“the road eventually leads too…”

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Boarding flight 411, my preparations went as far as a ripped journal page of scribbled recommendations from Cath, my loaned, unread, and out of date Lonely Planet travel guide, and a booking number for Rent-a-Dent (promising name for a car rental service). Three hours later I had a rough, I repeat, rough itinerary, but the confidence to freely explore this unknown land and faith that I would discover unimaginable destinations. “Kia ora, haere mai,” the captain exclaimed as the plane rolled into the terminal. Hello and welcome.

Day One

A thirty minute ferry ride from the Auckland port brought meDSC00805 to an island radiating creative energy filled with artistic passion.

After hauling up 187 steep steps to Kina’s Backpackers, I bundled up and followed the stairs back down to Onetangi beach.

Day Two

While Waiheke lay silent beneath a fresh rainfall, I hopped on a bus back to the ferry port. Ditching my bags at the ticket counter, I walked about a mile into the nearest town. Oneroa quickly made a spot for itself on my growing “Amy’s places to live” list. The main road was home to coffee,vintage, and craft shops as well as artist’s unique galleries. I dedicated my first day to Oneroa, finding delight in every minute activity I entertained myself to.

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“Enduring Love” by Maori sculptor, Paora Toiterangiuaia (left)

A memorable shot from the vintage shop I scavenged through (right)

Late afternoon I left Oneroa anxious to begin my long awaited adventure. Back in Auckland, I immediately went to Rent-a-Dent to pick up my home for the next nine days. “You’ve driven on the left side before?” the manager asked, hearing that I was an American. “Oh yeah, I’ve been living in Fiji, so they drive on the left too.” He took that as a yes and confidently handed me a set of keys. I turned out of the lot and smoothy cruised onto State Highway despite the sudden downpour, unidentifiable beeping (don’t worry Dad, it was only the emergency break engaged), and the four lanes of traffic merging into two. With my hands gripped tightly around the wheel at ten and two and my spine stiff as a board I rolled into Raglan two hours and twelve rain showers later.

Day Three

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Being one of the few early morning risers allowed me to roam Raglan’s bare downtown.

During their 1964 documentary The Endless Summer, Mike Hynson and Robert August plunged into Raglan’s surf on their quest for the perfect wave. 50 years later…I found it.

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Three Little DSC01080Birds, one of the many boutiquesin Raglan, is filled with inspirational craft ideas, vintage clothing, and a strong energy from the shop’s owner Tony. Every shop I visited had a unique spirit and was run by exceptionally genuine and spirited locals.

Day Four

Thanks to Cath’s recommendation I visited the Geothermal Maori village Whakarewarewa in Rotoru. Our Maori guide led us through the inhabited village  while our camera lenses fogged up due yo the steam of gathering over the hot pools, geothermal oven, and geysers. After the tour, the locals entertained us with traditional Maori dances including the Haka.

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 Driving in to Rotorua the night before, my headlights passed over the sign for a blueberry farm. On my way out I spotted the sign again. A left down an undeveloped farm road and  two km later I pulled into the quaint Mamaku Blue Blueberry Experience and Winery. Blueberry wine, liquor, jam, chutney, soap, lotion, tea, juice and, of course, blueberry pie. While I didn’t pull off a Violet Beauregarde, I had enough blueberries for the whole of New Zealand. Support the farm and the lovely Kiwi’s who run the shop by visiting www.mamakublue.co.nz/ and order the freshest and most nutritionally beneficial juice on the market.

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On a full and satisfied stomach I drove two hours away to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. The Arachnocampa luminosa, the glowworm, is a species of fungus gnat found in moist, underground, and dark spaces amongst the humid forests of New Zealand. The no photography rule wasn’t  a disappointment, a camera wouldn’t truly capture the magic that lives amongst the damp interior. Surrounded by 30 million year old limestone formations 18 meters over head, with the gentle echoing of continuous water droplets, I was mesmerized by earth’s dramatic and natural beauty. Still in awe of the cave itself, my reactions went numb when the guide led us through the underground river where the glowworms were most prominent. Close your eyes. Imagine the starriest night you have seen. Triple the amount of stars in the sky. Replace the star’s colorless shine with a sharp blue-green luminescent glisten. Though I’ve since tried, my mind cannot recreate the intense wonder of the caves attraction.   

