We departed from Sea-tac International Airport in Seattle (where Amy works as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the Port of Seattle) for a quick layover at LAX, and then were on our way to Australia.
18 hours later… we were in Sydney!
Sydney is a beautiful town founded in 1788 and originally used as a place to ship convicts from England. Our two friends Chris and Deva, whose wedding we would soon be attending, graciously let us crash at their house for the first few days while we were staying in the big city. They only had one evening to showing us around before heading out to their wedding location the next day, several hours away. We would fly out to meet up with them later.
We found ourselves spending the majority of the time in Circular Quay, which is in Sydney Harbour. The views are breathtaking, with a backdrop of Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, and two(!) metropolitan skylines (the city of Sydney is split by the Harbour into North and South Sydney). Amy convinced me to take a tour of the Opera House and I have to admit, the history was a lot more interesting than I had anticipated. We continued our adventures atop the Sydney Tower, the tallest building in the city, and visited the Wildlife Zoo, which showcased many native Australian animals such as kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, and Amy’s new favorite animal, the wombat.
We got to explore the city as well, wandering through the financial district, going on our own spontaneous pub crawl (two of the stops were at bars that both claim to be the “oldest pub in Sydney”), and walking into jewelry stores where I insisted Amy show me styles of engagement rings she liked (we had recently been discussing “The Future”). One of my favorite parts of Sydney was taking advantage of eating the best of Australian cuisine,–meat pie, every day.
Soon (too soon), it was time to move on to our next city in Australia, Bellingen, to witness Chris and Deva’s vows of matrimony. Deva grew up in this quaint little town in the valleys of Australia, full of cows, wild kangaroos, and gorgeous landscape. The downtown was just one street, but plenty entertaining with its fill of pubs, restaurants, stores, and of course pie shops. We stayed at an impressive, recently renovated inn half a kilometer outside of town with lush green hills and valleys as its backyard.
The night sky was even more prominent in an area without much light pollution, and the Southern sky is a foreign and spectacular sight for us Northern Hemisphere dwellers to see. The Milky Way splashes across dramatically, and the Southern Cross beams out boldly. Chris and Deva’s wedding was full of love and laughter, and I was definitely feeling a little sentimental that night.
The next, and last, stop for us in Australia was a day trip to a lovely beach town called Coffs Harbour. We stayed in a hostel and made friends with free spirits, many of whom were backpackers that decided to extend their stay in such a gem of a town. The beaches are of the whitest sand and bluest, crystal clear water. The waves lapped the beach, and dedicated surfers were out catching them early in the morning even during May, which is the beginning of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter season. We took a casual stroll down the jetty over the water where families, couples, and fishermen all enjoyed themselves. When we got to the end, we were delighted with surprise dolphin and sea turtle sightings! If we find ourselves back in Australia, we agreed next time we would spend many, many more days in Coffs Harbour.
Wrapping up the Australian leg of our trip was bittersweet, since we had such a great time, but we (I especially) were looking forward to Fiji. We planned on spending the next 5 days, 4 nights at a resort island, which would be a drastic but welcome contrast from the go-go hustle-bustle of our time in Australia. Though the Fiji leg of the trip provided us with rest and relaxation, one of the most exciting moments of my life occurred during this week.
Arriving in Fiji late at night, we were welcomed with Fijian music performed live (despite it being a red-eye flight) to welcome us to Naidi, the Capitol of Fiji. From there we, boarded our shuttle where we drove through Fiji at night-time, not able to see the beautiful scenery but definitely getting the feel we were not in Australia anymore due to the jungle-like setting dirt roads. Our driver welcomed us to Fiji, introducing us to the culture which we admittedly knew very little about, other than the delightful bottled water brand.
