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Fiji : 1B • June 15-July 1, 2016

A Fond Fijian Farewell

June 30, 2016


Whoever thought 17 days could go by so fast? We surely didn’t! It seems like just yesterday Camille was rounding up the troops in the LA airport, and Thomas was waiting for the group in the Nadi airport with the “WELCOME TO FIJI!” sign. This is what it is about though, living in the moment.
We concluded our incredible journey with our magnificent kids at the beautiful Fiji Beach House. When you think of a beach paradise, you’re subconsciously thinking of the Beach House. White sand beaches, glassy water proceeded by gnarly waves, coconuts and Palm trees with hammocks strung between them; it makes us think maybe we want to be Tom Hanks in Castaway! Oh, yeah, Castaway was actually filmed in Fiji!
The group came out of the Wainadiro village with such a spirit of adventure, a genuine appreciate of the simple things in life, and heartfelt compassion towards each other and the villagers. They had all worked so hard over the entire course of the trip, from SCUBA to rafting to service work, that they really earned a bit of relaxation time.
We unloaded and unpacked and set up our new home at the Fiji Beach House. The first night all of our kids were so happy and excited, but we could see the exhaustion. They had worked so hard! So the kids got a good night sleep, ready to surf the incredible waves of the mighty Pacific. It only took about a 30 minute lesson on the beach and in the shallow water for these kids to already seem so unbelievable comfortable on their boards, but this wasn’t surprising. Our group had done everything so unbelievably well this entire trip, we knew surfing was just another activity for them to take with a grand assault and master. So after our little boat cruise out to the waves, it was time for the group to apply the skills they had learned. All over the Pacific the group was paddling and catching waves and standing up and laughing and smiling. It’s these kind of moments that make us so happy to be Moondance leaders.
Our time at the Beach House was short, but it was beautiful and powerful and life changing. Before we knew it, we were sitting together in Moonup for the last time, on the beach, under the star filled canvass of a sky, listening to the ocean roar. We decided to ask the group two questions as part of our last discussion: “where do you see the group member to your right in 20 years” and “what is the most challenging time you’ve had to go through.” It were these conversations, hearing our kids have so much confidence in each other, themselves and trusting the group like the family we were, where we, as leaders, could see what a truly spectacular group of young adults we had been blessed to get to know. It’s these kinds of moments that make us so happy to be people.
Goodbyes are always so hard, especially on Moondance. It is the most bittersweet experience.. The pain of saying goodbye to this once in a lifetime trip, with this group that went from a bunch of semi-awkward strangers to a tight knit family in under three weeks, but the joy of knowing how this trip made us feel and the memories each and every one of us had the pleasure of making. We cannot stress how much our group meant to us. After the group had departed, there was a void in the night that felt so heavy. Sad, hard, but beautiful nonetheless.
We want to thank everybody out there, for allowing us to lead, teach, grow with, and befriend such amazing, inspirational, adventurous and life-loving group of young adults we have had the pleasure of knowing. It’s our job as leaders to teach these kids, but in reality these kids taught us so much about life and about ourselves that we cannot thank them enough for the lasting impact they had on us. Truly, a trip of a lifetime.
With the warmest regards,
Thomas and Camille

Magic on the Upper Navua River

June 28, 2016

Bula everybody!

