Category Archives: South Pacific

It comes full circle…Home at last!

Okay so maybe a week overdue, but this is the final post related to my trip to the South Pacific. I hope you all enjoyed the previous posts and pictures. This last journal entry was a collaborative effort between “stressed-at-the-airport Amanda” and “can’t-sleep-on-the-plane Amanda.” With that disclaimer in mind, enjoy!

***

4am wake up. Battling sun poisoning, my teachers kept a close eye on me. On the plane, Mikayla and I sat next to Alex, the 25-year-old Australian with commitment issues. He was journeying to Vegas for a work conference for the week, completely comped by his company. As you may have been able to tell, we learned everything about him on the 6 hour flight, and maybe a little too much. This includes the cultural differences between Australians and Americans. The poor guy probably wanted to sleep, but that wasn’t an option to us. We taught him that Bostonians have 25 letters in their alphabet, excluding the “R.” He taught us that “Throw some shrimp on the Bar-B” was incorrect just because shrimp are called prawns in Australia. Furthermore, the Outback Steakhouse and Kangaroo Jack are not acceptable impressions of The Land Down Under. However, the song is.  Then, we unloaded the plane at LAX and said goodbye to Alex, to the confusion of our friends.

A few hours later…

I’m tired. I’m hungry. I’m hurt. I’m sick. Seven hours walking around LAX doesn’t work wonders on the boredom factor. I just want to be home. I’m anxious about my burns. There is no comfortable position to sleep anymore. My legs, arms, stomach, everything hurts. At this point I’m crying, trying not to wake anyone else who’s lucky enough to sleep on this red-eye.

But I kept crying, not for the burns. For the internal hurt. How I can’t fix the world’s problems – how I haven’t even started to do my part. I want to go back to Fiji and help the non-commercialized corner of the island–the side that hasn’t sold out to tourism. I want to be a part of that. I want to do mission work in Haiti and India. I have big plans for myself. And with that comes the admission that I really have no clear-cut path of how to get there. But I know that I’m striving to do something that other people shy away from. When others see footage of war-torn countries, they step away. I’m the wide-eyed girl who not only absorbs the problem, but searches for the solution.

They say: “Without a destination, there is really no wrong path.” I don’t know who said it, or if that’s even verbatim, but the message still applies. But what happens when you have a destination, a goal, a dream, a vision, with no insight as to how to get there?

The way I see it, from right here in my window seat 35,000 feet above my comfort zone, adventure is one of two things, depending on who you ask. It’s an event or an opportunity that comes to someone, OR an event/opportunity that is sought out by one person. And right now, I’m achieving adventure one way or another.

Shortly before landing…

If you’ve never seen a city at dawn from an airplane, sun rising over the horizon, city lights glowing orange against pools of black, then welcome to your life. You have the opportunity to see this wonder from 35,000 feet in the air. It’s the standard of awesome against which all others are measured. Live your lives, fully, please. As I tell my mom: “All have the potential, not all have the opportunity.” Take hold of those chances to travel, and fall in love with as many things as you can. To you idol worshipers, put down your golden calves. And pick up a book, a language, a culture, and embrace it whole-heartedly. Because with a little perspective, you may just witness one of these…

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Hawaii Day 2

After brunch in the hotel dining room, I walked out onto the terrace to admire the view of my greatest challenger: Diamond Head Crater. My friend Grace and I had asked Laurie to take us hiking in the crater the day before, and today was the day. When Grace and I got to the lobby of the hotel, our supposed meeting place, Laurie said she’d forgotten she was going to take us hiking. As a result, she’s have to drive us herself in her car. No problem, right?

On the way there, we stopped at a convenience store to buy bottled water. Laurie noticed me bending over curiously at a sushi-like dish on the counter. It looked like seaweed wrapped around rice blocks and ham slices. I asked her what they were, and she said, “Oh! Spam musubi! It’s a delicacy here in Hawaii. Sometimes we put eggs in it and sometimes teriyaki sausage!”

Okay, for starters, I know Spam. I know Spam isn’t a delicacy. I can buy it for $2 at the grocery store, and $1 if I throw a can on the ground to dent it. So I feigned not knowing what Spam was to cover my disgusted face. This apparently invoked some necessity for Laurie to buy one for me to try. Not so bad, til I reached the seaweed. At which point I turned to musubi over to Grace.

We reached the crater, and began our ascent,

discussing Hawaiian culture, and differences between Massachusetts and Hawaii. Our initially easy climb became a nightmare of inclined stairs. Which led to a small cave, and continued to the top of the crater’s overlook. The island was, in one word, stunning.

