Week 16

My final week of classes! I can’t believe how quickly the semester has gone by. After wrapping up the last of my assignments, we headed to the north eastern part of the island to swim with the dolphins!

 

What was supposed to be a 2-hour trip to the boat painfully became a 5 hour one. This was Fiji Time at it’s finest. We went from one mini bus to the next in attempt to get to our destination. Once we finally arrived, 12 of us jumped on a small boat that was no bigger than 4 feet wide and 10 feet long. After a choppy ride out we had finally made it out to the reefs, and within seconds there were up to 50 dolphins swimming and flipping not too far from our boat.
While attempts to actually swim with the dolphins failed (they kept swimming away) we were able to hear them underwater and could still see their fins when we poked our heads out of the water. We also had a chance to snorkel the surrounding reef, which was unlike anything I’d seen before. Rather than just the normal heaps of coral joined together, they were all the size of boulders.

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The boat ride back was a scary one. The waves were even bigger this time, and walls of water about 7 feet high would slide up against the boat. I’m still pretty surprised the boat didn’t flip. Luckily though our ride back to Suva was peaceful (and quick).

Week 15

Fiji Water- or commonly known in America as some of the most expensive bottled water you can buy- is extremely cheap here (obviously) and is bottled only about 2 hours away from where we live. A small bottle costs about $0.50 USD and the bigger ones cost around $1.50 USD. While I always viewed the company as one that exploits precious resources from an underdeveloped country, I quickly learned otherwise when I was able to visit the site this weekend. Not only do they specifically provide jobs to members of the 5 surrounding villages, but they are also apart of a larger company (Roll Global; also includes Wonderful Pistachios, POM Wonderful, and others) that gives 1% of all its proceeds to help fight climate change.

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The factory is built on top of the aquifer from where the water is extracted and immediately bottled, ensuring the purest water. We were able to walk through the observation deck and see all the caps and bottles being made, shaped, and packaged. One of the production lines makes around 50,000 bottles an hour- and needs minimal human assistance. Infact, the entire company requires an extremely low amount of physical labor. The Fiji Water company- debatably the biggest water bottle company in the world- only hires 250 people total for security, to work the floor, manage the entire bottling process, oversee production, secure for shipping, etc. They all are separated out into 3 different 8 hour shifts for 6 days a week, meaning that less than 85 people are working at one time! After visiting the plant its completely believable too- the entire place seems practically empty. Overall the trip was very interesting and it was so incredible to see where it all happens!

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The following day we went back to the sand dunes- but this time to go camping. We made a fort from all of the driftwood and a fire pit as well. We wondered around the beach during the day and went to the top of the dunes to watch the sunset later on. At night we made “hobo meals” which consisted of wrapping every kind of vegetable we could find in tin foil, then throwing it over the fire. I never knew vegetables could taste so good! Not long after I had finally drifted off to sleep, I woke up to a crab trying to steal my blanket. Minus that rude awakening, it was definitely a trip for the books!

 

Our shelter

Our shelter

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Catching the sunrise

Catching the sunrise

Week 13/14

During these weeks, I had plenty papers, presentations, and lab reports to keep me busy. When I did catch a break, I headed to the Suva Jazz Festival with some friends where we relaxed to live jazz bands and enjoyed each others’ company. One of the Saturdays a big group of International students also headed to a local orphanage. We ate lunch with all of the kids and ran around with them playing rugby and netball for the day.

Orphanage visit!

Orphanage visit!

Week 12

I’m not quite sure when I decided that I was going to do a Shark Dive, but once I got the idea in my head there was no stopping me. We went through Beqa Adventure Divers- a business that considers themselves a marine protection agency rather than a diving company. Before they arrived the reef was dead and the sharks had almost all been fished out and sold for shark fin soup. It wasn’t until the divers and marine scientists came along and figured out that people would pay twice as much to see the sharks rather than eat them. So not only are they making money, but they are saving the reef as well (see… the economy and the environment CAN work together!).

