Las Vegas – Roll the dice just one more time

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Most of the Greyhound bus ride from San Diego to Las Vegas I spent with shifting a cold towel around my neck. Although there was air-conditioning, the temperatures were rising. In San Bernardino I was lucky that I had a correspondence with only a 30 min delay. Apparently, they were overbooking buses and people had been waiting for a long time already. Somewhere before Las Vegas, the driver suddenly stopped and asked a guy she knew on the bus for help, because there was a big insect in the driver’s cabin. When that unwelcome passenger was removed we reached Las Vegas without further delay.

I started walking towards my hostel but after about 5min I had to admit that it was just too hot to walk and carry a suitcase and therefore I took a bus at the Bonneville Transit Center. I only had to ride about 3 stops and would have had to pay 6$ for a two hour ticket because it’s the tourist strip bus. But it took me so long to find 6 single bucks and the bus driver pitied me (I was melting) that he let me ride for just two dollar.

The Hostel Cat was really cute. Painted in bright colors and with country flags everywhere. They had put me into the Australia dorm J All the people were really nice and for two nights I had a great sleep although people were coming back in the middle of the night. Everybody was very considerate.

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I went to have dinner in a nearby Thai place with a German guy who works at the German school in NY. It seems to be easier for pre-school teachers to find places all over the world. We tried to work out a plan for a road trip but since he really wanted to leave the next morning, we weren’t able to travel together. Plus, it was the most disgusting papaya salad I ever had. Probably shouldn’t eat that outside of Thailand.

The next day, I went on a casino field trip. I started at the Bellagio, which had a really pretty artificial garden inside. Then I went to NYNY, where I almost got lost but I loved how they rebuilt certain parts of the city and from there short stops at Excalibur and Mandalay Bay. I had to stay inside the casinos, it was torture to walk outside in the heat. When I had to go a bigger distance, I took the Deuce strip bus. It costs 8$ for 24h but with that you can ride all the buses in Las Vegas. Vegas surely is just a huge fun park.

Once I got hungry, I went to the Palm Casino for the buffet. At the register, there was an Asian lady in front of me and since she was alone too, we sat at a table together. After all, eating is more fun in company and that woman was really funny.

With a full stomach, I was ready to conquer the Premium Fashion Outlet South. Unfortunately, the prices there weren’t that much reduced. It was more like a normal sale in a normal store.

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In the early evening, I thought I’d ride to Walmart to go buy some things. I met a really nice Indian tourist couple on the bus who was also trying to get to Walmart. It took a long time and the way back was even worse because they were still in the shop and now there were only weird people on the bus. I hadn’t felt entirely safe while waiting for the bus. That made me realize again that the US is still above all a country where you need a car and that I couldn’t live in Las Vegas because I didn’t feel safe to walk anywhere after dark that was not along the strip.

By the time I got back to the hostel, I thought it was about 8.30pm but since my phone had died, I didn’t have a watch and hadn’t realized it was already 9.50pm and I had only 10min to get ready to go out with a group of people from the hostel.

They drove us to the Whynn Casino in a Hummer. There we signed up for the player’s card to get 10$ free slot money. I walked out with 17$ J Plus, you could order free drinks while you were playing, you just had to tip the waitress at least one dollar or she wouldn’t serve you anymore.

After that, we went to Casino Royale. They had a roulette table for just 4$. I watched for a while and then went to the outdoor dance club next door. But this day of walking miles and miles through casinos and malls had left me quite tired and so I returned to the hostel with the Deuce bus pretty soon, after a short stop at McDonalds. This should have been my last evening here. I hadn’t intended to spend so many days in Las Vegas. However, it turned out harder than imagined to find road trip buddies that were traveling in the same timeframe and direction as I was. After all the travelling I have done, I still don’t like this status of not knowing where I could end up the next day. I like to plan and look forward to things. But I probably have a little more relaxed attitude about that now, since it always worked out somehow, even when it was in the last minute.

Therefore, I had extended previously extended the hostel for another night to give me more time.

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So, I went to the Premium Outlet Mall North the next day. This time, I found new sneakers. I needed some good quality ones, since I was still counting on my road trip and some hiking and I had to leave my old ones in Australia because they were so worn out.

In the afternoon heat, I followed some advice from other people and went to the Stratosphere tower. They have a pool on a terrace on the 8 floor and don’t really check whether you are from the hostel or not. Just don’t bring your own towel because you receive hotel towels at the pool. Since it was a concrete floor and there was hardly any shade, I just quickly jumped into the water and then fled to the air-conditioned casinos again.

For dinner, I went to Fremont St in Downtown Las Vegas. That reminded me of the food mile outside Disneyland in Paris. It really is a fun park with rides, artists, casinos and even a zip line along the whole street.

Then, I went back to Casino Royale, where I won 4$ at roulette, with which I then played 1$ Blackjack at the Riviera for an hour. In the end, I had lost my 4$ and so I stopped. I don’t think I have casino luck but you can’t go to Vegas without playing a little.

