Thursday, 24 October 2013

Fiji - Nadi 25/10/13

We hadn't been in the city of Nadi for more than 15 seconds before we were swept up and carried away by a friendly looking man standing on the corner. He was lying in wait like a spider who had just finished weaving his net, and like unsuspecting flies we wandered within his grasp and were pounced upon.

"Bula!" he said. "Come with me. I will take you to the village markets, where everything is made by locals. All the shops in town, they are owned by big companies. Don't support big business, help our village!" He flashed us a grin as he led us away.

We followed him, all cautionary tales about talking to strangers forgotten. We had been charmed by the friendly Fijians in Lautoka and were walking around in a trusting daze.

He led us into a souvenir shop lined with carvings and bracelets and other trinkets. Not a market, but worth a look around nonetheless. Then a young man led us over to a grass mat and was very insistent that we partake in a welcoming ceremony. We were hungry, and just wanted to buy something small and escape. But he had a sweet face and he so wanted us to sit down, so we took off our shoes and were led onto the mat for his ceremony. 

It quickly became obvious that they were just trying to be as nice as possible and spend enough time being friendly to us that we would be obligated to buy something. Fair enough. Not a new sales tactic by any means, and we didn't have a souvenir yet. So we sat there listening to him talk about his village and how they had to drive two hours into town each day to run their shop. Everything in the store was hand made by one of the 375 people in his village, and even the younger villagers painted beautiful pictures to sell to help out. Their school only goes up to the 6th grade and our ceremony leader was the first person from their village to ever make it to University. All the money they make goes to their chief, who puts it into the schools and looking after the villagers so maybe one day more of them will become educated as well.

I desperately wanted to believe him. But I was too busy watching him mix up a drink for our ceremony, wondering how long it would take the poison to kick in and whereabouts they would dump our bodies after they had taken our wallets. I noticed the spider had abandoned his web to stand in the doorway - his mother had obviously told him to finish one meal before starting another.

We were told the drink was kava. Obviously not a rare thing in these parts, and I knew what it looked like, but who was to say it hadn't been mixed with anything. We were trapped. We hadn't had a chance to try any kava yet, so we didn't know what it tasted like. And quite frankly we were curious - we had both been looking for somewhere to buy it but the markets only sell it in root and powder form and we had no idea how to make it into a drink.

The friendly student opened up a bag and had Garth put two spoonfuls of powder into it before quickly closing it shut. Then he poured liquid, probably water, into a bowl and swirled the kava bag around, rubbing it along the sides. The water turned a light brown colour as he continued to talk and I continued to hope that the bag didn't contain anything nasty.

When it was ready, he said some words, we all clapped three times and Garth chugged down his bowl under the instruction of our guide. "Down the hatch, like tequila!"
Then it was my turn, and after the clapping I downed my shot and said 'Vanaka' as per his instructions - the Fijian word for thank you.

Then, thank goodness, he drank from the same bowl. So unless he has spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder, we were probably all safe. The kava didn't taste bad, just a bit starchy. It left my mouth feeling a bit numb, but other than that it didn't really do much. It's supposed to be good for anxiety, so perhaps I was more chilled out and didn't notice. Who knows.

The rest of the ceremony was actually interesting, and consisted solely of clapping and drinking kava. Then we wandered around and looked at everything - they really wanted us to buy a statue or something that they could carve our name into, but there's nowhere to put it on the boat. There were no prices on anything and they kept saying they would discuss it with us when we decided what we wanted. Alarm bells started ringing. Nevertheless, I picked out a pretty wooden turtle and Garth fell in love with a hand painted map of Fiji made out of the bark from a tree in their village. Probably. I can at least confirm it was hand painted on bark, I just hope it wasn't from China. The price they gave us for both was nearly $200, which almost made us walk out, but in the end we negotiated them down on the turtle and put the painting back. It would have gotten moldy anyway.

