AS IT HAPPENED - Teaching soil school in Fiji - Part 1
I have known Mike Smith, the founder of Organic Matters Foundation for a few years now and have always been intrigued by his altruistic approach to organic farming. Mike was my lecturer in the Diploma of Organic Production through the National Environment Centre in Southern NSW and apart from my lazy map submissions, he found my assessment tasks to be easy to read and submit, no questioning of my skills. It helped that I had just aced the Soil Foodweb course and was consulting in commercial compost making at the same time as the 'Soils' section of the Diploma.
We caught up a handful of times over the years and one memorable occasion was at his farm near Yamba, Solum Farm and I swapped him some wine I had made for a box of fresh fruit and veg because we were staying at a resort in Lennox Head and we laughed when my children went slipping and sliding in the mud at his place. We had chatted about the possibility of me participating in teaching soil school in the South Pacific Islands a couple of times before, but when I found myself with a gap in life that made me free to do so, I did not hesitate to say YES. So off I went...
With the usual hiccups like an out of date passport and the logistical nightmare of leaving a farm with livestock and a vanilla harvest behind, I caught a plane from Bundaberg to Brisbane and met Mike in the usual meeting place, the wine bar of a restaurant. We had a 4.30 am start for the International Airport and it was an easy night's sleep before the alarm went off.
Nadi (pronounced Nandi) airport in Fiji is a quick 4 hour flight from Brisbane and we had barely touched the ground when we were on the next domestic flight to Suva. It was a mere half hour on a much smaller plane, but allowed me to get the feel of the landscape for my first time in Fiji. I noticed the 'dry' end of Fiji, and appreciated the warm humid air on arrival in Suva. It was great to have Mike commentating beside me and pointed out cloudbreak and other noticeable features of the island.
Suva was a delight. It was pumping with life and wide smiles and scary nonchalent taxi driving, my type of place. I was happy to see fruit trees I could identify and garden plots full of familiar tropical veggies. We settled into our rooms for 10 mins then again I met Mike in the bar. Fiji Gold Beer is a quaffable drop in the heat. There are no different glass sizes like Australia, you just order a beer.
It was later in the night in this bar that we first met the rest of the team from Sea Mercy who were travelling to Batiki Island with us. The group was mostly Americans and I become intrigued with their accents, as I tried to recall which accent belonged to which state. I was reminded that the people from the Northern Hemisphere had travelled for a day, lost a day essentially and were jetlagged and tired, unlike us Aussies. Kevin and Suzy the Cardiologists were my favourite as they showed us their health apps on the iphone with so much enthusiasm although they were dizzy with tiredness. They were able to trace my heart rhythm via the app and on all accounts I was healthy enough for the next level of our adventure - phew!
For only the reason international travellers will understand, we were stoked to hear a familiar and distinct Aussie accent, and that's when we met the divine Kate Collins, another person from Yamba of all places. Kate is a Nutrition Educator with a love for sport and all things not shellfish (that is a blog in itself)! We shared a Bure' together when we were stranded at Leleuvia, an eco resort island and snorkelled and laughed together through our adventure. This blog post reminds me I owe Kate a toothbrush, and a huge thank you for everything you radiant lady if you're reading!
We spent the evening in the restaurant with Mike, a Rocket Scientist and Mike, the Organic Farmer introduced us to Kakoda (pronounced Kakonda), a raw fish salad in coconut milk! We had some wine and enjoyed the food and conversation and laughs before retiring for the evening. I slept like a baby and was up early for our brekky then bus trip with Rosie Holidays (the same people who took our bags from the International airport in Nadi to the motel in Suva so that we didn't have to check them in for the overland flight to Suva) to Bau Landing, the point where we left the mainland of Fiji to the outer islands. And so the next leg of our adventure began...