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The whole evening I was also trying to meet up with people from couchsurfing for a possible road trip. However, with international cell-phones and everybody getting lost in the Vegas jungle, we never managed to meet. So, I was still without an exact plan of what to do after my last night at the hostel but there still were some options and so I wasn’t feeling desperate.

The next morning, one of the guys I had been in contact with about a road trip contacted me again and came to my hostel. This time it actually worked out to meet and after a short talk and quick plan we realized that Jean-Baptiste and I wanted to do about the same thing. Is it reasonable to just jump into a car with a traveler you have never met before? I’d say for at least 98% of the time it is, because most people are good at their heart. If I had landed within the rest 2% and not noticed it, that would just have been really bad luck. But JB and I got along great and had the same ideas about things on the trip, therefore travelling with him was very agreeable. Plus, since he is French, I really could brush up this language and we spoke French the whole week.

Renting a car from Las Vegas is horrendous and therefore it’s probably more recommendable to rent it at the coast and bring it back after Vegas. But we didn’t have a choice and so just planned a round trip back to Las Vegas instead of driving up to San Francisco afterwards, since the relocation would have cost about 300$ on its own.

Finally, at about noon, we had a car booked with Alamo and then jovially made our way to the airport by 2$ bus and then shuttle to pick up the car at 2pm. I didn’t like that we were leaving so late because we wouldn’t be able to really profit from this day but at least we could make it close to Grand Canyon and be there early the next morning.

I was surprised how easy it was to get the car at Alamo. Booking over the internet just a little over an hour ago had worked out perfectly. The guy then convinced us to take a motor size bigger for 474$/ week (at the coast you can get it for half price) because of the heat and heights we’d be travelling through. I still don’t know whether he just wanted to make more money or whether we really needed it but in the end, I loved our new VW beetle. I actually always wanted to have a car like that. And it was so nice to not have a single problem with the car (once we had figured out how to open the trunk and the gas lid) and it was cool to have a car with power that felt like taking off with an airplane whenever we sped up.

First, we went to get JB’s luggage from his couchsurfers house, which was another 20min drive out of town in the wrong direction. But after that, we were so eager for our road trip and finally, we were on the road towards Grand Canyon.

Kisses from Vegas

Kisses from Vegas

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Sunny San Diego and a short trip to Baja California

Balboa Park

Balboa Park

The drive into the Greyhound parking lot offered a view on homeless people and impressive architectural buildings in the background. Although it was bright afternoon, I felt a bit uneasy walking past all these people sitting on the side walk. There are a lot of them downtown and therefore I tried to avoid walking around on my own at night. But this being said, that was the only negative part about San Diego. Actually, I LOVED everything else, the beaches, the zoo, the food, the people I met and that there always seems to be some kind of event.

The people at my hostel were really friendly and gave me good tips on what to do. I dropped off my bags and walked the few blocks to the Gas Lamp District on 4th and 5th avenue. There are loads of restaurants and bars and of course the old fashioned looking street lamps. I reached the San Diego Conventional center, which is huge! I found a stairway to walk to the top and then came down at the sea front. A little along the ocean I found Seaport Village. That’s basically a tourist village with shops and restaurants but it looks really cute. A little more along the harbor I then spotted the huge navy ship that is parked there. It’s a museum and you can go on it. Right next to it is a cool statue from the famous WWII Times Square kiss.

By that time I was hungry and so I went back into town to the Mexican place my hostel recommended to me. Pokéz (on 10th Ave& E Street) is a funky place filled with art. The portions are huge and everything is under 10$!!! And of course you receive free chips with salsa. In addition, it was the best Mexican food I’ve ever had. I went back twice to try different things and loved it every time.

Pokéz

Pokéz

In the evening, I enjoyed the cool evening breeze on the rooftop of our hostel with a group of Germans. They invited me to come out with them and another girl from our room tagged along too.

First, we went to the bar ‘Shout’ on 4th Street. There was a stage with a giant piano and someone playing and singing on each end. The audience could request songs and everybody was singing along. The atmosphere was great!

Afterwards, we went to the bar/club around the corner on 5th. A DJ was playing electronic music and someone was rocking an electric guitar to accompany him. It was awesome!

Once we were back at the hostel, I thought it was kind of funny that all the girls were in my room. It was like having a pj-party with friends instead of sleeping in a hostel dorm.

The next morning I took the 1 hour bus ride to La Jolla with one of the German guys. Bus trips only cost 2.25$ per trip or 5$ for a day ticket. Somebody I met on Fiji had told me that there were leopard sharks in La Jolla at this time of a year and you could swim with them. The beach and water was very crowded with snorkelers and people in canoes but we found a tiny bay off to the side of the main beach. It was a bit scary to just swim out there without snorkel gear but we wanted to find the sharks. When we spotted the shadow of the first one, I thought that was quite exciting. When after that two, three shadows followed and started to circle below us I started to doubt whether they were really not dangerous to the swimmers. We swam back to the beach, where someone was nice enough to lend me their snorkel mask for a moment. I returned out there and then actually got to see the sharks. They weren’t as big as their shadow 🙂 But that was a cool experience!

