Monday, November 30, 2009

Ian's Take on the Homeschool Question

What I like about homeschool:

  1. I like snorkeling on the reef and seeing sharks and turtles.
  2. I like doing snorkeling logs because you learn about fish.
  3. I like having Mom and Dad as teachers because I know them and I think that most kids do not have their parents for a teacher

What I don’t like about homeschool:

I hate doing ALEKS!

Things that I think would improve homeschool:

  1. I think we should do different things at PE, like play a game or soccer or baseball. I want to learn about players and learn the rules.
  2. Once we finish 4th and 6th Grade ALEKS, we should not do ALEKS as much, like every other day. Or maybe we can do different, FUN projects.
  3. I would like to study a species of fish per week and go out to the reef and try to find that fish.

Tica's Homeschool Report

Tica's Take on homeschool so far....

Three things that I like about homeschool are:

  1. I think that it is really cool that we get to go snorkeling almost everyday.
  2. I like reading for 40 minutes a day. You almost never get to do that in regular school.
  3. I find if fun to see and do things in real life rather than read about them in a textbook.

There isn’t much not to like about homeschool but here are three things that I don’t like:

  1. I don’t like doing ALEKS because it is boring and always the same. The program doesn’t come up with any ways to change it or make it fun.
  2. There are only two students in our school. I like to work with a lot of people and, well, obviously I can’t.
  3. It can also get a little annoying to have your teachers with you 24/7.

Here are three improvements I think we could make to our homeschool:

  1. I think that we should do more art. I draw and do art on my own time but we don’t do much of it in school. I would like to see us learn more about art and craft making in the cultures that surround us. It would be fun for instance, to learn how to weave a mat out of coconut fronds.
  2. I also want to learn to cook. Maybe we could learn how to cook a traditional meal in every culture that we visit?
  3. I want to have a more creative curriculum. For instance, maybe we could do some more creative projects in math. I am more than half way through the sixth grade math curriculum. Once we are finished, it would be fun to do ALEKS a little less and do more “fun” math using books, games, etc.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Homeschool Status Update

As we are just about a third of the way into our experimental "Homeschool in a Global Classroom" year, I thought it worth a status update. On the whole, the team effort of educating Tica and Ian has been a good one. We four have fallen into a routine that seems to work and the kids -- for the most part -- seem to be learning quite a bit. Here is a synopsis of the experiment so far -- Brooke

Scholar working at the dinner table

The All Important Routine

We realized early on that Tica and Ian prefer a routine, so we've gotten into the habit of providing them with a To Do list of daily assignments. They receive it in an email each morning. Putting together the list has the added benefit of forcing the teachers to focus and put together a work day that is balanced, interesting not overly strenuous.

Ben and I have found it worthwhile to split our teaching roles between subjects. He will typically work on math with the kids, while I concentrate on the social sciences. We share teaching responsibilities in science. We also switch or double up roles from time to time as needed, like when one or the other of us goes on a grocery run or needs a sanity break.

The system breaks down a little when we have taken a day or two off. We all have a hard time getting back into the swing of things. The daily lesson plan helps a lot though and, barring any motivational battles, we typically manage to have our school work done before early afternoon.

Field Trip!

We try to work on a regular school schedule, hitting the books five days per week with a two days off on the weekend. We’ll tweak the schedule to allow for special excursions, such as our recent snorkeling/dolphin watching trip to Natewa Bay. Such exceptions are rare though and Ben and I stress learning on those occasions.

We honor the traditional “breaks” in the school year – like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, but we are not afraid to change the schedule around to suit our needs and travel realities. For instance, we will likely shorten our Christmas Break a bit so that we can take a few school days off in early January when my brother and family come to visit. The overall goal is to have school at least the same number of days than Tica and Ian’s classmates back home.

The Curriculum

Ian and Tica have learned countless things by just being here in Fiji. We have seen the progress ourselves, particularly in adjusting to “Fiji Time” and the realities of living in a small town with fewer amenities -- like no Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers. Ben and I nevertheless take the actual homeschooling component of our trip quite seriously – perhaps even too seriously at times. We would rather err on the side of caution though.

Prior to our departure, we had the chance to pick the brains of a number of teacher friends, acquaintances and family members. (Vinaka!) If there one piece of specific advice, it was to stay on top of "maths" as it is referred to here in Fiji. We took this to heart and subscribed to a more traditional curriculum for math than for other subjects.

