Keni Stops Play – Thursday 12th April

It had been a productive and highly enjoyable sixth week volunteering in the Yasawa Islands. The only disruption to the scheduled school visits had been on Thursday when we had carries out activities at base due to a poor water forecast. This had been followed on the Friday by a slightly hairy experience on our small boat in a larger than usual swell.

This was a perhaps a pre-warning of the storm which was approaching. It was a depression coming from the west which had caught the eye of forecasters who thought it had potential to become a cyclone. The damage from a Category 1 cyclone isn’t usually too significant I can’t so we weren’t too concerned.

On Saturday I waved goodbye to fellow volunteers Jessica and Steph, leaving school teacher Heather and myself with team members Gabby and Jim. Saturday afternoon and evening was relaxed at Botaria Resort, but the next day was far from it…

That night there was loud cracks of thunder over the islands as the rain poured down. We were starting to experience the first indications of the area of low pressure. After breakfast Heather received a phone call from Elle, general manager of “Vinaka Fiji”, informing us we were to be evacuated to the main island – Vitu Levu.

Elle is also plays a significant roll in the “Awesome Adventures” company, an organisation which helps run several of the 16 resorts in the Yasawas chain. It also provides the flyer, a daily catamaran service which provides the best way of travelling to your chosen resort while seeing the other islands. Therefore, it was her call to evacuate all guests at the resorts to Port Denaru on the mainland.

The Flyer is timetabled to arrive at Botaria at 11am on its way north. This time it arrived early and turned at the next resort along, picking up all tourists south of Naviti. Another boat would do the resorts north of Naviti.

The first challenge was actually getting on the Flyer. None of the resorts have a mooring large enough, so we are taken by small longboat to the flyer which stops just out to sea. Once the resort’s boat captain has managed to park next to the catamaran, passengers must step from one vessel to the other. This can be difficult in stormy conditions and proved to be today as Heather and I both found it hard to find any sort of steady surface to step on.

Thankfully making it onto the boat, we started our winding four hour journey south. As every guest at every resort was leaving the Flyer was soon at full capacity. Luckily Heather and I were able to find seats in the middle and at the back of the boat as we swayed from side to side in the large swell. This is seemingly the best place to sit if you don’t have good sea legs.

Relieved to arrive at the port, it was a farewell to Heather who had unfortunately only been able to spend one day volunteering while in Fiji. I was then given a lift from Elle herself to Nadi Bay, an inland hotel which would be my shelter for the next few days.

The next few days were spent sitting around and not doing very much at all. I was desperate to return to the islands but knew this was the a safe place to be as the cyclone arrived. On Tuesday it hit Nadi and there was high winds and flooding in other parts of Fiji. Nadi Bay was a sheltered spot and I felt sorry for the locals who had been forced to batch down the hatches again after the flooding which had followed Cyclone Josie a couple of weeks ago.

“Vinaka Fiji” team member Ross’ family home was flooded along with his farm just outside Nadi. Dengue fever had also been going around his village and he fell victin to it for two weeks. Meanwhile, Gabby and Jim had trekked to Kese when we were evacuated on Sunday. This village on the other side of Naviti from Botaria was hit by flooding from the heavy rainfall.

The Flyer didn’t run next untill Thursday and I met Miss Tema at the port. She had been forced to take an extended break and we were both unaware that Ross was ill as he didn’t join us on the boat. The cyclone had even worse effects in Kadavu, an island 60 miles south of the mainland. Roofs were torn of houses and locals said they thought the world was going to end, as Keni intensified into a Category 3 cyclone.

Arriving in the Yasawas again it was great to be back, but hard to hear of the difficulty my Fijian friends had faced. Difficulties that many say our becoming more common as climate change has a huge effect on a country which actually contributes to the global problem on a much smaller scale than most. When Cyclone Winston hit Fiji in January 2016 it was the strongest ever to hit the Pacific region. Huge Disruption was widespread and the current Fijian government now treats globe warming as a hugely important issue. Let’s hope for the sake of this beautiful group of islands, that there is now some restbite.

 

 

 

 

 

Good Friday – 30/03/18

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On Good Friday morning my alarm sounded at 4 am, eventually waking me from my slumber. Today the “Vinaka Fiji” team would be travelling to Kese village on Naviti to attend a 5 am church service.

