A Winter Holiday Vacation in Zurich, Switzerland 2011-2012: Part 1
By James J. Rafoi II (13 yrs old) & Christian M. Rafoi (11 yrs old)
Allow us to introduce ourselves.
Jamie: My full name is James Joseph Rafoi II and I am age 13 years old. I am the eldest child of three. After me are my younger brother Christian and then our sister, Baby Daisy. I attended Class 1 at Pacific Harbor International School at 4 years old. My family left Pacific Harbor to live in Suva when I was in Class 4. I then attended Stella Maris Primary School to complete my Class 4 in 2004. I stayed there until I finished primary school in Class 8 / Form 2. For High School, I'm currently attending DAV Boys College where I attended Form 3 in 2011. I did very well in my academic studies in Term 1, Term 2, and in Term 3; I came 6th place in a class size of 38, and was awarded a prize in the DAV Annual School Prize Giving Ceremony for 2011. My hobbies are playing tennis, reading adventure books, video games, watching my favorite movies and snowboarding. My career aim is to be a heart or brain surgeon doing an MBBS degree.
Christian: My full name is Christian Michael Rafoi and I am the second youngest son in a family of five. Our family is made up of Dad – James J. Rafoi, Mum – Josephine Rafoi, brother – James J. Rafoi II, myself Christian M. Rafoi and my sister – Baby Daisy T. Rafoi II, who is 4 months old. Like Jamie, I started Class 1 at the age of 4 at Pacific Harbour International School before my family moved to Suva. I attended Stella Maris Primary School in Class 2. At the age of 9, I participated as a prince contestant, representing Stella Maris Primary School in the Vodafone Hibiscus Festival in 2009. This is the main carnival event in Fiji held every year. My hobbies are playing golf, snowboarding, travelling, meeting people and exotic cars—for example, Ferraris, my Uncle and Aunt's Porsche Cayenne 4 WD and Porsche 911, Ford Mustang Shelby GT. I am an A+ student. My golf handicap is 59. My career aim is to be an Investment Banker & Financier doing a B.Com and LLB degree [commerce & law degrees].
Our aunty and uncle invited us to spend our school holidays with them in Zurich, Switzerland in 2011. They made a condition that we did well in our academic studies. The winter holiday vacation was our reward. Everything was paid for by them. In Zurich it was winter during the months of December 2011 and January 2012 so we would also experience a 'White Christmas' celebration. Aunty e-mailed our airline tickets in advance by Centurion, American Express to indicate how serious she was and her love for us, her nephews. She has no other nephews or nieces. She also told us that she had booked us both to take lessons at the Snowboarding School at St Moritz. We would be traveling alone as minors [under age and/or without parental/adult supervision] without our parents. For me, James Rafoi II, this was my first trip on an airplane and my first opportunity to travel overseas. For me, Christian, it was my second opportunity to travel to Switzerland by airplane. I travelled with my Dad in August 2011 from Nadi to Dubai and on to Zurich.
Our flight details for December 2011 are as follows: flight departs from Nadi to Los Angeles, estimated time of travel is 10 hours and 15 minutes. LAX was a temporary stopover, and then it was a direct flight from LAX to Zurich.
We are very blessed to have dual citizenship, which Fiji allows. Our dual citizenship is with New Zealand and Fiji. Our New Zealand (NZ) passports enable us to travel to Switzerland, visa free. Dad says that USA has an agreement with NZ which also allows NZ passport holders, visa-free entry as well. NZ is considered one of the best countries to live-in in the world. Thank you NZ. Perhaps it is a reward to my father, Mr. James Joseph Rafoi who served in the NZ Army in the infantry and was a graduate from Victoria University of Wellington. Dad is also a Master's graduate from Australia.
Departure from Nadi, Fiji
We packed our things in our Hyundai Santa Fe – 4WD. We left one day early to go to Nadi on a Saturday afternoon—December 17, 2011. Dad booked us at the Novotel Resort and Spa in Nadi to rest and pack our luggage properly to get ready for the flight to LA (Los Angeles) the following morning. When we were all ready, we left the hotel for Nadi International Airport, which was close by. Upon arrival, first we had to check-in with the Airport Fiji Authority staff to arrange for our flight, ticketing and luggage as well as staff that would take care of us since we are going by ourselves as minors without our parents. A security staff accompanied us to the International Departure Lounge to wait until our flight was announced for departure. Before leaving through the security check-in gate, we said our final goodbyes to our parents and our sister, Baby Daisy; they waited until we both were escorted by an Airport Fiji staff member through security checks. Dad gave each of us US$150.00 to spend, should we get hungry while waiting at LAX airport for our flight by Swiss Air. We were finally leaving Fiji for overseas and to Zurich.