ALEKS is a Web-based math curriculum, which uses frequent assessments and adaptive questioning to teach math concepts in a curriculum tied to grade level. The course is tailored to include math standards set by school districts in different states, including Washington. Tica and Ian will have to complete a pie chart, the slices corresponding to different types of math (e.g., geometry, fractions, algebra, etc.). He/she can pick the subject to work on but must master certain skills before going on to others, thus assuring that each will have to tackle all slices of the pie at some point. The fourth grade curriculum has an additional segment called Quick Tables, which tests Ian on basic math facts using drills and games.

In order to progress, students are expected to spend at least three hours a week working on ALEKS. We assign 40 minutes of ALEKS per day, which works out to 3 hours, 20 minutes a week, although we usually round up to make each session a little longer. As I write this, Tica has already completed 63 percent of the 6th grade math curriculum. Ian has mastered 65 percent of the fourth grade curriculum. The kids seem to like (okay, tolerate) the interface and the frequent and unannounced assessments give them test-taking practice in addition to assuring their mastery of new math skills. We will continue on to the next year’s curriculum once the kids finish their current lesson plan.

If there is one criticism of ALEKS, it is that we must have a reliable internet connection in order to use it. Losing our connection, as happens from time to time, was cause for alarm at the start as we had to seek one elsewhere or do no math. We managed this problem all right while we were stateside but it turned into a real pain in Savusavu. Catching the bus into town to cram ourselves into an internet “cafĂ©” (not) just didn’t work. To remedy the situation, we picked up a couple of math workbooks used in Fiji schools. These books provide ample practice for the kids when the Internet is down or when we are traveling. It is a sad statement about Fiji’s education system though that we are using books aimed at students who are two years ahead (classes 6 and 8).

Outside of math, we have adopted a more non-traditional approach to teaching, tailoring our daily assignments to events in our surroundings or new ideas that spring up from a variety of sources. While variety rules, we try to make sure that each assignment includes work on some or all of the "Basics" -- thinking and reasoning, reading and reading comprehension, various types of written and oral communication skills (e.g., narrative, creative and persuasive) and cultural and historical studies. We often use this blog to display their work. They just love to hit the "publish" button and really seem to take pride in their posts.

Science: Close Up of Solar System Model -- Saturn and its Moons

We have had probably the most fun in our science studies. Here we have taken full advantage of proximity to the reef, leading the kids on a number of snorkeling excursions and helping them to learn about Fiji’s rich marine resources. They are also going through the book-learning it takes to gain a junior certification in openwater Scuba diving. These projects slip over into other subjects as well. For instance, walking the reef and negotiating the currents of the dropoff are major components of our daily PE curriculum.

Science and PE

Last but not least, we are all doing a lot of reading. The kids have already finished all five books in the Last Olympian Series by Rick Riordan, a Harry Potter type adventure series which offers background on the Greek mythology. They have also read various Penderwicks' titles, some Hardy Boys mysteries and The Name of this Book is Secret books, among others. We've read aloud The Lightning Thief and The Swiss Family Robinson and are currently in the middle of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. We've had some school projects come out of these readings as well as many spirited discussions. It is also a great way to wind down after a long day.

Learning By Doing: Celebrating Diwali

The Gear

Having to pack up for a year's worth of travel, we had a limited weight allowance for school books and supplies. Those of you who know us will not be surprised to know that we turned to gadgets to solve the problem.

The two Mac Books that we bought before leaving have been our workhorses. I don't think we'll ever go back to a PC, at least for our personal computer. The Macs provide us with a link to the outer world as well as a format for any number of audio-visual and written projects. We rely on the weather, tide tables and international time applications to plan our daily activities. They also house Ben's growing collections of pictures documenting our journey. (Yes, we have a backup external hard drive.)

And then there are the cameras. Ben had used his new digital SLR camera every day, both to document our trip and the kids in their studies. We also brought along our old point-and-shoot with a housing for underwater shots. The kids have their own little point-and-shoots that they use from time to time. Both run on batteries though, which are hard to find.

Field Research

Our Kindle, a sort of Ipod for books, has been a wonderful resource for all of us to access any number of books and newspapers that would not be available us otherwise. It takes little effort to download books from Amazon's website and our daily subscriptions to the New York Times and Seattle Times has kept us up to speed with world happenings and (alas) baseball scores.

