to it. After dinner is over we were typically too full to drink anymore making the temptation to keep consuming slight. Overall, it is a great tradition and I think Americans should follow the New Zealander’s lead with pre-dinner drinking.
2010-04-28: Back to the Bush
Nadi has a way of quickly letting me know I am back in Fiji. The first sign was the 86 degree temps and moist air as we walked the tunnel up to the terminal. The second was the warm Fijian smiles and greetings of Bula! as we met several pairs of staff along the way. In Fiji everyone works in teams. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone working alone. From road crews to bathroom cleaners, there is always a partner nearby. I like that.
As we entered the customs queue we were curious if our PC no-fee passports would allow us entry into the Fijian citizen line, which is always much shorter. Going the conservative route we lined up with the 100 or so other tourists from New Zealand and Australian awaiting their interview and stamps. The customs agent was a very friendly Indo-Fijian and advised us next time we should use the other line.
This experience compared with the one in New Zealand was much different. First of all international passenger entry room in New Zealand is large enough to host the Rugby world cup with enough stanchions and pedestrian gates to run three theme parks. The customs agents resemble Jack Bauer as they penetrate your facial expressions with inquisitive gazes. The questioning process is recorded by cycloptic, bugg eyed cameras perched over the questioner’s right shoulder as your every reason for existence is called into question. I felt like I was on an episode of Lie to Me.
As we approached the escalator to the baggage carousel Kelly and I reflected on the intimate moments she had with the steely beast just 11 short months ago. A couple of days before departing to Fiji she broke out of her denial that she would really have to wear dresses for the next 27 months and scampered off to Target in a cold sweat to buy a handful of ankle length dresses. Because she had waited so long there wasn’t enough time to hem some of the longer dress purchases. Thus created the perfect storm between her newly purchased Amish dress and a carnivorous escalator as we traveled from the plane to the bus after arriving in Fiji for the first time. As she approached the base of the escalator and prepared to exit the lower landing, the hem of her dress became entangled in the retreating steps. Thankfully the mechanisms halted to a stop with a booming echo. This off course attracted the attention of many teams of Fijian staff as they all examined the situation with genuine curiosity but vacant resolve to do anything about it. Thankfully the go-getter Melissa Goldman showed up on the seen with a pair of scissors and quickly freed the captive. We all had a good laugh and saw this as a sign of more equally entertaining and yet frightening experiences ahead.
Back at the airport this time … we gathered our belongings and took advantage of a few Duty Free purchases which where 75% less expensive without the tax. Fiji is a Tea Partier’s dream. The next phase was finding a cab to a fellow volunteers house whom kindly agreed to letting us crash at her place the night before catching our final flight out to Savusavu the next day. Unfortunately she doesn’t live near major landmarks so describing the destination involves a bit of interpretation. I guess 12 days in the western world was just long enough to make us naïve tourists again and the targets on our foreheads where just too much for the local staff to resist. A motherly Fijian women smelled blood and quickly directed us to other well dressed Fijian men as we ambled through the departing terminal. I suspected something was up when he started leading to the exit away from the cab stand. Soon our new escort was loading us into a very nice passenger van with tinted windows and a graphics package. My ‘your about to get screwed’ alarm finally went off, and I asked him how much all this was going to cost. He said $25 dollars, about twice as much as our friend had advised us it would be. I quickly grabbed the bag he had loaded into the van and asked him where were the metered taxis. He and a nearby gathering of other well-dressed Fijian men promptly proceeded to tell me meters don’t apply in Nadi for trips longer than 16km. This was interesting as our friend who lived there advised us this was not true and that we would have to insist on running the meter. Perhaps even more telling was the fact that this new flock of transportation advisors had no idea where we where going or how far it was away when the told us of the 16 km rule.
We thanked them for the potential screwing and headed off to our next battle. At the taxi stand we found three cabs all the same color with what appeared to be a manager directing the actions of the drivers. He too adamantly explained the no meter rule to us again and thus began the volley of negotiations. It quickly became apparent that we were not going to win the meter battle and the option of other cabs was uncharacteristically non existent. It is usually quite easily to find multiple cab offers within minutes in Fiji, especially at major urban centers. Since we were at the mercy of this cab operator, the negotiations didn’t go so well and we ended up paying less than $25, but still about $3-5 more than it should have cost with the meter.
We loaded our bags and took off in the taxi meandering through dark roads. We miraculously found our friends house, had great conversation, and slept restlessly letting our senses slowly get in tune with the cacophony of Fijian night sounds: dogs, roosters, clapping, hymns, birds, buzzing mosquitoes, etc…
The next day we retraced our steps back to the airport and had a very expensive breakfast of flat white coffee and breakfast pies. Since I hadn’t spent much time in the departing terminal of the Nadi airport I surveyed the eating options landing on Esquires Coffee. The other option was the “Domestic Café” where you can get rice and cassava and mystery sausage at any time of the day. Welcome to Fiji.
We checked our bags and were of course overweight. The ticket counter attendant was chattier than normal and said he would give us deal on the overage as we lived in Fiji and were Peace Corps Volunteers. He said he would only charge us $30 for the additional weight not knowing we had gone through this many times before and were very familiar with the cost per kg of overweight bags. We were 15kg over weight and the overage charge is $2, thus the $30 deal was really no deal at all. I decided not to pursue a pointless conversation of how the ‘deal’ was really he pocketing the $30 bucks, which typically happens when they don’t hit any keys on their computer or give you a receipt, and carried on.
We boarded the flight with a family of four and arrived to a beautiful day in Savusavu. We hadn’t seen such clear and crisp skies since our inaugural trip back in July. It was beginning to feel like the relentless ‘hot’ season was finally abating. We ran a few errands and then prepared for the always enjoyable 3 hour bus ride to Buca Bay.
Things were back to normal on the island when we returned. Tealiki and Bale helped us with our bags and we found our humble abode as we had left it. A relative of our neighbor had just had a baby in Labasa and the required seven day celebration was in full swing when we arrived.
It appears the wasps had a field day while we were gone and several new mud homes had been erected in our absence. I spent several hours pacing with my trusty Mortein wasp spray in hand sending clouds of death in the path of any wayward hornet. It will take several more days to reestablish my authority over the stubborn little devils and they seem reluctant to loosen their foothold. Despite this setback it is good to be back on the island. I’ve never felt such a sense of calm and relaxation from a vacation return as I do now. Back home, vacation terminations are usually welcomed with gigabytes of emails, stacks of to dos, and boring debriefings of all the meetings and work events missed while gone. I was thankful to have none of that and was glad to simply reflect on the wonderful time spent with family and nature. It was a nice moment.
** To view Kelly's Pics click here - http://vaportrail.typepad.com/photos/shepard_visit_04_2010/index.html
2010-04-10 – 13: New Zealand Trip
I got sick on our trip to Savusavu to pick up Bob and Janelle. Other than that the trip was a success. We decided to take Vesi’s truck on the way back to Kioa rather than a bus and this decision paid off handsomely. A 3-hour Fijian bus ride is a hard way to break someone in to 3rd world livin’. Although the weather was hot and muggy Bob and Janelle withstood it well.
After arriving in Kioa and giving them the initial tour of the village Kelly made the famous PC tuna burgers, of which I have recently become a huge fan of almost surpassing my love of Kelly’s homemade biscuits. Our first night in Kioa didn’t get below 80 degrees and the wind was minimal. We attended the evening church service and they really enjoyed the choir. Lasati was preaching as most of the elders had left for Tuvalu a few days earlier and the pastor was out of town. Anytime Lasati speaks it is an adventure. His son, Petueli, closes his eyes in solemn prayer every time Lasati gets up to speak in the community meetings. Although we rarely know what he is saying, even when he speaks in English, it is always entertaining. He often tells Kelly and I that although our home is in Texas, “We sleep in Kioa.” I have no idea what this means. During his sermon that evening he wore his sunglasses almost the entire time, something only he could get away with as wearing hats and shades inside is considered rude in the village. He would occasionally prop them on his forehead just above his eyebrows while trying to read a bible passage or navigating the steps to and from the lectern. Bob and Janelle, as well as myself, were a little confused during the sermon as he forgot to say ‘talo’, meaning prayer, indicating the start of prayer time. Despite our confusion we enjoyed sharing the unique church service with Bob and Janelle.
That night we explored several of the goodies Bob and Janelle brought us from home. One of the treasures were bags of Tootsie-Roll-Pops for the kids. The kids love these. Kelly gave a few away and word quickly spread. Soon tamalikis where showing up left and right flashing their pearly whites in hopes of a lolly gift. We happily obliged and soon depleted our supply. I reserved a few for my work crews who always lend a hand on yard duties.
Bob brought some lightweight Chaco hiking boots perfect for the upcoming trip to New Zealand. My only boots are slowly rotting from Tomas’ soaking inside our house. Of course they also brought coffee, which is always heavily coveted here. Janelle gave Kelly quick dry Columbia shirts perfect for the sultry Fijian days during the wet season.
