11/01/2011, Vuda Pt. Marina, Fiji
Well, all the planning and the preparation and hours of internet searches and orders have happened and Bill is in a taxi as we speak on his way to Nadi International Airport. He will be leaving Fiji tonight around 10:30 p.m. on a Qantas flight to LAX then on into Denver. He has a doctor's appt. tomorrow a.m., hope he doesn't sleep through and miss it.
I think I have the easy job of staying in Fiji. My jobs are to take off the dodger and restitch it and reinstall then manufacture a mosquito net for the back of the cockpit. Bill and Susan (previous owners) had sides made, but not a back panel. So...we'll see how well I get along with "the nemesis" our sewing machine on board. My shoulders are cramping up just thinking about using it.
The hard part of Bill being gone will be eating alone and not having him around 24/7. I'm so used to him being here all the time, it is hard being unsnapped at the hip without him, just not normal.
The huge news is that we bought an air conditioner from our next door neighbor, Purrfection. They had purchased two units from departing cruisers and we got a good deal for one of those units and I'm really enjoying not dripping and feeling wilted all day because of the heat! 87 degrees and 80% humidity is AWEFUL. One doesn't even have to move to drip. My hair was always wet and perspiration stings when it gets into your eyes. I love our air conditioner. The marina charges a flat fee per day if you plug in for any reason, so it costs the same if you use a fan or use an air conditioner. The added benefit is that the mosquito ratio goes way down too.
10/28/2011, Vuda Point Marina, etc.
Yesterday we took off for Denarau to see a totally unFiji Fiji. We hopped on the bus so we could make the connection for Nadi like we had done the day before. This time we knew(sort of) what we needed to do. When we got to the bus stop to pick up the Nadi bus, we found two Fijian asleep in the shelter. Both from what we could tell drunk our of their gourds. Both laying on the benches snoring away totally oblivious to what was going on around them. One was so drunk that the money he had had in his hand was scattered around the floor of the shelter. This time, there were about 10 of us heading south unlike the previous day when there we just three. One of the "sleeper" kept trying to turn over. Not a good thing to do when you are on a skinny park bench. One of the other travelers kept trying to wake him up so he'd stop rolling off. No success there. They were out of it. A few minutes later, the bus showed up and the two men were on their own.
This time, we didn't bother to stop at McDonalds, we continued on(having gotten some directions from other cruisers) to the exit for Denarau. For it being the new hot spot in the South Pacific, we saw only one small sign telling us to turn. We made a small detour before getting on the bus for the last leg of the short trip. We walked a block to Pacific Meats. A competitor for Fiji Meats. We'd been told to select what we wanted, let them shrink wrap it and freeze it and we could then pick it up upon our return. That's just what we did, picking out some Sirloin steaks as well as a half kilo of "minced beef(also know as hamburger) and something we haven't seen out here---BRATWURST. We got a half kilo of them to try them out on the grill. We're finally getting to use the grill again. I have it hooked up to butane instead of propane and it seems to be hotter. It get so hot that the interior flame shield glows red! Not going anywhere near that with my hands. With the order placed, we grabbed the first bus we saw headed out toward Denarau.
Public transportation is used by everyone out here. Buses are normally crowded but rarely is anyone standing as there are so many buses headed everywhere that if one is full, it's easy to get the next. One thing we have learned about riding around Fiji is the universal "speed bump". That's what they are in the US. Mexico calls them "topes". Here, they are a "road hump". As everywhere else, they crop up in towns and villages all along the road. As with Mexico, there are about three in any village we pass through. No where near as tall as those in Mexico but I'd still slow down if I was going anywhere near them.
