Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Father's Day Weekend Fail

So there is a population of spinner dolphins that come into Moon Reef to rest during the day. There has been a little research done with the population. Given my background in marine mammals, I was hoping to do some volunteer work with this project while here, so far nothing has really progressed. Working and even volunteering for 'trailing spouses' is difficult in Fiji due to the high unemployment rate for Fijians. It has to be shown that what you have to offer can not be done by someone locally and therefore the work permit/visa process can take many many months at which point if you have a short assignment, is the time spent trying to get involved even worth it?

So spinner dolphins are very acrobatic compared to the slower, almost geriatric, bottlenose dolphins we are used to seeing in Charleston. So the chance to go see spinner dolphins is something we did not want to miss out on. Richard had mention going to see the Takalana Bay dolphins several times, so when coming up with something to do for Father's Day, I contacted them to see if they were back in business. TC Winston had done a number on them, one of their boats ended up in a mahogany tree due to the storm surge! They were, so I booked a family bure for one night and emailed back about when to coordinate the dolphin watch. Crickets. So Richard called and talked to them. The guy he spoke with told us to be there at 9:30, we would have morning tea, head out on the boat for a couple hours, and then be back for lunch. He would write us down for the morning boat ride when he got back. Sounded perfect. First day of term break, we got up at our usual 6 am to get ready and out the door in time. It was a bit overcast and drizzly in Suva as we headed out, but we had a beautiful rainbow on the way up. The photo doesn't do it justice, I don't think I have ever seen a rainbow as wide as this one was!


For some reason, prior to this trip I not only went and checked out the route on google maps, but I also printed out zoomed in maps for the route/major turns. Most trips we somewhat wing it and then use our phones for the last bit of navigation. I think it was partly due to the fact is we had never headed around to the east side of the island (only the more well travelled west coast). Apparently I had some intuition that my cell service would fail me and without the maps we may have never made it. The last 30-40 minutes of the drive was dirt/rock roads and even with 'no service' on my phone the GPS function on my phone appeared to be somewhat working and was moving us along the map on my phone and matching the printed out paper map route.


After a while, Richard was certain we were lost, but at what point do you turn around and what point do you keep going? Finally, we saw a tiny sign by a gravel driveway....we had made it!! Glad I kept saying I think we are going the right way.


When we got to the end of the driveway, we were greeted by the owners who were surprised we had arrived so early and said they were not expecting us till that afternoon. Uh-oh.....Clarissa asked when we were going to go see the dolphins, since the owners seemed a bit confused I told her I didn't know, but the person daddy talked to said be here at 9:30 to catch the boat. We heard them speak in Fijian to each other, then disappear. A bit later, one of the owners came back and said he called, the boat was getting some repairs done and it was waiting for the paint to dry. We would go out after lunch. They offered to have their son show us down to the beach. Sounded like a plan B.


It was low tide, so the boys had tide pools to explore. I was excited to go to look for shells on my first black sand beach, and Clarissa made a new friend, the owners son. She and JoJo started making a sand castle.


After a little over an hour, both kids were getting hungry (so we headed back up the hill). We unpacked the car and they asked what we wanted to eat. We somewhat loitered around the area while we were waiting.  I got some pictures of the property and view



and the TC Winston damage they sustained.


This was their main building which housed the conference room, kitchen, bar, and dining area and it took the biggest hit. Walls and roof completely gone. We asked them about the storm. The owners said they rode the storm out here. When Winston made landfall when there was daylight (it got to Suva after midnight) they were in the bure behind this building. They had put some tarps/blankets over a bunk bed they moved to the center of the bure/against a wall and hunkered down in there. We could see some of wall panels and windows on that bure had been recently replaced and the roof looked new. The last bure they were still working on repairing and it had a brand new roof.


