July 19, 2016
Bula friends and family!
Thank you all so much for keeping up with our trip over the last couple of weeks. Though it is with sad hearts that we send this final update, we want to thank all of you for sharing these wonderful kids with us. Each and every one of them is an amazing individual and we are so eager to see what life has in store for them. Again, thank you so much! Or as we say in Fiji, vinaka vaka levu!
Our time spent diving in Pacific Harbor came and went with the blink of an eye. We left on Friday morning with a newfound understanding and appreciation of the world that lies beneath the waves. This time, saying goodbye to our instructors was especially difficult because we could all slowly feel the trip coming to an end. How had our last day in Fiji arrived so quickly? Luckily we had a little surprise up our sleeves to help divert this developing sadness…an afternoon of island hopping on a catamaran! The best part of this surprise? The kids had absolutely no idea it was coming. That morning, after packing up and loading into the van, we gave everyone a little hint about a special treat waiting for them in Nadi. They then spent the remainder of the ride brainstorming and discussing all the potential activities. It was hilarious! No one even came close to guessing the surprise until Cat, about two minutes before we arrived at the marina, hit the nail right on the head. “I bet we’re going on a catamaran!” she blurted. But before Cat could properly convince the group of her idea, the van rolled up to Port Denerau to embark on our final adventure in Fiji
What better way to wrap up the trip than a day of island hopping? The kids were ecstatic. After fifteen days of hard work and constant activity everyone deserved a nice day of relaxation on the water. As the boat set sail, our guides passed out boxed lunches and the kids all piled on the bow to sunbathe . In such a short period of time these people had gone from complete strangers to the best of friends. Nothing is more special to a leader than seeing a group fall in love the way ours had. It takes a handful of very exceptional students to develop such a powerful, withstanding bond. As leaders, we are so unbelievably proud!
But back to our adventure. So we spent the next hour-or-so cruising around on the catamaran and taking in the magnificent beauty of Fiji one final time. Before long, our guides tossed out an anchor, passed out snorkels, fins and masks and told us to dive in and explore the reef. This particular reef sat about 100 yards offshore of a tiny, uninhabited island and provided a home to a plethora of beautiful fish and coral. In particular we noticed an abundance of large, dark blue star fish – a creature that we surprisingly had not seen a lot of in our previous dives. The reef also ended with a fifteen foot drop off that gave each of us an opportunity to exhibit our free diving skills. The combination of the underwater scenery and the surface view of Fiji’s barrier islands was like something you’d find on a Google image search. Though we probably could have stayed in the water forever, our guides eventually told us to start making our way back to the boat. Upon arriving, we were greeted with a plate of freshly cut pineapple, watermelon and coconut. Everyone threw off their gear, grabbed a snack and returned to the bow to continue sunbathing. The guides pulled in the anchor and we set sail once again. As our shadows grew long with the afternoon sun, the guides slowly sailed us through the islands and back to Port Denerau. We think the memories made this afternoon will go down as some of the fondest from our trip.
After saying “vinaka” and waving goodbye to our guides we began the process of packing and cleaning for our long flight home. We ended our time in Fiji at the Fiji Gateway Hotel, the exact place we began the trip with our first group breakfast. How had our time in this beautiful country come to an end? Though leaving was sad, we felt blessed for many experiences had and friendships formed. After everyone had a nice, long, much needed shower, we tossed our bags in a van and headed off to the airport.
What seemed like an elongated journey on the way to our island paradise Fiji, the trip home could not have been quicker. When trying to hold onto each and every single moment left with our fabulous group, time flew by in an unfairly fast manner. Before we knew it, we were having our passports stamped and were officially back in the U. S. of A. It has never felt stranger to be home, as we had so thoroughly enjoyed making Viti Levu (the largest island in Fiji) our home. But we would be lying if we said we didn’t enjoy some aspects of the American life, such as the fantastic burger joint In-N-Out. It made the transition back into our busy culture much easier with a juicy burger in our hands, and our group was so sad to leave Fiji, but very excited to enjoy this first meal back.
