Volunteers staying and working for more than three months are entitled two weeks off. I took my first week off just before Christmas because by doing so I was able to have an extended break due to the Christmas holidays being on Tuesday and Wednesday this year.
My Belgian roommate and I decided to travel to the other two main islands of Fiji, which are Vanua Levu and Taveuni. Since we´re on a budget, we tried to keep everything as cheap as possible. To begin with, instead of a plane we took the ferry to Taveuni and also bought a ticket for the economy class instead of a room. That was quiet… an experience… ;).
Backpacking Taveuni & Vanua Levu
Taking the Local Ferry – An Intense Experience
The economy class is basically one big room with a few rows of seats. It looks a bit like the inside of a plane with aisles between the seats and rows. In the middle, there is a large screen for the entertainment program. That might still sound pretty lucrative to you. Now imagine this room packed with loads of people, running children, screaming babies, Kava-drinking-Fiji-men, sleeping Indians in the aisles and in the middle of everything there´s my roommate and me struggling against seasickness and desperately trying to get some sleep. I think this description gives you a rough idea of what it is like in the economy class of an 18-hour-boat-ride from Suva to Taveuni. (I´ve already told you a lot about the Fijian culture, but here´s one more thing I wanna share with you. This, again, is one of those ironic and entirely awkward things that you´d only find in Fiji: During the boat ride, they were mostly showing castaway-movies in the entertainment program… this is like watching an Air-Crash-Investigation while you are sitting on a plane. Isn´t it weird??)
Standing On The International Dateline
After arriving in Taveuni, we found our first Motel to be a complete desaster and immediately decided that we were not gonna stay there for more than one night. Instead, we were planning to move on to another accommodation the next day.
On the first day and the next, we did a lot of walking and hiking. The highlights during were the Wayevo Waterslide, which is a very slippery set of rocks that form a natural waterslide you can slide down, and the International Dateline, which I´d always wanted to visit one day.
It´s kind of a touristy thing, I know, but it´s so surreal to be able to stand in the present with one foot and in the past with the other. Besides, Taveuni is one of two locations in the world where you can actually stand on the Dateline. For those of you who don´t know: The Dateline is the 180° Meridian; the time difference is 13hrs from there to the 0° Meridian in Greenwich/ England.
After visiting these two sights, we´d planned to cross the whole island in one day and stay on the other side of Taveuni in a beach lodge from where we wanted to take several day trips… But then someone got in the way. He was called Evan.
Hurricane Evan in Fiji
Evan. Hurricane Evan. Because of Hurricane Evan, we were stuck in a lodge somewhere between the north and the east of Taveuni. We weren´t hit badly by the Hurricane as the center of Evan was approximately 60km away from us, but we had a power cut for 24hrs and no light at all during this time due to all the shatters on the windows. Apart from that, the road to the next bigger town was blocked by fallen trees, so we couldn´t go shopping and had to eat instant noodles for three days.
These two or three days in the lodge really gave me a chance to get to know a completely different side of a beautiful country like Fiji. Evan gave me an opportunity to realize how powerful nature can be and how helpless we are as human beings on this planet. We were fortunate because we had one week´s notice of the hurricane contrary to Samoa which had been hit by the cyclone more or less surprisingly last week.
I´ve never been in a hurricane before, but being right in the middle of it now makes me realize that it´s not just one of those surreal things that you usually only see on the TV. It can affect each and every one of us – maybe not in Europe, but isn´t it ironic that when I travel to Fiji once in my life, I get to experience one of the most powerful hurricanes within 20 years?!
What I learned from this experience is that we cannot take things for granted like “I am European, I will never get into a hurricane…” When I had first heard about the cyclone, pictures of the Tsunami had come to my mind as well as newspaper headlines of Hurricane Katharina or Kyrill in Germany. Then I had told myself that it was not going to be that bad for sure. We went to Taveuni, and suddenly we learned that it was going to be that bad. Locals were preparing for a massive cyclone.
On Sunday night we were all sitting in the main room of the Lodge – all together (10 backpackers and hostel staff) – drinking Kava and waiting for the storm to start. To a certain degree that was still pretty cool. When we all went to bed at 12ish, most of us couldn´t sleep as it was damn loud outside. At around 0.30am the generator was off. It was night anyway, so nobody cared. However, the next morning we still had a power cut and had to have breakfast with torchlights and candles.
