Fiji Islands

Foul smelling, damp and also a little crusty, Chris and I were starting to feel like the inside of a teenage boys soccer bag that had not been cleaned for weeks on end. Night after night we laid on our backs looking at the expanding patches of green, fuzzy mold on the ceiling of our car while contemplating our plan. We were ten months into our goal to live in New Zealand for a full year. We weren’t ready to go home yet, but attempts at finding just the right niche for us were not falling into place as we had a running bet as to how big the patch of mold would grow before we made our next big decision.

Unfolding the heavily worn and tattered seems to our world map we looked to see what was close to New Zealand and a cheap flight and our eyes landed on Fiji. At the time we were unfamiliar with island countries of the South Pacific and went into the Student Travel Association (STA) to ask a booking agent some questions. A woman with chestnut brown hair and bright red lip stick called us to her desk. We had three questions for her:
1.) Was there a war?
2.) Did we need vaccinations?
3.) Was it peak hurricane, monsoon or other natural disaster season?

She answered, “No, no and no.”  On the spot we bought plane tickets leaving three days later for Fiji.

We bounced all around Auckland seeing the last attractions we wanted before departure and then boarded a plane to dry season Fiji. Within the first step off the plane our lungs tried to adjust to the high heat and humidity as we entered the open non-airconditioned airport in Nandi. Softly strung guitar strings filled the air as a handful of Fijians dressed in brightly colored flower shirts welcomed us new arrivals to their country.

Prior to leaving New Zealand we had secured a spot with a home stay for our first two nights. Our general rule of travel is to always book at least the first, if not two nights of accommodation when arriving to a new country. Via email, our home stay host Dee instructed us to ensure our taxi driver did not charge us more than $5 to bring us to her house. I wasn’t prepared for the on-slot of drivers vying for our business, yet somehow we picked one driver from the crowd and agreed on the price. We loaded our gear and he took us away in the dark. There were no street lights in this still developing country as we traveled down narrow, pot holed dirt roads with vegetation scraping the windows alongside the car. When we scanned for a driver we followed all the safety precautions and looked for certificates with the proper issued license plate to know we had a legit driver, yet I remembered feeling so vulnerable during that drive.

About ten minutes later, our driver stopped in front of a dark gated house. A large Fijian man emerged from the shadows and unlocked various locks on the gate. He quickly grabbed our bags and we followed him toward the dim light of the house while our driver sped away. Once inside, a heavy set woman with dark frizzy hair, large, white spaced teeth and dressed in a bright pink and white matching floral skirt and shirt, our host Dee greeted us as if we were long deelost family. The man holding our bags was Gerald her oldest son, who went every morning to get us fresh bread for breakfast. Even though the hour was late Dee insisted she make us dinner and she declared it would be soup. As thankful as I was for the food, consuming hot soup on our first night in the heat and humidity of Fiji felt like I was eating a bowl of chilies. Despite Dee seating us closest to her one white fan that slowly rotated on crooked legs back and forth in her living room, it was just not enough to keep the beads of sweat from continually running down our entire bodies. We were used to temperatures of at least 40 degrees less and to be eating soup was almost akin to finger nails repetitively scraping on a chalk board. None the less, we stayed up late into the evening sharing stories with Dee back and forth about each other’s lives.

 

We came and went from Dee’s Place the rest of our time in Fiji. Using it as a home base, we stored all our extra gear there, borrowed her sheets and she cooked us amazingly delicious meals from seemingly out of nowhere in her bare kitchen. Dee openly offered us whatever she had and we couldn’t have imagined not meeting her during our time in Fiji. Even as we were leaving for the airport, she came running after us yelling, “Wait, here you two enjoy one last piece of fruit (which she just picked fresh from her tree).”

For two weeks we island hopped up and down the Yasawa Islands and another two weeks traveled around the main land. We snorkeled with hundreds of species of fish, swam in caves, and had dance parties with the locals while eating lovo lovo, a traditional way of cooking food underground with hot coals.

DSC_0191

Our time in Fiji was filled with fond memories, lasting friendships and new experiences. When we said our goodbyes to Dee, we left her with a special gift to express our gratitude for the generosity she had shown to us. The whole process leading up to decision to go to Fiji was a valuable lesson for us as long term travelers. Sometimes it’s ok to change your original plan, leave a country earlier and change course. If the weather turns cold and your car is moldy, it just might be a good time to jump countries.

The pool was a kid magnet. As soon as school was out we’d make excuses to walk down the street and visit the neighbors. We’d splash and play Marco Polo until our toes and fingers were creased. I’d always steal a few moments away by myself in the deep end. Diving as far down as my eardrums would let me, I’d stop everything and just float.

Hanging still in that warm water was such an exquisite thrill, so foreign and peaceful. Reluctantly I’d push back up to the surface to gulp air. I had no idea that, forty years later, I’d be spending hours suspended in deep, blue seas on the other side of the planet.

I didn’t plan to become a scuba diver. The first resort dive, where you’re taught just enough to try the sport out in one short day, was kind of a dare. Friends were flying into Cozumel the day after I’d arrived. They were experienced divers. My aversion to high tech sports had kept me away, but I didn’t want to spend five days as a beach bunny while they were out exploring one of the richest marine parks in the world, so I signed up for the class.

