Ocean Dream / Red Dirt Road

Humpback calf Vava'u

Gathering ammo for articles in Vava’u was spectacularly fruitful. Unlike in Tongatapu, the main island, people were very enthusiastic about the opportunity to promote the region. As a result I was hosted on a fantastic array of different activities. On day 3 I found myself in a go-cart whizzing around the mainland and on day 4 I was out on the waves of the open sea in a boat all day.

The carting was very novel – the very rough terrain in places really epitomised ‘off-roading’. There was also a surprising amount of variety in terms of the terrain/flora/fauna. Up on the north coast, the rich brown/red mud and luscious greens transformed to sweeping yellow fields dotted with pandan trees. I’ll do a ‘photo story’ to try and recreate the impression of the trip:

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First stop: beach at the north east of the main island

First stop: beach at the north east of the main island

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Flying fox den with a view

Flying fox den with a view

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Picked up a straggler in the cart

Picked up a straggler in the cart

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The following day, the excursion couldn’t have been a bigger contrast from that adrenaline filled mud-fest. A reasonably small motor boat, with me, the crew and three underwater photographers on, headed out of the bay, out through the islands to the open sea. We spent from 8am-4pm getting sea sick on the waves, spotting the odd breech or the odd fin but getting frustrated as all of the whales where moving. Tonga is renowned for providing perfect conditions for whales to hang around in. As a result you get many mothers with their calves sitting around in the warm water. If the whales are moving, however, there’s not much you can do about it as they’re far faster than you could ever be!

On our way back in we eventually saw an out spurt of water belonging to a resting mother and we jumped in the water with our snorkels on. The mother was very relaxed and sleepy and dozed away whilst her calf came to play with us near the surface – it was within a couple of metres of us! Every now and then the sleepy mother would rise up to breath and perhaps move along a little, still with her eyes shut! My favourite moment was swimming along side both of them, almost at arms length whilst they slowly moved along. We were in there for over an hour but it certainly eclipsed all of the morning’s sickness and frustration!

My pathetic little underwater camera did not fare well, particularly with the excitement of the situation, but I’ve fiddled around with a couple of the photos a little to try and reclaim a semblance of a whale from them! With any luck, the underwater photographer who got a shot of me with the whales with come through with his promise to send me the picture! I’ll include a low-quality version of his shot of the calf as well – Daniel Norwood photography, is where to go if anyone wants to look further into him.

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As usual, i've failed to get a full whale in but here you can get an idea of what it was like to swim along-side!

As usual, i’ve failed to get a full whale in but here you can get an idea of what it was like to swim along-side!

The mum with her eyes shut!

The mum with her eyes shut!

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Fantastic wooden whale at the crafts shop in town

Fantastic wooden whale at the crafts shop in town

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Bat Out of Hell

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Lots of people don’t like bats – some even have phobias of them. It’s fairly easy to see why, due to their association with horror and darkness (hence the Meatloaf title). I am definitely not one of them – this little guy was so sweet. It’s easy to see why fruit bats get called ‘flying foxes’! Anyway – I jumped in half way through the day… let me start from the beginning.

I’m running out of days here now! Just when I’m starting to get to grips with the place, I’m going to have to leave! I woke up this morning and hopped on a bus up to the village of Mele, around 10 minutes from town. There are a few places of interest in that area – one of which is the ‘Secret Garden’. At the Secret Garden they apparently bring over men from Abrym Island – the island where black magic is said to originate from – to do magic shows for tourists. Unfortunately, as I was by myself, they hadn’t been able to justify asking the men to come and perform through the morning, so I rearranged to tomorrow morning when some other tourists have booked up to go to the show. They did, however, show me the animals they keep on site, which I was perfectly happy with as an alternative!

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These Fijian banded iguanas are rapidly decreasing in quantity due to destruction of their habitats…

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They explained to me how they rotate the animals every 6 months or so – releasing and catching new individuals. They were all remarkably tame. Many of them are actually endangered now as they’re unfortunately ending up on dinner tables too much. One such example is the coconut crab. They no longer have them on site due to the scarcity of crabs left! Another example are the fruit bats. I couldn’t resist this little guy – absolutely adorable! They don’t seem to have much meat on them anyway so I’m quite sure why they’re so popular as a food source… They’re just such weird creatures – the way he wraps his wings about himself really does make him look like Dracula, haha.