As I finally came to, I listened to the wind and rain which disturbed the otherwise silent Bure 9 (shared accomodation). Maybe we wouldn’t be going today. Maybe the weather would keep us in our beds. Part of me hoped this was true as I struggled to find my sulu.

My roommates and fellow volunteers stirred as I tried to organise myself in the darkness. A short exchange of words later and I realised I would be the only one of us going on this early morning adventure.

In the Main Bure I found the three other volunteers looking as tired as I felt. Soon we were also joined by one of our faithful boat captains, Semmi who was from Kese. Half an hour later we were boarding the long boat in the still pitch blackness.

Elle, operations manager of “Vinaka Fiji”, and Tema, the education team leader, joined us on the boat. Looks like we would be going. Slightly less tired now, I grew a bit more enthusiastic after Tema told me that this was the first time they had taken the boat out in the dark.

The boat didn’t take long to get up to speed and we cruised through the darkness, a slight bump every now and then the only reminder that we were out to sea. On our way to Kese we passed the “Fijian Princess”, a cruse ship we had visited and given a talk to the day before.

About 45 minutes after leaving we arrived at Kese as the rain began to come on heavy again. We winded our way through the village to the church located at the back of Kese, passing the orginal church building. A structure which was a shocking reminder of Cyclone Winston (January 2016) which had totally blown it’d roof off.

Eventually we found the church. By this point it was around 6 am, meaning we had missed the first half of the service. However, we were of course welcomed in and chairs were quickly organised for us.

We watched as the congregation of 30 participated in song and prayer, being led by a Pastor who stood at the front of the church. At some points during the service Elle would stand up and address the congregation, talking about “Vinaka Fiji” and our role in the community as volunteers.

This must have lasted for around half an hour and when the service came to an end each church goer came up and shook our hands. This was quite touching and a lovely gesture.

Following this we re-entered the rain for a short while, walking to the Pastor’s house to have a bite to eat. Breakfast was a huge collection of yummy cakes, toast and scrambled egg. This did the job as I think our stomachs were all rumbling.

Breakfast was served with tea and coffee, and after our plates had been cleared, we sat and talked untill 8 am when we left for base. Fijian hospitality had again proved it was a world beater and the church visit had been a great experience. An experience that the average visitor to this part of the would be unlikely to have.

A Day in the Life of a “Vinaka Fiji” Volunteer

As I might have mentioned in my previous posts I am in the magical Yasawa Islands in Fiji. My reason for being here? Five days a week I am travelling out to three primary schools and one high school to volunteer.

Details about the type of volunteering are in a previous post, but what has happened in the average day for the last month or so. I’ll tell you….

0600 – On weekdays and in fact most days I will wake up now, often being woken by the amazingly bright sunrise.

0630 – After I have  watched the sunrise from the Sunrise beach (adaptly named I know) and perhaps read my book for a while, I try to go for a run. If your not a fan of running up and down the beach then there is the ‘Hike’ up to the higest point of Drawqa Island. This run usually takes about 20 minutes though can take longer if I meet Saki. Read the next one!

0700 – Short shower. All of the showers on the island are set to cold making them a great way to refresh after sweating it out on the run. Sometimes if it’s a really warm morning I’ll go swimming in the sea instead.

0715 – Breakfast! Best meal of the day. There is a big selection for breakfast I tend to keep it simple with some cornflakes. Sometimes I’ll treat myself with a pancake if I’ve had a particularly hard time on the ‘Hike’. At breakfast we will receive our pack lunches for the day and will choose what we want for dinner that night. So much thinking about food at the same time!

0800 – After breakfast the boat will depart to the next island along, Naviti. Journey time depends on which school we go to, the weather and which boat captain we have. Though in fairness Jim and Sammi are both exceptional. The closest school at Soso usually takes about 20 minutes to travel to, while Naviti District School can take up to 45 minutes to get to.

0900 – Most of the schools start their day at this time and we will usually get our first students of the day just after the bell. As mentioned previously, each session with a student is meant to last 25 minutes.

