Category Archives: Oceania

Everybody Thinks I’m Fijian…and That’s a Good Thing

adventure bornn

*My apologies for the lack of photos on this post. I made my most costly travel error ever when I accidentally dropped my iPhone into a waterfall. I’ll explain more about that on a later post.*

I was meant to arrive on Saturday, but was having such a good time at the Beachouse that I emailed The Green Lion, my project coordinators in Suva, letting them know I would arrive at the bus station at 3:00pm on Sunday instead. No problem.

Kayaking at the Fiji Beachouse
A group of awesome backpackers I hung around with at the Fiji Beachouse.
I also meant to take the express bus on Sunday morning, but instead Ross and his girlfriend Christie (UK) happily offered to drive me in their rental car. They had to go to Suva anyways. On the way there, we stopped in Pacific Harbor to grab some food and use the ATM. I noticed the time was just a little past 3pm, but no worries, Fiji Time. Just like many places I’ve been to (Africa being the one that pops in my head the most) Fiji runs on what they like to call Fiji Time. Which means, everything and everybody is going to be late. Not too late, but a little late. It’s the whole chilled out island mantra of the island and the perfect excuse as to why anyone in Fiji is late for anything. Fiji Time. I could dig it but it can also be annoying at times particularly when waiting on food that I ordered. In this case, Fiji time would work in my favor because I was already almost a half hour late. The coordinators are probably waiting at the bus station wondering where the heck I am. But I wasn’t overly concerned because of Fiji Time.

Once we arrived at the bus station, I just had Ross drop me off in the center of it. The bus station was a lot bigger than I imagined and a lot more hectic too. I said my farewells to Ross and Christie, put on my bags and simply began to walk around looking for any sign of someone looking for me.

suvabusstation_header
The Suva Bus Station. Courtesy of Fijibus.com
I’ve done this many times before and each time there is always someone around with a sign that either has my name on it, a yellow smiley face, an IVHQ logo sign, or whatever. I looked and looked. No sign. I did several laps around the entirety of the bus station and no sign of anyone looking for me. Oddly, I wasn’t worried.

I had three options:

  1. Keep walking around looking for somebody.
  2. Go into town and sort out purchasing a SIM for my phone to call Green Lion.
  3. It’s Sunday which means I’m probably not the only new volunteer arriving. I can just wait at the terminal for another foreign volunteer to arrive.

I stuck with option one.

They had to be around here somewhere. There’s no way they would leave the bus station with the possibility of a scared little volunteer all by themselves. I wasn’t scared. This was my fault actually. I told them I’d arrive at 3pm. I didn’t even know if buses actually arrived at three. Then on top of that I was late. I had to figure out a way to make myself look known. Other than my big bags I was carrying, I don’t exactly stick out. Since the day I arrived at the Beachouse, I’ve been mistaken for being a Fijian local by tourists and the locals themselves. Many backpackers assumed I worked at the Beachouse and locals were baffled when I started jabbering in my flat American English.

“Oh I thought you were Fijian!” they would say.

adventure bornn
This is a photo of me at a local village near the Beachouse at a kava ceremony. I blend in quite well right?
I blended in so well that a group of locals invited me to take part in a traditional wedding later in the week (more about that later)!

I never once got bored of the confusion. I was happy that I had potential to coast through Fiji without sticking out like a sore thumb. It will prove useful for when locals want to hassle me. It dawned on me that the coordinators are probably around but probably think I’m some local, easily mistakable among the crowds of actual locals venting in and out of the Suva bus station. Time to change my presence.

I purposely began to appear lost and confused. I walked slowly and would pause occasionally on my tiptoes looking past the crowds with a “what the heck is going on” look on my face. I did this all in the area of where I thought the best place the coordinators would be. I paced slowly, alert.

“Excuse me?” said a Fijian man wearing a tropical blue shirt and what looked like a black skirt for men. I glanced at him and raised my eyebrows letting him know he had my attention.

“Are you looking for someone?”

“Yeah, I’m looking for the Green Lion.”

“Oh, are you Daniel??”

“Yup I’m him!”

He and the woman next to him began to laugh.
“We saw you walk by many times but thought you were a Fijian!” they exclaimed.

This would be the new story of my life.

He introduced himself as Junior and the woman as Seini. Both are coordinators from the Green Lion who were scheduled to pick me up…at three!

“The bus showed up but there were no volunteers that came out, so we were confused,” Junior said with a smile.

I explained my situation but it was no matter. They were just happy to have found me and I was relieved I didn’t have to walk around aimlessly with my bags any longer. They led me to a local bus. About 40 minutes would be my new home for the next six weeks filled with a bunch of other volunteers from all around the world.

This is the part where I usually start to wonder what my housemates will be like, but weirdly I didn’t think much about it. I was concentrating on what kind of restaurants were on the way and IF there was a McDonald’s nearby (there was). I was also taken by the funky island music on blast in the bus. Every volunteer experience I’ve done, the volunteers have always been more than amazing, with a handful being good friends of mine to this very day, so I was sure this experience would be the same.

Once the bus dropped us off, we walked to the Green Lion office where I filled out a bunch of paperwork and then directed across the street to my new home.

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I walked in the house and already there were about a dozen volunteers socializing in the outdoor area. I gave a brief hello and a wave and followed Junior down the hall, downstairs to the boys corridor and to my room. In my room were four bunk beds with someone in each of them except for one, which would be mine.

“Hello,” I said with a stupid smile as I plopped down my bag. “How’s it going?”

