Kava and a Lovo on Ono Island

We chose Ono Island for our first stop in Fiji. On the map, Ono is a specific island northeast of Kadavu on the southern edge of Fiji. In reality, there are a zillion little islands out here. Some appear on maps and others exist only in reality. We asked the locals the names of these other islands and they said “Ono.” They’re all called Ono? Ono is a group word and not a singular word? Are these questions only foreigners ask?

I never really sorted this out.

What I do know is that the big island of Ono has 3 resorts, 6 villages and no roads connecting any of them. Each little occupied unit hugs the coast separately from the others and is accessed only by boat. The middle of the island is mountainous and covered with trees and when I asked what’s there, the Fijians shrugged and said “no one goes there.”

That’s incomprehensible to an American. Do you mean there’s beautiful island property, up high on a hill and out of the range of hurricanes and typhoons? It has a 360 view of the South Pacific and no one has built a giant mansion on it and carved out a private road? How can this be?

The Fijians laughed when I said that, which is why this place is so great. Because no one thinks like that. Everyone wants access to the ocean so they live close to it. No one needs a road because they all have boats. Why build on top of the hill?

Why indeed.

Mai Dive resort is one of the primary resorts on Ono Island. It’s a tiny place with a 16 person capacity when it’s chock full up. This is a terrible picture to show you the scale

Mai Dive Ono Island

And a better one of the inside of our little ocean front cabin (called a burre)

Mai Dive Ono Island

And then a jealousy inducing view from our porch

Mai Dive Ono Island

The ocean was literally right there and this is me sitting in that tree on the right of the picture above, an epic overgrown place perfect for climbing

Fiji tree

Every resort in Fiji has a food plan. You can custom it for allergies or preferences – Dani is vegan, for instance – but  you don’t get choices or a menu. You sit down family style with everyone in the resort, and they serve you food. Fortunately, the food at Mai Dive was some of the best we had all trip. This is a lunch of fish cakes on watercress. Doesn’t it look scrumptious?

Mai Dive Ono Island

Mai Dive has a staff of 14 who did everything in their power to make us comfortable. These sweet ladies were the best

Mai Dive Ono Island

They were hilarious and so friendly. When you live in a tiny place with 30 other people, you spend a lot of time hanging out with them, hearing about their families and watching them interact.

Dani and I spent 5 days on Ono. We dove in the mornings and sat on our porch reading in the afternoons. We taught ourselves to play gin rummy, we saw a giant sky full of stars with no light pollution, we met a great American couple from San Diego that we’ll see again this fall, and some raucous Aussies that fought us for the last bottles of Sauvignon Blanc.

It was super chill and easy until Friday night when the Mai Dive crew cooked us a lovo, a big Fijian feast cooked on hot rocks buried in the sand. Dani and I expressed avid interest in this feast so the lovo chefs – Ahmet and Waise – came to get us every time they moved to the next stage so we could watch that whole process from the beginning fire

Lovo fire on Ono Island

To the piling of insulating leaves and shoots

Lovo on Ono Island

then meat wrapped in foil – chicken, beef and pork – followed by taro root and plantains

Lovo on Ono IslandAnd then the whole shebang covered by palm fronds. They said that the traditional covering is banana leaves, not palm fronds, but they don’t have banana trees on this island so they improvised

Lovo on Ono Island

And then a tarp and sand.

Lovo on Ono Island

After which we left it to cook for a couple hours and whiled away the time with a little kava!

Kava is the root of a pepper plant native to the South Pacific. It’s dried, pounded and soaked in water to make a traditional drink. Many Fijian’s drink this instead of alcohol. There’s a lot of hysterical writing warning foreigners off of kava lest they hallucinate, get addicted and never leave the island like some kind of lotus eaters.

Here’s the reality: It looks like dirty water

Kava on Ono Island

And tastes earthy and a little spicy but not particularly unpleasant. The drink sizes come in low tide, high tide and tsunami, you clap once to receive the drink and three times when you finish it.

drinking kava on Ono IslandI felt a tingling in my tongue and lips when I drank it. It has a mildly narcotic effect so everything slows down a bit in the middle of the kava ceremony and some people report really vivid dreams afterwards. I didn’t get dreams but I don’t often remember my dreams anyway.