After Christmas in April we had Kelly’s risotto for dinner and went to bed early exhausted from a hearty travel day. Most our neighbors 12 dogs seemed to be well behaved during the night and instead gave the stage to the roosters, who seemed very energetic. Kelly and I have acclimated our ears to the roosters so it didn’t bother us much. Bob and Janelle weren’t as fortunate and had a hard time sleeping.
Pancakes with peaches were on order for breakfast and we soon headed out for a three hour fibre boat tour with our Kioan guide, Malaki. Apparently I haven’t been clear on exactly what a fibre boat is in my copious blog entries and Bob was confused on exactly what kind of sea going vessel we where about to spend the next three hours. A fibre boat is a small, 20 foot fiberglass boat with an outboard motor. Fancy fibres have a floor and wooden planks for seats. Really fancy fibres, like Malaki’s, have small cabins up front for stowing cargo out of the weather and rough seas. Of course, Kioa’s village fibres are just shells with a plywood floor. Therefore, we hired Malaki for the tour as sitting cross-legged is hard enough while done stationary, much less while bumping up and down over waves.
The skies where overcast and seas calm making the ride unusually smooth. Typically if it is calm in the bay near the village it is rough around the eastern point of the island, which receives the brunt of the prevailing winds. Malaki provided colorful commentary as we passed the major geographical landmarks of the island’s perimeter. The water visibility was very clear allowing great views of the coral and fish. We were encouraged to see Tomas’ damage to the soft coral on this side of the island wasn’t as severe as originally thought. As we made our way around the Eastern point of the island I spotted a huge Stingray leaping from the water. I’ve never seen this before and Malaki said it was probably fleeing a predator.
Although we have toured the island previously, it was often in a hurry with little or no commentary on the historical landmarks. Malaki pointed to one spot near the Pearl Farm where Fijians living on the island in the past hid from Tongan warriors invading from the east. I had read about similar events in Daryl Tarte’s book, Fiji. It is an interesting historical Fiction on the history of Fiji up to the first coup.
We stopped at the Pearl Farm on the side of the island facing Buca Bay where Eddie graciously gave us a quick tour of the operation. On the way back to the village we spotted some heavily damaged coral and major algae blooms. It looks like the western side got hit much harder than other areas, which was probably due to the more severe currents in this area.
For lunch we had corn chowder with long beans. That afternoon Bob serial napped and then got the urge to fix our battery powered fan ruined by Tomas. After taking apart the housing we spotted a blown fuse. We direct wired over the fuse with a piece of copper and put it back together. Later that evening when the generator came one I cautiously plugged it in. Although it is battery powered, it has a plug to charge the batteries. Our repair job didn’t really work as soon as I plugged it in I heard a large pop, the lights flashed, and wavy flumes of smoke fluttering from the surge protector. I quickly unplugged the device and said a quick prayer of thanks that I wasn’t done in by a piece of crap battery powered Chinese fan.
Earlier in the day, Janelle and I then took turns riding the paopao. Unfortunately she only paddled in circles and never could quite grasp the very difficult outrigger paddling technique. I took me a week to get the hang of it. Kelly baked cookies all afternoon, which drew an eager crowd of tamaliki’s already curious of the new white people on the island. She then made roti as Janelle fanned her. That evening we had a refreshing meal of bean burritos, cheese, and grilled lettuce with garlic and onions. It rained heavily earlier cooling things off a bit and making for a pleasant evening with temperatures in the upper seventies. We’ve discovered anything below eighty is usually tolerable with the most ideal conditions south of 75. I find this strange as in Texas, 80 is considered rather mild and hardly hot at all. There is just something about the thickness of the air here that makes it all seam about 50% hotter than the temperature suggests.
We left early Tuesday to Taveuni Island with the calmest seas we’ve seen to date. After arriving at Waiyevo landing, Sepo picked us up and we made our way to the beautiful ecotourism resort called Nakia. We then arranged a truck taxi with Jone to Lavena, on the other side of the island. When Jone arrived we realized he had a co-pilot in the front seat, his four year old son Sammy. I rode shotgun with Sammy and we headed out for Lavena.
Lavena was having a community work day and called us on the way to ask us to pick up 24 loaves of bread and a ½ kg of butter. We picked these up at Bula Baih, the last real store before the bush starts. Even though the road was rougher than an Oklahoma State Highway after a bombing, Sammy had started dozing off while sitting in my lap and was soon rocking back and forth. He passed out and commenced drool production. The road went from bad to worse and soon his little head was bouncing left and right. Amazingly he kept on snoozing. I passed him back to Janelle and Kelly where he reclined in style the remainder of the trip.
The road had recently been re-built in several places after receiving extensive damage from Tomas and was about as rough as we’ve experienced thus far in Fiji. Several houses had been blown away leaving only vacant concrete slabs. Most of the coconut trees that hadn’t fallen were now free from their lower palms leaving only rough fragments of the upper palms resembling wind blown dandelions.
Since our bones were shaken from the hour and fifteen minute ride, we wearily stepped out at Lavena to prepare for the 3km coastal walk. Simone immediately greeted us with his patent smile and gregarious laughter. He is our favorite tour guide and seasons the hike with much wisdom and joy of the deep appreciation he has for his homeland.
During the hike Janelle asked many questions and Simone was more than happy to provide copious replies along with many related side stories loosely related to the topic at hand. Although we had heard most of his tales from previous trips, Janelle brought out many more new yarns of which we were eager to hear.
Just past the beach where Return to Blue Lagoon was filmed, I spotted the biggest sea snake I’ve ever seen sunning on a rock about 40 yards away. Simone of course became giddy and started playing with it. Although they are very poisonous, their mouths are so small the chances of getting bitten are rare.
That day the weather was brilliant with partly cloudy skies and a nice breeze. Of the two trips we’ve made previously to Lavena both have been entirely covered in overcast clouds and copious amounts of rain. This is one of the wettest parts of Fiji so we were very grateful for the sunshine. We arrived at the river leading up to the falls tired but excited about the cool swim to the pool receiving the twin falls about 100 meters from the trails end. Janelle, Kelly, Simone, and I made the swim/walk and maneuvered around a huge hardwood tree that had lodged itself in the middle of the river after being thrashed around by Tomas while Bob supervised.
At the fall pool Simone did his patent 45’ jump from the high fall, which is always a crowd pleaser. I decided to pass on the jump but instead took a run at the lower water fall slide. The water was a bit low, so Simone advised me to stay to the right on the way down to avoid a large boulder below the water. I tried, but the current pushed me left and I soon met the lurking rock as hit hurled me vertically in the air and then down into the pool below. It was great fun nevertheless and I would definitely do it again if the flow was a little higher.
On the way back we boarded a fibre with Gloria and traveled to the triple falls. The tide was still low, but coming in. Thus Simone and the boat captain had to get out and maneuver the boat through the rocks in the river leading up to the falls. While Simone was doing this he spotted another sea snake swimming near the shore. Receiving our full of sea snakes for the day we convinced Simone to carry on rather than teasing the watery reptile.
The triple falls emerged magically as we passed through an overhang of trees. The beauty was stunning and serene. After soaking it in and taking a few photos we made our way back to the village through rolling seas. The surf was breaking on the point near the lodge giving us intimate views of the powerful waves.
At the lodge we had lemon leaf tea and fried bread. We said our goodbyes to the staff, Simone, and Gloria and ventured back to Nakia. The road didn’t get any smoother on the way back, but a clear afternoon sky illuminated the landscape colors unlike I’ve seen before on the many trips I’ve made along this route. We capped the day with a marvelous sunset, good food, and warm conversation with family and the friendly Nakia staff. It was a long day and Bob and Janelle were troopers to hang in there with good attitudes and open minds.
2010-04-14: New Zealand Day One
We flew out of Matai airport on a tiny puddle jumper. It was like climbing into a small car with fold down bench seats. There was barely enough room for two people per row. However, this flight goes over the southeastern side of Kioa offering stunning views of the island.
We were a little worried about catching our next flight as the transfer time was only 50 minutes. As our friend Garrett says, when things go as planned in Fiji the gods must be sleeping. We made it through customs in record time and were at the gate with a few minutes to spare so they were definitely not paying attention to us that day.
I had forgotten how much I enjoy flying Air New Zealand. The food is good, service friendly, and planes new and clean. My favorite part is the safety video, which is typically dry and boring on most airlines. Instead, they hired actors with some sort of skin suit painted on their bodies and had the song ‘Under My Skin’ playing in the background. Their parting line at the end was something like, “We hope you enjoy your flight with Air New Zealand, the airline with nothing to hide.” Although I ended up watching it four times, it never really got boring. It was a great example of how anything can be made interesting with a little creativity.
