Tuesday, 14 December 2010

San Francisco, USA

I travelled back in time on Sunday. My first Sunday 12th December was spent lazing in the sun on Bounty Island and then my second Sunday 12th December was spent flying half way across the world to San Francisco, 21 hours behind Fiji time. San Francisco is my last stop on my round the world trip. It's a great city. I did my own walking tour of the very hilly city. Union Square is great for shopping, with a huge Macy's, and Bloomingdale's nearby. From there I walked up through China town to North Beach, the Italian quarter, and then to Fisherman's Wharf. Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf is great, it has good views of the Bay and Alcatraz Island, lots of restaurants and small boutique shops. From there I walked along the wharf to Hyde Street Pier and then up the very steep Hyde Street to Lombard street which is apparently the crookedest street in the world! It's on a very steep incline so the road weaves to help the traffic get down it.

I caught a boat to Alcatraz Island, about a mile from the mainland. It used to be a fortress and military prison, and then a maximum security penitentiary, today it is a national parkland. I took a guided audio tour of the cellhouse which housed all the inmates, famous occupants were Al Capone and Robert 'The Birdman' Stroud. It was a fascinating tour, I tried to imagine how it would feel to be cooped up in a 5ft by 10ft cell all day, every day, only leaving for meals and recreation if you had good behaviour. If not you would get locked up on D block, in isolation 24 hours a day. The guide demonstrated the locking mechanism of all the cells and the clanging sound made me shiver. The other buildings that used to house the warden and other officers are now ruins or demolished.

The one thing I did really want to see in San Francisco was the Golden Gate Bridge, and I wasn't disappointed. It was a cold but bright sunny day so I hired a bike to cycle over the bridge to Sausalito. It was a nice ride, not too many hills (surprisingly!). The bridge ride itself was great and then I carried on along the bike path through Sausalito to Mill Valley and then back to Sausalito to catch the ferry to Fisherman's Wharf. I think San Francisco is my favourite city in the states.

I am sad that I have come to the end of my year of adventure, but it has been a fantastic year with so many great and unique experiences, it's too difficult to pick a favourite! Deciding to travel round the world was the best decision I've ever made, and I now have so many great memories to look back on.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands, Fiji

Fiji is actually made up of over 320 islands, with Viti Levu being the largest. I visited 6 of the islands in 12 days taking the Yasawa flyer, a large catamaran between islands. First stop was South Sea island, one of the Mamanuca islands. It's tiny, taking 2 minutes to walk across from one side to the other. It was a really friendly island where all the staff knew you by name as there was only 11 of us staying overnight. At every island the staff greet you from the boat singing and playing their guitars with their traditional welcome song. Meals are at set times every day and there is usually a buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner. I went out on a submarine boat to see the coral reef, however the water wasn't very clear after all the rain. The snorkelling trip from the island was a little better, I saw a lot of colourful fish. All the non-motorised watersports were free so after lunch one of the staff taught me how to sail a hobbycat, sailing around the island, it was something I had never tried before but really enjoyed. It was a really windy day and the little boat went very fast, it was great fun. After dinner there was crab racing, the first crab to make it from the centre of the circle to the outside wins, and my crab, Mr Claws, won, so I had to make an acceptance speech and receive a bottle of wine. After South Sea, I went to Kuata, about an hour and a half away, one of the first islands in the chain of Yawasas. From here I did a snorkelling trip to find reef sharks, on Moua reef, they tend to swim along the ocean bed, and I had great fun diving down to take a closer look. They are about 1m long but luckily quite harmless. I spent 2 nights on each island which gave plenty of time to look around and swim and sunbathe each day. After Kuata, I went to Korovou resort, Naviti Island and then Coral View resort, Taweha island. From here I went scuba diving to watch the shark feeding. At a depth of 18m the Fijians feed the sharks every day, and invite the tourists to watch the feast. I wasn't sure what to expect, the sharks were a lot larger than I thought they would be, the lemon shark is 2-3m long, and looks quite mean, I also saw white tipped and black tipped sharks, which were slightly smaller. It was an amazing experience, and I didn't feel scared at all. On my second day I visited the Sawihla caves. It took 40 minutes on a speed boat to get there. The first cavern is huge, very tall and has a lovely large pool of water to dive into, from this first cavern, more caves can be accessed by swimming under the water for about 1m, and then a torch is needed to see inside the caves as unlike the first cave, no natural light comes through. From Coral View I went to Mantaray island which was a very nice island with a great beach and great food, and even a menu to choose from, unlike the other islands. I went scuba diving on a reef about a 20 minute boat ride from the island. The coral reef was very colourful and I saw plenty of fish, a grey reef shark and a turtle. My last island was Bounty Island, one of the Mamanuca isles, a nice small island with a swimming pool and nice beach, apparently Celebrity Love island was filmed there....
I really enjoyed the islands and found them very relaxing after all the bus travel over the last 5 months.

