Saturday, June 27, 2015

DAY 14- goodbye isn't forever pt. 2

This day turned out to be a long one; literally and figuratively. In a literal sense, our Thursday June 25th, 2015 was longer than 24 hours. In a figurative sense, it seemed like we crammed so much into that day that it would never end.
Waking up early that one last time was just as hard as ever. Everyone needed to eat, pack, and make sure photos were in the right place. We also had the chance to download the photos of students that Brett and Lisa took, which I love.
Despite the fact that we would be flying out that day, we still went surfing for the first half of it. I couldn't go, due to how terribly my toe was hurting. Instead, I relaxed on the beach with Mariam, Katie, and Alex as we watched the rest of them surf.
The day generally moved by fairly quick, as a lot of what we had to do was just final preparations for leaving. Dinner was at a nice restaurant by Smuggler's, where we had our overall highs and lows for the trip and our funniest moment. I was the last one to go, forcing the restaurants band to wait until I was done to play their farewell song (oops). My low was the amount of injuries I accumulated, which was a pretty obvious answer for myself. But my high, in honor of trying to say more reflective and meaningful highs and lows on this trip, was a bit more complex. My high for the trip was the people I traveled with. Though I tend to be quite shy and not the best at conversation, I felt comfortable with everyone I went with by the end of it. It was a great group of people, who I hope to keep in touch with for as long as I can. I left this experience genuinely caring about everyone there, and loving being with them. And, finally, my funniest moment was the volleyball game on day 11, and all of us yelling at Brett for every ball that came over the net.
As dinner came to a close, we went to the airport. I don't really want to elaborate on any of the airplane misadventures, since I still hate long airplane rides just as much as I did to begin with. In summary, there was claustrophobia, food poisoning, and finally getting to be back in America (all hail cheeseburgers).
Though I'm stoked to be home in a familiar place with my family and friends, I would never trade my Fijian experience for the world. I'm so grateful to have been able to have an adventure like that, and I will never forget anyone I encountered along the way.
photo by Lisa Hornak

DAY 13- muddy days

We started off the day without knowing exactly what we were doing. It was another “continental breakfast” of cereal and toast, just like Mango Bay. Right after, everyone set into editing pictures. I got to meet with Ulla to discuss my top photos for the presentation later that day. I had had sixteen photos picked out, that she helped me narrow to ten. She also talked about the good parts of each photo, and helped me to edit some, too.

We went to the bus right after all of the editing was relatively done. The half-hour ride led to a hike to a little waterfall. Right before the hike, we visited the village chief, and had a mini kava ceremony (we're all sick of kava). The hike itself was about forty five minutes, and wouldn't have been too bad if I wasn't for my wrapped toe and flip flops. My toe was so big when it was wrapped that it wouldn't fit properly back in my shoe. It made walking all the more difficult.
The waterfall was smaller than the rest, but that meant we could get closer. We took yet another cover photo with the flag. Some people climbed the rocks to the top of the waterfall, but others, including myself, wanted to avoid breaking every bone in our bodies and stayed on the ground.
After hiking the whole way back through a forest, we had a Fijian lunch before heading to the next adventure.
We took another half hour drive to the hot springs and mud bath. It was definitely a weird experience, to cover yourself in mud. Yet I would highly recommend it. It was relaxing, after I got over the cold, slimy feeling of the mud. This was also the last cover photo we took, while we were all covered in mud, and covering the flag with it, too. After the mud dried, we had to get in a medium temperature pool to get most of the mud off. It was the worst part of the process, since the floor of the pool was coated with mud and some sort of plant-thing that felt like it was crawling up your leg. We all got out of that pool as quick as possible, and went into the hot spring. It was so incredibly relaxing, and so worth it.
The end of the day was our final presentation. We were set to present our ten best photos from the trip, and talk about our experiences thus far. People's speeches about their photos were either reflective and passionate, or short and sweet. Everyone's photos were phenomenal, especially considering the different levels of practice that each person had. In my speech about my photos, I talked about photographing people with stories. I told of how its different to get a person rather than a landscape, and its even more different to randomly shoot a person rather than knowing the person's story. Its better to capture someone in a moment that explains them, because you know them. It helps you get moments in life, and not just a good photo.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

DAY 12- who is that?

