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Saturday, December 31, 2011

So this is the New Year...and I don't feel any different

The words in the title of this post are from the Death Cab For Cutie song New Year, and it's one of my favorite tunes of theirs.  But this year, I do feel different.  2012 will be unlike any other year in my life and the lives of Annie and the kids.  We spent the final day of 2011 exploring the streets of Auckland, searching for a good vantage point to watch the fireworks that evening and looking for gifts the kids could get each other for Christmas since the shopping was sparse in the Fijian village we stayed in for the first two weeks of our trip, Savusavu.  Our hunger had us searching first for a place to eat, but with the holidays on, many places we wanted to go to were closed.  Along the way, Ben was thrilled to see an Audi R8 stopped at a stop light, which he excitedly pointed out to the rest of us.

The driver definitely knew that he had caught our attention, as when the light turned green, he hit the gas and the engine roared it's throaty growl and sped away, to the next stop light.  Before leaving our apartment, I had looked up an Italian place called La Porchetta that appeared promising and fortunately, shortly after spotting the Audi near the Sky Tower, we turned the corner and the restaurant was indeed open.  The thin crust pizza was very tasty, passing Marley's sometimes challenging standards. 

After a successful stop for lunch, it was back out on to the streets of Auckland, hitting some shops as we tried to find something that Ben and Marley could give each other.  Marley is fairly easy to shop for, and Ben found something pretty quickly for her, while Marley and I struggled to find the appropriate purchase for him.  The search continued, and during the course of the search, we came across a travel ad that caught the eyes of these world travelers.  We'll be looking for a surgeon to remove the extra set of legs emerging from Marley's skull.

As midnight approached in Auckland, we hit the streets about forty five minutes before the fireworks were scheduled to go off.  The preceding hours had seen some low clouds obscure the top of the Sky Tower, raising concern about how much of the fireworks display we would be able to see. Bad weather at the southern end of the North Island forced the cancellation of fireworks in Wellington, but the show went on in Auckland.  The flow of the crowds took us down Queen Street to the intersection with Victoria, where the streets were blocked off and filled with people as the anticipation grew.

The clock struck twelve and the fireworks show began, with the appropriate oohs and aahs from the crowd, which considering its' size and the late hour, was well-behaved.  

I was getting some natural sound (natso in broadcasting lingo) for my pieces for ABC and after obtaining enough of that, I headed back to the apartment with Ben in tow as he wanted to escape the throngs.  Annie and Marley remained behind for the rest of what turned out to be a short, and somewhat disappointing show, especially compared to what we see each Labor Day in our hometown of Cincinnati.
I got back to our apartment and edited down some of the sound I had gotten and filed some of it with ABC from the Auckland bureau.

ABC didn't use as much of my filings as I had hoped, but some of that had to do with the tight time restrictions and the fact that the story repeated itself around the world as the new year marched to the west.  But I have established a relationship with them, and hope to be able to file more stories as our journey continues.

Later in the Death Cab song New Year, Ben Gibbard sings: "I wish the world was flat like the old days, Then I could travel just by folding a map.  No more airplanes, or speed trains, or freeways.  There'd be no distance that could hold us back."  I guess that's my hope for 2012 for me and my family as we continue our trek, that no distance is so large that we are unable to reach our desired destinations, and that the distances we are from friends and family aren't too great from us feeling close to them and keeping in touch.

Friday, December 30, 2011

An update from ABC's Auckland bureau

After two weeks in Fiji of two channels of TV, we've enjoyed our first day or so in Auckland of checking out the local television offerings here, both at our apartment at at some of the restaurants and bars.  Our place is located about five blocks from the main street through downtown Auckland, Queen Street.

It was raining pretty steadily when we decided to leave our place, and fortunately Annie had us all outfitted with blue Coleman rain ponchos, which we donned and hit the streets looking like losers at an audition for the Blue Man Group.  Auckland is a very modern city and extremely clean for a city of its' size.  Many US-based fast food restaurants have a visible presence here, we've seen probably a half-dozen McDonalds and at least that many Subway restaurants, with the occasional Wendys and Burger King as well.  The city has a diverse population with a strong Asian element.  Hunger led us to a restaurant called O'Carroll's just off Queen Street.