Pine trees were just snapped in half all around and up the hills all around the area. They still did not have power restored (so 4 months nearly to the day). We heard a generator running occasionally when they were using power tools to work on the other bure and a lot of the electrical lights/outlets and the water heater in our bure need to be rewired since all the electric lines were likely ripped off during the storm.


Clarissa played with Jojo (they played tag, hide and seek, colored, eye spy, card games....you name it, they played it).


Not sure if he realized it, but after I took this picture Clarissa informed me they were playing wedding since they had matching flowers...lol.


Mommy got decorated with flowers too. (The bure with the new roof is to the left and the dining area is currently under the red tailgating tents).


We then hung out in the hammocks and played with the kitty.


Then about 2 hours later (and I lost track of how many 'when is lunch?') lunch was ready....good news the kids were so staving they ate whatever was served...lol. After eating, the owners called on the boat to see when it would be there to pick us up. Since it was a beach pick up, it would be about an hour for the water level to get back up high enough from the low tide for him to get in close enough. So we took our time reapplying sunscreen and then headed back down the hill.


While we waited the kids played in the water. Clarissa was doing a little interpretive dance or something.


Loved the GoPro wide angle black sand beach shot.....I may enlarge and frame this one. The scenery this weekend was beautiful!


So we waited and waited in the hot afternoon sun on the beach.


After an hour and half or so, Richard gave up and walked back up the hill. I assumed he asked what was up. When he didn't come back down after another 15-20 minutes, I figured there were more boat problems so the kids and I headed back up. When Clarissa wanted to be carried I asked which bag she wanted to carry (since Richard had ditched us with all the stuff)....so then she decided she could walk. I saw the owner and was all 'I guess we aren't going out'..... Of course its a term break...which means time to grow, so the kids were wanting a snack so I went to find them something. The owner comes back over and said he called and the boat is on the way and is coming right now (and we could hear a boat coming). So we grab all our stuff, kids eating along the way, and go running (literally) back down the hill. So with a lovely afternoon glare, we head out onto the water on a little tiny boat to look for spinner dolphins.


A few minutes after this, I dug Clarissa's swim vest out of the bag and put it on her as it got choppy. While not a life jacket, it made me feel a little safer that she had a little something on.


We made it out to the reef. We drove around for a bit looking for spinners. If you aren't familiar, spinner dolphins are nocturnal feeders. They will typically find a shallow reef or bay to rest in during the day. So Moon Reef is this populations' daytime resting area. In the evening, the spinner dolphins will wake up and head out to deeper waters to feed. Richard stuck the GoPro in the water next to the boat while we were cruising around. I did a screen grab from that video, since I saw a blue sea star!


Proof that Richard smiled at least once over the weekend! So after piddling around the reef for about 20-30 minutes, the captain said that he guesses the dolphins have already headed out for the evening. He then mentions that this morning when he was out on the reef diving that they had seen the dolphins. WHAT?!?! Already headed out and we missed them? This morning?!?! So many thoughts going through my head...but as we have learned sometimes you just have to say with a sigh "Oh Fiji!" and let it go at that.


We headed back in over the late afternoon chop towards lovely dark clouds coming in over the resort. Once back at the beach, the captain said he could take us out again the next morning to look for dolphins, we would see the dolphins then. He told us to be back at the beach between 8:30 & 9:00. Richard confirmed with him about 5 or 6 times.

We headed back up the hill, got cleaned up while we still had some daylight, Clarissa played with her friend some more, ate dinner, did some stargazing (benefit of no power is really good stargazing...too bad it was nearly a full moon). Then we all headed to bed. There was a real nice cross breeze in the bure. There was a full size bed, bunk bed and another single bed. Since it was Father's Day weekend we decided to be nice and let Richard have the big bed all to himself. Everything was fine and dandy until a little rain shower passed by, then all the mosquitos came in....and I mean ALL the mosquitos. I got up and found the bug spray and doused myself in DEET. Both kids then wanted to be doused. That didn't really help at all. Richard's bed was the only one with a mosquito net (we had seen several mosquito nets wrapped around trees....looks like Winston took a few), so I had both kids get in with him. I had on my airplane sweatshirt. It is lightweight but has this awesome hood that comes down real far and can cover your eyes (so good for sleeping on a plane). So I doused myself in DEET again, pulled my sweatshirt hood down over my nose, and pulled the sheet up to my nose so that I was completely covered....or so I thought.....took them about 20 minutes and another little rain shower but those pesky mosquitos found me! I held out for a bit, but eventually I couldn't take it any longer and I crawled in the other bed with everyone else (so yes 4 people in a full size bed....it was cozy). We woke the next morning to a nice sunny and flat ocean day....yeah maybe the weekend won't be a total loss!


