Chapter 23: October 4th-31st, 2003
Fiji, the Cannibal Isles
Saturday, October 4th: Safe Arrival at Vuda Point Marina, Viti Levu Island, Fiji… and MY BIRTHDAY!!!
As we left off in the last chapter, we arrived safely in Fiji at 3 AM Friday morning, October 3rd. We anchored inside the coral barrier reef pass in a small anchorage (very scary to be sure we were coming in at the right place even though we had charts, radar, night vision goggles, etc... but we made it safely). We then got 3 hours sleep and were up at 6 AM getting dinghy deployed and ready to go for our arrival at the Customs dock 24 miles north of us. It took us 5 1/2 hour inside the barrier reef up to the harbor for official check in (town called Lautoka on western side of main island, Viti Levu of Fiji). Of course we arrived just at lunchtime for them and all the port authorities (Health inspectors, immigration, customs, agriculture) were closed for an hour. Finally after waiting and loads and loads of forms to fill out (using old fashioned carbon paper -- that had been used probably 50 times) we finished there at 3:30PM... and then proceeded to again pull off motor of the dinghy, haul it out and then proceeded south again to our marina where we had reservations. So we didn't get here until after the office closed and just before dark. It was again a little scary coming into a very, very narrow passage in very shallow water through 2 reefs... but we made it. We couldn't get any help getting into a slip assignment so we just pulled up to a fuel dock (of sorts... a high concrete wharf with layers of tires running down the side of it for "bumpers") and tied up there for the night.
We were exhausted by then (6:30 PM) and I was not about to cook after 9 days of cooking on the boat, so we went to the Yacht club for a drink at "Happy Hour" and ordered dinner. Unfortunately we did not get served our dinner until almost 2 hours later at 8:15, and we were all about to fall asleep in our chairs at the table. But when it arrived, we gulped it down very, very quickly and then were back on the boat by 9PM to get our first good sleep in 6 days... (I had only had 3 hours sleep in 40 hours so was exhausted!!)
Today, Saturday, we got up at 5 AM -- to be prepared to move away from the fuel dock and have spent the entire day trying to get settled into our marina slip assignment. We have changed the lines tying us in several times (didn't have the right sizes that we needed ready) and now are trying to figure out how to hook up the 220 volt electricity hooked up to our boat. We bought a transformer in Papeete, but don't have the right type of "Fijian" plug that hooks up to the marina power lines... so Joe has been trying to jerry rig something for us. It is a LOT hotter here than we've experienced in the last 6 months. Over 92 degrees INSIDE the boat, which feels "cool" compared to outside... and almost no breeze. So we also have to get our "tent" -- awning up. Lot of work and lots of projects just to get settled in. And on top of that it's my birthday. Not much of a "fun" day, so far. But I'm having 2 birthdays -- one today for my Fijian birthday, and one (since we are over the dateline now) tomorrow for my California/USA birthday. Good thing as today shouldn't count with having to get up at 5AM -- and working, etc. Oh well we do what we have to do. I think I'll chill my last bottle of champagne (but I think it's rot-gut stuff that someone gave us!!) for later on, and we have several boats of cruising friends here that will join us to go out to dinner somewhere.
We have crossed over the International Date Line now so we've lost a day of our lives. I guess it's nowhere near as bad as for the first sailors were circumnavigating the world. No matter how carefully they kept their logs, when they got back to Europe, they were a day early or late. They might swear they'd been gone for exactly 500 days and there was the record of each of those 500 nights they'd been away. But the calendar insisted they'd been gone 501 or 499 nights. Someone eventually realized that sailing westward, always chasing the sun, that every day had been just a little bit less than 24 hours. Eventually they accumulated enough extra minutes to make up a whole extra day. Taking a day out of the log when the ship crossed and imaginary "date line" solved the problem. Where to put the date line was simple: the exact opposite side of the world from Greenwich England. [Greewich was the city that the basis of all great navigational studies took place since it was the British explorers who were doing the exploring. ]
Monday, October 6th:
We did finally finish "work" on the boat on my Fijian October 4th birthday by around 4:30, showered and had a glass of New Zealand Bubbly that I had chilled. Then Joe, Julie, and I joined the 2 remaining crew of Morgana (the boat that we had done things with in Niue and in Tonga), and 2 more people from another boat (Pau Hana) went out for dinner at a restaurant in Nadi (a town on this side of the island – where the international airport and most of the tourist hotels are located). It was fun, and again, nice after so many days at anchorage and at sea to eat good food that I didn't have to cook. They have a lot of "new" fish here that we haven't tried... "Walu" (not Wahoo)—which is some type of large Mackerel (which I didn't think I'd like, but is really good, and "Rock Coral Trout" which really is not a trout, but looks like a large one and has wonderful moist mild white meat. Different anyway from the Mahi Mahi that we've been eating a lot of ever since Mexico. All of the countries in the South Pacific have their own name for a ceviche type of fish... all marinated in lime, but also soaked in coconut milk, and usually served with a salsa type chopped tomato and onion... and some have chopped cucumber in it. Here they usually use the wahoo as the fish where as our previous stops have used mostly mahi (and in Mexico, they usually use Sierra).