After showering, resting, and devouring burgers, our group’s immense spirit of adventure began taking over. They had just conquered each and every activity put before them, from rafting the whitewater of the heavenly Upper Navua river to exploring the deep depths of the mighty Pacific. The group had absolutely no interest in hanging around some airport hotel. We were so excited when they presented the idea of exploring the area, so we called some cabs and ventured into Santa Monica to treat ourselves to some Frozen Yogurt (they definitely missed FroYo!) and walk around the famous Santa Monica pier. I’d never imagine a reverse culture shock to occur, but after finding so much beauty and appreciation in the simple yet incredibly elegant Fijian culture, the group was a little thrown off by the hustle and bustle chaos of the area. It put quite a smile on our faces to see how genuinely the group loved Fiji, something only verified by their reservations while our time in LA. A very fun afternoon, but we would also be lying if we said we all didn’t fantasize about being back in paradise.
As with every Moondance trip, the hardest part of the experience is the goodbye. It will never be easy, no matter the age or the experience, to say farewell to family. And that is exactly what this group had become, a family of the closest variety. But we had known this, we had known this the second the group arrived in the Wainadiro village. It was here we saw how big of a heart every single student carried on our trip. Their eagerness to help, willingness to open up, their unforgettable compassion and genuine, heartwarming love could be felt by not only our entire group at all times, but it permeated around the entire island. Everywhere we went, people were infected by their energy and happiness that we could not spend five minutes somewhere without immediately making true friendships with all those around us. And this only can be credited to the young adults we were blessed to have on the trip. The emotions were high in the LA airport for our final morning, and as every student said their final goodbyes and left our loving embrace for good, the remaining members of the group, including us leaders, struggled to grasp the realization that this once in a lifetime journey was at its conclusion. But it also emphasized how much we all truly loved one another, for one does not struggle with goodbye if they weren’t so blessed to have said hello.
For all you parents, family, friends, and peers out there who gave these wonderful young adults the opportunity to explore not only Fiji, but themselves, we want to thank you. We want to thank you for all the influence and effect you have had on each one of these kids. We want to thank you for facilitating the already immense growth, which we as leaders so warmly received and enjoyed building. We want to thank you for loving and caring about these inspirational young adults such as we do, because it has truly been an once in a lifetime experience to not just lead, but befriend all eleven of these special people. We know the world is at this group’s fingertips, and they will be able to accomplish all they put their minds too.
Vinaka Vaka Levu,
Thomas, Camille, and Ruthie
July 16, 2016
I honestly don’t know where to start. So, I will start where we left off: the beautiful drive along the picturesque Fijian Coral Coast. Time tends to fly when you are driving across this pacific gem, with luscious green mountains to our left and turquoise blue ocean to our right. It also tends to fly when you are surrounded by a group of absolutely amazing and inspiring young adults such as the ones we have been blessed to get to lead. And so after what seemed like a 30 second drive, we arrived in our new and final home, Pacific Harbour, to SCUBA the great blue Pacific Ocean.
Pacific Harbour is a special place. Our accommodation, the comfortable bunkhouse of Club Oceanus, is conveniently the headquarters for our SCUBA guides: Aqua Treks (who boast the “#1 Shark Dive in the World!”). Right down the road from our home at Club Oceanus is the Arts Market, which is the site of multiple boutiques, restaurants, and shops. The magic of the simplicity yet elegance of this area really creates a memorable atmosphere to spend the last section of a Moondance trip. As we’ve all been learning over our time on Fiji, a simple life can really pack a beautifully blissful punch.
We arrived at Club Oceanus for lunch on Monday, and thus began our final, yet arguably our most adventurous section: SCUBA certification. The group headed for the training pool to their opening breaths underwater after a very fueling lunch. The pure excitement, even in the pool, was what we at Moondance refer to as a “WOW” moment, where we as leaders experience something so beautiful and inspiring it makes us take a step back and say, “WOW!”. But when a group harnesses a spirit of adventure as immense as our group does, one afternoon in the pool is enough. They were ready to hit the open sea and experience the ocean like never before.
