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By HANNAH WARDALL
Hannah Wardall of Southampton, England, is a volunteer journalist here at the Fiji Sun. Ms Hannah and many young people like her are part of a group of volunteers sent in by Frontier – a non-profit conservation and development non-governmental organisation (NGO) – based in the United Kingdom.
Bula! After a long and stressful journey being stuck near Los Angeles Airport for three days, involving a night in the airport and queuing outside check-in desks for hours on end, I believed I had already experienced a taste of Fiji as the cyclone held my fellow Frontier volunteers and I back.
I think I should have expected the unexpected!
By the time I got off the plane, full of anticipation, yet weary from the journey, the first thing to hit me was the humidity, It was a surreal experience to be soaked by rainfall, yet be so hot at 5am.
However, feeling different being literally from the other side of the world filled me with excitement of the possibilities that lay ahead (as cliché as it sounds).
Having never travelled alone before, I could hardly believe I had actually arrived.
My first day was spent with other Frontier volunteers who were going out to dive on the island of Gau, who I’d made good friends with through our experience of being stranded in America, at Nadi Bay Resort. It was great to finally relax with cocktails under the sun!
Later, some other volunteers arrived with stories about their travels so far, and I think it was that day I was infected with the travel bug, as I felt I too had been to the places they had been as they told me.
I actually managed to sleep later that night on the crazy bus ride to Suva, (as someone said it would be four hours, the driver was quick to say, three hours!) to wake up disorientated at Colonial Lodge, where I would be staying for the next five weeks.
I was immediately made to feel at home by the wonderful Suzie Shaw who owns the Lodge, her children, Josh and Colin, her father Mossie and the tiny kitten!
I felt a little disappointed when the other volunteers left for their island, but I was quick to find out throughout my journey that when a friend leaves, you are quick to make a new friend!
My favourite thing about the whole travel experience is the spontaneity of constantly making new friends who always have new stories.
Later that week, I went to my project leader, Natasha and Alex’s homestays, and the families were extremely welcoming; it was really exciting to see how differently people could live to how I do, yet I loved the way they lived all the same.
Being an outdoorsy person, I was happy to join their outdoor meal, and the kava ceremony.
Tonight I am hoping to go see the sunset from the houses. I chose Fiji as I loved the idea of being away from everything, and this is a perfect place to do this.
I finally joined my work placement at the Fiji Sun, where I received a warm welcome from everyone present.
Within a few hours, I was going out to interview people who were packing supplies for ‘The One Fiji Flood Appeal’, where I realised I was lucky to have such a hands-on placement, whereas in the United Kingdom it would probably involve making cups of tea in an office, if I was lucky.
Plus I was in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, what more could I ask for?
My favourite article I have completed so far was about the graduations, as the ceremony had many traditional Fijian dancing performances.
Everyone I interviewed appreciated their education so much more than in the UK, where pretty much every student takes their student loan for granted.
The people…where have I met such a happy, optimistic and friendly population of people before?
I find walking down the street you can’t go far without several conversations being struck up.
If you started talking to someone on Southampton high street or anywhere at home, you would probably be seen as fairly crazy…this is something I don’t miss about home.
On my weekends off, I travel around the island, with the first weekend I had, I went to Beach House resort on the Coral Coast, to a downpour of rain, yet I still had an amazing time, kayaking, paddle boarding and horse riding, which I soon ducked out of as the horse made its way up a really steep mountain.
I met some interesting people, including a group who lived in Pacific Harbour who I partied with from dusk till dawn.
They were a great bunch of friends who I met up with the next weekend at Uprising Resort.
As I write this, I really wish I had kept a journal now as so much has happened I am forgetting half of what has happened.
About a week ago I met the previous journalist, Matt who to a strange coincidence also lived in Southampton where I am from and went to school five minutes away from me.
I took the opportunity to go with him and his friends to Volivoli Beach Resort, Rakiraki.
I found out as soon as I travelled somewhere spontaneously, the weather would be amazing.
If I planned it I was guaranteed days of rain. We kayaked out to Malake (I think) and found a tiny beach. This is the first point that I felt I was in the middle of nowhere…well I was.
I have no idea why I was so worried about leaving home in the first place, Fiji is so carefree, I am pretty sure I will return walking at a snails pace, without a care in the world.
Having snorkeled at Volivoli I am now excited to start my open water scuba diving course in a few days, which initially I thought I would not be able to afford, then realised I couldn’t leave one of the best dive spots in the world without, well diving.
Well, two types of diving anyway…I’ll be going scuba diving and skydiving both in the space of a week. A few weeks ago I would never have dreamed of this and now I’m in a country like this. I think I have definitely become more adventurous.
I think it’s a good thing. Depending on the outcome of the skydive. In two weeks I’m heading out to Waya Island in the Yasawa Group, which I have been waiting for all along!
I really can’t wait to be in the middle of nowhere, again.
My stay here has really opened my eyes to a different world, and after four weeks here, I feel like I have lived here for much, much longer.
Next week I hope to be interviewing a woman who was struggling to make ends meet when she won the lottery, which I am excited to cover as it is interesting to see how other people live.
I have loved my time working as an intern at the Fiji Sun, partly from the warm welcome I have received and the freedom I have been given to do my writing.
I wouldn’t change anything about my whole experience in Fiji, except perhaps the mosquitoes! And I have never been happier than on my travels. I really hope someday I will come back to this amazing country, and see the friends I have made again.