Where do we begin? What an incredible few days we have had in this magical paradise they call Fiji. Truly, every single inch of this magnificent place is absolutely beautiful.
The group finished scuba diving with flying colors, and after completing their Open Water Diver certification, the group headed towards a true piece of untouched humanity: Wainadiro Village, but we will touch into the beauty of this place later on. First, we left our home base in Pacific Harbor (thanks Club Oceanus!) and met our incredible guides at Rivers Fiji, and our Fijian ambassador, Petro. It’s incredible when you can rely so heavily on somebody and they consistently provide great help and service. We all made 1 new friend the day we met Petro!
We packed up our dry bags, strapped on our river shoes and loaded into our bus for the drive to the put in point on the Upper Navua River. No pictures or words can do this piece of Eden any justice. As soon as we pushed off in our rafts, we were surrounded by canyons of luscious green with incredible water falls around every corner, along with the absolute bluest water imaginable. The theme of this river trip: “this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been!” And how accurate that was. After stopping halfway to fill up on some riverside sandwiches for lunch, we pushed off again, with hearts set on our home for the next few days. We almost mistook our group for a bunch of Magellans, but realize how much more incredible our students were! Whitewater naturals, singing songs and having splash wars, the group was absolutely terrific to have on the river. The excitement grew more and more as we began passing villages on the river. We knew we were almost home!
And we were home the second we landed on the banks of the Upper Navua River in front of the Wainadiro Village. Greeted by a bunch of incredibly excited children and smiling elders, we didn’t know it was possible to feel this welcomed, especially across the world! So we moved into our new home, met our incredible homestay providers, Buna and Toby, and settled into what we knew was about to be a once in a lifetime experience. And then to cap off what had already been a perfect day on the river and evening in the village, we filled up on delicious chicken curry and prepared for our traditional village welcome ceremony. So we put on our sulus (traditional Fijian sarongs) and prepared to be formally welcomed into this magical community. We each introduced ourselves, said a few words, and after the village headmen concluded the ceremony, we danced! We looked around and saw each and every one of our students interacting thoroughly and genuinely with someone from the village, after literally only 4 hours. It made us go WOW! So we finished up this incredible ceremony and had our first village Moonup, and went to bed with full stomachs and even fuller hearts, prepared to help our new home as much as we could with our service the following day.
We awoke to the beauty of a morning mist over the familiar river that our new home looked over, and immediately remembered we were in a magical place. So after a DELICIOUS breakfast of eggs, toast, and the freshest fruit anyone could imagine, we tied up our shoes (outside the house, of course) and got ready for some service work! We learned our project would be focusing on helping their village drainage canals, to minimize waste build up and overflow around the village itself. We split up into 2 groups, the first mixed the cement itself in wheel barrows and played with the village kids while the other group brought sand and sediment from the river to the wheel barrows to help mix and create concrete. By the time lunch rolled around, we were all so proud of how hard we all had worked and, honestly, considered opening our own cementing company! After lunch, we realized what Fijian time really meant, and spent a couple hours swimming, playing with children, and resting, all of which was so much fun, especially in the village. We then got back to work with the cement mixing, but this time we helped recover their sidewalk. We were so proud of our students. It looked truly amazing.
For our second day of service, the group was taken to a small farm not far from Wainadiro. We were accompanied by a handful of the village children, who endearingly chose to spend their Saturday hanging with us on the farm. Their willingness to lend a helping hand remained a steady inspiration for the group throughout the morning.
The secluded farm, consisting of no more than a few taro plots, sat on a small slope a few hundred feet from the road. While the boys dug holes for new taro roots, the girls went pulled weeds from around the more established taro plants. In the absence of an ipod speaker or a radio, we all sang tunes together – a few of which the children knew also. It was a grand time. Before leaving the farm, Petro informed us that the taro we planted would be harvested by next year’s Moondance students. It was amazing to imagine our work coming full circle. Before walking back to the village, we played a few rounds of Birdy on a Perch (you’ll have to ask your kids to explain) and drank some fresh coconut water. It was a fabulous morning.
By the time we returned to Wainadiro we were starving. We all ate a huge lunch before returning to our cots for a quick nap. We spent the remainder of the day swimming in the river and playing rugby with the kids. Their energy and excitement was infectious, and it seemed to empower the entire group. Still, by nightfall, everyone was exhausted and fell quickly asleep after a nice, filling meal. Another perfect day for the books!
Our last full day in the village was a little different than the pervious two days. On Sundays the people of Wainadiro do not work, but spend the day relaxing and reflecting on the past week. They also attend church in the morning, and the whole group was ecstatic when we were extended an invitation to their service. We wore our sulus and sat criss-crossed on the church floor. Though we understood very little of what was being said during the message, we all found the beautiful songs and rituals very moving and meaningful.
After church, we were invited to a traditional Fijian Sunday lunch. We were taken into a room with a giant spread of Fijian delicacies. Again, we all sat on the floor and enjoyed a home-style feast. After lunch we spent the remainder of the day much like we had the day before – swimming in the river and playing rugby and soccer with the village children.
That night, the group was invited to a farewell ceremony. Here, the people of Wainadiro thanked us for our hard work and open heartedness. They also expressed gratitude for the friendships we had formed with their children and their community at large. They even praised us for being the BEST Moondance group to ever be a part of Wainadiro. It was a true “wow” moment. We were then given a chance to thank them for welcoming us into their community with such love and kindness. Everyone insisted that their impact on us was far greater than any service work we could have done for them. After the ceremony, we all danced and cried with the village children. There was not a dry eye in the room. Sadly, the night came to an end and we had to say our goodbyes. As Moondance leaders, we had never seen such love, hard work, and personal growth in a group than we had in this one. We are confident that that night – and the entire time we spent in the village – will be a shining moment in your children’s lives for years to come.
Though we thought perhaps we would be able to stop crying by the time we left the village the next morning, all the adults of Wainadiro meet us at the riverbank to sing a farewell song. Needless to say this brought on the water works once again. As much as we wanted to stay longer, we knew we had an exciting day ahead of us. In order to return to Pacific Harbor, we all hopped on duckies (inflatable kayaks) and made our way down the lower Navua. Much like during our trip into the village, we were awestruck by the beauty of the river. About halfway to our destination, we stopped at a secluded waterfall to cool off (and to have an exiting and much needed photo shoot). Afterward, we returned to our duckies to finish our river trip. It was a fantastic day, and we all arrived safely in Pacific Harbor where we were then transferred to our last stay here in Fiji – the beach house!
Thanks so much for reading – more updates to come!
Anna- I learned that materials aren’t needed to find happiness and the only way to find real happiness is the people you are surrounded by.
Kendall- I learned that in a matter of four days I was able to grow so close and care so much about these people that I genuinely cried my eyes out when I had to leave them.
Liam- I learned that I was glad and extremely lucky to have been in the village. I grew as a person and made some amazing friendships. I will always call the Wainadiro village another home.
 Jack- I learned that the simple things in life are all that matter and that amazing friendships can be made in less than four days.
Timmy- I learned that I can make incredible friendships in a matter of seconds and that a simple life is a happy life.
Thea- I learned that a simple way of life has an amazing effect on a community and that you can become friends with anyone no matter how different they are from you.
Sam- I learned that happiness doesn’t involve technology.
Carly- I learned that simplicity is the key to a peaceful life.
Lindsay- I learned that friends and family are more important that materialistic things.
Cali- I learned that having love for family is way more important than materialistic things.
Kate- I learned that simplicity is a way to a happy joyful life and that the friendships I’ve made in the village are worth so much to me and I will cherish them forever.