Even with all this techy stuff, we did bring a few must have books we didn't think we would find here. (We were not mistaken.) These include a couple of fish identification books, the PADI openwater diver certification textbook and an atlas. A handful of books proved to be less useful so we will leave them behind when we leave on our next leg of the journey.


As with any education, there are admittedly gaps in Tica and Ian's schooling this year. We could be doing more creative arts work -- music for instance, and art. We have also chosen to travel destinations where English is very commonly spoken, thus putting off foreign language instruction for another year. I find this one particularly troublesome. We could also probably do a little more work in the area of spelling, punctuation and grammar.

We brought along a set of books about ancient civilizations -- Egypt, Mesopotamia and, of course, Ur. While in San Francisco, we managed to take the kids to see part of the King Tutankhamen exhibit that we saw as kids. Since coming to Fiji though, we have done little work on these topics. We'll need to address this lack at some point.

It only natural that there will be some gaps, just like there are at regular school. These problems can be addressed with a little imagination and new materials. We may explore Rosetta Stone software for foreign language, for example. (Then all we'll have to decide is "Which One"?) We are also getting selected books from helpers at home. I'm afraid to think of what I'll do when entering a good bookstore in Australia or New Zealand!

One other disappointment so far lies in the realm of volunteering. When we originally thought about homeschool, Ben and I envisioned a much larger public service component than we have been able to execute in Savusavu. Our association with the Rotary Club of Savusavu has been enjoyable and to a certain extent useful in that context. They do amazing work but the time frame is slow. Our Rotary Activities have been limited though to a clean up of Savusavu and some fundraising projects. We would like, in the next legs of our journey to try and do a little more. It may be that we have to just take a week or two and work full time on a project, like what some friends did in Thailand working/teaching in a school. We'll have to keep exploring.

Finally, working cooperatively has been a challenge. Tica's class last year did a lot of group projects and she misses that. Working with different groups and being able to manage with different personalities is a key job skill in today's world. We would like to do more but working cooperatively with your brother and your Mom and Dad gets old at times.

Community Service Project -- Savusavu Clean Up on October 9th

Aside from the weaknesses in parts of the curriculum, we have run into the occasional knock-down, drag-out battle of wills. Ben and I have handled these situations with varying degrees of success. We have found that the key is to remain calm and to repeat the mantra that the project, whatever it may be, is part of "school" and must be finished. It helps tremendously if we can get across the notion that Mom and Dad are trying to get them ready for the next grade and not just trying to get them to do busy work. Making projects fun is also a great motivator.

Next Steps

Before leaving Savusavu, we will put all that marine biology and snorkeling know how the kids have mustered to one final test when we embark on an ambitious survey project. We will take advantage of an upcoming change, the removal of a tabu or closure to fishing, to determine the effect of the practice on the reef's butterflyfish population. This will require the kids to use all the snorkeling and science skills they've learned over the past few months. We may even be

Ian is also working as we speak on a letter to the producer of The Amazing Race, trying to convince him that it would be good to add a public service-related task to each race segment. No kidding, he came up with the idea himself. We figure it a good way to practice some persuasive writing in a real world context. We'll let you know how it turns out.

These are just two examples of some of the projects we plan to undertake in the coming month. I'm sure that other ideas will spring up from our wealth of experiences as we get back out on the road.

We will continue more or less as we have so far for the rest of the year of homeschool. We will tweak what needs tweaking and revise curriculum based on new materials and new teaching opportunities that may arise. We will face the additional challenge, I think, of doing school while on the road. To date we have been firmly settled in our little burg of Savusavu with no car. On our next leg of the trip -- Melbourne/Tasmania, we'll be moving around a lot and living in hotels and a very small campervan so we'll see how that goes.

In a Nutshell....

Speaking as one of the teachers, homeschooling is exhausting but fun. It has given me even more of an appreciation for my kids and their talents. It also makes me appreciate even more what teachers go through on a day to day basis educating our kids. We have it a lot easier than they do!

We by no means regret our decision to homeschool. Will we continue with it once we get back? I doubt it. Never say never though. For now we are continue to continue with our program, with more confidence than not that Ben and I are succeeding at preparing Tica and Ian for the next grade level and, much more importantly, the world they will face as adults.

