Sunday, July 8, 2018

Through Hell Fire and High Water....

We had made it to our last weekend in Fiji. Both kids were away at final sleepovers at friend's houses. We were packing up all our suitcases and cleaning the house (otherwise we'll get charged). Richard and I went out to breakfast as we were walking back home (remember the car is sold....sigh). We start talking about the weather....another tropical cyclone was making it's way towards Fiji, following almost the exact same track was TC Josie had the weekend before. The ground is beyond saturated and when the outer bands started dumping rain on Fiji, the flooding began again. So we called our driver to get his opinion....should we go ahead and get to Nadi a day early in case flooding causes some roads to close. We got a big ole YES! So we start calling around and everything was completely booked up. So then we look at changing our ticket to fly out a day earlier. That was doable! We got approval from the appropriate people, bumped up our house inspection a day, and I suddenly lost 24 hours of packing time....eeek!

TC Keni Track from: http://fijivillage.com/

Once our early departure was settled (had to change a number of things with the cat's export paperwork as well as it is only good for the date/flight listed....no exceptions...not even cyclones). Richard had to run up to the office for some last minute work stuff. There was road closures on the way (which is also our way out of town). The MH warehouse was up in flames (and located very near some sort of oil refinery....definitely don't want that going up in flames!!).


Luckily by the next morning, the fire was contained and road in front was open again. Fiji Airways doesn't allow pets on domestic flights. In order for us to take Isa Lei, we had to drive to Nadi. So we had once last drive around the island. It was obviously rainy (that cyclone), but we were stuck behind a pineapple truck for a while. So Mason snagged this shot for us!


We lucked out in that we crossed the two most flood prone bridges at low tide (now don't think there wasn't water on the bridge....it was just passable due to the tide!!).  We made it to Nadi with a few minutes to spare for Isa's drop off with the pet shipper. We then said farewell to Rageen...our favorite driver who took us on many adventures.


Our flight took off a little after 6:00pm....the airport had said all flights needed to be off the ground by 6:00pm as the airport was closing. As our plane was backing away from the gates you could see the lights being turned off in the airport. It was a good thing we went ahead and left early. Looking at this later track line, TC Keni became a category 3 storm right off of Nadi. The airport remained closed on our departure date and no flights came in/left.

TC Keni Track from: http://fijivillage.com/

We did find some irony in that Fiji said Bula with TC Winston and Moce with TC Keni (with a number of assorted storms in between). Our tour was bookended by tropical cyclones. The next morning, we woke up and were on our approach into the sunny Southern California! You can just barely make out the Hollywood sign in the distance. That's a lot of houses!!


We spent the night in LA (poor little Isa had been in her vet sealed carrier for nearly 24 hours when we got her back to our hotel. It only seemed the right thing to do and give her a chance to stretch her legs and eat/drink). Clarissa and I got the kitty litter and food set up for Isa and picked up sandwiches for lunch, while Richard and Mason went to the shipper warehouse to pick up Isa and clear her through customs. That afternoon, we hung out at the pool to help fight jet lag. We then walked down to the infamous In & Out Burger that is in the landing pattern for LAX.


X marks the spot for yummy milk shakes and tasty food!


Or X marks the spot of a cutie!!


Richard and Mason went in to get milkshakes for our walk home and so Clarissa and I were silly playing in the tree with planes flying through it.


Okay, not really through the tree!


We had fun watching planes land and being all, we've been there! We had to be tourists and pose by the airport sign.


The next morning, we had to get up early to catch our flight across the US. Isa Lei was cabin carry for that flight. Something I learned about cats in carriers and TSA security. You remove the cat, walk through security, wait for the carrier to be x-rayed, then put the cat back in the carrier. You get lots of strange looks from people!! During our layover in Charlotte, NC, we found a semi-quiet spot, put Isa's harness on and let her out for a bit to stretch her legs/get cuddles. She liked watching planes!!