The great thing about kava is the community. Everyone sits cross-legged on the ground around the kava bowl

Kava on Ono Island

you share a common drink and talk or play music in between drinks. It’s fun and easy and there’s always lots of laughter.

Sai on Ono Island

After a few cups of kava, it was time to unbury the lovo

Lovo on Ono Island

and eat it!

Lovo on Ono Island

Doesn’t it look romantic? This night ranks at the top of my most favorite memories of Fiji.

And Ono ranks as my most favorite island in all of Fiji. Were I to come back, I’d head straight to Mai Dive. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Thank you to Jason the owner, Joe and Joanna the managers, Ahmet, Emily, Sai, Koleta and all of the kitchen staff, Dee and Waise the dive instructors… All incredible. The diving was also spectacular and I’ll devote a whole post to that.

Mai Dive on Ono Island

Vinaka vakalevu, Mai Dive!

Welcome to Fiji!

I’m doing a lot of international travel this year. Obviously.

I get a lot of questions about how this is possible so here are the basics: I’m on tour with a theatre show and I have no home. When I’m working, I travel with the show and live in hotel rooms.

This year on this particular show, we’ve had several weeks of layoff where our show isn’t booked anywhere. Because I’m a homeless person, I have to go somewhere when the show is dark and I’m not working. Fortunately, I’m well paid so I can choose where I go.

Now I could/can/do also choose to spend my non-working time visiting friends and family. But I can also choose to go out of the country. It’s all money and time and effort no matter what I choose.

This is not your average lifestyle. Obviously. And because it’s not “normal” it has a lot of downsides and pitfalls and difficulties that regular people never have to think about on a daily basis. Plus a life of constant travel can be exhausting and stressful and time consuming. But the upsides are incredible. I’ve been out of the country three times this year and it’s only July. And because of my job, it is easier for me to travel than your average person because I’m already in the travel groove. I don’t have to transition from “normal” life to “traveling” life.

So that’s the story. I travel a lot because I want to. And because I have to, given the structure of my job and my life. But mostly, I just love it. I want to see the world and I’d rather spend my money going places and having adventures than buying a big screen TV and a hot car.

So, that said, we had a three week layoff recently and I went to Fiji with my friend Dani, who is also a homeless touring theatre person with an insatiable desire to see the world. She’s a super cool chick, we hang out together a lot at work and I knew we’d be good traveling companions.

We chose Fiji by literally googling “best places to visit in 2016.” Fiji was in the top 10. I’m a scuba diver and Dani wanted to get certified. Who doesn’t love an island vacation? It seemed like a perfect choice.

But the first thing we had to do was get there.

Bee-tee-dubs, Fiji is FAR AWAY from the USA. Like super far. We got a flight out of Los Angeles, into Nadi – the capital of Fiji – and it was a 12 hour direct flight. But we weren’t in Los Angeles, we were in Denver; so, we had to get a connecting flight to LA.

Since we were arriving in Nadi at 545am, we opted not to stay in that city and instead to go to one of the smaller more remote islands so we could start diving immediately. Of course a “small remote” island means no airport so our connecting flight took us to a neighboring island and then we were promised a boat transfer by our resort.

Here’s our travel “day” to Fiji in an abbreviated fashion:

Monday 330pm: arrive at Denver airport.

Monday 450pm: Fly to LAX

3 hour layover – eat dinner, make phone calls, enjoy the last of our cellular access.

1030pm: board plane for Fiji

1045pm: take sleeping aids and sleep – uncomfortably – through a 1am “dinner service,” several beverage services and crossing the internal date line at 45,000 feet

Tuesday: never happened.

Wednesday 4am – breakfast

Wednesday 545am – land in Nadi

We then faced a long customs line, which we jumped because we had a connecting flight, got our passports stamped and changed money. Fijian money is so pretty!

Fijian money

brushed our teeth and found the wee domestic terminal with plastic lawn furniture

Nadi domestic terminal

Got on a 20 seat plane

plane to kadavuFlew over verdant green islands

Fiji

Fiji

and 37 minutes later we landed on Kadavu in front of a very classy airport situation

Dani in Kadavu

We were met by Zachy, a delightful representative from the resort who helped us drag our luggage down a dirt road

Kadavu island

He hauled it down a stony embankment before hoisting each suitcase to his shoulder and wading out thru the surf to put it in the boat.