After a myriad of photos, we walked back the way we came, taught Laurie about the Salem Witch Trials, ad that led to our discussion on paranormal activity. Now, when it comes to ghosts, I’m a nonbeliever. Laurie is too, but she explained how her husband and son can sense and see the presence of ghosts. Maybe that was when she was deemed “Crazy Laurie.”

Or maybe it was when we pulled into the driveway of our hotel, and Laurie went into hysterics, saying we couldn’t tell our chaperones that she’d driven us, or she’d lose her job. Thereby, confirming she is, indeed, insane. We said our goodbyes quickly and got out of the car without hesitation.

Grace and I suited up for the beach, got ice cream at Cold Stone, and sunbathed a bit. That was before we hit the water (blue, warm, plenty of waves) followed by some shops on the boardwalk.

Relaxing by the pool. It’s all fun and games til someone comes away looking like a lobster. Unfortunately, that person was me–my face, arms, legs, stomach, and chest were a brilliant red. Multiple aloe tubes later, we dressed for the group dinner–my skin stuck out against the blue dress I borrowed from a friend. So we went to the lobby, waddling in pain, and the group walked to Tiki Bar & Grill. It was fun, a great last night in Hawaii, with a spectacular sunset.

Back at the hotel, we made homemade ice packs with ice from the ice machine and plastic bags we scavenged from our shopping materials. Every part of my skin was on fire as I packed for home.

Australia Day 5/Hawaii Day 1

Today we packed our bags and headed to Paddy’s once our bags were in storage. Using only our memories for navigation, we got to the flea market for the final time, and we haggled for bags and other souvenirs. Then we walked to 7/11 and bought more Tim Tams to take home. After lunch, I hiked to a grocery store, Coles, with a friend to help her pick out her Tim Tams. the security guard told me I wasn’t allowed to take pictures within the store…so naturally I did because I was told not to.

Then we hiked back to the hotel, and said our goodbyes to Matt, while we waited for the bus to the airport. Four hours later, we were on a nine hour flight. A flight I got no sleep on, had no music for, and didn’t feel like reading on. Otherwise known as a red eye. We crossed the International Date Line, so we left on July 9th Australian Time, and arrived at 7:30am on July 9th, Hawaiian Time. So to answer any remaining questions, yes, we did in fact travel.

We met our new tour guide Laurie, and bus driver Richard. Tired, hungry, dirty, and disheveled, we were told we wouldn’t have time to change or clean up before visiting the USS Arizona Memorial. It was beautiful and very cool to learn about Pearl Harbor, or at least what I hadn’t already learned from the movie. 😀

After a short film about December 7th, 1941, we took a boat out to the memorial which is built over the Arizona, never recovered. There are seven windows on two of the sides and the roof, symbolizing the 21 gun salute.

While there, a Pearl Harbor survivor hobbled in on his cane, and everyone applauded him. Apparently he comes back to visit the memorial every year the week of July 4th.

Then we took the boat back to the mainland and loaded the bus to Punchbowl Cemetery, with a pit stop at a hot dog stand to appease our stomachs. Punchbowl was a drive through, and then we drove to Diamond Head Crater (another drive through.) Finally, after seven hours, we could rest at the hotel. We got our rooming assignments, and headed straight for the beach. Intermittent sun showers didn’t spoil the beauty of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach. Our skin hadn’t seen sun in a week after the New Zealand and Australian winters.

We went back to Queen Kapiolani Hotel, dressed up for the first time in weeks, and walked to get smoothies with the girls. We enjoyed the beautiful boardwalk, street performers, and warm weather most of all.

Australia Day 4

Last night Ms.Beekley (my English teacher, and one of the trip coordinators) called my room around 10pm to gossip. We talked for a good hour, about my life and some things going on for me, and my thoughts on the trip so far. Definitely a perk to a sleepless night.

This morning Matt took us to Starbucks to have the real Tim Tam Experience. Caramel Macchiatos in hand, we bit the ends off the cookies, absorbed the coffee, and let the amazing treats melt in our mouths.

Then Ms.Beekley and I walked back to the hotel while everyone else headed to the aquarium or to climb the bridge. Not this girl.

I had planned to go to the State Library to see the free photo exhibit, courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald and World Wide Press ’11. The Sydney photos were beautiful and helpful to understand the Australian culture. The World photos were graphic and eye-opening. Too graphic for Beeks, so I continued through the exhibit with Sabrina (another student who joined us.)