We progressed through the customs gauntlet in Auckland and made our way to Christchurch. Here we stayed downtown at the Heritage near the Anglican Christchurch Cathedral. Two nights in soft beds with hot water quickly eased my Fiji summer blues. The best, though, were the 60 degree temperatures and dry air. We ended the successful travel day with a real pint of Guiness, frightfully hard to procure in Fiji, in the cleanest and smoke free Irish pub I’ve ever been in. It was a good day.
2010-04-16: New Zealand Day Two and Three
We started the day with an amazing breakfast and then took a quick tour of the downtown Anglican Cathedral. It was not open yet, so we ambled a bit and then headed back to the hotel to prepare for the trip south. After getting our map bearings we left out of Christchurch towards Terrace Downs, near Methven. I was navigating and Janelle was driving. Bob was manning the back up navigation system, the Tom Tom GPS, in the back while Kelly was sleeping, listening to her ipod, or generally not contributing at all to the navigation team because she always successfully called “not-it” first.
It was frankly quite nerve wracking trying to navigate my mother-in-law through the New Zealand road system on the wrong side of the road. New Zealanders are very keen on marking the roads with copious lines, symbols, and text making it hard to focus on anything. Their focus on road markings apparently makes signage less important and more infrequent than I’m used to in the states. In addition, the Tom Tom was like big brother looking over my shoulder ready to pounce on me the minute a wrong turn was made. Unfortunately, all the navigation systems missed the turn to Methven and so we headed south and parallel to the coast towards Rakia.
This wrong turn turned out to be fortuitous as when we got back on track the road took us right pass the International Plow Festival. I had seen the advertisement for this in the flight magazine and thought it was quite funny that there was such an event and that it was being held in the middle of nowhere on a out of the way island in the South Pacific. Regardless, we had made it and took copious photos to prove we had indeed witnessed this phenomenon. Plowing must be very popular in New Zealand as it was early on a Thursday and the parking lot was filling quickly. The excitement of the event nearly overwhelmed us so we decided to plow on to Terrace Downs.
A few miles out we passed through Rakia Gorge. This scenic point is where the Rakia River carries down glacial and mountain run off from the near vertical mountain range nearby. We stopped to get a few pictures and made our way across the gorge bridge. Janelle had been driving splendidly on the wrong side of the road and as we approached the bridge spanning the abyss below we all clinched a little upon noticing it contained only one lane. Approaching the bridge cautiously and as she carefully read the pavement instructions out loud we knew her focus was 100% and ready for the challenge. As she made the final approach we all said a silent prayer and held on for dear life. The 4,000lbs 4WD Land Cruiser glided over the uni-bridge and we all cheered once fully over the precipice. It was smooth sailing from there and we pulled into Shane and Vanessa’s house just before noon.
We were greeted with warm Southern New Zealand hospitality and had great fun playing with their six month old baby boy, Sam. We had Elk burgers for lunch that were heavenly. I have to confess I was somewhat gluttonous anytime red meat was on the table while in New Zealand and definitely had more than my fair share. After lunch we checked in at Robi and Christine’s guest house called Quickenberry, next door to Shane and Vanessa’s. They were equally friendly and gave us a quick tour of the place. We unpacked and got ready for the first outing with Shane to sight in the rifles and see a few animals. At the quarry/firing range the wind was whipping viciously. When the wind blows in New Zealand it really blows. Bob got familiar with the .270 rifle and soon it was Janelle’s turn. She wanted to try a prone shot position as the wind was rocking the Land Cruiser and making it hard to keep the rifle steady. Shane got his back pack as a prop and soon we all found Janelle curled up on the ground with both knees pulled to her chest and her torso rotated across the bag. It looked like a good way to pop a stiff back but quite strange for firing a large caliber rifle. Shane didn’t know how to react as he had never seen a hunter find their way into such a complicated prone firing position, thenceforth dubbed the ‘Granelly Love Curl.’ We all had a good laugh and Shane got down on the ground to demonstrate the more traditional method of firing a rifle from the ground. Janelle was a good sport about it and was soon firing away deadly accurate shots at the target.
The hunting grounds were part of the Mt. Hutt station nearby. Farms or ranches are called ‘stations’ in New Zealand. This was a very large station and one of the interesting characteristics of this station, as well as many others nearby, were the large pine trees between paddocks, or pastures. The farmers grow pine trees, by the way these pine trees aren’t the skinny East Texas pine trees but thickly trunked behemouths, in tight rows and neatly trim the branches forming large blocks of evergreen wind stopper. They even trim the tops 40-50 feet up to make the mass of tree grow thicker in the middle. It must take a good 20-30 years to create just natural wind barrier and I can’t imagine the effort it takes to trim pine trees 40 feet in the air. I was needless to say very impressed.
It was the start of rut for the Red Deer and they were making quite a ruckus up on the mountain sides. We stopped several times to view them through the sporting scope while Shane explained the different antler types and characteristics of the majestic animals. After a few hours of getting acclimated with the animals and hunting area we headed back to the house. Robi prepared amazing steaks for us that night. He is quite the chef and prepares everything from scratch. Two couples from Alaska were also at the guest house and nearing the completion of a several day hunt with Shane. One of the men had gotten a 464 point elk and Shane captured the hunt on video. Shane is quite the videographer giving us a feel for not only the thrill of the hunt, but the breathtaking beauty of the New Zealand landscape. The night ended with the sharing of hunting yarns and we soon retired capping off another wonderful day in New Zealand.
2010-04-17: New Zealand Day Four
In order to get a Tahr ram it takes several days of hiking and camping up near vertical mountains or a quick jaunt in a helicopter. Given that most non New Zealanders aren’t in shape for a multi-day hike it makes most sense to ride the helicopter until one is spotted and then get out and stalk the beast. Shane and Bob planned to depart at 6am in search of a Tahr, but the weather did not cooperate. They instead left at 8am and we departed soon thereafter in the Land Cruiser. We followed the road along the Rakaia River, which was very scenic.
Shane’s directions included a lot of descriptions of house colors and other non road related scenery. Between these highlights he would interject to keep ‘following your nose’, whatever that means. I guess we failed to tap into our inner dog or inner nose before departing because we got lost. We logically turned off the main road when we saw a sign with a helicopter pointing in the other direction. This turned out to be a different helicopter service and we ventured along on private property. Thankfully Merve, the helicopter pilot, called us on the radio and picked us up off the small road soon thereafter. Bob and Shane hopped out taking the cruiser back to Shane’s house, and Janelle, Kelly, and I got in for a quick ride up the Rakaia Gorge.
The wind wasn’t bad down low but as we turned up the valley the chopper rose and fell rather quickly. I was getting queasy and thankfully it leveled out as we flew further up the valley. The views were surreal as we passed waterfalls, canyons, and glaciers. We turned at the head of the Rakaia River and made our way back to Terrace Downs. The entire trip was only about 35 minutes but seemed much longer. I don’t think I have the stomach for helicopters as when we reached the ground and stepped out I found myself quite dizzy and queasy. It was a great experience, however, and definitely worth the amazing views.
At noon Vanessa packed us another splendid lunch, which we happily ate along the banks of the Rakaia River just below the bridge near the gorge. Shane owns a jet boat with a 330 horsepower Chevy motor. We started off with a quick run around the wider section of river just below the bridge and then darted off up the gorge. The river is very shallow at several places and twists and turns through shear vertical walls. The boat captain’s objective, in this case Shane, is to scare the piss out of you. He succeeded quite well. He would often start straight at a cliff outcropping or large rock in the middle of the river and the dart away at the last minute. It was quite unnerving at first but once I relaxed a little it was much like riding a roller coaster. I was amazed at how the boat could traverse through shallow water and the maneuverability of it through rapid currents. Perhaps the best part was when he did donuts in the middle of the river. Unfortunately this didn’t impress Janelle much and we had to stop. The ride down the river was much better as the current whipped us around bends and through narrow passages in the canyon. Eroded walls resembled lunar landscapes and the massive sky never released its beauty upon us.
Often I find my eyes don’t quiet comprehend the full beauty of what they are seeing in this country. It is truly surreal that creation can be so extreme and contrasting yet amazingly glorious at the same moment.
After the jet boat trip Bob took off with Shane in the chopper again in search of the Tahr. We hope they are successful tonight as the next phase of the hunt is a trip south to a cabin in search of Red Stag and Wallaby.
As I mentioned, we are staying with Robi and Christine at the Quisenberry Guest House. The quarters are very homey with nice big beds, down pillows, and amazing views from the large storefront windows. The walls are insulated well as sounds and deep quiet is achieved at night aiding rest. The food is spectacular as Robi is something of a hidden treasure chef. He has the unusual humility for being such an expert culinary master and even does his own dishes. The food thus far has been outstanding with thick round steaks the first night and sliced Red Deer the second.