The next morning our group woke up eager to explore the mighty Pacific. After putting on masks, find, and wetsuits, we loaded our SCUBA gear onto the boat, set up our BCDs (buoyancy control devices), checked our oxygen tanks, and headed out to Yanuca Island. When one googles “Tropical Island Paradise”, the black crystallized rock bordering the white sand beaches and staring out over paintbrush blue water of Yanuca Island is what would most likely appear. It’s an incredible spot for our kids to experience their first 2 open water dives. And, as expected, they handled it with so much ease we forgot who the instructors were and who was being certified! After what was an amazing morning on and in the water, we had the afternoon off. The group then suggested a giant game of capture the flag, and who knew we could have as much fun on land as we just had in the water! The next day, due to circumstances unforeseen involving malicious weather, we were forced to go a day without SCUBA, but our group really enjoyed spending the day exploring the marvelous Arts Market and relaxing on the beach, where we met the Fiji Rugby 7s team, who is off to Rio for the Olympics in a few weeks!
A highlight of our day off was the opportunity to have a more “normal” celebration for Tom’s fifteenth birthday. Party hats, party plates, candles and 2 big cream cakes made the recipe for a truly American-Fijian birthday celebration, and the entire group showed how much they cared about each other and enjoyed one another!
After our day off of the water, our group was itching to get back into their gear and eager to continue their Pacific exploration. We then learned that because we weren’t able to get in the water the previous day, we had 3 dives planned for our 4th day in Pacific Harbor. It was also an exciting day because after strenuously laboring on their Padi online course, their built up anticipation and excellent execution, the group was going to be certified! Awesome! The first 2 dives were breathtakingly beautiful soft coral dives at the sites 3 Nuns and Kobe Reef, with colors so vibrant and water so blue it made us think we were in an underwater heaven. Maybe this is where Atlantis used to be! It was the third dive of the day that really showed how adventurous this group was ready to be, though. After refilling our oxygen and continued hydration, we set out upon the open ocean to our third dive spot of the day. But it wasn’t until we were 30 ft below the surface where we realized what was in store. A shipwreck! The group looked like professional divers exploring this incredible site, and we completely forgot this was the groups first certified dive. It was the epitome of a “WOW” moment! This was such a fun, awe-inspiring day that we leaders knew the group had absolutely earned a surprise. And what better way to surprise a group with a massive sweet tooth than with a chocolate fondue station! After dinner the group all picked out different delicacies from the local market, and we spent our second to last night in Pacific Harbor making some incredible chocolate-dipped creations. This group had earned every drop of it! Our final day of SCUBA diving couldn’t have been more exciting. The group spent the morning spending their final Fijian dollars in the Arts Market graciously purchasing gifts for their friends and family, and after lunch, they were ready for their final afternoon underwater. And what a final dive experience it was. From the coral reef cylinders (60 ft high!) of 3 Sisters, to the most colorful fish imaginable to the rare sighting of a sea turtle really put the stamp on an unforgettable diving experience in Fiji.
We all learned so much about diving, each other, and most importantly ourselves during our stay in Pacific Harbor. It was with heavy hearts us leaders had to prepare the group for our waning hours in this heavenly place. And after our most exciting and adventurous section, we wanted to give out some superlatives to our one of a kind group!
Annabel- Most likely to befriend each and every person in Fiji. She’ll know the entire island before we leave! We’ve never seen a young adult connect with people, especially in such a different culture, with the ease she does. It’s such an inspiration.
Katie- Most likely to become an award winning writer. We never knew one girl could have so much enthusiasm, detail, and grace in her story telling. Very seldom does one meet somebody with the passion for life that she embodies. Watch out Stephen King…
Martin- Most likely to walk on Mars. When a 14 year old knows so much about everything, and has such a genuine sense for exploration, not even the Sky is the limit!
Tom- Most likely to become the world’s best father. When every baby he holds falls asleep in his arms, and when he never ceases to be himself, that’s when you know you have an incredible man growing.