Then, we went to the Australian Museum to see the Aboriginal Exhibit. I didn’t know the aborigines didn’t gain full rights until 1969. It reminded me a lot of the movie we watched in seventh grade called “Rabbit Run Fence.” It was related to the Australian unit we were covering at the time.

The three of us walked back to the hotel to pick up Erica (who has been battling a fever this week) and took the subway to the Rocks, and went to the same cafe we’d gone to a few days earlier. The four of us talked about our trip thus far, compared other tour groups, and talked about Masco as a whole. We then went to get ice cream, til I pointed out a cockroach on the parlor floor, which made us lose our ice cream appetite.

We then booked it to the Sydney Opera House on the other side of the Harbor for our tour. The House was beautiful, shaped like sails of a ship and seashells, all designed in one. My favorite part was sitting in one of the concert halls, deathly silent, as we listened to the harpsichord being tuned on stage.

After the tour, we subway-ed our way back to the hotel, just before dinner. We walked to dinner as a group, led by the fearless Matt, to the Blackbird Cafe. Don’t let the name throw you off. Blackbird Cafe, was a club. Dim lights, house music, music videos, and neon lights, this was definitely a club.

We walked back to the hotel, flying high with excitement for celebrating our last night in Sydney.

Australia Day 3

Today we drove to Featherdale Wildlife Park. This was much different from the place we visited yesterday. Here, we got to pet koalas and feed kangaroos.

When we were animal-ed out, we drove to the University of Sydney. The campus  is beautiful and I want to study abroad here. We went for Thai food near campus, per Matt’s suggestion, to live a day in the life of a college student. Then we wrapped our tour up, like all tours prior to this one, by visiting the gift shop.

We took the subway to Paddy’s, the local flea market. The market was so huge, it would take days to cover it, and that’s only if you manage to not get lost. Otherwise, you’re looking at spending weeks there. Using my super navigation skills and a small map we’d been given, I guided Talia and I through the city back to the hotel. I still have no idea how I was able to manage that.

We made a meal of Tim Tams in front of the TV– a Simpsons night. Then we checked in with chaperones, and everyone went out to get smoothies and Chinese food. Feeling a bit “under the weather,” I stayed in for the night.

Australia Day 2

“Every day becomes a fight to beat the Asian tourists to the sights.” Matt’s words, not mine. But with that in mind, we loaded a bus bright and early to a viewing point of Sydney Harbor. We saw the Opera House and Bridge. After, we drove to Bondi Beach where we took group photos in our school shirts. Talia used her new school shirt. to understand what a relief this is, you have to know what happened earlier this morning.

***

After breakfast, prior to taking the bus, we went to our rooms to grab our Masco shirts we’d gotten for free for going on the trip. We were going to take a group photo at the beach. Talia’s was kept with her wet swimming gear in her luggage, and it was still damp. Being the geniuses we are, we hung  her shirt on the lamp, and turned the light on. Kids: If your parents ever warn you not to put things on or near a lamp, listen to them!

We were lucky that Jennie saw the flames and smelled the smoke in time. She grabbed the shirt and stomped out the flames. To Talia’s horror, a giant hole was burned front to back in her shirt. Panicking about repercussions with the hotel and our teachers, we fanned the room, and posted the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. We told our teachers, fessed up to our stupidity, and thankfully they had another shirt for the group photo.

***

Anyway, we lost Matt at Bondi, and waited for him to come back to the bus to take us to the Opera House. When he did, we drove down Oxford Street, the most well known gay street in all of Sydney. We finally got to the Opera House and were able to see P.Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney. We walked to the wharf, home to didgeridoo street musicians.

We walked to the Rocks, a district of Sydney packed with the little eateries that were good enough to write home about. Splitting into little groups, my group went to a little cafe with a patio out back and a deli up front. We ordered delicious sandwiches, then got gelato next door. Yes, that’s right. The gelato fad is back!

From there, we took a cruise out of the marina (more like an extended ferry ride) where I developed a severe need for Dramamine.

We went to the Sydney Wildlife World, which was mediocre at best, followed an even worst dinner in their cafeteria. But all that couldn’t bring down our high energy for what was to come later.

After dinner, we walked back to the hotel, painted our faces blue, and spray painted our hair blue too. Then, Matt paraded us, The Smurfs, to a local bar/lounge where we camped out to watch the rugby game. The tension everyone in the club felt watching the big screens was tangible. Unfortunately, the blues lost that night.