It great food, as Annie and I split a duck sandwich, while Ben got some tasty chicken wings and Marley downed some bruschetta and we devoured some potato wedges with bacon and sour cream.  Luckily we're doing a good deal of walking, otherwise with the way we've been eating, we might qualify for the next family edition of Biggest Loser.  Cricket is on the TV almost constantly, which I still don't quite understand, but hopefully by the time we leave Australia at the end of February, I'll be able to host a cricket team's pre-game program.  We were also scouting out places that might have the Bengals/Ravens game available, which will be around lunchtime here on Monday.  I went into a couple of spots that looked promising and found one that has individual TVs in some of the booths, and happened to be showing a Notre Dame football game in one of them.  Another inquiry led us to chatting with a Cleveland native who's in the military and living in Korea.  He was traveling alone and looking to hit a casino.  He was wearing a Sigur Ros shirt, so we chatted about music some before we decided to head for the iconic Sky Tower, just to check it out.

It's the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere at 1,076 feet tall, and has a variety of shops and restaurants in Sky City at it's base.  It also has a casino where our acquaintance from Cleveland was probably going to wind up.  On our walk back to our place, we walked by an Occupy Auckland encampment, which I figured would give me a good chance to do a test interview as I will be filing some reports on this trip for ABC Radio News.

I talked with one of the three guys there, he was named Alex Hardiman, a 23-year old from Wellington who had come to Auckland to join the cause.  In radio, sound is everything and I always loved using interviews with people with accents, and Alex filled that requirement.  I edited down the sound I got, put it in a package on the laptop back at our apartment and filed it with ABC, and will be filing more tonight after the arrival of 2012.

Hopefully the weather will co-operate for the fireworks show here in a few hours, as the stormy weather in Wellington has canceled the celebration there.  We've got some low clouds that will hopefully clear out in time for us to see the acclaimed show from the Sky Tower.  We'll let you know how it turns out and hopefully have some nice photos to share.

And now for something completely different....

Our transition day from Fiji to New Zealand began at 5am on Thursday the 29th.  We were originally booked on an 11:30am flight out of Savusavu to Nadi then to Auckland.  Pacific Sun canceled that flight and informed us about a week ahead of time that we would be flying out of Labasa at 830am on a flight to Suva on the mainland and then to Nadi and then to Auckland.  Labasa is a little over an hour’s drive away, and Pacific Sun wanted us to be at the Copra Shed at 6am to be taken, we thought, by bus to Labasa.  Our taxi driver Sirah picked us up in the darkness at 5:40 and we got to the Copra Shed about ten minutes later.  Instead of a bus, Pacific Sun sent several taxis to handle the twenty or so passengers being taken to Labasa.  We lucked out and got a fairly new Ford SUV where Marley and Ben piled into the third-row seat and Annie and I squeezed into the middle row and two girls from Australia filled out the rest of the seats with one sitting next to me and the other in the passenger seat in the front.  The drive to Labasa was very scenic,  with the two-lane road winding through the mountains, giving us misty vistas as the sun slowly made it’s way into the sky.  The road went through a few villages where people were beginning their days and dogs and chickens scurried to the side of the road as our taxi passed by.  The scenery was reminiscent of Hawaii at times and the highway was in decent shape, with a few single lane bridges and the occasional guardrail along some of the higher stretches.  After about an hour and twenty minutes, we made it to the airport at Labasa, which had a “terminal” area slightly bigger than the one at Savusavu where we had arrived in Fiji two weeks before.  It had two openings, one marked “entry” the other marked “exit” and inside were about four rows of around 20 seats. 

When we checked in, we were met with the dreaded words, “indefinite delay.”  It was about 7:40am and our flight was scheduled to leave at 8:35 but nothing would happen until the plane we were due to fly out on arrived and there was no indication at all of when that would happen.  As time dragged on, I started to get a bit concerned about our chances of getting to Suva and then to Nadi in time for our flight to Auckland, which was scheduled to leave at 2:10pm.  I really, really wanted to get to Auckland that night, since we are only going to be in New Zealand’s largest city for one week. After a few announcements of delays, we were treated to the sight of the twin turbo-prop ATR-42 500 approaching Labasa around 10:20.  We boarded and took off about 25 minutes later for the quick 30-minute flight to Suva. 