Finally after escaping a tropical cyclone, witnessing a massive fire, and two days of travel, we made it to our home leave location.....and OMG, it was cold!!!!!!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Final Island Tally

So we wanted to visit as many of the Fijian Islands as possible during our tour, unfortunately time (given it can take hours to get to the further away islands) and money (to get and stay/eat once there) were the biggest limitations to that goal. Criteria for visiting an island was making landfall. The tally would much higher if we would have counted merely seeing the island as we cruised past a ton the two times we were in the Yasawa Islands on boats and all the islands we got a looky loo at when flying to Taveuni. In all we made it to 20 of the 330 islands (so we visited a mere 6%). To make this final tally a little more enjoyable, I took my favorite picture taken on that island and made a slide show to the song Isa Lei. This version was sung to us as we were leaving Garden Island Resort on Taveuni....our last resort and for the first time they not only sang it in Fijian but also English! (Note: not all 4 of us made landfall on all the islands....).


1. Viti Levu (the main island)...we lived on this island....but it counts! Too many blog posts about it to link too!

2. Leleuvia Island - wrote about here and here and here! Obviously, this was favorite place to go! Due to location, beauty, and some awesome snorkeling.

3. Denarau Island - The main attraction when in the Nadi area! Only stayed on the island twice (here and here), most of the time was just passing through the port or going to eat/play there!

4. Tivua Island (Captain Cook's Private Island), 5. Naviti Island (snorkel & dive day/Gunu village)  and 6. Nanuya Levu Island (gray lagoon) - visited all on our cruise through the Yasawa Islands which I wrote about here.

7. Toberua Island - only visited once and wrote about it here, but wanted to go again but just never made it back.

8. Sonaisali Island (Doubletree pouch run) - Richard went for work. It was a new hotel within the per diem range. They had a lot of cargo that they had to take via the small ferry that shuttles people from parking to the island the resort was on. We had a good laugh about this, but I never blogged about it and he snapped some pictures of sunset.

9. Drawaqa Island (Barefoot Manta Island), 10.  Nanuya Lailai Island, 11. Sawa-i-Lau Island (caves), 12. Malolo Lailai Island (plantation), 13. Malolo Island (jet skis), and 14. Modriki Island (Monuriki Island). All visited during part of the great #FijiStaycation and I blogged about it starting here.

15. Navo Island (by  Intercontiental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa on Natadola Beach) - a small uninhabited island that we walked to at low tide (which I think we did every time we went...). I wrote about it here, here, and here. We also went a couples times we didn't write about.....so another favorite.

16.  Likuri Island (Robinson crusoe) - thanks to Mason's camp, the kids and I made it out here. I wrote about it here.

17. Beqa Island....two goals for this beauty....shark diving and firewalkers! Awesome place and easy to get to Suva....don't know why didn't go sooner....we may have gone more! Wrote about it here.

18. Ovalau Island (Mason camp). So Mason was the only person lucky to visit this historical island for his Year 8 camp. I mention it here.

19.South Sea Island (day trip) - this trip was solely taken for the purpose of achieving a nice round number of islands visited...lol! Just wrote about it here!

20. Taveuni Island - thanks to TC Josie this one almost didn't happen....but we made it! Whew! Wrote about it here!

Taveuni Island

For our wedding anniversary last year, Richard asked what I wanted. I said go to a Fijian Pearl farm, snorkel the farm site, and pick myself out the perfect colored pearl. Given how unique Fijian Pearls are (think greens, blues, golds, reds, etc), Richard was agreeable to this. There are two islands that have pearl farms - JH Hunter on Savusavu and Civa Pearls on Taveuni. Unfortunately, both were hit pretty hard by TC Winston and were still in recovery mode and not offering farm tours. So we I kept holding out hoping they would restart them. Eventually, we heard the ticking of the 'times up' clock on our Fiji Time and I found deal on the airfare....even got the direct Suva to Matei flight! So we were booked for our last hurray to the third largest island in Fiji.

After the kids term ended, we headed out a few days later over the Easter holiday weekend. At the same time, a slightly menacing TC Josie was also heading towards Fiji!

TC Josie track from: http://fijivillage.com/
We debated whether to go or not, but it looked like weather would actually be better in Taveuni than staying in Suva with an empty house. We just had our suitcases worth of stuff and barely any food in the house....Taveuni was out of the cone of danger, where as all of Viti Levu (marked with Nadi) was likely to be affected....so off we flew! In a one of Fiji Airways smallest planes!


This little gem held 21 passengers plus the flight crew. We were so close to the Pilot and Co-Pilot, we almost felt like we should give them a high-five when we landed.....


The flight was nearly all over water. Which gave us the chance to see the islands up close from a different perspective. When we initially left Viti Levu, you could see a lot of run off in the water (ie brown mucky looking water).