Australia Day 1

Today we woke up at 4am and flew to Sydney, Australia. On the bus to our hotel (or Travelodge) we learned fun factoids about Australia, courtesy of Matt. We dropped our bags at the hotel and practically sprinted through Hyde Park to get lunch. We intermittently stopped to listen to Matt’s commentary. Our lunch break was at the best food court I’ve ever been to. I know, it’s a funny thing to  take notice of, but it was filled with a variety of different restaurants that all smelled delicious. Then we walked to the Opal Museum, where we watched a movie presentation on opal mining.

I love opals, they’re my birthstone after all. But when we were allowed to check out the jewelry store attached to the museum, everything was a bit out of my price range. But I talked with the woman behind the counter for a while and really enjoyed telling her about our trip, and what I’d noticed the major differences to  be between her city, and mine.

From there we walked to Sky Tower and did the overlook. The city was beautiful, but the rush Matt had put on the afternoon made it hard to appreciate everything the city of Sydney had to offer. But hey, it’s only day one.

Back to the hotel to relax before dinner. Something I’ve noticed between New Zealand and Australia: you really have only two choices when it comes to tv channels. One resembling TV Land, and all things 70s. The other, 24 hour Simpsons. So we filled that afternoon with Mork&Mindy, Happy Days, and the Brady Bunch.

After a chance to relax, seven of us (perhaps the randomest group of seven teens you’ll ever find) went to find a light dinner. We asked three people for recommendations, asking around the city, dodging the over 18 pubs, and getting progressively more and more frustrated. Finally, we found a place where we could order water and salads, and waited an hour for the food to arrive. The wait was long but the company was good which made it worthwhile.

Stomachs full, we walked back to the hotel, stopping in the nearest 7/11 for Tim Tams. Note:  Tim Tams are the most delicious cookies you will ever try! I now have an unhealthy obsession. Then my roommates and I returned to our room to watch Wilfred.

Rotorua Day 3/Auckland Day 1

There’s a difference between chloroform and chlorophyll. If you took ninth grade biology, you’d know that chlorophyll is the green pigment found in plants. Chloroform, however, is the “knock out drug” associated with heinous crimes.

This morning we listened to our tour guide, a Maori native, as she weaved a traditional grass skirt, boiling the grass to remove what she referred to as chloroform. Hm.

The village we toured was called Whaka Village, although the natives pronounce “Wh” with an “F.” You sound it out. This village is a natural hot spot, full of geothermal activity, with geysers and hot springs everywhere. As the 40 degree wind bit into my jacket, we sought refuge near the hot opaque steam and Hangi boxes (where the food is cooked underground.) We saw the bathing pools, yes, communal, but warm.

Off to Auckland. We finished watching “Whale Rider” which made more sense once we’d seen true Maori culture and traditions in Rotorua.

We’re racing past lush pastures filled with sheep and cows and valleys and hills. Sound picturesque? Well maybe, but it seems more characteristic of Ireland. They’re playing Kiwi Radio (Kiwi is a term for a New Zealander.) 80s and 90s pop, and it brings us back to Michelle Branch, Sugar Ray, and all things Kidz Bop. How can anyone sleep through Dave the Maniac Bus Driver’s speedy driving?

We stopped in Matamata, more commonly known as “Hobbiton.”

We took pictures with a statue of Gollum in the Hobbit Hole, then raced to the bus. No one wants to be the unlucky soul who has to sing, per Matt’s directions. A short game of Matt’s trivia, and once again I’m left to my own thoughts.

***

When you’re alone, it’s funny how the mind can be the scariest demon of all. Left to your own devices, it can be a dark abyss of loneliness. And while I’m homesick for my family in the worst way, I’m quite enjoying the freedom my mind has when not restricted by my day-to-day. Flashback: Venice. And I think: How much alone time have I missed out on in an effort to surround myself with people who seem to eliminate my sorrows?

I’ll give you a “for instance.” I’ve never eaten a meal alone. Never gone out to eat, that is. I don’t count eating PB&J in the comfort of my own home. I know exactly why I haven’t too: A long time ago my friend advised me that people are more likely  to over gorge on their own. Well if getting fat is my main concern, then I’m going to have some bigger issues later on in life.

As the song goes, “Like a Drifter I Was Born to Walk Alone.” I’m happiest when I’m able to think, think clearly, then share my thoughts in the blogosphere. Less Facebook, reduce the texting, more “me” time. How can I be the best sister/friend/daughter/niece/granddaughter I can be  if I’m not the best person I can be?