One of the boys on the bottom bunk was sprawled out on his side with his right hand supporting his head. “You must be Daniel,” he said in a German accent. “I expected you yesterday.”

He was correct. I was supposed to arrive yesterday. But who is this guy? He introduced himself as Johannes (Germany) but for some reason I kept referring to him as Johannesburg. I got the idea from his chattering that he was the guru of the household. He seemed to know everything about Fiji. The other two in the room were also German. Their names were Timo and Julius, my roommates for the next six weeks. All of them young and all of them experiencing their very first volunteer trip or even solo trip ever! How cute. We made brief small talk before I decided to head upstairs to meet the rest of the crew.

It’s always a bit awkward being the new guy, but turns out that most of the volunteers just arrived hours before me and there were still some coming in later. I introduced myself to about a dozen people and didn’t remember a single name upon the first greet. That usually happens. The same questions follow afterwards: Where are you from? How long are you here for? What placement are you in? Sometimes followed up with: Are you travelling anywhere after Fiji? That last question I chose not to reveal fully just yet. I don’t wanna seem like I’m boasting that I’m currently on a two-year quest to the seven continents. So I just simply would say “Probably Australia.” As a matter of fact, I didn’t have a flight booked anywhere outside of Fiji yet. I wasn’t sure how long I would stick around or where in Australia I would go to first. However, in order to enter Fiji, you need to have proof of a flight departing the country. I found that out at the last minute while I was still in New Zealand. So instead of booking a last minute flight out of Fiji on some random date to some random Australian city, I devised a fake itinerary which worked like magic. (I personally don’t advise this, as it is risky. Go with your gut.) Anyways, back to the subject of my volunteering household.

fullsizerender-3

Among the group of initial greets, a few standouts were a group of college students from Seattle, Ethan- a southerner from North Carolina, Karen – a laid back gal who hails from Seattle, Annika (Germany) and Sara and Leah, two friends from Chicago. We mingled for awhile as other volunteers made their way into the house. A volunteer who has been there for awhile already, Mychaela, lives ten minutes from my mom in Michigan. Look at that! She’s freakin’ hilarious by the way. The last volunteer to stroll in that night introduced himself as Hamish.

“Hamish?” I thought out loud.”What kind of name is that?” It just kinda came out.

“It’s very common actually,” he responded with a grin. He hails from Sydney and this is also his first major solo romp. He sat down next to me and a couple of others I was chatting with and I could already tell from the words coming out of his mouth that this guy is the most Australian Aussie I’ve ever met in my life and I’ve met tons. I thought I’ve heard all the Aussie slang but it was like he spoke an entirely different language. I wasn’t sure at the time if he was toying with me or if this was legit how he speaks. It was legit how he speaks! If anything, his Aussie slang will help prepare me for my pending trip to Australia.


Most of us new volunteers went out the next night to the only bar in town, called Sports Bar. There was nothing sporty about it. Not even a single television. It was kind of a shit hole and we were the only ones there, but still it was a great way to bond with the group I would be spending most of my time with. And no matter how many times I volunteer, no one group is like the other.

IVHQ fiji
The IVHQ Fiji volunteer group.
Soon I will begin my placement at one of the local primary schools nearby. Like every country I’ve taught in, I expected it to be challenging in a good way. A new culture, new ideals, and different languages always present a few hurdles to bound. In a way, it’s like deducing a puzzle. It always takes a few days but I eventually get the hang of it.

One thing for sure is that I always grow fond of the students I teach and I’m sure the ones here in Fiji will be just as fond-worthy.

Everybody Thinks I'm Fijian…and That's a Good Thing

adventure bornn

*My apologies for the lack of photos on this post. I made my most costly travel error ever when I accidentally dropped my iPhone into a waterfall. I’ll explain more about that on a later post.*

I was meant to arrive on Saturday, but was having such a good time at the Beachouse that I emailed The Green Lion, my project coordinators in Suva, letting them know I would arrive at the bus station at 3:00pm on Sunday instead. No problem.

Kayaking at the Fiji Beachouse
A group of awesome backpackers I hung around with at the Fiji Beachouse.
I also meant to take the express bus on Sunday morning, but instead Ross and his girlfriend Christie (UK) happily offered to drive me in their rental car. They had to go to Suva anyways. On the way there, we stopped in Pacific Harbor to grab some food and use the ATM. I noticed the time was just a little past 3pm, but no worries, Fiji Time. Just like many places I’ve been to (Africa being the one that pops in my head the most) Fiji runs on what they like to call Fiji Time. Which means, everything and everybody is going to be late. Not too late, but a little late. It’s the whole chilled out island mantra of the island and the perfect excuse as to why anyone in Fiji is late for anything. Fiji Time. I could dig it but it can also be annoying at times particularly when waiting on food that I ordered. In this case, Fiji time would work in my favor because I was already almost a half hour late. The coordinators are probably waiting at the bus station wondering where the heck I am. But I wasn’t overly concerned because of Fiji Time.

Once we arrived at the bus station, I just had Ross drop me off in the center of it. The bus station was a lot bigger than I imagined and a lot more hectic too. I said my farewells to Ross and Christie, put on my bags and simply began to walk around looking for any sign of someone looking for me.

suvabusstation_header
The Suva Bus Station. Courtesy of Fijibus.com
I’ve done this many times before and each time there is always someone around with a sign that either has my name on it, a yellow smiley face, an IVHQ logo sign, or whatever. I looked and looked. No sign. I did several laps around the entirety of the bus station and no sign of anyone looking for me. Oddly, I wasn’t worried.