So we all got ready to go on the boat again, we had breakfast. The owners asked what our plan was for Sunday. We mentioned that the boat captain had said he was going to take us out again this morning between 8:30 & 9:00 to look for dolphins. They glance at each other with a worried look and then said to us, he normally goes to church on Sunday....and it was already after 8:30 when we were having this conversation. They tried to calling him, but as luck would have it the cell phone tower was down. I had no service, Richard didn't, and neither owner did either. Rebooting phones didn't work either. So that was it....towel was thrown in.....we got all our stuff packed up, paid, and headed back to Suva a little after 10:00. Since dolphins were not seen, we only had to pay a boat/fuel fee so that was nice and compared to some of the resorts we had stayed at the accommodations (which included meals) were very inexpensive.

On the drive back, I asked the kids if they thought it was a rough weekend with no power and a cold water shower. I pointed out how that it was one night for us, but their family has been like that for four months since TC Winston.....got a woah.

Now for the icing on the cake......one of the small villages we drove back through on the way home had a little speed trap of sorts set up. About 10 meters before the village speed limit of 60 km/h ended and the speed increased to 80 km/h, there was an officer with radar gun, another officer directing speeders to the side of the road, and a woman with a ticket book. So while it probably is somewhat natural for one to start accelerating when you see the new speed limit sign.....we now know you must wait until you pass the actual sign to accelerate because someone (not naming names) lost their "I've never gotten a speeding ticket in my life" bragging rights.....

So....a silver lining to this weekend, I was beginning to worry that I would have to end every blog post about a resort saying we want to go back, which realistically would become impossible to go back to very single place...lol. The owners were very nice, but the facility really took a beating during TC Winston. While I was happy we were able to provide some income to them, I don't think they are fully organized and back up and running at full efficiency. I think we ended up with a bit of miscommunication or forgotten to note our trip(s) out to see the dolphins. We would like to see the spinner dolphins, so maybe early next year we can attempt just a day trip out to see the dolphins.

Lesson learned: bring a cooler with lots of ice and bottled beverages! There is no place within kilometers to buy anything, so we gambled and drank room temperature tap water and managed okay. (Three cheers for the probiotics we took as well. The embassy suggests bottled water since after heavy rains the water supply can be comprised. We have seen this on several occasions when the kids have taken baths with yellow tinted water after heavy rains in the city).

Saturday, June 18, 2016

48 Hours in New Zealand

Recently I decided it was time to take another IT certification test. For IMS, once you are in the Department and with certain IT certifications we can get what is called Skills Incentive Pay or SIP. Depending on the certification, we can get either a 9% or 14% bonus which is good for 3 years. Though we have to pay for the training out of our own pocket, the benefits are worth it.

I've had a 14% SIP since 2014. Knowing it expires in another year, I wanted to go ahead and have something else ready to go. Looking over the list and trying to figure out what would be the quickest cert to get, I decided to go with the Certified Information Systems Manager, or CISM. The rub with this test is it is only offered 3 times a year as it is a paper/scantron test. Yes, think back to your high school SAT. Oh and it wasn't going to be offered in Fiji. Looking around, the closest place to go and take it would be Auckland, New Zealand.