***

We finished our drive to Auckland and visited a volcano which hasn’t been active in 700 years. We got to the hotel at 3, and had free roam of the city until 9. We walked around, shopped, got out Starbucks fix, and went to the hotel to rest around 6:30. All the stores closed down at 6:00, so we saw no point in staying out to roam the concrete jungle.

Rotorua Day 2

Today we woke up at what we thought was 7:10, 40 minutes past our alarm. We hurried to get ready, quickly answered our late wake-up call, and ran down for breakfast. To our surprise, we were the only ones there. Little did we know, our clock was 20 minutes ahead, and I had forgotten to change the time on the alarm…Shh!!

We headed out into the cold sulfur weather, bright and early, toward the awaiting duck boats. Yes, that’s right. We traveled halfway around the world to take a duck ride tour. We learned about “Rachel’s Springs”, named after the woman who discovered silica is good for the skin. These springs are 100 degrees Celsius, 212 degrees Fahrenheit. According to our tour guide, Daffy (yeah, you heard me), the springs are great for swimming, assuming your plan is to swim once, and only once, ever again, very quickly…

The ducks were built during World War Two and were the first amphibious vehicles…you learn something new every day right? We went in two lakes, one called Blue Lake because the pumice at the base of the lake reflected blue in the sunlight. The other lake was called Green Lake.

The ducks dropped us off at the Jade Factory where we watched jade being carved and I bought earrings for Mom. We loaded the bus after and drove to the gondola ride that took us to the top of a mountain–keep in mind, it’s the middle of winter in New Zealand. There, we went on luge runs: SO FUN. Something struck me about racing down the mountain–while I probably could get this anywhere at home, you can say you’ve done it in New Zealand only once.

Next stop: the Agrodome. We watched a sheep-shearing show. The narrator was funny as he sheared the sheep quickly and without hassle. He showed us 19 different kinds of sheep, milked a cow, herded geese with the help of his dog, and fed baby goats.

We got to take pictures with all the animals, then once again got on the bus for Agroadventure- a park with five extreme rides. I didn’t partake since it was freezing outside, and I really enjoyed the warmth of my North Face. Then to the hotel for relaxation.

Actually, my roommates and I hung around down town Rotorua for an hour or so while the other girls headed to the mud baths and mineral springs for their afternoon. We had a good time sprinting across a five lane highway…three times. We got dinner at Pizza Hut (I know, I know) and returned to the hotel room finally for some rest.

Rotorua Day 1

Our 5:30 am wake up call got us up and out the door to make a 10am flight at Nadi Airport. our flight was delayed an hour so we has time to walk around and shop to use the rest of our Fijian Dollars. In my opinion, a useful investment was the ukulele I bought…but we’ll see how quickly I can pick up a new instrument when I’m home. It was a bit of an impulse buy, but only time will tell how useful it is. Afterwards, we sat in the waiting rooms and I calculated how much money I had spent. If all my conversions were right…yikes.

After our lengthy flight to Auckland, New Zealand, we raced to a bus to endure a three hour ride to Rotorua. No stops. No chances to eat. No bathroom breaks. It was then we were introduced to Maori culture, via the movie “Whale Rider.” “Whale Rider” tells the story of a Maori girl growing up in her tribe, facing the trial and tribulations of being a girl destined to be chief (which is typically a man’s position.) And like all other culturally enriching movies, it was awful.

Kia Ora! Arrival: Rotorua smells like rotten eggs and methane. Really it’s sulfur from the geothermal hot spots. But even now it’s impossible to get over the stench. (Later on we sprayed perfume all over the room to get rid of the smell.)

We dropped our bags in our rooms when we arrived at 6:10pm. At 6:30 pm,we had to go to a Maori Hangi Feast. Hangi means a meal cooked underground- very cool! Despite the quick turn around we made in Auckland, we made it. The food was good, some common like lamb, others rare. We tried sweet potatoes that came highly recommended called Kumara. Then we tucked into desserts. All gross.

Then the entertainment began. Four women, five men dancing in their tribal costumes, and singing in their native tongues. It was all well and good, til the songs became easily recognizable and the lyrics mysteriously changed to  a different language. it went from a cultural experience to a Disney show in no time. Cheesy as anything. Afterwards, Matt reviewed our itinerary for the next day and we went to bed, exhausted from a long day of travel.