I had three options:

  1. Keep walking around looking for somebody.
  2. Go into town and sort out purchasing a SIM for my phone to call Green Lion.
  3. It’s Sunday which means I’m probably not the only new volunteer arriving. I can just wait at the terminal for another foreign volunteer to arrive.

I stuck with option one.

They had to be around here somewhere. There’s no way they would leave the bus station with the possibility of a scared little volunteer all by themselves. I wasn’t scared. This was my fault actually. I told them I’d arrive at 3pm. I didn’t even know if buses actually arrived at three. Then on top of that I was late. I had to figure out a way to make myself look known. Other than my big bags I was carrying, I don’t exactly stick out. Since the day I arrived at the Beachouse, I’ve been mistaken for being a Fijian local by tourists and the locals themselves. Many backpackers assumed I worked at the Beachouse and locals were baffled when I started jabbering in my flat American English.

“Oh I thought you were Fijian!” they would say.

adventure bornn
This is a photo of me at a local village near the Beachouse at a kava ceremony. I blend in quite well right?
I blended in so well that a group of locals invited me to take part in a traditional wedding later in the week (more about that later)!

I never once got bored of the confusion. I was happy that I had potential to coast through Fiji without sticking out like a sore thumb. It will prove useful for when locals want to hassle me. It dawned on me that the coordinators are probably around but probably think I’m some local, easily mistakable among the crowds of actual locals venting in and out of the Suva bus station. Time to change my presence.

I purposely began to appear lost and confused. I walked slowly and would pause occasionally on my tiptoes looking past the crowds with a “what the heck is going on” look on my face. I did this all in the area of where I thought the best place the coordinators would be. I paced slowly, alert.

“Excuse me?” said a Fijian man wearing a tropical blue shirt and what looked like a black skirt for men. I glanced at him and raised my eyebrows letting him know he had my attention.

“Are you looking for someone?”

“Yeah, I’m looking for the Green Lion.”

“Oh, are you Daniel??”

“Yup I’m him!”

He and the woman next to him began to laugh.
“We saw you walk by many times but thought you were a Fijian!” they exclaimed.

This would be the new story of my life.

He introduced himself as Junior and the woman as Seini. Both are coordinators from the Green Lion who were scheduled to pick me up…at three!

“The bus showed up but there were no volunteers that came out, so we were confused,” Junior said with a smile.

I explained my situation but it was no matter. They were just happy to have found me and I was relieved I didn’t have to walk around aimlessly with my bags any longer. They led me to a local bus. About 40 minutes would be my new home for the next six weeks filled with a bunch of other volunteers from all around the world.

This is the part where I usually start to wonder what my housemates will be like, but weirdly I didn’t think much about it. I was concentrating on what kind of restaurants were on the way and IF there was a McDonald’s nearby (there was). I was also taken by the funky island music on blast in the bus. Every volunteer experience I’ve done, the volunteers have always been more than amazing, with a handful being good friends of mine to this very day, so I was sure this experience would be the same.

Once the bus dropped us off, we walked to the Green Lion office where I filled out a bunch of paperwork and then directed across the street to my new home.

img_3028

I walked in the house and already there were about a dozen volunteers socializing in the outdoor area. I gave a brief hello and a wave and followed Junior down the hall, downstairs to the boys corridor and to my room. In my room were four bunk beds with someone in each of them except for one, which would be mine.

“Hello,” I said with a stupid smile as I plopped down my bag. “How’s it going?”

One of the boys on the bottom bunk was sprawled out on his side with his right hand supporting his head. “You must be Daniel,” he said in a German accent. “I expected you yesterday.”

He was correct. I was supposed to arrive yesterday. But who is this guy? He introduced himself as Johannes (Germany) but for some reason I kept referring to him as Johannesburg. I got the idea from his chattering that he was the guru of the household. He seemed to know everything about Fiji. The other two in the room were also German. Their names were Timo and Julius, my roommates for the next six weeks. All of them young and all of them experiencing their very first volunteer trip or even solo trip ever! How cute. We made brief small talk before I decided to head upstairs to meet the rest of the crew.

It’s always a bit awkward being the new guy, but turns out that most of the volunteers just arrived hours before me and there were still some coming in later. I introduced myself to about a dozen people and didn’t remember a single name upon the first greet. That usually happens. The same questions follow afterwards: Where are you from? How long are you here for? What placement are you in? Sometimes followed up with: Are you travelling anywhere after Fiji? That last question I chose not to reveal fully just yet. I don’t wanna seem like I’m boasting that I’m currently on a two-year quest to the seven continents. So I just simply would say “Probably Australia.” As a matter of fact, I didn’t have a flight booked anywhere outside of Fiji yet. I wasn’t sure how long I would stick around or where in Australia I would go to first. However, in order to enter Fiji, you need to have proof of a flight departing the country. I found that out at the last minute while I was still in New Zealand. So instead of booking a last minute flight out of Fiji on some random date to some random Australian city, I devised a fake itinerary which worked like magic. (I personally don’t advise this, as it is risky. Go with your gut.) Anyways, back to the subject of my volunteering household.

fullsizerender-3

Among the group of initial greets, a few standouts were a group of college students from Seattle, Ethan- a southerner from North Carolina, Karen – a laid back gal who hails from Seattle, Annika (Germany) and Sara and Leah, two friends from Chicago. We mingled for awhile as other volunteers made their way into the house. A volunteer who has been there for awhile already, Mychaela, lives ten minutes from my mom in Michigan. Look at that! She’s freakin’ hilarious by the way. The last volunteer to stroll in that night introduced himself as Hamish.