The airline required us to get off the plane, go into the terminal and then re-board the same plane, which lifted off around 20 minutes later for the even shorter flight to Nadi, where we arrived 25 minutes later.  It appeared that we had plenty of time to catch our flight to Auckland, until we got to the counter and the agent said she needed to see our itinerary, which we didn’t have.  We were doing everything electronically, and she said New Zealand required proof that you were booked to leave the country, or she couldn’t book us on the flight.  After whipping out a laptop and buying an hour’s worth of Wi-fi, I got on gmail and tried to find the record of our ticket that would take us from Auckland to Melbourne on January 25, but couldn’t find it.  As I was on gmail, I noticed that our ticket consolidator, Ted Groat from Rivertravel was available for chat.   I quickly opened up a chat window for Ted, and summoning up all the writing talents I could muster, I typed “help!”  He asked what was up, and I explained the situation.  He promptly emailed our itinerary to us, and the Pacific Sun agent went out of her way to give us an email address of hers where we could send her the itinerary and she could print it out, which she felt we could need when we got off the plane in Auckland.  By now, we had about twenty minutes before our flight was due to board, and famished, we grabbed some sandwiches and chips at a food stand close to the gate and looked forward to getting in the air to our next destination.  But, as happens so often with air travel, we were informed that there would be a delay of an hour.  After a little more than sixty minutes, the passengers on the 737-300 filed onto the plane and we found ourselves in the second-to-last row.  The plane arrived in Auckland around 6:40, more than 90 minutes later that first scheduled.  The process of claiming our luggage was smooth and painless, no questions were asked about our departure date, and we quickly found a turban-wearing (onion-head hat for Cake fans) cab driver, who took us to our apartment-hotel in the university area of the central business district in Auckland, within view of the Sky Tower. 

It’s a small 2-bedroom with a veranda, but conveniently located within walking distance to the main attractions in this bustling, modern city, quite the contrast from the Fijian village where we had spent the last two weeks.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Que Sirah, Sirah! ;-)

In the early morning hours, we awoke to the blackberry alarm to pack our things and move onto our next location. As we rounded up our final belongings and said our good byes to our foster cat, Rafael, while we gave him the last of our cheese slices, Sirah’s taxi rattled into the drive way. Our silent companion and ambassador of Savusavu, it only seemed fitting for Sirah to give us one last ride to our departing leg of travel.

We had gone down this bumpy, largely muddy, unpaved road almost daily over the last two weeks. It was just at the crack of dawn with the sun barely starting its ascent into the day. It was hard not to be reflective on the first stop of our grand family adventure.

It was Fiji’s summer season so it was definitely at the peak summer temperatures. This meant lots of heat and humidity along with a steady application of Deet to keep the bug bites to an annoying but manageable level. As we discussed the town of Savusavu in general, we remarked on how, as a visitor, it was difficult to see some of the offerings in town.

Having been from a culture where the marketing efforts are painstakingly honed to drive specific consumer behavior, we found the hand lettering and shear mass of words an interesting part of the city landscape. More than once we remarked,…”Hey, I never saw that sign that says you can rent bikes and scooters.”…..or “Hey, I never noticed that Inn over there.”

One of our favorites was a fish store that specialized in “Anything to do with Paper”. While you are buying your Wahoo, you can get some letterhead made. How convenient!

There was also one of our favorite offerings of the DVD store. You walked into a store with video cases arranged by category. You would pick your video case and bring it to the counter to get your “bootleg” copy for $2 Fijian which is just about $1US. That certainly fit in our budget!

The entire family agreed that the most beautiful aspect of the Fijian islands was the Fijian people. Here is a country that is clearly living with minimal material comforts and generally low paying jobs. Their homes are largely plywood and corrugated steel, usually with no windows. Bill noted one house we passed with its door open on our way to depart. There was a TV and a smattering of possessions along the floor and a man reading a paper in the lone chair. Chickens and roosters intermingled in the yards amongst the clothes lines which were hung virtually everywhere. Stray dogs ran happily around town weaving amongst the taxis and the local market.

Despite what appeared to our worldview as a window into poverty, we did not encounter one person begging for food or money. Crime seemed generally non-existent. And there was always a warm smile and “Bula!” from every person we met. In addition, the island was made up of a mix of Fijian, Indian and other Asian cultures with a dash of Aussie or Kiwi thrown into the mix. Racial tension seemed non-existent.

As we move through this journey together, starting off with an example of true human kindness, tolerance, gratitude and cooperation was a great view on a life to aspire to.

We are forever grateful to the Fijian people and in tribute to our kind and gentle taxi driver…Que Sirah, Sirah!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Second thoughts on what may be a third-world country

