Welcome to Paradise

July 9, 2013- July 11, 2013
Uprising Resort

Saying final goodbyes to the family, my friends, and Sean was no doubt hard but I was beyond ecstatic for the journey awaiting. Once in LA, I met my first two friends: Matt from Michigan and Dante from Boston. From the moment Matt offered me dark chocolate covered pomegranates I knew he’d be one of my best friends. Not to mention he is the only other person I know who also still has baby teeth!

One by one, we met the others: Morgan waiting in life with a thousand bags and her mom, Chris with his big blue eyes, flannel shirt, and skateboard, Dave also from New Jersey, Olivia– skinny and talkative, and Elise, already getting hit on by some random guy.

The 8 of us waited together in anticipation for our plane to paradise.

After 10 long hours of flying we finally arrive in Fiji before the sun has awoken. Sleepy eyed, we meet Auntie Lavenia our mother and tour guide for the week. Uncharacteristically of Fiji, we start our journey off right away– getting on a mini bus and heading to Sigatoka, Fiji’s biggest ruby town. We stop shortly there to get some coffee and exchange money. As the sun began to illuminate our home for the next few months, our spirits awaken and our eyes are glued to the endless vegetation filled mountains, pink houses on stilts, and laughing children running barefoot.

Our first stop is at Uprising Resort in Pacific Harbor, the adventure capital of Fiji. The 4 girls– Elise, Morgan, Olivia, and I throw our stuff in the room, quickly get changed, and head to the pool. When we get to the pool we realize the resort is literally right on the beach so we jump in the ocean instead. The warm ocean with it’s gentle waves welcomed us to Viti Levu with it’s beautifully decorated coast of bountiful vegetation and neighboring islands of Beqa and Yanuca. Kind locals waving gentle smiles– mouths filled with “bula.”

(L to R) Me, Elise, Morgan, and Olivia having our first beer at Uprising Resort

After a quick dip into the ocean, we decide to check out the bar where we meet Amelia who offers us Vonu (the turtle beer), gold (puftsa beer), and bitter (what all the locals drink). Soon the boys who had just gone to the gym (why they did that I’m not sure) where they met the massive players of the Uprising rugby team came and joined us. We all had our first family meal together.

View at Uprising
View at Uprising

When our bellies were filled, a desire for an adventure arose from us and a hike was decided upon. Chris, the ballsy one led us through a gate clearly off limits where we found a dead reef filled with shells and baby starfish. Every question I had about what something was, Matt answered– he is a walking marine life encyclopedia.

Dead reef filled with shells
Dead reef filled with shells

Day two of our stay at Uprising started out with a quick breakfast and a bus ride to the port where we would boat to “The Jewel of Fiji.” Filling a large canoe-like boat, we sped up river; on the left were mountains of endless palm trees, green bush, and  random cows. I had never seen a more breathtaking view. The sun’s rays illuminated everything around us, the cool breeze sent chills running through us– it was unreal. I still couldn’t believe I was finally in Fiji. When we arrive at the village, we are stopped at the bottom of the dock by a young boy dressed as a warrior. In order to be granted access, we had to be wearing Sulus (a piece of cloth you wrap around your waist to cover up) and hats had to be removed. A welcoming kava  ceremony took place and Dante was appointed the chief of “our tribe.” Once we drank a coconut bowl of high-tide kava, we were initiated into the village and became one of them. Kava is a root grounded and mixed with water that supposedly produces alcoholic effects, however, to me it tasted and looked like muddy water. How Fijian men drink bowl after bowl of the concoction still perplexes me.

Boat ride to "Jewel of Fiji"
Boat ride to “Jewel of Fiji”
Welcome Ceremony
Welcome Ceremony

We walked around the village and got to see the preschoolers who sang for us with their adorable voices and danced for us, giggling the whole time. Then we saw how the village boys could crack a coconut open with a rock and got to taste green coconut. Filled with electrolytes, the coconut was slightly tarty, a twinge carbonated, and extremely refreshing. We also saw how the women wove huge mats out of banana tree leaves. The process requires the leaves to be rolled up and boiled for 6 hours; they must then be dried out and cut– it is only then are the leaves ready for weaving. Finally, we were taken to a bure– a wood and straw hut where lovo (underground earth oven used for baking food) was being used for our lunch.The aromas of chickens wrapped in coconut leave baskets and taro leaves mixed with coconut creme filled the air as lunch was being set up. I had the best buffet meal and since I am a vegan I got to eat first with the chiefs. I filled my plate with a large heap of mixed vegetables, fried spinach, taro leaves with coconut creme, and pineapples. Not only were our salivary glands satisfied, our eyes were presented with warriors spear dancing and ladies swaying in grass skirts.

The preschoolers and I
Traditional Lovo

After lunch, we thanked the village for everything they offered us and headed back to the boats for a ride to the waterfall. The waterfall must have been around 80 feet high and our first experience with Fijian craziness was witnessed. Issac, our boat driver disappeared into the mountain next to the waterfall and popped out about 3/4 of the way up screaming “bula” as he jumped from 60 feet up. After all the craziness we headed back to Uprising where we enjoyed a relaxing dinner.

Issac jumping from the waterfall
Matt and Dante on the boat

The next day we went snorkeling. Aqua blue with infinite clarity, the water invited us for our first underwater experience. Some of us were hoping to see some sharks while others desperately hoped not to see any. Luckily, (I was one that did not want to encounter one) we did not see any; we did however see multi-colored coral surrounded by nemos, baby blue fish, and other fish– I didn’t know the names of them but of course Matt knew all of them. On our way back, we ran into a little bit of a boat trouble… no one really knew what was going on, but I knew I was starting to get very sea sick.

After what felt like an eternity, everything was fixed and we headed back to the resort  just in time for coconut weaving. We made some sick baskets and learned about how versatile the coconut plant is: the leaves are used for weaving mats and baskets; the nut is used for eating, drinking, and cooking; the spine of the leaf is used for making a broom; and the trunk is exported to England.

Before dinner, there was a cocktail hour with free dranks!!! Of course all of us tried to drink as much as we could. After dinner, we all drank so much kava… too much kava and went to sleep with our tummy’s feeling queasy and full.

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