Kadavu

You know you’re traveling with the right person when you travel 23 hours straight to what feels like the end of the world but STILL isn’t the end of your travel day because you still have a boat trip and instead of being mad, you race each other to get your shoes off (Dani wins) and laugh saying “this is absolutely perfect!” And then you roll up your pants and wade out to the boat

Dani on Kadavu

We spent 2 hours zipping through the South Pacific Ocean before finally landing on Ono Island.

South Pacific

Total travel time: 25 hours

Travel conveyances: one car, one train, one shuttle bus, one boat, three planes

Days lost: Tuesday

Sunset? Perfect.

Fiji sunset

Welcome to Fiji!

Greek Memories

The Greek flag might be the prettiest of all the flags, especially flying on an island that is blue and white forever

Greek Flags

I loved the street art in Athens, particularly.

Athens street art

But I found this beautiful piece on a Heraklion building at the ocean’s edge right across from the bus station, immortalizing Icarus for all time.

Mykonos street art - Icarus

These little shrines are everywhere

Greek orthodox shrine

made of every possible material and containing icons, candles and occasionally statuary. They’re sometimes quite big and grand

Greek Orthodox Shrine

I saw so many different shrines along our road in Crete and wanted Corey to stop at every one so I could take pictures but we all know I wouldn’t have lived to write this post had I done that…

And speaking of driving, can we talk about the parking?

Greek parking

I mean, do whatever you want. Shade is the best. Obviously.

There aren’t enough words for Greece’s beautiful beaches

Falasarna beach

Or their Greek salads.

Greek salad

Americans could learn a thing or two about that cheese – > veggie ratio. And Corey was rapturous about the oregano.

Greece you’re lovely in every way. I can’t wait to see you again.

Mykonos

The Beaches of Crete

Crete was our crap shoot at the end of the trip. We both wanted to visit another island, I was in favor of Santorini but it looked a lot like Mykonos so Corey talked me into Crete. The downsides were that it was far away, about as far as you can get from Athens and still be in Greece, and that it’s a huge island so we had to choose what parts we wanted to see. But then the guys who worked our hostel in Athens heard we were headed to Crete and gave us all kinds of recommendations of where to stay and what beaches to visit so we decided it would be worth it. We got a ferry from Mykonos (5 hours!) and landed in Heraklion around evening on Monday.

Heraklion is a big messy city with a gorgeous medieval wall running along the bay

heraklion

We were only here one night so I have very little to say about this city except… street art! I liked this little guy.

heraklion

The next day we got on a bus and headed to our real destination, the town of Chania in the upper west side of the island. We literally got off the bus, went directly to the airport, rented a car and headed straight to Elafonisi Beach. We didn’t have much time here and didn’t want to waste it.

It was only 72km from Chania but the roads were narrow

Crete

And windy

Crete

And it took awhile. Like 2 hours. Ish. Fortunately we had tunes and snacks

Oregano lays

And gorgeous views

Crete

And nothing to do but drive; so we did.

Elafonisi is counted as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. It did not disappoint

Elafonisi beach

That sand is pink!

IMG_2160

Crushed coral I believe. And the water is the clearest I’ve ever seen anywhere. We sat on the beach for hours, I think I read a little bit and just stared at the ocean. The water was chilly so Corey got in. I did not.

Corey at Elafonisi

We drove home after a few hours and enjoyed a delightful dinner in Crete

Crete

And collapsed at our hotel. We stayed at the Splanzia Boutique Hotel and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Corey said the real subtitle of our Greek vacation (right behind “Beer and Cats”) is “Why are we not staying here longer??” and I said it the most about Chania and especially the Splanzia.

My room was so beautiful, especially in the morning light

Splanzia Boutique Hotel

and I even enjoyed some coffee on my teensy balcony

Splanzia Boutique hotel

And a massive breakfast spread with the best Greek yoghurt I’ve ever had in my mouth, covered in local honey.

Greek yoghurt

Thus fortified, and with a flight to Athens late that afternoon, we got back in the car to hit one more beach. Falasarna.

