A rambling travel blog…a long winding one! Enjoy!
In the shadow of the cyclone and destruction in Fiji, it is a powerful lesson in Anicca (impermanence) to write this blog.
As we bask in our good fortunes, sometimes, boasting about the good times on FB, and distinctly hiding the shadow side to things, life occasionally slaps you awake when paradise takes a turn to the hellish side of life. When Mother Nature whips up a storm and people lose their villages and homes, and sometimes lives. We suddenly don’ t talk so loud; nor do we get any pleasure in being so proud.
I pray my new Fijian friends are OK and that their villages and lives are in tact.
Feb 5, 2016 6am
If you remember a few blogs back, I was dreaming about Fiji and spending hours on internet travel sites cruising all places and deal as the temperatures fell below zero just outside of my windows. And, voila! ... Here I sit, actually inside the pictures I so carefully studied. I’m living it all and much more …
“People travel to far away places to watch , in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” Dagobert D Runes
Magic happens, people connect, … this is a God thing... I got connected with some recent graduates of the Mark Whitwell advanced teacher training while in Nadi, Fiji; via Collectivo Cafe in Madison, Wisconsin.
As I wait for my friend I overhear a woman at the next table mention Mark’s name just as I was checking my emails to see if he was, in fact, at his home base in Fiji. Since I have never emailed Mark Whitwell, I found this synchronistic event odd and irresistible. I excuse myself and break into their conversation, slightly startling the two women. The woman adjacent to me spoke about being a yoga teacher and assisting Mark in Fiji several times. We exchanged emails. The conversation was economically short, but effective. The next day I receive n email with an introduction to a “Maddie,” and over the miles I am instantly connected to the Fiji Yoga community.
4 AM, it's me again, except this time I'm above the South Pacific about 40,000 feet. I've connected with two people to play with on this mysterious island out in the middle of the sea as I sipped coffee at Collectivo the week before. I’m planning Hot Springs, mud baths, snorkeling and sunbathing. I’ll bide my time and open myself to meeting people and connecting on as personal a level as possible. Hindus, Christians and Muslims, the mix of this country interests me as they co-exist peacefully.
I look forward to a variety of new foods, colors, sounds, sights and smells; and a vast ocean on all sides. These are the things I dream of squashed into my airline seat, blanket on my lap, light down coat zipped up, and an omelette in my belly. I'm still cold. LA was colder than I remember ever. Light down coats at night where a must.
Meticulously planned this time, after so may long solo journeys, I buy my dollars ahead of time for both Fiji and Australia, and began lining up a house/dog-sitters two months earlier; interviewing about 6 possibilities.
And even with my meticulous planning, it is a last-minute upset with my apartment sitter and care for my dog Cosmo falling through because I of series of faux pas…leading to desperate last minute calls, all hours of day and night, scrambling, trying to get help. My departure anxieties heightened to near hysteria throws a huge monkey wrench into my smooth plans. All this drives me insane. Seven people later I finally mange to get one 12-lb. sleepy dog settled, and 5 plants to kept alive, a last minute fridge clean out, and all kinds of closing up a now empty apartment. I feel overly indebted and exhausted...
Add more exhaustion from my flight to Los Angeles; I grapple with this now huge financial hit I didn't anticipate; starting my trip deeply in the hole instead of having all the expenses covered. And this too shall pass, and it did.
Anicca: Impermanence is one of the essential doctrines or three marks of existence in Buddhism. The term expresses the Buddhist notion that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is transient, or in a constant state of flux. The mutability of life, that time passes on no matter what happens, is an important aspect of impermanence.
I thank my beautiful and patient friends in Los Angeles who are so sweet and settled in their comfortable gorgeous homes which they opened freely to me to enjoy. I experienced great food and love for the five nights I spent there, and I thank you all!