In many ways, Fiji has not been what I expected.  We did a lot of research before coming here, and from what I had read, I anticipated much more of a tourism-based experience.  But as I sit here writing this while looking at the beach just down from one of the glitzier resorts in Fiji, the Jean-Michel Cousteau, (founded by you-know-who’s son), there are no paragliders or jet skis, or any of the de rigeur activities that you see tourists partaking of in most vacation locations. It’s more Costa Rica and less Hawaii than I thought we would see, and that’s even after spending a lot of time on websites such as Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor, reading reviews of people who have been here in some cases many times.  The resort runs vans back and forth past our house to the village a few times a day, but it’s nothing at all like the coastal areas you see in the States where people go to escape for a few days or weeks.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the 6km road from town to the rental house where we are about a quarter of a mile shy of the JMC resort, is unpaved for more than half of the way. We decided to take the bus into town for the first time Saturday, Christmas Eve here. That was done in part to save some money on the $10 Fijian ($5USD) cab fare each way, but also just to have the experience.  The bus, which from what we can tell makes about three trips out our way a day, passes by our house on the way out to the end of the road at the resort, which gives us a nice five to ten minute heads up on when it will be heading back to the village.  As you board the bus, you are informed by words painted on the wall that you pay as you enter.  I asked the driver how much it would be for my family and me to ride into Savusavu, and he replied that it was $4.60, which gave me a chance to unload some of the coinage I had accumulated in our week or so here.  I settled into a seat just behind Annie and the kids who took up the entire three person seat on the right side of the bus, which was separated by an aisle from the two seats on the left side of the bus.  The absence of windows let air flow freely, underneath the “windows” that were rolled up and fastened, able to be quickly let down in the event of one of the frequent showers here.  As we bounced along the rocky road toward the village, making stops every half-kilometer or so, I expected Forest Whitaker or Denzel Washington, or even (hopefully!) Angelina Jolie to get on carrying a backpack filled with medicine for an orphanage or makeshift hospital.  Considering it’s Viet Nam era vintage, the bus did just fine, getting us safely to the village in just a little more time than it took with our taxi driver. 

One of the more pleasant aspects of strolling through the dirty and muddy sidewalks of Savusavu is the lack of beggars.  In our week plus of being here, we’ve only been approached once by someone trying to sell us something, and that was a legless man in a wheel chair who was apparently trying to sell some trinkets, and he didn’t push the issue when we politely declined.  The streets and sidewalks bustle with people, going in and out of shops, carrying their parcels and packages, while others loiter outside, chatting and waiting for rides from a bus or taxi.  Stray dogs trot down the street, tongues hanging out as they look around for a puddle to drink out of, a scrap of food to eat, or a cool place where they can lay down their skinny frames. 

Once inside one of the stores or markets, personal space that those of us from the US are accustomed to vanishes.  No one is rude or forceful, but to move through an aisle, you need to just claim that space and move forward.  The supermarket isn’t a Kroger Fresh Fare, for example, it doesn’t sell bread, that is purchased at, of all places, The Bread Store, which sells some pastries, muffins and cupcakes besides a variety of bread.  After mistakenly buying a loaf of unsliced bread, I for the first time in my life truly appreciated the phrase, “the best thing since sliced bread.”  Slicing a nice hard loaf of Italian bread is one thing, trying to make smooth sandwich slices out of a soft loaf of white bread is a talent I haven’t mastered yet.  I managed to make the best of it, and use some rough cut slices to make some home made garlic bread with some of the fresh garlic we bought.

And so this is Christmas

Our Christmas Day in Fiji was the first day we didn’t go into the village of Savusavu.  We had been told that the town would pretty much be shut down for the day, and that most businesses would also be closed the following two days for an extended holiday.  With that in mind, on Saturday, we loaded up on what we thought we would need and spent Sunday in and around our house.  The kids had two Christmas cards that we brought with them from their aunt and their grandmother, and they opened those to get a taste of being home for the holidays.  Marley put together a creative holiday outfit that gave us a good smile and we also got a feel for Yule in the South Pacific with some festively dressed kayakers.