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More on ‘secret garden’ after I’ve returned for the show tomorrow.

Around 10 minutes up the ring road around the island you arrive at the ‘Mele Cascades’. Some entrepreneurial individual has set up a café near the base of a series of waterfalls in order to be able to charge people to visit. There wasn’t anybody there when I arrived, however, so I just walked on in. The cascades themselves were stunning: a series of waterfalls over an outstanding long stretch of river. The path along side is very well maintained by the people who run the café so it was a very pleasant half hour walk to the pièce de résistance at the end.

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I say ‘path’, some of it included sections like this, with ruts carved into the rock to walk up!

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Another half an hour back down the ring road and you come to the beach across from ‘hideaway island’. I didn’t bother going across to the resort as it was an incredibly low tide so not ideal for snorkelling. I loved the way the school kids were playing about on the beach in their lunch hour – their school is right on the shore!

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Back tackling with the internet again this evening, so going to draw a line there!

Old Habits Die Hard

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This morning I headed out, with an Australian couple, to another little village where they do cultural demonstrations, around 20 minutes from Port Vila. The lady was terrified of spiders which became pretty problematic once they started playing about with their ‘toys’, as they like to call them. A man from the village, kitted out in traditional attire, talked us through a number of different aspects of their culture.

Firstly he explained to us about their methods of food preservation. In earlier times when banana and breadfruit were the staple parts of their diets, they had to work out methods of preserving them in case the crops were destroyed by cyclones. They’d grate bananas using a piece of coral then place in all in a large sack to let the water drip out over a period of time. They’d then place the dried mush in a hole in the ground lined with coconut leaves – larger waterproof leaves would be wrapped around the banana which they would replace everytime they went brown. To secure the ‘fridge’ they’d cover it in heavy rocks. Apparently this could then last over 5 years! This seems hard to believe! To make the dried brown mush palatable after such a long time in the ground they’d add coconut milk – covers a number of sins.

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He demonstrated the various traps they use to this day to catch chickens and pigs in the bush. Then similar contraptions for marine life.

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He showed us a weird looking staff with vine tied onto the end which apparently sucks the oxygen out of the water as it expands. In large quantities (50 men or so each with a staff) they can kill all of the fish in a rock pool through sucking out the oxygen.

The most fascinating was the spider web net – they spin the wooden structure around in spider webs like it’s candy floss until the web gets thick enough to act as a form of net for smaller fish!

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The various herbal remedies he was talking about, again, seem a little hard to believe. It seems such a strange concept that you’d go out into the jungle – pick a plant – then squeeze its juice into some water to get rid of a headache… He then told us a story about how he broke his leg a few years ago from falling out of a coconut tree. Instead of taking him to the modernised hospital on a different island his father had carted him, a similar distance, over to a traditional hospital where they ‘operated ‘ with their bare hands and, crucially, without anaesthetic. He says he cried for a week then was furious with his dad for a month. Thankfully, he recovered fully!

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The most fascinating area that he talked us through was the history of the spirituality of the country. In the past, ‘black magic’ was widespread, and still believed in to this day. The man explained to us, completely in earnest, how somebody practiced in black magic could strike down someone’s house with lightening or remove their intestines. He says some people do it now today but it’s difficult to tell who because ‘we’re all Christians – they pretend to be Christians too so we cannot tell’. He went on to describe ways in which the missionaries made ‘good changes’ to their culture. For example, until a hundred years ago or so women were made to mourn for 100 days after the death of a husband in which time they could not leave their house – which would be kept in complete darkness with no daylight. They were also not allowed to wash at all within this time!

Chiefs could have as many wives as they had tusks. By tusk, I mean a special kind of pigs tusk which curls right the way round to form a circular shape. The importance of this circular tusk is such that it is on the country’s flag! If a man had kept a pig long enough for it to grow a tusk like this, and then killed it – he would earn himself the right to one wife. One notable chief around 200 years ago had fifty circular tusks on each arm! All of those women were then buried alive with him, as was also tradition, when he passed. All of the people who have brought up the subject of marriage have stressed that they are thankful to the missionaries for changing this as ‘one wife is much better’ they keep saying, through giggles.