After waking up and accidentally scaring all of my friends in their dorm (oops), I spent the whole morning using the wifi to post blogs and edit photos. I was hard at work for a majority of the time in between breakfast and lunch. I’m still not caught up with posting the written blogs as I type this one, but hopefully I’ll get there.
We next rushed to get everything packed for Smuggler’s Cove. It was a hassle, due to the rain, but we survived. This time around, we had a huge bus for our three-hour trip. It made it a little bit better to have two chairs to myself (even though my headphones aren’t in perfect condition anymore).
Along the way, we stopped at a souvenir store. I ended up spending about half of what little Fijian money I had to begin with, but all of it was on gifts (except the chocolate chip muffin for myself). That stop that was supposed to last twenty minutes ended up a bit longer, and so our trip continued a bit behind schedule.
I fell in and out of sleep the entire bus ride, so it was a blessing to finally reach the hotel. That blessing fell straight on its face when the rooming situation became ultra complicated. The girls were all in a dorm (again), this one resembling a jail with metal bunk beds in an all white room. The trouble didn’t stop there, when we were told that the boys might have to room with us, due to housing issues. Something had happened with the room they had, and the hotel staff thought it would be fine to stick the boys in the all girls dorm, since there were enough empty beds. Lisa had different plans, since everyone on the trip signed a form saying that the boys and girls couldn’t room together, unless they wanted to be kicked out. Eventually, that was resolved to some degree, and we were able to head out to dinner.
Brett had informed us that this would be a more authentic Fijian restaurant than some of the other “tourist-y” restaurants we had gone to in the past (his words, not mine). However, it proved to just be a Chinese food restaurant, where I drowned my stress in chicken fried rice. The trip getting to and from dinner involved clown car-ing into one van, and having a few people hop in a taxi both ways.
Once back at the hotel, we stopped at their own little souvenir store, where I bought more things; though for myself, and with American money.
The last activity of the day was another presentation from Ulla. She showed us photos she took the day before, totaling in over 4,000. She said that that was the amount she would usually do in a day for a shoot, yet it doubles the amount I have total from this trip. She showed us her process of narrowing down photos, and choosing which ones to put in a photo story. I do feel like I learned a lot, especially since we’re supposed to have a similar product soon. I was especially happy when one of Ulla’s favorite photos of yesterday was of a villager and myself. It captured the wonderful time I had there, and I loved it much more than one of the ones she took of me after I broke the bench. All in all, it was a very inspiration process to watch.

We ended the day with highs and lows on the beach, and came back to the dorms to find two random girls in here. It‘s a bit awkward, since as I’m writing this, they’re being kicked out of our dorm and put in the other one (its not legal with Nat Geo for them to be here). If you’re reading this random girls, sorry.

DAY 11- toe-tally

This day was much more structured than the last. Claire and I woke up early to see a sunrise, but found out that we were too late and the sky was covered with clouds. Nonetheless, we explored the beach, and I even found a beautiful cobalt blue starfish.
After breakfast, we set off on a boat. We were set to go to another small island and visit a village. The ride itself was one of my favorite parts of the day. I love being on the water, and it was a long, relaxing, scenic ride.
After fishing a little, the boat arrived in this little village. It seemed a little better off than the one we stayed in for those four days, since the houses had actual doors and most were made out of cement blocks and not walls of aluminum. We walked a bit around the houses, but eventually made our way up to the school. It was up on top of a hill, and the stairs weren’t a walk in the park. They were extremely steep blocks of uneven stone that led us up to a field where their school was. We crossed the field to the colorful school buildings, painted with shades of red, green, yellow, and blue. We walked around the buildings a bit, and then went into one of the rooms where the kids all sang to us. Their voices were beautiful, and the teachers said it was because it came from their hearts. We introduced ourselves to them, and sang Deep in the Heart of Texas once again, and went on our way.
We had a little time to walk around the village afterwards, which was a bit awkward since none of the villagers were really prepared for us to be there, and a lot of them didn’t really seem to want to talk. At the point of almost leaving, we were waiting on the beach for the boats, and Mrs. Bottoms was showing some little girls about high-fiving. They greatly enjoyed it, and mimicked her movements. Once she left, I tried my hand at showing them show to fist-bump. It ended up with the kids loving me, and taking turns at holding on to my arms and hands. We couldn’t understand each other, but I felt the connection that laughter and touch brought. It reminded me of my friends from our village before, and made me smile.
We got back on the boat and traveled to our lunch destination. It was a little group of homes on another part of the main island, tucked into a jungle-like area. We got one of the best lunches we had had in a while (grilled chicken, cheese, and lettuce on white bread), and were free to explore. It started off with a lot of relaxing on the beach. There was some sort of ball hanging from a tilted palm tree that people would swing on, and a lot of hermit crabs that we (mostly Alex Long) could declare our children. The most memorable, yet the worst thing for me was the following series of events. So on one side of the beach was a rock wall that had the Fijian word for “hi”, “bula”, written on it. I wanted a picture, so I made my way across the beach. Of course, since I’m clumsy, I jammed my toe on a rock. I saw that it was bleeding, but I still wanted a photo so I continued on. By the time I was walking back, it was hurting so bad that I was limping, so I went to sit on the rotting bench with Claire and Alex Cooper. I guess it just wasn’t my day, because as soon as I sat down, the old, weathered bench broke in half. Yep. I sat down on the bench with a bloody toe, and broke the bench. That was definitely my low of the day (no matter how hilarious it was for me at the time).
After that was a volleyball game, the most hilarious volleyball game in the world. It was made up of about three of us who had ever really played volleyball, a few Fijian men who knew how to play, and everyone else who had no idea what they were doing. It was the best part of my day, especially when Meghan yelled at Brett for every ball that came over the net.
The ride back was a bit more eventful. The boat had an odd number of people, and remained unbalanced for the whole ride. Alex Long was able to real in a fish that had a shark bite in it. We got back once it was dark, and finally got to shower and get ready for Ulla’s presentation that night.
Ulla arrived the day before. She is a Nat Geo photographer and explorer like Brett and Lisa. She gave a presentation about how she got to where she is, and some of her projects. She has such an amazing life and story, and it was truly inspiring to see. My pictures were of the volcanoes that she’ll stay in.