1030 – Mid Morning Break. Between the start of the day and recess we will likely see about three students each. This break lasts 15 minutes. If I’m lucky I sometimes get to throw a rugby ball around with some of the kids.

1200 – Most of the time this will be when we take a break for lunch and can attempt to eat the enormous contents of our pack lunch boxes which will often contain fish, or rice. Most of the primary schools have lunch at the time, but Yasawa High School students don’t knock off until 1 pm.

1330 – Our lunch break lasts for a long time! It is often very hot and humid by midday/early afternoon so it is nice to take rest bite by going paddling in the nearby ocean after sitting on the beach. Eventually we will start with the students again and will usually see about two each before we leave for ‘home’.

1430 – Mid afternoon we will usually wander down to the beach to catch the boat back to ‘Barefoot Manta’. Sometimes the long boat will be waiting for us while on other occasions we will depart at around 3 pm. Before we leave the high school we will often choose some resources to take with us we know we will be visiting one of the more remote schools the next day.

1530 – Most days we will arrive back at ‘Barefoot’ in the late afternoon and will sit back and relax until dinner. Depending on how I’m feeling I might do the ‘Hike’ again or have a nap. Recently the nap seems to have been the preferred option as the heat and a course of antibiotics for an infection on my ankle has made me feel quite drowsy by this time of the day.

1800 – Will try and catch the sunset from the beach on the other side of the island if there is one! Have tended to be more lucky with stunning sunrises for some reason.

 

1830 – By this time in the evening I’ll make my way down to the Main Bure or to the sunset deck in preparation for dinner at 7 pm which is always top notch.

2000 – Sometimes there will be post-dinner entertainment. Every Friday the staff members will patrcipate in Fijian traditional singing and dancing, ending in a rendition of the national anthem.

2100 – As a result of the heat I will often find myself going to be early during the week. Before I got to bed I like going to the beach with my music. The lack of natural light means there is a stunning view of the stars when there is little cloud cover.

2130 – Bedtime. Ready to do something similar the next day!

Weekends – My weekends tend to be spent chilling by the beach, running and just socialising with the other volunteers. Not a bad way to spend your days off! In recent weeks I have kayaked around the island and last weekend I went to Naviti to watch a local rugby game. This was a great experience and some of the hits the locals put on each other were massive. I couldn’t choose a better place to spend your down time!

 

 

Why Have I Actually Travelled to Fiji?

Believe it or not there was actually a specific purpose to travelling to the other side of the world. As well as enjoying the island paradise which I have found myself on, I will also spend the next six weeks travelling in between three schools on a voluntary basis.

Now two weeks in, I have learnt a lot about the school environment in this very specific part of the Pacific region. The three schools I have been travelling to with two other volunteers are all located on the largest of the Yasawa Islands, Naviti.

From Monday to Friday, we embark on a small boat which takes between 30 minutes and an hour to reach Naviti. This depends on which school we are visiting, whether we need to do errands and the weather conditions.

I have found the boat ride a very enjoyable experience, feeling the cooler air on my face as we speed between the islands. However, a choppy day last week has confirmed that my stomach and I are not fans of rolling and pitching when the waves get slightly larger.

Most days we will visit Naviti Elementary School, a compound which has faced many challenges after a monsoon paid a visit a few weeks before I arrived. With children up to Year 8 attending you would presume there would be eight classrooms.

Unfortunately these buildings were torn apart by the high winds, forcing the teachers to set up tents. These temporary classrooms make it very difficult for the pupils and teachers, as temperatures often rise to 30 degrees plus.

Even more recently these tents were blown down and flooded by a  short storm while we were here. This had resulted in two days off school at the start of the week, before six classes were forced into the teachers’ accommodation to study, while the other two remain in the tents in a muddy field.

When we visited the school earlier today we were lucky enough to sit through assembly. During the headteachers’ remarks he thanked the children for showing up to school despite the challanges they were currently facing.

Prayer was also said before he reminded pupils that they needed to follow the strict dress code which dictates that knees should be covered at all times. I have also been following this dress code, wearing a sulu (or sarong).

Going into the volunteering I wasn’t sure what my role would but I thought it likely included helping out in the classroom. Instead, pupils come up to a building set aside for “Vinaka Fiji” volunteers.