Another previous tradition which the missionaries fizzled out was the tactical manipulation of the blood line: a first born to a family HAD to be a son. Any unwanted daughter would have to be disposed of. He proudly explained that over the years their culture has changed for the better: any good suggestions, they take on board and any bad ones – they ignore. This is the main reason why they maintain this primitive way of life in this particular village – they want to show to tourists and their own youngsters how life used to be in the country in order to maintain a sense of their own culture.

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Their village's banyan tree, or 'cyclone shelter' as he called it!

Their village’s banyan tree, or ‘cyclone shelter’ as he called it!

After fish and chips in town and a stroll around the market to pick up a couple more lavalavas (sarongs) I went off to ‘survivor’s beach’, which apparently has something to do with the TV program ‘survivor’. Will let the photos speak for themselves, again! Armed with the underwater camera, I found a pretty massive giant clam – a very weird looking creature!

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P.B. a few fairly major spelling mistakes have been pointed out to me over the last few days (draw-dropping seemed right at the time, haha) so apologies for my lack of proof reading – am so relieved once everything finally uploads on this horrendous internet that I then promptly retire.

Warrior’s Dance

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Crack out a cold drink and some malaria tablets – I’ve arrived in Vanuatu. At first I was shocked by how primitive the capital, Port Vila, seemed to be: more so, even, than the capital of Papua New Guinea. The rest of the landscape and the people there do strongly remind me of PNG though. They seem to have recovered remarkably well from Cyclone Pam which hit with devastating consequences earlier this year. My taxi driver from the airport described how the whole community worked together to get it back up and running as soon as possible. With tourism being the country’s main economy – it was important that they got back onto their feet quickly. More on Port Vila later…

I was a little taken aback by how difficult it appears to be for an independent (female) traveller to get around the place. Everyone else here seems to be in groups or couples. No backpackers in sight. Trips around the island arranged by any of the ‘tour’ groups seem to require a minimum of around 4 people. The other options are taxi (which would be extortionate), hitchhiking with a local (and paying them appropriately) or hiring a car. I don’t want to take the risk of hitchhiking, however friendly the people are, and unfortunately I left my driving license in the UK so I was despairing that I was out of options. Luckily I found a nice elderly ‘vanuatian’ lady in town who advertised trips to take people around the island and a couple of people had already signed up to one so I jumped on the bandwagon.

There’s a palpable barrier between the locals and the tourists here. Interaction seems geared towards the fact that we are their main source of income. Nevertheless, the trip was jaw-dropping in terms of the natural beauty and cultural displays. I feel the best way to describe the day will be through a series of photos:

The driver pulled over to show us these large and apparently harmless spiders on the side of the road. He gave it for me to hold but then put it on my neck where it started to crawl into my hair. Was not best pleased.

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Blue Lagoon near Eton beach proved to be just what it said on the tin and more. The water was so clear in parts. I left the others sticking by the large rope which swings into the water and snorkelled out down the lagoon/river towards the sea. To be honest I was amazed that out of the collection of tourists gathered at the pool, nobody else felt the urge to explore the incredible place. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever swam in.

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The driver then took us to a little village, which we had to walk to for a while off the side of the road. They’d prepared a special show for us (for ‘donations’, of course): they dressed up in traditional tribal gear and, after jumping out of the bushes and scaring the life out of us when we first arrived, performed a series of dances. I then spent a while taking in the sight of that incredible banyan tree! Inside, the tree has died leaving just the parasite weaving out a hollow shape mapping where the trunk once was.

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A little further along the ring road around the island we stopped off at a local primary school where the children sing a couple of songs to tourists in the hope they’ll, again, donate. Singing had nothing to do with it – they pelted out lyrics at such an incredibly high volume that I could even see a vein bulging in one of the little boy’s heads.

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This boy clearly had had enough of the din as well. Very amusing though.