SCUBA Certified

June 22, 2016

Bula friends and family!

We have unbelievably completed another section of our trip – SCUBA! We will return to the States with new friends, memories, and – oh yeah – open water diver certifications! Needless to say we are all very excited about completing this step in our journey. Though we are sad to say goodbye to Pacific Harbor, I think we are all very proud of our hard work and are looking forward to the next part of our adventure.

Just to refresh our readers:

The group has spent the last five days in Pacific Harbor working on becoming SCUBA certified and exploring Fiji’s famous soft coral reefs. The first couple days of our training were a little exhausting, but we quickly realized the necessity of thorough instruction as a means of keeping us safe in the open water. We learned everything from the specific parts of our regulators to what to do when a friend runs out of air. Yes, it was tedious, but it all paid off when our instructors finally gave us the green light to explore the reefs.

Our first dive spot was a serene, secluded cove near an offshore barrier island. This is where we finished our training and got a first glimpse of the underwater world. The ocean here was very calm and the tides were weak, making it the perfect place to begin our diving experience. The water was clear as glass and the sea life was booming. Even better, our newly learned diving skills made us feel like astronauts in a zero-gravity aquatic world. Liam, Kate, Jack and Thomas even saw a white-tipped reef shark! When we were done diving for the day, Sam, Carly and Lindsay led some of us to the top of the boat to sunbathe. Anna and Thea led some others to the beach to explore. We spent two amazing days in this beautiful spot – we honestly would have been happy to return for another day!

