July 14, 2017
BULA VINAKA, families!
Your lovely children are currently well on their way back to the US of A after an amazing couple of weeks in Fiji. Though we’re sad to see them all go, we feel so lucky to have had such a great group of kind, funny, and adventurous kids join us on this adventure.
Since last writing a few days ago, we were able to truly experience paradise for ourselves at our beachfront accommodations. Where we stay is where adventurous travelers come to experience real coastal Fiji charm, away from the mega resorts that can be found elsewhere along the Coral Coast. From the palm tree-fringed beaches, crystal-clear water inside the barrier reefs and great conditions for surfers of all levels it makes for the ideal place for a Moondance crew to go get wet and have a blast in a gorgeous environment!
Our three days there were spent surfing, climbing palm trees, kayaking in the lagoon, boating to remote islands, playing soccer and volleyball with the locals, stand-up paddleboarding, snorkeling, drinking tropical smoothies, and generally enjoying each others’ company while playing around the beach area.
Day one was spent surfing in the morning out in front of the resort. We were taken by boat out to where the waves break off the barrier reef about 250 yards out to sea and then reform as smaller waves a bit further in where the bottom becomes more forgiving and is perfect for beginners like our crew. Everybody gave it their best effort, but I must say that the girls really rocked it out there. Some had done it before, or have a father that surfs regularly, or just have super good balance. Whatever the case, they all got lots of really long rides – with sometimes as many as three or four girls on the same wave – and loved every minute of it!
The following day we surfed again in the morning and then boated to an island off the coast for some snorkeling and BBQ. This stunning island boasts a population of roughly 50 people and the most beautiful water for us to enjoy in near-seclusion. There we lived out our own version of Robinson Crusoe, if only for a few hours. On the trip back to our lodging we were joined by a group of small bottle-nose dolphins, swimming and jumping near the boat to the tune of our group losing their collective minds over the chance appearance! That evening we took some trucks down to the popular Eco Cafe to enjoy the best pizza outside of Italy and cheesecake that was as thick as fudge!
The following day, sadly our last, the surf dropped off and so was spent lounging beach- and poolside and reflecting on all the wonderful experiences from our trip. We laughed and chatted with our new friends we’d made from England, New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji, of course. We packed our things and got started our ride back to Nadi.
Fortunately the ride back along the coast is absolutely stunning so our minds didn’t focus too much on the trip coming to an end. We made one final stop near Nadi to have some delicious dinner and acai bowls before shuttling over to the airport. There we took pictures and hung out for a while, making the most of our last moments together before sending them off, through security and on their way back to see all of you!
We’d like to thank you for sending your children to Fiji this summer to brighten an already-magical place with their humor and positive, adventurous attitude. Every single one of us has loved our time on this far away island and will be coming back as soon as the opportunity presents itself. They’ll have some great stories to tell and photos to show when they get home.
Lots of love,
Marc and Harrison
July 11, 2017
Bula Vinaka, Moondance families!
We write this update from the beautiful Fiji Beachouse, reflecting on a whirlwind of a few days up in the village of Wainandiro. Wainandiro is a very small village of maybe 30 residents, perched on a small hill above the flood line on the gorgeous Navua River. There lives a collection of the kindest, happiest people we’ve ever met – always quick to start up a conversation or invite you in for a bite of whatever they’ve got cooking. The local children want nothing more than to be in your company, laughing and playing and climbing on you like a jungle gym.
After leaving Club Oceanus and taking a short drive along the coast, we turned inland and climbed up to the top of the Navua River where we put in our rafts. Divided into three rafting groups, we leisurely cruised through the narrow river gorge engulfed by thick jungle which eventually opened up to a wide valley over our 16-mile ride. We passed many waterfalls before stopping for lunch on the river bank. Well fed, Andrew and Mary led their respective boats in an intense race that lasted the last hour and a half until the village. Upon arriving, we broke down the rafts and said goodbye to our awesome rafting guides before moving in to our cozy new home where we would be spending the following four nights. That night we had a welcome dinner ceremony led by the local chief and spokesman. Jack was selected to be the man of honor from our group and proudly accepted his position among the town leaders. We listened to music afterwards and socialized for a bit, as is custom. The local children were especially excited to have us back and wasted no time in greeting all of our students and even including them in their dances.