My plans after Waitomo were spontaneously modified on an invite to explore the country side’s hidden treasures with three adventurists I met during the tour. Well into nighttime, we discovered an enormous limestone archway opening on the other side to a gorgeous stretch of valleys, a huge waterfall standing out amongst a backdrop of bush, and a hidden cave inhabited by glowworms. We walked through shaking, yet still frightening each other while water dripped eerily into the unknown crevasses.

Day Five

Another early morning led me to Taupo’s Spa Thermal Park for a dip in the natural hot bath. The crisp chill against my cheek blended with the spring’s steam was an essential pre-hike muscle relaxer.

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A drive alongside Lake Taupoand Mt. Mount Ruapehu.

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The highest landing during my two hour hike through New Zealand’s bush and mountains.

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Day Six

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Halfway through my trip I arrived in Cath’s city, Wellington. With open arms, Cath’s friend Alex (also a CT native) invited me to stay with his friends in their house just outside the city. Alex and his friends immediately won me over with their distinct and unique personalities, sense of humor, and they brought me to a Mexican restaurant my first night. Staying with the boys in Wellington was a step into a lifestyle I’ve been escaping for three months. When you constantly crave and feed on adventure, sometimes watching movies on the couch until 12 in what you’ve been waiting for. After a morning of veggin’ out, we went for a walk along the sea wall, visited Te Papa museum where I was introduced and completely addicted to the mystery of the giant squid. For lunch they brought me to Alex’s favorite turkish restuarant, Abrakadabra. With the boys, their friend Kate, and a bundle of other friends, we were meshed together the genius in each us to become the quiz night champions at a downtown bar.

Day Seven

Exploring Wellington solo, I took a Bikram Yoga class at New Zealand’s first yoga studio, had a rejuvenating lunch at Cath’s favorite restaurant, Midnight Espresso, and bopped through Cuba street, the live and thriving city center. On this gorgeous October afternoon, the streets were bustling. My day in Wellington ended in the Botanical Garden’s. With Alex’s friend James, we ventured through the fascinating beauty of the fauna and flora blended with unique and unexpected artistic displays.

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Day Eight

Eager to join the road again, I left the boys with all the gratitude from my heart. Blasting Abba’s Dancing Queen as I drove out of the city, I cruised back up New Zealand’s coast.

Around 10 pm, I pulled into The Sunflower Lodge, a decision I made solely due to its name. In a room to myself, cocooned in layers of blankets and pillows I slept soundly until the sunrise (and rooster calling) welcomed me into the day.

There were hardly any shops open before 9; another walk through a foreign town’s sleepy streets. Two blocks from the city center, and across a railroad track, I strolled along down the Coastal Walkway. Early risers biked, ran, and power walked around me while I paused every so often to study the crashing waves on the rocks to my left, the limestone patterns to my right, and the sun moving along the cliffs in the distance.

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A brochure I read in the lodge that night shared the ‘Top Ten Things to See in New Plymouth’; one of the ten had a memorable description, so after my coastal walk, still only 9 am, I drove a few minutes to Pukekura Park. Walking from the car park into the park itself felt like Alice falling into Wonderland; having already felt the Dorothy’s  wave of disorientation into an unimaginable place. Surrounded by ferns and other unknown, to my knowledge, tree and plant species sat a natural pond; home to the ducks aimlessly swimming around and the foreground to a shocking red, traditional japanese bridge spotlighted by streaks of sun rays. Just a bit further into the grounds was a cement building. Partially covered in vines, it was small and seemed out. Placed awkwardly in center left was a white button and in the top left a plaque read “Push button once to activate fountain”. As directed, I pushed the button and turned back to the face the pond. If fountains could speak this one shouted, “Good morning! Welcome to my home.” As if the water rocketing in each direction from a metal floating device granted me permission, I carried on into the park.