Restless leg syndrome haunts me, and it keeps me up all night the second night in Fiji. I pray no one becomes my roommate and hears me thrashing around, legs up-and-down as I slap at my calves, and punch my thighs, trying to beat them into submission! It's crazy. I wonder what causes such a disturbance in this extremity. I hear a knock at the door and I say weakly, “I’m awake; Thank You,”as my morning wake-up arrives way too soon. That empty slightly nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach after a sleepless night is all I can feel.
I push on and get up, strolling out to the lobby. I close and lock the door to Room 7, and enjoy my simple breakfast facing the endless glass-calm sea; three kittens and mom cat are lined up next to my chair. My trusty aging iPad actually manages to get me online, and up pops a great photo of dear friends of mine from LA; a very handsome couple I had the pleasure to be cast as their “maid of honor” for at their wedding almost two decades ago. It has taken my my friend five or six years to finally get a Facebook account, so from my oceanfront breakfast across the world, I sent her an instant photo and say hello. And to think in college we had to wait in line with coins just to place a phone call.
Later this day I actually went to a real working phone booth and placed at call to the mysterious Mattie. In a few hours I am driving away with two young yoga students, Mattie and Lou, and brought out to a local lunch spot to enjoy a luscious, nose-running-hot, made-on-the-spot curry. Bonding unfolds. New friends, and the "heart of yoga" in common; we quickly brain storm a pop-up Yin Immersion on the island. Mattie volunteers to be my super-assistant, and within day or two, it happens at the Vivekananda Education Center in Nadi. Yin is scheduled for the night before I leave this Island paradise.
My 4th day soaking in the beauty and culture of FIJI I find myself in a air-conditioned Jeep sitting next to a local Fijian man talking about life. We are perched at the top of a long jungly, rugged driveway, idling as we wait for the bus to arrive to deliver me back to city central after a glorious 24 hours at this Coral coast resort. The side of this vehicle has a colorful panted logo which describes accurately Mango Bay Resort, “The Happiest Place in Fiji.”
I woke up at dawn in my lovely jungle hut/cabin surrounded in a soft white mosquito I did not need. I did not receive a single mosquito bite the five days I spend tooling around the island; nor did I use a drop of sunscreen. I am more afraid of sunscreen than the sun; just me. I avoided a burn (sort of) and escaped without one itchy bump.
I opened up my bright red door, and before me a paradise dream unfolds before my eyes, greenery, chirping birds, a lovely patio and a small winding path leading to the restaurant (without walls) facing the ocean. It is quiet, sunny, and hot already at 7 am. I think briefly, “Where is my companion, my partner, my lover?” And like a dozen natives asked me over five days, “Where is you husband?”
At breakfast, the waiter asks, should we wait for your husband? I say “Better not…”
In the town of Nadi the day before, I hoped a local bus and jumped off city center, cruising the dirty hot city streets stopping in shop after shop; not for shopping which I have very little interest in, but to overhear conversations, and strike up new ones. As one proprietor opens a case to the pearls, I am dazzled by one single pearl on a diamond clasp… He spots my interest and he says, “Maybe show your husband this and he will surely buy it for you; such a beautiful woman needs a necklace like this..”
Women, my age, don’t really travel alone and cruise around cities in paradise islands alone apparently. This middle-aged Indian man is astonished when I tell him I have never been married. I made a joke that “I forgot to get married” but he did not get it and just looked confused.
Pua my driver at Mango Bay, a well-built young man of 27 is making chitchat with me telling me about his family history at my prodding. He writes down his surname, and explains what it means. “My ancestors were boat-makers,” he tells me in his perfect English accent explaining the meaning of his Fijian surname; the one he had before being given the English name. Most Fijian tribal names were replaced when the island was colonized by Great Britain. He tells me he lives close by in a small village. He is articulate and clean-cut wearing the blue floral shirt stamped with the logo of the resort. I somehow feel sad. The world continues to shrink as smaller tribal cultures dissolve into the machine. Customs, language, and the delicate organization of a smaller group of people living out their lives together is fading.
Pua drives people up and down the long driveway to heaven day after day, among other things he does for Mango Bay Resort. He expresses gratitude to the English for helping civilize their culture, infamous for their fierce warriors and cannabilism less than 150 years ago.