This base has many resources that have been donated to the organisation and when the pupils visit we will usually spend one-on-one time with them for 25 minutes. This time is spent reading or teaching them English words that they might not know.

This can be quite challenging with the younger pupils especially because they will usually speak Fijian at home and when with their school mates. There is definitely more translation included than I was expecting. I was also saddeed to find out the reason they put their hands over their heads when they get a question wrong.

The base is located in Yasawa High School which is on the same campus as Naviti Elementary. This is the school we will visit when the elementary is closed. Pupils start high school in Year 9 before leaving in Year 14, often for the mainland.

Although it wasn’t as badly affected by the monsoon, older pupils face many other challenges. As the only high school in the Yasawas, boarding is offered to pupils, a amenity that it has to fork out for itself. Pupils who board are woken at 5.30 every morning before being put to work in the fields until 7. School starts at 8am. Not the easiest start to a school day.

For many pupils who don’t board it is equally as difficult as they leave home at 7am to make a difficult hike over the mountain from their villages on the other side of the island. They must walk up a steep ascent and descent which I can imagine becomes treacherous after heavy rain. Having caught a glimpse of the route, it doesn’t look like a track I would want to tackle bare foot or in sandals. A reality for the students.

We do similar activities with the high schoolers when they visit the base. Some have good English while others struggle to even write a sentence. These students can be very difficult to work with, but slowly reading through a book with them can be rewarding as they start to pick up new words.

On Fridays, or when the weather is too stormy, we visit Apensia Memorial School located in the nearer village of Soso. This is another elementary school of around 80 pupils set in a background of two foliage covered hills. Two rugby posts made of bamboo add to this stunning setting.

Inside the school building there is three classes,  with the youngest students hosted by a nearby building. “Vinaka Fiji” doesn’t have a base here, so we sit on the floor of the school office when reading to the kids.

In the last couple of weeks we have focused on learning rhyming words, with a large collection of Dr Zeuss books coming in handy. Intrestingly the children at this school seem to be much further ahead than the ones we work with at Naviti Elementary. This is surely a result of the many challenges that the Naviti students face on a daily basis.

Friday afternoons at Apensia are fun as they are set aside for “organised” sports. This includes kids of all ages running around throwing rugby balls and footballs, while showing why the Fijians are known for their offloading skills even at a very young age. I try to take part even if trying to pass three balls to like 15 children at the same time can be challenging!

 

Adaptions to Travelling to the Other Side of the World

I have now been in Fiji for eleven days. Three days on the mainland followed by eight days on Barefoot Island, a tiny island in the remote Yasawas. Looking back on my short time in this magical part of the world, I thought I would look into eleven adaptions that I’ve had to make to life literally half the world away from Scotland.

1. Air Travel – Having never travelled by airplane alone, using three flights and visiting four airports was a bit of a thought. However, I quickly learned the protocols that needed to be followed when using this form of transportation. I’m not a particularly nervous flyer, but did become restless when tackling the 14 hour flight from Dubai to Brisbane. Good tips would be to take a good book, watch a few movies, sleep and whatever you do don’t clock watch!

2. A different accent – The majority of Fijians speak English along with their native Fijian. However, there is a minority that speaks Indo-Fijian and most Fijians have a strong Pacific accent which my ears weren’t used to picking up. They are now!

3. Very friendly people – This doesn’t sound like much of a challenge and isn’t. Most Fijians seem to be the most friendly people I have ever come across and take great delight in greeting you with an enthusiastic “bula” in passing. In Scotland we aren’t that big on saying hello to strangers, so it’s important to pay attention and respond if greeted this way!

4. The Heat – Coming from a sub-zero Scottish winter to the Fijian Summer was always going to be a big step. Now in the wet season, temperatures usually hover between 25 and 30 degrees celsius, with humidity often upwards of 75%. If wanting to go for a run then you need to get up early. Although the warm ocean is a great place to cool off after breaking a sweat.

5. Mosquitoes – If travelling to Fiji you need to be prepared to wear lots of mosquito spray, ecspecially at night or after rain showers when they are at their worst. I have lots of red bumps and spots, but have become gradually better at not itching them and making them worse.