The guy we drank kava with seemed to be genuinely nice, and kind of told the guy at the till to shut up when he kept nagging us about how much we would pay for the painting. He wrapped our turtle up and shooed us out and away from the clutches of the older men. So that was an experience - we left with a bit of a sour taste in our mouths, unsure if we had been ripped off or not. But we would have given him something for the kava anyway, the ceremony was a unique experience and the turtle is nice. It was also cheaper than it would have been from a souvenir store. The spider was right about those stores in town though - they are all massive and flashy.

Before we left, our ceremony leader warned us about wandering off with strangers - he said not to go up any stairs or down any back streets. So we left, and focused all our energy on trying to find the vegetable markets. Almost immediately, a guy who was walking beside us said hi and struck up a conversation about the All Blacks. "Have you been to the markets yet?" He said. No, we were on our way there now. Of course he escorted us, down a back street and towards some stairs to another souvenir shop. And that was when we decided we didn't like Nadi.

The whole city is just full of people trying to take our money. And we obviously don't have much - we're young, we're scraggly and we don't look like the kind of snooty tourists who you could sell a $120 map to. But they all want to try anyway. I spent the rest of the day being justifiably annoyed when people said 'bula!' because only a few of them were actually being friendly. I very much dislike when people pretend they're being nice in order to get your attention to sell you something. 

The marina was interesting though, in a surreal and twisted kind of way. Denerau Point is a bustling hub for tourists, with all the activities leaving from the one place and all the cruise ship passengers coming in. The marina is just kind of bundled in amongst it all. As we were pulling up our mooring I nearly dropped it again as a huge cruise ship took off amidst a lot of very loud horn blaring, people waving and a full marching band playing for them from the dock. The noise was astronomical - I couldn't scream over the horn, no matter how hard I tried. 

The dock was just full of fancy shops and people trying to draw you inside, tourists and ritzy cafes. We eventually discovered that people bug you less when you're not wearing shoes. A cruise ship came in while we were there, with 1000s of passengers all piled in amongst the shops. The locals put on a show for them - the buildings were dressed up in palm fronds, a band played all day, there were Fijians doing traditional dances in full costumes, and there were stalls with local crafts lined up everywhere. It amazed me that these people could get off their boat, stand around in amongst all this showy fakeness for a day surrounded by jewelry stalls and coffee shops, then go home satisfied that they've seen Fiji. And the ones we spoke to genuinely loved it. That's what Nadi was like - tourists and locals trying to sell stuff to tourists.

Lautoka is the opposite of Nadi. I love Lautoka. Almost 100% of people who walk past us in Lautoka smile and greet us with a happy 'bulla!' People often ask where we're from as they're walking, not even stopping to chat. Just being nice. They often shout 'Kia Ora!' back over their shoulders after we've replied. The city just has so much charm about it. I love that the kids wave and smile at us. I love that the entire town shuts down for an hour or two for lunch every day, and there's often no set time.

A shopkeeper from the store next to the locked up shop I wanted to go into said to me "It's lunch time, they'll be back later on."
"What time do you think that will be?"
He stared at me blankly. "After lunch?"

I love that the buses drive past with kids leaning out the window banging on the sides, smiling and waving. The markets are bustling and slow moving at the same time, filled with interesting colours and smells. Everybody is on Fiji time, nobody runs anywhere and the streets are full of trees. There's a constant trickle of leaves falling in the parks which look like flurries of snow and make you feel like you're in a magical wonderland. I love Lautoka, and we're going to miss it here. 

Xxx Monique

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Fiji - Nadi. SMACK! 23/10/13

Our boat is tough. We know this because it smashed into another boat today, and we came out best. The whole ordeal was absolutely horrific, and definitely the worst thing that's happened to us so far, which I guess is good because in hindsight it wasn't that bad. The boat is still floating and we're both safe. 

We were all set to leave Nadi and head back to Lautoka for provisions and to check out of the country. Everything was packed up and secured, and all we had to do was grab fuel and water before returning the marina keys. We were waiting for the fuel dock to be free, but after waiting a while we figured we may as well pull up to a small dock nearby and fill up our water in the meantime. 