Tracy and Dwayne had brought with them a bottle of Back Door wine from their winery in the Napa Valley. It wholesales for $150 and was worth every penny. Wine is truly worth the extra money if you can afford it. It was made of pure cabernet grapes and is only produced every three years or so. They finished their hunt yesterday and were off to Queenstown for a week.
2010-04-19: NZ Day Five
Bob did in fact bag a very nice Tahr last night. He was quite weary from the scampering across mountain faces over boulders and loose shale rocks that they call shingles. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief that that part of the adventure was over.
Today we traveled south on State Highway 72 through Geraldine and on to a property called Stravon. The trip down was only about an hour and we made a short shopping stop at the Tin Shed, which is really a tin shed off the main road. Inside are quality Merino wool products and a small collection of tourist collectables. Kelly picked up some sheep skin boots, which she hasn’t taken off since, and Janelle bought a few odds and ends. I got a New Zealand silver fern hat. We were soon off again, but made a quick stop at the Berry Barn Bakery to have their famous meat pies. We arrived in Stravon shortly after noon. The property used to be a sheep and cattle ranch but is now a trophy game ranch.
We transferred our gear from the Toyota Hilux to the four seater Ranger and made our way up the tiny roads. As soon as we entered the main ranch area several trophy Red Deer Stags were found posing less than 100 yards away. The rut was full on so their behavior was anything but normal. Shane stopped and made a few calls, which they eagerly responded to while relieving themselves on anything in site. After the viewing we headed off through the steep valley trail. The tussok grass covered near vertical mountain slopes with a lush collection of trees and green grass in the lower valley. Here a small stream could be heard meandering through the tranquil valley. The track was just wide enough for the ranger and nerves of steel where a sure requirement of any driver to navigate the steep inclines and 180 degree switchback turns.
The cabin, or hut as the Kiwis say, was situated overlooking a multi-tiered water fall with a lush valley below. It was truly breathtaking. We unloaded our gear, layered our clothing in preparation for the cold evening, and headed back out. Shane and Janelle had their eyes pealed for big stags and we saw quite a few on the way around the property. The trick is getting the one with the right sized antlers as costs vary greatly from one animal to another. Kelly, Bob, and I took in the scenery and snapped several amazing panoramic shots from the mountain tops. The weather was amazing with calm winds and clear skies. This area sees major weather events and often it can change within minutes.
It was nearing nightfall when Shane took us back to the ranch headquarters and we began preparations for the second phase of the day’s hunting experience. We were after Wallaby’s. The build up for this event had been growing as our hometown mascot is the Kangaroo. There were several round table debates as to the most appropriate mount for a full size Kangaroo and the issue was still unresolved when the hut began. I was first up with the rifle as Shane maneuvered the Ranger through the treks while spotlighting the landscape. I hadn’t fired a gun in over year and was somewhat apprehensive about shooting a hopping Kangaroo in the dark with my in-laws and a professional hunter looking on. The first beast we saw was hopping along the trail about 100 yards ahead. He didn’t stop and I fumbled with the bolt action and safety long enough to let him get away. We regrouped and carried on soon thereafter spotting another Wallaby crouching in the tussok grass. I steadied the rifle and fired away. Thankfully it connected and I could relax a bit knowing my aimer was still functioning. Shane’s deep distain for the dirty beasts was not concealed well as he yelled for joy at the kill. He yelled, “Good on ya mate, you’re a natural Wallaby wacker!” I scampered down the hillside retrieving the strange creature for a closer inspection. Shane had informed us the Wallaby are big problems for the farmers as they are really nothing but large disease carrying rats. After viewing them up close it is easy to see how much of a menace they can be. Their claws are covered with long nails and their teeth are long and pointy, just like rats but more extreme. I was somewhat disheartened to learn my formative years were spent representing an overgrown rat throughout the state of Texas. However, we quickly resolved the sadness with four more bullets and four more dead Kangaroos. Bob and I alternated whacking the hopping rodents and had a splendid time along the way.
We soon met our quota, they have to limit the kills because whacking wallaby’s can get very addictive, and soon found ourselves back at the cabin. Shane prepared us a hearty meal and we closed the day reflecting the wilderness and wildlife of New Zealand over Speight beer, wine, and candlelight.
The next day we reloaded the Ranger, cleaned the cabin, and ventured out with serious intent to grab a trophy Stag. The deer were out in force again and the rut had them wandering around like bumbling fools. At one point I was following Shane and Janelle up the hill, I was videoing the shoot, and a stag walked right up on us about 50 yards away. They seemed confused at first and them would scamper off once they realized we didn’t have four legs and a furry butt.
At mid morning Janelle spotted the deer she wanted and we began tracking the massive Stag. He was on to us and we made our way down the side of a steep and rocky hill while he meandered down lower near the track. He finally stopped long enough to set up the shooting sticks and Janelle fired away. It was a tough angle so the shot had to be spot on. She took out his left front shoulder and yet he still ran with three legs. He stopped just long enough for Janelle to get another shot off and soon he was rolling down the hill. As we got up closer the shear massiveness of the beast was amazing. These deer are mammoth creatures with rippled muscles and thick antlers forming a vine like nest of symmetrical daggers. Most of the deer spotted through the binoculars had massive scars from years of combat, and this one was no different.
Shane made quick work of the skinning and we traveled back to the headquarters to make final preparations for the journey home. The two days and one night in Stravon were amazing not only for the gorgeous animals but breathtaking landscapes.
Vanessa prepared a savory meal for us that evening with massive steaks and Janelle’s favorite, Pavlova, for desert. She had bought a Pavlova on our trip up to Stravon, which I think was a first for Shane and the hut. I’m not really that sure what the attraction is as it is very similar to eating air, but she really liked it. We ended the evening looking at all of Kelly’s amazing photographs and reflecting on the immensity of what we had observed. Shane and Vanessa were great hosts, and we were grateful of the opportunity to get to know them and their beautiful country.
2010-04-20: NZ Day Six
After hunting we ventured further south back through Geraldine. We stopped again but this time picked up a few souvenirs and Blue Cod fish and chips at the Geraldine Fish and Chips Restaurant. I’m not sure if this is the name but it is behind the main grocery store in town and was a must stop. We scarffed these down along the road and meandered down the scenic highway 8 through a series of lakes and canal that form a hydro electric network powering most of the south island. Lake Tekapo was an amazing blue green color that radiated with a brilliant hue. Like a lot of scenery in New Zealand it almost looks fake it is so unusual. We passed Lake Pukaki and made our way through Twizel, Omarama, Tarras, and on to Wanaka. There was a slight delay outside Wanaka due to repair work on a single lane bridge. The roads in New Zealand are immaculately maintained and well marked. They even mount small posts every 10 meters or so on both sides of the road. It is therefore strange that most of their bridges are single lane. It would seem logical that two lane bridges would be more of a priority than picketing the roads with useless posts. But this is a country of adrenaline junkies so maybe the thrill of playing chicken on one-lane bridges takes precedence over safe driving.
Wanaka is a pleasant town with serenity matching a small Colorado ski village. Like most areas of New Zealand, everything is immaculately maintained and manicured. The people are friendly and outgoing to be as helpful as possible. The lake views here are worth the trip, especially with the surrounding trees showing their fall colors. This is the off-season for tourism so several locals could be found parked in the campervans making the most of the absent crowds.
We checked in at the Wanaka Springs lodge owned by Lynn and Murray. They are very friendly hosts and gave us a tour of their first class facility. There is a quaint spring wandering through the back yard and a spa is perched up in the corner of the property providing nice views of the mountains and lake behind the town center. We ended the day with a nice meal at The Reef Restaurant and slept heartily in the cozy confines of the lodge.
2010-04-21, 22, & 23: Te Anau
We departed Wanaka in route to Te Anau. I’m still not sure how to pronounce Te Anau as it seems to be different every time a local says it. The best I’ve come up with is “Tea A-now”. But it must be said very quickly to have the proper effect. The drive down was very picturesque with a multitude of colorfully leaved trees and rolling hills. The landscape seemed to change completely every 15 miles. At one point the tussok grass clumps dots the landscape in uniform consistency upon rolling hills, and the next moment we are viewing rugged rock outcroppings looming dangerously over the road side.
We stopped at the overlook of Queenstown and got some great pictures. We then ventured to Amisfield Winery which is in the heart of Otago wine country. This area is famous for its Pinot Noir wines and Janelle, Kelly, and I sampled a flight of their best wines. Unfortunately the hostess was quite rude and it was our first experience with an unfriendly New Zealander. She must have been British.