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Loved seeing the pidgin again! (even though this, apparently, is different)

Loved seeing the pidgin again! (even though this, apparently, is different)

Two burst eardrums later we carried on down the road. Chatting to the driver was fascinating. He was one of 9 children – his father had had 4 wives – back before the missionaries came. The number of wives was determined by the number of pigs a man owned, he told me.  10 pigs constituted one wife, and so on. Like many ‘tour guides’ in this sort of scenario, he felt the need to point out many things which we tourists were not particularly interested in, but which he announced with such gusto that we had to mimic great surprise and excitement. Such things include each village’s particular denomination and church, the progress in the state of electricity and the newly repaired state of the roads, fixed by the kiwis. This last one was referred to frequently throughout the trip – he said ‘it’s like being on aeroplane’ to describe the smoothness. As a tourist visiting this kind of developing country, of course it’s not the similarities we’re looking for but the unique cultural differences! This is an entirely selfish standpoint, however, and it is great, of course, to see how enthusiastic they are about the country’s progression.

Another little beach on the way home. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Off again to visit another village tomorrow morning so will keep you posted. Have just waited up for two hours outside to get signal in order to upload this and am now rather grumpy, haha.

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Beach Side

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I’m clearly staying in the wrong place here. I did a trip around the whole island today (with a new taxi driver) and got a glimpse at the amazing beaches on the south east coast. They still haven’t fully recovered from the tsunami in 2009 which destroyed all of their beach-side homes – most of the locals have moved back up onto the mountain – but they’ve built a series of fales for tourists to stay in on the beaches themselves. Lalomanu, on the south west peak of the island, was the widest stretch of beach with four separate families setting up a series of beach fales there. That would definitely be an amazing place to stay if anyone is looking to take a trip to Samoa!

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Alternatively, further west along the southern coast you come to the Tosua Ocean Trench. This is a stunning natural hole in the ground where the sea seeps through the volcanic rock to create a pool. The locals who own the land made the most of this by setting up a place to stay around the top of the pool – it’s now become a ‘must-see’ on any tourist’s itinerary. In front of the hole are a number of little blow holes in the lava rock where the waves crash through. If I came back for longer I’d love to spend a day or two exploring the area of little islands and blow holes you see blow.

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Continuing along the ocean road we came to Sopoaga waterfall, where one entrepreneurial family converted their garden into a view point. There are a few of these dramatic, high waterfalls dotted around the island. Another is Papapapai-uta which is right in the middle of the island on the central road which cuts down the middle. Both are worth a visit if you’re passing by. The only downside is that you have to view from a distance as there’s no path down the steep cliff sides. For a swim in a fresh pool try Togitogiga. This area is a ‘natural reserve’ where people cannot built. You take a 10 minute walk into the thick green foliage and eventually turn out at a beautiful little set of falls which you can swim beneath. Perfect to rinse off the salty water of the ocean trench and Lalomanu beach!

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A couple of the resorts are very flashy and come with a suitable price tag, but the vast majority are simply family owned and consist of a series of open air fales like the one in which I’m staying currently. Maninoa was the best example of these two extremes side by side. There’s a small set of fales surrounded by two of the most expensive resorts on the island!

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Teuila - Samoa's National Flower

Teuila – Samoa’s National Flower

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Finally we looped around the tip and came to a large ocean pool adjacent to the sea. The taxi driver picked a couple of papayas and began chopping them into pieces and throwing them into the water. Within no time around 8 large sea turtles appeared! He explained to me that small turtles caught in fishing nets would be brought here to grow a little bigger before being released as they get eaten by the tiger sharks. The principle seems good but there were some very large turtles in the pool so I’m wondering whether they just decided to keep them like a sort of pet! Very cute and remarkably tame. You could feed them by hand and stroke their smooth heads!

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Love the flailing limbs in this one

Love the flailing limbs in this one

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Look at that series of expressions!

Look at that series of expressions!

This little one crawled right up to the shallows to try grab a piece of papaya that everyone else had missed.

This little one crawled right up to the shallows to try grab a piece of papaya that everyone else had missed.

