Sunday, June 28, 2015

Day 15: Thursday

Today was the day we left Fiji... As one last fun thing before we left, we went to the so-called "nicest beach in Fiji" which was actually not so nice because I ripped the bottom of my foot open on some seaweed. Everyone went surfing on the beach, but I didn't go because I've been surfing a bunch before and I just didn't feel like it, so I sat with Mariam and Grace on the beach, at least until Bora finished surfing because then Mariam went to sit with him. We left that beach to try some harder waves for the surfers, so we drove like five minutes down the beach to another strip of beach that looked the exact same as the first one. We had lunch there, which was really unsatisfying roti with tarot leaves and onions inside, so pretty much everyone went to the restaurant next door to supplement our lunch. Ulla, Grace, and I sat together and I ordered two cans of peanuts and Grace ordered some french fries. After that, we got back into the van and went back to Smuggler's Cove. We had a nice dinner at this restaurant near Smuggler's Cove-- three choices on pasta dishes. Then we left for the airport. We took our first long flight, and I sat in between Jacob and some random woman, who kept resting her arm on my hip. On the flight, Jacob goes to the bathroom for like a good 10 minutes and comes back announcing that he threw up. Once we landed in LAX, at least 4 other people, including myself, are feeling extremely nauseous. Meghan (apparently) threw up all over the security line and they almost didn't let her on to the plane. Bora said he felt like he was going to throw up, and so did Mrs. Simon, and I threw up on the plane to Houston. Once I got back to Houston, I couldn't even go to bed right away because I had to unpack all my clothes so that they wouldn't mildew. At one o'clock Houston time, I finally went to bed in my own bed for the first time in almost three weeks.

Day 14: Wednesday

Today was our last full day, so we decided to go out with a bang. We woke up at seven, same as most days, and then went to a very tourist-y village for a small kava ceremony. Then, Madiha and I, our guide, and a random couple from New Zealand got into the bed of a pick-up and drove all the way up a mountain to a hiking trail to get to a waterfall. The hike was about 20 minutes long, but it was fun because the New Zealand couple asked a lot of questions, so I actually learned a lot about the native plant life, like how pineapples grow pink and you can rub lemon leaves on yourself to avoid mosquito bites. Once we got to the waterfall, everyone seemed kind of disappointed because it wasn't as big as the other ones we had gone to, but I still thought it was cool. Lisa convinced me to get in with her, and we wanted to climb up all these rocks to take a picture, so a couple other people joined us. We actually climbed up the waterfall and there were all these little pools and big rocks. Everyone that didn't climb up looked like they were bored, but they really missed out. Once we were done at the waterfall, we started hiking back to the bus. The trucks weren't picking us up this time, so we had to walk the whole way back. I was walking near the front with our guide when he just looks up at this tree and says "Look! The grapefruits are ripe!" Then, he just grabbed a stick and chucked it at the tree. A grapefruit fell and he carved it up right there and gave some to everyone. Another guide went and got several more grapefruits, and we all had a big piece.

After the waterfall and the long hike back, we ate lunch, which was surprisingly good, and we took some pictures at the village. Next, we arrived at a mud pool and natural hot spring. There were these buckets of mud and everyone was painting it all over their bodies. It smelled really weird but I lathered it on. Then we took a bunch of group pictures. Finally, we had to rinse all the mud off in the mud pit. As we stepped in, it got worse and worse. The water was lukewarm cold, and the bottom of the pit was sloshy and muddy. Each step got my feet tangled in some kind of reed. I didn't even get all the mud off before I just gave up and went to the hot spring. The hot spring bottom had warm rocks at the bottom, which was much better than the mud. After a while in the hot spring, we got out, got dressed, and went back to Smuggler's Cove for dinner. We had cake and they sang Isa Isa for us. After dinner, we each presented our ten best/favorite pictures and what we learned over the course of the trip. I learned that photographers aren't the people who just sit in the background and wait for the moment to happen, like I'd thought; photographers are part of the action, experiencing everything and prodding that perfect moment along.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Day 13: Monday