6. Wearing lots of Sun Cream – On most home-is-best Scottish holidays sun cream is an accessory that can often be left at the bottom of the suitcase. In Fiji however, you need to make sure you are throughly covered in the white stuff.  Two very unattractive shoulders covered in brown and white patches are a reminder that I learnt the hard way.

7. Shared sleeping spaces – Sleeping in close proximity to strangers isn’t something that I’m used to but was a good opportunity to meet other travellers.  Although it can be difficult depending on who your dorm mates are. Despite an intresting encounter with a French couple who pushed the boundaries of what was appropriate in a shared space, I have been lucky. Luck of the draw I guess.

8. “Fiji Time” – The Fijian concept of time seems to be a much looser concept than at home. Patience is a virtue and for things to run slightly late at a more relaxed pace is the norm. Can be a change from the systematic  approach to time in the Western world. I’ve become a big fan of “Fiji Time”!

9. A Kava Ceremony – When being welcomed into a village or onto an island, visitors should be prepared to participate in a ceremony where a drink made of pepper plant root is consumed while sitting in a circle. Although it may look slightly like muddy water is doesn’t taste too bad at all and it was great to take part in an important part of Fijian culture.

10. The Food – No complaints here! Delicious meals including fish, rice and lots of salad are often cooked up for visitors. If you are worried about changes in diet you should take stomach tablets. I have some but hope not to use them. Fingers crossed!

11. Jet lag – Lastly there is obviously a reaction to travelling to the other side of the world. Fiji happens to be 12 hours ahead of GMT, meaning that it can be difficult to get used to this significant time difference. I managed to sleep a lot while flying and went to bed at 8pm local time the evening I arrived. This seemed to help, although my waking hours have changed drastically. I usually go to bed at 9 pm, waking at 6 am, before often napping when late afternoon rolls around. I think it may be the heat!

 

First Impressions of Fiji

After a mammoth journey over three continents and including three international airports, I had arrived on Fijian soil. Stepping out of the airport I had been met by a blast of hot, humid air, my first breath of Southern Hempisphere air as I sety watch to late afternoon.

I was taken by shuttle taxi to where I would be staying first. The plan was to stay on the mainland, 15 minutes from Nadi Airport in a resort next to the beach. I hoped that it would go some way in destroying my flight lag.

The “Smugglers Cove” resort turned out to be a great cure with good food, lovely staff and a well conditioned dormitory where I spent a fair few hours sleeping when I arrived. Sleeping from 8pm to 7am on my first night there.

This meant that I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed. Although I was quickly reminded when I wondered out onto the beach that these temperatures would take some getting used to. With the mercury nearing 30 degrees by mid morning.

I decided to go for a short wonder along the road but quickly found out this wasn’t really the thing for a tourist to do. Was stopped by many taxi drivers and drivers who wondered where I was going and whether they could give me a lift.

It was the second night at the resort that I met the most Australian man in the world called Ash. Nothing was off the table with this “bloke” and he delighted in telling me about every personal detail of his travels, not leaving much to spate. He didn’t seem impressed when I told him I didn’t think much of Australian Football.

It was during this chat that one of the resort staff, Rita, asked me whether I was travelling alone. On finding out I was, she insisted on giving me her bus e-card to travel into town (Nadi) and then onwards to the Port Denaru marina. Giving it toe the warning that if I lost it should would kill me.

With this in mind, I spent my last day before travelling to the Yaswa Islands, riding the local buses. Rita had given me strict instructions to follow and I had wondered up to the nearest bus stop with no idea about when the next bus would arrive.

20 minutes passed before I was joined by a local who explained she was also headed for Port Denaru, telling me to follow her. This had come from her ability to make conversation with a stranger at a bus stop. A skill which Fijians seem much better at than us Scots.

The first bus to Nadi was loud and had little windows, but gave a good insight into rural Fiji. It didn’t take long to get to town and when we did we were met by a huge queue of buses revving their engines at the bus terminal.

A short walk later I was on the “Yellow Bus” to the marina, thanking the kind lady who helped me as she got off to work at the “Hilton”. Port Denaru would be where I would get the boat out to remote Fiji the next day, though after buying some new sunglasses there didn’t seem too much else to do in the many shops and I headed back, looking forward to the next adventure.

