Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Sustainable Fiji Travel Tales Part 2

Not too large, these planes are referred to as "flying pencils"?!
Next stop, small plane flight to Taveuni, the 3rd largest island of Fiji, aptly referred to as the Garden Island of Fiji.  There is a high rainfall average, and while we were there, it rained 3 of the 6 days.  We stayed in an eco-resort   “honeymoon cottage”, Lomani.  It boasts an incredible 180 degree view of Vanua Levu (2nd largest island) and Somosomo Straits.  The power is provided by solar panels, but given that it is still the Fijian winter (i.e less sunshine hours than summer), a very noisy generator provides additional power.  The wooden 2-roomed cottage is very appealing but at US$200 per night, a bit overpriced for a somewhat tired, shabby deteriorating once-was-amazing accommodation.  The beauty lies in the variety of tropical fruit available in the 2 acre garden.  We were able to pick our own breakfast fare: papaya, coconuts, (these were cut by a local Fijian boy, born to climb!), sugar cane and bananas.  There were young pineapples growing and sadly, we missed the mango season!!  There are 2 huge mango trees on the property.

Pot of Gold

Island Breakfast; papaya drizzled with lime juice, coconut meat and water, and banana.

Lomani's (meaning Love in Fijian) Infinity Pool
The spider we shared our outdoor shower with
The other beauty of this property is born of the fact that there is a local Fijian caretaker who collects you and takes care of your needs (including running the generator while you are out, if that’s possible).  He lives nearby in a communal farming settlement.  The locals live around the land and farm it communally, so food is freely available and able to be harvested as and when needed: cassava, taro (dalo), papaya, coconuts, sugarcane, pineapples, bananas and vegetables.  They “adopt” the Lomani guests and a free tour of the land and cooking of local food is a highlight.  We were fed cassava, taro and island spinach, with freshly squeezed coconut cream and lime juice. Delicious.  

On the Sunday we enjoyed a church service at Waiariki Catholic Church settlement.  The missionaries built an impressive towering church up on a hill, further creating an impressively towering presence.

The statues at Waiariki Catholic Church

The view from the church!

The Madonna
Whilst in the church, we sat cross-legged on cracked vinyl covering, with a sea of brightly coloured island-fabric-wearing locals.  Their Sunday Best.  I remembered all my childhood attendance of Sunday mass and recognised universal signs of boredom in all the island children having to sit for an hour or more, listening to the ramblings of a priest.  There was the face-dragging (when you run your hands down your face, pulling the skin downwards to create the Zombie-look), lizard-tongue-darting movements, convulsive leg-wiggling, compulsive body-bouncing, energising church-aerobics, glazing distant-staring catatonic states.  It’s the same signs, the world over!  And it must be the inner-Catholic in me – I absolutely adore religious iconology!  Whether it’s a Buddha head or a statue of Mother Mary.  I find myself drawn to them.  So, long after the service was over and everyone had disappeared, I was still snapping away at the statues, stain-glass windows and relief pictures adorning the walls (with permission, of course).

The beauty of a sculpture depicting mourning and aching of a mother for her deceased son
Another highlight of our Fijian adventures was meeting up with an old school buddy who I haven’t seen for nearly 30 years.  Thanks to FaceBook, I discovered she was living in Nadi, Fiji.  It felt like an instant connection – like we knew each other so darn well.  I had briefly wondered if we would have anything in common.  No worries, it was one of those Soul connections – instant familiar ground.  She is an art-loving gal, so we were like, hey, time is so short!  We had to drag ourselves away!  She gifted me an amazing book called Art, Doodle, Love.  It is a book to bring out your inner creativity.  I can’t wait to begin.  There is an exercise challenging you on each page – kinda like a colouring in book for adults!  Except there are no pics – only provocations on gorgeous background papers.  Thanks Sue!  I shall cherish it, along with memories of time together.
Old friends, new friends......
Then.  What were we thinking?  We decided to go for a walk in the Bouma National Forest to Lavena Falls (where "Return to Blue Lagoon" was filmed).  hours return.  Well, that's a whole other blog in itself, but suffice it to say - exercise or physical exertion has never been my forte.  This walk was part of an eco-social venture.  There is a small settlement at Lavena, who live and farm the land.  They are also charged with caring for the pristine natural environment.  They offer guided walks (3 hours for F$45), thus generating an income for the villagers.  Brilliant!
Our friendly guide, Bulli.