Sunday was my American October 4th (due to dateline) birthday, and although we still did some boat chores in the morning, we slipped away to the First Landing Resort pool--right next door to our marina. Joe and I lounged around in the shade with our books and he took a dip or two. (I still couldn't go in because of my cast). We then returned to the boat, showered and went back to the resort for my 2nd Birthday dinner... this time just the 2 of us. We had a table on the sand overlooking a gorgeous sunset, palm trees, tiki torches, and some soft male Island singers and guitar players in the background. It’s small moments like this when our cruising life seems wonderful! We also had a wonderful meal of fresh local reef fish with a 5 star presentation. For the finale of the evening, they brought to the table a cheesecake dessert with a candle in it and the "band" walked over to the table to sing happy birthday. Were we ever surprised when written in a raspberry sauce on the rim of the plate, it said "Happy Birthday JOE!" -- and the singers sang "Happy Birthday, dear Joe, Happy birthday to you!" Obviously we are still in the land of "NQR" (as I used to say in the Philippines) -- i.e. "Not Quite Right." What had happened is Joe had made reservations for our dinner under the name of "Joe" and told them we were celebrating a birthday... so obviously we had a miscommunication. Anyway, we went along with the "celebration" and had a good chuckle about it!!!
Today, more boat projects in the morning and then in the afternoon, the crew on Morgana (they have a rental car) invited us to go to Nadi (the big city about 20-30 minutes away) for lunch and shopping. They then dropped me off at a doctor's office that I had made an appointment with for x-rays and to re-look at my foot. Most of the businesses and most of the "professionals" in Fiji are of Indian descent (i.e. from India), as was my doctor. After 6 sets of x-rays they could still not see the bone through the cast, so the doctor finally took off the cast and I was re-x-rayed again. The break is still there, but looks as if it is still re-calcifying. I was able to walk on it also with minimal pain so even though it might have been better to leave the cast on for another week or two, we made a decision to leave it off. (Plus the doctor wanted to send me to another town an hour away to see another doctor to re-put the cast on.) He wrote me a prescription for a very strong elastic ankle brace, which Joe picked up at the pharmacy and I am now wearing 2 shoes again. I am still using the cane I have for now as I am afraid of re-twisting it and feel the need to pamper it for a bit longer, as there is still pain with some normal twists and movement. I will probably have a US doctor re-look at it / re-x-ray it when we return.
Julie, our crew is still with us and is helping Joe a lot with the outside tasks. She is looking for another passage, as she would like to continue cruising. We decided life has been easier with her and made the offer to take her on with us as crew next year as we make our way throughout Fiji, and onward to Australia. She IS interested but has the problem of what to do between now and when we return next March. She may end up backpacking around Fiji and semi-watching after the boat. However, with the boat out of the water, we will have no on-board refrigeration and only enough power to keep our batteries charged. Anyway, she is still exploring her options. She has been offered 3-4 crew positions so far on other boats and has turned them all down for different reasons.
Another Gorgeous Sunset in Paradise!
I haven’t written much about the history and culture of Fiji yet so for those of you who are interested:
Fijians are Melanesian people who first settled their homeland about 8,000 years ago coming from South-East Asia. A second migration from South-East Asia also brought Polynesians to Fiji about 3,000 years ago who then went on to progress further to the then uninhabited islands of Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, New Zealand and Hawaii. The local indigenous Fijians are for the most part large in stature (although not as large as the Polynesians!), have very curly-frizzy black hair, darker skin than Polynesians, and broad noses-- almost African American looking.
