Sunday, April 17, 2011

Give Me SAMOA!

After 16 hours in 2 airports, and 8 hours on two flights, we finally arrived in Apia! It was very Back To the Future for us because we left on the 13th, got to Auckland by the 14th, but then crossed the dateline and arrived in Samoa midmorning on the 13th, so we got to live it again! We were glad because we figured we could make up for any mess-ups we had made on our first attempt at April 13th. This also makes this the longest week of our lives with almost a full eight 24 hour days, but what great timing cause its vacation!

The first day we got picked up from the airport and the shuttle driver was such a funny, happy-go-lucky local who told us the temple was called Salt Lake City, UT, and he told us all about the cannibalism they had here and lots of interesting facts. So pumped for our ride back to the airport J That afternoon we decided to hit the beach, but got pretty lost because there are no addresses, much less street signs anywhere. We finally found a little one, and the water was so clear and so warm! And super salty so you float really easily, it was glorious!

On our way home, we decided to keep looking for a more legit beach (ours was kind of rocky/coral instead of sand which hurts your feet) so we kept walking and soon realized we were being followed by two of the many wild dogs in town. Theses ones may not have been wild, but we weren’t sure so we were still nervous (some of us more than others…) and just hoping that dogs can’t sense fear like horses or other animals can, cause we’d be gone-ers. It drew even more attention to us from the locals as well as all of the other stray dogs, so finally we went into a building and had these huge guys go scare them away. When we left we were still ducking around bushes and stuff cause we could see them looking for us (they clearly would be bad police dogs, cause you’d think they’d be able to sense us coming or something). Long story short we made it out alive. (ok, that wasn’t short…sorry)

The rest of the walk home wasn’t very good either, we were carrying our McDonalds home (only fast food here that doesn’t look sketchy, and that’s saying a lot) and got very lost (anytime we’d ask for directions they’d point in one direction and say “keep going that way” excluding vital steps such as eventually turning. Thanks, you’re so helpful.) When we finally got home to eat our cold dinner, we all just started bawling and decided we needed to go home tomorrow. Luckily we hadn’t figured out the internet yet, otherwise we would have probably gone ahead and booked flights home, so we were forced to sleep on it. It’s already funny looking back on because we were seriously a sorry bunch, but we felt much better in the morning!

So we decided to go to the temple first thing in the morning, and I may or may not have shed a tear or many when it came into sight and I realized we made it without getting lost. And it was like having a little piece of home. When we walked in though, they didn’t speak more than 5 words of English, but we got enough to know to come back at three for baptisms. Then we headed next door to the mission office to just get a contact number to feel a little more secure in this foreign place and while we were talking to the secretary, a woman stopped us and asked if we needed someone to show us around. We didn’t know it then, but that woman, Tina Youngyen, would change our week forever! Naturally we jumped right in her car and were on our way.

Tina first took us to these sliding rocks. (aside: we thought she and some other YSA friends were just going when she invited us but in our car ride we found out she works with the tourism group and would be charging us for everything, but hey, we had been so lost on our own so we went with it) The sliding rocks were a series of waterfalls that you slide down, and it was so fun! I would like those of you who know that I am a pansy to know that I went first on one of them, even without locals doing it first (for proof that we wouldn’t die at the bottom)! It was so beautiful there, totally rainforest-y. That’s me at the top of the big slide. Afterwards we went to the temple for our baptism appointment, and by the end of that we went back to the hotel happy as clams, and ready to “survive” through a week of 90 degrees, sunshine, white sandy beaches, and the clearest/warmest water I’ve ever seen.

The fun continued as we spent the next two days with Tina, here’s what we did:

We spent the first day driving around to see all of the small island (the one we’re staying on) by driving along the road that goes around the edge of the island and stopping at cool places we came across. First was just a stop on the side of the road to get a taste of the wonderful white sand and crystal clear water. This is a picture from where we stopped, and this palm tree/ocean combo is what you see out your window the entire loop around the island, love it!

Next we went to this waterfall that may not have seemed worth 5 Samoan Tala, but then we realized it was equal to about 2 US dollars, and anything is worth two dollars! It was very pretty, and had a sweet jungle to walk through to get to it, but it was a bit disappointing that we couldn’t swim to it.