I signed up for the test back in March and began my preparations. I ordered the official CISM Guide Book from ISACA (the company that manages the test). I won't beat around the bush, it is dry. I also ordered a 12 month subscription to their online test engine. They give you access to about 2000 or so questions (possibly taken from previous tests, or questions that have been thrown out, but who knows). For my prep, I ended up logging about 87 hours in the engine. To pass the CISM, you need to score a 450. There are 200 questions, but not all questions are weighted equally. Some have more weight than others, others are just beta questions and are not scored at all. Really, there is no way to determine how many questions you need to get right to pass. I read on another blog somewhere that if you are scoring between 75-85% consistently in the test engine, you will probably pass.

So on a Friday afternoon, I took a direct flight from Suva to Auckland. Deb and the kids had to stay behind because of school and this was going to be a quick trip for me. I arrived that afternoon, checked into my hotel, and then went to find where I was taking the test (it was at the University of Auckland, but I wanted to scout out the exact building. I was glad I did, as you will see why). On my way back to the hotel, I found a Starbucks. Oh Starbucks, how I've missed you. I went back to the room, hung out for a bit and then went to eat. I found a pretty good steak house right around the corner from the room. Back to the room, I FaceTimed Deb and the kids and went to bed.

Saturday morning I woke up earlier than I planned in a mild panic. I did a quick review to calm my nerves, then went down to breakfast. Afterwards, I headed over to the University. I got to the room where I was told to go, and was waiting with about another dozen or so people to take the test. We were told we had to go to a different building, so we all hiked about 2 or 3 blocks downhill to another building. We then sat in the lobby while they could set the classroom up for us. After about 10-15 minutes, we were told the bomb scare was no more and we could move to another building (bomb scare what?!). So we hiked back uphill to another building and waited another 10-15 minutes for them to set up. I finished the test in about 3 hours (4 hour limit).

After the test, I dropped my pencils off in my room and decided to treat myself with another Starbucks run. I may have hit Starbucks the day before the test and then again right before I caught the shuttle to the airport on Sunday. Priorities people!


One thing Deb and I've started to do on our travels is collect Starbucks city mugs. So far we have a decent collection. I couldn't find an Auckland one, so I got a New Zealand one instead. When we go back hopefully I can find one (along with Wellington and Christchurch mugs, priorities!).

I decided to walk around the city some and found something I had to take a picture of just to tease Deb and the kids with!


I'm not a huge Dunkin Donuts fan (born and raised Krispy Kreme thank you very much!) so I didn't get any.

After grabbing a few souvenirs for Deb and the kids, I decided to visit the Sky Tower in Auckland. At over 1076 ft. tall, it is the tallest man-made structure in the Southern Hemisphere.


After a quick elevator ride I was up on the observation deck enjoying a beautiful view of Auckland. I can see why New Zealand is called the "land of the long white cloud".


Around the floor they have glass/acrylic bricks where you can look down below.


And at night, the tower is all lit up.


The next day, Middle Earth saw me off as I headed home.


Somewhere over the Pacific between New Zealand and Fiji.


Now I'm sure you are asking did I pass the test? As this is a paper test, it has to be sent back to the US for grading. So I won't know for 5 weeks or so.

I really enjoyed my trip to New Zealand. I wish Deb and the kids would have gone, but as Deb told me one of the kids would have been up all night and I wouldn't have gotten any sleep before my test. We are planning on going back hopefully twice before we leave the region and explore more of the "land of the long white cloud'.

Update: On 15 July Suva time (14 July US) I found out I passed the exam! Top 20% (I was always a solid "B" student"!!

Friday, June 17, 2016

When unpacking making makes you go hmmmm....

So I've been pondering what made getting the house unpacked so long here and I have some theories....thought I would share them so you all wouldn't think I've just been sitting on the chaise lounge drinking fruity drinks all day....lol.