Seals at La Jolla Cove

Seals at La Jolla Cove

Afterwards, the Germans headed to the airport to fly to Mexico and I took the bus to go meet my couchsurfer. Again, I was so lucky with who I landed with. He was a great host and it was more like staying with a friend than with a complete stranger. Eric had to work the next day but in the morning, he first walked me into San Diego Zoo. He has an annual pass and can always bring a second person for free. Lucky me 🙂 The zoo is quite beautiful and there are a lot of animal species. I enjoyed watching the giraffes, elephants and polar bears. The koalas were very active in the morning, however the pandas were asleep. The zoo is huge and after walking everywhere, I was quite tired and it was pretty hot too. I took bus nr. 7 to go back into town and have lunch in an air-conditioned place and then took the bus back to El Prado in Balboa Park.

The houses in a Spanish style architecture are beautiful and there are ponds and a rose and cactus garden. A place to return to and just relax.

Then, I went back to the apartment to meet Eric. He took me on a motorcycle ride to Coronado Beach and then the sunset cliffs. From there we had a beautiful view over the ocean and down on surfers.

The next day, I returned to the La Jolla area but this time to La Jolla Cove. It really is a small beach in between rocks but the even cooler thing is all the seals that are right next to it on the rocks and sometimes swim over to the beach to swim with the people in the water. There were loads of people because they were also all snorkeling for leopard sharks.

Panda at San Diego Zoo

Panda at San Diego Zoo

I took the bus to pacific beach and then started walking along the beach towards Mission Beach. There were many surfers and I wished I could go surfing too. Along the road, there were also cute beach shops and bars. It looked like a mellow version of El Arenal in Mallorca.

Somewhere between the two beach towns, I also placed my towel on the ground and jumped into the waves. After that nice refreshment, I was cooled down enough to have a look at the Belmont Park amusement park.

Then, it was time to get some dinner. For that, I went to Old Town San Diego. It’s most likely a tourist trap too but it’s still nice to look at all the Mexican style houses. Of course, I had Mexican food but it was nowhere near as good as at Pokéz.

Later in the evening, Eric and I went to a bar in his neighborhood, were I got to meet some of his friends. Most of them are couchsurfer hosts/surfers too and therefore were really cool and welcoming. We didn’t stay too long though because we had to leave early the next morning, to drive to Mexico with some other couchsurfers from San Diego. We decided to go winery hopping and to a wine fest in the evening and then surfing on Sunday. This all sounds like great fun but in order to have time for this, we had to say no to a horse race and a free Counting Crows concert after that or to go sailing with another group of couchsurfers. I asked Eric, whether I just happened to come on a really busy weekend but he replied that it was always like that in San Diego.

Winery in Mexico

Winery in Mexico

Crossing the border into Mexico was easy. The only thing you have to know is that you should get an extra insurance for the car before leaving the US. We went to get the insurance at a drive-thru office right in front of the border. It seems that in the US there is a drive-thru for everything, even the wedding chapels in Las Vegas.

The wine tastings were the most expensive I have seen on my whole trip but at least the scenery the wineries were in and the buildings were impressive.

We had completely overfilled tostadas for dinner in a Mexican restaurant in Ensenada. After that, we had delicious coffees and smoothies in a really cute café. They had a nice rooftop with comfortable but non-matching chairs.

And then it was time to go to the wine street festival. That was really cool. There were loads of booths where you could buy food or wine or sangria and at least 10 different stages with music or dancing in the halls where the wine barrels were stored.

Once we were tired, we luckily still remembered in which street we parked our car and then were even luckier to find a campsite right on the beach. It was great to sleep in a tent on the beach again.

Just a few kilometers up the road in La Fonda, we found our surf spot the next day. Eric had a second board for me and even a rashie too. I needed that against the cold of the water. I stayed in the white water for a while but then went out to the bigger waves too. However, the intervals were quite big and so we mainly relaxed out there in the clear water. Then, Eric and I surfed a perfect wave together until we reached the beach. After that, the water became a bit rougher and after being in there for three hours, our feet were almost frozen.

We drove back down to La Mision, where we bought a coconut with fruit and shrimp in it. That was delicious!

The trip back into the US took a bit longer, since we had to wait for an hour at the Tecate boarder. At least there were some vendors that sold food and I had the most delicious Churros of my life.

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Back in San Diego, the fun wasn’t over yet. It was city fest in the gay neighborhood. There also were some vendors and a stage with DJs and almost naked dancers. The music was great and the whole street was dancing. At some point in the evening a really good looking (also shirtless (seems to be mandatory here)) guy came to talk to me but it quickly turned out that he was only interested in Eric. Some of Eric’s other friends from the bar were there too and we had a really good evening. I felt at home in this town.