Thanks for reading and following along. We love comments and suggestions!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

To TV or Not to TV by Tica

Tica was asked to do her own persuasive essay for school this week. Here's what she came up with on the subject of television as an educational tool. -- Brooke

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Scuba Don't? A Rebuttal By Ian

This week I will present the other side of last week’s persuasive writing assignment, “Why Scuba Diving is Better than Snorkeling.” There are lots of different reasons why.

First, you do not need very much gear to be able to enjoy snorkeling. All you really need is a mask, snorkel, fins and a bathing suit. These items are more simple in design and therefore less expensive and easier to maintain. If you take care of them, they will last much longer than Scuba gear items like a dive computer or regulator. You can spend the extra money on getting to the places you want to go and on getting really good gear that is comfortable and durable.

No Bubbles Needed.

Snorkeling gear is also lighter and much less bulky than Scuba gear. This means that you can bring more guidebooks, camera equipment, sunscreen and other important items on a vacation to a tropical island. This is especially important now in the age of baggage weight restrictions by airlines worldwide. My parents had to pay extra in luggage fees when we came to Fiji, even though we didn’t bring that much stuff. If they had left their Scuba kit at home, we probably would not have needed to pay.

What’s more, Scuba gear is hard to carry around with you when you are not using it on a regular basis. We are still trying to figure out how we can store Mom and Dad’s Scuba gear when we travel light in Tasmania and other non-Scuba destinations. We also have to worry about the Scuba gear being stolen or knocked around and broken. My mom’s dive computer broke during the trip over here and there is no place in Fiji to get it fixed or replaced. We still don’t know what to do with it but have to carry it around with us for the rest of the trip.

You can still see really cool stuff from the surface.

Gear issues aside, snorkeling has another benefit over Scuba in that you can stay out as long as you want on the reef. When you Scuba dive, you are limited by the air capacity in your tank and by decompression limits. Depending on your depth, you can only stay down for an hour or two tops, unless you are using an expensive re-breather.

Decompression rules also require you to wait between dives and before you fly. You are not allowed to fly until at least twelve hours after your last dive. By contrast, you could snorkel until the very last minute of your vacation.

Finally, Scuba diving is not for everyone. People who are intimidated by all the gear, people who are afraid of going underwater and people who have a hard time clearing their ears may not be good candidates for Scuba diving. Certification also takes a lot of time, studying and money. Kids are also not allowed to get certified until they are at least ten years old. Snorkeling provides a fun, cheaper and less time consuming alternative in these cases. Although you cannot get very deep, you can still see a lot of what the ocean has to offer.

A regular visitor during our snorkels at the drop off. No tank required.

Even though I think Scuba is better, I can see why some people might think snorkeling is the way to go. You don’t have as many gear issues, you don’t have as many time constraints, and snorkeling provides a good alternative for those who aren’t able to or don’t want to go down under. Snorkeling is also excellent practice for Scuba diving. Both activities require many of the same skills. Once you learn to snorkel well, you will be much better prepared to try Scuba. Either way, there are lots of things to discover under the waves. I urge you to give it a try someday soon.

The author in his element.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Our Super Solar System by Tica and Ian Drury

This week, Ian and I researched the solar system. With help from Mom and Dad, we built a model of the solar system, including the nine planets and the sun. We used things that we found on the beach such as shells, palm fronds, coconuts and an assortment of other things.

Here are some extra facts about the different planets and the sun:

The Sun:

Diameter: 870,000 miles

The Sun is the center of our solar system

The Sun is made up of 70% Hydrogen and 28% Helium and the remaining 2% are metals

Something that you might not know about the sun:

The temperature at the surface of the sun is about 5,800 K or 9,980 degrees Fahrenheit. Now that’s hot! The sun is about 4.5 billion years old.


One orbit of sun: 87,969 days

Distance from the sun: 36 million miles

Atmosphere: Hydrogen, Helium

Diameter: 3,030 miles

Something you might not know about the 8th biggest planet in the solar system:

It has the most extreme temperature variations in the entire solar system ranging from 90K to 700K.


One orbit of the sun: 225 days

Distance from the sun: 67 million miles

Atmosphere: Carbon Dioxide, Nitrogen

Diameter: 7,523 miles

Something that you might not know about the 6th biggest planet in the solar system:

Venus is the brightest object in the sky excluding the sun and the moon. Humans have known about since prehistoric times.