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In the middle of the park, beside one of the ponds, there was a small white house. The Pukekara Park Tea House had freshly baked scones, an assortment of teas, and a large glass case of homemade fudge. By the door was a rack of post cards. In search for a card to send to my mom and grandmother (who would adore the park and were together in a NYC museum while I was visiting the park). One of the cards had a stunning image of the tip of a snow capped mountain peaking through the bush. In the photo was a small body of water and the side of a white house. I looked up questionably and ran outside, “of course!” I openly exclaimed. There I stood between a white house, a small body of water, and the tip of Mt. Taranaki, an active volcano.

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Only thirty minutes through the country fields and up the narrow and frightening winding roads into the mountains rests Pukeiti: a rainforest and a garden mingled into one park.

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Day Nine

My final destination, the Alderson family kiwi orchard. Ten days prior to my arrival, Cath’s mum and dad moved from their suburban home in Tauranga to a kiwi orchard in the back country. The road to their house is surrounded by orchards and packing houses. If the sticker on your kiwi says ‘Zespri’ your kiwi came from No. 1 Road, Te Puke, New Zealand. Upon arrival I was greeted by Steve and Helen Alderson, Barry their new puppy pranced behind. Cath and I met my first day at USP. Three months later I’m sitting in her new house (which she has yet to see) with her pure hearted parents. The beauty of where life will lead you.

When I woke up Saturday morning the kitchen table was set for breakfast. The three of us ate together before Steve, a veterinarian, was off to work. Before heading out for the day Helen showed me around their orchard. While she shared her immense knowledge of the kiwi fruit business I was mesmerized by the natural excitement in her words.

Within the first week of meeting Cath she shared stories of her mountain. Though it will forever be Cath’s mountain in my mind, it is publicly known as Mt. Maunganui. Helen and I breathlessly made our way to the top. I was amazed by the amount of people passing us along the way; mums and dads, grandparents, toddlers, teenagers, babies. Every living generation for one day sharing the experience of this adrenaline boosting climb. As my eyes traced the white line where the waves roll onto shore I was reminded about the beauty of where life will lead you. The mystery of why people enter your life and the magical moment when you unfold it.

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Day Ten

When I arrived to Auckland Airport on October 3rd there were a lot of things I had yet to do and see; road tripping for over a week in a foreign country alone was definitely a big one. There will always be a list, an extraordinary, unfathomable list of possible experiences we may never imagine for ourselves. Gather your dreams; those planted in the past ten years and those conjured ten minutes ago. They tell us to follow our dreams, but lend no direction of where to go once we get there. Because along your journey those dreams have developed and grown. You’ll never reach a ‘destination’. There’s no flashing sign that reads “You’ve reached your dreams”. Dreams and the adventures they’ll offer you are limitless.

For the ten days I entered a start and end point on my car’s GPS. It always got me to where I intended to go, but every time I went further.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKris Stice, our irreplaceable program director, brought the UWP family together again for four days of unexpected adventure. Our unique bond has thrived since our immediate connection on day one. For two months we’ve treasured our relationships with one another while each growing as individuals and settling into our home. We tease each other incessantly and cross every inappropriate boundary when together. We are an open book to each other whether in times of lively energy or potential public embarrassment. For our weird and distinct natures, we love each other to the end of the earth. Ha, we’ve been living with each other near the end of the earth. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Shoes off for the unique sensation of Moon Reef’s sand against our feet. Unlike many beaches off the Pacific and Atlantic oceans this combination of volcanic rock is more course and has a gorgeous mixture of black and white.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA step off of the black sand and into a boat fit for ten, we rode out along the Pacific’s piercing blue water to meet up with a crowd of dolphins. In a pack of about forty, the dolphins swiftly made their way around the boat showing off their silky gray tops and shark like fins every so often. After a few “woopee”s, claps, and attempted dolphin noises, the intelligent marine mammals recognized our presence and entertained our morning with their natural talents. An impressive trick, vertical jump, air spin, and dive, had us in awe of these magnificent creatures the rest of the afternoon.