A family joined me poolside as our dive master reviewed the essentials and showed us how the equipment worked. Within an hour I was walking into the deep end and breathing, haltingly, through my mask. The childhood memories of watery bliss kept me going until we lumbered into the dive boat and headed out to sea. I warned the dive master that my ears were a problem and clearing them for the descent might keep me from joining the group on the bottom. He checked my vest, weight belt and regulator, smiling reassuringly that I knew what to do and to take my time.

That I did after stepping into the water. I held on to my life line, the mooring rope, and slowly slipped down into a magical world. The visibility swept out and away over fifty feet wherever I turned. Watching the other divers descend, suspended with their braids of flashing bubbles, was mesmerizing. It wasn’t until I made it down to the sandy bottom that I started to relax and realized how much wildlife surrounded us.

A lobster the size of a small dog strolled between two coral beds. A gaping eel peered from a crevice. Swirling schools of bright fish I’d only spied in aquariums darted past. I was hooked.
Elaine Fiji

Now, five years later, I’m setting out gear to make my 100th dive. Getting there hasn’t been easy. I’ve made every mistake a new diver can – gulping air and having to surface long before my dive buddies do, dropping my weights, having problems with buoyancy – the list goes on. One friend, who I swear is hiding gills, assured me that it takes at least 20 dives before you get comfortable with the equipment. It took me twice as long, but I didn’t give up.

The encounters have often been as shocking and foreign as I imagine meeting an extraterrestrial could be.

I know exactly where I felt most free – exploring the Astrolabe Reef on my 63rd dive in Fiji. We’d taken a skiff out to find Manta Rays. They feed in water clouded with plankton, so visibility isn’t always the best. While my dive buddies were scouring the reef for fish and crustaceans, I hung out with the dive master. His arm suddenly swept up as he pointed into the vast, cloudy blue. I didn’t see anything but kept peering. Materializing slowly from the depths and winging its way straight towards us, was a giant Manta! I wasn’t afraid and remembered earlier warnings to stay perfectly still, working to keep my breathing steady.

Fiji Manta

It came closer and closer, larger and stranger than anything I’d ever seen. The wing expanse was at least 9 feet. It slowed right in front of us and pivoted, studying us in the water. I hung still and cried, the tears pooling in my mask, as we studied each other. I felt a rush from the Manta’s conscious judgment that we weren’t a threat. What seemed a lifetime of heartbeats later, it swiveled to glide away and feed, disappearing again.  I’d never felt anything so beautiful and freeing, perfectly comfortable and still, witnessing and being witnessed by another species so vastly different than my own.

Elaine J. Masters is a freelance travel writer, host of The Gathering Road travel podcast, award-winning author of Drivetime Yoga and blogs at Trip Wellness.com

Photos 1 & 2 – Dave Rudie, 3 – Elaine Masters

Did your first trip with a new partner not go well?

Don’t worry!

Neither did ours!

Read all about it in the CHICAGO TRIBUNE!

Now-experienced Los Angeles traveler Lisa Niver Rajna remembers checking into a hotel on her first trip with her future husband, George, (who booked it) and hearing a dog barking. Later, they saw a dog in a car outside the hotel. Yep, it was a hotel that welcomed dogs — and every room seemed to have one. Neither cared for the noise, the smell or the dogs themselves. Bad start.

Then they had a fight about her weight, which was dropping but apparently not fast enough.

“I thought, this is it, we’re going to have to cancel our trip to Fiji this summer because this is never going to work,” Niver Rajna says. “(But) we found our sense of humor, went wine tasting, found a hot tub and made it through the weekend.”

Read the whole article.

Thank you to Contiki Blog for a wonderful interview asking me TEN GREAT QUESTIONS including:

When and where did you first travel by yourself, and why did you choose that particular destination?

Will you be shocked to know it was ARIZONA!

Which destinations are you consistently drawn to, and why?  (Places you’ll always come back and visit more than once?). Did you know? THAILAND!!

What are 5 destinations that you recommend the 18-35 year old Contiki travelers MUST see?

Click here to read the full interview.

Our year journey in South East Asia started July 2, 2012. When we were gone for eleven months in 2008, one of the common questions was, “How can you spend so much time together?”

We were recently  interviewed about Traveling as a Couple by Travelinksites:

Today we have the fine pair behind the super blog We Said Go Travel.  With well over 100 countries tucked away in Lisa and George’s repetoire, these guys are experts!  Their blog is full of videos, info and tales from far flung places so make sure you check them out. But first, let’s hear how they travel successfully as a married couple…

 

1.  Could you briefly introduce yourselves and your site?

Hello! We are a traveling couple. I worked for seven years at sea for Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Renaissance Cruises in the youth program and as cruise staff and went scuba diving and traveling on six continents. My husband George lived in Paraguay as part of the Peace Corps Program and traveled around South America. Both of us had been to nearly 100 countries (by Traveler’s Century Club count) before we met.

2. Tell us the story!  How did you guys meet and what made you choose to write a travel blog?

George found me online—and we started traveling together almost immediately. Our first journey was to Fiji and Vanuatu. In Vanuatu, we went to a village, met a Peace Corps worker and I had my first bucket bath. When we started our first year-long journey, we wrote a newsletter every month. After we got married, we went from our “He Said, She Said” to our website: We said Go Travel.

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW

Thank you to Travelinksites.com for choosing us as a Traveling Couple for their site! We hope to share more about how we do it while we are gone this year!

Happy Independence Day! We hope you find a way to make all your dreams come true and feel INDEPENDENT this year!