“Hamish?” I thought out loud.”What kind of name is that?” It just kinda came out.

“It’s very common actually,” he responded with a grin. He hails from Sydney and this is also his first major solo romp. He sat down next to me and a couple of others I was chatting with and I could already tell from the words coming out of his mouth that this guy is the most Australian Aussie I’ve ever met in my life and I’ve met tons. I thought I’ve heard all the Aussie slang but it was like he spoke an entirely different language. I wasn’t sure at the time if he was toying with me or if this was legit how he speaks. It was legit how he speaks! If anything, his Aussie slang will help prepare me for my pending trip to Australia.


Most of us new volunteers went out the next night to the only bar in town, called Sports Bar. There was nothing sporty about it. Not even a single television. It was kind of a shit hole and we were the only ones there, but still it was a great way to bond with the group I would be spending most of my time with. And no matter how many times I volunteer, no one group is like the other.

IVHQ fiji
The IVHQ Fiji volunteer group.
Soon I will begin my placement at one of the local primary schools nearby. Like every country I’ve taught in, I expected it to be challenging in a good way. A new culture, new ideals, and different languages always present a few hurdles to bound. In a way, it’s like deducing a puzzle. It always takes a few days but I eventually get the hang of it.

One thing for sure is that I always grow fond of the students I teach and I’m sure the ones here in Fiji will be just as fond-worthy.

A Gang of Bull Sharks Came To Play

Bull Sharks in Beqa Island, Fiji while Scuba Diving

The only major, adrenaline-fueled activity I wanted to do during my two months in Fiji was to scuba dive with bull sharks.

The moment I arrived at the Fiji Beachouse, my very first day in Fiji, a backpacker came up to me and asked if I’d be interested in diving with sharks near Beqa Island the next morning. My answer was an immediate YES! What tipped this random guy off to ask me just as I was confirming my dorm room at the front desk?

“Alright good,” he replied. “We’ve got a group!”

His name is Dwayne (Australia), a traveler who’s been in Fiji for quite some time now, also staying here at the Beachouse. He mentioned he’s gathered a group of six backpackers who were all in and we’d need to be up and ready by 6am.

Scuba diving in the vicinity of sharks is something I’ve always been interested in. I’ve done something similar twice before but in the protection of a steel cage. Now within hours of landing in Fiji, I was magically presented with the opportunity to dive freely with them. Unlike the Great Whites and the Galapagos sharks I caged dived with prior, this time we would scuba in the complete open-ocean-wild with a number of possible sharks: bull sharks, nursing sharks, white-tipped, black-tipped, and the biggest of them all, the elusive tiger shark.

The following morning, I went to the front desk at six sharp and met the other divers Dwayne gathered who all also stayed at the Beachouse. Among the motley crew of divers were fellow Beachouse backpackers Ross (UK), Nathalie (Sweden), and another Daniel (Australia). We took a private car hire about 40 minutes east along Queen’s Road to Pacific Harbor. There, a small boat was there to charter us to Beqa Island, a small island just a few kilometers south of the main island.

Once we docked on Beqa, my team of divers were equipped and prepped about what we were about to do. It turns out that Beqa Island is one of the best places in the world to dive with sharks, specifically bull and tiger sharks, however the tiger sharks are usually a rare occurrence. This also wouldn’t be a typical scuba dive and not just because there are wild sharks lurking. We were instructed that we’d swim down about 20 meters to an arena where we will watch the dive masters tempt to attract and feed any incoming sharks with their tuna heads.

So far so good. I didn’t feel any motion sickness as of yet. The small boat out into the middle of the ocean above the arena was a little choppy, but I was alright. We anchored with a couple other boats filled with divers. This was a shared opportunity. My group of six turned into a group of about 15. Whatever, I just had sharks on my mind!

DCIM100GOPROG0018257.

Bull Sharks in Beqa Island, Fiji while Scuba Diving

Once it was time, we put on our gear, strapped on our weights, and spit and rubbed our masks. I always try to be the last one in the water among a group of experienced divers, because I tend to use up more oxygen than most, so any air I can save is essential. I plopped into the water, released the air from my BCD and began the decent down a mossy rope that guided me towards the arena. As I went down, I noticed my regulator wasn’t in the best condition. Every time I inhaled, a little water would run through the mouthpiece and into my mouth. Instead of a natural flow like when I usually dive, this one felt as if I were gasping for air every time I took a breath. Like I had asthma or something. Anyways, I reached the seafloor and joined the others kneeling down at the arena. Holy shit there were so many fish! Thousands upon thousands of tropical fish, all colors, shapes, and sizes. We were surrounded!

Bull sharks in Beqa island while scuba diving.

Bull sharks in Beqa island while scuba diving.

Two dive masters were in the arena, with garbage bins toted to their waist. Inside these bins were fish bait. On the floor were two punctuated chests also filled with fish heads. The other divers and I were knelt in a single row behind a wall of ocean coral and rocks that came up to about our waist. No sharks in sight yet, just an insane amount of fish.

Bull sharks in Beqa island while scuba diving.

Bull sharks in Beqa island while scuba diving.

While I was contemplating on whether I should let a nearby dive instructor know that my regulator was malfunctioning, other divers had separate issues with their gear as well. Ross’ mask wouldn’t fit properly behind his head and constantly filled with water no mater how much he cleared it. The other Daniel had a nose bleed for some reason. And another diver’s tubes became detached which caused her to dangerously rise to the surface. Our equipment sucked. Gasping for air underwater ties into my mild claustrophobia, but I kept it cool. I debated if I should leave and swim back up. That’s how uncomfortable I was. BUT not before I see a frickin’ shark!