The next day, I walked a few blocks up 30th street to go to Unique Nails. After all that camping in Australia, I told myself that at some point I really needed to do something for my nails and here was a salon that offered a manicure and pedicure for 15$!! The Asian lady worked really hard too and I even received a short but heavenly foot and hand massage.

City fest

City fest

Then, I walked back to the house and packed my things, since I wanted to take the night bus that evening. But before that, we went to Pokéz again for dinner. One of Eric’s friends came with us too. He just moved to San Diego and would be living with Eric for the next few days until he found his own place. There at dinner, I suddenly started to feel really dizzy. All the signs pointed towards a heat stroke and so I first of all tried to cool myself down with ice cubes. Unfortunately, that didn’t help enough and there was no way I could travel on a night bus. Luckily, Eric convinced me to stay another night and so I spent the rest of the evening out on a blanket on his front lawn, in the cool evening breeze with cold towels on my head. I should have listened to the signs of my body throughout the last few days but there just was so much to do that I didn’t stay in the shade enough.

Luckily, I felt better the next morning and we took a second attempt in driving to the Greyhound station. This time, I boarded the bus and thanks to two bags of ice, weathered the 7 hour journey to Las Vegas without any problems. I wasn’t the only tired person with a red head on the bus. I think the heat here really is extreme at the moment. Later in my Las Vegas hostel, three of the people in my 10 bed room told me that they had just recently had a heat stroke too.

Well, I learned a lesson but apart from that, San Diego was so perfect that I kind of wished I hadn’t had to leave yet.

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Torrance and Los Angeles

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I arrived at LAX in the early morning but the airport was already very busy. After I finally got through customs, I took the C shuttle to get to the parking lot with the public buses. It was already quite hot and the sun was shining brightly. Finally I made it back into summer.

Nr 8 bus to Torrance arrived soon. I thought I’d go as close as possible to my relatives’ house and then take a taxi from there. The 40min ride only cost 70cent. Some nice people told me where I should get off but since I didn’t know the area at all, I felt like I was standing in the middle of nowhere. No cabs were driving by and no people around. But there were a lot of banks and so I walked into the Bank of America and asked whether I could make a local phone call. They were really nice and 2min later I knew I was at the right spot and my uncle was on his way to pick me up. He just hadn’t wanted to drive the crazy busy roads around the airport.

It was great to see them again! LA is not really around the corner from Switzerland and therefore we really don’t get to see them enough.

Getty Museum

Getty Museum

I had planned to be there on 1st August for the Swiss national holiday. Like that I would at least be surrounded with some Swiss people 🙂

I had my own room, which was wonderful after these huge dorm rooms and finally could enjoy cheap Starbucks, donuts, great Mexican food and the most delicious Ben&Jerries again. However, I was surprised that a lot of donut shops seemed to have disappeared. Instead, there are more Starbucks as McDonald’s now.

We visited the close by Redondo Beach. I had a corn dog from the boardwalk and swam in the pacific. The water had never been so warm when I was in the US. When we weren’t at the beach, I could swim in the pool that belonged to the apartments where my relatives lived. A 10 year old boy was there very often too and so we usually talked while I was swimming and he was jumping into the water from every possible corner. At some point, he asked me how old I was and so I told him. At that, he was shocked and replied that he thought that I was ‘only a teenager’. I don’t know whether I should take that as a compliment or whether it’s my short hair’s fault.

On Saturday, we visited the Getty museum. It’s a beautiful, huge house with a nice garden somewhere in the Bel Air Hills. You have to pay 15$ for parking but everything after that is free. In a tram or cable car we rode up the mountain to the entrance of the museum. From the terraces, you have a really nice view over LA.

Getty Villa

Getty Villa

We only saw a small part of the museum since it’s so big. There are paintings by many famous painters and very helpful staff. We could have done one of the free tours also but there just wasn’t enough time in one day. Someone pointed out to us that we could go to the Getty Villa for free too if we exchanged our parking ticket at the office. So, we did that and then drove towards Santa Monica.

The Getty Villa is a beautiful roman mansion. There are a lot of historic artefacts and sculptures but the villa alone is already worth seeing. There even was a mummy and outside beautiful gardens with water basins. These two museums are definitely worth going to and then returning again for the things you didn’t have time for.

On Sunday, we spent another day at the beach at Riviera Village. All places along the water here have a nice holiday touch.

There was a huge crowed doing different kinds of activities. Apparently, there are free public workouts every Sunday.

Olvera Street

Olvera Street

On Monday, I wanted to have a day in LA downtown. I took the bus to Union St which takes an hour and cost 2$ (student fare) because I had to switch buses. I could have arrived half an hour earlier, if I hadn’t waited at the wrong corner of the intersection. The signs at the bus stops don’t say which buses stop there. The bus to the city is called metro, which I find a bit confusing, since it’s not a train. But it has its own lane in the middle of the freeway with stops every few kilometers. This meant that we got to rush past all the people that were waiting in the traffic jam.