It all seemed to happen in slow motion - Garth was going to reverse into the dock, so he went forwards to line the stern up so we could just back in. I was standing in the middle of the boat ready to jump off and tie on, like we'd done 100 times. There was a small aluminium boat parked in front of us alongside the fuel dock, and we were slowly getting closer to it. Still facing forwards, I said 'Reverse, Garth.' Then we started going forwards a bit faster, and I screamed 'REVERSE, REVERSE!' I flung around to look at him, only to see him yanking the gear leaver around. His only response was 'I can't,' and we both watched, completely powerless, as the bow smacked into the aluminum boat. There was absolutely nothing we could do. As we headed towards it my brain went into overdrive and I desperately looked around, but there was nothing to grab, nowhere else to go and nothing we could do to stop. People started yelling as we got closer, although I didn't register what they said. Time seemed to pass so slowly, but I suspect it all happened very quickly. Then SMACK. 

They were parked along the straight bit, and we were reversing into where the big white ferry is.

There was a blue canopy around their wheel area, with clear plastic in the middle. Our anchor went right through it, but it looked like one of the bungee cords had snapped and the cover just folded inside. I watched as the other boat tilted sideways with the impact, and the metal bent inwards. Our little boat can bend metal! Which I guess is an interesting side note to the whole incident - we're possibly safer around rogue shipping containers than we thought.

Then we were just left sitting there, with our anchor inside their boat and everybody looking at us. I almost burst into tears right then and there. I didn't even know how to start getting ourselves out of the situation we were in, but the stern of Heartbeat was swinging towards shore and the first thing I did was desperately ask somebody how deep the water was closer in. Our boat is literally inside another boat and i'm worried about running aground. 

We were fine. Well, not really, but we weren't going to scrape the bottom. Garth came up and very calmly pulled the anchor back on our boat to unhook us, which terrified me - that left us floating around not attached to anything with no means of propulsion. But he put me on the broken boat and I stood there holding us off while he ran to talk to the owner and figure out what to do. Then the rest is a bit of a blur - two nice girls helped me hold Heartbeat, the boat that had been fueling up grabbed our lines and towed us alongside them to a berth, while 1000 tourists watched on.

Some guys tied us up, and there was a really nice yachtie in the boat next to us who helped me put on a spring and made sure we were secure once the marina people had left. I love that guy, because I wasn't really thinking straight. Then the whole day was filling out papers and looking up insurance information and getting quotes - we didn't even get to look at our boat until the afternoon, after handing over $1620.95 fjd to the guy from the other boat. There was some legitimate damage - the cover had a small rip in it, some welds had come off and the canopy frame was tilted a bit. So it has to be hauled out for a day to get the work done, which costs even more. We're not sure whether or not to lodge an insurance claim - there will be an excess and then our premium will go up. So we had to just pay them cash and we'll figure out what to do later. 

Unfortunately it was a resort boat, so it has to be fixed. If it had been a local Fijian in a beat up fishing boat or something I'm sure we could have just given them some cash and they would have ignored the dent and fixed the rest themselves. On the other hand it could have been a super yacht - there are a few floating around - and that would have hurt us a bit more. So it could have chosen to break at a better time, but it could have been a lot worse as well.

When we finally got back to inspect our boat, we found a tiny bump on the bow where some fiberglass had been scraped off, a scratch on the port side and a dent in the rubbing strip on the starboard side. So the one good thing to come out of this is that we know the boat is tough. 

This is looking straight at the bow - the top and bottom dings were there when we bought it, the only damage was the scraped bit in the middle.

Garth found the problem with the gears immediately - the gearshift cable had disconnected from the end fitting to the gearshift lever. So when he put it hard in reverse after slow reverse didn't work, it told the throttle to go faster without also conveying the information that it should be going faster in a backwards direction. Hence us speeding up instead of slowing down. 

Thank god it wasn't the gearbox that was broken. We were both terrified it would be - we kept the old gearbox with the new engine, but Garth's dad really wanted us to get a new one. I can't imagine what he would have said if this had all been caused by that stupid gearbox - luckily there's nothing wrong with it and it's working fine. Did you hear that Mike? Don't panic!