Ink

samoa umu

Today was significantly more relaxing. After the usual breakfast spread of papaya and coconut I headed back down into Apia town to the ‘Samoa cultural village’. This is an area in which locals can gather to display their traditional skills and talents to interested visitors. Each fale (thatched roof on wooden posts) houses a different skill. I was the only visitor there for a time so got to know some of the cooks preparing a traditional ‘umu’: they light a fire, cover it with rocks then use the heat of the rocks to cook the food once the fire has died. First though, they prepped the various components – the taro, breadfruit, plantain and coconut milk parcels. I’d never seen someone making coconut milk before so found this particularly fascinating. Vito spent around an hour de-husking then scraping out the coconuts, then he used a fibrous mess, which is apparently produced by the bark of a special tree, to vigorously squeeze large handfuls of coconut chippings to force out the liquid.

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This precious coconut milk was then ladled into a pouch of young taro leaves, sealed with a tougher leaf then eventually put on top of the rocks with the rest. Thankfully a few other people began to arrive at this point as they were persistently trying to make me pick my favourite chef to be my ‘Samoan boyfriend’, dismissing my pleas that I am perfectly happy with my boyfriend back in England!

Check out the tattoos on this guys leg as they layer up the 'umu'

Check out the tattoos on this guys leg as they layer up the ‘umu’

Covering the umu in leaves from the bread fruit tree to keep the heat in

Covering the umu in leaves from the bread fruit tree to keep the heat in

A rather unattractive looking meal of breadfruit, taro, cocunut mild with young taro leaves. plantain and fresh tuna

A rather unattractive looking meal of breadfruit, taro, cocunut mild with young taro leaves. plantain and fresh tuna

One of my favourite fales was the ‘tatau’ area where the local tattoo artist was working his magic. Apparently tattoos originated from Samoa and the word ‘tattoo’ itself is a derivative of their ‘tatau’. Not anybody can become a tattoo artist in Samoa – only by birth. It’s a highly respected and sacred job so reserved, ironically, only for those who have it in their blood. They were in the process of performing the 11th of 12 four hour sessions necessary to complete a man’s set of traditional tattoos. These tattoos, covering the body in ink from the waist to the knees, can only be granted after the man has proven that he can protect and provide for his family. The decision is made by the entire extended family when a man is ready, but he then can choose whether or not he wants to go through this prolonged period of pain. Once he starts – he cannot stop. This would bring irrevocable shame, not just on him, but on his entire family. He might as well leave Samoa. He needs to carefully prepare himself, therefore, before he can begin the process.

Unfortunately it would have been disrespectful for me to sneak a photo of the scene so I will have to attempt to describe it. A typically ‘sturdy’ Samoan man of around 30 was lying on his front with his head turned towards me. He was trying to hide the expression of pain from his face, but let the odd wince through every now and then. His wife was sat above his head fanning his face. Two of his brothers were sat either side of him stretching the skin tight over the back of his thighs and in the middle tapped away the artist. In one hand he held a long wooden implement with a large number of miniscule needles in a cluster on the end, and in the other hand, he held a stick which he tapped firmly and rhythmically onto the other to pierce the needles into the skin. A few onlookers fanned and wiped the leg periodically as the ink spread slowly across the inner thigh. It’s entirely the artist’s prerogative what tattoo the man should get. I could see that going drastically wrong were it to be the practice in western society!

A few other demonstrations included wood-work and creation of the lavalavas (sarongs). Another highlight was watching an elderly lady using her teeth to rip off the bark of a special branch, scrape it for ages with varying shells, pound it with a bludgeon then eventually churn out a ‘tapa’ – a special kind of paper upon which they print traditional designs for decoration or clothing.

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They performed a couple of different dances. This is the ‘Siva’ where the woman is said to tell a story with her hands. They men also did the ‘fa-ataupatu’ where they created a fantastic rhythm out of slapping noises using their hands/feet/thighs etc.

They performed a couple of different dances. This is the ‘Siva’ where the woman is said to tell a story with her hands. They men also did the ‘fa-ataupatu’ where they created a fantastic rhythm out of slapping noises using their hands/feet/thighs etc.

