Thursday, September 19, 2013

Days 1 and 2: Home- Los Angeles, California

Days 1 and 2      7/6/06-7/7/06       Home-Los Angeles, California

We arrived at the airport at 8:00 a.m. in preparation of our 10:05 a.m. flight to Los Angeles via Minneapolis. Members going were: (from left to right)

  • Sam Patton  
  • Alex Bukoski
  • Tim Van Prooyen
  • Kayla Sherwood
  • Chelsea Wiles
  • Stephanie Cahool  

We arrived in Minnesota with no problems and frittered away our 2 hours plus lay over eating and exploring the airport. We boarded at 1:09 p.m. and took the four hour plus flight to Los Angeles.

I was bummed because there was no meal served and all they had was $3.00 snack packs. At least the drinks were free.

We arrived at LAX at 3:30 p.m. local time. We collected our bags and prepared to pass our 8 hour lay over before going to Nadi on the Fiji Islands.

Luckily, Sam's uncle Steve Breyer showed up with his family. We stowed our bags in his van and took a public bus to Santa Monica to pass the time. We saw the Santa Monica Pier, glimpsed at Santa Monica Blvd. and went up and down the Third Street Promenade to shop and eat.

 The gang at Santa Monica  
 Sam and the Breyers posing at the pier
Enjoying the street performers
Personally, I got a seat outside at a bistro and people watched. I had a hot Romanian pastrami sandwich and salad. It was a nice day out. The students saw street performers and saw the sites of southern California. It's quite different than Saranac. Steve mentioned that Santa Monica might be the place where the most languages were spoken in the world.

At 7:15 p.m., we went back to the bus and got to the airport. We said good bye to the Breyers and thanked them for their assistance. We got in line for a long time and finally got on the plane to Nadi, Fiji.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Days 3 and 4: Nadi, Fiji Islands

Day 3 7/8/06 Nadi, Fiji Islands

We arrived on time in Fiji, at 5:10 a.m. local time. It was approximately an 11 hour trip. We were all glad to get off. We got our stuff and discovered that the three other groups we were traveling with were on the plane also.

One group from Ohio were all adults. The other two groups were from the Los Angeles area. One was graduating seniors led by teachers (about half our group), and the others were a small group with some younger.  

A Fijian welcome

I exchanged 50 dollars at the airport and got 85 Fiji dollars. Looking back, it was the best rate I'd seen here on the island. We all got on the bus and headed to the Sheraton Fiji Resort. They had fabulous facilities, and our rooms were near the ocean. Mine had a little patio that I could sit at and see the ocean.
We went to our rooms for awhile after a great buffet breakfast. We settled in, rested, showered and prepared for our day. I managed to get a quick nap out by the beach in the shade. The temperature, breeze, and setting was great.
We met around 1:00 to try to catch the local bus to see some sites downtown. The bus was 50¢ per person and we got on with some help from one of the hotel's employees who was going home. The Fijians have been very nice and polite, greeting us with "Bula", or Hello.
Our bus was a sputtering vehicle that had open windows, so the breeze felt good in our hair. The route took us away from the hotel (in the Devarau region) towards town through one of the poorer regions of the area. It had reminded me of Africa with the lifestyles and buildings we saw. There was a lot of sugar cane fields we passed as well as some bovine. The houses were mostly block since they didn't have to worry about the winter. Blinds were open as well as doors and birds flew in and out.
On the bus to Nadi  
Downtown Nadi

We got off at downtown Nadi and thanked our helper. We spent the next couple of hours shopping and exploring. At 4:00 we went shopping at the supermarket to buy some supplies for tomorrow, as we only had one meal prepared for us. We got on another bus that was more direct and we got back to our hotel to rest before our Fijian feast.
The feast consisted of pig, steak, and other traditional cuisine. After we were done eating, we waited for the program to start at 7:45 p.m. While we were waiting, myself and most of the group grew very tired. The day's events and jet lag combined with the meal and made it difficult to stay awake.
At 8:00 the songs started. Both male and female members of the dancing group took turns performing Fijian songs and dances. At the end they got members of the audience to come up and dance. Sleep made me miss a portion of dance, so I was glad to get to my room and get to bed.