Union Station is a beautiful Spanish looking building surrounded by many palm trees. When I arrived, I first wanted to find the stop for the nr 4 express bus back to Torrance. Not that I would miss it again. But nobody of the employees at the station knew where it was. They all sent me in different directions and not even the bus driver from another bus who was parked at the right stop could tell me whether this really was correct. In the end, I just estimated with google maps and hoped that the bus would show up and I was on the correct street side. Then, I went to Olvera St, which is very touristy and you can buy anything that has to do with Mexico. After that, I walked to city hall. At the bottom, I had to show my passport to sign in and then I could take the elevator to the 26th floor and then walk up another floor to have access to a terrace. The view over LA was great and I could make out all the sights I wanted to visit by foot afterwards. And all that for free!

View from city hall

View from city hall

Back on the ground, I walked towards Lt Tokyo to find some lunch. Either I was in the wrong street or everything was closed because I didn’t find any food. I went to central market instead, where it then was hard to decide on something out of all the choices.

With new strength after resting in air-conditioning, I then made my way to the Disney Music Hall. I had seen this building before but it’s nice to look at every time. Plus, there are chairs in a small park at the back of the hall. On my way back to Union St I stopped in Grand Park. There were chairs too plus free wifi. And a crew was filming something.

Then, the moment of truth came and I saw whether I was waiting at the correct stop. I was, it’s opposite the front entrance of Union St.

This time, I could ride all the way to Torrance on the same bus for only 1$.

My aunt cooked another nice meal and the rest of the evening we played Swiss card games.

The next morning, we had to get up early to drive to Long Beach, from where I caught a 2 hour Greyhound bus for 11$ towards San Diego.

Disney Music Hall

Disney Music Hall

Cruising around the Yasawa Islands – Bula continued

Korovou

Korovou

After my last night at Mantaray, I boarded the small boat that brought me and my luggage to the bigger catamaran in the deeper water. Every time the Fiji guys carried our heavy suitcases onto these small shaky boats and every time I was afraid they’d drop it in the water (they do get slightly wet on the boats and once they dropped another suitcase into the shallow water, so it’s probably smart not to leave the electronics in the suitcase). I already found it difficult getting on the boat with just my small backpack and they were carrying several suitcases and backpacks at once. 15min later, I and a group of British people, who would do the same journey as me hopped onto a smaller boat again and then waded the last meters through the shallow water to Korovou. We received a Bula welcome song and after checking in, were ready for lunch. Here, there was no meal selection. Everybody had to eat the same and no drinking water was provided either. With 6$ for 1.5l of water, this stay could become quite expensive…

After lunch, I attended a cooking lesson with some other familiar faces who had left Mantaray the day before me. Hopefully, I’ll be able to cook Kokonda at home too!

Bob the reef shark of the Mantaray house reef

Bob the reef shark of the Mantaray house reef

Before sunset, we walked to the private Honeymoon Beach. You’d have had to pay (they try to make money of everything here) but since my friends had already paid the day before, they let us pass. On this side, it was less windy and not so many corals right at the beginning of the water, so it was possible to swim.

The sunset was pretty and much warmer than from the tubes the other day. It was definitely worth to come over here.

After dinner, we walked to the neighbor resort. They had a bonfire at the beach and an open-air disco.

The next day, we hiked up to a hill, from where we had a beautiful view over the bay. After that, my friends boarded the boat to the next island and I spent the rest of the day reading, sleeping and drinking tea, since my stomach didn’t completely agree with something I had drunk or eaten. I wasn’t the only one… I guess that’s something you have to put up with if you visit remote places.

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Luckily, I was fit enough to go on the 30min boat ride at 7am (before breakfast) the next morning to go snorkel with the manta rays. There was a chance that they weren’t even there since they’ve only been sighted again two days ago, after a weekly absence. But there they were! When they swam on the water surface, it looked as if two sharks were swimming next to each other. We were able to swim really close to them but it was impossible to keep up, since they were swimming in a channel against a current. I thought I was a good swimmer but no matter how much effort I made, I floated down stream. Luckily, the boat collected us again, dropped us off a little up the channel and we floated down, past the manta rays again.

The rest of the morning, I spent relaxing until it was time to board the boat to Safe Landing, my last island.

I thought it would be a two hour ride, so I was surprised when after about 1 hour they already said ‘passengers for Safe Landing, please identify your luggage and get ready for disembarking.’

We jumped into the small boat and were shipped to yet another beach. Here it really looked like in paradise with a watercolor of at least three different shades of blue.

Lunch was very small but at least they had table water again.

Afterwards, I did a boat and snorkel trip to the Blue Lagoon. The beach was nice and there were a lot of fish but the Mantaray house reef was prettier and somehow the water felt colder up here.

Manta ray

Manta ray

In the evening, we played a few social games with all the island guests but soon everybody retired to their Bure. Here the dorms were split up into several small houses, which was nice for a change.

The next morning, I hopped on Joe’s water taxi. It was a beautiful 45min ride past paradise beaches, to get to the Sawa i-lau caves.