I spent a good deal of the morning hitting “refresh” on Annie’s Blackberry while following the Bengals progress against the Cardinals, which was a bit maddening as a nice, relaxed 23-point lead dwindled away.  With that victory finally safely secured, and visions of trying to follow the Bengals playoff march in New Zealand dancing in my head, I whipped up a grilled cheese lunch for the kids, while Annie coped with a bout of Vijay Singh’s revenge.  (The surname Singh appears to be the most common one in Fiji, occupying more than six pages in the Fiji phone book and there are about two dozen Singh’s with the first name of Vijay.)  While Annie recuperated thanks to some antibiotics we brought with us and a yuletide feast of grilled cheese and Pringles, Ben and Marley and I hit the water as some Fijian families took advantage of the low tide and enjoyed the holiday on the beach.  The snorkeling on our side of the island isn’t as good as it is on the south side where Koro Sun Dive is located.  The coral there is still alive and colorful compared to the brown coral where we are which is mostly dead thanks to some sort of killer starfish.  There still are enough fish on our side to make it worth the time and effort it takes to swim around in the warm calm waters.  An approaching afternoon storm, a daily occurrence so far, chased us back to the house, where the kids enjoyed some re-warmed spaghetti from a couple of nights ago and some of Dad’s homemade garlic bread.  I grilled out a lamb shank, the closest thing I could find to roast beast in my best attempt to re-create the Whoville holiday feast.  As we’ve done most evenings, we watched a movie.  This time, it was one we bought a couple of days ago in the village, a pirated copy of The Tourist, with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.  For the three dollars we spent at the video store, it was worth it and an enjoyable escape, even if it was the second time we watched it.  Marley liked it primarily because of the location of the action, taking place in one of her favorite cities in the world, Venice.  While we’ve been here, we have watched Caddyshack twice, The Rabbit Proof Fence (based on the true story of some Aborigine girls taken from their families in Australia in the 1920s),  and also The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock.  I was skeptical going into that one, fearing it was some sappy uplifting story (thirty years as a hardened radio newsman has made me a little skeptical about such tales) but it was actually pretty good.  Besides catching up on some movies, we’ve also been voracious readers, mostly on Kindles or the Ipad, which have great compatibility in that when you buy something on the Kindle, you can download it for free on the Ipad.  The kids are reading The Hunger Games Trilogy, while Annie has read The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Paris Wife, American on Purpose, Honeymoon with My Brother, Family Sabbatical, Golfing with God and Under the Overpass.  In my best Bill Murray in Stripes mode, I’ve been pacing myself on my reading, having really enjoyed Honeymoon with My Brother, which is about a guy whose bride-to-be bails on their wedding at the last minute, and he decides to go ahead with the honeymoon, taking his brother to Costa Rica.  That plants the seed that they should travel the world together, which they do for two years.  Considering what we are in the beginnings of, that book really resonated with Annie and me.  I’m also almost done with AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, about a computer programmer from Florida who, after 20 years of slaving away in a cubicle, decides to quit and hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail.  His quest is slightly different than ours, but has enough similarities to make it appealing and it’s been a good read.  We’re looking forward to that trend continuing over the next few weeks and months of our travels.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

No AC, no internet, no problem!

Fiji is well known for it’s snorkeling, and we got a slight taste of that in the water right across from where we are staying.  As a swimmer, I’m a pretty good golfer, so I stayed closer to shore and got used to the idea that I could stay afloat without my usual flailing around in the water liked I’d just fallen off the Titanic right after that “strange noise” that fateful night in the North Atlantic.  Ben and Annie ventured further out and saw a nice array of tropical fish, including a manta ray spotted by Annie, while Marley paddled along in a kayak.  I was all set for another day in the water, which was breaking news in and of itself, but Annie was determined to get some local flavor and had arranged with our taxi driver Sirah to spend a couple of hours tooling around the island in his cab.  The morning that we were going to execute the plan, the idea was met with as much enthusiasm from me, Ben and Marley as General Custer probably encountered from his troops the day of his last stand.  After seeing my beloved's disappointment and realizing the long-term consequences for me, I reconsidered and managed to convince the children that it would be an educational experience, and dangled the carrot of hitting the Decked Out Café for some internet time after the tour.  The weather was comfortable as we left Savusavu and headed north through a collection of villages.  Each time we came across people working in and around their doorless homes, we were met with a wave, a smile and an enthusiastic “Bula!”, which we returned in kind.
To describe their homes as modest would be an understatement.  Almost all of them are wood frame with corrugated metal for walls and more of the same for the roof.  It appeared that they had some electric, and some must have had indoor plumbing as we didn’t see much in the way of outhouses.  I was somewhat concerned that we would be seen as rich white tourists and shunned, but that didn’t happen at all.  After a stop up in the hills for a scenic overlook, we headed back along the coast and past the airport toward the resorts along the southern coast of the island we’re on.  We stopped at one called the Koro Sun to get a feel for it, and it was beautiful, if pricey at $390 Fijian dollars a night for a basic villa, or bure as they call them here.  I also wanted to check out the nine-hole golf course and wasn't all that surprised to see that it made Reeves Golf Course at Lunken look like a TPC.  But it also looked interesting enough that I will probably explore it sometime in our remaining time here.
The evenings here have been mostly spent at our rental house, and with just two channels of TV from New Zealand available, we've been watching movies on our laptop, which has been some good bonding time for Annie and me and the kids.  Marley is very well-versed in pretty much every line from Caddyshack, and Ben is doing his best to keep up.  They've been going around singing, "I was born to rub you, but you were born to rub me first!"  We've also been spending a lot of time playing the word game Every Word on the Kindle and that's turned into some fun times as well, with the additional benefit of brushing up on vocabulary and spelling. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Settling in

After five days in Fiji, we are settling into the lifestyle quite comfortably.  Mornings have been mostly dry, making them a good time to hit the beach, which is convenient to our rental house.  The Navure house where we are staying is about 6 kilometers from the village of Savusavu and close to the end of the road and the Jean Michel Cousteau resort.  The road is paved for only about one third of the way, with the final 4 kilometers a bumpy rocky ride.   