The Fijians dance

Day 4 7/9/06 The Fiji Islands

Despite awakening a couple of times, we got some good sleep under out belts and came down to the buffet breakfast refreshed. We leisurely enjoyed the meal with the beach out front and breeze blowing.

Alex took off on the optional tour of Tivua Island for the day. It provided lunch and a boat to and from the island. He snorkeled around the reef. He said it was very cool.

Meanwhile, the six of us enjoyed the resort and its amenities. We tanned, took kayaks into the ocean (The banana boat was too expensive), and read by the pool. Some watched TV in their room while others took naps or played ping pong. I hoped I didn't get too much sun from being in the ocean. It was a great temperature.

Once Alex got back, we decided not to go to town for dinner, but to eat at the hotel. The main object of the group was to get rid of as much Fijian dollars as possible. The boys and girls each split two cheese pizzas. I had the snapper filet and thought it was very good.

I noticed throughout my time here that most of the tourists for Fiji came from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and India. I guess it makes sense as this paradise place is closer to these countries instead of what I usually see.

On the beach, I saw young boys kicking a rugby football around instead of a soccer ball of football like I see in the states. Boys (and young girls) would divide up into teams and play rugby on the beach.

We got done with out meal after 7:00 p.m. so everyone packed their stuff in preparation of the 5:45 a.m. wake up call.

The sky was clear with a full moon. I got to see the Southern Cross again and was amazed at how beautiful it looked in the night sky of Fiji. It definitely made me count my blessings that I could see it again in its beauty. I will certainly miss Fiji.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Day 5: Fiji to Rotorua, New Zealand

Day 5 7/10/06 Fiji-Rotorua, New Zealand

We got up at 5:45 a.m. so that we could be ready to go at 6:30 to go to the airport to prepare for our flight to New Zealand. Luckily we got out of having a box breakfast and participated in another breakfast buffet. Good eating!!

We got to the airport and found the World Cup finals (France vs. Italy) were on. It was at the end of the second overtime tied 1-1. We had to get on the plane and so we missed the penalty kicks that gave Italy the victory. It was a major bummer to miss.

The flight was about three hours and so we got to Auckland by 11:30 or so in the morning. Luckily there was not a time change to have to deal with. We got through customs in New Zealand, though I was worried about the shell necklace we got in Fiji. New Zealand is very strict about what goes into the country. We had no problems and met Dana Maray, our tour director. She had been requested by one of our group leaders because they thought she was outstanding. She did indeed make a good first impression. She gave us details about Australia and New Zealand as we headed out of town to go to Rotorua.

Our first stop was at a place I recognized from my previous trip. I had a Hokey-Pokey ice cream cone and enjoyed it. I decided that my goal was to have at least one a day while I was in New Zealand. The store also sold sweaters and other textile stuff that is so famous in New Zealand.

We also stopped at the town of Matamata, where it has also billed itself as Hobbiton. It was the location that Peter Jackson chose for the land of the Lord of the Rings movie. He originally came to ask the farmer who owned the land during a NZ rugby match. The farmer said come back after the game to talk. The deal was that the farmer's land would be restored to normal after the film the film was done and it was. Since so many visitors have come to pay homage to the film, they are rebuilding Hobbiton on his farm for tourists. He is making a great profit from the tours.