Today I woke up feeling a lot better, so I was glad that we were actually doing something today. We boarded a boat at 9:30 and went on a long boat ride to a small island about 45 minutes away from the main island. Alex Long went fishing off the back of the boat on the way there but he didn't catch anything. After we got to the island, we walked through a village much more modernized than Natokalau and went up a flight of maybe 5,000 steep stairs to the school. The kids were excited to see us and were "BORN READY!" to sing to us. We sang the "Heart of Texas" very poorly but it was fun. We all signed their visitor's log so that they would remember us. After the school, we had 45 minutes in the village to take pictures. The villagers here were not expecting us but they still met us with open arms. We were all starving, so we left the village to have lunch on a private beach. We ate grilled chicken, some people paddle boarded, and I laid in the sand and looked for heart-shaped rocks for Mrs. Hartman's collection. I talked to Grace and Alex Cooper, and then Grace went to take pictures of a "Bula" sign I found, and she stubbed her toe super hard on a rock. She came back and all she wanted to do was sit down, but when she sat down on a rotten bench that had several other people on it, the combined weight was too much and the bench broke clean down the middle. Grace just sat there stunned for a few seconds while Brett got the med kit. Brett bandaged the toe up and then Grace and Alex Cooper covered me in sand, at my request, and made me a mermaid tail with, according to Ulla, a "huge bum". This was all happening while Bora was eating a fish eye for $20. Then, Brett spotted a snake in a tree and just went up and got it, because as he said, it wasn't poisonous. We played volleyball with some of the Fijian men, who are actually amazing at it, for about an hour, or 10 minutes "Fiji Time". On the way back to Mango Bay, Alex Long caught a fish with the help of our Fijian guide, and when he brought it in, it had these long gashes on it- apparently from a shark! So we got back to Mango Bay, and it was dark and there were thousands of frogs. I went to the bathroom and got trapped in the last stall because the lock was rusted shut, so that was an experience. And then, when I was showering, there was a salamander in there with me. As I walked out of the bathroom, I saw a frog in the shower next to me- it was huge. I pretty much just ran to bed and crashed.

Day 12: Sunday

Today we had a day to just chill and catch up at Mango Bay. As of today, I am finally getting over whatever illness I had and I am feeling a lot better, but unfortunately Meghan has somehow gotten pink eye, so she is stuck in bed. Alex and I rested in the room because I had a headache, then sat on the beach for a little while, and then got milkshakes and sat in our booth to edit pictures and write blog posts. Around lunchtime, I started feeling a little sick again, and had a slight fever of around 99.2. Alex and I went back to the room to lay down, and there were a ton of wasps by our door, so we ran inside and hid under our bug tents. I pretty much just stayed in bed for the rest of the day, but I got a pretty rad henna when I was supposed to be sleeping (sorry Lisa).

Day 11: Saturday

 Today I woke up feeling somewhat alright, and I was on the first flight, so my group left Tovu Tovu at around 8:30. We boarded the tiny plane back to Nadi and I started feeling a little sick again. After waiting in the airport for a while, Brett, Bora, Mariam, Mrs. Simon and I went to get lunch. Brett asked our taxi drivers to take us to get local Indian food, but they took us to a very urban, touristy shopping mall instead. I enjoyed my lunch, cashew chicken nut delight, but the others weren’t as pleased. After, we wanted to stop for ice cream, but the taxi driver brought us to McDonalds instead. Finally we went to a real ice cream place and I got neapolitan, with caramel instead of vanilla. I still felt kind of sick, and we went back to the airport to meet up with the second small flight from Taveuni. At the airport I started feeling really sick, and on the bus to Mango Bay, I started feeling even worse. We made a side stop to a wildlife reserve, and I went and went to the bathroom, and I was feeling very sick. Mrs. Hartman felt my forehead and said it felt very hot. Lisa took me back out to the bus and we measured my temperature, which was at 102.1 degrees, so I took some advil and just sat in the bus and read while everyone else took pictures. I was still feeling sick and dinner and when we had another Lightroom session. Dancers from the resort performed some Polynesian dances, which I watched, and then I took an advil and a hot shower and went to bed while everyone else bonfired on the beach.

Day 10: Friday

Today we woke up early again so that we could meet all the kids before they went off to the bus. Before we walked down to the bus stop, we went to the community area, and almost all the kids were there waiting for us- NOT in their school uniforms! They were purposely trying to miss the bus so that they could spend extra time with us! At 7:10, Mrs. Hartman asked what time the bus came, to which they cheerfully replied "7:00". Mrs. Hartman made them run to go get dressed since the bus was running late. We walked down to the bus stop and my sweet baby Laurence was there about to leave for school. He gave me a hug. As the bus drove by, Ruby screamed my name out the window and waved. I waved back. Laurence got onto the bus, as did a few other kids, but everyone else missed it. All the other kids came down five minutes later, in their uniforms, looking immensely pleased with themselves. Roco hadn't changed into his uniform at all, he was still just walking around in his normal clothes. We started walking up to the community center with everyone, and I walked with Vao and Roco. I saw Lucy crying but it just hadn't hit me yet, so I was fine. As we walked up the path, I detoured into Angi's house when I saw Lisa in there. Lisa told me to go ahead to the community area, but then she saw that I was having a moment so she moved aside and I squeezed in between her and Angi. Angi started crying and calling me her sweet baby and kissed me on the forehead and was talking to me in Fijian, and I just started bawling. All three of us cried for a solid five minutes and then walked up to the community area. The chief wished us a formal goodbye and then all the adult villagers went to the front of the room and sung Isa Isa. Almost everyone was crying, and Madiha was crying little gaspy cries, and I was trying not to cry so I was biting my lip and then Vao, who is 12, gave me a hug and was holding me while crying, and then I started crying even more, and then Roco started crying, and it was a mess. We all got up to take one last picture with everybody, but I was crying too much and I couldn't see so Kenneth had to hold my hand and drag me around so I wouldn't run into a wall or something. We took a couple pictures but I look really miserable in all of them because I was crying too much. We all said goodbye individually to all the people we were especially close to, and everyone else as well. There were few dry eyes among the villagers, and only certain people with us were not also crying. After we were driving away, we all kept waving until we couldn't see them anymore. I cried the whole bus ride back to Tovu Tovu, and Lisa said it was because I had a big heart, but I think it was mainly because staying in Natokalau really opened my eyes to how little you need to be happy. I have so much, but they are all much happier than me. Staying in Natokalau, and being accepted by the people there made me feel like I had a place in this world- they made me feel like I belonged.