Big buses careen down the road, and I’ve been waiting to see a mass transit stand off on one of the many turns on the dirty surface.  The house we are in is on about one third of an acre on the side of a hill, above which the owner of the property lives, but is apparently currently away on a holiday holiday in Australia.  There are papaya trees in abundance, and most of the ripe fruit is targeted by the birds who serenade us frequently, which is another reason we’ve been up early.  Who needs roosters for a wake up call? Not us!   

Ben was determined to break open a coconut but couldn’t find the right kind to cut into.  We told our taxi driver Sirah, who showed up the following day with a bright green specimen and the proper tool to perform a coconutotomy. 

We tasted the fresh as fresh can be coconut milk, confident that we could withstand our time on whatever island the next version of Survivor was taped.

We’ve hit the village everyday, in part because the internet here at the house has only worked once.  There is a restaurant in town called the Decked Out Café, which offers free wi-fi if you spend at least ten dollars on food and drinks while you’re there, a threshold we have had no trouble reaching.  Our second time there introduced us to the new owner, Colin, who is from Australia, and his wife Jeanine,  who is a native of New Zealand.  They are, as she told us, a Kangaroo and a Kiwi, and they run a dive operation about 7 kilometers away called Korosun Dive.  They got married on the Fourth of July this past summer, their “un-independence” day as they described it with a chuckle.  It’s the second marriage for both, and she had in tow her eight year old son Blygh, who defines precocious.  He and Ben have become fast friends, or at least Blygh and Ben’s Ipad are on a first-name basis.  The café has also been a place of realization that bad music knows no boundaries.  Our first time there we were treated to “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” by Leo Sayer, a song that thankfully we hadn’t heard in years and made us feel more like leaving than dancing.  More recent visits have allowed us to experience “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” (no, I think I would prefer to kill you at this point) and “Lady in Red”.  We will have a serious musical discussion with the proprietor before our second week here is out.  Collin offered up a free snorkeling outing for the family which Ben and Marley and Annie plan on taking advantage of.  While they are doing that, I’m going to investigate the local golf scene, as both courses on the island are close to where the Korosun Dive Center is.

Musings from Fiji

It is Thursday morning in Fiji. We arrived in Savusavu last Friday afternoon. The airport was likely the smallest one that we have ever been to. An interesting note….when we got our boarding passes for this flight, each of us had to actually stand on the scale with our daypacks to get weighed. Although we were assigned seats, once boarding began, we were reshuffled according to our weight and given new seats accordingly. Now that is some serious weight and balance exercise.

We were directed to a local Indian/Fijian cab driver who went by the name of Sirah even though his cabbie license has him listed as Devindra. Sirah has adopted us and is our “go to” guy in Fiji. His hair is as white as my Snowflake locks so it makes it easy for each of us to spot the other.

Sirah’s cab is an interesting white Toyota Corolla station wagon with the inside retrofitted with a red, brown and gold velour fabric seat covering ensconced in what reminds me of a grandmothers’ plastic seat cover to protect it from the debris of its passengers. It rattles along the dirt road to and from town and I keep waiting for parts to start shaking themselves loose.

Fiji is definitely more like a 2nd or 3rd world nation. We took a drive with Sirah around the island yesterday. People live in fairly primitive “huts” as Sirah called them. It’s hard to tell if they have electric or not. Usually when you can spot a wire it is obvious that there isn’t much power going to these homes. Because of this lower income economy, Fiji is quite affordable especially compared with somewhere like Hawaii. A beer at our favorite wifi spot is a $1.50 US during happy hour. You can get a decent burger for $4US.

The Fijians couldn’t be nicer. Everyone greets you with the local hello…Bula. Usually said Bu-LAA!! Enthusiastic waves are the norm as we drive around the island from the people waiting at bus stops to those hanging out in their yards. You spy the occasional goat, chicken and cow roaming the landscape. We even spied a bunch of piglets on our road into town.

The culture is a mix of local Fijians and Indians with the occasional Australian and New Zelander. Kangaroos and Kiwi’s respectively.

Hermit crabs are adorable and are everywhere on the beach. They come in a variety of sizes including an uber-mini size. They are also like toy cars are to boys and keep Ben occupied for hours. We have had a lot of fun catching them, racing them and just comparing their “houses”.

Snorkeling in the ocean is quite spectacular and even more so when you haven’t been delivered to a coral reef in a boat filled with other travelers. We went just off our beach and it was relaxing and brilliant and we will do it often. I was fortunate enough to see a manta-ray take off about 10 inches in front of me. We also met the owners of a local Dive operation and they have offered for us to come out snorkeling for free. WE are hoping to do that tomorrow.