Bull sharks in Beqa island while scuba diving.

4

It took about 15 minutes before it happened. One of the dive masters unleashed a buffet of tuna heads at once that caused a frenzy with the nearby fish. A barrage of fish and fish guts balled into what looked like an intense underwater dust cloud. Suddenly, a sound similar to thunder rolled in and out of nowhere appeared four massive bull sharks! They burst into the scene chomping at the giant tuna heads scattered in the arena. All the other little fish got out their way. One would think to be terrified at the sight of an oncoming shark, larger than a human, underwater but no. We were all completely mesmerized. Myself, almost hypnotized, so much that I wanted to swim out into the arena and touch them.

Bull sharks in Beqa island while scuba diving.

Minutes went by and more bull sharks joined the arena. A total of 16 different bull sharks showed up to claim any major bait lying around. Whenever a shark came into the vicinity, the dive masters swiftly swam out of the way…way away from the hungry beasts. The wall barricade felt like an invisible barrier came between us and the sharks. They never swam through the barrier, but came awfully close to side swiping us at times. Still none of us budged.

Bull Sharks in Beqa Island, Fiji while Scuba Diving

At this point, I’ve been down here long enough to cope with all the water I was breathing in and spitting out. I didn’t want to miss any of this action. I didn’t want to miss the chance to see the even bigger tiger shark.

Bull sharks in Beqa island while scuba diving.

Unfortunately after about 25 minutes, we were signaled to swim around the coral to our safety spot. No tiger sharks in sight today.

Back on the boat, we had to wait about an hour at the surface before we could go back down on the second dive to do the same thing. I coped with my crappy regulator and decided not to whine about it to the dive masters. I’ll just deal with it again.

The second dive was more of the same; an infinite amount of fish and more bull sharks. They swam in like a gang coming in to steal food from the smaller guys. But not once did they pay attention to us divers. I think the sharks here are used to humans coming down here every other day, feeding them giant tuna heads. One could say this is detrimental to their natural instincts, others may say this is great for creating awareness of the bull sharks. They aren’t that bad. Most reported shark attacks are from bull sharks but that’s only because they are one of the most expansive and abundant sharks in the world. Not only can they adapt to warm and cool temperatures, but they can also swim just fine in fresh water. I’m not sure if this is true or not but I’ve heard bull sharks swim freely in the Great Lakes of Michigan, my home state. I’m not one to find out personally.

2

19

16

After the second dive, I immediately took off my gear and went to the roof of the boat to lay down. I was feeling woozy. Nathalie joined me soon after. I slept the whole way back to Beqa Island and thank God because I wouldn’t have lasted much longer!

Once we got rid of our gear and recorded our dives, we were happily escorted off the island and were serenaded with a farewell song by the staff of the dive center’s resort. Actually, I’m not sure if the farewell was actually for us or the nearby couple who happened to be leaving the island and boarding the same boat we just so happened to be on. Regardless, it was a nice touch!

Bull Sharks in Beqa Island, Fiji while Scuba Diving

ATLAS Updated!

What’s next?

Upon returning to the Beachouse, I spent the last few days there chillin’ and hanging out with the backpackers I met there over time before I had to part ways to begin the next phase of this Fiji trip.

Many of you know that I frequently cater to a volunteer organization called IVHQ. My last IVHQ was in Guatemala, which is where I decided Fiji would be my next placement once they opened it up as a new program there. This would be my ninth time volunteering and I had about six weeks coming up with them. I’ll be teaching in a local primary school in the island capital of Suva. Time to revert from backpacker mode to volunteer mode.

Let’s see how this new group of volunteers and this new school I’ll be placed in shapes up to my previous efforts.

How I Avoided a Complete Disaster of Traveling With My Non-Traveling Friends

It was bound to happen and I knew it would.

#byefelicia
#byefelicia
I tried my best to prevent it but it was inevitable. A rift formed in my group of New Zealand companions. It was mainly me vs. the other two, with Ryan spectating from the sides.

Traveling with people who travel often is WORLDS different than traveling with people who never or rarely do so. I will always prefer to go about it alone, meeting people along the way. With my intentions to go to New Zealand, I assumed I would once again go solo. It’s been my thing for years and it’s always worked extremely well. Still, I always wished for my friends back home to experience what I experienced, because talking about it and showing them pictures doesn’t express any justice. You just had to be there. The way Chelsey, Ryan, and Mike came about to join me in New Zealand was spur of the moment random and super spontaneous. I’m actually a bit picky about who I will let accompany me because traveling across the world unleashes a never-before-seen side to my American friends that I didn’t want to risk seeing. However, having them join me would test my desire of having my friends getting a taste of the globetrotting life I led. They were joining me on my trip, which they were well aware of. “We are following you Dan,” is what they would tell me, but I knew it wouldn’t turn out that way. This was now our trip. Now that everything is said and done, I can safely say it was an overall success.

Remember how naive and stupid you were when you first began traveling, Daniel. I always kept that in the back of my head.