A really nice lady, Michelle, sorted us out and she organised the repair quote after it happened, so Garth took the broken bit in to her and they're making us up a new one. Really quickly as well - it would have been done today if they'd had the right tap for it on hand. So everything is kind of organised, we've settled down after the shock and nothing of ours is really broken. I felt really bad for the captain of the other boat - he wasted most of the day stuffing around as well, and it's going to inconvenience them by having to haul it out, but there's nothing we can do about it. At least we didn't hit them by being stupid. It wasn't anything high maintenance that we had neglected or anything we should be checking or maintaining all the time - just a freak accident. Which is pretty scary when you think about all the other little things on the boat that aren't supposed to break. We have a list of things to check on regularly, and we can't just write down 'entire boat.' 

Everything that needs maintaining is supposed to be checked on after x amount of time, and we've been doing our best to stay on top of it all. The winches need servicing soon, which we'll do in Australia - they're due once a year. I have it written down in the log when we did them last. The bolts and shackles on the rigging need to be checked regularly and we just replaced a heap of them. Oil, filters, impellors, ropes... they all have a due date for maintenance and we check on them all the time. But I seriously can't just write down 'check everything everywhere always.' Garth has just spent a month with his head inside the engine, fiddling with every little thing and the fitting was firmly attached when he put it together. So there wasn't much we could have done about this and we can't even learn from it - we've been looking after the engine as if it were our baby. We were coming in slowly, we'd scoped out the dock, figured out where the cleats were and where the wind was. We had a plan and room to abort if we didn't come in cleanly. We just had to be going in the right direction...

Xxx Monique 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Fiji - Yasawas 20/10/13

Fiji is not a relaxing, tropical holiday destination as we had expected. Fiji is a ball full of stress being thrown at your head whilst you try to dodge reefs, giant waves and more reefs in order to avoid crashing and dying.

Yesterday started off really nicely - we went snorkeling outside Manta Ray Resort, which was magical. No manta rays, but thousands of fishes and brightly coloured coral. It was simply amazing sticking your head under the crystal clear water and swimming amongst the fish. There were big schools of tiny fish that were all swimming together and as one entity they sunk into the coral as you swam through them. It looked like somebody had turned a vacuum cleaner on them and they were immediately sucked down. So constantly swimming through them was a lot of fun. There were some ridiculously colorful fish nibbling on stuff around the sea bed, some beautiful angel fish, amazing flurescent coral and every other kind of fish you would expect to find on a reef. And as I was snorkeling back to the boat a few metres above the reef, a white fish that was almost see through very nearly smacked me in the face as it swam past, because I didn't think to look ahead of me when there were so many interesting things down below. What was he doing up there anyway? All his friends were on the bottom of the reef. 

So that was exciting. Getting into the reef was not as enjoyable - we went through a gap between two islands, where the water was a scary light blue colour. Dark blue - good. Blue - good. Aqua - medium. Light blue, brown and white - bad. That means it's ridiculously shallow and the water is ridiculously clear so you can see what's underneath. Light blue is sand, and as we went through Garth was up the front yelling directions at me so we didn't run into any rocks or coral, which I could clearly see underneath us on either side as we navigated through. Looking down at rocks and spikey coral does not make me happy. It got down to four metres, and I can't explain the relief I felt when the depth sounder  started climbing up again - we've already established that we get stuck at two. The snorkeling was worth all the stress though, and I'm sad to say it's probably the best reef we'll swim in for a while. I hope it won't be, but it's unrealistic to expect anything better than that to exist.

Then we headed up the coast to our next anchorage, motoring the whole way as we headed straight into the wind with reefs all around us. Only half of which are marked on the chart, even though its a very recent chart. Some of them are there, but not in the right place. It's like somebody said 'oh, there's one over there somewhere' and just put an X on the map in the general direction of it. I discovered that navigating reefs by the satellite map view on my phone was much more reliable - you can see anything that's a different colour. We had waves smashing into us the whole way up the coast, with increasingly strong winds making them bigger and bigger. We were both drenched very quickly, and discovered what happens to our bed when the hatch is locked on the cracked position instead of closed properly - water was pouring in and our bed got soaked. Lesson learned, shut everything no matter how hot and calm the day starts off as.