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Survived our first hike of the trip; a three mile climb up jagged rocks, exquisite tree roots, and dangerous moss. The clouds hadn’t cleared yet when we reached the top, but how many people get to say they’ve stood in a cloud on the tallest mountain in Fiji…we have. The hike down was the real test of strength. It started raining and didn’t clear until we reached the bottom. We braced ourselves as best as we could. Sliding down mud and slipping on the wet rock was quicker anyways.

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After a late night of eerie Fijian ghost stories, Laney and I gathered enough energy for a quick stroll to catch the sunrise. The clouds slowly evolved with the awakening sun as fog spilt over the silhouetted mountains. Softly welcoming the new day with The Beatles hit, “Good Day Sunshine”, the sun responded blanketing our chilled our bodies with her revived warmth and energy.

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Type “Fiji” into any search engine and you’ll be memorized with pages of scenic romantic island resorts surrounded by the refreshing ocean waves and a prospering green landscape. What you won’t find are photos of central Fiji’s continuous mountain ranges, untouched by rainfall for the last four months. All nine of us were completely astonished at first sight of our stunning surroundings through the open back of our carrier transport.

10660203_10205032683801572_2053652779088771280_nOur carrier driver, Rocco, stopped numerous times along the way allowing us to capture the striking beauty of his land. As we stood amongst the powerful landscape and peered down at the toy sized villages below I thought to myself, this is Fiji. Not the Fiji you see in magazines. Not the Fiji honeymooners rave about. This is where natives derive from. Where they built homes and families, established a lifestyle, adapted to their given environment and survived. I close my eyes and imagine the Highlands. I close my eyes and I’m seeing Fiji.

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We continued through the Highlands on our way to Rocco’s village where we would spent the remainder of the day and night. Upon arrival we met the chief, devoured a lovely tea time prepared by the ladies of the village, and set off on foot for an unknown adventure. Led by our village guides, Etu and Mr. Rocco, we trekked through the mountains we admired earlier that morning.

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Despite the increasing sweat on my upper lip and shortened, heavy breaths I couldn’t resist singing “the hills are alive with the sound of music”. I felt as free as the Von Traps (without the anxiety of being on the run). We trudged through dry grass and cow droppings. The mountains and trees we had stood horizontal to now concealed us deep within the valleys as we followed the downhill dirt path to the river below.

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The South Pacific produces a vast number of domestic fruits and vegetables, many of which grow freely within the forests of the islands. Etu cut open the unfamiliar fruit that lay on the ground and passed around slices. My watering mouth was thrilled that moli kana not only resembles but also tastes just like the grapefruit found in the states.

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Down by the river we played in the rapid stream as if it was a water slide; as the current pushed us down the stream our hands helped our body dodge the rocks underneath to avoid spinal injury. With fresh bruises we swam back to the shore where freshly speared fish, graciously prepared by Etu, Mr. Rocco, and a few of the village women, fed our grumbling stomachs.

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Reverend Thomas Baker is infamous for being the only missionary to be victim of cannibalism. He was killed and eaten by members of the Nabutatau Village, our host village, as a consequence for touching the chiefs head. His tombstone on the village’s land reads, “Obedient until death”. The ax I am holding against Anna’s neck (the look of fear in her eyes was completely genuine) was used to slaughter Baker in July of 1867.