So I just looked back and when I finished unpacking in Tbilisi and posted the house tour blog was about one month after our first shipment of household goods arrived and I commented on how it seemed to take forever....lol. Little did I know that would be so quick. Here in Suva, we got into our permanent housing mid march and the first of our household goods arrived a few days later. The last of our household goods arrived three weeks later. I just posted the house tour blog which was three months after our first shipment of household goods....so here goes my thinking out loud and compare/contrast (mainly verbalize stuff to make myself feel better).

So in Tbilisi, we moved into our permanent housing upon arrival, so we had time when we had no household goods to move furniture around to our liking. In Suva, we moved into our permanent housing with our UAB days before our first shipment of household goods arrived. Once we decided we wanted to do some furniture swapping that took several weeks due to the head warehouse person being on leave (which in return put organizing on hold, if we didn't get something we were requesting or they couldn't take what we were requesting to send back we'd have to possibly do more purging or figure out another place to store art supplies....in the end there was only one request that wasn't fulfilled).

Looking at housing in general, we had a big house in Tbilisi with a ton of storage (even larger than the house we had back in Charleston). So it was relatively easy to unpack and stow things 'quickly'. Here in Suva, there is a small price for paradise....get it...small....we have much smaller house. While the house is plenty big for what we need, when unpacking I had to assess is this something we truly need/want or can we donate/yard sale it? If it was something we needed/wanted, due to the long transport time followed by fumigation, everything had a lovely odor and had to be washed. Therefore, instead of unpack and stow, I had to unpack, debate, wash, dry, and finally stow.

Finally, timing and weather. When we arrived in Tbilisi, winter had just begun and it was cold, gray, and snowy! We also received our household goods within our first month of arrival, so I didn't really know anyone yet and it was easy to stay inside and unpack. When we arrived in Suva, it was the middle of summer, we were in temporary housing for two months before we moved and started receiving things. In that two months, I had signed up for a weekly French class, joined several women's associations, became one of the Year 6 parent reps (aka room mom...but with middle school less work), joined a book club, started to make some friends, Mason had gotten a part in the school production which the last month had a lot of late/weekend rehearsals I had to shuttle him back and forth to, and both kids seemed to take turns being sick. In fact one week, we made it to Friday and I did a happy dance that neither kid had stayed home sick from school that week. Also, as I hinted at here, a simple task such as getting groceries for the week can take a whole day with stops at multiple stores to get a fraction of what you had hoped to purchase. So life in general slowed me down (as it should).

Now that I have vented....I think I shall make myself a fresh pineapple smoothie and go enjoy it out on that chaise lounge by the pool....I earned it!

Cheers!


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Unpacked...the official vale tour!

So I mentioned the other day Bula is Fijian for hello. Vale is Fijian for family house....now that our language class is complete......with no further ado here is the tour of our house (for the next two years or so)....


Our front door is actually the store front looking doors (Richard wants to hang an open/close sign on them for giggles), but they use a special key and don't stay shut without said key....so it is a little high maintenance for everyday usage. So we just use the side door through the laundry/mud room which is good for dropping off dirty shoes before going into the house anyway.


We have an normal size embassy issued washer, but a mini local landlord provided dryer. Luckily, we air dry a good bit of our clothes but we still have to split loads to fit into the dryer. There is also a good bit of storage in the laundry room, as well as, a small folding shelf and a sink.


Continuing on in, you find the kids' bathroom. Which works out well, since after the take off their shoes they can immediately wash their hands after school before being distracted by toys or snacks (which as I have mentioned, hasn't appeared to help keep them healthy...lol).


Sharing sink space is quiet "enjoyable" after them both having their own bathrooms in Tbilisi.....


The shower windows vent to the laundry room....so if I am ever feeling extra mischievous/someone is the in the shower too long I can throw ice on them....muwhahahaha....


In the main hallway, we have some of our travel posters displayed. We also have a nice set of cabinets that have provided us a good bit of space for storing our consumables.


We split the main living area into two areas since it is quite a large room. A den type area and an office type area. Note the front door in the corner.