We received diving googles and then climbed up the steps to the entrance of the caves. The first cave was a huge open dome that was filled with water. We jumped into the clear liquid. It felt a bit warmer than the ocean and was salty too. To get to the second cave, we had to dive through an underwater hole at the end of the first cave. This was a bit scary since we didn’t know where we would land and didn’t see anything because it was completely dark in the second cave. The guide went ahead and pointed a flash light towards us under water. So, we just had to dive towards the light and then surface. This was actually quite easy but once we were in the second cave, we were swimming in pitch black darkness, since the flash light was still under water. No idea how big the cave was and whether there might be any bats or spiders inside. Slowly, my eyes got used to the darkness and I at least could make out the walls. There even was a floating device, everybody was now holding on to, like in Titanic. Once everybody had reached the second cave, the guide swam ahead and we passed through a tunnel into another hall with an open chimney, where you could see the daylight at the top. Afterwards we swam back and dived back into the first cave. This was much easier, since the water was naturally lit up from the daylight and we saw where we had to go.

Cave

Cave

When the boys had enough of climbing and jumping off the walls, we climbed back into the warm sun light. It was kind of mandatory to look at the small market with self-made jewelry. After that, we enjoyed our return boat trip. There was a 5min delay due to the motor that suddenly stopped working and we were just sitting in a tin can in the middle of the ocean. Luckily, the driver could fix it right away.

During the remaining time in Safe Landing, I walked to two more lookouts. This is quite romantic between the high grass and all the palm trees. A lot of the time, I just spent reading in a hammock, enjoying the view. I had to make sure I finished my book, because I had seen the next one I wanted in the book exchange at the reception.

The food here was good but I was surprised about how many times we had Indian food on these islands.

My last evening finished with another Fiji buffet. They had an underground dirt oven in which they had cooked food all afternoon. The self-made bread was delicious!!!

After dinner, there was more Bula dancing and we participated in a Kava ceremony. The mud brown water tasted like soap and made my tongue feel numb. But I didn’t want to leave Fiji without having tried that, since everybody had been talking about it.

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I don’t know whether it was due to that or something with the food but the next morning there were a lot of white faces walking around on the island, who have spent most of their night in the bathroom. I was ok but I was definitely glad to go back to the mainland today, where I at least would have a choice of different dishes and soon I’d be in the US, where I could find some kind of shop at every corner. I’m really not used to not being able to just go buy something when I’m hungry or thirsty or need something. Island life forces you to spend time with yourself and nature and the other people. It’s good to see that nobody cared about facebook for once 🙂

The boat trip back to Nadi was about 5 or 6 hours. It felt quite long and I’d have liked to jump out and spend a few more days on Mantaray Island.

Island life did have its charm, above all thanks to the nice Fijian people. Music and singing is a constant companion during the days and evenings and they all seem so happy and convinced of the dances and songs they do. Although they pretty much spend 24/7 together and go through the same routine week after week, they all seemed like very happy island families who gave their warmth to the tourists.

Back on the mainland, I realized that this was the first time I saw a car in 8 days and the only transport I had used during the past days was walking, swimming or a boat. For the last time, I had a really delicious fish dish for dinner at the beach and before going to bed, I almost cried in the shower because it was so nice to finally have a hot shower again.

sting

The next day was beautiful but since I had to leave for the airport at noon, I didn’t go swimming anymore. My shuttle even arrived a little ahead of time!! Very much unlike Fiji time 🙂

The 10 hour flight felt long but at least we had tv screens in the back seat this time and the food was good too. Plus, something amazing happened! I travelled back in time and gained a whole day! I left Fiji at 3pm on 31. July and landed at LAX at 6.30am on 31. July. Possible with 19 hours of time difference and crossing the international date line.

I don’t know how it happened but somehow Oceania really came to an end. The next month I will spend exploring the North American west coast some more.

Safe Landing

Safe Landing

 

Bula bula in Fiji time

Dandenong Ranges, Victoria Australia

Dandenong Ranges, Victoria Australia

My last weekend in Australia was filled with awesome things! I met up again with my couchsurf host from St. Kilda in April and with some friends of his we went to the Dandenong Ranges to do a little workout at the 1000 steps. I thought I could be a tourist and would have time to take pictures of the rainforest but everybody else was just there to run up and down the stairs (and there were a lot of people!), so I just had to go with the flow. Afterwards, we had earned ourselves a nice pancake breakfast! Then, Ben, his flat mate and I continued to the Mornington Peninsula to enjoy the Hot Springs. It’s a nice place and was perfect to get warm on this cold day. Plus, we found some really good fish&chips in Rye and finally, I didn’t have to leave Australia without having tried gummy shark.

On my last day, I really lucked out. The whole time I was in Melbourne, I knew Wicked was playing but I automatically assumed that it would be too expensive or sold out. However, after I heard that my new German roommates got tickets the day before, I went on the website and found out that they had a ticket lottery, where you could win tickets for 35$ before every show. I could have hit myself. I had a whole month of trying to win tickets and here I found out on my last weekend. Anyways, I went to the box office two hours before the show and entered the lottery and guess what? My name was drawn:) They were pretty generous and gave away 20 tickets.