Somehow we get to talking about yoga and the possibility of my having a retreat at the resort. He takes my name and email quickly as the bus rolls towards the stop. I try to give him one single dollar as a tip, and he refuses. I place it onto the dash and dash! I found out earlier that day in my snooping around and talking to the staff that the cook who made luscious food for me earns $3.00 an hour, Fijian dollars.. About 1.35 US.
I hop into the local bus, at first on the wrong side.. Oops, yes, they drive the opposite way and I am always jumping into the wrong side of cars, taxis and buses. My chariot is packed with all locals; me the single tourist, and the rest a mixed bag of Indians, Fijians, and Asians. I find a small wedge of an opening between two middle-aged women, one in full sari, and the other a local Fijian wearing a skirt and starched shirt. I am impressed by the personal cleanliness of the people of this country, stain free clothing, very conservative and colorful, nice practical simple shoes; mostly sandals, and well-groomed nails and hair. Unlike the ex-pats who are the smellier humans extolling the virtues of giving up daily showers and simply squeezing lemon under their armpits instead of deodorant; (bless their souls!) Life is a fun house no doubt!
As I snuggle between these two sleepy women in this large air-conditioned bus, I have the surprise of watching Robin Williams on the screen at the front of the bus in the movie, Jumanji. Yes, movies and TV series are screened for the entire 2 1/2 hour ride to Nadi, ... and I bet you all were thinking chickens and goats. Yeah … Nope... Jumanji; Robin Williams.
I can't help but wonder what Robin would think if he knew he lived on inside of this local bus on an island in the middle of the South Pacific rolling back-and-forth from the resorts and small villages along the sea and through the jungles each and every day as children sit delighted and frightened clinging to their dads or moms; as his Jungle curse unfolds on the screen and as the Real Jungles roll past just outside the windows. He’d grin ear to ear no doubt.
When the screen finally goes dark, on comes the music. "Born in the USA,” John Mellencamp is the first in the line up, then Reggae, Beyoncé, and finally Adele; as both women doze off at each side of me, my thighs touching theirs, and our chubby, warm arms press one against the other.
I grow pensive and philosophical as I study the side of each of their profiles, each so different; Indian and Fijian, their jewelry, clothing, hair, eyebrows, and make-up stem from different esthetics. I wonder about each life and assume they have children. I wonder if the people they love are at the end of this bus route. I sigh and imagine all the losses and struggles, all the laughter and love, and I'm suddenly holding back a flood of tears, my eyes stinging. I miss my parents, my brother, all the people I have lost. I am overwhelmed by our sandwich here on these worn seats...three women each around the same age, from three divergent cultures. We three exhausted for different reasons, and for this one and only moment in time, joined at the hips and shoulders. I take a deep breath and try to imprint this sensation of human coziness into my cellular self. I am emotional and full of love. I wish my son were with me.
I pray for world peace, equality, and a New World order. I study the gold and diamond earrings on the very dark skinned Indian woman to my right and wonder if her husband indeed bought her these earrings when they were courting. I see the skin scars from bug bites and the dry scalp of the older Fijian woman and wonder if she is as old as she looks, as I study her well worn hands. Each life unique and precious. Three rare human births in their individual wrappings of culture and biology is a wonder. It is so good to slow down and see the people when traveling.
The bed bunk room is intact when I return. My AirMac, my iPhone, my passport, and my money all where I tucked them. A new person is in the room. I see his stuff and he's taken my lower bunk while I was gone. I’ve been so happy not to have a roommate in a room with a private bath, and now, dang, someone strange … a man is now living with me.
I go to the front desk and tell them apologetically I need to change the room. Eventually I am moved to the same type of room (the budget traveler room) with a private bath and air con for $17. a day.) I grab the lower bunk. It's spotless and clean, crispy sheets, and within an hour there's a knock at the door. I open it, and a woman bursts in with a shiny main of long thick black hair, and a big red lipstick smile, a voluptuous body, and appearing well over 40. She stands before me holding out her hand and says an exuberant "Hello," in an accent I do not recognize. She is an exotic womanly woman, very beautiful and, unlike the other tourists in this funky beachfront compound who are a little travel weary looking and scruffily dressed, she is wearing a very attractive dress.