The next morning we awoke to a delicious breakfast and enjoyed our first meal on our new deck that overlooks the river and valley. School was out as it was a Saturday, but a fun plan was cooked up by Petero, one of our local guides. He led us across the river and up deep into the jungle to a small plot to learn about some traditional Fijian farming methods. Once conquering a pretty steep and muddy climb, we were introduced to some new plants native to the area; kasava and kava. Lily and Ellie were itching to get their hands dirty and volunteered to dig the holes for the kasava plant and lie the kava clippings sideways before covering them up with soil. When it was time for lunch we headed back down and crossed the river to cool off a bit. We enjoyed some sunshine and lounging by the rocks as we watched some of the local children prepare a fire and cook fish they had caught earlier that day. Feeling inspired, McRae fashioned a small, makeshift fishing pole from a stick, shoestring, rock, and hook and went into the river to try his luck. He came up short but had fun getting some tosses in. We spent the cool afternoon playing cards and Bananagrams on the deck, while our fans, the local children, watched on and curled up beside us.
Sundays in the village center around mass at the church and subsequent family style meals shared in the homes. The group showered and dressed up in our traditional “sulu” skirts to attend the service. Though the service was held entirely in Fijian language, we all loved the gorgeous singing of the townspeople and the smiling faces that welcomed us there. After mass, we decided to donate the gifts that our students brought for the local children. McKinnon brightened the day for a group of young boys as she handed them several jumpropes and ran through the different ways to skip rope. Sarah kindly donated school supplies to a lovely family who then invited her to stay for lunch to show their appreciation. The group ate a late lunch together and spent the afternoon with the local kids, playing and bathing in the river before warming up to tea and sun on the deck. There, Julia explained the Bananagrams game to a small crew of our favorite local children and challenged them to several matches. Mexican food for dinner was delicious and a welcome change for the crew.
Monday would be our last full day in the village. Following an early breakfast, we hiked 30 minutes to the nearby primary school that receives children from both Wainadiro and Waibogi (slightly bigger than Wainadiro and the the site of the school). There we split up into small groups and entered classrooms to introduce ourselves and interact with the children and just help in any way that the teachers needed us. After recess, we painted the entire front of the school and got a special assignment from the headteacher to paint the school symbol at mural size where the path meets the back wall of the school. Ella Grace was confident enough in her artistic abilities to accept this tall task and recruited others from the group to make the painting a reality (it turned out awesome!). After a quick lunch it was time for us to hit the schoolyard with all of the students from the eight classes at the school. There was a sort of organized chaos as games of volleyball, rugby, baseball, duck-duck-goose, and soccer were played simultaneously without any injuries. Hannah knocked a couple line drives on the baseball field before teaching a group of young girls fun handshakes and playground games. Before leaving, Ella Grace said some kind words to the headteacher and students of the school, thanking them for the opportunity to come to their school and make quick friends with all the wonderful children. Back in Wainadiro, the women of the village had been preparing a massive feast and ceremony for our crew’s last evening. As is custom, we dressed in our sulus and went to enjoy the delicious dinner and beautiful ceremony where the elders thanked us for our work at the school and for our kinship with the young children in the village. We stayed afterwards to socialize and dance. Luke loved the music so much that he shared some of his wild dance moves that had the locals cracking up. He, along with Ella Grace and Lily, stayed longer than the rest of the crew to continue conversing with their new friends and listening to their great music. We said “vinaka” to the villagers and went to get some rest for a big day of rafting the next morning.