I never get pictures when the weather is bad, but here is Garth steering into waves and getting drenched the next day

At one stage we had to 'thread the needle' as Garth put it, which means going through a tiny gap in the reefs with no room for error and impending doom a few degrees to either port or starboard. That sucked. And there was one point where Garth handed me the wheel and about 5 seconds later yelled 'hard to starboard!' at me - the depth was down to 5m. Thank god he was paying attention - I had just been concentrating on staying our course. So after our swim the whole day was stressful and wet. 

You're 100% supposed to be anchored in Fiji by nightfall, because you need to be able to see all the unmarked reefs in order to avoid them. We were heading for the next island but it was getting dark, so we sailed very fast downwind into what was supposed to be a popular anchorage. I was holding my phone with the satellite map in one hand and Garth's phone with the chart in the other as we went in, trying to avoid the reefs marked on the phone and some shallow bits marked on the chart. I started furling the headsail (we only had a corner out) as Garth started the engine, and just as I almost had it wrapped up there was a 'clunk' and the engine panel turned off. In amongst reefs, as the sun was half under the horizon, with a very strong wind behind us. I see. Garth tried to fix it, while I steered us away from the reef under bare poles with my collection of navigation instruments on my lap. Luckily I spotted two yachts anchored in another bay, so instead of continuing to fuss around trying to find somewhere protected from the wind, I just headed for them. Garth eventually gave up fiddling with the engine and we stuck a corner of the headsail out again. We'd been going a comfortable two knots without any sails, but once we had a plan it was safe to sail again. So we anchored next to the other boats, very close to a reef, under sail, with no anchor winch (it needs the engine), just as the sun disappeared below the horizon. Which was incredibly lucky. I'm sure we would have been okay after dark with my gps and the satellite images, but it was still incredibly nerve-wracking. We then had a very restless night knowing the reef was right there, with the wind howling above us and knocking us around. But of course we were fine.

The one month old engine had done the same thing a few days before, in another stressful situation - it wouldn't start when we had to get John to the airport. Garth had fiddled with a few things and it had mysteriously started without him figuring out the original problem. It only took ten minutes this morning to figure out that the connectors on the engine battery were loose, and the problem was solved. We expected it to be simple with a brand new engine, it was just a matter of finding the problem. So hopefully we won't end up in a situation like that again. 

We're anchored in the place where they filmed Blue Lagoon right now - I haven't seen the movie, but it's beautiful here. We walked the whole way around Nanuya Island, stopping at a little tea house on the other side for some cake and chips. It took ages for the food to be ready. Garth stuck his head into the kitchen to see what was happening and the lady was peeling and cutting potatoes to make the chips. You can't really ask for anything better than that, and they were a delicious treat.

Today we also discovered that Garth is some kind of dog magnet. A happy looking dog came running out as we walked past a marine research station on the other side of the island, smelled Garth's hand when he offered it, then decided they were best friends forever. He followed us for ages, although he probably thought he was leading us on an adventure - whenever we stopped he would stop too, staring at us wondering what was taking so long. Garth yelled at him numerous times to go home, but he was having such a wonderful day with his new friends. He was frolicking in the water chasing fish, then sniffing interesting smells on the beach, then running through the water again. We came to a big pile of rocks, and he went to the left. Garth quietly snuck around to the right, hoping the dog would get confused and wander back home. Garth was leaning out over the water and peering round the rock when the dog came and sat behind him, trying to see round the rock as well. Classic comedy. There was no shaking him, until he stopped to eat something on the beach when we were almost back at our dinghy.

Then a tiny little puppy came running out, sniffing Garth. He jumped up on his leg, trying to get attention, then ran round his feet for a while and started following us when we kept walking... I think we'll have to stay away from animals in the future, because there's just no room on the boat for them all. Garth led the puppy back to his house, but the first dog watched us pump up the dinghy, put it in the water and motor off - he sat in the water watching us go with sad puppy eyes for ages. I wanted to go give him a hug!