We were travelling by Air Pacific, Fiji's international airline. Flight number was FJ 810, aircraft Boeing 747-400, departing Nadi at 22:50 and arriving at LAX at 12:05. It was Sunday, December 18, 2011. It was a going to be a long trip to Los Angeles because we live on the far side of the world across the Pacific Ocean from USA. On the flight we watched numerous movies, had breakfast, snacks and dinner and tried to sleep, but Jamie couldn't sleep at all. It was his first experience. Jamie was excited about everything—the aircraft engine noise, the turbulence, the aircrews walking up-and-down the passageway serving people, the different people around us, the toilet suction which flushed with a zip, the availability of food and soft-drinks at any time you requested by pressing the buzzer, and tech accessories like video/DVD and music. The plane provided us with a tracking video of where it was in relation to its destination. Jamie thought it was really cool. I, Christian, love technology and laptop gadgets so I was very much at home. I also slept most of the way, but Jamie stayed awake to enjoy everything around him. He enjoyed all of the things he could access.
Arrival at LAX International Airport, USA
Finally, we arrived at Los Angeles International Airport, USA on Monday, December 19, 2011. When we got off the Air Pacific flight, a security staff person was waiting for us directly outside the mobile walkway. He was there to assist us walk through US Immigration where our NZ passports were stamped, then we walked our way through US Customs check which was very interesting, especially for me, Christian. It was becoming like a routine since I had already done this with my Dad, who explained everything to me on my first trip overseas. It was from Nadi to Dubai and on to Zurich. Dad and I had travelled on Emirates Airlines. I was able to share all of my past experiences with my elder brother, Jamie, now. From the US Customs check, we walked our way to collect our luggage from the conveyor belt in the baggage claim area, and load our luggage on a trolley, one for each of us.
On arrival at LAX, our new flight number was LX41 for Switzerland. We were now travelling with Swiss Air from LAX to Zurich. Our departure time was 19:20 on an Airbus A340-300. Our estimated travel time was 11 hours and 25 minutes. All these facts were printed on our airline ticket.
Since we had a lot of time to spare while waiting, we both asked for clearance to buy our lunch at LAX McDonalds located at LAX International Airport. Our flight landed at midday, and we were hungry. One of the security staff said yes, and took us directly to McDonalds. We purchased what we needed and the security staff then escorted us back to the secure area to enjoy our lunch. Later, Christian wanted to visit the duty free shops to buy gifts for our aunt and uncle. The security staff again escorted us around. Then we went back to the room to wait for our boarding passes so that we could board the flight to Switzerland. The security staff did all of our check-ins for the Swiss Air flight. We departed at around 7.30 pm, US time. The security staff finally escorted us to the Swiss aircraft with three other minors where we said thank you and goodbyes.
Arrival at Zurich International Airport, Switzerland
We enjoyed our flight on Swiss Air. While I slept, Jamie again stayed awake to enjoy himself. This was the first time we both travelled on Swiss Air. During the 11 hours and 25 minutes flight, I Christian slept throughout the flight aside from eating and visiting the toilet conveniences.
The air-crew was friendly to us and visited us often to find out if we were alright or wanted something.
It was becoming another routine as we were getting used to normal flight procedures. Can you imagine getting on a bus/coach and then getting off it at the end of your journey? Finally we landed at Zurich International Airport in the afternoon at around 3:00 pm Swiss time.
Another security staff member was waiting to escort us at the terminal. After completing our immigration requirements, we walked to the end of the airport and got on to a mono-rail that took us to our baggage claim area. Both Jamie and I were assisted in loading our luggage on to our trolleys and then we went past security checks before coming out to the international arrival areas. Our aunty and her dog Aragon were waiting for us. A chauffeur driven limousine was waiting also to load our luggage. Aunty was so happy to see us and hugged us. Uncle was at work. In the afternoon he met us at home and hugged us. We had arrived safely at our destination.