The show was great, amazing voices!!!

There wasn’t really a point in going to bed, since I had to leave the house at 3am, so I had a few goodbye drinks with my Korean roommate and we found out what an awesome rooftop we had.

At 4am, I boarded the 22$ bus from Southern Cross to Avalon Airport and at 6am my plane towards Sydney took off.

In Sydney, I then had to get to the international terminal. Now, I’ve never been at an airport before, where you have to pay for the transfer between the different terminals but here it cost 5.40$ for a 1min train ride. Luckily, after that my day got a lot better. I was supposed to have a 5 hour wait (I just wanted to make sure that I don’t miss my Fiji flight, if there was a delay with the flight from Avalon). But since I didn’t want to carry my suitcase with me the whole time, I directly went to the Fiji Airways check-in. The lady told me that it wasn’t possible to check in yet but if I wanted, I could take the earlier flight. So suddenly, I had only 1hour left at Sydney Airport. Just what I needed to get through customs and make it to my gate.

The 3.5 hour flight went by quickly with a small meal and the Lego Movie that was playing on the overhead screens.

View on Fiji islands

View on Fiji islands

Once I was in Fiji, the lady at the Awesome Fiji Tour office was very competent and friendly and 15min later, I was already dropped off at Smugglers Cove hostel by a driver.

I was placed into an about 60 people(!) dorm but the beds were arranged in a way with thin walls in between them that it actually was more agreeable than other smaller dorms I had stayed in. It was nice to be at the beach and being able to wear short clothes again. There were no supermarkets within walking distance but luckily, there are several hostels with cafés right on the beach, where people were enjoying food or tropical cocktails. I slowly started to realize that I wasn’t in Australia anymore, when I looked at the Fijians playing rugby on the beach or the tourists, reading books in hammocks. Good that everything is so nice here, therefore, I don’t have time to miss Melbourne yet.

The fish I had for dinner at the Bamboo Traveller’s café was delicious, plus, they had free wifi 🙂

The next morning, I had an early start with cereals and fresh fruit at 6.30am. While we were waiting for the bus that should bring us to the port, a guy got a coconut down from a tree for me and I was able to drink the juice right out of it with a straw and then eat the meat afterwards. I think it was the best coconut meat I ever had!

Typical beach hammock

Typical beach hammock

At the port, I had to exchange my Peterpan vouchers with the new vouchers I’d need on the islands. Peterpans had made a print mistake and downgraded me a class but luckily, it was correct in the Fiji computer system and she was nice to give me the correct vouchers anyways.

When I boarded the yellow awesome Fiji catamaran, my suitcase was already on it and so I just had to pick a seat to enjoy the next 3 hours on the boat. No danger of getting burned today. The sun was hiding behind clouds and stayed there all day and it was pretty windy, hence cold. So, for now the blue and green paradise looks rather gray. We stopped at a few small islands where people and their luggage were transferred on smaller boats and then were brought to their accommodation. My first stop was the Mantaray Resort on Nanuya Island. When I stepped from the small boat on to the sand of the island, we received a warm Bula welcome and a banana- orange juice. My home for the next four nights will be a big (30-40 bed) dormitory hut, again with the walls that split the room into smaller 4 bed areas. This time, every bed has its own mosquito net. I already had plenty of encounters with them the night before :S

For lunch, we got to choose a dish out of about 20 different plates. They all sounded really good and I was glad I had 4 lunches here.

After lunch, I had to go pay for the meals, which was an additional 87 Fiji $/day. Yup, Fiji definitely is the most expensive island I’ve ever been to.

It would be worth it, if the weather was good and I’d actually feel like going in the water. But with the wind and these temperatures, I just spent the whole afternoon wrapped in blankets in s hammock, reading a book and eating more delicious coconut.

Blue starfish everywhere!

Blue starfish everywhere!

Since diving is also possible with rough water, I went to the dive shop at 6pm to get ready for my first night dive (I had to do one for the advanced course). Luckily, there was another couple coming too, who lifted my motivation level to get into the dark, cold water a little.

We geared up, everybody received a torch and then a small boat brought us a little up the beach. We dropped into the pitch black water. From then on, diving was pretty much normal, except that you really only saw into the direction you pointed the torch. The water actually felt warm compared to the air and I only got cold after about 30min.

The dive was amazing! Great visibility in the torch light. I saw big crabs, a yellow moray, shrimp, a puffer fish and other underwater insect like creatures, which I had never seen during the day. At one point, we sat on the sand and all hid our torch lights. For a moment, it was really dark but then fluorescent green plankton appeared. It was magical! We surfaced on the beach close to the dive shop. After walking back up there, we really had earned ourselves some dinner! That will be a 4 course meal every night. Everything was really good! Especially the fish dishes really are delicious here.