Chelsea Wiles, Stephanie Cahoon, Kayla Sherwood, Alex Bukoski, Sam Patton, and Gollum
We arrived at the hotel Sudima next to Lake Rotorua and the sulfur smells. An hour later we ate at the hotel. Later the six Saranac students reserved one of the private spas for a half hour to enjoy themselves.
Exchange rate: $100 = 150 New Zealand dollars.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Day 6: Rotorua, New Zealand

Day 6 7/11/06           

Our wake up call was at 6:45 a.m. We left at 8:30 to the Maori cultural center here in Rotorua. Our guide, Paul McGiver, gave a great presentation on the geysers and boiling mud that were on the grounds as well as the history and beliefs of the Maori people. Some of the things that I remember:

  • The Maori were the people who brought tattooing to the world.
  • The different Maori tribes attacked each other for reasons such as land, women, and power. For example, the land near the geysers made life easier for the tribes during the winter months. Other tribes looked in envy and wanted it. Warriors were always left at home to guard the women and children. If they were taken by other tribes, the first tribe could not grow and would eventually lose power to the other tribes. Women were important because they could bear children and keep the tribe strong so it could defend itself.
  • The Maori decided who did what for their next generation by watching the young play. If they tended to fight, they were trained to be warriors. If they liked listening to instructions, they were taught songs and customs to teach the next generation. If they liked using their hands, they could carve or make things etc.

  • Tim posing at the Maori school

    After we left the cultural center, we went to the jade factory for a demonstration on how jade is made. Jade is quite a hard stone to cut. Our group bought stuff and then went to lunch. We went to the top of a hill by gondola to the go carts/luge place. It was very busy and some were lucky to go down twice in the two hours we were there.  

    Brien Simpson in his zorbonaut attire

    At 2:30, we went to the Agrodome, which is where the Zorb balls, bungee jumping and other activities are. Alex and Tim were amongst the first ones to bungee jump. The rest of us (with Alex) went zorbing. They filled the bubbles with warm water that felt good in the cold air. Everyone had a blast. The girls even went twice.

     Tim Van Prooyen bungee jumping

    Chelsea, Kayla, and Stephanie on the go carts

    Zorbing down the hill

     Zorbonauts Alex Bukoski and Sam Patton

     Zorbonauts Stephanie Cahoon, Chelsea Wiles, and Kayla Sherwood

    We got back to the hotel with a half hour to spare before the big Maori hangi feast at 6:30. The food was traditional and most of it was prepared in the underground oven.

    The girls practice with their little balls on strings decoration and the boys did the "Huka". The Huka is a dance meant to intimidate the opposition in a war or contest. The sports teams of rugby and soccer do the Huka before their games. Afterwards, we relaxed in our rooms in preparation for the next day.

    The boys doing the Huka

    Saturday, September 7, 2013

    Day 7: Rotorua, New Zealand

    Day 7 7/12/06

    I woke up to the sound of rain hitting a roof next to my window. I was very thankful that we did a lot of outdoor things yesterday.

    We had a rare off day today in Rotorua. EF tours gave us an extra day on the tour and it happened to be here in town. Normally we would have just enough time to do the advertised events and then go to Auckland, so we used our day off to our advantage.

    After sleeping in, the girls and Tim went on a horseback ride that they really liked. Sam and Alex relaxed, spending time in the hotel lounge on the piano. I managed to get a half hour massage on my neck and back. It was something fun to do during the rainy day.

    In the afternoon, the girls and Tim went shopping and explored Rotorua. Alex, Sam, and I took the "duck" for a tour of the area. The duck is a converted World War II vehicle that goes on the road and in the water as a boat. We alternated between lakes and roads as he gave information about the area. 

    Alex, Sam and the duck boat

    I asked John, our bus driver, what the difference between the two islands were in New Zealand. He responded that the difference was great. The northern island's beauty was made by volcano while the southern island's beauty was glacieral.

    After the tour, we relaxed for a couple of hours. I did manage to get some more Hokey Pokey ice cream.

    The boys and I ate at Fat Dogs restaurant downtown. The servings were huge. I saw a kid's order of hamburger that turned out to be bigger than what I've seen for adults in the U.S.!! After our meal, we went back to the hotel.

