Day 1-3

Bula from Fiji! Bula is the Fijian greeting for “hello” or “welcome”. Everywhere we go, we are met with a friendly smile and a huge “BULA!!” As promised, here’s the first video from our time at Castaway Island in Fiji. See my previous post from this morning for most of the details…. our three days on Castaway Island were a great way to get over our crazy jet lag. We are 21 hours ahead of CA. It’s been easier to think of it as being three hours behind but a day ahead. Try and figure that one out! It was certainly amusing to be celebrating New Year’s knowing that it was only Dec 30th at home! On our first night at Castaway, Josh got a huge Fijian serenade in celebration of submitting all of his high school applications the day we left. Snorkeling, sailing, chicken fights, and card games filled our days on the island. We are now on the Reef Endeavor beginning our weeklong cruise. Hopefully, I’ll be able to post more at some point. Happy New Year!

Day 4-8

Bula from the Reef Endeavor. We boarded four days ago for the 7 days “four cultures” cruise around Fiji’s largest island, Vanua Levu. The four cultures here? Micronesian, Polynesian, Indian, and Melanesian. The original itinerary was to circle the island and visit these cultures on their respective islands…Cue cyclone Mona. It started as two cyclones and then morphed into one. In Fiji, nothing really goes as scheduled… it’s the “Fijian” way. Such is our trip so far.

We are definitely on plan B because of the cyclone. Since our original itinerary has now been scrapped, the staff is totally winging it. They arranged for us to visit a small village two days ago on the island of Malake, a place that had never had visits from tourists before. Because it was uncharted territory for our ship, even the trip to shore was an adventure. Turns out, there’s no deep channel to shore as there’s no need since the islanders only have small boats… so about 300 feet from shore…CRASH… we ran aground. It was low tide which nobody had factored in. Cue the locals who hopped into boats to help shuttle us in, though we still had to wade to shore…. it was quite the adventure!

At the village, hundreds of kids gathered to welcome us. There was a ceremony after which we gave the master teacher the backpacks of school supplies we had brought from home for the village The Fijian people are known for their warmth and hospitality. This was on full display as the people could not have been more warm or welcoming. After about 45 minutes of awkwardness, our kids and the Fijian kids started chatting away asking questions about each others’ homes and cultures. Even I ended up with my own posse of 4 fifteen-year-old boys who for some reason found me to be really interesting… LOL. These interactions are what I love about travel…. getting to experience other cultures and seeing how other people live. I’m thrilled that my kids seem to have inherited this gene. By the end of our visit, they were totally in the mix of kids. If it had been up to us, we would’ve stayed in the village all day. As it was, we stayed as long as we could and waded back out to our boat with the staff from our ship.

In our downtime, we have snorkeled and dived, and like the village, all have been uncharted territory so even in the water, the staff has been winging it. It has not diminished our fun. There has been a lot of laughter and gleeful participation in the weeklong Fijian New Year’s tradition of throwing water on unsuspecting people at all hours of the day. This is regardless of clothing and shoes. It’s been very amusing to watch and my kids have not gone untouched 🙂 We also learned how to make Kava, a mildly narcotic drink made from a root (and that TASTES like it’s made from a root! Bleh!)

Today has been a quiet day moored by the island we visited the first day. Some folks are grumpy about the repeat visit, but there aren’t many options with a cyclone so close. Kevin, Kristi (his sister), and I did get to dive this morning, and we just got back from a beautiful snorkel and some paddle boarding. We are embracing the concept of making lemonade out of lemons!

Cyclone Mona is expected to hit tomorrow. The weather is strangely calm, increasingly humid, with a strangely low cloud cover… all apparently pre-cursors to cyclones because of dropping barometric pressure (or something along those lines). Ironically, the plan is to moor around the corner from the marina where the trip started. In a desperate attempt to schedule SOMETHING for the passengers to do tomorrow onboard, there will be basket weaving with coconut husks at 9:30am, a “mocktail making demonstration” at 2:30pm, followed by trivia at 3:30pm. Definitely not the cultural vacation we envisioned! Fingers crossed the cyclone speeds up and passes through so that we can enjoy the remaining two days of the trip.

Day 8-10

Our hermit crab was the smallest of the bunch…. just a little guy with the #4 painted on its back. The five other hermit crab competitors were bigger, but #4 looked spunky and energetic, so that was the one we chose for the race. Here in Fiji, hermit crab races are a form of entertainment. You scope out the crabs before the race, then bid on the one you want. We won our bid and #4 was renamed Big Sandy Jim by the kids. A round table top was placed on the floor, 6 hermit crabs placed in the center and the first one to crawl to the edge and fall off won. It would be an understatement to call the race hysterical… screaming for a hermit crab to crawl faster and pass up a bigger hermit crab is most definitely a first. Our little guy blasted past the competition to win us $100! The kids were obviously thrilled.

Cyclone Mona took 5 days to arrive and when it did, it passed directly over the island we were supposed to circle in our original itinerary. There were landslides, roads closed, and buildings collapsed. Our boat stayed tucked in a protected harbor far away, and apart from some heavier than normal winds and seas, wasn’t affected at all. What WAS affected was our itinerary which was scrapped from day 1. We didn’t do one single thing from the original itinerary! The crew was tasked with figuring out what to do with 70 people every day without much notice. Overall, I would say that they succeeded, though there were definitely days that felt like filler… in particular that took us down a river for over an hour, then a bus for a half hour to get us to a fairly large town that had a market, but not much else. We had a few days just moored close to the safe harbor where we got to snorkel and dive, but even those were impacted because of the rough seas.

The morning after the cyclone, the last day of the trip, the captain was able to take us to the Yasawa islands in the westernmost part of Fiji. We visited a village where Kevin and his sister got to challenge the locals to some volleyball just like the old days pre-children. But the highlight of that day was snorkeling and diving in what is known as some of the most beautiful spots in Fiji with its brilliant blue waters.

I have to give kudos to the staff of the Reef Endeavor. They truly rose to the occasion and made things fun, especially for the kids. They let them jump off the roof of the glass bottom boat, threw them in the pool, gave the girls dance lessons and braided their hair, and just generally teased them and made them laugh. Tyler and Sydney took a mini-course on how to scuba dive, and Tyler got to go on a real dive. His reaction? “Now I know why you like diving so much!” I have just introduced my child to a very expensive sport…LOL. In addition to the hermit crab races, there was a “name that tune” contest, a fashion show, and a final celebratory night of kava drinking, the staff dancing, and the girls performing a traditional dance they had learned. Everyone was very sad to leave the boat (it didn’t help that it was 6am and still dark!) It’s amazing how well you can get to know people in just 7 days!

We are now in Queenstown, New Zealand for the next 5 days, followed by 5 more days in more remote places. Kevin flew home for work, so I am now solo with the kids and my in-laws. All I can say so far about New Zealand is that it is spectacularly beautiful here. I’ll post again in a few days 🙂