After the tour we ventured back south and soon pulled into Te Anau. It is a sleepy little town with a quaint main street, well manicured neighborhoods chocked full of tiny B&B’s, and caravans of tour busses packed with prickly Aussies. We had our first direct contact with the stubborn creatures whilst watching a movie on the beauty of Fiordland at the local movie theatre. The town has a lovely little cinema that airs a music only motion picture documentary in the BBC Earth series style of helicopter cinematography. We were the only ones in the theatre when a bristling group of senior Australian tourists waddled in sporting coffees, teas, and chatty attitudes. It was quite startling when they first ventured in chatting away like teenagers at a school dance. It soon became frustrating when the movie started and they began their running commentary of the scenes. I was trying to find the most appropriate words to use to politely ask them to shut it and had settled on, “Would you please mind the chatter?”, emphasizing the word mind and pronouncing chatter, ‘chatar’. Kelly beat me to the punch and told them to please stop talking. This worked o.k., but they were still whispering a bit throughout the show. In retrospect, it gives me good perspective on how quickly I can go back to my western ways of getting so frustrated about relatively meaningless things. I guess I should have just been happy to be sitting on a luxurious armchair seat and not wiping sweat from my brow while swatting mosquitoes and smelling my armpits. That unfortunately, will return in due time.
After the movie we visited a few shops and then Bob, Janelle, and Kelly scurried off to their glowworm cave tour. I decided to avoid going underground and instead tried out the local mountain bike trails. I found a hire shop and soon was out on the roads enjoying the cool weather. Mountain biking is not real big in Te Anau. Instead, the main attraction here is tramping. I’ve pondered this strange word more than I would like to admit, trying to understand why New Zealanders use the word tramping to describe walking. I decided it filled the void of describing the activity that lies between walking and hiking. It is a pragmatic need, but I’m not sure if the word ‘tramping’ appropriately describes it. Perhaps trekking would fit better? Regardless, it is tramping that takes the brunt of the outdoors activity focus here. Thus, most of the good trails are off limits to the cyclist and I was restricted to the tar seal roads. However, as I was making may way around the lake bend I spotted a sign to a park with the words MTB trail clearly marked. It was quite lucky as the trail turned out to be a nice 8km single track meandering through pine trees and large boulders. After I completed the loop I continued along to the lake’s control gates and returned just in time to get out of the intense wind coming from a Westerly blowing in. Westerly is the word used to describe the weather events blowing in from Antarctica.
The next two nights we stayed at the Fiordland Lodge and were very impressed with the accommodations and hospitality. It only has 10 rooms and overlooks the lake with nothing but tussok grass and sheep in between. It was a very remote and tranquil setting perfect for reflecting on the immense beauty of New Zealand. I loved the massive stone fireplace and log-framed structure.
During the stay in Te Anau we headed out to Lake Manapouri for a cruise up to Doubtful Sound. The cruise starts with a boat ride across the lake, then a bus ride across land, and then another boat ride out to the sound. It is called Doubtful Sound but is really a fiord. A sound is created from sinking riverbeds whereas a fiord is the result of glacial carving and the infilling of water from drainage and/or seawater. It is dubbed ‘doubtful’ from Captian Cook’s doubts that the shear walls surrounding the narrow water channels would allow enough wind for a return trip.
At the intermediary stop between the lake and the fiord is a tour of the Lake Manapouri Power hyrdo power station. This is a massive hydro power plant built in the lake 60’s that powers an aluminum smelter in the area. The kiwi’s are very keen on their hydro power and have tapped into this miracle of nature at every possible chance. This is their largest go at it and it was quite a sight to see. The bus travels 100 meters below the ground via an underground tunnel carved out of pure rock. The tunnel then leads to the generator room that houses seven large hydro generators pumping out 730 MW of electricity. Five hundred of these mega-watts are used for the aluminum smelter, and the rest goes to the grid.
After the hydro plant tour we made our way across land to the next leg of our tour. Our bus driver, Alex, was trying to make the best of the cloudy and rainy weather pointing out the sights within 30 feet of the bus. He kept going on and on about the moss and lichens. I thought this was just because he didn’t have anything else to point out, but I was proved wrong when he stopped the tour bus and half the people got out just to photograph and touch moss. Who knew moss was so popular around here. I don’t think I will ever be able to understand the sight of grown men and women gleefully manhandling moss and having their portraits made in front of it.
The next leg of the boat tour started off on the wrong foot as the typical vessel used was out of commission. Instead we used the boat usually reserved for overnight guests. This boat was much slower and cut down the distance we could travel. Despite this the journey was still amazing. Because of all the rain many waterfalls not typically seen on dry days were pouring forth from the peaks of the shear vertical mountain walls dashing straight into the fiord.
The captain pointed the nose of the boat into the onslaught of one of the falls while a deck hand collected water in buckets for venturesome passengers to sample. Overall the trip was very surreal with calm black water, looming clouds, and towering mountains cradling the narrow Fiord passageways. I would like to come back during clear weather just to get an idea of the depth in the mountain peaks surrounding the waterways.
The last leg of our journey to New Zealand was Queenstown. On the way we stopped in an old mining town called Arrowtown. Even with the rain it was very scenic with the fall colors in full bloom. The narrow streets and quaint shops where a nice stop, but is really geared for the ladies. Most of the shops are boutique and very expensive. It would be good to return on a nice day to catch some of the surrounding countryside. The river nearby was the second highest gold producing river in the world in its hay day so the gold mining theme is very prevalent. We spent a few hours here and then ventured back through winding roads to Queenstown.
Queenstown is the adrenaline junkie capital of the world and every store, shop, hotel, and restaurant are chocked full of brochures describing methods to pay large sums of money to scare the crap out of yourself. We stuck to the more tame streets of Queenstown, ducking in and out of stores avoiding the many pedestrians and inclement weather. Queenstown has just about every type of item you could possibly imagine or want to purchase, all at very high prices. The bummer is I’ve heard most of the shops are owned by foreigners, so a lot of the money spent here doesn’t stay.
We stayed at the St. Moritz hotel overlooking the lake. The best part of this stay was the down mattress pad. We slept like champs and got some much needed rest in preparation for the trip back home to the bush. The weather never really cooperated and the next day was even more rainy than the first. It was ANZAC day which is like the US’s Memorial Day. ANZAC commemorates the battle of Gillopoli in World War I where approximately 40,000 British, 8,000 Australian, and 3,000 New Zealand soldiers died trying to occupy a peninsula. The Turks won the battle but lost 80,000 men in the victory. ANZAC Day is widely recognized in New Zealand and was the main news story for several days. We attended a parade in downtown Queenstown that included several solders, a Willy Jeep, Dodge Troop Carrier, bagpipe band and several veterans. It wasn’t a parade in the typical US fashion but more of a walk with the dignitaries leading the way and normal citizens filing in behind. Although I didn’t really understand why that specific battle would be the focus of the day instead of a general honoring of all the major war veterans, it was good to see the importance placed on remembering those that have fallen in service of their country and freedom.
After the parade we found an awesome hamburger joint called Fergburger. This is a tiny placed carved between two tourists shops jammed packed with locals and tourists. Every burger is hand made and the ingredients are locally produced in Arrowtown. We were quite immobile after the burger experience and slowly rolled our way back to the hotel hoping the weather would clear. It never really did, so instead we reflected our trip in the hotel room viewing all the great photos Kelly took during our several days in New Zealand.
New Zealand is a wonderful place and I would highly recommend a visit. It is hard to see everything in one trip so plan on returning a few times. The many attractions suit all types of people. I would come in the fall as this seems to be the off season and less congested with tourists and tour busses. It can be very expensive so the best way to go is prepay for as many meals and trips as possible so the sticker shock once arriving doesn’t persuade you from going on adventures or enjoying the outstanding local cuisine. We were very blessed to be able to enjoy it with Bob & Janelle.
Notes and FAQs to FRE8s!!
Would a smallish tape recorder be very helpful?
Matt has used his to record a meetings and then to record the singing at church.
Do you ever wear socks? How many pairs should I pack?
I only wear socks when running or hiking. There are lots of hiking trails, so if you are into that bring 'em. Probably 2-3 pairs.
Does everyone have a converter and surge protector?
We bought a surge protector here at a store called Dick Smith Electronics in Suva. It was about US$50 and totally worth it if you are on a generator.
Should I bring 2 pair or one-(lt.wt.)tennis shoes?
I'd just bring one. You can buy shoes in Suva if needed.
Did any of you go over the 80 lbs…and pay the additional amount?
We had to pay for the domestic flight, DFW to LAX but the flight to Auckland/Fiji won't let you pay an overage charge you just have to chunk stuff. So I would keep it under.
I have about 9 lbs. of books … are there plenty of books to read there?
The volunteers are great about sharing books. There are a ton at the PC office in Suva and then consolidation point houses in Suva, Savusavu, Labasa, etc. We read about 5 books a week and have yet to run out. Also, you might look into a Kindle. We got one shipped to us and it is awesome. Load it up before you leave (all the classics are free) and then you can also download books once you are here.
Are Macs still a problem and is it something I might be able to address with a genius bar visit here before I leave?