Bulli, who boasted a girlfriend from the Netherlands, who
visits him every year, for the past 3 years - picks a fresh snack
for the road!

Our favourite bird - a Fijian kingfisher.

No cropping or photo shopping, just my new camera!
(These are the best of many not-so-great shots!)
Eco-aware Travel Tips:
1.  2 recyclable shopping bags were invaluable (tuck up real small in a pouch).  We could use them for all our shopping excursions. 
2.  A good tip is also taking 2 take-away containers with you, as well as your own “spork” (spoon, fork and knife in one) wherever you go.  This alleviates the need for “takeaway” containers and disposable plastic cutlery.  Having forgotten them on 2 occasions, we were horrified to end up with polystyrene containers!  Eeek!  The worst!  They can’t even be brought home to be recycled (no such thing in Fiji).  
That made me feel a bit bad.  How many tourists end up dumping all their consumed meal containers and plastic water bottles when they go.  We should have to pay a garbage tax!! 
3.  Decide how to contribute to the local environment - many companies offer voluntourism - volunteering in organisations from orphanages to assisting in animal or habitat regeneration programmes.  Examples are International Volunteering Head Quarters or Volunteering for Peace Vietnam (taken from Good magazine, July/August issue).


Sustainable Fiji Travel Tales Part 1

I will be doing this entry in 2 parts, so as not to bore the pants off of you, also, because I have too many photos to share!  Forgive my indulgence!

Candy floss coconut and sugar cane
Our annual mid-winter break.  Off to a tropical location.  Some years back, we booked and paid for a family vacation to Fiji.  George Speight undid those plans with his military coup, 3 days before we were due to fly out.  We were advised by NZ authorities, to cancel, as we were travelling with children and the political stability was fragile and hostilities prevailed.   End of Fiji fun for us.  Luckily, we were paid out by our travel insurance.

Fast-Forward to 2013 – we ended up in Fiji, this time by default really.  I happened to spot a fax spam-mail that advertised a 5 night resort stay in Denerau, Fiji, for $99 each.  Wha?  I hurried home to Mike and suggested we go for it.  “What’s the catch?” he asked. Well, turns out we had to attend a 90 minute presentation on timeshare.  I reckoned, for $99, I didn’t mind that at all, so we bought and booked.  But then, our 5 night holiday was lengthened to 2 weeks as Mike reckoned it was a good idea to see a cross-section of Fiji, rather than just the resort experience, and since we were paying for flights,  we "may as well".  (“A resort is a resort is a resort………… anywhere in the world” - true.)
Taveuni from the air
Fiji is made up of more than 300 islands, many small ones like this
So coinciding with our 24th wedding anniversary, we set off on our second honeymoon, sans children, for the first time in 20 years!  It was exciting but daunting.  We have always travelled with our children – India, Bali, Thailand, South Africa, Australia, Rarotonga.  We decided this time, to do an eco-social-conscious travel plan.  We spent one night on the Coral Coast staying at Natadola Beach Resort, a small boutique adults-only establishment that must have been THE place to go in the 70’s.  Today, it is a 11 room rather tired affair which has been drowned on either side by 2 other larger, newer resorts.  One is a Fijian bure-style village (once the accommodation quarters of the “bigwigs” developing the mammoth Intercontinental resort on the other side) and on the other side, the Intercontinental.  This is a behemoth (extremely large beast), massive conglomeration of concrete structures, not too ugly at all due to great landscaping and pool vistas.  It has 216 rooms and suites, prices starting from $700 per night (I hope that’s Fiji $ and not US$!!).  It totally dominates most of the beachfront for the rich and famous.  Anyway, we had emailed the Natadola Beach Resort to ask if there was a kindergarten nearby, which we could visit.  There was, and they emailed us their “wish list”.  We did manage a fair bit of their wishes.  My kindergarten administrator arranged for $50 of art resources to be donated by OfficeMax, and our kindergarten gifted some puzzles and toys which in turn had been donated to us.  Mike arranged for a local company, Sante Fe Shutters, to donate wooden building blocks which they cut to size.  We purchased some other resources from shops, opp shops and Mike donated his fairly new digital camera (now obsolete since he has an i-phone).