That night, I stayed up with Mariam and Alex Cooper in their dorm. It ended up that I fell asleep on the foot of Mariam’s bed, and then woke up at 3:00 am to realize where I was. Instead of walking to my room right next door, I slept in one of the extra beds in their dorm.

DAY 10- critique

We start off by sleeping in for the first time the whole trip. It was beyond blissful, since our beds were not only actual beds, but all to ourselves too. Our late start is followed by the realization that our only free breakfast is cereal and toast.
The first part of the day was relaxing. Alex, Bora, Claire, Jacob, Jamison, Mariam, and I spent quite a bit of time on the beach, just enjoying the place we were staying at. Mango Bay isn’t luxurious overall, but it was far more so than anywhere else we were.
Next on the list was photo editing (as I sit here typing, I also have Lightroom open). There’s a critique later in the day that we have to prepare three photos for. Critiques tend to scare me, due to my previous experiences with them in art class. I was going to use three photos of people; one of Mary, one of Lela, and one of a little girl in the church in Tovu Tovu. However, Brett and Lisa had other plans. They chose the following three photos for me to present. It made the situation a bit more nerve-wracking, since I was now presenting photos that they thought were my best, but I didn’t think they were.
The rest of the day was more and more relaxation. I went and made a necklace out of coconut shell (which took a whole fifty minutes to sand out), and continued to just talk to friends and edit photos.

Once the critique came, I was more nervous than ever before. Just the realization that I was surrounded by other really fantastic photographers who would get to judge my work was a bit unsettling. I was the sixth or seventh person up (based on alphabetical order of first names). It wasn’t a bad experience after all. I got a few pointers, more compliments, and overall, I felt good about my pieces in the end. It made it a great end of the day.

DAY 9- "paradise"

Leaving Tovu Tovu was a bit of a hassle. There were two island hopper flights scheduled, but the first one only had three students on it anyways. I myself was on the second flight, but that didn’t mean we were in less of a rush.
To pass time, we visited Coconut Grove, the bed and breakfast that we visited on the very first day. We went to buy nice sulus, but we all ended up getting many gifts for friends and family. The problem was checking out. The process took much too long, due to the nice lady who owned the place talking just a bit too much. In the end, Madiha, Jamison, and I had to speed walk back to Tovu Tovu just to stuff our faces for lunch and hop in the van to get on the plane.
I have never liked the small plane rides, and this was no exception. Though I had a good seat with a good view, and though Jacob showed me that there was a rainbow circling the plane’s shadow in the clouds, I still hated that dinky plane. It was extremely shaking taking off, landing, and just about every point in between.
After meeting up with the other part of the group and Mrs. Bottoms (former photography teacher who was living in Australia), we took the two and a half hour drive to Mango Bay.
Along the way, we stopped at an Ecopark, which is basically a zoo of plants and animals. I have to admit, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to a delay in the trip to Mango Bay, but it ended up being pretty fun and a good time to stretch our legs. Our tour guide around the park was also hilarious, cracking jokes about kava and cannibalism (no, really, Fiji used to be a cannibalistic nation).
Arriving at Mango Bay itself was like a dream come true. The front office served us fruit punch as we were told that we finally had actual rooms with actual fans and actual hot water in the showers.
Since there was nine of us girls, we were put in the hotel’s dormitories. It was basically giant rooms with six beds in each, and bug tents shaped like canopies above each one. Three girls (Alex, Katie, and Mariam) had to be in a room separate from the majority. It ended up that there was a man staying in that dorm as well (who got moved that very night, don’t worry). The beds in the dorm were obviously not the best quality, but they were infinitely better than anything we had slept on in a while. It was a like heaven under a bug net. Just laying down on the bed for a minute was my high of the day. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

MORE PHOTOS FROM NATOKALAU VILLAGE

Janet playing with rocks; one of the kids' favorite games 
cooking with leaves for heat

one of many rainbows we saw

the church by the rugby games and the school

in a classroom at the school

on-looking

Vao, one of the happiest boys I have ever met

"sunrise" on the day we woke up too early

Anthony looking out at the sea

natural beauty

Small, the most popular dog in the village

working on the new community center

Jamison gave hurt Mariam a piggy-back ride

shells at rock pool

Little Lela with one of the balloons from Jacob's party

youngest villager

Laurence, with the most beautiful eyes

Data showing us how to sew a sulu

Ali, a piglet named after Angie and Lisa

Little Lela loves locks