This morning was a beautiful but somber one. We all loved our time in the village and truly felt incorporated into the daily routines and lives of the people. We broke down all of our bedding and mosquito nets and got ready to kayak the rest of the way down the Navua River. The paddle and waterfall visit were just as pretty as the upper part and even more relaxing. We made it to our current location in paradise at the Fiji Beachouse, which we will call home for the next three nights while surfing, snorkeling, kayaking, and generally living the beach life. We’ll tell you about that in a few days as we board our flight for home!
We love you and can’t wait to see you all soon!
Marc and Harrison and the gang
July 6, 2017
Bula Friends and Family!
Life in the southern hemisphere has been incredible the past few days! We have all successfully completed our PADI open water scuba certifications and enjoyed picture perfect weather as well. After an early start following our day spent lounging on the ocean, we packed up and headed down to the Coral Coast for our scuba diving section. The drive from Nadi took us along the shallow barrier-reef and through dense tropical jungle. We stopped at a roadside market and grabbed some early morning treats and souvenirs. Once in Pacific Harbor we quickly settled into our accommodations for the next five days and got ready for the pool diving part of our scuba certification. We split into groups and met our dive guides, Ilison and Lui, who would be with us for the remainder of our diving section.
As groups rotated through the pool training sessions, those of us not diving stayed busy by exploring the grounds of the dive resort, played volleyball and a new game, “nukeem” (like a slower volleyball), and napped in the sun to treat any remaining jet lag. Once finished with our pool skills, we all dashed to the two bridges near the resort, old and new (and short and tall, respectively) to have some fun. Mary, Julia, and McKinnon were the brave pioneers who launched themselves from the 25-foot tall bridge first! We took videos and tons of photos of the whole gang jumping multiple times. Hannah impressed the group with some textbook back flips from the smaller bridge (which she would later replicate on land!). We topped off the evening with dinner in town and went to bed for some still-much-needed sleep.
The next morning the group woke up to clear skies and uncharacteristically calm winds. The call was to check out the beach at the nice resort across the street and catch some rays as diving would be in the afternoon that day. The ocean looked like a lake and the tide was super low – allowing for us to run around and play games on the harder-packed sand. The group favorite was four square. McRae and Lily used their athletic and competitive backgrounds to dominate the rest and spend the most time as “King,” or leader of the game. This morning also saw the beginning of Andrew and McRae’s makeshift Highland Games series, to be repeated every time we stepped foot on the beach, in which they found massive pieces of driftwood and downed palm tree trunks to throw and carry and shot-put as if they were competing in the games. After lunch we suited up and prepared for our first ocean dives to complete certification. The whole group was in for a real treat as we were taken to a nearby island, called Yanuca, which had the most beautiful water color and plenty of palm trees lining the beach. The majority of the group practiced the skills learned in the pool over two dives in the 25-feet deep crystal clear water. Meanwhile, Luke was off visiting a shipwreck with another instructor in preparation for completing his advanced open water certification as he was already open water certified.
The following day we returned to Yanuca Island after breakfast for our final certification dives. These two dives were honestly the best diving conditions us leaders had seen in our lives. The reefs were teeming with soft coral and schools of the most colorful, varied fish and visibility was just phenomenal. Ellie spent the most time admiring the reef and studying everything she saw, adding it all to her memory bank to later ask us about what she saw. The gang was buzzing with energy after the perfect morning and felt we deserved some treats after lunch. We hit the Pearl Resort again for more beach time and games before shakes and smoothies in town to celebrate the 4th of July and officially becoming open water certified scuba divers!
The next two days were spent exploring of the Beqa Lagoon dive sites. Heading out to “the Bistro,” Jack sat next our diving guides on the boat, as he often did, to pick their brains about diving conditions and technique, and to just learn anything else he could about the area. Here the group got their first taste of excitement in the water as they saw some big eels and even a few sharks! We also visited sites like “Seven Sisters” and “Golden Arches,” which had multiple reef and coral arches for the group to swim through. Between dives, Ella Grace and Sarah were always quick to say jokes and play pranks on the squad – pushing us all in the water and switching on the Go Pros to catch it all on video!
