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F I J I 
06.04.2013, 11:23   ---   Bula

The last days in Australia just flew past and suddenly it was already time for my flight. After 15 months I was highly looking forward to explore new countries again, learn new languages, cope with visa regulations... but I also know that I will miss Australia heaps and especially leaving my friends at Asylum wasn't easy! My airport shuttle was booked for 5:45am and the goal for the night was to party through the cross and then head straight for the airport. Hannah, Shaun and Simon came back to Kings Cross for my last night, also Auvergne gardener Aaron, my Darwin friend Marlene and Easter Show colleague Mary Rose came over and we all went out for dinner at Kings Cross Hotel. Afterwards we had a couple of drinks at Asylum as usual and instead of following the entire hostel to Worldbar for a free drink we just went next door to our loved O'Malleys with the old Asylum crowd – a great night!! Next I got drunk beyond limits though and had no choice but to go to bed despite the original no-sleep plan – a nearly fatal mistake! In that state it was no surprise that I completely overheard my alarms and also Owen couldn't make any difference by ringing my phone and knocking on my door before going to work. Luckily my Asylum colleague Harun, whom I had to promise to wake him up before leaving to say goodbye, woke up by himself for whatever reason and even managed to get me out of bed, but by then I had already missed the shuttle. In a state somewhere between drunk and hungover I got myself on the train to the airport, through the check-in and the security checks and was highly surprised that they indeed let me board the plane!! :-P

After a 4-hours detox-sleep on the flight I felt a fair bit better already and stepped into the world of Fiji! It was comfortably warm, a little traditional band at the airport played a song for the arriving visitors and from everywhere I heard people happily friendly calling „Bula“ (Welcome).
Originally I've had in mind to head straight for the nearby Yasawa islands, but instead I am now on my way to the distant island Taveuni, off the beaten track! Along with a few others I took a bus to the country's capital Suva yesterday to catch the ferry in the afternoon. And everything is so amazingly different to Australia! Bus horns sound like bicycle bells, on the ferry every passenger gets stamped like in a nightclub, time generally goes slower in Fiji (Fiji-time!!!), timetables are not taken all too serious and in general everything is very relaxed. While the ferry was being loaded one of the trucks was unlucky enough to get stuck on the ramp, in an attempt to lift it back up the tank got a hole... and with a delay of over 3 hours we finally left! We shared our nightspot with several local families and crying kids in the economy class and guesses when we will finally arrive are varying massively. ;-)
I am indeed enjoying Fiji already and am excited what's ahead of me!!

09.04.2013, 10:00   ---   Finally arrived

After two full days of traveling including a total of 27 hours stuck on the ferry we finally made it to our destination. Truly exhausted and after dark we arrived at Tuvununu Lodge and got a very warm welcome with a lovely song at the door played and sung by the staff, an overwhelming moment after such a long trip! Absolutely everybody at Tuvununu (no matter if staff or the few guests) was super welcoming and lovely, everybody introduced himself instantly, soon we were treated to a delicious Fijian dinner and everybody spent the rest of the night together for a cozy kava-session. Kava is a traditional drink made from the roots of a certain local plant. People drink one after the other out of a coconut shell, it looks like muddy water and kinda tastes like that too. It's effects remind a little bit of marijuana, but heaps lighter and eventually one gets very sleepy of it. In Fiji's history only the chiefs used to drink kava, these days everybody is allowed to drink it and the nightly kava sessions are an important part of the daily local Fijian life. Meanwhile there's always someone playing the guitar, everybody sings along (it's incredible how everybody in Fiji seems to be able to pick up a guitar and play a song and the singing harmonises so well too), good conversations come up and it's just a wonderful atmosphere.

I spent the next two days with relaxing, diving, hiking, swimming and heaps of Kava. Diving was great as usual of course! Though it started a bit rough. When we arrived at our first dive site we had to wait a little while for the current to slow down, so we killed our time with some swimming. Meanwhile we drifted off towards the reef edge (along with the boat) where the waves break. Just as we decided to drive a bit further out again a huge wave lifted up the boat, broke on the reef edge, the boat crashed back down, its massive steel ladder broke off on the reef and went flying over our heads, the boat's uncontrollable up and down caused a surge which pulled a few of us under water for a moment... everything went really quick, but luckily everybody kept fairly calm in this dangerous situation and completely unharmed we all made it back on board! But once this shock had eased off we had two fantastic dives! The first one wasn't all too easy yet as the current was still quite strong and our two freshly certified divers struggled quite a bit, but they coped well. The so-called White Wall is a steep reef wall, which is strangely covered in mainly white-blueish coloured soft corals, really cool. For our surface interval between the dives we went to a beautiful beach, the second dive was great and current-wise way more relaxed and in a very happy mood we returned to Tuvununu.