There's reefs everywhere here, so I think we'll do some snorkeling in the morning then head to Nadi for a day. We promised Mike we'd get a new winch handle and have the dinghy repaired, and it would be really interesting to jump on a bus and go through some of the villages while we're there. We're checking out of Lautoka on Thursday and heading for Noumea in New Caledonia. The weather keeps changing, but Thursday looks good for now. It will be our first solo passage, so I hope we're ready. Before we leave Lautoka I'm filling the entire boat with pineapples from the market. I need at least two a day, they're amazing. 

Xxx Monique 

Friday, 18 October 2013

Fiji - Musket Cove 18/10/13

Musket Cove marina was lovely. Although it's a bit surreal going from the middle of the ocean, to anchored outside of a bustling Fijian city, to surrounded by palm trees and golf carts and prissy ladies complaining about how slow the washing machines are. I loved it there though, it's pretty awesome just parking up and having a shop, cafe, restaurant, showers and washing facilities all right outside the door. I even got an ice cream! There's a pool with a swim up bar, which I was tempted to jump into just to be able to drink at a swim up bar, but it was the middle of the day and the drinks were expensive. We only stayed two nights but it feels like we were there for ages. Most of the people are ridiculously friendly - there's lots of really sociable cruisers floating around. Although they're mixed in with some snobby tourists who appear to have flown over, hired a boat and parked it at a resort for a week. They've probably never even put the sails up. 

We went for a walk yesterday, which took all morning and ended up with me quite sunburned. The sun obviously doesn't care how much sunscreen I put on. We went all round the island to the resort on the other side, which was full of kids and not as nice as this one. Everybody seemed really rude and touristy, whereas most of the people we've met at Musket Cove have been laid back and chilled out. There were hammocks along the waterfront, which we sat on for  a second just to seal the deal on being in a tropical paradise.

Then in the afternoon we took Mike with us for a wander towards the other side of the island with our snorkeling gear to see what we could find. We wandered down onto a beach with pretty coloured rocks that looked promising for snorkeling and started organising ourselves, when a small motor boat went zipping past. Mike waved to them, being the friendly fella that he is, which caused them to turn around and come over to make sure we were okay. They were two locals were from a neighboring island and had come over for groceries and firewood. They told us there was no coral where we were about to jump in to, loaded us into their boat and took us to a better spot along the coast. I love the people here. 

I've never been snorkeling before, except for once in the Whitsundays with a mask that fogged up, flippers that were kind of dodgy and I was floating around on a pool noodle. So I was a little skeptical about the whole situation, but it's remarkable what a difference good goggles and flippers make. The ground was just sand, but the water was crystal clear. We didn't go out far enough for coral and Mike ended up walking back with our stuff while Garth and I snorkeled along the coastline, hand in hand. It was disgustingly romantic. We found a few fishes, lots of bright blue starfish and some yellow rays, so it was exciting enough to be a lot of fun.

Mike managed to convince one of the resort guys to knock down some green coconuts for us so we could drink the water out of them. I'm not sure if the guy was just really nice or if Mike is really good at sweet talking people, but we got coconuts. And they were delicious! I'd never had fresh coconut water before, so now I can cross drinking out of a coconut off my list. Although I need to remember to get straws when I can... And maybe one of those little wooden umbrellas. 

Now Mike has gone home and we're all alone. Which is a mixture of exciting, sad and scary and I can't decide which emotion is more predominant. You'd think I would be happy to get rid of my father in law, but he has been such wonderful company and has helped us sort out so many things, we're both legitimately sad to see him go. But he's left behind some good habits and I think his voice will be ringing in our ears for a while yet - I'm tempted to put up a sign that says 'That will end up in the bilge,' just so we don't forget all the things he's tried to chisel into our heads too soon.

We're parked up in a bay at the southern end of the Yasawas now, watching a beautiful sunset on one side of us and a huge full moon rising on the other. 