Neat view of how village homes will cluster together in spots along the coast. We also spotted an atoll, but that photo didn't turn out. My inner scientist wanted to jump out of the plane and dive in right there!!


As we are on our approach, Taveuni island is the big island you see. The small little spit of land is Korolevu Island. Look at all the beautiful coral reef!! A lot less runoff here....beautiful bright blue colors back.


Here's a short little video of our flight:


We opted to stay at the Garden Island Resort. Taveuni Island's nickname is the garden island due how lush and green it is. The resort was located very centrally to a number of things we wanted to do while on the island.


By the time, we landed at the end of the island, found some transportation (not as many cabs as in Suva), and arrived at the resort it was mid-afternoon. We checked in and had a late lunch. The kids wanted to go swimming - though that didn't last long. Sadly, the weather had followed us (at least the outer bands of rain had). I spoke with the dive shop about going out the next day....weather dependent.  For dinner, we partook in some adult beverages with fun Fijian location names.



The next morning, sadly, it was very windy and the seas were quite rough.....so it was a no-go for me & diving (Richard was fighting this lingering cough illness and not feeling up for the dive). We watched the storm....even filmed a bit of it for something to do....so you can watch too! (And though our resort cancelled dives for the day due to weather, we saw another resort went ahead and took divers out - they were really getting tossed around as we watched them head back).


Being the garden island, it was a very lush island and resort. So whenever our room was made up they always decorated the beds, bathroom, and counters with fresh flower arrangements. Some resorts we've been to will but A flower here or there....but GIR would put big bunches of flowers all over. Clarissa and I loved it (and took photos). Mason and Richard really didn't express much one way or another. Here is a little collage of some of the flower arrangements.


In the afternoon, the rain stopped for a bit. So we borrowed some umbrellas from the resort and got directions to the International Date Line/180° longitude. This was one of the exciting highlights for us that we really wanted to see. There are only two countries that the 180° longitude passes over land - Fiji and Russia. There are several other Pacific Island countries that straddle the 180° longitude, but it is over water there (for this reason the International Date Line actually zig zags close to but not exactly down the 180° longitude so that a country can all be in the same day zone). We missed one of the turns and wandered aimlessly down some muddy roads...oops. We got some more directions and headed back. Eventually, we did see the sign and make it over....only one major causality.....me - I walked down an embankment and slipped....I got down first...lol!


So Fiji has a sign located on the line where you can be standing in today and yesterday (and appear to have islands as arms!). Or if really annoyed at them, you can put one kid in today and one in yesterday.....they shouldn't be able to fight then?!?


Or if your teen has done something really naughty, you can kick his behind back to yesterday! (Note all the mud on my legs....lol).


In true Fiji style, in a little church to side of this sign, there was a wedding going on. A gentleman from the wedding came over, invited us to join them.....we felt a little too muddy and politely declined. He had brought some wedding cake with him, so Richard and I both had a small piece. Afterwards, we went to get a photo from the behind the sign at a top of the island vantage point. To balance the beautiful Fijian sunset yin I regularly post, here is some annoyed Clarissa yang because we were chatting and taking too long.


On a sunny day, it is probably beautiful from up here. The land in the distance is Savusavu Island. There is a typically blue Somosomo Strait in between, but due to TC Josie it is all shades of gray.


It was starting to rain during our walk back down to the resort, but at least we had gotten out of our room and done something besides play Uno, go fish, reading a book, or iPad games!!!

We had a good chuckle everyday at high tide. There was some sort of hard marker/statue type object a little way out into the water, but at high tide only the top of it was exposed. In our opinion, it looked like a 'poop emoji' (#LifeWithKids). Here is my artistic photo of it. I title it "Bird on a Turd".


The next morning, we woke to rain and wind.....alas another bust for diving for me. As I had to dive, 24 hours before our flight, this only left one more morning to possibly go out.....fingers crossed for the next day. After we ate breakfast, we noticed that the weather started to clear a bit. We took advantage and called the front desk to see if they could arrange us a driver to take us to the waterfalls. Given it was Easter Monday, they weren't sure if they could find one as technically it was a holiday. We lucked out though and 20 minutes later, we were bouncing down the road and then off road! Once past Matei (the town where we landed), the paved road ends as we drove to the eastern side of the island. Bouma National Heritage Park is located on the very rainy eastern side of the island. The park was established between four villages, each offers a different tour to the park - hiking, ocean kayaking, cultural (I think), and the most popular waterfalls. The park protects a large portion of the island against development which is awesome and provides the villages with income. So we rode in a 4-wheel drive truck to the waterfalls park, it should be noted that one of the concrete low water bridges already had water from all the rain starting to get to wash over the base. As luck would have it, google helped me find a photo of the bridge on a dry day!!!