I apologize for having my bags opened as I re-pack, leaving her almost no room to walk in. This room cannot be more than 10+10; designed only for sleeping, not for hanging out in. There is no where to go except onto the bed to rest.I actually prefer this to 5 star travel which I am no stranger to. One time I was at a resort in Kona, Hawaii and at least three uniformed men bothered me with fresh towels, constantly emptying ashtrays and asking me constantly how I was, and did I need anything, I almost went insane.As my friend and I went out in the fake pool with plastic pedaling rafts, she looked at me and an sarcastically asked, “Are we having fun yet?”
"Oh I travel light,” My newest roomie explains in her perfect English with the mysterious accent. “I’m always going from country to country..” She declares. “I'm easy!" She continues explaining this stop. “I wanted a WOW experience on my way to Australia and figured 5 days in Fiji was the thing to do.” Ah, I think, a woman after my own heart.
I tell her I did the exact same plan...and we bond instantly. We giggle and she tells me a bit about her life...born in Bulgaria, living in both Malaga, Spain,(a place I have visited) and keeping a small apartment in Germany for access to all European countries. She shares her love of being single and traveling as she pleases. As fast as she burst, she was off to meet a handsome man friend and to explore the downtown night life.
I leave at 5 am and slip out without even her name. She is polite enough to wish me safe travels from her bunk above me. Two women passing through life.
I walk outside towards the beautiful pool and calm dawn dragging my two bags. The sea is lit in pastels. I get my complementary last breakfast; one cup of coffee, scrambled eggs, two slices of toast with jam. I share my eggs with all the local kitties who gather around my table for the last time. The cab arrives and I am off for Part 2 of my trip: Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Noosa, and perhaps Perth, Australia.
Relentless sunny-skies, temperatures of 92° I am in heaven. Of all the hats I own I failed to bring a single one. I also failed to bring sunscreen and am hoping the kindness of strangers will save me from sunstroke while visiting an Island for a day of swimming and snorkeling. I guess my plans weren't so seamless after all. Funny thing about traveling there's always the unexpected no matter how carefully you set your plans something always throws you a curve ball and as irritated as one gets in the moment it happens, you quickly realize that plans are just lans and life has its own momentum. Travel forces you to loosen up, flow more, and realize life isn't perfect.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor. Cath the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
I decided to splurge and take a day trip to an island I went to South Seas Island on a cruise to snorkel and kayak I'm squeezed into two rows with four people across with about four nations represented. Fiji is a playground to Asian countries, Australia, Canadians, and Europeans as well, but surprisingly very few Americans. The few Americans I encountered I overheard complaining about “having too much chicken” on every menu, but mostly being frustrated because they couldn’t watch the Super Bowl; and no one cared a drop about the Super Bowl here, or setting it up for them to view.
Unfortunately on this one hour boat ride there squirms one undisciplined brat about the age of three punching onto the table relentlessly screaming for things while his parents seem oblivious to the disturbance he's creating for everyone. This new “parenting style” of non-discipline and lots of choices extends world wide apparently... give them everything and anything they want..never criticize or use harsh words or the Rod.. ever… Go Ahead, put a three-year old in charge of a boat of people …insanity: of course he is enraged! These parents are run ragged by their little darling boy. God help me, I hope I'm dead by the time all these entitled monsters are adults.
I stare at two older Chinese women who are studying the behavior of this child and I try to imagine what they are thinking as he screeched at the top of his lungs slapping the table demanding a biscuit his parents didn't have. "I want it, I want it now" he screamed as his mother smiled weakly and faintly staring blankly out the window holding her cherubic younger daughter. The father kept bringing goodies out from his bag on after the other explaining in detail the tastes of each and how "yummy" they were as his three year old son spit, threw or pounded them to oblivion spraying his crumbly venom across our communal table. Never once did this English gentleman apologize or try to get his boy under control. I felt murderous... And had to breathe and practice “loving kindness” … like crazy...