Our final stop that day was to these lava caves that you swim in. There were tons of fish in the water, so again I overcame my pansy-tendencies and was first to jump in! It was so cool, yet slightly scary (I’m starting to wonder if I have a mild form of claustrophobia…) and very romantic (just ask the couple we shared the cave with).

The next day we were picked up at 4:30 am to catch the first ferry to the big island, Savai’i, which is even more primitive than the one we stayed on but also even more beautiful! Our first stop was called “Swimming Turtles” which is not exactly the whole truth, because yes the turtles were swimming, but WE got to swim with them too! Kelly, my dear sister, I dedicated that swim to you because the whole time I was thinking “Kelly’s gonna hate me, she loves turtles!” We fed them pawpaw (not my fav, we had some in NZ, looks like cantaloupe) and they’d come right up to us! We tried picking them up, but I must have found the big papa of the group cause he was SO heavy and this is as far out of the water as I got him. From this picture you can clearly see I kept my cool the entire time… Turtles as SO not scary, right? Debatable.

Next we stopped at another beach along the road and went out for a swim, but after walking for 5 minutes in water to our knees, we decided that would just have to be deep enough for floating on our backs (we spend 75% of our time in the water floating on our backs, makes it feel even more paradise-y). It was so funny how the waves were so far out, and it was cool being able to just sit in the water and cool off without being completely demolished by waves every 30 seconds. The aunty in me was thinking it would be great with all of our little kiddies because they could play in the water without being held onto for dear life. So maybe we should take our beach week from VA beach to Samoa next year. Who’s with me?

We went to another waterfall after our swimming break and this one was so much more legit than the one from the day before. We swam right up to it! I can’t help but think of my trips to Niagara Falls with Sophia Montenegro in elementary school with our matching fanny packs and ponchos whenever I stand right next to a waterfall!

Here we are at lunch on the second day with Tina, she bought us “real Samoan BBQ” both days and both were essentially the same thing: 3 or 4 pieces of chicken (drumsticks and unidentifiable parts) and a hot dog, with rice and chop suey (spelling? Totally thought that was a karate move) at one place and taro at another. The taro just seemed like a baked potato to me (we just had it sliced and somehow cooked I think, dipped it in tomato sauce). But both times it was SO much food and we couldn’t finish it, which I hate to admit is saying a lot for all 4 of us. It was delicious though!

Can’t forget a ferry ride shot- the girls make fun of me cause I got so excited when I first heard we were riding a ferry to Savai’i and because they know how much Jess, Heidi, and I rode it in Australia. Yeah so what if the ride alone would be worth all the money we paid for the whole day??

Today we will go to church with Tina, pack up, and try to make the most of our last night of the past four months! We’ll probably watch a movie like we have every night here due to our self-imposed 7pm curfew (when it gets dark) and swap stories from our adventures.

We made it through more scary van rides and have seen many more lizards than we would have ever dreamed of! But now it is the end of the Most Fantastic Vacation Ever and the end of my adventures in the South Pacific, how sad! This day wasn’t actually supposed to get here…I am so ready to get home though J When we get to the airport I’ll have just 22 hours of flying and up to 11 airport hours until I’m at my favorite place in the world, HOME!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Finding Nemo Filming Location

The other day Jessica said, "I know Finding Nemo is a cartoon, but I just keep thinking this is where it was filmed," its so true!

Our journey started with a taxi at 4am. We took a taxi, then a plane (bags underweight, babay) then two trains and a bus all while dragging our huge bags! We felt a little ridiculous (I was just with Jessica and Heidi by this point) but we figured at the very least we might brighten someone else’s day because they could get a good laugh or maybe be grateful they at least don’t have to carry so many bags! We were lucky to make all of our trains/bus on time so we could meet up with or host, Cheryl at the bus stop near her house. (ps the public transport here is SO much better here than it is in Auckland, so we can actually go to the places we’re trying to! Almost a foreign concept at this point)

We wasted no time in getting to Featherdale to see Australian animals that afternoon. They have the wallaby’s and kangaroo’s just running loose around the whole place and they come right up to you to so you can pet them! They had tons of koala’s, and we could pet some, but we couldn’t hold any (apparently its illegal, lame). I had zero expectations for this, but can I just say I had NO idea how cute koala’s were! I don’t know why, but I was just melting the whole time. Also, have you ever actually seen a wombat? I don’t know what I thought they were before, but they are hilarious! Like a huge hairy pig/guinea pig that sleeps all day and waddles when it walks. That place was just great.