Here is how I avoided a complete blunder of traveling with my non-traveling friends:

1. Create A Plan So Everyone Is On The Same Page

To avoid most disputes, I was pretty darn careful about our plan for our New Zealand/Fiji trip. The first issue was the actual plan. Those who really know me, know that I don’t really plan ahead for my backpacking trips, I just go with the flow. Take a look at my recent backpacking trip I like to call The Unplanned Plan. I had no idea where the heck I was going! However, I know many people are uncomfortable with the idea of the unknown and so with my non-traveling comrades, I formulated with them a rough draft to keep everyone on the same page which worked well. The only issue I had was that for the most part, my comrades have given little input to the plan I suggested and were basically game for anything. I was happy about this but also worried at the same time that I would fall into the chaperone role. I knew that once we got to New Zealand is when they would begin suggesting things they would want to do.

2. Discuss How Money Will Be Dealt With BEFORE Departure

Money is one of the the biggest issues that cause disagreements while traveling with friends. I’ve had to separate from fellow backpackers because our budgets were just too different. Thankfully with this group, money wasn’t a huge deal. I trusted them enough to offer to put the majority of our group expenses on my foreign transaction-free credit card and then have everyone PayPal what they owed me at the end. This worked very well but it took a lot of effort on my part. I had to retain every receipt we acquired on our trip (food, lodging, splitting gas, etc) in a neat folder to sort out at the end. Then, I created an excel spreadsheet of what everyone owed me once we arrived in Fiji. PayPal made it simple and easy via the apps on our phones. The problem lies in the trust issue. Thankfully, I had the fortune of being able to fully trust my comrades as far as money was concerned and everything worked out great at the end. They all paid me back promptly too!

This is part of the spreadsheet I created to keep tabs on everyone's individual expenses. This worked out so good!
This is part of the spreadsheet I created to keep tabs on everyone’s individual expenses. This worked out so good!

3. Never Make a Decision Without the Approval of Everyone Else in the Group

I was particularly careful about this one. Of course everyone is gonna want to do something different. Like how everyone wished to visit Hobbiton and I didn’t want to at all. There will be times when majority of the group wants to do something the other wants to do and in those cases, majority rules. I was perfectly fine sitting out and catching up on writing. Same goes for food. We all had different appetites, but still I always let them decide what we ate if we couldn’t help it. We couldn’t really separate because we were in the middle of nowhere with one car. No big deal though. Thankfully everything I suggested we do, the others were down with. Same goes for Chelsey suggesting Paihia and Mike suggesting Tongariro. We didn’t really have an issue in this matter. So far so good!

4. Make Time to Separate and Do Your Own Thing

By the time we reached Wellington, my group began to feel suffocated from being around each other 24/7. We’ve been bound at the hip since Auckland and now that we had a few days in Wellington with no plan, we found time to explore at our own accord. Mike was able to get a couple CrossFit sessions in, Chelsey explored the local zoo and museums at her leisure, while Ryan and I practically won a beer pong tournament (it came down to rock-paper-scissors in which we lost) at a local bar. Wellington was very much needed. Wellington was also where I addressed an underlying issue within the group.

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5. Be Open About an Issue Before it Grows into Something Bigger

I always had the mindset to have a group discussion if I noticed things getting sour between the four of us. Well things were getting sour, and so once I had the others attention, I revealed the elephant in the room. I can tell what the issue was without even asking, Mike and Chelsey believe I am too controlling. Why would they think that? Well for one, I wouldn never let them drive and secondly, I would rush them a bit when they were lallygagging. Why wouldn’t I let them drive? There’s good reason. When I rented this car, I picked it up with full coverage added on just in case anything happened to the vehicle, we’re completely covered. However, that full coverage would have been void if anyone else drove besides the driver who signed and picked up the car (me). Mike and Chelsey never drove on the left side of the road before and really wanted to try it which was understandable, after all they did each pay for a quarter of the costs. But I couldn’t risk paying hard earned money for something completely avoidable just because they wanted to try it out. At the end of the day, I let both of them drive when we were on long stretches of road with barely any traffic. Honestly, it was like appeasing the little kid who wanted to ride the big kid ride.

As for being rushy, at times I had to be. We only had two full weeks to explore New Zealand which is nowhere near enough time. I originally wanted to do a month or two but had to cut it down to two weeks once they tagged along. With that in mind, I know there will be plenty of opportunity for me to return on my own and do my own thing, but for them not so much. It was my effort to have them see as much as they could in the most efficient way as possible to get the most out of their trip. During instances when they were loafing or suggesting something that I knew was unfavorable for timing standards, I had to shut them down no question. When I explained it to them, they understood. At the end of the day, we were never late for anything.

I made it clear to them what my intentions were. My intended trip of backpacking New Zealand solo turned into a trip for me to make sure they had an action packed two weeks for as cost effective as possible. I think I succeeded on that note too with everyone remaining under their budgets. I’ve done trips like these a zillion times, so I just needed them to trust me more. Once we were done with our pow wow and everyone said their peace, we all were on great terms for the remainder of the trip.

Crisis averted!

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Onward to Fiji!

In addition to the two week trip in New Zealand, the four of us also planned about four days in Fiji before they go back home to Michigan and I continue on my own. I reserved us dorm beds at the Fiji Beachouse, one of the most highly rated budget accommodations on the main island. Instead of the backpacker infested hostels in Nadi, I thought the Fiji Beachouse, located about three hours away from the hustle and bustle, would fit the vibe more…and it certainly did. This place was amazing!

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As soon as I walked through the premises, I truly felt like my solo trip has begun. I didn’t have to drive anywhere, I didn’t have to split costs with anyone, I didn’t have to do a damn thing but relax my butt off before I move deeper into the country…solo! (Never quite solo, I’m always with people I meet along the way.) The Fiji Beachouse did have its share of backpackers though. A few of them we befriended and ending up on a few small excursions close by the Beachouse.