Everyone else had frozen, lying, smiles that appeared to say “Oh, how cute,” through gritting teeth, or “kids will be kids…" Little Napoleon had no fans on that hour ride to paradise.
Arrival. Depart big boat. Get onto small boat. Walk to community gathering on tiny island. Snorkeling, pool, beach, hammocks, bean bags, a BBQ lunch all await. BULA BULA BULA is the non -stop and often annoying word of the island. Much like Aloha but more relentless.
I enjoy a lazy delightful day. I see blue starfish and sharks, and colorful parrot fish, huge hunks of coral and a vast living sea bottom. I hold coral, and a starfish, and splash around underwater way out on a remote coral reef. The water is very warm and crystal clear.
Beached, I lay back onto the two bean bags and watch the palm fronds twirling and swaying. Later I pickup shells. I breath and do little. The suns warms my bones. FINALLY NOTHING TO DO and nowhere to go. I love this feeling.
I am enough as I am. I am free and relaxed and breathing in nature and beauty. The birds delight me with their endless chirping. A simple glass of water is a gift to my cells.I am in the NOW… for now..:)
“Your true traveler finds boredom rather agreeable than painful. It is the symbol of his liberty - his excessive freedom. He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically, but almost with pleasure.” AlDOUS HUXLEY
At breakfast at the Mango Bay Resort I am joined by Sunny, a man in his 30’s, scruffier than the others but ready to talk. I notice horrendous scarring on his arms and legs and ask about that. Sunny was driving with an Australian tourist when the driver crashed head on into another car; he could have been drinking. Sunny spent a year in the hospital. His driver paid about 50 thousand in bills but Sunny has a $40,000 debt he still pays. He also tells me about his child and child support. He says maybe what tourists see is not what its really like to be an islander. He asks is I would ever consider having a boyfriend or husband from another culture. I tell him maybe if I were younger but not now. He is puzzled. He thinks I am in my 40’s..maybe 47-48. I tell him the truth and he is shocked. He says 64 Fijian is a very old lady. We say goodbye.
I stroll over to the cook to thank him for such delicious meals. He is surprised. I look around at all the rich young couples in their 20’s, Germans, Chinese, Australians and New Zealand tourists, all staring down at their cell phones scrolling and looking bored. Some just sit in the pool staring..I realize no one thinks to thank the chef; at least in this group, even after so many $50.00 meals.
I think about my yearly income: poverty level in US standards. I realize how rich I am once again.
As we roll along passing villages and small towns, I peek into windows and doorways and see no furniture, no dining table and chairs. I see mats on the floor and sometimes people sleeping out on a cement slab porch. This imagery reminds me somewhat of the drive from Newark airport to my parents apartment; through Paterson and lower Haledon Avenue where people are hanging on porches on filthy couches sitting in the hot sun; babies, men, women, the elderly; all outside on littered street corners; a scruffy stray dog here and there. I remember locking my car door as we pass the dilapidated housing.
I sigh. I think about the luck of the draw, and my good fortune to have such an abundant life from such humble beginnings. Post WWII, when the economy boomed. City schools had good funding and college was accessible and affordable. A working man made living wage, and a simple laborer could buy a house. I always felt rich. I was taught gratitude every day from my dad. I think about Karma and ask myself now, “How can I serve?”
I think about how America has changed. The poor are so poor now. The rich are too rich, despicably so. I hope BERNIE SANDERS whose heart and vision I know would make a big difference in our country, maybe set an example for the rest of the world, gets the nomination; but all that seems so far away now as I walk to the beachfront and watch the calm seas for awhile more, enjoying a coconut, enjoying its savory insides; and at the "bargain" price of $4.00! “The end is nothing, the road is All.” Willa Cather