There wasn´t much to do all day apart from talking, drinking Kava, eating instant noodles and reading with a candle. Outside, it was still stormy, there was heavy rain, winds and high waves. Now and then I would get a text message from volunteers in Suva and one of my organization´s managers whom I promised to update regularly on our condition. In the afternoon of Day 2 in the Lodge, we were told that they´d cut all the power on Viti Levu (Main Island), including Nadi and Suva. That´s when I first realized how ‘lucky’ we were. Together with the power cut in Viti Levu, all mobile signals were switched off as well. Now we weren´t even able to contact other volunteers or our host family anymore, which made the whole thing even more terrifying because we didn´t know how they were all doing.
I´m usually not afraid of storms, but sometimes it did become horrifying, mainly when it was dark inside and extremely loud outside and I had the feeling that the roof might be blown off the next second or a coconut tree might crash into the house. And that was precisely the moment when I started thinking about my life, my life back home in a place where hurricanes are rare and how lucky we were when we had decided – against all advice – to go to Taveuni, where, in the end, it was much safer than on the main island of Viti Levu.
Being stuck in a place for several days really gives you a lot of time to think and catch up on some thoughts; I finally had the time to digest a lot of things that had been going around in my head for ages. My personal conclusion of the whole hurricane experience: Every cloud has a silver lining…
Diving In The Rainbow Reef
After three days, the road was finally cleared, and we were able to move on. Unfortunately, we couldn´t go on all the day trips we´d planned, but at least we were safe and hadn´t been severely hit by the cyclone.
After having left the Lodge, we hitchhiked across the whole island of Taveuni and took a boat to Vanua Levu in the afternoon, where we stayed in a Diver´s Retreat located in a bay, which they call Dolphin Bay – lovely place! We spent two days there and went Scuba Diving in the so-called Rainbow Reef, which is one of the most beautiful diving spots in the world. That was absolutely fascinating and an incredible pre-Christmas-activity.
The following days, we were making our way towards Savusavu, a fishing town on Vanua Levu, where we also did some fun activities, such as water-tubing on a river in the rainforest and some more hiking.
Taking The Local Ferry Again
On December 23 in the afternoon, we took the ferry back to Suva – or let me put it differently: The ship was supposed to leave Savusavu in the afternoon, but it was slightly on Fiji-Time; strictly speaking we had a delay of 6 hours – Yay. So my roommate and I were sitting at the pier for almost 6 hours waiting for the boat to appear at the horizon; there was no shade anywhere nearby, and we got a last-minute opportunity to work on our Christmas-tan.
We finally left Savusavu at 10.30pm. I took a couple of sleeping pills this time and slept on the floor, between seats and aisles, just like the locals, for 10 hours on the 15-hour-boat-ride. In the morning I was awake and ready to celebrate Christmas at home with my host-family in Suva. 🙂
Christmas in Fiji
Christmas was way different from what I´d expected it to be like. I thought it would be a very traditional and kind of holy celebration as my host-family is very, very religious. It wasn´t exactly like that. They went to church on Christmas Eve at 9pm, and afterward, we had Christmas Eve Tea with homemade scones and jam.
On Christmas morning, we exchanged and gifts, but it was all a bit of a rush, and the whole thing was over after 15 minutes. At lunchtime, we had some friends coming over with whom we had not only lunch but also afternoon tea and dinner. The entire day was focused on eating and drinking. My host-family and their friends bought 40 bottles of beer, and only three of them actually drank beer. Now you can imagine how they were all feeling at night… (Oh – I, by the way, had three bottles of beer myself, which leaves 37 bottles of beer for three people. That is … mhm … 12 bottles each?! OMG!). Well, Fijians apparently take Christmas as an opportunity for drinking a lot.
And by the way: We didn´t have any Kava on Christmas Day. So, in case you read the article about me in the NN on Dec. 24th, I was wrong. There was no Kava on Christmas. If you haven´t read the article yet, but want to do so, here´s the link: Fiern auf den Fidschi-Inseln
And for those who have already given me some feedback on the article: Thank you! However, please note that I did not write the article. I just gave some input (notes) on how I think Christmas could be celebrated here. It was put together and written by a friend of mine, who works for the newspaper.