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We were also shown how to weave using the palm fronds. Here you can see a headband I made and a plate upon which to eat the food once it came out from the umu.

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Still relatively early in the day, I wandered back via a little waterfall to relax back at the hostel…I’m not going to attempt to post tonight again as the beyond useless internet will stress me out so this can wait until the morning. I’ve been having to wake up with the sun before 6 anyway so that works quite well J. (P.B. 5:30am and still no internet – will have to wait a while longer) (P.P.B. 8:00am – still nothing. Will have to be postponed until this evening) – Gave up on this. Had to wait to leave Samoa so am now back-posting from the airport.

Waterfalls on the walk back home

Waterfalls on the walk back home

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Surreal modern church in the middle of Apia

Surreal modern church in the middle of Apia

Back in the Mud

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Despite the excitement, it can be pretty unsettling arriving into an unfamiliar place, with chickens and pigs running about on the ‘highway’, and trying to make your way around without drawing too much attention to yourself. After touch down in Samoa, they were asking for too much for taxis at the airport so I headed in the direction of the bus stop when a taxi scooped me up for half the price – he did, however, have absolutely no idea where he was going, spoke little to no English, and had to stop at various hotels to ask for directions. He didn’t fail to make sure I had his number to arrange ‘picnic’ the next day though.

The hostel itself has no internet, maps or information. In fact the whole country apparently does not ‘do’ free wifi. Or signal on my phone, for that matter. You can buy a certain number of limits at a steep price but sometimes it takes such a long time to establish a decent connection that most of the minutes have gone! (Really irritated currently as have just lost 45 minutes of paid internet time as I couldn’t get signal to open the browser in order to log off so it just ticked away my time L Will have to just wait til the morning and try again). I headed to the tourist office in the local town several times to get my bearings. I was a little dismayed to find that the ‘fale’ I’d booked is essentially a (shared) wall-less hut. I bumped into a nice twenty-something guy from the Czech republic who helped me carry my shopping from the supermarket – he couldn’t remember the name of his hotel but it then amusingly transpired that he was a couple of beds down in the next fale. It’s all a little too close for comfort with people you’ve never met before! IMG_4060

I didn’t push myself on that first day: popped in to check out the flea market, familiarised myself with town and bought some crackers and peanuts (not the best selection at the supermarket) to serve as food for the next few days! Speaking of fleas – have just let the hostel’s cat jump onto my lap for some attention and am slightly regretting the decision.

The next day, Leiataua, the same taxi driver, returned to the hostel at the arranged time to take me down to Black Sand beach on the south of the island. Our language barrier led to a number of entertaining miscommunications. My favourite was when I asked what, if any, wild animals they had on the island. He seemed a little confused so I painstakingly tried to explain through a number of different means such as ‘animals that are not kept for foor or as pets’, ‘animals that are part of the natural environment’ etc. He confidently told me that he understood and after much deliberation announced that they have cows and chickens. Aside from these rather advanced questions he’d generally just respond with a ‘yes’ and a nod of the head, regardless of what I’d said.

Again, he had no idea where he was going and stopped to ask every person on the edge of the road. That isn’t an exaggeration – he would drive 10 metres then ask again as if he either had short-term memory loss or had no faith in the previous answer. We ended up somewhere different from what I’d requested but the hilarity of what ensued made up for that disappointment.

We had to park the car and get out as the road to the beach was only suitable for four wheel drive. I explained that I was happy to go by myself and come back but he didn’t seem to understand and just said ‘now we walk’ ‘you and me’ to which he giggled. We ended up going on what was apparently a 7 mile round trip, wading through rivers, knee deep mud and at one point being drenched by a monsoon. The poor guy fell over a couple of times and was needing to pee every 30 minutes but meanwhile I just couldn’t get over the surreal nature of the situation: I was out on a tropical hike with my obese taxi driver.

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The beaches at the end of this expedition were certainly beautiful – largely because it’s easy to imagine that they are completely undiscovered. I particularly love the volcanic rock everywhere and the rich black sand that it gets ground down into.