Conor- Most likely to grow gills. Who needs an oxygen tank when you can dive what seems like 1,000 ft underwater freely, pointing out every species of marine life along the way. It’s truly spectacular diving with him, and we know he’ll have a lifetime full of life changing adventure!
Sydney- Most likely to take pictures for National Geographic. It takes a person with an incredibly beautiful soul to instinctively know when she has the most gorgeous shots at her fingertips. Her personality reflects on the mesmerizing photos she captures. She could fill our entire catalog just from this trip!
Gracie- Best attitude award. The sun never sets on her constant joy and laughter, a laugh that could solve all the problems in our world. It’s an infectious spirit such as hers that makes our jobs too easy.
Catherine/Cat- Most likely to motivate the entire group. If she was asked to motivate the group to swim in a pool of mud, the group would begin diving into it. Her energy and spirits always inspires the group to take on their next activity. It’s so special to experience!
Avery- Sweetest soul award. When we say the world would be a perfect place if everybody was as genuinely nice and sincere as Avery, we couldn’t be more serious. Her voice alone offers such a feeling of compassion, friendship and love that it makes us so sad we can spend every day for the rest of time with her.
Hallie- Most likely surf her way to success. The second she was in the water with her board, our outfitters wanted to see her on bigger waves. She was a natural. But it’s her constant drive and ambition that has her set to catch any wave that life may offer, and we know she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to!
Lily- Most likely to take our jobs as leaders. The moment she stepped into Fiji, we wondered why she wasn’t at staff training. Leadership comes so naturally to her, it’s truly spectacular. Lily has the world at her fingertips, and we can only try to imagine what lays in store for a girl of her brilliance.
Moce (goodbye/farewell, pronounced “Mo-They”) for now!
Thomas, Camille and Ruthie
July 10, 2016
We hope everything is great back home. As expected, things are going swimmingly here in Fiji. We’ve just spent the last two and a half days surfing and relaxing at the Fiji Beach House, a unique little hostel on an old coconut plantation on the island’s southern coast. Again, we don’t think any description could do this place justice. The Beach House is basically a series of cabanas and hammocks looking out over the South Pacific. The place is filled with palm trees, tiki huts and visitors from all over the world. It was a wonderful spot to come wind down after our stay in the village.
On arrival night to the Beach House we were all pretty exhausted from our duckie journey down the river, so after a quick dinner and an hour or so of exploration, the group headed off to bed for a long night’s sleep. When we woke the next day we were fully recharged for a morning of surfing! And oh, what a morning it was. All of us leaders were astonished by how quickly everyone picked up the sport. Hallie, the group’s most experienced surfer, killed it on the short board. The guides were so impressed by her talent! Connor and Tom were also incredible on the long boards, despite this being their first time surfing – such awesome young athletes! By the end of the morning, each member of the group was able to stand up and shred. In addition to the thrill of the waves, everyone felt the relaxing power of the beautiful morning sun. It was a fabulous time.
The group spent the afternoon reading, exploring the beach, and tanning in the sand. That evening, Sydney and Cat, our leaders of the day, came up with a quality idea for the group – watching the sun set together over the island’s west coast. The sight was truly breathtaking. That night, we all slept easily and peacefully after a long, hard day of being surf bums.
The next morning we woke up to another beautiful day at the Beach House. Again, we spent the morning riding the waves, though unfortunately the water was a little bit too choppy for an extended surf session. We all had a blast nonetheless! After returning to the Beach House for a hearty lunch, the group spent the afternoon much like we had the day before. While Cat and Connor spent hours lounging in the sand, Lily, Katie, Anabel, Sydney, Hallie and Gracie had a photo shoot on the beach. Not even gonna lie – we saw Tom sneak into a few of those pics. Martin spent about a half hour exploring the shoreline, only to return with the most beautiful, blue starfish any of us had ever seen. Later, the whole group hopped on over to the volleyball court for a late afternoon match. We all cracked up when Avery decided to kick the ball over the net rather than hit it. The game was too much fun to determine a clear winner.