We spent all day getting here, which was boring with no wind and a stinky motor. Just before the halfway mark we got hot and anchored next to a pretty little island, jumped into the water and went snorkeling on the reef around it. It was low tide so we couldn't go over the top of it much, but we swam along the side and watched all the fishes for ages. There were some really beautiful ones swimming amongst the coral. I think our favourites were the little electric blue fish, which really stood out in amongst the parts of the reef that were more faded. There were some big flat fish with different coloured stripes all hiding in a hole together and they kept coming out then getting scared and running back in again. And I really loved the huge schools of tiny light blue fish all perched in amongst certain types of coral, scattered all along the top like flowers on a tree.

We've only got two hours to travel tomorrow to get to our next destination, which will hopefully involve more snorkeling! I've convinced Garth not to put the dinghy over our hatch tonight, so soon we'll go to sleep looking up at the stars.

Xxx Monique 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Fiji - Lautoka 17/-10

Bula! We're finally in Fiji, and it's beautiful. We got into the port of Lautoka at around 9am the other day, radioed customs and then we were supposed to send Garth ashore to get through all the red tape. Because apparently he is the master of the ship. But in case you haven't been following very closely, we're incapable of doing anything easily or quickly. Garth pumped up the dinghy and found a giant hole that had appeared somewhere between New Zealand and Fiji, then proceeded to stress about it. He fixed it with a bike patch, which didn't work. So we had to play the dad card, and sent for Mike. He fussed around with it for an hour or so and managed to fashion a patch for it. He's like Macgyver - give him a piece of string, a paperclip and a bit of wood and he'll build you a new boat. So Garth eventually made it ashore an hour or two late, and stayed there until around four in the afternoon. Checking into a country does not appear to be simple.

One thing that did make life easier was that the biosecurity guy didn't need to come out to the boat. He did ask us to get rid of anything we weren't supposed to have though. Alright then. We sent the fruit and veg to be incinerated like good little children, but I was able to de-stress about them taking our nuts and other provisions we weren't sure about - we obviously didn't have anything they were worried about, aside from the fruit and veges. I didn't think roasted nuts could be a threat to anybody, but you never know.

So once Garth finally came back, we got all excited about going ashore. Finally. But when he had left in the morning he had to row, because the dinghy motor wouldn't start... We've only used it for a total of 10 minutes since we bought the boat, but Mike had it serviced before we left to make sure it was going to be reliable. It spat out a lot of smoke then sat there with an air of despondency about it. Great. 

Mike fussed with it for a long time, and then eventually we realized that the previous owner had thought it might be a good idea to put diesel into a petrol container. The dinghy didn't like that very much. It took forever to get it cleaned up and working again, then for the last few days we have had a very unreliable dinghy with a makeshift patch and a motor that only starts when it feels like it. It's a bit more stable now, but we need to pump it up a bit every time we get in, until we find a proper repair kit for it.

It gets a bit wet in the dinghy when there's four in it, so Garth dropped John and I off at the shore then went back to the boat. I stepped onto dry land and was immediately met with a barrage of smiling faces trying to shake my hand and shouting 'bula!' at me. It was a bit bewildering at first, and my initial response was '...hi?' But it quickly became evident that I was supposed to reply to their greeting in the same way. So we were immediately struck with how friendly everybody was - every single person who walked past greeted us with a cheerful 'bula' and a nice man came over to chat when he noticed Garth struggling with the dinghy motor halfway to the boat. I explained that he was strong and would just eventually give up and start rowing. Which he did. He was really chatty and friendly and told us a lot of information about the things around us - including the fact that we shouldn't swim off the boat because sharks come in to eat all the scraps from the fishing boats as they're fueling and unloading fish. Good to know. 

The town itself was really charming. It has a rugged, real feeling to it, with a lot of run down houses and beat up cars. A lot of the buses were open, piled high with people and you immediately got a sense that people there weren't very wealthy. But they were all smiling and happy, and they all greeted us as we walked past. A lot of people asked where we were from, or just said 'Australia?' When we corrected them with 'New Zealand' the response every single time was 'Oh, All blacks!'