 

The night before I couldn’t sleep. Tossing and turning all I could think about was ‘what have I gotten myself into….’

 

When we arrived in Pacific Harbor for the dive and hopped on the boat, I started to feel a pit in my stomach. And oh was the scene set! Massive dark clouds roared above us and the trip out to the dive site was a rocky one. Large waves surrounded our boat and I felt like I was in the part of Wolf of Wall Street where their yacht is completely obliterated by the storm.

Don't be fooled by my smile

Don’t be fooled by my smile

When we arrived at the spot everyone joked that I was going to be the first in the water because I was closest to the door. Oh HELL NO. I was not going to be the test dummy to see if the sharks were biting today. I let a few people go in front of me and then finally got in.

 

Nervously swimming in circles and trying not to look down, we waited for the rest of the group to get in until our instructor gave us the cue to go down. I let all the air out of my vest and while all the other divers started to sink, I just floated there. Not more than ten seconds later I looked down and everyone had become blurry figures in the water, besides the one other diver next to me who was also having trouble descending. Looking down again I saw one of the instructors coming back up- ‘whew’ I thought to myself. But instead of grabbing me- the poor little girl floating in the shark infested waters- he grabbed the guy next to me and pulled him down. And there I was, all by myself, not really sure what to do. At first I panicked a little, but then I took a deep breath and flipped myself over and started to swim downward, blindly following remnants of bubbles in hopes of finding the group. Once I caught up to everyone I was glad I was able to manage my way down because the instructor clearly had no intent on coming back for me.

 

After we were all situated 30 meters below the surface kneeling on the ocean floor, the sharks started to appear. At first there were just a few, but as each second passed more and more kept appearing from the shadows. I was nervous, yes, but it was such an amazing sight being surrounded by 50+ bull sharks.

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Shark Dive (During)3

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They got so close you could reach your arm out and touch them- which one of my friends inadvertently did. The instructors warn you before the dive to keep your hands close to your side and not to reach your go-pro’s out, because the sharks will think your giving them food. My friend however must have forgotten and extended his arm to take a selfie or whatnot, and a shark whipped around and headed straight at him. You can’t see it in the picture below, but I was clinging to his scuba tank.

 

The second half of our first dive was at 10 meters below the surface where they fed the reef sharks- I could breath again. These sharks were friendlier and would slide between your arms and circle around your waist. Honestly though I was entranced by the amount of fish there were. They would hit your goggles and bounce back and they almost made it hard to see.

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Our second dive was at 15 meters, and this time we were told to lay on our stomachs. Where we were laying dropped off a couple feet so we were eye to eye with the sharks swimming right in front of us. However this time instead of feeding the sharks about 10 meters away, they fed them only feet from us. Once they were done with that portion, they actually dragged the food above the line of divers. This was definitely the scariest part for me and I was trying to cling to the ground and make myself as small as possible. But being able to look up and see all of the sharks swimming above our heads was a spectacular site.

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Although I don’t see anymore shark dives for me in the near future, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. Ranked one of the best shark dives in the world I’m so happy I had the opportunity to go!

Week 11

This week was a stressful one. With three midterms and a couple papers due, I couldn’t wait for the long Easter weekend. Most of the tests weren’t too bad except for the accounting one. The exam was proctored like an SAT and I had to travel to a huge auditorium to sit the test. We had a booklet with specific instructions and someone there to read off the directions. A huge clock sat at the front of the room of about 400 students, and it was nerve-wracking to say the least. If that was what the midterm was like I’m scared for the final.

 

Early Friday morning we traveled to Nananu-I-Ra, which is an island located just above the north side of Viti Levu. The water was unlike any I had ever seen before. It was clearer than most pools I have ever swam in and there were fish everywhere. That night we all sat outside on a huge deck attached to the backpackers kitchen and unintentionally watched the moonrise.

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The next day we went kayak and paddle boarding, then spent the rest of the day exploring the island. We traveled around to one of the points and went swimming and collected sand dollars.