But as much as we loved the cove, it was simply an introduction to the real deal. The following day, our guides took us to some true open-water diving locations. We did two dives, the first of which involved everyone. This was special for us because up until then we had been split into two groups for our dives. It was really magical to experience a dive with everyone. Unfortunately, open water diving can we very exhausting, so only about half of us made it back for another dive. The group, which consisted of Kate, Cali, Liam, Thea, Timmy, Jack, Kendall, Thomas, our instructors and I, we’re taken to a place called the Three Nuns. Here, three towering groups of coral sit side by side, separated by narrow trenches. It was truly so amazing. We all agreed that we felt like we had entered an entirely new world. The diversity of colors and creatures on the reef were breathtaking – but not literally (that would be dangerous). Though we were sad when our dive was over, we were more than satisfied with our experience by the time our guides signaled for us to surface.

We spent the remainder of our last day in Pacific Harbor lounging in the sun and spending time in the market down the street. For the first time since arriving in Fiji, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Though our entire SCUBA section has been incredible, our last day was truly one for the books. We spent time after dinner reflecting on our experience and discussing what we look forward to as we travel to the village tomorrow.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the update! We’ll be sending another as soon as we finish our service section.

Ta-ta for now!

We're on Fijian Time!

June 19, 2016

Bula everybody!

Hello from beautiful Fiji! After nearly eleven hours of flight we have all arrived safely in tropical paradise. If you’re confused by my greeting, let me explain. “Bula” is a widely used traditional Fijian greeting meaning “hello” or “welcome.” It is rare to come across anyone in this country without receiving a big smile and a pleasant “Bula!” The welcoming nature of the Fijians has added a dimension of comfort and familiarity to the first day of our trip. We can all agree that this is just the beginning of an amazing, unforgettable experience.

After departing the plane and passing through customs we were greeted by Thomas, who excitedly welcomed us with hugs, snacks and, of course, bottles upon bottles of Fiji water. Everyone quickly tossed their bags onto a buggy and ran outside to get a first glimpse of Fiji – a perfect sunrise over ancient volcanic mountains. Everyone’s face glowed the utmost excitement.

Eager to start the day, we all loaded into a van and headed to our first stop – a lovely, local hotel in Nadi. After throwing our bags down and freshening up, everyone changed into bathing suits and rushed down to the pool. Following a quick dip, we grabbed our bags, jumped in a van and travelled to Deverau to spend the afternoon island hopping and snorkeling on a catamaran. Sound relaxing? Yeah, it was pretty great. As the crew set sail to return to the dock, we all lounged in the late afternoon sun, sharing laughs and getting to know one another. Needless to say it was a wonderful beginning to our adventure.

Hope you’ve all enjoyed the update! We are headed to Pacific Harbor today to begin the SCUBA section of our trip and will send another update soon!

Camille and Thomas


Shootouts from students:

Kate – Hey guys! I’m here in Fiji!! It’s fantastic!! Miss y’all and can’t wait to tell y’all all about it!

Kendall – Hey mom and dad! I made it here and it’s AWESOME! It’s legit the prettiest place ever! Love and miss you!! Tell everyone I say hey!

Thea – Hey guys! I am here, coolest place I have ever seen. The dive master said I could go for my advanced certification! Love you

Carly – Hi mom and dad! Fiji is awesome! You guys should definitely put it on your travel list. See you in a few weeks!

Anna – Hey momma. Fiji is the most beautiful country with the kindest people. This trip has changed my life. I miss you and can’t wait to share my adventures with you. I love you.

Timmy – Hello mom and dad. Fiji is unreal and was a good decision. Can’t wait to see you guys. Love, Timmy

Liam – Hey mom and dad. Fiji is the coolest place ever! Can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Jack- Hi mom and dad Fiji is an amazing place and I can’t believe I’m here. Can’t wait to see you and talk about it.

Sam – Bula mom and dad. Fiji is cool, love you and can’t wait to tell you about the trip.

Cali – Hey mom and dad!! Fiji is so amazing I love it here! Love and miss y’all.

Lindsay – Hey mom and dad! Fiji is amazing. It’s so beautiful and everyone is so sweet. I miss you guys so much. Tell Oskar I say hey and miss him. Hope all is well and I will see you all soon. Love you guys so so much and PS I’m feeling much better!