Every time we stopped, or opened a map, or looked around to figure out where we were going, a Fijian would pounce on us, trying to offer directions and shake our hands and be as helpful as possible. Their directions weren't always right and they weren't always helpful and it was sometimes hard to shake them off, but there was such an intense sense of friendliness and hospitality. Some of the locals reminded me of excited puppies - they're just really happy to see you and talk to you and you get the feeling that they want to run round in circles with you - they're all so smiley and delighted you just want to give them a hug.

We found a market in the centre of town, which was awesome - it had already closed for the day and lots of the vendors had moved outside with their fruit and veges and lined them all up. There were so many chilled drinks for sale, and they all seemed to be juice in different shades of orange. I bought some for 50c, and they gave it to me in a metal cup that you're obviously supposed to chug and give back. Which is kind of nice, because I can't imagine how many plastic cups the 20 or so juice stalls would go through in a day - it was hot. They also had recycled bottles that they would fill with juice for you, which was confusing at first when I was trying to figure out what they were selling - they had fanta and juice bottles filled with orange liquid all lined up. We went back the next day when my water bottle was empty and filled it for $1 - convenient. 

I also got a watermelon and a giant bag of pineapples, which I'm steadily getting through and keeping for myself quite protectively - I love pineapples, and these are the sweetest, juiciest I've ever had. I am yet to drink out of a coconut, but I'm sure we can arrange that soon.

We got some Indian sweets from the market as well, from one of the dozens of identical Indian sweet stalls. There's a strong Indian presence in Fiji, which is really interesting - so many of the shops are full of beautiful Indian dresses that make me wish I had an excuse to wear them. If only I were an Indian princess. There's lots and lots of Indian beauty shops too, which is brilliant - Garth got coaxed into a barber shop as we were walking past and had his beard shaved off for $3, while I wandered into the back and found somebody to thread my eyebrows for $2. Which is like $1.40NZD, and now I look fabulous. Or at least kempt (The opposite of unkempt).

It's certainly very tropical here, with coconut palms lining the streets and sweat dripping off us as we're enveloped by the heat. Which is delightful, and a lovely change to being cold and miserable. Although Garth isn't coping with the heat very well at all, and it's not really acceptable to show too much skin here so he can't run around with his shirt off. Not many places have air conditioning, even the government buildings. But there's always a nice breeze, which makes the temperature really pleasant - not like Australia where it's just hot and still and you can see wavy heat lines over all the roads. Although it's not exactly summer here yet. 

It took us two days to get through all the forms and formalities - our second day we were running all over town trying to get cruising permits and pay the guy from the health department and send off emails and get back to customs before they shut - by the end of it we were exhausted and our legs were sore. It was interesting wandering around though - there was one really long street that was more into suburbia and there were giant mango trees lining the whole thing. Except the mangoes were green, which was sad. I don't know how anybody could go hungry here when there's coconuts and fruit and fish all for free. Maybe that's why everybody is so happy. 

We had to find the health department building, which felt like it was in the middle of nowhere. We walked quite a way out of the centre of town, and down a road lined with lush trees and shrubbery which made it feel like we were walking into the middle of the bush. But we eventually found it, nestled amongst banana trees and palms, on top of a hill next to a purple school. As we were walking along somebody in a house quite far away yelled out 'bula!' which shows just how friendly people are - I can't imagine screaming hello at somebody walking past in the distance.

We've been here three days and have yet to make it into the water. We dropped John off yesterday so he could head home, which was sad because he was great company and very helpful. Now we're parked up at Musket Cove marina, which is really a resort with a place to park a few boats. It's really lovely here, and we're surrounded by reefs, so hopefully we can get in some snorkeling and kiteboarding today. We need to socialize a bit to find out the cheapest way to do it without booking a tour - we just need a guy with a boat who's going out anyway. It's a bit miserable today, all overcast and grey after raining all night. But we're still going to have fun! It's really great to finally relax after all the hectic drama of the last few months, and it helps that we're surrounded by pretty things.

Xxx Monique