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I met some locals when my New Zealand crew were on one of those excursions, who invited me over for Kava. The experience was so unique and authentic, that I brought over my crew and a few backpackers the next day to experience it as well.

Would I Travel With Non-Travelers Again?

The day has come for Chelsey, Mike, and Ryan to finally head back to the USA. We’ve been together for nearly three weeks all over the North Island of New Zealand and the Fiji Beachouse with memories that will stick with us forever. Thankfully, I had a solid group with me because I’ve met other travelers on the road who haven’t been so lucky.

When they packed and waited near the bus stand to go to the airport, I actually missed their departure because I was in the middle of eating lunch and the bus came a lot earlier than I expected. When I ran to the bus station to say my goodbyes to them, they were already gone.

Alright, here's a better photo.
Alright, here’s a better photo.
So would I travel with friends from home again? Specifically the Non-Traveling ones? Ummmm, perhaps but maybe one at a time, not three at once. Surprisingly, if I could travel with Chelsey, Mike, and Ryan again, I would do it individually, not as a group. I’ve learned their separate styles and am able to adapt better when one on one. Mike is an adventurer and is super keen on taken the unbeaten path. Chelsey is a wanderlust, which means she is very fond of meeting other travelers and taking their advice to find the next best thing. Ryan is a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. If he’s part of a group, he’s just happy to be along for the ride.  Regardless, I learned a whole lot from the experience. If anything, I found that I would make a fantastic tour guide (something I never want to do as a profession).

With the three away, it was time to begin the rest of my journey on my own accord. And let me tell you, within a couple of days of being in Fiji, I already found myself at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean surrounded by sixteen massive bull sharks. Literally.

Let me explain…

Crossing Tongariro: Tempting Mount Doom

Mount Doom likes to play games. The abominable, deadly weather kind of games.


After a long drive and a few days spent in the engaging town of Wellington, we decided we would drive back up to Tongariro to attempt the hike up Mount Ngauruhoe, more famously known as Mount Doom. It’s the volcano featured in The Lord of The Rings trilogy that the little keebler elves needed to find to destroy their little magical ring or whatever the heck they were doing. The others filled me in on that by the way. We were warned though, that since it was winter we would need a guide and that ice tools and crampons were necessary for the trek. The weather may seem fine now, but it’s terribly different on the mountain. Still, Mike and I were daring enough to test our fate.

Wellington, New Zealand.
Wellington, New Zealand.

We found a place near Doom called the Tongariro Alpine Lodge, a campsite with outdoor facilities. Perfect for the summer warmth but kinda crap for the winter. Honestly, we just needed a place to stay that was relatively close and on the cheaper end of the spectrum. The winter we were experiencing in New Zealand hasn’t played a huge factor for us yet. It hasn’t felt like any winter we were used to… until we arrived in Tongariro. The nipping, unwanted rain was an omen that welcomed us to our accommodation as we prepared to tempt Doom.

“I’m sorry,” said the woman at the front desk. “There aren’t any treks tomorrow because of the weather. But if you want to schedule for Sunday, the weather is supposed to be very good then.”

We can’t wait for Sunday. It’s Ryans 21st birthday then and we need to get back to Auckland to get him the most wasted he’s ever been in his young life.

There are other trails around Doom that we were able to hike, with Tongariro Crossing being the most popular. Mike and I looked over the map with nearby trails and searched for the one with the most bang that would lead us to at least a viewpoint of Mount Doom in all of her volcanic glory.

Chelsey and Ryan stayed behind while Mike and I geared up for the morning. And when I say geared up, I meant he geared up and I layered up because I didn’t have a proper jacket, pants, nor gloves for a hike of this sort. Everything I had, I retained from Alaska which wasn’t much at all. I also learned from Alaska, that even though I layered up, I was still pretty cold at the end of the day. So this time, I layered up even more.

Courtesy of Mike.
Chelsey dropped us off at the lodging center a few miles down from our accommodation. The center had all the information we needed about the hike towards Doom. The elderly man at the front desk recommended we try one of the smaller hikes because according to him, by the looks of us, we weren’t properly dressed. Don’t underestimate my attire sir. I’ve explored the largest ice caves in the world in gym shorts before.

He recommended Taranaki Falls, a 40 minute jaunt from where we were now. If we were up to it, we could continue on to other more expansive trails that would lead us closer to Doom.

“The weather won’t be good today,” he continued. “It’s not snowing now, but in about an hour it will and you may think the snow is pretty but once that happens, I strongly advise that you turn around and head back.”

Mike and I glanced at each other with a look of, “let’s just do it anyways”.

“The weather will be better tomorrow if you wanted to try that,” the elderly man finished.

This guy was not optimistic in the slightest about our desire to get close to Doom, but still I kept his advice in mind. If it snows, we’ll turn around, but from the looks everything, it didn’t look like it was gonna snow. And so, Mike and I began our hike towards Taranaki Falls and from there we would play it by ear. Out of all the things we wanted to do in New Zealand, this is the thing Mike wanted to do the most. You could tell by how eager he was to capture some incredible footage, which I appreciated. To come across another traveler who’s eager to go above and beyond for some creative photography gets props in my book. They’re hard to find.

