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Published: November 9th 2016
A big 'Bula!' to everyone today from an extremely friendly Fiji. We write poolside, in the shade, after a misguided day in the sun yesterday left us resembling a couple of lobsters. We also write as America, 17 hours behind, goes to the polls after nothing short of a brutal campaign. By the time this post is written however, H. D. R. Clinton will inevitably be the new President.
The last week has seen its fair share of travelling as we headed trans-Pacific, leaving behind a month of magnificent memories in Latin America, and arriving in Auckland after fast forwarding a day through crossing the date line. Despite hearing mixed reviews about Auckland as a soulless metropolis that didn't represent the true Kiwi spirit, we were very pleasantly surprised. With the sun shining we strolled through the city centre, and with its pleasant harbour over-looking an array of volcanic islands, we both agreed it is one of those places where we could live easily, if it wasn't so far from home. Interestingly, the city is built on 50 volcanoes - not all of them extinct - with the last one erupting about 600 years ago.
Only having a day or so to spare, we headed slightly jet lagged across the water to a charming village called Devonport, complete with its colonial verandahs and cricket square. Here resides the New Zealand navy museum, where we spent a fascinating couple of hours learning about the country's role in the wars and conflicts of the last century, and the vital support it provided to allied forces in both of the world wars. Having been recognised as an independent navy in 1941, the place was celebrating its 75th anniversary, and has commemorated the occasion with laying out 75 different items from its history, some of which were moving letters sent by sailors shortly before they were killed in action. After our visit, we climbed up a small hill that used to guard the city from invasion, and explored the now abandoned bunkers and barracks with commanding views back over the city centre.
Other highlights included a visit to Eden Park, the country's largest stadium and home of New Zealand rugby and cricket, where the All Blacks have only lost 11 times in their history. We were taken on a tour by the ground's historian, seeing the players' changing rooms, pitch, media areas and hospitality boxes. Unfortunately, we missed the Australia-New Zealand clash held there by a fortnight. We also met up with one of Dom's university pals, who is now team manager and physio for the Auckland Aces, the city's first class cricket team - a cool job if ever there was one.
Following our Auckland stop over, we arrived in Fiji, where we have been based in the Intercontinental Resort, again courtesy of hotel points. We have been lucky enough to have been given a significant room upgrade, with a huge balcony and spa bath, which we are certainly making the most of ahead of 6 weeks in a camper van and grubby hostels.
Keen however to sample more than just the surrounds of an international hotel chain, we attended the Sunday Methodist church service in a local village, chaperoned by Esava, one of the hotel staff who lives there. The wooden church was packed with the majority of the village, and we were given a warm public welcome by the pastor. The only English that was to follow in the next two hours was a reading from the book of Revelation, however we heartily joined in with the hymns which were beautifully sang by the congregation in Fijian, without accompanying music. On later speaking over drinks with the hotel management here, they commented on how family and faith are the two pillars motivating the majority of their local community, which was certainly apparent on our church visit.
It has indeed been striking how friendly the local population are here, with cheery choruses of 'Bula!' resonating whenever we come across them. All are so keen to confirm we are having a good time in Fiji, that our every need has been catered for, and whether it's our first visit to the island.
We have also been lucky enough to hack our way around the local championship golf course, which hosts the annual professional event of the Fiji International, and where Vicky shot a score that was simply too close for comfort. The course was well kept as you'd expect, with pristine greens and fairways punctuated by countless bunkers, water, and the odd coral feature, all whilst you could hear the waves crashing against the reef only a few hundred metres away. The real difference however was the constant presence of locals who had ventured onto the course - scores of women, clad in traditional dress, washing clothes or fishing with a single line, unemployed men and boys searching the dense undergrowth for stray golf balls that they could later sell back to the club house. As we drove around in our caddy cart complete with Tommy Hilfiger shirts and hired golf clubs, you couldn't help feeling almost guilty about our respective situations, brought about merely by accident of birth. Nonetheless, we were happily waved at and greeted as we moved through the course.
As well as applying copious amounts of after sun, still followed by the inevitable peeling, on our last few days here we hope to visit a local primary school, do some snorkelling to check out some of the reefs nearby, as well as continue to at least try to keep fit whilst we have access to a gym. After this, New Zealand awaits again, as we head to the South Island for three weeks of driving through its majestic scenery, as well as, of course, sampling some Sauvignon.
What do the pollsters know? Trump now on the verge of the presidency! Choked shock tangible in the CNN newsroom, whose coverage we have been watching all afternoon. With Brexit and now this, 2016 is truly the year of the white working class. Before I get kicked under the table for discussing politics at the dinner party, has America ever had such a bottom of the barrel choice between two candidates? They are a great nation, with great people, and I feel for their citizens today - for their grim choice and for their divided nation. Despite his inspirational oratory, healthy exit ratings and personable, empathetic demeanour, is Obama's true legacy a disunited nation and a Trump Presidency?
See you in New Zealand.
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