That night we were treated to traditional dancing and fire throwing. Which looked no less dangerous than amazing.

The next morning I rose early, packing everything and getting on the “Awesome Adventures” coach with a huge school class from Norway. A long way for a school trip to go!

After a short journey to the marina I had visited yesterday, I met with the volunteer leader and was suprised to find out that I would be working alongside one other volunteer called Alex. After being provided with our tickets for the “Yaswa Flyer” and a t-shirt to be worn in the school, we boarded the boat for paradise.

 

 

The Big Trip

Only six weeks after booking the adenture of a lifetime to the Fiji Islands I was being seen off by my Dad at Glasgow Airport. I was nervous but thrilled to be given an opportunity to travel to the other side of the world to meet new people and have some exciting experiences.

This excitement was complemented by some nerves as being 19, I had never travelled solo by plane. This trip would include three flights and four airports, a thought for the inexpirenced traveller. The three boarding passes clutched by my side reminded me off this epic 35 hour plus trip as I waited to board the first flight to Dubai.

As I waited, I overhead some antipodean accents and wondered if any passengers would be joining me for my second flight to Brisbane as well.

On boarding I was pleasantly surprised that I found my seat so easily, usually being one to commit some sort of faux-pas at this point. I had an aisle seat, sitting beside two Glaswegian honeymooners going to Bangkok.

If your going long haul, “Emirates” seems the way to do it. Being seated in economy class, I was given good food and had plenty of leg room. I had no complaints, even if the lady harassing the flight attendants in front of me disagreed.

We left the cold, dark surroundings of Glasgow at 8.50 pm landing in Dubai the next morning, they’re time. On approach to Dubai we flew over the city and we’re given good views of the urban landscape and dessert that stretched inland like a massive sandpit. It looked warm, but my next destination would perhaps be warmer.

Before landing I was concerned I would struggle to find my was around the massive airport, but was helped greatly by clear signage at every turn. It took 15 minutes to walk to the gate where I decided to stretch my legs round duty-free rather than sit with the masses bound for Brisbane or Auckland.

Soon enough I was going through a security check before boarding the largest passenger plane in the world.** Surely it would be harder to my seat this time? Again no issues and a settled down for the definition of a long haul flight – 14 hours in the air.

Sitting right at the front of the plane, I found myself between a Kenyan women and a man from Gloucester, who tried to convince me that the Scottish Rugby team were still as good as we thought they were. This being after I told him where I was from.

I tried to remain relaxed but found the middle of flight quite wearing as I watched our location on the map get closer to the Australian coast without seemingly ever finding land. The man beside me was less relaxed, walking about every 30 minutes and using an unusual device to take on board “atmospheric” oxygen. This did however give me lots of opportunities to go pee while not bothering anyone to move as he sat be tween me and the aisle.

It took five hours to cross Australia, before we hit the tarmac hard at Brisbane. I had a four hour break here, and as I wondered around the departures area, I realised that I was at least 10,000 miles away from anyone I had close links too. A mega-scary but also mega-exciting thought.

With some time to spare,  I went in search of some Fijian dollars and took out 100FDJ***. When asked by the cash exchange server if I wanted to know about future deals I might want to know about I declined, telling her I didn’t think I would be here too often. She laughed while looking enqusitvely at my Bank of Scotland card.

In deed most people I had come across so far had been slightly bemused when I told them where I was from and that I was travelling alone.

My flight left Brisbane at 10.30 am, on time despite the gathering storm clouds visible from the terminal building. By this point my body clock was throughly confused, but I still horsed down the tasty curry on the flight.

If the passengers and crew of the Fijian Airways flight were an advertisement for Fiji then they were a very good one. They welcome us aboard with aboard with a friendly “bula” – meaning hello and really all round happiness. They were dressed with colourfull Pacifican clothes and wore big smiles.

On our final descent into Nadi on the main Fijian island of Vitu Levu, the Fijian beside me complained that it was going to be cold when we landed. After a smooth landing in a rainstorm, she was proven wrong (in my eyes) as I was hit by a wave of humid air as we made our way towards the airport building.

I realised that the real adventure had now begun!

*Airbus A380 if your an airplane geek like me.

**Equivalent of approx. £35.