Nah, we both have Mac Book Pros and got the internet to work with EasyTel and MACS work in all the internet cafes. There is some quirks and we will be happy to show you how to connect when you get here. We do have a version of Windows for MAC and then bootcamp … I would do that rather than bring 2 laptops.
Skype – Do you guys use it?
YES. It can be slow when we are at site, but the audio without picture works fine. And it works great in the towns.
Fins for snorkeling – necessary?
We brought ours and use them every time. Some didn't and are happy without. Guess it depends on how good a swimmer you are. ;o) Also, if you are environment – pack at least your snorkel/mask in your training bag, we got to snorkel twice during PST.
I love to take photos – should I invest in an underwater camera?
Lots of people have the canon D10s and we have an underwater case for our camera. The water is so clear and if you plan on snorkeling/diving, I would. ;o)
Scuba – should I get certified here?
There are some great package prices here. Cheaper than what we paid in Texas. And much better diving!! so I would save your money and do it here.
I am unfortunately addicted to cappuccinos. Should I bother to bring a cheap krups machine? Is milk easily available?
We are super remote with only generator electricity a couple hours a day. So we don't have a fridge and have to use powdered milk. But lots of others have fridges and constant electricity…. so your call. But definitely bring a french press and about a months worth of coffee. You will only get instant with your homestay family and you can only buy real coffee at Cost U Less in Suva.
Beard – I often will go several days without shaving. Is that going to offend and if so, should I bring lots of razors?
Matt brought a years worth and was happy he did, they are expensive here. But he often shaves just 1-2 times a week. You will not offend anyone it is just hot as (@#$*@(#$* here.
Vitamins – Should I bring 2 years worth?
Nope, PC will provide you with all the vitamins you can think of!!!
How difficult is it to get to a store or town to buy supplies?
In Fiji each site placement can be very different from the next. We are very remote and PC assists us in restocking supplies every 8 weeks. Most volunteers go to town every 2 weeks and those on Viti Levu can get to Suva regularly to buy almost anything your heart desires!!
The PC Manual states that Peace Corps limits luggage to certain dimensions and weights that are smaller than the airlines' standards (referring to US airline companies). Should I go by the airlines' standards, or by what Peace Corps published?
The PC will not reimburse you for luggage charges if your bags are overweight. But some domestic airlines will have just a regular baggage charge … for us to get to LAX from DFW the airline charged $25 per bag and PC took care of that. But if you are over the weight limit they will not pay. But PC never weighed or measured our bags.
Do you have any other luggage advice?
I brought way too many clothes and books. PCVs have collected a decent library and we have a great exchange program. Also, you might look into a kindle. We love ours. You will have to turn in one bag at the airport when you arrive. You won't see it for 7-9 weeks so put your books, household stuff, extra clothes, etc. in there – unless you need coffee!! Then pack coffee and a french press in your PST bag, your homestay family will not even know there is coffee besides instant. eww. Also, we went snorkeling twice during PST so if you want to take advantage of that pack your snorkel/mask!
Are spices readily available?
Yes, all Indian spices are in every store. Other spices (oregano, basil, etc) are available at Cost U Less in Suva.
Are there any cooking products or kitchen related items that I should bring?
I brought and still love my french press for coffee, garlic press, can opener and a wickedly good knife.
Are batteries available and are they super expensive?
You can get really crappy batteries everywhere. and most villages will have electricity even we have a generator that comes on periodically. We brought a solar charger and have never had to use it but we break it out every once in a while for fun.
If I bring my computer, how will I charge it and other devices that require charging? What about molding or corrosion?
You will probably have electricity or a generator for 3-5 hours a day. Molding is a huge problem. We have pelican cases with silica packs and I have only had to deal with corrosion on one of my lenses.
Will my VISA debit card work there? Is there a better option for having access to my personal funds?
We have a visa debit / atm card and can use it in all the towns.
Is it worth bringing light-weight hiking boots, or will tevas and sneakers do the trick?
Definitely bring boots, there are lots of hiking opportunities, but I would avoid leather ones – they will mold.
Do PCV's in Fiji usually live by themselves after training? I read that sometimes a PCV will continue to live with their host family even after training ends…
Unfortunately, some do but PC says the village has to provide a home within 2-3 months.
Are any other hard-to-come-by items that I should bring?
If you like coffee – french press & coffee can really only be bought in Suva. I would also bring exercise bands, jump rope, etc. if you want to exercise. And any electronics are expensive. And deoderant can be hard to find … Fijians use body spray. ;o(
Do you have any suggestions about water bottles, besides the aluminum or stainless ones? I was considering a small hikers/travel pump filter or maybe those filter straws, is something like this worth it or necessary?
Peace Corps gives all the volunteers a really good ceramic 6 litre water filter when they arrive. We have a Seri Pen U.V. filter but have only used it a few times. You may want something for travel to other countries or within Fiji. Usually if we don't have our filter we just boil the water. In a country so hot it is funny how there is almost always a kettle nearby!
Is it really difficult to get access to the internet?
After six months of maneuvering through the Fijian internet services labyrinth we finally got connected. However, it is about 10kb/sec on a good day, which is less than dial up back home. Let us know if you have a MAC and we can walk you through it but if you have a PC it is relatively easy to get connected. Regardless, it is pretty amazing when you think that a lot of islanders here have a mobile phone, laptop, and internet, but no walls on their house! In towns you can go to a relatively fast internet cafe and pay $3-4/hour.
T-shirts, they keep emphasizing how tank tops are not appropriate but I keep seeing pictures w/ppl in them…whats the deal?
As long as the strap is wide (2-3") the villagers are typically o.k. with it. A lot of it depends on the village, though. About 50% of the villages are very conservative and they can't be worn. T-shirts are typically fine everywhere, as long as it doesn't say "Show me your boobies." Seriously, I found one of these in a used clothing store! Kelly wouldn't let me buy it. In the urban areas pretty much anything goes. During training we were in a very conservative village but Kelly wore sleeveless shirts with thick straps while running and it was o.k. She couldn't wear them just for walking around, though. The village we are in now is not conservative at all so Kelly can wear them, especially while hiking, working, etc. but not to church and the office.
Is it truly a bad idea to bring/wear contacts?
I wear contact lenses about 50% of the time and it is no big deal. I would wear them all the time if I could afford too. If you can wear them, get the Focus Dailies. If not, just maintain good hygiene. Most of the problems come from simply not observing simple hygiene practices. We've experienced no infections, boils, etc., while other volunteers constantly battle these. Mainly it is the guys who don't take showers. I recommend bringing a lot of microfiber eyeglass cleaning cloths as the dust and dirt keeps them pretty dirty. In Fiji, you are pretty much living outside the entire time, unless in a urban setting, which makes keeping eyeglasses clean very hard.
What was your first day like? Who picks you up, can you get a shower & some food & rest or is it straight to work??
Peace Corps enjoys recreating the wheel a lot so there is no telling if your first day will be like ours. For us, our training manager met us at the gate and ushered us through immigration. After immigration we gathered our bags, make sure you grab a bag cart quick as there aren't very many of them, and then walked to a charter bus. At this point you immediately give one bag to the local PC staff and they take it via truck to the PC office in Suva for storage until training is over. You don't have time to open it or re-arrange stuff in the storage bag and if you ask to it will just delay everything and people will not like you. It is very hot and most just want to get going. They gave us some water and fruit and we made our way down the coral coast. By the way, if you go to the duty free shop do it in LA or NZ. There isn't much time after landing in Fiji.
Half way to Suva, about 2 hours, we ate lunch with four current volunteers. They weren't very communicative, though, and probably just came for the free lunch. Then we continued on to Suva and then to Nadave. Enjoy the ocean views on the bus trip as you won't see it again for 7 weeks! Nadave was like summer camp. The facilities are clean but basic. Make sure you bring a towel, soap, and toiletries as these are hit or miss. Also, ask for vegetarian at the food counter if your constitution is somewhat shaky. The cabins have two rooms with a central 'living room' in the middle. Four volunteers sleep on each side, two on each if married. Sheets, pillows, and mosquito nets are provided as well as an open clothes cabinet to put your stuff. If you room doesn't have a kettle, ask for one. This comes in handy with boiling water for drinking as sometimes the staff forgets to bring boiled water to the meetings. Bring bag locks as it is hard to keep the room locked with eight people in and out of them. Always keep your cash on you as this is the thing most often stolen by the cleaning staff. Nadave was pretty safe and nobody got anything stolen but you can't be too careful, especially when living on peanuts.
After we arrived in Nadave we ate dinner and went to bed. From that point forward training involves gathering in a conference room and going through meeting after meeting about policies and procedures, safety and security, language, community development, etc. The food is o.k. and there are teas at mid morning and mid afternoon. This is a good time to get to know your fellow volunteers and eat tiny sandwiches and cookies. The coffee is horrible, though, so bring along some instant coffee if you like it as they will have hot water. I would bring one or two good aluminum water bottle at least one litre in size as it can be hot and you sweat a lot until your body gets used to the climate.