Off to the Wifi café and a download. Love and hugs!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rafael Fiji

We couldn’t ask for a better spot to begin our journey, as our house sits across a one lane dirt road from a slim sliver of sand.  It’s perfect for the kids to hang out, with virtually no waves, making it more like a lake than the South Pacific due to our location, which is protected from the open seas.  Ben spent time obsessing over the hermit crabs that populate the rocky areas while Marley and I took a stroll along the beach and she home schooled me on how the whole hermit crab thing works.  Coming off of the beach, the kids encountered an orange tabby cat, which we immediately named Rafael Fiji.  

We decided as a family before we left on the trip that any cat we befriended along the way would be named Rafael, after the Saint of Healing and also a patron Saint of Travelers.  (Plus I've always liked the name due to the outtakes at the end of Being There with Peter Sellers)   Ben gave him the nickname of nuggets because this boy was still packing heat if you know what I’m saying.  Rafael made himself right at home, curling up on the chairs outside our house, and enjoying plates of left over tuna.  He hung out through the evening and was patiently waiting for us the next morning, happily licking clean a breakfast plate of tuna.  Then, after having spent some time snoozing on Annie’s lap, he hopped off, and vanished!  A stunning move, considering he had it all here.  I want to know where he’s got the better deal and spend some time there!  Is there an all you can eat caviar bar down the road at the Cousteau Resort?  Did he grow uncomfortable with our jokes about his nuggets?  Hopefully he’ll return and we can get some answers. 

Monday, December 19, 2011


One of the benefits of our first destination outside of the United States is the pace of life here.  It’s a “no worries, no hurries’ kind of lifestyle, which has really helped us slow down after the ordeal of getting here.  After arriving in Nadi, Fiji, on the largest of the nations’ 330 plus islands, we had about nine hours before our flight to Savusavu thanks to a schedule change and we weren’t sure what we were going to do with that time.  We couldn’t check our bags until 3 hours before departure, but fortunately Air Pacific gave us a “day room” at a hotel near the airport, along with a voucher for lunch at the hotel restaurant.  Ben and Marley hit the pool, we jumped at the chance for some free internet access, then went to the lobby to grab a cab and check out the local scene for a bit.  We asked our driver what he would recommend and he suggested the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, about a fifteen minute drive from the hotel. 

The garden was at the foot of a mountain that had a profile that looked like a, well, sleeping giant.  He apparently had too much of the local liquor, Kava, which is made from crushed roots and strained through a cheesecloth, producing a brownish liquid that is said to numb the tongue and make you very lazy.  The taste is said to be somewhere in the dirt family.  Appetizing, no?  I’ll have to ask the sommelier at my next nice dinner out to see if he can pair my pan-seared Chilean Sea Bass with  a nice Fijian Kava.  Anyway, our trek through the garden was a peaceful stroll through the jungle, with a variety of birds and some frogs to keep us company.  After some fresh mango juice at the end of the tour, our driver took us to the village of Nadi, which, considering it’s the largest town in Fiji, surprised me at it’s lack of development.  There is a McDonalds on the outskirts of town, but we managed to fight off the urge to McCafe our day and wandered through the dusty streets, being urged by shopkeepers to come inside.  

The shoppers in our group, (Annie and Marley) couldn’t resist, so we entered a store that had a variety of local clothes.  Marley bought a sarong that looks adorable in, and I fought off the efforts of one of the men in the store who wrapped me in what looked like two skirts that he said would make me blend right in.  I resisted his advances by saying we were taking a long trip and had all the clothes I needed and safely left the establishment with only the one purchase. 

Our driver then led us to a massive market that covered a full city block, where all kinds of fruits and vegetables were sold.  The fragrant smell was tempting, but we still had one more flight to catch and decided to wait until Savusavu to buy any produce.  A quick stop at a Hindu Temple, then it was back to the hotel for our free lunch.  There, our education in a different culture continued as when Ben got the “cheese burger” he ordered, we discovered that here, a burger is a bun with whatever you put in it, in this case, just cheese, no beef.  We filed that little nugget of knowledge away and headed back to the airport for the one-hour flight to Savusavu.

The flight to Savusavu with 17 people on board was almost full, as the 20-seater dual prop plane took off at a steep angle but provided some breathtaking views.  We were seated in accordance to the weight we registered when we checked out bags and physically stood on the scale with whatever we were carrying on to the plane.  The hour passed fairly quickly and we landed uneventfully at the Savusavu airport.  It didn’t take any announcements to know what baggage carousel to claim our luggage as it was loaded on to a cart and brought a few feet away to the passengers.  