We arrived at Denarau about 12:30 at the local "shopping center". It was like being in Cabo San Lucas or the Paradise Village complex in Puerto Vallarta. We could have been at any open air shopping center in south California. Lots of restaurants(including The Hard Rock Cafe)as well as upscale clothing stores and a small chandlery. We were no longer in Fiji that's for sure. Not a cruiser insight but lots of folks from either the US, New Zealand, or Australia. Prices were reasonable at the restaurants as long as you looked at some of the "daily specials". You could spend as much as you wanted if you tried. We settled at "Cardos Steakhouse". While Tracy had the "fish and chips", I opted for "Chicken Curry"(gee what a surprise). Both orders we quite large certainly for the money. Now it bears no comparison with some of the smaller hole in the wall(Don's Chop Suey Palace in Lautoka) as for the $5.50 Fijian, we got a lot of food. Here we were paying for the atmosphere as well as the food. At $15.50 for mine and $11.00 for Tracys, we got a lot of food. Tracy got 6 big pieces of fish along with her chips. I got a huge bowl of Chicken Curry as well as a big scoop of rice and a nice bowl of marinated chopped onion, garlic and carrots. It was a more food than we have seen in any lunch place we have been to. After lunch, we opted for an ice cream cone for desert. It's the first we have had since Tonga but the biggest difference was that it was frozen solid, not a runny mass of cream in a cone like Tonga.
We visited the chandlery and then walked over to the marina office. For it being the newest place(and most expensive) they had a small set of spaces for boats on their docks and few mooring balls. Cost for one night--$15.00. While you are near one of the most up to date shopping centers around, if a storm comes up, and you happen to be on a mooring ball, you have to disconnect and find another place to weather out the storm. There are places up the local rivers where you and tie your boat to the mongrove trees. They want to protect their moorings at all cost. They are not concerned about your boat.
We hopped on the next bus and made our way back to Pacific Meats to pick up our order. They put everything in plastic bags and then inside a box to keep it a bit more insulated. Once we got our order, we hiked the rest of the way to the bus stop and got the next available bus for Vuda Point. We arrived in time for the last leg with the 16:30 bus back to Vuda Marina due anytime at our stop. We waited and waited and no bus. At 1700, we started the hike towards the marina. About 1710, the bus flashed by us with a lead foot driver at the wheel. There was little thought of him stopping for us. On we walked finally reaching the marina at 1730. Once back at Zephyr, we started up the generator to top off the batteries for the night.
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the marina has a movie night under the stars(at least when it's not raining). Last night was a film about three men that escape from a Russian prison camp in Siberia(with Colin Farrel) and walk to India for freedom. I can't even tell you the name of the film it was so un-rememberable. Tracy left for Zephyr since she arrived late for the opening and if you missed that, you missed the entire premiss of the film.
Just wait, the story of Saturday is coming.
10/27/2011, Vuda Marina
Today was off to Nadi(pronounced Nandi) to check in with Customs at the airport about taking things out and bringing things into the country. We headed out for the bus about 1030 and finally got aboard at 1100 and headed out for the first leg of our excursion. Being South of here, we had to take two buses to get there. The first took us to the main north/south road where we could meet up with the second bus that would take us where we needed to go. As luck would have it, after we exited the first bus, we were joined in the shelter at the stop by a woman that works for Immigration at the airport and she would show us what bus we needed and where to get off and where to go at the airport. The second bus showed up about 20 minutes after we got off the first and we were in Nadi about 30 minutes later. Our guide showed us exactly where to go. Great people here in Fiji.
I'd been told by the man at Customs in Lautoka to have a letter all written about what I was taking and the serial numbers, etc. I had three copies just incase. The woman at the counter read the letter and stamped them with the Customs stamp. She also advised me as to what to expect when I arrived back in Fiji. The big thing was to have all my receipts for what was in the boxes. I might have to pay duty or I might not. But, from what she said, a Customs agent would have to come with me and physically place by boxes on Zephyr just to make sure they got where they were supposed to go. Not that they were actually going to be used on the boat, but that they got there. No problem with me. I get in at 0530 on a Monday so we will see how it goes.
