After I graduated high school in 2015, I had the opportunity to go to Fiji with Rustic Pathways. Most of the stories I post on my blog are from 2018 or later. I am making an exception for Fiji (and Thailand) because they were both life changing experiences.
Rustic Pathways offers international trips for young students looking to make new friends, interact with another culture, and get out of their comfort zone. My first Rustic Pathways trip was when I was 16 years old. I went to Thailand with my sister, Grace.
My second Rustic Pathways trip was to Fiji. I went when I was 17 years old and I did not know one other person going on my trip. By the time I left I had a whole new group of friends (shout out to Na Uro Vitu aka The Sexy 7) and an understanding of a culture completely different from my own. Below is a recap of my trip!
Life at the Eco Lodge
The greatest part of a Rustic Pathways trip is that everything is preplanned for you. The counselors have already tested everything on your itinerary so you know everything will go smoothly. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I do not like finding my own accommodations. Thankfully, Rustic Pathways had this figured out for me. I stayed at the Eco Lodge for a week with other students ranging from 16-18 years old. Since I was traveling alone, this gave me a great opportunity to meet new friends right away. Below is a picture of the housing, which felt like paradise.
The two pictures on the left were taken from the Rustic Pathways website. The third picture is of our walkway up from the soccer fields and the picture to the right is the morning view of our outdoor shower.
The main focus of this Rustic Pathways program was to emerge ourselves into Fijian culture. Half of our days were spent with locals while the other half of our days were spent exploring the biggest island of Fiji, Viti Levu. Our first exploration activity was Natadola Beach. Since I love swimming in the ocean, I didn't take as many pictures of the beach as I would have liked.
Construction at a Kindy (Kindergarten)
One of the service projects we participated in was resurfacing the concrete floors at a local kindy. It is expensive to get concrete in Fiji so schools usually mix concrete with a large amount of water. Since the mixture is diluted, the floors disintegrate over time, making it necessary to redo them.
While we were at the kindy, a local showed us how to properly lay down concrete, since none of us had a background in construction. There were also two little kids running around the property that we got to hang out with.
When we left the kindy, another layer of concrete needed to be placed down. The students coming the following weeks were responsible for finishing the project we had started.
Built a Chicken Coop
A lot of Fijians make their living by farming sugar cane; however, it is only harvested six months of the year. The other six months they have to come up with other ways to make a living. One family that lived near the Eco Lodge raised chickens. They needed a new chicken coop so they asked the Rustic Pathways community to help out.
Similar to the construction at the kindy, we had someone guiding us with the project. At the end of the project, we were invited into the couples' home and they gave us snacks.
Unfortunately, we didn't get a clear picture but I think this blurry picture shows how much fun we had learning to build a chicken coop.
I had the opportunity to go skydiving in Fiji. It was an incredible experience and I would love to do it again. I would say the biggest difference between the Fiji regulations and the US regulations is that in the US you have to be 18 to go but when I jumped in Fiji I was 17.
Visited the Uciwai School
Another bonus of Rustic Pathways trips is that American students have the opportunity to go to local schools and complete a fun learning activity with the kids. This allows Americans and Fijians to mingle and learn more about each other's culture.
Toured Koroipita Village
We also had the opportunity to visit Koroipita Village where we were able to meet more Fijians and learn about their culture. We read books to the kids, played soccer, and colored.
Visiting the village was very eye opening. A girl my age (17) gave me a tour of where she and her family live. She showed me the part of the village that had electricity and the part of the village that didn't have electricity. She also showed me the town's computer room, which only had one working computer.
One of the fun activities we got to do was visit a mud bath. Guests were taken to an area with mud that is supposed to rejuvenate skin and make it softer. We covered ourselves with mud and then went into a couple of natural baths to rinse it off.
Luckily, we were the only group at the mud baths. We got in a mud fight and ended up having a blast. I guess 17 year olds just don't have it in them to make mud relaxing.
The photo of the three men were our counselors. As you can tell from the picture, they had great personalities and were super fun.
Sigatoka Sand Dunes
For one of our excursions, we went to the Sigatoka Sand Dunes. To get there we had to hike up a huge hill. Once we got there, we took turns running and jumping off of the hill and into the sand. Sadly, the videos or pictures do not do the huge jump justice.
From the top of the hill, we also had amazing views of one of the many beaches. When I asked if we could go swimming after to rinse the sand off, our Fijian tour guide told us no because apparently it is the highest populated shark area in Fiji.
One of the Fijian counselors told me and a group of students that if we woke up early enough, he would take us to the top of the mountain to see the sunrise. My new friends and I woke up around 5:00am, hiked in the pitch black, and found ourselves on top of a mountain before sunrise. When the sun came out, we had a great view of the beaches and mountains.
The last activity I did in Fiji was visit Momi Guns, a historic landmark. It was about a five minute walk from the Eco Lodge I was staying at. Visiting Momi Guns was a great way to end the trip because we could see the beaches and enjoy the peace from the mountain. Before we left, Na Uro Vitu aka The Sexy 7 passed out friendship bracelet anklets to wear on our flight back to the United States.