It is all pretty boring and we complained so much that hopefully this year your group will have a much better experience. It tends to get better each year until the US government mandates a staff change and then the process starts all over again. Your group is coming at the end of the cycle and so they've had a lot of time to refine it.
Should I bring my bicycle?
None of the FRE7s brought bikes but several have bought them and just handed them down to the next PCV.
Is it advisable to invest in one of those metal mesh travel safes that will anchor to a post for the computer and camera?
I brought a huge lockable Pelican case for humidity and security to put all my equipment in and have NO regrets, so do whatever will make you comfortable. PC will also give you a huge lockable tin box to store items in your house.
Phone? Keep the one I've got and do international service, or deal with it when I get there?
I think 2 FRE7s brought unlockable phones and then do pre-pay VODAFONE. We looked into the AT&T international service and it was wickedly expensive. With Vodafone and Quickdial there are always specials to call home. Also, texts to the US cost the same as texts to other Fijian phones on Vodafone.
Also, we posted the below comments on our blog….
We have been meaning to write up some pointers for volunteers planning
their trip next May so here goes at some lessons learned our first
few months in Fiji:
1. Phone: Don’t purchase the Sagem phone from Vodafone stores.
Instead purchase a phone with a recognizable name like Nokia or
Motorola. The off-brand phones are crap and don’t have near the
features main line brands due.
You can also purchase an EasyTel phone that is cheaper to use. Calls
back home are $.30 cents a minute verses $.70 on Vodafone. ET service
is more reliable also. The only draw back is the phone is twice as
big. But if you got a lanyard and wore it around your neck it would
be a nice fashion statement: “I have a huge phone and don’t care.”
For married couples I recommend one getting Vodafone and the other
getting EasyTel. The EasyTel also connects to the internet, if you
have a PC (reference earlier blog for rant on this subject). Sorry
Macs, I guess there is a limitation to your superiority. We all need
to be humbled every once in a while.
The last tidbit on phones is be prepared to pay a lot to communicate.
Calling in Fiji is very expensive in relation to the allowance you
will be receiving.
2. Clothing: Unless you plan on hiring out your laundry duties to
somebody, don’t bring much cotton. Everything I read prior to coming
said bring sturdy cotton clothes. Cotton is a hollow fiber and traps
moisture and sweat creating odors. It dries slower than synthetic
fibers and stretches out. Cotton clothing is also much harder to wash
as it is very heavy wet and hard to wring out. Therefore go the
synthetic route in all articles.
The only exception is if you hire Fijians to do your laundry. In this
case cotton makes sense because when Fijians wash, they don’t mess
around. The clothes are scraped and scrubbed to within an inch of its
life and synthetics will simply not endure this torture for long.
3. Socks: I read a lot that said good socks are hard to find. I have
discovered that they are not worth finding because they aren’t needed.
Unless you run a lot, most of the time I wear flip-flops and don’t
need socks. I don’t know the quality, but on just about every street
there is a vendor selling socks in Suva. I brought ten pairs and need
4. White Clothing: Another misnomer communicated to volunteers
heading out to Fiji is don’t bring white. Fijians love white and
often you will be required to wear white to social functions,
especially church. Although it is hard to keep clean, it is even
harder to find a nice white shirt or blouse. The only thick white
t-shirt I could find at the used clothing stores without stains all
over it was one that said ‘Show Me Your Boobies’. The new shirts are
very thin material and expensive.
5. Ties: Men should bring a nice tie. I wear one twice a week and
it is a zip up tie. This it the only cheap tie I could find. Most of
the ties at used clothing stores have Santa Claus on them or look like
they were once used for cargo straps.
6. Clothes Pins: Bring wooden clothespins. The ubiquitous plastic
clothespins tear your clothes and break easily. We’ve only found
wooden ones at Cost-U-Less and it is hit or miss when they are in
7. Coffee: Bring a good stainless steel coffee press if you like
coffee. Very expensive ones are available in Suva but they are all
glass. Real coffee is only obtainable in Suva and not available in
the outer island super markets.
8. DVDs: Yes, everyone knows pirated DVDs are prevalent here and very
cheap. The problem is often they contain viruses and are either cheap
camcorder recordings of the movie from within the theater or a draft
version without the final special effects. As an example, I was
watching Wolverine at a friend’s house and the jets in the special
effects scenes where computer animated gray boxes. Often when the
characters started fighting they would magically convert to manikin
like figurines clad in monotone colors. And lastly it is illegal. I
know, I know, the movie industry makes a bajillion dollars and is
ruthless, but it is still illegal do buy pirated movies. Plus it
promotes dishonest business practices among locals and the spread of
malicious viruses. O.k., I will get off my moral soap box…
The bottom line is I wish I had raided the $5 movie section at
Blockbuster prior to coming over. Even bad movies are worth watching
(except the ‘Lords of Flatbush’, that movie is terrible) when it gets
dark at 6:00 and your only entertainment options are re-reading a book
for the fourth time, sharing dirt water in a communal cup with a group
of men who haven’t washed their hands in three days, or sleeping.
Another option is find a friend with a DVR and fill it. Bring an external HDD as the current volunteers have already collected quite a few AVI movies and TV shows to share.
Here are some things I heard to do but didn’t do them and wished I did:
1. Pictures: I wish I had brought more hard copy photos. Photos are
expensive here and showing them digitally on your laptop isn’t a good
idea for several reasons… Fijians love pictures and seeing your
2. Bags: We did a lot of research on bags and the choices I made
weren’t that good. I brought a pelican lap top case (1090CC Hardback
Laptop Case) and although it is sturdy, the strap is uncomfortable and
the space is limited to only your laptop and nothing else. It is also
kinda flimsy and not so airtight. I recommend Timbuktu bags as they
give Peace Corps volunteers a 50% discount and most are somewhat water
resistant, a major feature needed on any bag brought over.
Things I am glad I brought prior to coming over:
1. Laptop: From work to pleasure, a laptop is essential gear. The
internet café computers are often slow and randomly lock up. Plus the
cafes are often very crowded and hot. If you are on an outer island
the cafes are very expensive. Although Macs don’t work with most
internet providers, hopefully this will change soon, they are still
more resilient to the beating computers receive from not only nature,
but viruses, here in Fiji. I don’t regret bringing mine.
2. Snorkel Gear: Although it is laborious bringing over the snorkel
equipment, it is well worth the effort. The gear available here is
expensive and low quality. There is nothing worse than trying to
enjoy some of the world’s most beautiful underwater scenery and
battling leaky face masks, broken straps, and poorly designed
3. Insurance: The policy offered by the Peace Corps third party
insurer is crap. There are way too many exclusions and requirements
to make filing a claim in a third world country worthwhile. If you
can get USAA insurance do it. It isn’t that expensive and the
limitations are reasonable.
As an example, our camera was damaged beyond repair and they covered
the loss within 10 days, and all we had to do is email them what had
4. Leather: I didn’t bring hardly anything made of leather and am
glad I did. Our leather luggage tag rotted in 60 days. My leather
checkbook holder rotted in 20 days. It is hard to avoid all leather
items, such as hiking boots (which are another much needed item), but
if you keep them well ventilated and brush the mold off regularly they
5. Sandals: We bit the bullet and bought good sandals and they have
paid off handsomely. Keen and Chaco offer 50% PC discounts and both
are great quality. But again, stay away from leather ones.
6. Ear Plugs: Sleep the first few weeks in Fiji will be very
difficult. From birds, to chickens, to patio bands, to you name it…
There is often some sort of noise keeping you up at night. After
awhile my brain adapted but it took a good 12 weeks. I brought ear
plugs but not good ones. If you can find custom ear plugs designed
for your ear and easily cleanable bring them. You will be glad you
did when that pesky rooster decides to sound off outside your window
every morning at 3:30am.
Here are Kelly’s notes:
Toiletries – deodorant, razors, individually wrapped hand-sanitizer wipes,
Electronics – USB drives, batteries, extra headphones
Kitchen – really good knife, garlic press, can opener, nalgene bottle,
or aluminum water bottle
PC provides – face soap, aloe, sunscreen, mosquito repellant,
vitamins, female products, dental floss and all the medical items you
can think of.
Bring your crappiest clothes and mostly shirts because you will wear
sulus everyday and will want to burn everything that is left when you
Workout equipment – bands, ball, DVDs, etc. Fijians don’t exercise and
they will make fun of you running.
Note to females from Kelly – the PC provides plenty of tampons and
pads, so you only need to pack enough for a week. Sports bras are more
comfortable than regular bras when you are sweating your brains out.
And yes it is unfortunately true – you have to wear a sulu or skirt
every stinking day in the village. I can only wear shorts/pants in the
cities and when hiking.