Falasarna beach

Falasarna was my favorite.

Kaitlyn at Falasarna

The water was crystal clear and warm enough to swim, I loved these beach chairs

Falasarna beach

And I spent a sizable amount of time just sitting. Drinking beer. Looking at the ocean.

Falasarna beach

Definitely amongst my top #5 favorite vacation activities.

But sadly we couldn’t stay so we packed up our wet clothes, shook off our sandy feet and headed for the airport. Corey assured me we wouldn’t be the smelliest kids on the plane because “it’s Europe and it’s the height of backpacker season.” He wasn’t wrong.

And that was the last of our Greek vacation. Corey flew back to the states at the literal crack of dawn and I followed at a more civilized hour. I was sad to go and I’ll be so pleased to come back.

Greece is so easy. It’s easy to get there, easy to get around, the people are friendly and welcoming, everyone speaks English and there’s something for everyone. If you feel like you need a Greek vacation, I think you probably do.

If I manage to get my act together, I’ll do one more post with a few of my favorite memories/pictures from the trip.

Ruins upon Ruins in Delos

Rick Steves thinks travellers to Greece would benefit from a lot of prior education about the art and history of the country because “most of the cool stuff is locked up behind glass.”

He’s right about that because without a degree in Ancient Columns and Pottery Remains, I found myself flagging after Athens. There just isn’t much of anything left in Greece and all of it requires so much reading and imagination.

Delos

Every guidebook entry sounds like this:

“Over here is the remains of a (temple/sanctuary) dedicated to (Apollo/Zeus/Athena). Back in the day there were (walls/floors/statues) which have been (removed/stolen/appropriated by colonial powers) and now live in (museums/rich people’s houses). What you see here is a (replica/picture/empty space) where once there was something glorious. Imagine how great it used to be. Also, there used to be colors. But now it’s just white stone. All over the ground.”

Delos

Will I sound shallow if I say that a couple afternoons of ruined rock and crashed out columns is enough? Maybe. But it’s still the truth.

Delos is where I hit the ruins wall. I wanted everything on this island to be more than it is.

Delos

I’m also willing to admit that I did the whole trip wrong.

What we should have done is packed some food, wine and a tent, gone over on the afternoon ferry, staked out a spot on the high point on the island and put up that tent.

Then we could have eaten a picnic under the Mediterranean sun, taken a dip in the sea, watched the sun set, eaten some cheese and drunk some wine under the stars, slept on a wild remote island in the middle of Greece and woken up to see these ruined sights before there were any tourists on the island. Then we could have hopped the first ferry back to Mykonos.

THAT would be a night worth having. And maybe I’m making that option up? It sounds a 1960s version of a Greek vacation, but it certainly seems delightful, doesn’t it?

What we actually did is we bought tickets to the 10am ferry – 20 euro – and then tickets to the site itself – 12 euro – and we wandered around for a couple hours and looked at things.

And some of the things there are beautiful.

Delos

Delos was a spiritual center of the ancient world and the birth place of Apollo and Athena. At various times over the centuries it’s been a giant shipping port and a place of religious pilgrimage. Under orders from the Oracle in Delphi (her again!) all dead bodies were purged from the island and it was decreed that no one could give birth or die there. They didn’t want anyone to be able to claim the island in any way so they could preserve it’s cultural neutrality.

I didn’t cut that straight from the guidebook but it sounds like it.

These lions are famous. They were built facing east towards the lake where Apollo was born and set to guard the temple.

Lions of Delos

Lions of Delos

They are, of course, replicas. sigh.

That’s probably why I got so excited about this floor. It’s original! That mosaic floor, the one right there in the picture, was laid over 1000 years ago.

Delos

Those tiles are minute. Probably an inch across. And all laid by hand. That kind of thing blows my mind.

So after wandering around in the hot sun we had a beer, made friends with the island cats and then we went back to Mykonos. Total time = 4 hours.

Delos

Now, on the ferry we did make friends with the Caldwells from Oregon who regaled us with tales of their 7 week tour of Greece and told us about spending Semana Santa in a remote part of Greece, driving through tiny towns that all had baby lambs spit roasted in front of their homes in celebration. Their stories made the whole trip worthwhile.