Fiji Kindergarten donations: puzzles, art materials, games, blocks, and camera -
everything we could fit into a suitcase!

What can we build?

Mrs Kahlil and a handful of her kindergarten children

The kindergarten
 We arranged for a taxi to the kindergarten at Ramahtullah Kahn Memorial School.  It was a simple square building consisting of 2 basic rooms, one for table work and eating, the other for free play.  We gathered in the spartan front room, with tiled floors and open-grilled windows.  About 10 children were seated on a tarpaulin, awaiting our arrival.  The teacher, Mrs Kahlil, explained how difficult it is to get decent resources in Fiji – if they need to buy anything it is financially prohibitive, as it includes a huge postage or shipping fee.
Setting the building blocks and resources on the floor in front of them, the children immediately started to build structures.  It was quite affirming to see that we could make a positive impact on some little people’s lives, just by being eco-social tourists.  It’s the idea of tourists not just taking, taking, but leaving something behind in exchange. 
Captions on the school driveway

The Primary School gathers for a photo - directed by the principal

We had one of our best meals in Fiji, on the road-side at a little supermarket with attached food serving establishment.  Nothing flash.  Dusty and basic.  It cost $13 for all 3 of us (our taxi driver included) to eat an okra curry, rice, dal and roti each, along with some small samosas and pakoras to take away!!  Compare this with a curry meal we had at Natadola Resort for $78 for 2 – bland and awful really!

Our next stop:  Denerau Island, Wyndham WorldMark Resort.  Tourist Destination Deluxe.  Wall-to-wall flash, ritzy resorts jostling cheek by jowl around a luxurious golf course.  The Raddison, The Sheraton, Westin and Hilton, to name a few.  I must say, that although we don’t really do the touristy stuff very well, staying at a pristinely kept resort for a few days is a  pleasure (remember the $99 deal).  The quality of accommodation is high and you have all you need on site, including access to spa treatments, gymnasium,  free cultural shows and pool.  But if, like us, you have done the family vacation for 20 years, and you like a little peace and quiet, resort life is tiresome, when everyman and his entire family are running, jumping, yelling, bouncing, skipping, splashing, bomb-diving, pool thrashing and being generally precocious and annoying.  So the timeshare presentation failed to make us customers.  Close.  But no cigar.

Some of the picture-perfect Intercontinental Resort beach-frontage
We found shops in Nadi similar to Bali's Kuta cut-throat high-bargaining, pushy-sales experience.  Most of the shop keepers and attendants are Indian, and boy, they do not leave you to browse in peace.  They hassle, hassle, hassle you, constantly.  Quite uncomfortable.  It feels like you are in Little India, really, in main street Nadi.  Much of what is available to purchase in India, is on show in shops in downtown Nadi.  Stunning, exotic, bejewelled saris, brightly coloured salwaar kameezes and Indian incense, creams, lotions and potions.  Tourist souvenirs include lots of Balinese-recognisable wooden carvings with “Bula Fiji” painted on.  I bet they are not made in Fiji!

I sure had fun in Fiji, learning how to use my new Nikon camera with zoom focus.  I found I could take pics of flowers and birds with greater clarity.  I just had to learn to keep a rather steady hand!
Beach flotsam and jetsom

Stunning flora of Fiji

My all-time favourite flower - frangipani!
Fiji Travel Tips:  What to take:
  • A good camera! (with underwater options if you like snorkelling)
  • A coffee plunger (simple pleasures in life are assured)
  • Ukulele - you have time to learn all those tricky chords you never could play before
  • Plenty good insect repellent
  • Sunblock (organic, of course)
  • Reef shoes, goggles and snorkel (if unlike me, you like to snorkel)
  • A colourful sarong for throwing around your togs
  • Swimming Togs, of course
  • A few good books to read