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We even found an orange tree- one that shed its leaves. This kind of tree would be quite normal back in Washington, but on the beach in Fiji it stuck out like a sore thumb.

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Known for its rather windy climate, we had planned to go windsurfing the following day as well as take a fishing trip. Unfortunately one of my friends had a death in the family so we decided to head back to Suva early.

 

On our trip back I met a woman who sat next to me on the bus for about 10 minutes. She started telling me about her 5 kids, although she looked like she couldn’t have been a day over 25. She had a degree in computer science but she worked at a supermarket. Her eyes lit up when I told her I attended USP, and said she was planning to go back to school next term. When we stopped at her village she wished my family and I the best, and waved outside as the bus drove away. It’s people like her that constantly remind me why I love this country. So friendly and humble, yet so hardworking. I’ve learned that the people who seem to give the most are those who seem to have nothing.

Week 10

After a few hours of rest after arriving back to campus around 8am on Tuesday from the field trip, I jumped on another boat to Taveuni- The Garden Island. The ferry ride was 18 hours, but I was so exhausted I was asleep by 6pm and slept most of the way. We arrived Wednesday afternoon and when we walked up to the main check in area of the backpackers resort my face must have dropped- So many white people. I had assumed that not a lot of people traveled here because of the long ride and small amount of tourist attractions, but apparently it’s still a very popular place.

 

The next morning I went scuba diving. The first dive we did was the Great White Wall, which is exactly what it sounds like. It is a huge wall covered in white coral and extends down so far you can’t even see the bottom (apparently about 150 meters). I was a little nervous because it was my first dive without my instructor, and everyone else appeared to be pros. The furthest I went down was 27 meters- which is almost double what I have previously done. The beginning of the dive we went through a cave which was so amazing. A little chlosterphobic I didn’t think I would enjoy it, but it was really neat. While in the cave I looked to my left and just saw a whole school of fish about a foot away staring straight at me, barely moving. Once we were out of the cave, we were at the wall- and it was breathtaking and indescribable.

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The second dive site we visited was another part of Rainbow Reef called the Fish Factory. Massive schools of fish would circle around you and we saw everything from sharks, eels, sea cucumbers, and to even a few clown fish.

 

The following day we decided to go for a “short” kayak to Honeymoon Island, which was just around the corner from where we were staying. The kayak ended up taking the whole day and we eventually found out that the island we stopped at was an abandoned pearl farm, and Honeymoon Island was right next to it. Nonetheless though we had a great time and even managed to catch a few fish with some line and corn we attached to the back of our kayaks.

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Pearl Farm

Pearl Farm

Our final day on Taveuni the whole group went to the natural rock slides. Only at most 100 meters long, they still were entertaining for a couple of hours. We also visited the International Date Line- or at least where it used to be. It’s actually kind of funny because many tourists actually pay to go see this imaginary line and the resorts fail to mention that the line was moved years ago, and now lies somewhere in the Pacific. The final part of the day was spent relaxing at the beach.

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On Sunday we began our long journey back on the boat, with a stop in Savusavu on Vanua Levu (the second biggest island in Fiji after Viti Levu). There really wasn’t much to offer there but it appeared to be a big sailing city, with dozens of boats out in the harbor.

Below are some of the beautiful things we saw on the our trip to the Garden Island!

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Week 9

This week concluded with another field trip, back to the land of giant spiders and machete men- Ovalau. The first full day of the trip was the “coastal walk” and hike to the vantage point. Setting off for our days work with minimal instruction, we later found out we were doing everything wrong. Our coastal walk consisted of noting all of the ‘exiting’ geological formations we noticed and collecting rock samples. As for the vantage point, we hiked to the wrong one. Each group was given a volunteer from the village to help take us up, and supposedly one of the guys in our group told the guide the wrong place to go. So instead I once again found myself following guys with machetes up a non-existent path to the top of a mountain. Our professor wasn’t mad though, and instead she said we made class history by climbing to the top of ‘Devil’s Thumb’.