Yesterday, me and a few others took the bus to the end of the island's road to go for a hike from the village of Lavena. Already the drive down there was stunning. The hike then took us further along the coast through some little villages. The people out there seem so overly happy, they were calling „Bula“ from everywhere, the kids followed us along... an unbelievably welcoming and friendly world! Every now and again some local men with giant machetes jumped out of the bush. It's a bit creepy at first sight, but always we were instantly facing a big smile, greeted each other and carried on. After a little while the path led us away from the coast along a river, through unbelievable green vegetation and ended in a long gorge. From there we could only continue swimming and found ourselves in a deep natural pool, surrounded by high rocky cliffs with two waterfalls splashing down on us – amazing!!

14.04.2013, 19:00   ---   Hello paradise!

After some wonderful days in Tuvununu I followed my new friends from the ferry to Maqai on the next island called Qamea. Maqai is nothing more than a picturesque beach, fringed by countless coconut trees, a beautiful coral reef just offshore. To the back there's a pretty garden and dense bushland, no roads and the only means of transport are boats. We were staying in little huts right by the sea, also here their staff is incredibly welcoming and lovely and it rather felt like one big family. The food is absolutely incredible, the nightly kava sessions are super cozy and the days are being spent snorkeling, kayaking or simply relaxing – too good to be true!!

And just when one thought it couldn't get any better Pa took us to Nanuku. Pa is a Fijian who took us along on the ferry and he works in Maqai. He's probably the funniest guy that I've met here, thinks it's super funny how pale we look on photos with him and cracks up laughing about our ridiculous attempts to climb palm trees. :-P So off we went to Nanuku, a tiny island far away from everywhere! Once we left the channel between Qamea and its neighbouring island behind us our skipper just headed straight for the open ocean without any land in sight. About half an hour later we could finally make out a silhouette on the horizon and soon it lay right in front of us: a tiny speck of land in the middle of the ocean, dense green jungle in its centre, surrounded by a white sandy beach, a coral reef and the brightest turquoise water I've ever seen – the perfect cliche of the South Pacific!! I have indeed been to many breathtaking places before, but Nanuku was so incredible, that I was truly speechless for a few minutes!!! The island is small enough to leisurely walk all the way around in less than 10 minutes, but so beautiful and photogenic that it took us easily an hour! Well it's not like we were in any rush... Of course we extensively snorkeled the reef, meanwhile Pa speer-fished our dinner and a bunch of reef sharks constantly patrolled past us up and down the reef. Ha and there are flying fishes, no kidding!! While we were on the boat we often saw them jump out of the water – so far not even all too strange yet – and with their fins spread like wings they flew through the air for several metres!

Last but not least I spent one last night in Tuvununu and after a wonderful week I sadly had to leave. I took a little ferry across to Vanua Levu, Fiji's second largest island, through the bus window on my way to the distant town of Labasa I got another little insight into Fijian village life, the daily harvest of fruits and veggies got sold by the road and Rugby is the game of choice in any open space. In Labasa I spent a fairly lonely night in a hotel with the luxuries of a hot shower and 24-hours-electricity, but I would have much rather swapped that for another kava-session with my friends in Tuvununu and Maqai! This morning I flew back to Suva on the main island and am now at a resort in Pacific Harbour – flash, modern and friendly, but it's totally lacking the atmosphere. But tomorrow a bunch of sharks is awaiting me for my long-sought after shark dive and then I'm heading straight back to Nadi. :-)

20.04.2013, 18:30   ---   Big sharks and amazing islands

Wow, my shark diving was insane! Insanely awesome!!! Beqa Lagoon near Pacific Harbour is known world-wide for its huge shark population of different species and during the dive they get hand-fed by experienced divers. All the other divers sit behind a marked line to watch it, while having two other dive guides guarding their backs to be sure that nothing sneaks up from behind and the sharks are curiously circling around. The consequences of shark feedings are a worldwide discussion, of course, as a matter of fact though these feedings here have been taking place for many years now with no person ever being attacked by a shark in the area. During our two dives we got to see uncountable nurse sharks (with a length of up to 2m quite some impressive animals), also a few lemon sharks, silver tips, white tips... and then a bull shark came along, what a beast!! Bull sharks grow to a length of 3m, but at the same time they grow very fat and massive and along with the tiger shark and the great white they are responsible for the most attacks on humans. This one though was just peacefully cruising up and down, gently taking the offered fish and made all the other sharks look super small. When the feeding was finished the dive instructor and feeder told me to come over to him into the middle, behind the marked line. First I assumed I must have understood his hand signs wrong and double checked with him, but then I wasn't gonna miss this opportunity. The next moment I was right by the feed bins, surrounded by countless sharks and suddenly even the bull returned!! When this massive animal swam straight towards me and passed me just 2m away I did indeed instinctively hold my breath for a moment, an absolutely phenomenal experience (though I still don't know how I qualified for this special treatment...)!!!