One orbit of the sun: 365 days

Distance from the sun: 93 million miles

Atmosphere: Nitrogen, Oxygen, and Argon

Diameter: 7,926 miles

Something that you might not know about the 5th largest planet in the solar system:

Earth is the only planet whose name doesn’t come from Greek or Roman mythology.


One orbit of the sun: 886,092 days

Distance from the sun: 142 million miles

Atmosphere: Nitrogen, Oxygen and Argon

Diameter: 4,222 miles

Something that you might not know about 7th largest planet in the solar system:

Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain in the solar system, reaches 78,000 ft tall which is more than 2 ½ times the height of Mt Everest can be found on Mars.


One orbit of the sun: 4,332 days

Distance from the sun: 483 million miles

Atmosphere: Hydrogen, Helium and Methane

Diameter: 88,846 miles

Something that you may not know about the largest planet in the solar system:

It is so big that you could fit 318 Earths inside of it. Its most obvious feature is the Great Red Spot, which is a 300-year-old storm.


One orbit of the sun: 10,759 days

Distance from the sun: 888 million miles

Atmosphere: Hydrogen, Helium, and Methane

Diameter: 74,898 miles

Something that you may not know about the 2nd largest planet in the solar system:

Saturn has several rings around it that are primarily made up of chunks of ice. If all of the material of the rings were compressed it would only amount to a sphere 100km in diameter


One orbit of the sun: 30,684 days

Distance from the sun- 1,784 million miles

Atmosphere: Hydrogen, Helium, and Methane

Diameter: 31,763 miles

Something you may not know about the 3rd biggest planet in the solar system:

Uranus rotates on its side unlike all of the other planets, which spin like a top in an upright position.


One orbit of the sun: 60,190 days

Distance from the sun: 2,794 million miles

Atmosphere: Hydrogen, Helium, and Methane

Diameter: 30,775 miles

Something that you may not know about the 4th biggest planet in the solar system:

Neptune is home to the fastest winds in the solar system, reaching to as much as 200km/hour.


One orbit of the sun: 90,465 days

Distance from the sun: 3,647 million miles

Atmosphere: Methane and Nitrogen

Diameter: 1,485 miles

Something you may not know about the smallest planet in the solar system:

On Aug. 24, 2006 Pluto’s status was changed from a planet, to a new classification, a dwarf planet.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Narrative Writing by Ian

For the writing portion of our homeschool program, Tica and Ian are working on practicing the four different types of writing: descriptive, expository, narrative and persuasive. Last week, Ian worked on persuasive writing when he wrote about snorkeling versus SCUBA and made a video. This week, we are working on narrative writing. Ian picked the topic from a list we found on the Internet.

Ten Crazy Reasons Why I Don't Have My Homework

  1. A Flying Fox ate it! My Mom was cutting a papaya on the table where I was doing my homework and splattered papaya juice on the paper. A Flying Fox, which eats fruit, thought it smelled good and flew through a window screen into my room and got it while I was asleep. I wasn’t about to take it from him!
  2. It was lost in a cyclone! A cyclone named Joe was coming and the eye was supposed to pass right over Siga Siga Sands! I was in such a hurry to get inside that I left my homework outside in the yard where I was working on it. The storm passed and we were safe. Unfortunately, when I came back out of the barricaded house, my homework was gone. It probably landed in the ocean.
  3. It was boiled in hot oil! I made it into a paper airplane and let it fly. My mom was making French fries in the kitchen and the airplane flew right into the hot oil in her frying pan that was on the stove. Before we could do anything about it, the sheet caught on fire and burned up.
  4. It went up in flames! I thought the sheet was old homework so I put it in the fire while I was cleaning up my messy desk. When I realized it was this week’s test, I ran to the garage to get my fishing pole. I used the pole to fish the homework out of the fire but by that time it had turned into ashes.
  5. I gave it to charity! I put the finished homework in my pants pocket. Mom went to Target and got me some new jeans. She offered to take my old pants to Goodwill on her way to the grocery store. She gave the pants away to this guy who works there. His name is Bob. Since I’d forgotten to take my homework out of the old pants pocket, Bob now has my homework.
  6. Incinerated! Our house flooded because we had a tsunami, which came after a strong earthquake in Alaska. The power was out so we started the generator. Unfortunately, it caught on fire and blew up, catching the garage on fire. Our house was also on fire because a power line fell on it and sparks ignited the curtains in my bedroom. My homework was on my desk right next to the curtains so it caught fire right away. So the house was flooded and on fire at the same time. It was not good. I was too busy trying to flee to safety to get my homework back.
  7. Crime stoppers! A burglar broke in to our house and stole some stuff. On his way out, he stepped on my homework and left a footprint on it. When we called the police, they asked if we had any evidence from the crime. We showed them my homework sheet. They took it for scanning and I never got it back.
  8. My kingdom for a pen! My pen ran out of ink and all my pencils were lost. When I went to the store, they did not have ink pencils or pens or mechanical pencils so I could not do the work. All the other stores were closed and I didn’t have any crayons because I gave them all away to my cousin Ryan last week. He is five.
  9. Decked out. It was a nice day outside. I had just finished my homework when the paper dropped between the cracks in our deck. I had no way of getting under the deck because it was blocked off by latticework. I tried to squeeze between the slats but could not get to it, even with a pair of tongs from the kitchen. (My mom got really mad at me for using kitchen utensils in the garden.)
  10. Go Green! I joined a go green club but I did not have any paper to recycle so I gave them my homework to recycle so it went to the recycling center and got made into a re-useable bag for groceries. At least it was for a good cause.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Our Trip to Taveuni by Tica