All in all, our time in Pacific Harbor exceeded our expectations and provided us with a newfound love and respect of the underwater ocean world. This first experience was so positive that I think a lot of this group will look to dive whenever the opportunity arises on future vacations. That will have to wait, however, as we’re about to go deep into the Fijian interior to do our community service and cultural immersion. Bright and early tomorrow morning, we’ll be on our way to the top of the Navua River to raft into a wonderful village that will play host and open their hearts and arms to our group. We will check back in in a few days to tell you all about it!
Marc and Harrison
PS before we go, our crew would like to say a few words :
Ellie – Hey Mom and Dad, I’m having fun. I saw a 9ft bull shark! Lots of love
Lily – hey Mom and Dad, I survived scuba diving and am loving Fiji!
Ella Grace – Hey Mom, Dad, and pups. Miss you loads but I don’t plan on coming home. Bula!
Luke – Bula Hazel and Peabody, had a close encounter with sharks! Love you
Jack – Hey Mom and Dad, I’m officially a certified scuba diver, despite adversity! Pop, pop, pop. Love you
Andrew – I love you, Mom, I miss the pups!
Sarah – Bula Conows and Dave! Love and miss y’all!
Julia – Hola mi familia, love y’all. Don’t get too wild without me.
McKinnon – Hey fam, what’s good? Love you all and Margo and Zoey.
McRae – Hey fam, loving Fiji, love you.
Hannah – Hi familia, say hi to my puppy love y’all
Mary – Hey fam, y’all are missing out! Love you
July 3, 2017
After a long 28 hours of travel everyone has arrived in Fiji! We picked up the group at the airport, bright and early at six A.M. Finally after making it through customs, we were glad to have the many travel days behind us. Hannah organized all of the group’s luggage as it came off of the carousel in a pyramid formation. We then piled into our transportation over to our hotel for the night to start off our island adventure!
Once we got to the hotel we sat down for breakfast and had a wonderful meal of pancakes, bacon, and local tropical smoothies as everyone began sharing stories from home and got to know each other a little better. Ella Grace and Mary were the first to jump in the pool and take the plunge down the slide at the hotel. After a great morning, we hopped in the van and headed down to Port Denarau and took in the lush scenery along the way. It is hard to believe this tropical paradise will be our home for the next two weeks!
The “Wanaka” is a 44-foot long catamaran that took our group 30 minutes on a delightfully calm sail over to a small tropical island and reef system. The crew was comprised of a few smiling Fijians that made us feel comfortable and safe on the boat. They brought us refreshments and let the students steer the boat. Luke was kind enough to share in camera and took photos of the group on the boat as we approached the island we would be snorkeling form. Immediately McKinnon, Julia, and Lily grabbed fins and jumped into the water. We were greeted by an array of new sights under the water. There were blue starfish, moray eels, clown fish, giant clams, thick schools of thousands of small shiners, and wonderfully bright tropical fish. Sarah was brave enough to handle the slimy sea cucumber that she attempted to hold up as someone took a picture before dropping it back in the water. Next we continued our swim along the reef edge with our guides looking for more marine life and watching as Jack and Ellie showed their free diving skills to everyone looking for more marine life. We swam ashore like true castaways and took a break from snorkeling and soaked up more sunshine on this idyllic day. We walked along the shore and took in the breathtaking views before taking the long swim back to the boat. After a relaxing lunch we headed back to the mainland as our guides made impressive woven bracelets, grasshoppers, and pinwheels from palm leaves.
Once back at the hotel everyone settled into their rooms and enjoyed hot showers after a long day. A special mention to McRae and Andrew for taking initiative and helping with everyone’s bags! We headed to bed early in attempt to avoid jet lag and in preparation for our move to Pacific Harbor to begin our scuba section. More to come as we dive below the surface and explore more of Fiji!
Marc and Harrison
June 30, 2017
Hey Fiji 2A friends and families!
Marc and Harrison let us know that all students have arrived safely, and they are off on their adventure. Stay tuned for more updates!
-Moondance Administrative Team