Still loaded with adrenalin I caught right the next bus and happily made my way back to Nadi. The Bamboo Hostel with all those familiar faces made me feel a bit like coming home and I even bumped into Charlotte and Sarah from our „Maqai family“ again. The day couldn't get any better and we let it come to an end with another long-missed and wonderful kava session.

A few days ago I finally made my way to the island chain of the Yasawas, where I decided to stay at the islands Nacula and Drawaqa. On the bright-yellow catamaran „Yasawa Flyer“ I cruised past all those beautiful islands until we reached Nabua Lodge, a nice little family-run place right on a picturesque beach, the water shines in different shade of turquoise and the only decision to make after breakfast: Hammock or beach bed?? One morning me and a few others went on a boat trip to the Blue Lagoon, where the movie by the same name was filmed, which helped Brooke Shields to worldwide fame in 1980. We snorkeled the reef over there, relaxed in the crystal clear water and played with the cute little son of the family and in the afternoon we walked to a wonderful little tea house just 100m down the beach from our lodge. Since the last cyclone, which blew down the hut, it's little more than a rickety shelter and the opening hours are limited to 2 hours a day, but the freshly baked cake is fantastic! :-)
Yesterday I moved on to Barefoot Lodge, where diving (cave diving for a change, super cool), snorkeling, volleyball, frisbee and the like make it a much more active place, but there's still no shortage of relaxation! Barefoot Lodge is surrounded by 3 awesome beaches, my bure (a Fijian bungalow) is right at one of the beaches with a sunrise view, there are some fantastic people around and the staff is absolutely amazing – definitely a brilliant choice!!

21.04.2013, 22:30   ---   Longest birthday ever!!

And once again I was turning a year older, this time though I had a very special birthday! It started in Fiji obviously, where we had a „Fijian Night“ at Barefoot Lodge the night before. Dinner was a traditional and exceptionally delicious Lovo, a barbecue type of thing, where the food gets cooked in an underground oven. Meanwhile some of the staff played Fijian music, followed by a fire show and last but not least everybody came together for a huge kava session. Obviously quite a touristy setup and not as amazing as at Bamboo & co, but nice anyways. When it was finished though, my friends (Jenny, Martin and Helge – a solely German bunch for a change) and I were invited by some of the staff to their private kava session at their quarters, that was great! Back in the resort we persuaded the night-guard to sell us another round of beer from the bar and down at the beach at full moon, Martin with his guitar, they sang me „Happy Birthday“, so beautiful! :-) At breakfast I got another birthday song from all the staff complete with a birthday cake – really lovely – and then we spent a relaxed day on the beach and in the water until it was time to leave in the early afternoon – Hawaii was awaiting me! The farewell from all the Barefoot people was everything but easy, but at least Helge was gonna keep me company for a bit longer, cause by chance we was booked on the same flight as me. Instead of going straight to the airport from the harbour we decided to go back to Bamboo for a couple of hours. It was great to be back, all those familiar faces instantly made me feel a lot better after leaving Barefoot and I even bumped into Alyssa and Mike, who had just returned from Maqai. :-) But unfortunately it wasn't meant to last for long... so the kava was served in even shorter intervals, Vili played my favourite song „Noqu Rosi“ for me one last time and finally the boys all sang „Don't say goodbye“ for me... the second farewell of the day really couldn't have been any more heartbreaking. But the taxi was already waiting and incredibly sad I left for the airport. Fiji is by far the most amazing country I have ever been to, even Indonesia is far off, and I just didn't wanna leave at all! Under normal circumstances I probably would have been completely devastated, but at least I had something to look forward to: I was about to go to Hawaii, where after more than 2 years I was finally gonna catch up with my friend Nathan (we'd been traveling through Egypt together for a month), the excitement (though slightly overshadowed by my Fiji sorrow) was huge! So after an already wonderful birthday the plane took off at 22:30, wisely I slept for the entire flight, we crossed the International Date Line and at 9 o'clock in the morning of the same day I arrived at the Hawaiian island Kauai – I literally traveled back in time and had an entire birthday again, which makes it a whopping total of 46 hours!!! :-D Nathan collected me from the airport, where he welcomed me with a traditional Lei (a Hawaiian flower necklace) and it was just great to see him!!


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