Later that night, Connor and Lily – the group’s leaders of the day – led our Moonup with a great question. “What has been your ‘wow’ moment of the trip thus far?” Everyone shared a moment or two that stood out to them or made them feel special. It was a very meaningful bonding moment for the entire group.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the update! Today begins our journey to Pacific Harbor to tackle the SCUBA section of the trip!
Ta-ta for now!
Camille, Thomas and Ruthie
July 8, 2016
Bula friends and family!
Hope all is well back in the States! We have just returned from our five day home stay in Wainadiro Village, a little piece of Eden nestled peacefully on the Upper Navua River. Though Wainadiro is surrounded by beautiful, luscious jungle and ancient volcanic mountains, it is the people of the village that made this place so special. We all agree that saying goodbye to the families of Wainadiro is one of the hardest things we’ve ever done!
Our journey to the village began five days ago with a rafting trip on the Upper Navua River with our wonderful guides at Rivers Fiji. The Navua is truly such a unique and inspiring place. The river is surrounded on both sides by tall, green canyons formed by layers of volcanic rock and coral. At some areas, the river gets as slim as fifteen feet. Around almost every corner we were greeted with a new waterfall or more plush Fijian jungle. We all agreed that the river reminds us of something from a ride at Disney World – we had to constantly remind ourselves that what we were seeing was real!
On this day, in the midst of the natural beauty that engulfed us, the group truly began to bond. We all laughed and lent a helping hand when Hallie, Martin, Katie and Connor’s raft tumbled after taking a turn for the worst. Fortunately, everyone was fine and filled with smiles and laughter. Such good sports! Our laughs continued later as we engaged in perhaps the most intense splash fight ever witnessed on the Navua. We think it’s safe to say that Martin was the clear winner of the splash war.
After a long day on the river, the group finally arrived at Wainadiro village on Monday afternoon. The village sits on a bend in the river, providing a perfect view of the sunset in the afternoon – and this was our first impression of Wainadiro. Needless to say, it was breathtaking. But what really makes this village so special is its community. I’m not sure words could ever explain how welcoming, open hearted, and loving these people are. From the moment we arrived, we all had a feeling that Wainadiro would soon become our second home…and how right we were! Following a hearty dinner, the group was taken to a special place to be welcomed into the village family with a traditional Fijian welcoming ceremony. We were each given the chance to kneel, introduce ourselves, and express our gratitude and excitement for the opportunity to serve their community. After the ceremony, we all hung around for an hour or so and danced with the village children. The ceremony and the after party were the cherry on top of a perfect day on the river. We all went to bed with hearts full of eager anticipation for the days ahead.
The next day we woke to be informed of our service project – we would be painting the village church! The church of Wainadiro sits right on the middle of the village and is a huge staple in the community, so we were honored to be trusted with such an important job. While Sydney, Gracie, Cat and Lily grabbed some red paint to conquor the church’s outter trim, the rest of the group tackled the inside with a pretty shade of turquoise. Annabel was given the special job of painting the ceiling! We were proud to see everyone take on the job with great attitudes and loads of enthusiasm. After three days of working on the church, it’s safe to say it looks revived and colorful. Everyone was happy to partake in a project that allowed them to see the direct outcome of their hard work. It was awesome!
While the group worked hard to serve the Wainadiro community, I think we can all agree that the people – and specifically the children – of Waindairo ultimately left a larger impact on us than out service could have ever left on them. After the first long day of work on the church, some rain clouds formed over the village and it began to pour. To avoid getting soaked, everyone piled into one of the village homes. Here, someone had the great idea to teach the group a few of the children’s favorite songs and dances. Together, we spent the entire afternoon dancing and singing the rain away. It was a blasting to watch Avery, Lily and Gracie lead the group in a fun little dance called “Walk Selena.” We remember thinking that this was the moment when the bonds between our group and the village community really began to blossom. This was just the beginning of many new, lifelong friendships with the people of Wainadiro!