Viti Levu, Fiji

I flew from Auckland to Nadi, Fiji and was greeted with torrential rain! Not what I was expecting! Apparently there was a cyclone on the way. I waited 2 hours at the airport for my resort transfer, I was now on Fiji time! It happens when it happens! It was still raining the following day so I caught the local bus into Nadi town. The bus has no window panes so I got a little wet even on the bus. Nadi is a small town with one main street, there is a market selling fruit and vegetables, and a craft market. I wandered into a craft shop and ended up sitting down at the back to join a kava ceremony. We sat cross legged on the floor, the kava is made from a ground up herb which is put into a cloth and then dipped into a bowl of water, the water turns a muddy brown. Surprisingly it does taste like muddy water too! It made my tongue go a bit numb. I ended up buying a sarong, a kava bowl and a turtle necklace, for good luck, none of which I knew I needed when I went in. The following day I started my tour of the mainland with Feejee Experience. First stop was Natadola Beach, however the weather was still wet and we couldn't really enjoy it. Then on to Malomalo Village, a traditional Fijian village. We all had to wear sulus (sarongs), even the boys, and ensure our shoulders were covered to be respectful of their culture. We wandered around the village, made up of large square wooden houses. The village children followed us around and found us amusing. Afterwards it was sandboarding in the rain! Not my idea of fun, but some of our group had a go and got filthy. We stayed at Mango Bay resort that night and took part in a kava ceremony, the taste is growing on me and it made me feel relaxed, and my lips slightly numb. After dinner there was Fijian and Polynesian dancing which I enjoyed. The next day we drove to Pacific Harbour, it was still raining, the cyclone had been expected for 3 days now. It was disappointing because we couldn't do the rainforest walk as planned due to the road being flooded and without sunshine there isn't much to do inside. I tried a local dish for lunch called Kokoda, which is raw fish marinated in lemon, with chillies, and coconut cream, served in a coconut shell with cassava chips. It was delicious. The following day we went to Suva, the capital of Fiji and visited the Fiji museum. The road from Suva was flooded so we had to retrace our journey and go all the way back round the island to get to our last stop at Volvoli beach, as there is only one main road around the island. We stopped at a children's home, Treasure House, to give them some gifts, the children seemed well cared for and happy. Afterwards we stopped at another Fijian village where we were treated to another kava ceremony, traditional singing and dancing, and then we all joined in dancing. There was a massive tropical storm that night at Volivoli and then the next day it was brilliant sunshine and very hot. At last! Although I knew it was rainy season here, I thought it would be short sharp showers and then sun....how wrong I was! I finally spent the morning sunbathing before heading back to Nadi in the afternoon. We stopped for a curry at lunch time, it was very good as 30% of the population are Indian, descendants of Indian contract labourers brought over there by the British in the 19Th century. We stopped at some natural mud pools where we got covered head to toe in mud, then baked in the sun before rinsing off and then climbing in to a very hot pool, so hot in fact, that I wondered if the Fijians were still cannibals as it felt like I was being cooked alive. The good news was that the cyclone had finally passed and the weather had turned glorious, around 30 degrees...fantastic!