Last week we ventured to Taveuni for our first vacation. During our adventures we explored the land and sea, we hiked the rain forest and snorkeled on a deserted island. We came home happy but a little reluctant to start school again after a nice break.

On our first day we woke up at about 4:00 AM to catch the Suilven, a large ferry that carries cars, people and goods to the capital Suva and to Taveuni a couple of times a week. It left at 6:00 A.M. The boat pulled into the dock about 11:00 A.M. Peter and Gina, the caretakers of the house that we were staying at, picked us up. The house was really nice. It had a loft and a pool, which unfortunately didn’t have any water in it. Our greeting was very different from the one that we got here at Siga Siga. Here, people invited us into their homes, to church and to other important events. The greeting we got in Taveuni was simple but gruesome… A pig was slaughtered just down the beach from our house. We didn’t see it but the squealing was just awful. Even so, we had a nice first day relaxing after a long morning of travel.

Our second day started early once again. We didn’t want to miss the boat that would take us to Koro Levu, a small deserted island off Taveuni to go snorkeling with our private snorkel guide(!) Weiss, a native Fijian. Meanwhile Mom and Dad would go SCUBA diving on Taveuni’s famous Rainbow Reef. When we got to Koro Levu, we went snorkeling for two and a half hours and two thirds of the way around the island. We saw huge plate corals and about every kind of coral you can think of, both hard and soft. It was the best snorkeling I have ever done – even better than Cayman.

Here is a shot of the coral at the ferry dock on Taveuni. You can imagine how it looked near a pristine tropical island like Koro Levu!

Once we had dried off, we climbed to the top of the island. That was quite the adventure! It was really, really steep, probably the steepest hill that I ever climbed in my whole life. The rocks were all crumbly and very easy to slip on. At one point, I lost my footing. Luckily, I grabbed a tree because otherwise I would have fallen off a five foot drop onto the rocks. I don’t think the Fijians know what “Try to Avoid Accidents Before They Happen” means. Even though I almost fell off a cliff, we have a really fun time. Our reward was a good story to tell and a very nice view.

Weiss also taught us how to do underwater rock running and how to make head dresses out of ferns. Underwater rock running is where you dive underwater and pick up a large rock from the bottom and run along the sea floor with it. It sounds boring but it is really not because it is like running in slow motion. Making headdresses was easy. All you had to do was twist ferns together. The hard part was making them stay on. All in all, we were really lucky to visit Koro Levu because we had a great day.

Here I am at the beach on Koro Levu.

A day on the water left us all pretty tired so we stayed in on our third day, enjoyed the view, read books, did a little schoolwork and tried wahoo, a kind of fish for dinner. It was okay.

On our fourth day, we woke up to hear rain pattering on the roof and a little bit upset because we were going to go on the Lavena Coastal Walk that day. Peter and Gina got us a truck to use so that Dad could drive us down the really rough road to the hike. The rain was coming down in torrents when we got to the trailhead. We started the hike at 9:30 AM on a flat trail along the beach. The waves crashing on the beach were huge, some of the biggest I have ever seen. There were tons of flowers and different kinds of plants that I had never seen before. At one point we saw a really big rain tree that had completely grown around the trunk of a palm tree. It was a really interesting sight to see.