In Part 2, we will describe our adventures in snowboarding in St. Moritz, staying at an underground ice hotel, visits to the museum and other exciting things that we did. We wanted to share our experiences with other Rotuman children or those of mixed Rotuman ethnic origins in that all things are possible. We Rotumans are unique, as Dad says. We carry the flag of our homeland, Rotuma, wherever we go. Rotuma is in our blood. Dad is a direct descendant from a long line of chiefs; his father is from Juju and Noatau and his mother, whose maiden-name is Sokimi, is from Pejei and Itumuta. Dad's favorite grandfather is Sokimi Kautene. Mum is a Swedish-American of Samoan and Fijian descent. This mixture has resulted in Jamie with brown eyes and fair complexion; Christian with green eyes and fair complexion, and Daisy with blue eyes and very-fair complexion.
Thank you Dad and Mum for helping us with this paper.
This is a continuation from Part 1. In this paper, we share mostly our adventures at St. Moritz. It is a playground for the very wealthy and rich. Let us kid you not! The cost of accommodation, the apartment where we stayed at St Moritz, was $20,000.00 Swiss Francs per month. Approximately Fj$40,000.00 a month. A glass of water costs $20.00 Swiss Francs in the very expensive restaurants we went to for dinner. That is approximately Fiji$40.00. For two Rotuman boys from the South Pacific, it was unbelievable!
Shopping for Our First Winter Clothes
Our aunty spared no expenses in making sure we had the best winter clothes. Our uncle spent $578.00 Swiss Francs. Snow boots and snowboards were rented at $459.00 Swiss Francs for 5 days. Snow Helmets for both of us were gifts from uncle .
Jamie's winter snowboard jacket was dark blue and his trousers were khaki. Christian's jacket was red and the trousers black. All this winter clothing was waterproof. We also had to wear snowboarding gloves and snowboarding goggles and ski masks. We both wore black pomp woolen hats.
Underground Ice Hotel
Only I, Christian, had the opportunity to travel there. It was built deep underground. I was told it took two years to build or carve out of the ice. The name of the Hotel is called Motiz Morale. It is located at the top of the hill. One has to travel by gondola (lift) to get there.
When we entered the lobby it was through a tunnel of ice. No one stays or lives there permanently. The seats and the tables are made of ice. There is fur on the seats to keep our buttocks warm. The bar is made of ice. They installed speakers to make it look like a real live bar. There are bedrooms for people to live in with sleeping bags. Statues are carved out of ice. At the entrance, two seal ice statues greet you. A live band lives there and plays regularly in the evenings. At the restaurant, a mermaid is carved out on the wall of ice. Only with special reservations could you make appointments at the restaurant for an actual chef to come and cook there for you. It is very very expensive.
St Moritz & Snowboarding
Snowfall had already begun when we first arrived at Zurich International Airport on Monday, 19 December 2011. It was our first sight of snow. Only when we arrived at Wollerau, our Swiss Home, and residences of our aunt and uncle, did that we reach out and gather the snow in our hands. The snow felt like crushed ice from the fridge. The snow tasted watery. The temperature was -5 degrees Celsius according to our uncle.
Uncle drove us in his Porsche Cayenne to St Moritz on 20 December 2011. From Wollerau, it is about three and a half hours to St Moritz. Aragon, the dog travelled with us too. We stopped only once along the highway for Aragon to discharge his waste.
St. Moritz is made-up of a group of mountains and lakes. It is a very famous place in the world for snowboarding, skiing and sleigh racing. In some places, the mountains are so very steep. To travel uphill, we caught the Gondola; the T Bar; and the Pinocchio Ride. Then we snowboarded downhill. There is a place for beginners and a place for intermediates and experts. For snowboard beginners like us, they blocked-off an area with poles and nettings colored red and yellow. A warning sign—Achtung—was placed for all to see. All of our snowboards had the brand name Burton printed on them. Jamie's snowboard was colored dark green and black. Christian's was the same color. The snowboards were almost the same length as a surfboard.