Once we got back to Tovu Tovu, it was weird seeing a real bed and amenities and stuff again. I think Brett and Lisa just wanted to keep us moving, so we immediately ate lunch (mmm french fries) and then went to this huge diving place. We got to hear a speech about all the different kinds of wildlife we might see. I wasn't feeling that great, so I wasn't sure if I wanted to go, or I thought about staying with Mrs. Hartman and Mrs. Simon with the beginners, but I ended up jumping in with everyone else. The whole time I was freezing, and almost everyone got cut on coral, so I went to the boat before everyone else. While on the boat, I could not stop shivering, so Paul, the driver, offered me a fresh towel and told me I could sit up front with him. Five minutes later, everyone got on the boat, and I was still shivering. After a little while, I had to get up from sitting on the cooler so that they could get snacks. I sat on the floor and shivered some more. Paul gave me four squares of lemon meringue, some pumpkin bread, and some cinnamon roll, along with two glasses of grapefruit juice. We arrived back on shore and I changed into some dry clothes, but I was still shivering. We went to this pizza restaurant, but they only had one oven so it took them forever to cook the pizza and I was still shivering. Lisa, Brett, and I found some glitter tattoos on the table and were deciding which ones we wanted when some kid came to the table and asked for them back, and as soon as the kid left we laughed so hard. We finally got our pizza and went back to Tovu Tovu. Since it was late, we went back to our rooms, and everyone was lining up to take showers but I felt horrible so I just laid in bed, and when Madiha came out of the shower, I asked her to feel my forehead and she said I was burning up. She went and got Lisa, and we checked my temperature, which was 101. Lisa gave me some Vick's and some Advil and I went to bed.

Day 9: Thursday

Today was our last full day in the village. We started the day by waking up early to meet the school bus before the kids went to school, and we waited for the bus with them. It was sad seeing them leave, but we knew we would see them in a few hours because we were going to the school! We ate breakfast and went to the school, but I couldn't take any pictures because my camera battery died and the extra battery I had brought was the wrong size (oops). So everyone went into the classroom and I stayed outside and talked to Wani. It was really cool to see how all the kids treated him respectfully because he had gone to their school and he was the chief of Natokalau's son, even though their villages had different chiefs. We went to the same field that we had watched the rugby tournament on and Vao and older Laila took me away from the group to go meet their teacher. He asked if I wanted to play rugby with their class, but we had to leave. A bunch of the older kids from Natokalau got to leave school early and come to a natural waterslide with us. They were so excited to come and ride in the van with us! They waved at all their friends as we drove by. We went to the waterfall and I sat in the backseat with Roco Coco, Vao, and Wani. We had to drive by a prison to get to the waterslide, and all the prisoners were farming pineapples. Wani waved to them out the window. When we got to the slides, we couldn't go down because there were some local men there who said it was too rough, but I was kind of happy because I was scared to go down anyway. The kids were still happy because they got to spend time with us. At night, we had a huge dance party with some modernish music, and Chico dj'ed. Wani showed us some of his dance moves, and he was actually very good- he could be a contortionist. I danced with Kenneth, Wani, Leoni, Chico, Ruby, Ruby's friend, some guys from the village next door, and some other people. Jacob had a hilarious dance off with one of the village guys, who was wearing a dress. Ruby took a great video of the dance off. Ruby gave me a necklace of beads that her and her mom made for me, and I wore it and took pictures with both of them. Mrs. Simon had a Polaroid camera, and Vao and several others dragged me over to get our pictures taken for them to keep. Tina and Janet asked me to take pictures of and with them so that we would never forget each other, but I couldn't forget these amazing people even if I tried.