We arrived at Denaru Island where we were delighted with five-star amenities at the Sofitel Fiji Resort. After our previous week-long adventure across the Pacific Ocean and up and down the Australian Coast staying on couches, in hostels, and in quirky outback motor lodges, this was exactly the kind of relaxation we were ready for. An open-air lobby overlooking the ocean and pool areas with complimentary foot massages, fresh island drinks, and Fiji water were there to welcome us to the state of relaxation that the locals referred to “Fiji time”. After our long travels, we were impressed with our wonderful room where we could hear the ocean from our room. We couldn’t wait for the morning to see the tropical paradise we had finally arrived at.
The next morning we awoke to one of the most beautiful sights we had ever seen from our balcony. After relaxing on the balcony and snapping a few pictures, we decided to get out of our room and enjoy a Fijian breakfast at one of the resort’s many restaurants. I know… Touristy.
In Fiji, every meal is accompanied with a song. Upon writing this on my return, almost every memory I have has a pleasant island song being performed in the background. Sometimes they played traditional Fijian music, other times they played American classics. Either way, they made you feel like you could lay down and take a nap in hammock just about anywhere you were at.
For our 2nd morning in Fiji, I had special plans in mind for the day. My girlfriend Amy, who accompanied me on this Trotamundo, and I happened to be celebrating our anniversary this day. I had told her I had planned a day trip to Castaway Island off the coast of Fiji (yes, it’s where they filmed the Tom Hank’s movie) to celebrate. I had other plans in mind…I was going to ask her to marry me!
We departed from Port Denaru on a boat that made the trip through some of the many islands off the coast of Fiji. After 1.5 hours we arrived at Castaway Island where of course we were welcomed with a song:
I had called ahead and talked to the General Manager of Castaway Island who had set up a special private beach side lunch where I planned on surprising Amy for our “anniversary”. After a romantic walk up and down the beach with some great pictures, I suggested to Amy that we go and attend the BBQ lunch. It was here that she was surprised (not as much as she was about to be) that I had planned something special for “our anniversary”. At this point I cracked a few cheesy romantic jokes and we sat down for our special lunch.
After getting our food and opening a delicious bottle of wine, I was so nervous that I could barely take a bite (even though it was delicious food).
I also snapped a quick pic of Amy where she is all smiles celebrating not having any idea what was about to happen.
Originally I was planning on waiting until after lunch, but being as nervous as I was I decided to just go for it, after all I am a sales person. I got down on my knee, asked the question, and…. she said yes!!!
After the hotel staff saw her answer, they quickly ran out and, of course, started singing us a Fijian love song where we experienced our first dance as fiancées This had turned out to be not only the best trip of my life, but also the biggest day of my life too!
After finishing our lunch and a delicious bottle of wine, we decided to hit the beach for some celebratory snorkeling. I had never seen such brightly colored fish and interesting underwater scenery. Other than a run-in with some corral that left me with a cut up hand, we had a great time. Sadly as soon as our Castaway day had begun, it came to an end. After pictures, and hugs and more songs with staff, we had to depart the island back to Port Denaru.
On our last day in Fiji we decided to adventure to the city and see what non-resort Fijian life was like. We were surprised to discover the almost half the Fijian population was actually East Indian descent. We had delicious Vindaloos and Roganjoshes that were as authentic as they were spicy. We also attended a local market where we bought a bag of EXTREMELY spicy red curry powder.
On our way out of the market we noticed that there were not many businesses that were run by local Fijians. We were approached on the street by a young man who offered to bring us to “the real Fiji market”. After our initial hesitancy we decided to take a risk and see what he had to offer.
He brought us to a market that was truly local. We were immediately welcomed with something different from song… a Fijian Kava ceremony.
Kava is the traditional herb Kava is sedating and is primarily consumed to relax without disrupting mental clarity. We were than told stories of what village life is like in Fiji, and were tipped off to a great local restaurant to eat a giant Fiji lobster.
After dinner we enjoyed a fire dancing show for our final evening before our flight back to the real world, where Amy was very much looking forward to calling all of her friends and family to give them the big news.
I learned a lot about other cultures on this trip, I had never left North America before and was really impressed with the cultures on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. I am excited for to my next adventure with my beautiful new fiancée. I think there is a plan in the works for a trip to China next so I can meet her family!