The next day followed a much similar schedule (minus the rain) – painting in the morning and playing with the kids when they returned from school around 3 PM. The afternoon was filled with hours of swimming in the river, playing rugby, and riding the river current on hand-made bily-bily bamboo rafts. We’ll never forget looking up-river to see Tom being carried on a raft by three children no older than 5. They made it clear that they were totally in charge, and Tom seemed to understand that perfectly! For the first time since arriving, we all say together on the riverbank and watched the sun set behind the mountains. Another perfect day for the books!
On our final full day in the village, the group took a short hike up the road to a nearby school for the children of Wainadiro and another nearby river community. Here the children greeted us with a welcome song and dozens and dozens of smiles and hugs. After their welcome, we all passed out gifts and headed outside for a recess. Though we only knew about half of the students, it felt like we had known everyone in the school our entire lives. We played, laughed and danced together on the playground for what seemed like hours. In reality, the school headmaster only let us play for about a half hour before asking the kids to return to their studies. We reluctantly said our goodbyes and wished them the best before heading back to Wainadiro. Instead of walking back to the village, we all hopped in the river and decided to float. It was about 45 minutes of pure bliss! When we returned to the village, we all rested for a while until the kids got home from school. We spent the rest of the afternoon like we had the day before – playing and swimming with the children that we had become so close to. It was about this time that we realized how difficult it would be to say goodbye…
That night, we were invited to a farewell ceremony where the people of Wainadiro thanked us for our hard work painting their church. They also expressed gratitude for the friendships we had formed with their children and their community at large. 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 next stay here in Fiji – the beach house!
Hope you’ve enjoyed our update! More to come!
Camille, Thomas and Ruthie
July 8, 2016
(Written on arrival day)
Hello from beautiful Fiji! We are finally here and cannot begin to express our excitement for the adventure ahead of us. Everyone arrived in Nadi safely and happily this morning, despite the long flight from LA. As the sun rose over ancient Fijian mountains, Thomas, Ruthie and I were greeted in the airport by ten eager, joyous smiles. After months of waiting, everyone was finally together in FIJI!!! We immediately attacked the kids with loads of hugs – it was such a joy to finally meet your amazing children.
After leaving the airport, we grabbed a quick breakfast and hopped on a bus to Pacific Harbor – a cool little town settled on Fiji’s southern coast. Here we mostly took it easy, played some games and explored this unique community. It’s safe to say that we are so pumped for all the wonderful things we are about to experience. Tonight we plan on getting a long, well-deserved rest before heading into Wainadiro Village for the service portion of our trip. Your children are all so brave, adventurous, and eager to make a difference – we are so excited to see them become immersed in the Wainadiro community.
Keep checking for further updates!
Until next time,
Student shout outs!
Anabel – I’m doing good!!! Take care of Boo for me. Love y’all.
Hallie – Hey mom, dad, Will, Chris (if you’re home)…I’m having fun and I can’t wait to see you soon! Xoxo
Katie – Hey! I’m doing great and I can’t wait for scuba! Tell Jacob I say “Hi and love you!” Love y’all!
Gracie – Hey family! I’m having so much fun and I miss y’all already. Love y’all so much tell everyone hi!
Lily – Hey family! Fiji is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. So excited for this adventure. Love you and miss you!
Cat – Hi family! Fiji is great I’m making so many friends. I love it. I can’t wait to go to the village tomorrow. Tell all my friends hi for me Xoxo.
Martin – Hi Mom, Dad and Margie! I’m having a great time in Fiji. The people, the places and the scenery are all unimaginably amazing. I love you all and I wish you a happy 4th.
Avery – Hi mom and dad! Fiji is beautiful and I’m already having a blast! Everyone is hilarious. Miss y’all but miss Tristan more! Show him this lol love y’all!
Tom – Hey dad and Sarah having a great time see you in three weeks!
Conor – Hey mom and dad, Fiji is beautiful and I’m having a great time! Miss you!
Sydney – Hey mom and dad Fiji is beautiful I’m already having so much fun and everyone is so nice! Hey Tristan! Love and miss y’all see you soon.