 

Devils Thumb

Devils Thumb

View from Devils Thumb

View from Devils Thumb

On our third day of the trip we had our second and last big project. This day was definitely more than anyone had expected. Overall, we pretty much had to hike to the top of a stream and follow it back down, taking measurements at 12 different sites along the way. Sounded easy enough- but oh boy we’re we wrong. The hike up was easily 2 miles, but probably more. 80% of the trail was mud so slippery I had trouble walking on it even on flat ground, let alone an incline. Some parts of the trail were about the width of two of my feet, with a 20 foot drop down on one of the sides. I’m actually shocked that no one went tumbling down. The way down though was even trickier. We had to climb over giant boulders, hike down waterfalls, and swim through big pools while still managing to keep our stuff dry. The last half a mile was a flat stream which at first glance would appear to be nice except the rocks at the bottom of the stream bed were so uncomfortable on the bottom of my feet I was moving slower than a snail. And yes, we hiked the whole thing barefoot because we were told shoes would be too slippery. After about an 8 hour day, we finally made it back to the village all in one piece just before sunset; unlike some other groups who got caught up the mountain in the dark. Now I challenge you, could you image an entire class that your in, or maybe everyone in your office, attempting to do this? Its actually crazy this is a requirement for the class, and they’re clearly were no safety standards involved. As my friend Ana said, “This would not fly in America”.

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Our trip ended with some Kava and dancing that a lot of my classmates put together. Some of the village boys performed some dances as well, and there was even a little bit of cross-dressing (no comment). We left the village at 3am the next morning to catch the boat back to Viti Levu, and most of the students just stayed up drinking Kava. Apparently though when you drink Kava and don’t sleep, it can make you feel very nauseous, and people were puking out the bus windows on the way back. Luckily I was asleep so I didn’t witness anything.

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Week 8

Monday morning I went out to a nearby harbor for my Marine Pollution class to test the sedimentology. Our test sites were about a mile from the coast of the city’s sewage treatment plant so unsurprisingly the materials we managed to collect from the seafloor were piles of sludge (ew). I thought it was pretty hilarious though when were being separated into three different boats and the instructors organized that based on which students were the best swimmers. Our predeparture instructions consisted of how to properly wear our life jackets and what to do if/when the boat sinks. Luckily though we didn’t end up having any problems.

 

Thursday afternoon I left for my first field trip of the semester for my Resource Conservation and Management Class. All field trips are (unfortunately) supposed to be scheduled over spring break however this one got moved so now I only have one for the first half of break. Our first stop was at Tavuni Hill- where apparently some Tongan Chief hid in a fort from Fijian Warfare a long time ago. Unfortunately though when the Europeans entered Fiji in the early 1800’s the place was knocked down, so only rocks remained. So we spent about an hour wandering around this place with not really anything to see and I still have yet to understand the correlation between this destination and resource conservation. Right as we got there too it started to downpour, which we later learned was the beginning of a tropical depression (cyclone).

Top of Tavuni Hill

Top of Tavuni Hill

We took the bus to Cuvu Village from there where we spent the next two nights. We joined in on the opening Kava ceremony still drenched before we were allowed to go change, and some students even had to take a test for another class.

Chem students taking their test outside

Chem students taking their test outside

 

The reason our professor chose this village to take us to is because it is apart of a program that supports Marine Protected Areas- or MPA’s. These are areas in the ocean that have been deemed “dead zones” because all the coral has died from pollution. Then new corals are planted and fishing laws are implemented around the areas- such as no nets, overfishing, or poisons. There is an island resort about 500 meters across the beach from the village, and they pay for the MPA’s, and in return attract more tourists. The villagers patrol and set standards for the MPA’s, and in return yield more fish. We were originally supposed to tour the resort and MPA areas for the field trip however because of the depression we weren’t allowed to enter. So instead we spent the day interviewing the villagers about their take on the MPA’s and how it has impacted them.