from: https://www.divergenttravelers.com/taveuni-fiji-guide/
With it already raining, the kids and decided to go ahead and put on our swimsuits before walking to waterfall. As I mentioned before Richard was fighting some sort of cough/cold fun and opted to not get soaked and then jump in mountain chilled water. So he used our lone umbrella (we are moving to the desert, no use wasting precious luggage space on multiple umbrellas). So while Richard paid our entrance fees, the kids and I got changed. We then headed down the trail. It was about a 10 minute walk. Here's a video of the highlights from the walk and waterfall. Sorry for the occasionally drops on the GoPro lens - with the rain coming down, TC Josie wind blowing it sideways, splashing from the water....it was bound to get droplets on it....lol.


So when headed down the trail, we were the only ones. I guess some people were hoping the weather would improve but gave up. Then suddenly we were surrounded by people as soon as we got to the waterfall. Someone from another group placed a stick on the shoreline at the waters edge (I circled it). By the time we left, this stick was completely submerged.


Obligatory waterfall selfie....


Clarissa played in the water a bit - it was very chilly! On a hot day I think it would have felt wonderful.


Mason ventured closer to the waterfall. I didn't get much on video - partially because Clarissa and I were laughing so hard and partially because the mom-danger-alert was going off - but Mason was attempting to swim right up to the waterfall. He hit a spot where he was literally not moving at all. Eventually, he swam sideways to the rock, but the current of the fall plus all the rain was strong!


So past this waterfall, there are two more waterfalls. Each another 10-30 minutes of hiking further from the last one. Given poor Richard was standing under an umbrella and how quickly that shoreline stick had gone underwater, we opted to not venture any further and head back. This was the best decision ever! When we were heading back over the concrete low water bridge, the water level was now at least a half meter (~2 feet) of water flowing OVER the bridge! Our driver's truck was able to handle the water depth and he knew the bridge well enough, he just gunned it and went (eeekkkk- 'don't do this during flash flooding' videos were flashing through my mind at all). We had run into another family from our resort when we where heading out to the waterfall. We all joked, had we known we could of shared a driver! When leaving, they were probably 20 minutes behind us. When we got back to the resort, we heard they had gotten stuck! Their driver had a van and for him the bridge was impassible and someone with a bigger truck was sent to retrieve them!! We were quite happy with our decision to leave when we did at that point, as we hadn't packed a bunch of snacks and would have had a lot of hangry people!


On our drive back, we made two stops (totally taking advantage of having a driver). The first stop was to the coveted Civa Pearl shop. Since the farm hasn't recovered enough since TC Winston (and were in TC Josie) our only option was to visit their retail shop. We had hoped to get some loose pearls, sadly being a smaller operation they only had ones that had only been set. So I finally got my Fijian pearl! It is a lovely blueish-purple color. I just recently got a chain for it, so I don't have any photos yet. The kids were a little disappointed they didn't get anything....tough luck buttercups (I did end up getting some loose less than perfect pearls later at local handicraft market).


Our second stop on the drive back, was at Restaurant Tramonto - the lone pizza place on the island. We had heard good things. It sat above some lava rocks, as well as have some wonderful views in 270°. In our minds, we set the bar for it to be as good as EcoCafe.....it was different, so we were a little bummed. Though, we ate it all up....so it wasn't too shabby!!


Some blue sky was starting to peek through between the clouds and it was raining less. It was starting to look like the majority of TC Josie had passed over...maybe a dive would be in the cards after all! We even got a bit of sunset that evening!!


The next morning, diving was a go! Hip hip hooray! In fact, on our way out to the reef, a rainbow appeared! A rainbow over Rainbow Reef!


I took mostly video and it was overcast...so color correcting was tricky...but the diversity and size of the coral blew my mind! Seriously, while diving I thought to myself 'Wow! I have only ever seen stuff like this in textbooks....but it is real and amazing!'


I mean seriously, look at the size of the coral mount compared to size of the diver! WOW! Which continued the whole dive, both dives - what an awesome reef! The video/photo really don't do it justice.