A taxi driver named Sirah loaded our luggage into his cab with it’s colorfully decorated interior and we asked him to take us to the market to get a few things to eat and drink and then he took us to the house we reserved for our time in Savusavu.  We grilled a tuna steak that we bought at the local market for just $4 Fijian, which is about $2 US,  and relaxed, glad to be able to settle down for two weeks after a frenetic travel schedule in getting here. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's called a pacifier for a reason...

As a parent, it's always good to feel needed by kids, and in the case of a ten hour and 25 minute flight from Los Angeles, I felt like two infants seated two rows in front of us needed me very much.  Apparently, they couldn't bear the thought of me falling asleep and protecting them from whatever peril might come their way mid-flight.  Everytime I came close to nodding off, one of them would cry out.  Not an "I need a comforting pat on the back from Mommy so I can go to sleep" cry.  These were eardrum piercing screeches like they had just been told that Tigger had gone on a feeding frenzy and devoured Piglet, Roo, Owl, AND Rabbit and was turning his attention with a bloodthirsty grin toward Winnie his own honey-covered Pooh self.  It only went on for about 13 hours of the flight, that's not a typo, time seemed to go backwards as the parents tried the shushing method of comfort, much to the discomfort of every passenger in our area of the Air Pacific 747 we were on.  

As I sat there trying to get some sleep in between their yowls, my head became filled with strange thoughts.  One of which was what were we going to miss on December 15th?  We left Los Angeles on December 14th and we landed in Nadi, Fiji on December 16th.  What sort of massive news event were we running the risk of not enjoying 24/7 news coverage?  Charlie Sheen going on a Tiger Blood and Warlock filled internet rampage?  Occupy Deer Park protestors spilling into Kennedy Heights and Silverton? Tim Tebows visage being carved into Mt. Rushmore?  

Looking over the Wikipedia list of events that happened over the years on 12/15, the only one that really stands out happened in 1933 when The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution officially became effective, repealing the 18th Amendment that prohibited the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol.  I may just have to celebrate that with some coconut beverage at some point today, on December 16th.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

After months of planning, preparing and worrying about details of details, our journey of much more than a thousand miles began on a frosty Monday morning in Madeira.  We are relying on the kindness of friends and a few strangers to take this trip, and the first step was borrowing one of our neighbors to drive us to the Dayton airport in a Ford Flex borrowed from another neighbor since we sold our Flex last week to help make the trip happen.  We successfully navigated the never-ending construction on I 75 in Dayton and made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. 

We took this first step in our journey without our passports and without our visas for India and China.  That process got complicated when we put "media" under my occupation on the China visa application, and the Chinese aren't real fond of western reporters.  The company we are working with to process our visas, Travisa, told us last week that after getting held up with the Chinese consulate in New York, 
we would have the passports and visas by Thursday.  That became Friday, and then, on Friday we called and were told that things were actually in the hands of the Indian consulate and they weren't releasing ANY passports on Friday.  

That became what football coaches like to call a "teachable moment" in our lesson of just having patience and letting things play out, instead of having everything planned out in great detail far in advance.  That simply won't happen much on this trip.  Our agent at Travisa told us confidently on Friday that the package would go out Monday, and fortunately, we had some days still in the U.S. after we left Cincinnati that would allow the passports and visas to get to us before our scheduled departure from the States Wednesday night.  So, we left Dayton for the quick flight to Detroit and then a long flight to Los Angeles.  Marley and Ben continue to show what great travelers they are and hunkered down together as we headed to the West Coast.

Before we left Detroit, I realized that we wouldn't be landing at LAX until after the Travisa offices in New York closed, so I called our agent and she still didn't have any news, so I explained the time concerns and asked her to call me and leave a message so that when we landed we would know what the status of the package was.  Upon landing in Los Angeles, and powering up my phone, I had a message from Travisa saying our names were on the list of items to be processed, but it still wasn't a final confirmation.  

We grabbed our bags and tossed them in the rental car and headed south toward Cota De Caza to stay at the house of some friends of ours who had four kids, including triplets about a year ahead of when we had Ben and Marley.  They moved from Cincinnati about ten years ago and offered to house us for a couple of days before we headed overseas.  Our drive on I 405 was through some intermittent rain showers, which produced a full rainbow to the east.

We took that as a good omen and shortly after we saw that, we got the call from the visa agency that our passports and visas were, indeed, leaving New York and scheduled to arrive on Tuesday, giving us a solid 36 hours in our possession before leaving Wednesday night for Fiji.  Lesson in faith and patience learned.