Thursday, 4 July 2013

Wrestling the 'flu

PS.  I am being wrestled flat on the bed by a python of the 'flu!  It has me by the neck, chest and body, leaving me gasping for breath as I cough out an ongoing hacking tune!  I think my safeguards against Winter ills is only effective, IF I remember to take them!  Note to self for future.  Take immune boosters regularly!
Going to the doctors is a question of stubborness born of the fact is has been close on 6 years since presenting myself to one, being a pharma-phobe (medicinal drugs), so I shall press on with bed rest, Indian ayurvedic remedies and a home-made cough syrup which is as yummy as it is particularly effective against this invading cough monster!

A potted cyclamen gifted to me a year ago, finds a shady home in the garden.
I wrote this above as an addendum to my last post, stricken with a nasty bout of the dreaded 'lergy!  It really took it out of me, and I found that I had to pull out all the stops with home remedies to try to get myself back on my feet.  I began to worry, after 4 days flat on my back, whether I shouldn't do what most people would do, and trundle off to the doctor for some BIG GUN medication.  Real drugs.  Legal ones.

But then day 5 swung round and I managed to haul myself out of bed, and experienced the euphoric high of someone who's been incarcerated in prison and been finally set free!  I felt like I could take on the world again and so I eagerly made plans to return to work the next day.  Oops, should have been more cautious and taken another day to recover as I hit the bottom energy-wise, round about lunch time the first day back.  I worried again, that I should have taken "REAL" pharmaceutical drugs.  But looking around me, I began to see a pattern.  Many people sick with the flu (and other such nasties that come with the territory of winter), many having been on 1 or even 2 doses of antibiotics.  Viral chest infections.  Bronchitis.  Even, pneumonia.
Daffodils to cheer up a Sick House
I didn't get an "official" diagnosis, but I'd say, from experience, that I had flu, exacerbated by a dose of sinusitus (a first for me - now I am more sympathetic to what my son has experienced on several past occasions .  It doesn't sound so exciting when people ask what you were suffering from - "Uh, the flu, I guess".   "You guess?"  No exotic sounding diagnosis to widen their eyes and elicit tongue-clucking sympathetic sounds.

Ah well, that's the way of the Self-Healing, Self-Diagnosing Home Do-It-Your-Selfer.  But I am still standing, it did take me another week (2 in total) to really shake all the symptoms, but I got there.  And it took no longer than those with real diagnoses and medication.  Makes you think, huh?  
A few daisies brighten up a green garden
I don't mean to sound smug or self-important, but really, I think that in the long run, my (and my family) attitude to self-healing, does make the body stronger.  At the end of the sick journey, my body isn't still having to deal with the aftermath of chemicals in the system.  Secondary side effects of medication must have some effect, surely?  But it does take grit, determination and courage to "do-it-yourself".

Some remedies I live and swear by are a cough mixture straight out of the garden and pantry:
Juice of 2-3 lemons
1-2TBspn honey, diluted in small amount hot water
1-2TBspn olive oil
water to taste
Mix all above in a bottle, shake before taking 1-2TBspn  as often as needed

1/2 tspn tumeric, dry-heated in a pan, added to half a glass of water/milk and a tspn honey added, before bed

I also use the homeopathic remedy A.G.E at the onset of a cold or flu, only this time, I didn't have any in the house to take!!  Our local Indian Food supply store stock 2 favourite Ayrurvedic herbal throat lozenges - Kanthil and Sualin.  They contain a natural plant extract which helps deaden and soothe the sore throat.  As Mike was unable to get my favourite throat spray (Zands), he bought a new version - pretty good results; Comvita's Olive Leaf Complex Oral Spray with herbs.
That pretty much sums up my winter woes wrestling arsenal.
Our helpxer, Amy, made this wonderful gift for us, as she
said we made her feel at home!
Be Brave.  The illnesses coming at us are getting stronger it seems.  But conquer the flu and you feel like a hero having just climbed Mount Everest and having lived to tell the tale!  
Life is Sweet!