Some other exciting things I saw were a white tip reef shark at a cleaning station. It was super cool watching, the shark just sat there on the bottom with its mouth open and a little fish moving in between its teeth. You can see the shark, but not the cleaner fish. The other most awesome thing I saw was a blue ribbon eel! Just as its name implies, it is a type of eel that is thin, ribbon like and bright blue. Unfortunately, when I was geeking out, I failed to get it on video. During the surface interval, a huge (as in 1.5 meters/4-5 feet long and big enough I could see the scales) sea krait swam past the boat. Given all the rain, I wanted to make sure it was a snake before saying anything. By the time it was close enough/I confirmed it and everyone else on dive boat saw it too, it dove back underwater....so no photo of that either! Here's the dive video.


I felt some guilt for diving without Richard or Mason (but with sickness and rough seas they both passed). Though Richard had fun....he ended up buying another hand carved mask! The ones hung in each room of the resort were very unique (plain with large foreheads) compared to those found on Viti Levu. The man that carved them had passed away a few years ago, but Richard kept chatting the general manager and wore her down. She had an extra one tucked away and sold it to him! So we both had great mornings.


That afternoon, we had hoped to go to the natural waterslides. It was about a 10 minute walk from where we were staying, though we would need a guide. Unfortunately, due to all the rain the water level was high and the water was moving too fast. So it was deemed to be too unsafe to slide down. So we had a little photo shoot with some of the beautiful frangipani flowers that had been knocked off the trees (as it was raining a bit again as well).


They do smell lovely!


The other thing we had wanted to do while out on Taveuni was kayak out to Korolevu Island and snorkel around the uninhabited island (it would have been another island for our tally too!!). Sadly, weather conditions never cooperated (you can see it in the background to the right of the flower). We finally opted to just take a taxi to the nearby village and visit a local handicraft market.


As one would expect, on the date of our departure it was sunny, the wind was calm, and the rain was gone!!
Oh Fiji!!!


We had a late morning flight as well, so not a whole lot time do much. We did walk down the street a bit to the local beach (the resort waterfront was all rocky) and get a little black sand for the kids collections. On our way back, we picked up three colors of frangipanis! So Clarissa and I played with the wonderful lighting and made flower crowns. (Photo overload warning....couldn't pick a favorite....and you know the grandparents love them!).


It is pretty funny when your flowers fall out and mom just keeps taking photos!


Clarissa took photos of mommy too!


Seriously! Look at the beautiful weather behind me! What's the deal, Fiji! That wasn't very nice of you!!


Oh....and in case you are wondering, no one was safe from flower crowns!!!


Mason, Daddy, or our new carved mask....nobody or nothing was safe from the Frangipanis!!!!


We all got showered, packed up, and checked out. Though Richard's new acquisition was too big to fit into either of the suitcases we had brought. We hoped they would let us hand carry it on the plane. When we went downstairs the general manager saw the unwrapped masked and got it bundled up in some cardboard for us. The staff sang us 'Isa Lei' for the final time (I'll post it soon). They sang it in Fijian and English....after 2+ years, we heard it sung in English for the first time.


The airport waiting area is beautiful. Taveuni earns its title as 'Garden Island'. We checked in at the airport, we were told to hand carry our mask to the plane....so here are the kids and I chilling with our buddy!


Our little jet setter heading to the plane. She's got no clue how lucky she really is!


The water was beautiful on the flight back!! Having traveled the area a bit, we tried to identify islands from the sky. We think this is Leleuvia!


We saw the airstrip and though this might be where Mason had just been Ovalau....nope. Research shows this is a private, 2,200 acre/eight square mile island called Wakaya Island....which was apparently purchased by some Americans (possible fugitives) while we've been living in Fiji. Read the gossip here! Interesting!! Still pretty from the air!!


Every time we came out the mouth of the Rewa River, we would pass Bau Island (and everyone on the boat must remove their hat when passing). This is due to the fact, Bau Island is the chiefly island of the area. According to wiki, the official Fijian language is based on the Bau Island dialect. So it is a very special tiny little spec of land!


A few moments later, we were back on the ground (if you look up, I think that is some landing action occurring on the wing). Taveuni was a beautiful island with a phenomenal reef. Though we were not able to do everything thing we had wanted to do, we did get to have some neat experiences and we ate some delicious meals!