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 

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