Walking along the beach outside the Cuvu Village

Walking along the beach outside the Cuvu Village

Taking shelter from the rain

Taking shelter from the rain

The night ended with a huge Kava ceremony and plenty of dancing from the Solomon Island boys in the class as well as the Fijian girls. I got dragged into the Fijian dance but surprisingly didn’t do too bad (at least in my opinion). The whole trip ended up being a lot of fun and really helped me get to know a lot of my classmates better.

 

The following night I was back in Suva and went downtown to watch some of the Rugby matches. Fiji was playing that night and it was quite a sight seeing about 75 people hanging around the McDonalds trying to watch the one TV they had in the back corner. Fiji ended up wining that night, but I haven’t been able to keep up with them since.

Week 7

While most places around the world spent their Monday celebrating St. Patty’s Day, we joined in on the Holi Festival. Since Fiji has a very large Indian population, there was a Holi celebration right here on USP’s campus. Holi, which I learned, is the celebration of color. You take this sort of colored powder and rub it people’s faces, with the idea of ignoring their ethnicity, gender, size, etc. As ridiculous as it might sound it was a lot of fun and we were absolutely covered by the end of it.

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Wednesday morning before class we went out for our first open water dive, and then we did our final one on Sunday. We took a boat out about twenty minutes outside of Suva Harbor to some of the coral reefs. There was an array of amazing marine life and luckily there were no sharks- I don’t think I’m ready for that yet.

 

Saturday a few of us girls headed to the Sigatoka Sand Dunes, which is a National Park about a two and half hour drive east of Suva. We weren’t completely sure how to get there, so we wound up just asking locals for directions. We later found out that we had gone into the wrong entrance, but it turned out to be for the better. We went in on the wrong side of the park so we had the entire place to ourselves. The dunes stretched out for quite some distance, with the beach on one side and Sigatoka city on the other.

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After being here for about a month and a half, I ‘ve come to the conclusion that there are some things that I’m just never going to get used to. For starters, the cab drivers. One in every three cars is a cab and about half of them that pass you honk or slow down, hoping you’ll jump in their car. It’s especially bad since my white skin makes me stick out like a sore thumb, so they all immediately think I’m a tourist. My walk to class is about 20 minutes along a main road, so I can’t even calculate how many times I get honked at on a daily basis. Last week I even had a cab driver slow down and follow me in my peripheral vision for about sixty seconds until he finally gave up and drove away.

Another thing that drives me insane is walking along the sidewalks. When I first got here I assumed they all walked on the left side, because that’s the way they drive. And sure some do, but then others walk on the right. And some just walk straight; there’s no order to it. Going on an evening run is impossible because I’m dodging people left and right.

However I’m surprised at some of the things I’ve become accustomed to. I honestly never thought I would get used to this heat and humidity but it’s started to get better. Another strange thing is the lack of crosswalks. The first few days we were on campus my roommate Sara and I took about 15 minutes to try to cross a road. Since I’ve started to understand how to play this cruel real life version of Frogger though it hasn’t been too bad. I’ve also been able to combat the lack of Chipotle and other mexican food restaurants with weekly Taco Tuesdays which have included anything from Cali burritos to nachos .

Week 6

Highlight of this week: THE AC GOT FIXED! After more than a month we finally have a cool place to eat and sleep.

 

On Saturday a group of us went to the Colo-i-Suva National Park. Only a twenty minute bus ride from the city and a thirty minute walk/hike through the forest we found ourselves at the “lower pool”. The river was nestled under a canopy of trees and the water was crystal clear. The pool area was at least twenty feet deep, most likely more, which enabled us to jump from the rope swing (or even higher as some of the more daring locals demonstrated for us). We spent most of the day there swimming, hiking, and relaxing.

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Sunday, I began my first scuba diving course. A large group of us enrolled in a three-step program that includes one pool day and two days of open dives. I hadn’t ever really considered getting scuba certified before but I couldn’t imagine doing it ten years from now and looking back on a missed opportunity to dive in Fiji. I guess you can never really understand it until you do it, but breathing underwater is awesome. I can’t wait until next week when we get to do our first ocean dive!