Fiji was once known as the “Cannibal Isles” by early explorers, because of it’s ferocious natives Fijians are well documented as being cannibals, engaging in gruesome localized warfare and believing in a animated spirit world. They lived in small fortified villages and formed clans with neighboring villages through polygamy. Although cannibalism was outlawed by the settling colonists, it was practiced by some remote tribes even into the early 1900’s,
Europeans 'discovered' the Fiji Islands in 1643, but it wasn't until after The Mutiny of the Bounty in 1789 that contact with the people was made. Over the next 100 years, trade, wars and friendships were made between rival Europeans and rival Fijian tribes. In 1874, tired of endless quarrels and warfare, the Fijian king ceded his kingdom to Britain, which brought Colonial rule. The British tried to develop a sugar cane trade into the islands, but soon found that the local Fijians refused to do the hard manual labor required for the crops. So they brought in Indians (from their colony, India) as indentured laborers to work the sugar cane fields. In 1970, Fiji gained it's independence from the UK with a democratic system of constitutional government based on the British model. Many of the Indian indentured servants chose to stay on after the completion of their contracts becoming independent farmers and businessmen who still today form the backbone of Fijian commerce
Eventually tension grew between the Indians and the local Fijians as the Fijians began to fear the Indians (who by the 1980's dominated the Fijian economy), would also gain comparable political power. In 1987 and again 13 years later, in 2000, 2 bloodless coups took place. In both instances, representatives from the Indian population (now almost half of the population of Fiji) were elected into power and were shortly after the elections, ousted out by local Fijian leaders. The coup leaders were seeking a reform of the Constitution to insure Fijian supremacy and thereby prevent an Indian minority from holding power. After the last coup, a new Constitution was put into effect, which permanently guarantees government control by Fijians, and additionally prevents the Indians from land ownership. Fiji's economy has rebounded to previously unmatched levels, and government has once again earned the trust of outside investors.
Although Joe and I feel some sympathy for the hard working Indian population who have now been living there for over 100 years who cannot own the land they work so hard and are forbidden from full representation in their government, an argument can also be made in support of the new Constitution: there are very few countries left in the world which are unambiguously ruled by their endemic people. And, in comparison to surrounding Pacific nations, Fiji is well-run and prosperous. No one starves in Fiji, and not too many of the powerful leaders are able to profit at the expense of their country. The people who live in Fiji are happy, despite the overtones of political unrest, and as a visitor to the islands we would never have a clue of the tumultuous history, which has shaped the country.
It seems odd that a culture which was renown for their savage cannibalism barely more than one hundred years ago should be so peaceful and friendly now, but the overwhelming impression that is left on the foreign visitor or resident in Fiji is that these are some of the nicest and gentlest people anywhere.
The Indian population we have noticed–at least in the larger cities that we have been visiting,-- seem to run most of the businesses, are the taxi drivers, are the factory workers, and work the sugar cane fields. They are very hardworking and industrious, whereas the Fijians are very lay-back, very slow moving, making the Mexican definition of “mañana” seem like a word for fast! We have noticed some Fijians in the hotels and in the local fruit and vegetable markets selling their produce, but in general, they seem mostly happy to be living on their land, in their huts or houses, going to church, and enjoying their families. They are not interested in wealth as they seem to be happy with what they have. We also noticed that the 2 groups keep separate culturally. They both have their own religions (Protestant vs. Hindu and some Muslims), their own dress style (brightly colored Bula shirts and wraparound skirts versus the richly colored Indian silk sarongs and head scarves), plus their own languages and schools. There is very little inter-marrying.
A few more “facts:”
The nation of Fiji consists of 322 islands… only about 100 of which are inhabited. There are now almost 800,000 people living in Fiji. Half are indigenous Fijians and about 45% Indians and the remainder of European or Chinese origin.
Indian Mother and Child enjoying icecream on a hot day
Religion-wise, the majority of the native population is Methodist, while the Indian Figians are 70% Hindu, 25% Muslim, and some Christians.
Viti Levu is the main island and is the heart of the country with the tourist town of Nadi and the capital city of Suva. Over half the 800,000 population live here. To add to that population, over 400,000 tourists visited Fiji in 2003, making tourism its #1 “industry.” The next main sources for income are sugar, and the garment industries. It is also rich in coconut oil, seafood, and lumber. Unlike the indigenous Figians who live throughout the coutry, the Indians reside primarily near urban centers and in the sugarcane-growing regions on the 2 main islands. Fiji's 320 islands are in 4-5 major groups spread over 300 miles. Many of the inhabited islands are forbidden to foreign travel (including sailboats!) and development in order to preserve the native culture.