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Hole in the lava rocks where the waves would whirl through and erupt out of

Hole in the lava rocks where the waves would whirl through and erupt out of

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ripples of solid lava falling into the sea

ripples of solid lava falling into the sea

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Leiataua tried to charge three times the price advertised. I think this was due to the fact that the walk annihilated him – he was panting and sweating like he’d just run a marathon. I gave him all I head which wasn’t enough so not sure how that’s going to resolve itself…he wants to take me out for another ‘picnic’ trip (tickles me how any trip out is just called ‘picnic’). However hilarious, I’m not overly keen to head out on another adventure with him but he now thinks I owe him money…I’ll have to get some out from the bank but am reluctant to give him the extortionate price asked for as I’ve already spent too much.

Safely back at the hostel – I took the 30 minute walk through town to the marine reserve and headed out with my snorkel to cool down a little. It was pretty, but ridiculously shallow – the high salt content meant I could float on the top but I couldn’t move my legs or arms down at all or they’d make contact with the coral and that never turns out well! With only a few minor scrapes I eventually made it out to the drop off area where things got much more manageable!

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Look how far out I was - and the reef was still only half a metre below the surface!

Look how far out I was – and the reef was still only half a metre below the surface!

It feels so great to be able to relax in my hut now, even if it is dark. Am going to purchase a few more minutes wifi to get this up and running so fingers crossed it gets through! Bye for now.

The Little Clownfish From The Reef

clown fish fiji

Yesterday, I decided to spend my only full day here in Nadi by heading out to one of the little islands off the coast. I booked a trip through the hostel then eventually headed on an incredibly bumpy little motor boat, arriving absolutely drenched 45 minutes later. Nearly all of the little islands have each been claimed by a ‘resort’ or hotel. This one was ‘Beachcomber’ Island.

Beachcomber Island fiji

white heron fiji

beach comber island fiji

The people were hilariously friendly. In fact the welcoming through guitar playing and singing seems to happen everywhere: walking into the airport to a small group made me giggle but watching them serenade the boat as we approached the island was even more entertaining. The three of us that were visiting for the day got a further 5 minute session of ‘goodbye song’ before we left, through which we were told to sit about a metre away from them and were not really sure where to look! A few other cultural things were put on such as a kava ceremony.  This is something which I’m sure I’ll become more familiar with when I return so I’ll leave a description until then…As you can see, despite the wind and clouds, the islands are very Maldives-esque. In fact, it’s probably a good thing that it was overcast so I didn’t get fried whilst spending so much time in the water!

The island lived up to it’s name: within the first few yards I’d already found four sea beans and a couple of cowries. I counted 17 of these lovely little things after the day was done! The tide sank pretty low after lunch so I headed out for a couple more laps of the island – I was delighted to find a little black and blue nudibranch swimming about in one of the little pools! So beautiful.

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This was a funny little flightless bird wandering about the place

This was a funny little flightless bird wandering about the place

The island provided the opportunity for me to test out the relatively cheap underwater case I bought for my small camera. It worked perfectly well so fingers crossed that continues! Although the visibility was poor due to the wind, and recent bad weather, it was lovely to be out with a few old favourites: parrot, trigger, angel fish etc. There’s a reason why a chose a song from the ‘Finding Nemo’ soundtrack for the title of this post: All of the clown fish seem to current have eggs or young. They all, consequently, posed beautifully for me above their anemone nests. My underwater accuracy wasn’t adequate enough to get the adorably tiny little nemo specks in the pictures but here’s a compilation of some protective parents!

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Back on land, they had a turtle nursery on the island where they help the little ones to survive the initial stages of life so that they can then be released back into the ocean. So cute!

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I also enjoyed stalking this beautiful little heron about the place as it looked for goodies in the low tide line.

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Overall, a day well spent, I think!

beach comber island fiji

Tiptoe Through The Tulips/ Trampled Underfoot

Tulips Keukenhof

Unfortunately I’ve dropped the ball in terms of keeping up to date – this trip to Holland to celebrate mum’s birthday took place in the middle of April. I’ve let exams (and further trips) keep me weighed down so there’s a fair bit of catching up to do! Also, as I’ve previously mentioned, it is far more difficult to keep up to date when I’m in (good) company! I’ve been fortunate enough to head out on three little adventures since my last post which all merit attention but, first things first, Holland in tulip season.