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By Tuesday our group had ventured to unimaginable heights, literally. After one last magnificent and painful carrier ride two hours down from the Highlands on an unpaved road, our group split off to explore different parts of Fiji for the remainder of the break. Anna P., Laine and I took off on an overnight boat ride to Vanua Levu, the second largest island of Fiji. While Anna guarded our bags, Laine and I snuck to the front of the boat where Captain Eroni welcomed us into the boats control room. Capt. Eroni’s excitement was radiant as he taught us about the different devices and maps that will help us arrive to our destination safely.

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At 5am the next morning our boat pulled into Savusavu just as the sun was beginning its ascent. The full moon that watched over us on our 8 hour journey through the South Pacific lingered in the sky, seeing us off on our fifth form of transportation in the past 24-hours. One bus tire change and shaky ferry ride later, three tired and smelly girls stepped onto Taveuni soil.

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Walking down the road from our backpackers hostel we noticed a boat anchored close by. Two Fijian men and three Australians were returning from a successful fishing day. We chatted with them as they casually pulled the eight tunas and one barracuda they caught onto shore. They gave us permission to take credit for their catches so, here are the eight tunas and barracuda that Anna, Laine, and I caught. We’re eating fish tonight!

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Motivated to see some live fish, we joined Solo, Paulo, and George from Taveuni Dive for a day of snorkeling on Rainbow Reef, one of the most famous reefs in the South Pacific. I clowned around with Nemo and just kept swimming with Dory. Slapped fins and bumped noggins with Crush on his way back to the EAC and reminded one of Bruce’s fellow “Fish-Friendly Sharks” that humans are friends not food. Meet the cast of “Finding Nemo”, check.

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 The reef itself was insanely breathtaking. Delicately floating over the homes of millions of sea creatures, many of which I didn’t know existed, is the most exceptional sight I’ve seen. With the reefs to my left and the drop off to my right, “he touched the butt” was the only thought my mind could grasp. It was all too surreal.

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On Saturday we put away our fins and trekked up the Tavoro Waterfalls in Bouma National Heritage Park. There are three waterfalls throughout the hike, each one more stunning than the next. It was a wonderful day, we couldn’t have asked for anything more. And then our trip took an unexpected turn…

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Our plan was to spend the night in Lavena Lodge, a cheap accommodation within Lavena village. Luckily we arrived in time to snag the only open room left. The lodge was quaint and sat in between the village homes and the South Pacific sea. For $20 dollars we had a picturesque waterfront view. Within the first few minutes a young, curious, and shy boy approached us. For a few minutes we looked through the photos in a children’s book together, giggling when he raised and lowered his eyebrows to avoid speaking. Two young girls joined us and brought us out to the beach where a group of children were playing in the sand. For an hour we had sand wars, buried each other, played with a crab, ate a sea urchin, and was invited to join one of the families that night at the village’s party. Sesa, one of the girls we first met, was related to the band playing in the hall. Her cousin and brother were the invitees and also offered to take us on a three hour hike we were hoping to do the next day.

Ignoring any village dancing etiquette, we shimmied and shook our hips, attempted to learn some Fijian song lyrics and drink kava until 12am. The hall was packed with families and we were blessed enough to join one of them. Despite our late night, we woke up to an orange sky and calm sea ready to take on the mountains once more. As the bumping bus drove away from Lavena the sun slid up the horizon, lining the clouds with its intense glow. When we arrived to Villy’s home we immediately welcomed into his family members home for a quick breakfast of coconut rice and freshly machete’d pawpaw (papaya). Villy, Anna Laine, Marcus, one of Sesa’s five brothers, and I began the excruciating uphill walk. Three hours later, drenched in sweat we made it to the signal towers, one of the highest points of the island. Each breath I took I could feel the change of air in my throat, it was as if the clouds were filling my lungs. We risked one last climb up the signal tower and watched as the clouds disappeared revealing a bird’s eye view of the intensely green Taveuni below us, the piercing blue sea, and Vanau Levu in the distance. After a nap in the sun and a quick snack we began our walk back down hill.