    The six students reserved the spa for another half hour and enjoyed it. They were so tired that they called me to let me know that they were going to bed. It was a good thing that they did that because the next day would be a travel day complete with a couple of sight seeing stops.

    Thursday, September 5, 2013

    Day 8: Rotorua, New Zealand to Auckland, New Zealand

    Day 8     7/13/06 Rotorua, New Zealand to Auckland, New Zealand

    We packed up, got on the bus, and started on our trip North to Auckland. Before leaving town, we stopped at a church by the lake. The church, St. Faiths, is for the Maori. Its biggest claim to fame is a picture of Jesus dressed in a Maori warrior's outfit in a window. When you look out at it, it appears to be walking on the water of the lake.

    After we saw that, we went to the Agrodome for the presentation. We saw the 19 different types of sheep here in New Zealand. We also saw a cow milking presentation and dogs that could corral sheep. Afterwards, we got to go buy.
    Alex with a new friend

    Around 11:00 we got back on the bus to go north. Unfortunately, the caves at Waitimo were closed because of flooding. So we took a more direct route to Auckland. We stopped at Hamilton for lunch. We explored and went inside a mall to shop and pass time.

    On the way to Auckland, the movie Whale Rider was put on for us to watch. It's a story set in today's times for the Maori. Given what we knew about the culture, we appreciated it much more. The students who had seen it before commented on how much more fuller it was and made better sense.

    We got to Auckland and John gave us the city tour. We stopped at Mount Eden and got a 360° view of Auckland. We also got to see the sights from his perspective as someone who live there. It wasn't necessarily historic, but from a native's point of view. We said good bye to him and got into our rooms at the New President Hotel, which is close to the tower in downtown.

    Stephanie at Mount Eden
    We explored a bit and then went to the waterfront restaurant close to one of the harbors. John had mentioned that there was ¾ of a mile between harbors on each side of the island at the narrowest point in Auckland. Once everyone was back, we spent a quiet evening in the hotel doing laundry and getting ready for tomorrow. 

    Day 9: Auckland, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia

    Day 9   7/14/06    Auckland, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia

    We did not have to get up early today. We had to leave for the airport at 1:00 p.m. The group spent their time shopping downtown Auckland and eating lunch. I walked down to Victoria Market. It is a collection of "off beat" stores in the decor of a brick warehouse.

    We got rid of our New Zealand dollars and headed for the airport. On the flight, we saw the movie 16 Blocks with Bruce Willis. We arrived, making great time. The time change was 2 hours earlier, so now we were 14 hours ahead of Michigan time.

    We got through customs and managed to get all our luggage on the bus. The exchange rate was $100 U.S. giving $126 Australian. I used the instant cash ATM machine. The students got a rate of $123 Australian and also had to pay $8 Australian commission. Bummer!!

    We got to our hotel, the Ibis, by World Market Square. It's on the edge of Sydney's China town. We got our affairs settled. Alex and Sam went with Danna for a tour of Darling Harbor by foot from the hotel. Tim, Chelsea, Kayla, Stephanie, and I went out at 7:30 local time and had supper at a fast food place around the corner from the hotel.

    Sam and Alex at Darling Harbor
    Afterwards, we shopped at some of the souvenir places and found the local grocery store and bought some stuff. We got up into our rooms and I turned on the Friday night rugby game. I think that it was Sydney vs. Brisbane. The bulldogs won 22-16. Not knowing the rules, it was interesting trying to figure them out. What I could figure out:
    • It's just like football. You have 5 downs to get from one end of the field to the other using backward laterals to advance the ball.
    • If a touchdown is scored, you get 4 points. You kick an extra point (2 points, actually) from the spot you scored (brought back to the kicking line)
    • There are two halves of 40 minutes each.
    • If you kick the ball forward and your teammate catches it, you can continue forward.
    There were still quite a few rules I didn't get, but it was entertaining.