Another angle of the main room. GSO came by last week to do our one time picture hanging. We have a couple new pieces getting framed currently, so we went ahead and had some nails placed on the wall to hold their places. (If I'm feeling extra motivated, I may update this photo with the map of Fiji that we plan to hang above the printer).


As you can see the main room opens into the kitchen. The kitchen is quite large as well. Counter space is a tad limited, but we make it work. We would love to open the lever windows to let in more light, unfortunately it tends to be rather humid most days. I did open up the house this past weekend and Clarissa seemed surprise to notice there were windows along that wall.


From the opposite direction. The kitchen/dining area nicely holds our Drexel heritage issued dining set. Richard plans to get another tiki mask to balance the one we have.


Clarissa's room is cozy but cute.


We put her bed in the corner to give her a bigger play area. The kids discovered what we called poster putty growing up (it is called sticky tack here), so they have both taken creative lead on their personal wall decorations.


She has a nice built in closet set up. One side is her clothes and the other side is dress up clothes. We are definitely utilizing over the closet space for extra storage. Note the recycling of her birthday lanterns as room decorations.


I took photos of Mason's room the moment I finished unpacking/straightening up....because I knew it would never be this neat again....so he does have a few framed photos hung on the wall now....but the rest of the room now has more of a tween disheveled look.


Mason has a queen size bed this post, the Master bedroom is issued a queen bed, but since we ship our king size bed with us. We let him use the extra queen bed once ours arrived. I used command hooks to make a hat rack....


Like I mentioned, the kids used sticky tack and took the creative lead on wall decorations....I guess we should enjoy this before it comes pictures of bikini clad women......(and I can't really talk...I may have had a poster or two of a 21 jumpstreet/top gun heartthrobs on my walls back in the day).


The master suite was able to accommodate our king size bed....as I mentioned before...best decision to bring with us ever!! Much to Richard's disappointment, I nixed his idea of putting the tiki masks over our bed. (Call me weird, but I have issues with faces looking at me when I'm sleeping....I remember seeing faces in the wood knots of my grandmother's closet door and my bestie's dad mounted deer heads always freaking me out when I spent nights away from home as a kid...so creepy tiki faces, no thank you).


His and hers dressers.


So we lucked out and have a house that has a bath tub (apparently it is pretty common to not have a tub here). We only have one tub and it is in the master bath....so lots of bath toys are the norm.


It's pretty small compared to Tbilisi, but we don't really need to do yoga in the bathroom. It is completely functional for what we need.


So in Suva, bookshelves are at a premium (whereas we had a plethora at our last post). Outside our room we put the majority of the kids books on one combined shelf to make a little library.


Last but not is the bonus room we got due to our last minute housing assignment change! We are so grateful for this fourth bedroom! It provides a guest bedroom for visitors.


But if you turn the other direction, it also functions a bit as a game room with our board games stored in one of the closets and the Xbox hooked up to the other TV, as a craft room for my dabbling into sewing (I'm planning to make some bedskirts to hide the fact that we are using the space underneath mosts beds for storage....debating getting fun Bula fabric or something more plain that can be used at future posts also), as an attic to store our luggage and empty boxes, and as our basement storing all our holiday things. We do not have any outdoor or attic/basement/garage storage. So I apologize to our guests...but when you see all the other things....just remind yourself....you are in Fiji!


Guests can also head out that door next to their bed onto our lovely back porch. It runs along the entire back of the house from the kitchen to the back bedroom.


There is also access to to the pool from the porch.


Where you can sit on a chaise lounge and relish the view of palm trees (unfortunately we can't see the Pacific Ocean from our house....sigh).


You can also wander around the yard through the flowers,


meander through the banana trees,


check on the pineapple tops to see how they are growing,


and traverse through some more flowers.


So that's it.....hope you enjoyed your tour. It looks much better in person, so you will need to come visit to get the total effect. :)