Delos itself I found hot, dusty, dry (in climate and content) and very very ruined. I needed something to make it come alive and I didn’t really find it. Perhaps next time, I’ll try for the 1960s vacation version.

Delos

Fortunately the final portion of the vacation was my favorite! Crete is next.

Chillin’ on Mykonos Island

We flew from Athens to Mykonos because we’d heard plane flights were slightly more reliable forms of transportation than the ferry. Ferries are subject to weather whereas airlines always fly.

Well.

Theoretically this might be true but the reality – per usual – was somewhat different. Perhaps because we flew Volotea? Perhaps because Greece where the motto clearly is “Calm down please, you will get there at some point”?

Either way, we got to the airport with at least an hour and a half to spare only to encounter the longest slowest most chaotic check-in process involving a very unclear set up. There was a line, and then there was another line, everyone was everywhere and the check in process was taking about 13 minutes per person…

After we’d been in line for over an hour, our flight was scheduled to leave in about 20 minutes and we were supposed to already be boarding but clearly we were still in line surrounded by people also headed to Mykonos. The airline attendants tried a couple of times to marshal everyone flying to Mykonos to the front of the line but that line jumping enraged multiple foreigners of all nationalities, all of whom were wearing straw hats and flip flops and had been standing in line forever so they could get their island beer drinking started already.

There are no more angry people than the ones trying to get to a beach vacation.

In blatant defiance of the attendants, a French girl in front of us used her suitcase to block an entire group of people from swarming our line and we kind of swooped in right behind her and finally got checked in and at our gate with about 5 minutes to spare.

Was there anything happening at the gate? No. Were we boarding? No. So, we got a plane beer and some Pringles and settled in.

Flying Volotea

Half an hour later we finally got on the plane, and then we sat there and sat there. Then the captain came on the overhead announcement to announce that the runway of Mykonos was too crowded and it would be 2 hours and 45 minutes before we could even take off.

Dude… cue the outrageous outrage all over the plane. “Are we going to deplane??” “I can’t possibly sit here for 2 more hours!” “This is ridiculous!” “How can they do this!!” etc. etc. etc.

Corey just shrugged and said “We’re flying the Chicken Bus of the Sky. What do they expect?”

Flying Volotea

What indeed.

20 minutes after the outrage had died down to furious muttering, the plane took off. “Just kidding about that 2 hour and 45 minute delay! Hahaha!”

And 30 minutes after that, and only an hour or so late, we landed on Mykonos.

Mykonos

You guys! It’s so pretty!!!

Mykonos

Everything you think of when you hear “Greek Island” is happening here in Mykonos Town where it’s just blue and white forever.

Mykonos City

Mykonos

Mykonos

We stayed just down the road from Mykonos Town at the Harmony Boutique Hotel, which I would recommend.

Welcome drink, check

Harmony Boutique Hotel

Pool and ocean: check and check
IMG_1892

Walking distance from the town but not actually in the town, check

Mykonos

We spent a solid day here just relaxing, There isn’t much to do but shop, go to the beach and see these windmills

Mykonos Windmills

So I did all those things and still had lots of time to sleep and eat sea food and read a book by the pool.

This grilled sea bream was delicious

Sea bream

As was this tzatziki

tzatziki

And we could see the sunset from our poolside chairs

Sunset on Mykonos

This was our first day where we did basically nothing and just relaxed. I hear some people take vacations and this is all they do! I think it’s remarkable and I recommend it highly.

But we clearly aren’t those people because we left this idyllic beachside town the next day and went to Delos. Are you ready for more crashed out columns?? Cuz that’s my next post…

Delphi and the Oracle

Delphi is an easy bus trip from Athens (we were told) so we got up in the morning and took the metro to a stop that was allegedly close to the bus station.

Rick Steves is usually good about giving directions but his Greece book had very little info about inter-country travel and we had no map that gave us information about the exact location of the bus station.

I voted for a taxi.

Corey thought maybe we should walk around a bit and see if we could find it. A taxi won out for time considerations and as we rode to the bus station, I looked out the window and thought “I would NEVER find this place without a map” just as Corey said out loud “This is basically where I thought it was. We should have walked.”