Kelly’s Fiji Update – April 7, 2010
I hope you had a wonderful Easter. We miss you most during the holidays!! We celebrated with 6 PCV friends coming for a visit and then the President of Fiji came for a brief tour of the island on Wednesday. He surveyed the damage caused by cyclone Tomas and gave words of encouragement to the community. He thanked Matt and I for our service and was very supportive of Peace Corps. I'll be honest, it is nice to hear that every once in a while! ;o) But we are MOST excited about my parents coming TOMORROW for a visit and then we will travel with them on to New Zealand!!! YEAH!!!
We love, love, love you! Kelly & Matt
Thankfully, bad days are as close to hell as I will get.
Am I trying to pray myself out of a situation I behaved myself in to?
God can still use me in my disobedience, it is just a bit more painful for me … but not Him.
People that always want to go deep are often shallow.
I can either worship my money or worship with my money.
visit us online @ http://www.kioaisland.org/
Mataio's garden had one sole survivor Post-Tomas. We named it "Papa" after our favorite tomato-grower!
Cleaning all the dead leaves out of the gutter during a rain storm.
The president of Fiji visited us to see damage caused by Tomas.
2010-03-28: The Final Path
This is the final track of Tomas issued by the Fijian Meteorological Service.
Here are satellite images I pulled from NOAA during the storm. Ului is on the left and Tomas on the right. Kioa is at about 179 W longitude (just to the left of the 180 line) and 18 S latitude. Notice the time (Z stands for UTC) in the lower left corner. It is amazing how slow this storm moved.
2010-03-21 to 27: Aftermath
I returned to Kioa on Thursday afternoon. After waiting at the bus stand from 6:45 to 8:00 am and learning there were no buses to Buca Bay and possibly wouldnÂ’t be until next week I searched for alternatives. The Suliven Ferry had pulled into port as well as the Westland, a smaller ferry. The Westland was making a trip to Taveuni. I called Ruth and Sat to see if the all clear had been given on boat transportation but didnÂ’t hear back in time before they left.
At 11:00 am I finally heard back from Peace Corps that they would fund a lorrie transport back to site. This was currently the only, and very expensive, option. I packed my things and headed out. About 4km outside of town the phones stopped working. Sand was washed over the road in several locations and the remnants of carved up trees once sprawled across the road were everywhere. We passed four dump trucks and two track loaders slowly putting the pieces back together. The dump trucks were simply emptying their loads in the middle of the road with no equipment to spread it. Therefore, the already challenging roads before the storm hit where made monumentally more difficult to navigate. At one point we became slightly airborne from a hidden series of undulations in the recently laid road base.
The 1985 Mitsubishi B8500 held together fine, though. The driverÂ’s confidence in his machine was nothing less than inspirational. His driving style was a mix between Monster Truck and NASCAR with a touch of grandpa. They grandpa came into play while passing pedestrians. He would always throw a hand out the window or work the winded horn while white knuckling a hairpin turn on gravel with the other.
Meanwhile I was trying to survey the damage but found it hard to keep my eyes off the road constantly wondering if the ditch ahead would be my final resting place. Alas, we safely arrived at Nutuvu bay. The next leg of the journey via fibre was much more uncertain. Without phones I couldnÂ’t call for a boat and I was simply relying on faith that one would be there at the jetty or a villager would have one nearby. I tried to hire the Nutuvu MissionÂ’s boat but that went nowhere quick. I asked about SonnyÂ’s boat, a ferry operator living nearby, but the word was his boat was now onshore. Finally Moses showed up. Not part the Red Sea Moses, although that would have been helpful, but the stocky Fijian Moses. He had a boat and asked what the fare was for typically boat rides to Kioa. I told then and then he doubled it saying fuel would cost $25 when in actuality it only costs about $11. My next best alternative was sleeping on the jetty so I took the deal.
On the way over the contrast between the Vanua Levu side of the bay and the Kioa side of the bay was shocking. It looked like a blue northern with a blowtorch had attacked Kioa. The vegetation that hadnÂ’t been blown to Egypt was brown and the trees were barren and stark. As we rounded the point making our way into Salia Bay the first thing I noticed was how open everything looked. Before the green foliage cradled the village like a baby in swaddling clothes. Now it more closely resembled a Mexican border town. The once majestic and plump Baka trees were half their normal size with a half of their limbs blown backward. I noticed several roofs strangely vacant and the main village bure on the beach now absent.
The captain offloaded me at the same spot I had left from almost one week ago. Several villagers were gathered around an umu, which somehow had survived the storm, and were playing cards and eating. This is the exact same thing they were doing when I left almost a week ago so it was a strange sign of comfort that things may be o.k. I asked Semeulu if everybody was safe and he simply said, Â“Yes.Â” I tried to get some elaboration but the gist of it turned out that despite the damage visible from the bay somehow nobody had gotten injured during the onslaught.
I made my way to our house through the debris and rubbish covering the once peaceful and shaded footpath. The first thing I notices was the bare Baka tree that once stood between our house and the shore. Most of its leaves where now collected on our lawn along with coconut palms, coconuts, and random branches of trees blown from who knows where. Our neighbors kindly placed my papao below our house and turned it over so it wouldnÂ’t fill with water. SamaluÂ’s sons had tied the roof of our restroom and shower extension down with thick rope. A sight I couldnÂ’t believe was the survival of the hanging topsy-turvy planter and my homemade Fijian Flip Flopper planter. Of course the plants where long gone but the planters had survived the 240km/hour wind gusts dangling from the eves.
The inside of the house was a different story. The floor was coated with leaves, sand, debris, and salt. Everything in the house was wet and covered with a thin layer of a sand and salt grime. Our neighbors reported that the storm surge waves hit our house and water most likely covered the bottom 2-3 feet of our home.
I really didnÂ’t know where to start with the clean up processes. Everywhere I turned there was something to clean, sweep, or wipe down. I suddenly had great empathy for flood victims. After about three days of cleaning the house was somewhat back to normal.
Kelly made it back to Savusavu after trying for a few days to get a flight out of Suva. Thankfully phone service was re-established the day she came back to Kioa, seven days after the storm hit.
Since she has been back weÂ’ve pretty much cleaned every day, all day. We had to purchase another mattress and pillows but other than that we think weÂ’ve salvaged most items (except for electronics and paper products) through sunning them everyday. The good news is it has been hot and somewhat breezy every day since Tomas making the drying out process faster. The bad news it has been hot and not nearly breezy enough since Tomas making the sweating process almost unbearable.
Yesterday, the 26th, the clouds were here and KellyÂ’s bodily sweat-o-meter forecasted imminent showers. She tends to erupt prior to all major precipitation events, which has become quite handy for my outdoor pursuits. Hopefully this gift remains when we get back to the states and I can farm her out as a part time meteorologist. With rain on the forecast I decided to clean out the rain catchment. It was coated with sea spray residue and full of sand and salt water.
This was not a fun process. Just draining the 5,000 litre tank took three hours. The local ducks, which our new neighbors brought with them when they moved in after their roof got blown away, loved the man made pond. The tamalikiÂ’s also had a lot of fun splashing in the puddles.
After it fully drained I tipped it over and crawled into the 36Â” diameter hole with a scrub brush, headlamp, and water hose. It was about 300 degrees inside the tank with no air circulation. My glasses immediately fogged rendering them useless. I was glad I had decided to take on this venture, however, as the bottom was black with mud and sides had a thin layer of sand. After scrubbing and washing for about 45 minutes Lima helped me tip the tank back to its foundation and I re-installed the tap.
The rain never showed up in the afternoon and I was beginning to worry we might be stuck with tap water for the foreseeable future. This is the same water that tested for pathogens a few weeks back. About 10 pm, though, the skies opened and it rained all night filling the tank with about 1,000 litres.
All in all we really dodged a bullet with this storm. If the eye wall had passed over Kioa IÂ’m not sure if even our house, much less the older less reinforced houses, would have withstood the winds and am frankly surprised how they made it through the reported 240km/hour (150mph) winds as it is.
Restoration is quickly on the way forward and as of today, the 27th, most of the debris is cleared and people are back to their routines. The government brought two week rations yesterday and is planning on coming back with a three-month supply soon after those run out. WeÂ’ve heard there is a sugar shortage but of anything to be short of in Fiji, sugar is probably the best thing. Fiji has one of the highest per capita percentages of population with diabetes and obesity in the world.
We are also back to a routine and are trying to help where needed. Frankly, the Kioans are very self reliant and we havenÂ’t had to do a whole lot. That is good as Peace Corps main goal is capacity building helping people build skills to help themselves. We stand ready, though, to step in once people have more time away from planting and weaving to re-start our training programs and projects. Hopefully all this will be nothing but an unpleasant memory in a few months.
Hurricane Tomas Before and After Pictures:
Footpath to our house before
Footpath to our house after