That night we tagged along with a local youth group to do baptisms at the temple. It’s a beautiful temple (as opposed to all of those ugly ones…?) and we were treated like royalty as we got to go first at everything and were welcomed as special guests several times.

We got up early on Saturday to go to the flower market, aka heaven in a warehouse, with Tamara and her boyfriend, Luke. Tamara is the girl our age in the family we are staying with (an old friend of Mckenna’s! Thanks again for the set up!) Right after that we went into the city and started walking around town, to Darling Harbour, and just exploring the town. We grabbed some lunch and took it on a ferry ride (because our bus passes give us unlimited bus, train, AND FERRY rides, sweet as) around the harbour. Their ferries system is just like any subway system, but of course way more fun to ride, so we actually went on two long ferries and didn’t get off anywhere, just went for the scenery. Hope that’s not weird. Recognize this place, anyone? You’re right, its in Finding Nemo. Opera House!

After our cruises (we’ll call them cruises, then its not weird to ride and never get off) we went to the botanical gardens where there were tons of HUGE spiders, flying foxes, and the world’s largest cockatoo’s just in the wild! Oh, and lots of plants. Next we met up with some of the other girls from our trip (who we coincidentally ran into, and later we ran into the rest of the group! What are the odds, running into them in this huge foreign city?? Makes us feel like locals or something “oh hey, sup?” no big) and went to dinner at Pancakes on the Rocks (the Rocks being similar to Georgetown in DC I’d say) where we had dinner crepes and dessert pancakes- delish! Lastly we walked across the Harbour Bridge so we could see the skyline all lit up at night (don’t worry mom, it was only like 7pm, we weren’t walking around the streets late!) When we got home there was a birthday party in progress so we got to hang out with locals (who dress so well btw, we looked like total frumps)!

On Sunday we got up and watched conference, and just hung out around the house with the family. It was a very relaxing Sunday, the first one in a members home since we left the states! We were so lucky to be staying with this famiy, they have done so much for us and we are so comfortable in their home!

Monday morning we got up and went to Café 5 for breakfast with Tamara and Laura which was delicious. And right at the beach, so I am a fan. We had a little photoshoot with the girls before they took us over to Manly beach for our “scenic walk” hike. We call this our “boy band cover” pose, we could be the next big thing, eh? Laura is on the left and Tamara is on the right, we have had so much fun hanging out with them this week! We spent the day on our scenic walk and then just laying on the beach at Manly (manly being a proper noun in this case, not an adjective, just for clarification, but as far as I could tell it could be both…).

That night we had a YSA FHE at the house, so we went out to a chocolate café called Max Brenner and just completely indulged. It was divine! Jess, Heidi, and I shared a chocolate soufflé, a hot chocolate with chocolate covered waffle cone bits, and a chocolate lick (aka shot of pure melted chocolate). Tamara told us we should go before our last day in Sydney just in case we wanted to go again and that night we realized the wisdom with which she had spoken.

This was also a very big night for us because it was the first night in 3 months that we got to use a flat iron and hair spray (thanks for the flat iron, Laura and Tamara!). We were a squealy giggly bundle of joy through the whole straightening process. We even took shots in the mirror :) Felt so good!

For our last day we had a beach day at Bondi Beach. Within 2 minutes of sitting down on the sand, an Irish man came over and sat right next to us and talked for an hour. He said many odd things, even asked us if we were brainwashed by the church (while trying to flirt, interesting tactics), so we finally told him we were going to get some lunch and we just walked down the beach a little further to an Irish-bachelor-free zone. We went back to Manly beach to find out if the rumors were true about Ben and Jerry’s free scoop day (ps they were) and to get a Max Brenner gift card. We figured while we were there, why not try some more chocolate, so we got the most fantastic thing I’ve ever tasted: Italian Thick Chocolate and drank it on our last ferry ride around the Harbour!