Reasons why we travel well together and yet another reason why everyone I know is astounded I ever find anything by myself.

We bought bus tickets to Delphi and treated ourselves to a Greek Frappe – Nescafé and condensed milk whirled into a highly caffeinated sugary mass – and then got on the bus behind an American couple where he was wearing a cowboy hat and she was complaining about the squat toilet she’d just used.

Times I like to pretend I don’t speak English.

The bus ride went up into the mountains for about two hours and then dropped us off at the town of Delphi. The actual historical site is a half mile back out of town – down the way the bus just came – and then a solid mile and a half trek up the mountainside gaining almost a 1000 feet in elevation. If you want the knowledge, you gotta make the climb.

Delphi

This is the view from the top looking down

Delphi

Ready for me to lay a little learnin’ on ya? Alright then.

Delphi was once considered the middle of the known world.The ancient Greeks believed that Zeus himself had determined this location by releasing eagles at either end of the world and when they met in the middle, there was Delphi. These cone shaped stones are omphalos, which means navel.

Omphalos

And what better place for an Oracle to predict the course of human destiny than the navel of the world??

Pilgrims did a ritual cleanse in the spring at the bottom of the mountain, which still runs, and then toiled up this mountain bringing offerings – a loaf of bread was the minimum entry fee – before going into the Temple of Apollo to confront the Oracle.

Temple of Apollo at Delphi

For a thousand years there was at least one woman as an Oracle in this temple. Until 394AD this temple had a woman sitting on a cauldron on top of a tripod, likely stoned out of her mind from the gases coming thru the rock under her, and listening to questions from pilgrims, kings, conquerors and philosophers asking about matters ranging from finance and farming to military coups.

This is the temple from above

Temple of Apollo at Delphi

The priests around the Oracle interpreted her answers in “vague haiku like poems” after which the supplicants went home and puzzled out the haiku answers in any way they wished.

Some pilgrims didn’t have the patience for this process, like Alexander the Great. Legend has it that the Oracle gave him some kind of mystical answer to his military campaign questions. Her vagueness displeased him so he took her by the throat and shook her until she said “You’re unstoppable!” so he took that to be his answer.

It’s a testament to people’s basic need for advice that this system persisted for 1000 years, isn’t it?

Of course I am not above some good advice or a shot at Oracle wisdom, so I asked some questions of the Ghost of the Oracle, threw some money into her coffers – a couple euros, an American quarter and some Turkish lira – and then cleansed myself in the springs below on my way out. It was all backwards but I think she’d be ok with that.

I can’t tell you her answers because A. they’re haikus and B. you have to make your own trek and ask your own questions!

We also visited the theatre

Corey at Delphi

and the stadium of the Pythian games, a little brother to the Olympic Games and the second largest athletic competition in ancient Greece. This is the running track/stadium, just slightly shorter than the one in Olympia.

Pythian Games stadium

We then staggered back down the mountain and went even further down the road to see the Sanctuary of Athena, a gorgeous ruined tholos of unknown purpose, likely dating back to Mother Goddess/Gaia worship and the well deserved “most photographed spot in all of Delphi.”

Sanctuary of Athena at Delphi

This was my most favorite spot of the entire site. It’s a bit of a hike down the road and then down the hill but really worth it.

Sanctuary of Athena at Delphi

Plus there’s this plinth on the way that provides an excellent photo op!

Kaitlyn at Delphi

I look cranky but I promise I’m just hot.

Our bus ride back home included a handful of loud Italian girls, a very prominent nose picker and a man spreader in front of me taking up all my space. Sigh.

And back at our hostel we went to the roof top bar. The pamphlet at the front desk advertised a “bucket of beer” and even showed a picture of a bucket with several beer bottles in it but when we asked, the bartender got this look on her face and said “what is this ‘bucket’??”

I would call this #americanproblems but she was standing in front of a sign that said “No Smoking at Any Time/No Wifi” while at the bar there were 12 people smoking while using internet on their phones so… clearly no one knows what’s happening.

We chalked it up to “promises unfulfilled,” got a couple big beers, sat on our balcony looking at the lit up Acropolis and then called it a night.

Acropolis

Next up, Mykonos!