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We arranged to stay in yet another Airbnb apartment. This one, however, was a little different! The five of us (the family together with the exception of my little brother) headed out to the outskirts of Amsterdam where a beautiful barge was waiting for us. The stay definitely expanded my ‘Airbnb’ horizons as I’d not considered that such ‘alternative’ options would be so readily available. After acclimatising to the gentle rocking it was a fantastically exciting place to stay, with swans popping up at the windows in the evenings and friendly ducks resting on our decking in the morning.

Mallard

Amsterdam itself seemed to me like a hybrid of Copenhagen and Berlin. Beautiful canals and those iconic narrow buildings yet slightly more dampened, in terms of the colour pallet, when compared directly to Copenhagen. Those looking for the famous ‘cafés’ would not be disappointed – the smell of Cannabis seems just around every corner. The red light district similarly lives up to its ‘no holds barred’ reputation! Wouldn’t recommend for families with small children but for anyone who is remotely curious – I’ve never seen anything like it! For slightly less risqué adventures – try exploring the quaint delft shops dotted about the city. There are also many notable museums and art galleries – My highlight was the tragic but fascinating Van Gogh museum.

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Now, the main reason we had opted for Holland at this time of year was, of course, the tulips. We arranged a trip to the world famous Keukenhof gardens and were completely taken aback by the ridiculous queues to get onto the public transport. By ‘ridiculous’ I mean a lady working there told us the queue we were looking at couldn’t possibly be for Keukenhof as the buses went from round the corner of the next building. 100 additions to the queue later we established that it was, indeed, our queue. It was over an hour shuffling, penguin fashion, before we caught sight of these gold-dust buses.

And that was just the beginning.

The gardens themselves were quite possibly the busiest tourist attraction I have been to in my life. The only experience that comes close is being cow-herded through the Vatican. I tried my best to capture pictures of the stunning gardens with as few people in as possible but this was only achievable if you were within 20cm of the actual flowers. Luckily it did quieten down a little later in the evening as it drew towards closing time.

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The tulip fields surrounding the gardens, in my opinion, were equally stunning. Yet unfortunately the crowds had begun to spill out into them as well!

The tulip fields surrounding the gardens, in my opinion, were equally stunning. Yet unfortunately the crowds had begun to spill out into them as well!

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The magical moment when the crowds had dissipated before closing time.

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Overall, yes the gardens were unquestionably beautiful, but do not go imagining the gardens to be the idyllic peaceful masterpieces you see in the brochures. I’d definitely recommend timing your visit to as close towards closing time as possible!

Bring It On Home / Christmas In The Sun

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when the weather’s good there’s no place like Cornwall. http://www.westbriton.co.uk/Cornwall-officially-England-s-picturesque-county/story-25893227-detail/story.html. – Watch this space for a fantastic new website guiding you through this spectacular county: http://www.wearecornwall.com/. In the mean time here’s a youtube showcase: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsvjIkECQVI&feature=youtu.be

London too, although one of the most crowded places I’ve ever experienced, has many treasures to uncover. Undoubtedly another must-see destination if you haven’t yet joined the ranks of London tourists!

For Christmas 2014 we travelled to a different kind of ‘home’. As my dad was brought up in Zimbabwe, his three sisters remain scattered around southern Africa, with two of them based in Cape Town, South Africa. A lot of people are hesitant about spending Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. As you can image, I cannot think of a better way to spend the holiday! To swap the winter for the summer is my idea of paradise. What’s more, to be able to spend such a special time with our relatives is priceless.

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Hout Bay Seal

Hout Bay Seal

Heading towards Chapman's Peak drive.

Heading towards Chapman’s Peak drive.

Dassie

Dassie

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Penguins at Boulders Beach

Penguins at Boulders Beach

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Gansbaii

Gansbaii

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Shark cage diving at Gansbaai

Shark cage diving at Gansbaai

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Stilbaai

Stilbaai

Cable up Table Mountain

Cable up Table Mountain

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Beautiful little sun bird

Beautiful little sun bird

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The Iconic Protea

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