When we got to the waterfall, we were filled with excitement. The waterfall was amazing. From where the trail ended on the rocks you could see the first and biggest waterfall. It was about 30 feet tall. To get to the waterfall, we had to wade in the chilly water up to a channel between two cliffs. When we got there, we had to swim into the pool that the waterfalls had carved out over time. About half way through the channel, the second waterfall came into view. It was not as big as the first one but still fairly large at a height of around 10 feet. The smaller waterfall was the one that you could slide down but because it had been raining so much the river was rather high so we couldn’t slide down it, unfortunately.

After our swim, Ian and I painted our faces. We rubbed two wet river rocks together to make a reddish paste. Then we drew it on eachothers’ faces and bodies. After a while we each had beards, Tikka’s (the dots that Indian women sometimes have on their foreheads), Fijian warrior paint and peace signs! That was our Halloween celebration. Hiking in the rain forest was better than I ever imagined. It was an amazing experience.

Ian, Mom and I on a swinging bridge.

On our fifth day, we did two things. We went to Koro Levu and to the International Dateline, which passes straight through the center of Taveuni. When we got to the island we climbed out of the boat onto the white sand beach. We decided to go snorkeling first. Unfortunately, Ian’s fin broke. Swimming with one fin is like trying to walk with one leg. You keep turning around in circles. So we didn’t go snorkeling as long as we did the previous time. We took the opposite route from the one we took on our last visit. There was a lot more soft coral.

When we got out of the water, we had a snack of banana bread, juice and bananas. With our stomachs full, we started to venture around the island. In an inlet close to the landing beach, we found a cliff swallow’s nest with two swallows in it. When we climbed up to get a closer look, they flew away. We walked farther and found another nest site where an albatross had once roosted. On the boulders nearby we looked for crabs. We found one and named it Usain Bolt after the famous Olympic track star. We had planned to do race between Usain and another crab but Ian and I kept dropping the crabs that Weiss caught for us. Eventually Usain escaped too.

We climbed around under the low overhangs that the waves had carved out of the cliffs. Weiss told us that the Fijian people used to hide in these areas, capture their enemies and cook them in lovo (wrapped in leaves over a slow fire). On our way further around the island we saw herons, albatrosses and a baby swallow in another nest. We collected dry wood to rub together and make a fire with. When we got back we tried to make a fire the way Fijians used to before Europeans brought matches and flints, by rubbing two dry sticks together. Just when the wood started to smoke, it started to rain – of course – so we went under an overhang and built a model of a Fijian house. We put four sticks in the ground and put sticks and then leaves on top.

We also had races with hermit crabs. We drew a circle in the sand and placed the hermit crabs in the center and the race was on. It was the USA against Fiji and the US was the lucky winner. After that, Weiss told us a story about why a cave on a neighboring island smells like roses. In the middle of the story, he turned around and asked, “Do you want to see some dolphins?”

“Yes! Yes!” we replied.

I thought that Weiss was going to make a sound to summon them or something but he pointed out to the water. Sure enough there were 15 to 20 spinner dolphins swimming off shore. They were doing all sort of tricks, including jumping and spinning and gliding backwards on their tails. We even saw some babies! We went in the water to see if we could hear the dolphins’ calls. We dove under and we could hear them making clicks and squeaks. We watched the pod for a little while longer until the boat came and to pick us up.

The boat dropped us off after another fun day and someone took us home. We rinsed our gear, got warmed up and changed our clothes and went to the International Dateline. We got a cab to take us there. The dateline was located up a hill from the village of Somosomo. There was a sign that marked the International Dateline and the 180th meridian, meaning we were exactly half way around the globe from Greenwich, England. It was a map of Taveuni that was cut in half. We jumped from day to day and took lots of pictures. We didn’t spend a lot of time at the Dateline.

At the 180th Meridian....

We learned the true meaning of “Fiji Time” on our return to Savusavu. The boat was four hours late and dinner was served at 8 pm. They played terrible movies while we tried to get some schoolwork done. The boat rocked and rocked because we were sailing sideways from the wind and waves. When we got back, it was raining and there was a power outage in Savusavu town. Luckily a nice lady helped us to find a cab back to Siga Siga. We had a great time on Taveuni but were really happy to return home.