Kokonda

Kokonda

After dinner, there was a Fijian dance show and all the about 50 tourists on the island went to watch and participate in it. Afterwards, pretty much everybody went to bed. The cold weather seemed to have a tiring effect. Therefore, it was really quiet in the dorm and easy to sleep. At some point during the night it started raining, which was quite a concert on our tin roof. It got even colder too. Where is my beautiful island weather?!

At 8am the breakfast drums were calling us to the dining hut. The breakfast buffet is quite big with cereals, pancakes, fruit, croissants, muffins, eggs and beans. For the tea, they even had ginger and lime.

The “island dad” wished us ‘Bula’ (since I arrived in Fiji I’ve heard this word at least 1000 times) and told us that it was not safe to go snorkeling, kayaking or swimming today and therefore there would be some other activities. Great, we are on an island and we are not allowed to go into the water. I could have continued with my scuba dives but since I have enough time, I moved them to tomorrow and went making bracelets out of dry banana leaves instead. The afternoon, we spent looking for coconuts and then making bracelets out of them too.

This is how you take the coconut out of its outer shell, to receive the coconut as we know it from the store. Just that it's not brown yet because it's so much fresher :)

This is how you take the coconut out of its outer shell, to receive the coconut as we know it from the store. Just that it’s not brown yet because it’s so much fresher 🙂

The next morning, the sun was finally out and everything suddenly looked much better and more how I expected it to be. After breakfast, I met my group at the dive shop and in a small boat, we drove for about 15min to get to our first dive site, where we would do a deep dive. So, for the first time, I went below 18m and we actually made it down to 35m. It didn’t feel very different except that there were less colors. But it was awesome to basically fly out into the blue and just drop down into the nothingness along a wall filled with corals. We even saw two turtles! After driving back to the beach for a short break, we boarded the boat again to drive to a dive spot called “Shark Reef”. Usually, there should be sharks there, however, now there were none. But it was still a nice dive site and we swam through a few tunnels.

After lunch, I had some time to finally go snorkeling. The underwater life right in front of Mantaray Beach is incredible! Many of the guests said that this was the best snorkeling place they have ever seen. I went looking for the house shark “Bob” who lives close to the outmost buoy but he was nowhere to be seen.

Since I had a voucher for it, I went on the sunset tube cruise that day. In summer, it would probably be lovely to float around in a tube somewhere in the ocean, drinking a beer, however not when it’s as windy and cold as it was that day. The sunset was pretty but frankly, I think we all wished to be back ashore wrapped in a warm towel as quick as possible. There were not even hot showers :S

DCIM102GOPRO

After dinner, we all gathered in the bar to pick a small crab out of a bucket. The island dad wrote a number on its house and we then had some time to train our crab for the upcoming crab race. The crabs were placed in the middle of a 1,5m circle and whichever crab reached the line first won. Everybody was cheering for the crabs and there was a lot of screaming once they ran close to the people standing around the circle. What a fun event 🙂

The next morning, I almost got the chance to go diving with manta rays because they are supposed to swim in a channel close to the resort but unfortunately, they have hardly been sighted in the past 10 days. So, we went diving through caves instead, which was really great too!

In the afternoon, only my navigation dive was left over in order for me to complete the advanced diving course. We practiced with the compass on land as I had seen so many other people do on different beaches before and after that we geared up and went for a dive at the house reef again. In the beginning, visibility was very bad and I really had no idea whether I was still on the right track to complete my squares and triangles but luckily, I always ended up where I was supposed to 🙂

DCIM101GOPRO

We used the remaining air to just enjoy the dive. I even got to see Bob!! My first shark in nature. He is about 1,5m long and quite fat. So, he really looks like a real shark! But he was quite shy and quickly swam away.

Back at the dive shop, we high-fived each other since we had passed the course and then a British girl and I grabbed a canoe to row to the opposite small island. It was fun to do it in the ocean and on waves for once but quite exhausting with the wind that had picked up again.

In the afternoon, only my navigation dive was left over in order for me to complete the advanced diving course. We practiced with the compass on land as I had seen so many other people do on different beaches before and after that we geared up and went for a dive at the house reef again. In the beginning, visibility was very bad and I really had no idea whether I was still on the right track to complete my squares and triangles but luckily, I always ended up where I was supposed to 🙂

We used the remaining air to just enjoy the dive. I even got to see Bob!! My first shark in nature. He is about 1,5m long and quite fat. So, he really looks like a real shark! But he was quite shy and quickly swam away.

DCIM102GOPRO

Back at the dive shop, we high-fived each other since we had passed the course and then a British girl and I grabbed a canoe to row to the opposite small island. It was fun to do it in the ocean and on waves for once but quite exhausting with the wind that had picked up again.

My last night on Mantaray Island ended with a Fijian buffet, where I could indulge in Kokonda (raw fish with herbs and vegetables in coconut milk and lime juice) again. After that, there was another dance performance by the staff. In the end, they sang the goodbye song and we shook hands with everybody. It was quite sad to say goodbye to the Mantaray island family.