I am now in the airport for 9 hours because we met up with the rest of our group and the girls who aren’t going to Samoa had an earlier flight, but we had a great breakfast of tim-tam-slams so I think I’m set. Australia was such a great trip, chill but we still did a lot, now one more trip and I’ll be home in one week!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Final Countdown!

This past week/weekend we traveled up north where it is always summer!

We have learned that we can always count on James to stop at every little place he thinks has any significance to New Zealand whatsoever on the way to wherever we are going. It’s great because I think it’s in all of the little things that we get a real feel for the culture and lifestyle here. Our first stop on our trip north was at this huge tree. It is called a Kauri tree and it is compared to the Redwoods back home (or at least New Zealand’s version of a Redwood). At this stop James gave all of us matching lava lava’s and showed us how to wear them. Later that day we also stopped for New Zealand’s best meat pies (little pie crusts full of meat and gravy, people live off of them here, something you’d see at a 7-11) and again to see bathrooms decorated with mosaics and wine bottles.

Once we arrived in Paihia (where we were staying in Bay of Islands) we went down the street to the place where the Treaty of Waitangi (their declaration of independence in a way) was signed and there was a whole museum and special Marae, but we have heard this stuff a lot by now so we spent a lot of our time doing head stands and laying in the grass because it was a beautiful day!

On Friday we took a drive up to Cape Reinga, the very top of New Zealand. There were amazing views of the oceans and beaches and cliffs and stuff from atop this big hill we sat on, and all that white foam is where the Pacific ocean and Tasman sea meet! We planted some trees up there to leave a part of us in New Zealand! I know, touching.

From there we went to some huge sand dunes, which we slid down on boogie boards. Videos to come soon J We drove straight onto the beach (you heard me, ON the beach. James and Dr. J are rebels) from there and rode for an hour or so down 90 mile beach (we didn’t go the full 90 miles though). We had to hurry and make it out before the tide came back in, so we were booking it the whole stretch of beach which was exciting. Why do they call it 90 mile beach when they use the metric system here? Well I just don’t know. At the end of that journey we stopped at Doubtful Bay for a swim, but it was cold so we just played around on the rocks looking at barnacles and stuff.

On Saturday we took a ferry to another island in Bay of Islands called Russell. We walked around the cute shops in town (tons of cute boutiques, book stores, etc) before heading to our Science teacher’s (from our classes in January) house. It was absolutely beautiful, right on a secluded beach, so we just had a beach day there. Yes, it is still exciting every time we go to the beach J James taught us to catch these little tiny fish with our bare hands, and he found an octopus for us!

On the way home, we decided to chill at another beach, and we discovered a little kayak rental so we took them for a spin around this small island (I don’t know distances, about an hour round trip), again with James. We stopped at our little island for a quick swim with the 8 or so of us that were there and it was just the cherry on top of the perfect summer day!

We just went to church on Sunday and hung out around Paihia at the motel and watching the sunset. Conference isn’t broadcast until the next two weeks here, so this Sunday we’ll watch the Saturday session at church and the following Sunday we’ll get the Sunday session. Until then I am feeling quite out of the loop.

We hiked to Haruru Falls on Monday, and it was a beautiful hike through the tropical brush! It reminded me of a mini Niagara Falls (I’d say 1/9 of Niagara), which was not what we had expected at all but it was pretty! It was a good activity for us all to do together on our last day with the whole group.

Here we are Tuesday morning, saying our goodbyes to James and to each other (…until we get back to Provo, but it won’t be the same, ok??). We sang our Maori song to James and then another one accompanied by Emily on the ukulele, but no one really sang the last one cause we were all blubbery. Love you girls! And James and Jim and Linda!

Last night, Jessica was coming over while Christine went out with her parents. We go to each other’s houses all the time and just walk, but this time Kerry offered to go pick her up. We went out to the car and realized why: bug convertible rental car! It was so funny, we decided to go to the grocery store as well, then take a super long way home even though its fall now and getting cold. Thanks for the ride, Kerry!

For our last day in Auckland today, Sheryl took off work and took us to lunch at The Brigham with Raewyn and Kodie. It was such a cute place with beautiful gardens to walk around. Kodie and I even got to help feed the doves (or white pigeons? They looked special either way)! We were so lucky. We’re going to miss the Lord family so much!

Goodbye Auckland! It's been real!