The trail was plainly laid out as if it were holding our hands the whole way. It wasn’t so much a “hike” per say as it was a perfectly placed pathway we simply had to trace. But still, everything that surrounded us was totally captivating. The nutrient rich air, the bush, and the snowcapped range in the backdrop gifted us with the reality that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. The pebbled, yet sometimes muddy trail began in acres upon acres of shrubbery painted with rust colored roots and purplish tops that led to a moss deep forest veined with a single river that eventually led to the waterfall we were seeking.

The forest portion of the trek crept through hilly areas as the tree leaves began to chatter from the sudden drizzle. The canopy was dense enough to cover us from it though. We’re just happy it wasn’t snow.

Courtesy of Mike.
I scouted for areas that would make a suitable place to hang my hammock on the way back. Little did I know at the time that this wouldn’t be the same route to get back where we started. The weather was ideal enough to rock a hammock somewhere and eat these sandwiches we made for our lunch. I’d save the hammock and sandwiches for later. I wanted to get to the waterfall and then closer to Doom.

About 40 minutes later, we arrived to the Taranaki Falls and it was beautiful.

We climbed up and around to the very top of the waterfall to get a view from above. We should have been able to see Mount Doom from where we were but the sky was blanketed in a never-ending white. We could see hints of it through the breaks but it was still quite far off. We had ways to go…

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…until it began to snow–just like the elderly man said. And also just like he said, we thought it was a pretty sight.

Mike and I stood around and debated. Should we heed his warning and turn back or should we press forward? Other hikers on our trail stuck around and began to head back. We decided we were both capable of our instincts, if the snow got worse we would turn back. So we continued on towards the Tama Lakes.

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On the way we began to see snow build up as we went on.

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It was cold, but it wasn’t cold cold. As we went further along the path, we saw fewer hikers along the way, with most of them heading towards us, back to the start of the trail. We eventually found two individual boulders–the perfect place to have our lunch. We prepackaged a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

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Courtesy of Mike.
We saw another duo nearby, including a guy wearing just a plain old jacket and shorts also eating their lunch. If this guy is pressing on wearing shorts, then surely we have to keep going. We’d look like pansies if we turned around. I didn’t let my mind falter around the fact and so we kept on going, and as we did, the path became less laid out and the wind chill cautiously picked up. The snow from earlier subsided but began to flurry just a tad. The buffs we had helped a great deal in covering our mouths and noses from the wind’s chill. I put my bare hands under my jacket into my sweater’s front pockets to keep warm. Doom’s mountain freeze carefully began to penetrate my layers.

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We still had ways to go. The wind began to whip so wildly that I could only look down at the path to protect my eyes. The exhaling warmth from the breaths my face felt from my buff barrier began to lessen a bit. My pants began to soak from the rain/snow combo that was happening. I was still okay to go forward, Mike even better because he came aptly prepared. For this Quest to the Seven Continents, I didn’t want to overpack. Snow gear would have weighed me down in the long run. If I needed gear, I would rent or borrow from somewhere. However, there was no way I could have expected this.

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Doom was testing us. It began to hailstorm, pelting ice bullets right into our faces. It was plague after plague up here. First a few minutes of drizzle, then some pretty snow, then some cold snow, then some cold snow and rain with some winds, and now all of the above plus ferocious hail. A full on blizzard was happening. Oddly, it was something special to experience. Mike felt the same way. My hands didn’t agree with me though. There was no warm place on my body to keep them safe from the blizzard. I looked at them and saw they were a bright red and barely mobile. The buff on my face began to form ice crystals along the creases as we traversed a stream creeping closer to Doom. At this point, Doom was cloaked in the blizzard. We couldn’t see a dang thing from where we were. I looked behind me to see if the duo was still trailing us. To my surprise they were.

We arrived to an area where we had to cross a small river, via stepping stones, to get to the next overpass. The first of two lakes was just beyond, I could feel it. As Mike hopped the stones to get to the other side, I just stood there. I was arguing with my gut about what to do next. My heart wanted to continue but my gut was telling me, “You’re gonna freeze your ass off if you keep going any further. You can last just a bit longer but remember you have to trek the whole way back, some three hours or so. This weather is unpredictable and it has only gotten worse.”

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Mike stood there on that slope patiently waiting. The duo caught up with me thinking that I was figuring out the best way to cross the river when in reality I was battling with myself on whether to continue on or not. The duo eventually crossed the river and passed Mike up the hill, all while wearing shorts. Way to make me look like a wuss. I got Mike’s attention and gave him the gesture that it wasn’t wise to go further. At the time we could have, but it was a long way back and if this blizzard kept up, it would spell doom for us on Mount Doom. We were nowhere close to the actual Mount Doom by the way. It was still way off in the distance, shrouded in this rampaging wintery hell.

Gladly Mike was okay with stopping and heading back. He was still as able as ever, but my hands were my first indicator that things would have gotten bad. They were practically immobile. Hopefully that other duo fares better, but we’ll never know. We never saw them again after that.

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Courtesy of Mike.

On the way back, the storm continued but this time the winds raged against us, forcing Mike and I to completely cover our faces with our buffs in our to progress. Conveniently, we could see through the buffs as we slumped through the hail fury. Slowly the storm began to lessen and the sun began to peek through the white. A moment of peace.

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We endured another hailstorm and some more rain until we finally made it back to the waterfalls. But instead of going the same way we came, we took an alternate route that led us above the falls into another area of the trail. The high route.

After about another hour we made it back to the starting point, stiff, soaking wet, hungry and ready to go back to the lodge to pass out. What. An. Adventure!

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You just had to be there to understand.

P.S When they tell you to turn around when it snows then TURN AROUND.