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Taveuni is famous for the Tagimoucia, a flower that only blooms in the cold, volcanic mountains of Taveuni. Laine was passionate about seeing the flower, though we had been told it doesn’t bloom until October. Sure enough, on our descent down the mountain Villy spotted the dark red flower admit the forest. Marcus and he climbed a tree and cut a few branches of the rare Tagimoucia flower.

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Back to our host family homes, we were treated to a delicious lunch, a refreshing shower, and another night of dancing, kava, and mass amounts of joy and love.  Surrounded by all their cousins, aunts, moms and dads, brothers, and sisters, and  feeling completely at home with the family was the highlight of my break. The kindness of these loving people released a stronger emotions than any mountain, coral reef, or flower could. True beauty radiates from one spirit to another. It’s not just what our eyes can see, but what our hearts can feel.

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Moce manda, Taveuni. Vinaka vaka levu.

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a Fijian celebration

On Thursday, August 28th, I am (finally) turning the big two-one. “Ooooh, that’s a big one for you at home, ay”, is the common response I’ve been hearing from my non-American friends. Last October when I convinced myself studying abroad this semester was the right decision I was bombarded with a similar reaction, because in America your 21st birthday activities include legally purchasing alcohol from your local liquor store, legally entering an “21 and over only” bar, and legally taking your first sip (or twelve shots) of alcohol. Throw out that fake id, kid, your legal now.  Twenty-first birthdays have become a celebration of the surpassing of a government mandated law, which sounds a bit mundane. Of course on Thursday night I’ll be in Traps, with a bounty shot in one hand while my free hand sways with the rhythm of the live music. Though I’ve nearly described a typical Thursday night in downtown Suva, this week there will be an extra wave of enthusiasm, a bit more spark, and heaps to celebrate. Birthdays are a celebration of life, an opportunity to look back on your past year, or twenty-one years, and recognize the gift you’ve been given. Laws can add limits to life but life itself has no limits. This I’ve learned through twenty-years of immense growth, and constant change. Through the frightening unknown into the unimaginable discoveries. From my first baby steps beneath the watchful eyes of my Mama and Daddy to my first adult steps onto foreign land, far from any supervision. The mistakes, on mistakes, on mistakes I thought I made and the realization that everything happens for a reason. The salty remains of tears from anger, sadness and hurt easily washed away by tears of laughter and joy. Every significant moment has taught me how to shatter the boundaries we’ve set around our lives.

While birthdays are a celebration of life and a birthday is a celebration of a life, no one is alone on this journey.

To the strangers who have defined a “genuine human connection” and strangers who didn’t for reasons we will never know but must always accept. To my friends, whether there was an hour spent together, days, or years, you’ve accepted me, understood me (or tried to!), encouraged me, and allowed me to follow my spirit. And to those who gave me life, my family.

On Thursday, August 28th I will be celebrating twenty-one years of memories shared with the people I’ve been blessed with. And I couldn’t dream of a better place to celebrate this rairai vinaka bula…

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a ticket to anywhere

Tracing the tracks of a sugar cane railway with a cane brach in hand, shuffling our muddy feet and legs through the overgrown dry grass, we asked Manisha what happiness means to her. “Happiness means doing what you love.” With glistening eyes, Manisha listened to Fiona share her answer, “when you are completely content and honest with yourself in each living moment you have found happiness.” Later, Manisha admitted the adventure we had taken her on was the coolest thing she had ever done. We had only walked a few minutes down the road from her home she has lived in for seventeen years. The happiness she felt that night radiated through her eyes  and lingered in her tears when we said goodbye Sunday morning.

Two days earlier Fiona and I hopped on a bus to Rakiraki with no plan following the four hour ride. About halfway through the trip Fiona fatefully lost her seat to another passenger. The woman across the aisle was quick to offer space on the seat she was sharing with her baby daughter. Ten minutes later Fiona tapped me on the leg, “she said we could stay with her.” I leaned a bit forward to see Bindiya’s graceful smile as she held sleepy Pauline close to her chest. Place to stay, check.