The majority of Fiji is mountainous (volcanic in origin) with several peaks exceeding 3,000 ft. The balance of the smaller islands is a mixture of coral and limestone. There are barrier reefs around most islands.
It’s been way too long since I wrote, but I need to try and “catch up” this journal with our activities before we depart home… since we have been here in Fiji almost a month and in 2 days we are flying home… after over a year of being at sea and away from home. Hard to believe.
I haven’t written, as mostly we have been “working” on the boat getting things ready for our departure and writing about boat projects is pretty boring to write about.
Since summer is rapidly approaching here, the days are getting hotter than we ever imagined. The only way we can work is to get up early and try to get everything done in the morning hours, before it is really unbearable. We have taken off everything on deck that could become a flying object in a hurricane (or cyclone as they are called in the South Pacific) — as well as our sails, which also could be destroyed should a major storm hit here. Many of the items we have stored inside the boat, and others we have to pay to be placed in a storage facility here at the marina.
A week ago, Julie took off on another sailboat headed to New Zealand. They needed a crew person, and offered to pay her airfare back to Fiji. She is thinking of spending the summer (i.e. now through March) there traveling and visiting friends before returning here next April to resume sailing with us. Hopefully she won’t fall in love or something, and decide not to return, as we are now looking forward to her help and company in the next cruising season. A good sign is she left some of her bags with us aboard Mi Gitana!
Yesterday we had Mi Gitana hauled out of the water by a travel-lift (crane) and then put in what they call a "graveyard" in the ground. It is an interesting way of creating a hurricane “hole” (literally), but has worked for many years here at this marina (and they HAVE taken a direct hit by a 150 mile/hour cyclone — with no damage to the boats!) First a hole is dug that is customized to fit the keel size and depth of the boat. Then the boat is lifted out of the water, and placed into the hole. But before releasing the boat completely from the travel-lift, lots of old tires are placed between the ground and the hull and then the boat is released from the lift so the boat’s weight is actually on the tires for more padding and buffering, instead of completely on the keel. It is quite a process and quite unique to here, I believe. We breathed a sigh of relief when the process was over and Mi Gitana was safely “installed” into her hole and new home for the next 6 months.
Although most of our time this month has been getting work done, we have taken a few days out of our chores to enjoy a bit of Fiji life. We were here for Fiji Day, in mid-October, which is like their “Independence” day. We went into the town of Lautoka to the town square where they had dancing and different exhibits. They even had a fashion show of different native attire… followed by a cross dressing gay fashion show. That was quite a shocker for this very religious and conservative culture.
We also took a drive with Wally (from Morgana) in his rental car one day to the other side of the island we are on (Viti Levu) to the Capital city of Suva. There we went to the Suva Yacht Club and met up with our mutual friends (that we have socialized with previously in the Cook Islands and Tonga), Roman and Ingrid (aboard Swiss Lady). We happened to arrive also on a big pig roast bbq party they were having at the Yacht club, and were able to finagle a few extra tickets so we could join Roman and Ingrid in the celebrations. The pig was great and we washed it down with some great New Zealand wine and enjoyed lots of laughs with our friends. It was a long drive back (3 hours each way) on dark 2 lane curving roads, but Wally got us back safe and sound.
One other night we went to the Grand Sheraton Resort (they have some spectacular 5 star resorts near us, and this is one of them) and bought tickets to watch some very hot-footed local Fijians walk on fire and hot coals and had a wonderful seafood buffet. But that’s about it for our tourist activities.
Presently we are enjoying our last 3 days in Fiji, (having gotten Mi Gitana situated) at an ocean-front resort not far from the airport. We traded a few days of a time-share we have so are staying here in luxury for a grand cost of $49.00. We plan to just lie by the pool, eat wonderful meals (that I don’t have to cook!), and just chill out — and sort of slow down from the hectic pace we have been leading to get ready to go home. Wally will pick us up on Sunday evening to catch our plane to San Diego… for a 12-14 hour flight! Because we go over the international dateline though, we arrive only a couple of hours after we leave!
So that brings you pretty much up to date with us. I’m going to end this journal chapter here. I’ll hopefully have a lot more interesting “adventures” to write about when we start exploring Fiji more and cruising some of it's 300+ islands.
But for now, we are REALLY looking forward to a break in our cruising life and to return to home for the first time in over a year on November 2nd. We plan to enjoy the holidays with our friends and families, and to just relish in a relaxed life with NO BOAT CHORES at our Mexican oceanfront hacienda. We will be returning at the end of Cyclone season in April 2004 to resume our life at sea.