Uncle signed both of us up for the snowboard school, which is named in the Swiss German language—Snowboard Schule. We were booked for lessons for five days. On the first day, we were introduced to other boys and girls of a similar age group. We made friends with them. They included a girl named Ana from Russia, aged 12 years old, and twin girls from Switzerland, aged 7. Most of the group came from European countries and were learning snowboarding for the very first time, . We thought that they would be very good snowboarders since they were familiar with snow. We came from FIJI and snow was totally new to us. We were very excited since this was our very first time to learn snowboarding.
Our first lesson was to learn how to stand on the snowboard and slide down a gentle slope. When we reached the bottom, we walked back to the same starting point with our snowboards in hand. The instructor's name was Casper. He made us repeat the same lessons again and again. Everyday, the morning lessons started sharp at 10.00 am for two hours. In the afternoon, the lesson was for three hours, starting from 1.30 pm and finishing at 4.00 pm. Casper was very strict about time and attendance. He said, "If you come late, you teach your own self." Everyone fell down on the first day. We were taught the basics and to control our fear. On safety matters, Casper told us to keep within reach of the group, and never go alone. Avoid slopes with blue colored poles as these were dangerous steep slopes. Always keep within sight of each other. Ana fell down first. The rest of us started to fall down, one by one. Jamie fell first before me, Christian.
On the second day we learned how to get a feeling for snowboarding by taking turns downhill. This was done by standing on the snowboard sideways, just like surfing. We had to go on a straight path. As we went downhill, we had to bend our right foot forward to turn right, and to turn left, we used our left foot. Casper made us to repeat everything again and again. We all fell down now and again.
The third day started with all of us beginning to snowboard by front-sliding downhill, which was the easiest. We all enjoyed ourselves and were laughing in our excitement. Everyone fell down when they made mistakes. Casper encouraged us to get used to falling down because your body was slowly adjusting to the sport. As part of our lessons, Casper gave us two options, walk uphill or catch the Pinocchio ride. We both choose to catch the Pinocchio ride since Uncle had already paid the fee.
We got the feeling of what snowboarding is all about on the fourth day. We started to go down in single runs, practicing our turns. Again, Casper made us repeat our lessons in the morning and afternoon.
On the last day, I, Christian was really snowboarding and at the end of the lesson, I fell down, and just as I was about to get up, a snowboarder ran over my arm. I could not move my arm and waited until help arrived. It was painful and I cried. An Instructor came to my aid when he saw me lying down on the snow.
First-aid rescuers came to pick me up on a snowmobile. Casper called them from his mobile phone. It was an awesome ride. After that we went to the doctor who put my arm in a cast, which I had to live with for five weeks.
I, Jamie, was already downhill and did not know about Christian's accident. When I was walking back uphill, I saw Christian lying on the ground with the Instructor by his side. I knew something had happened.
We have since both returned to Fiji, again travelling as minors without our parents. Christian's fracture has healed and he is now back in School at Stella Maris Primary School, Suva, Fiji in Class 8 / Form 2. I, Jamie, am also back in high school, Form 4, at DAV Boys College, Suva, Fiji.
We want to thank Alan Howard for accepting our stories about travelling as minors to a far distant country.
We wish to publicly thank our aunty and uncle for the adventures we have had—a winter vacation that we will treasure for a lifetime. We love you both very much. We ask for your forgiveness if we have said or done anything to hurt you, especially me, Jamie, for breaking the expensive single crystal on the chandelier hanging in my bedroom at your Wollerau home. I did not mean to do it. It was an accident. Dad has promised me that he will repay the amount of $50,000.00 for that single crystal this year, 2012. It is a matter of honor.
We wanted to share our stories, not just about the good things and fun we had, but also about the mistakes that we made. We are not perfect kids. Dad says that we must learn life's harsh lessons and move on. Never give up. The opportunity that we had is unique. Mum says that very few children of Rotuman origin or those from Fiji or the South Pacific would ever have had this chance. God has blessed us in a very special way.
To our parents, thank you for encouraging us to write and share our story, and for helping us to edit it. Our love forever. To Rotuma, our homeland, as Dad says, how can we ever forget you? When will our love for you ever die? Mum says that such human love should be for her only and not Rotuma or any one else. The only exception Mum asks of us is to thank our Lord Jesus Christ for his unconditional love to both of us. To Him, we offer up our hearts! To Him, All Honor and Glory! Praise the Lord Forever!