Bindiya brought us to the house her parents had build twenty-three years ago with only 400 dollars to their name. Her parents raised seven children in their two room home, eventually expanding to a modest two bedroom home with a kitchen,  an outdoor toilet and shower, as their family grew. Punam, 24 and Manisha, 17, now live with their mother, father, and two-year old nephew while her three brothers and eldest sister live scattered throughout the South Pacific. Bindiya lives in Suva with Paulina waiting for her husband, Paul, to return from the Philippines. She has been anticipating his return for two months. Due to visa complications, there is no guaranteed date for his return. There is no guarantee he can come back to Fiji at all. Bindiya has been traveling between Suva and Rakiraki every weekend since her father was admitted into the hospital in Nadi. During our stay Fiona and I listened with open ears and hearts to her families unimaginable past, present drama, secrets, and desires. “You’re family now, so I tell you our stories.”

Our weekend consisted of home cooked meals, shopping day in downtown Rakiraki, joyfully playing and giggling with baby Pauline, watching ‘Frozen’ on the couch while our host family chatted around us in Hindi, trudging through knee high mud surrounded by mangroves to reach the oyster filled shore line, and running up a nonexistent mountain path to catch the sunset before it fell below the horizon.

“I can’t remember the last sunset I watched”, Manisha confessed as we rested our muddy bodies on the grassy mountain top. This weekend was a reminder of everything I am continuously grateful for. The opportunities I’ve been given and those I’ve given to myself since arriving to Fiji have brought a bountiful of happiness to my journey.

DSC00456Home sweet home

DSC00450The girls standing by Fiji’s famous cannibal, Vore Vore

DSC00476Trekking through the mangroves and mud

DSC00508Made it to the water thanks to our lovely guide (far right) and her brother (below). We didn’t catch their names, there was a bit of a language barrier. Smiles and high fives was our main line of communication!

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DSC00496Oysters for dinner anyone?

from our eyes to yours

For the past twenty days my eyes have witnessed a new way of life. A lifestyle surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, joyful spirits, and unexpected adventures. Even when I pause for a quiet moment of internal reflection, I’m still itching to explore beyond the walls of my mind. There is so much to do, even more to see. On the bus this past Friday I met a man by the name of Howie Cooke. For three hours, Howie delved into the depths of his life, each story more fascinating than the last. One of Howie’s mantras, “there’s no time to do everything, enough time to do anything, plenty of time to do something,” is the truest belief I’ve heard regarding the time we don’t have to waste. For the past twenty days I have wasted no time. Join my ride and catch a glimpse of what I’ve seen…

10576958_10204546187163098_6326382198775204183_nOn July 8th at 11 pm we were strangers awkwardly introducing ourselves in the LAX terminal. On July 10th at 2:30 pm, on barely any sleep, we laughed, screamed and flew through the Fijian forests.

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10489928_10204546216643835_9201536486550184374_nRide home from zip lining. The wind whipping our enthused faces and the sun setting right in front of us over the mountains.

DSC00133An exhausting 5 am wake up call on day 2 turned into the most relaxing morning on my life watching the sunrise from the hot spring and mud bath.

DSC00168Learning how to machete open a freshly picked coconut and failing miserably (but I still drank the delicious milk from the one Kevin perfectly split open).

DSC00178 Success.

10478676_10201885011001369_763981730480068078_n Potentially dangerous yoga pose a top an abandoned home looking over the city of Nadi and watching another gorgeous day come to an end.

1237488_10152619317085844_6943474893268465127_nHelping prepare kava after the traditional kava welcoming ceremony in the Vunavutu village.

10477050_10201893589655830_4990935766553018601_n Racing up the sand dunes right outside of the village.

10525911_10204546288045620_7402724409293539675_n Embracing every moment atop the dunes. The ocean to my left, mountains to my right, surrounded by mass amounts of beauty.

10492615_10152619321250844_407151990077385123_nEntertaining the children in the village with our “shopping cart” dance move. We may have had a bit too much of the drog.

DSC00322My host mama, Meme, Alex, and I turned breakfast papaya into art.

10513245_10152619325000844_7570452562305618150_nOur village family. So much love in one room.

10487389_10152619327300844_6981492732174093183_nThe morning after a treacherous night of food poisoning, boating down a river to a waterfall. We felt just as miserable as we look.

DSC00351Our first weekend trip to Namuka Bay Lagoon resort in Singtoka. A magical weekend with a sky full of the clearest stars, fresh fish prepared by the elegant ladies of the resort, abandoned rail road treks into the nearest town, mountainous waves crashing in the distance, and endless memories with the people who became my family in 20 enjoyably long days.

Oh my gosh Bula

My mind is racing. Boarding the plane at JFK to LAX with absolutely zero expectations for what was to come was the best decision my curious mind could have made. My anticipation for nothing has made everything that much more surreal yet unbelievably real at the same time. I’ve gone zip living through a Fijian forest, built by the hands of the man who taught us how to flip on the line. I’ve ridden a horse through a field of sugar cane, with a stalk of cane in hand. Delicious. I’ve helped to prepare (and eat) a meal cooked in an earth oven, played rugby, watched the sun rise over “sleeping giant” mountains while steaming in a mud bath. I’ve watched the sun set from the back of a truck waving and shouting bula (hello in Fijian) to everyone we passed. The best part, every Fijian shouted bula back with enthusiasm and joy! Through the winding Fijian streets, at 100 km/hr with palm tree forests to my left and the Pacific to my right, I’ve jammed in a van with a driver named Summit belting “Hotel California”, air guitar in hand, with my study abroad family.

Together, Anna, Chris, Fritzy, Laney, Alex, other Anna, Brittany, Kate and I flew to Fiji took a tour of a Hindu temple, played monkey in the middle beneath the searing sun with the children of our study abroad coordinators, adopted a pooch, ran up sand dunes, ran down sand dunes, lived in a village, drink Kava, and got food poisoning. In a hostel-like hotel room, one by one we each ran to the toilets (or pulled the nearest trash bin to our bed) and bonded in the best possible way people can bond. Following the torturous night, we boarded a canoe and took in the breathtaking view of the river ahead of us and land around us while holding down any leftover nausea. We felt so miserable that we struggled to enjoy a waterfall. But we had done it all, and more, in four days. In FOUR days. And we hadn’t even been to Suva, where our University is on the other side of the country.

While there are more memories to share, there are heaps more to create. Never stop exploring…

Loads of peace, happiness, love and sunshine (and a bit of rain showers) from Fiji.

Side note, photos coming soon…

my cup of tea

My final night in the states, my cup of tea gave me the sweetest bit of travelers wisdom…

Live light. Appreciate the moments, both small and large. Every little bit of experience is something to remember. Just go with it. Adapt. Accept the changing courses of the wind, fly with it; the universe has something planned for you. Always keep moving forward with a smile on your face, love in your heart and a skip in your step. Live light.

Travel light. It’s incredible how capable we are of achieving exceptional things with our strong minds, open heart, and radiating spirit. Carry these essentials, the necessities (a toothbrush and some deodorant could come in hand if you want to make some friends), and let your senses take over storing every scent, sight, feeling, taste and sounds. Memories don’t need to be packed. Travel light.

Spread the light. We are all connected. We have been for centuries and will be for centuries to come. The people you meet today will soon meet the people you met ten years ago. Inspire each other so that inspiration can bounce back and forth and shine from one continent to the next. Spread the light.

Be the light. We come from different homes, backgrounds and experiences. We each have something wonderful to offer to the world. Be true to yourself, be fair to others, be the beautiful change. Be the light.

Studying abroad is a choice I’ve stuck to for 8 months. Today, July 8th, 2014, is surreal. I’m Fiji bound. I found my cup of tea. Cheers to my first sip.
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