Once we were done there, we boarded another bus for the rest of the way into Nadi, about 9 kilometers. We looked at stores along the way and finally got off at the one and only McDonalds in the area. It was too good to pass up(sorry, no curry there). We both indulged in Big Macs, the first we have seen since Tahiti. That being said, it really wasn't that great. We thought it would be a little slice of home but it turned out to be a disappointment. Once we got our order, I asked for some salt and pepper. The girl behind the counter looked at me as though she didn't understand what I was asking for. They don't carry salt and pepper at this McDonalds!! That's like not carrying napkins. We've learned our lesson and will probably not be going back there again. There are too many other good restaurants here to waste time on this one.
Once we were done with lunch, we hopped on another bus and headed for downtown Nadi. It's a world removed from Lautoka. This town is all business. People stand outside the stores and will literally jump in front of you to stop you and get you to enter their stores. One good thing is that I found a nice pair of sandals. Not sure I would have had any luck in Colorado in the Winter finding them. I tried them on and then asked the price. He looked at me and said $179 Fijian. That's about $92 US. Sorry, no sandal was worth that. He "checked with the manager" and came down to $150. Nope, how about $130, $120? He just kept coming down. We'd seen other sandals on the shelf at $110 and we were willing to pay that. He ended up at $100(about $56US). We walked out with a nice pair of new sandals. One thing off my list of things to get when I'm back home.
On we pushed stopping at other stores, finally stopping in at two grocery stores before we boarded a bus to Vuda Marina. We arrived at the bus stop we had left from just a few minutes after the bus that would have taken us to the marina had passed. Luckily, there was a man standing beside his truck and he offered us a ride to the marina for $4.00. It had been a long day so there was no doubt as to wether or not we were going to take him up on his offer. Another man had gotten off the bus with us and he offered us a dollar if he could join us for the trip. No problem there. That cut our cost to just $3.00. We passed the bus we missed as we neared the marina getting back just after 1600.
As we walked back to Zephyr, we met up with some friends off Silver Ruffian. These are the people that had suggested we contact Vuda Marina to get a spot in the water here for the season since all the out of the water spaces were booked. We will be checking on their boat during our stay here just to make sure it stays safe and sound should a big blow come up.
And that is the way today went. Tomorrow we will be off on another adventure.
The picture at the top is the view from Zephyr's stern. Not bad!
10/25/2011, Vuda Point Marina, etc.
I made another trip to Lautoka yesterday to get papers allowing me to take some things out of the country as well as bring back items I'll be buying when I'm back in the US without having to be concerned about duties. We'd stopped in at their offices on an earlier trip so I went fully prepared--or so I thought. Tracy decided to stay aboard Zephyr since she saw no reason to make the pilgrimage. I was all alone!!!
I entered Customs and was promptly called to the same desk I'd gone to earlier. This time there was a different person in the chair. Different person--different requirements. Now I needed to write a letter about who I am and where I was going along with info on what I was taking out and bringing back with me along flight info--both going and coming back. The agent also said I needed to go the the Customs Office at the Airport a few hours before I was to take off to get everything settled. Well, since I fly out at 2200, there is not much chance of anyone being at the office when I was to fly out. We were going to have to make a separate trip to Nadi International Airport(probably on Thursday) to get everything settled once and for all(maybe).
I walked back toward the center of town looking for a restaurant for lunch. I'd passed Don's Chop Suey Palace(has five tables) on my way to Customs. Their menu board was full of things to order but little chop suey. They did have curry though. I stopped in on my way down from Customs and grabbed one of the table surrounded by several locals and ordered Mutton Curry. Sorry, they were out of it(at 12:30). Chicken Curry? No problem there. Here is what I got---a nice big bowl of rice, a bowl of chicken curry(some bones included), a small cup of cream of corn soup(the bowl was the size of a tuna can), as well as I single slice of cucumber and a small wedge of lime(not sure what it was for). Add in a nice bottle of Coke and for $7.50 Fijian($4.21 US), I had a great meal.
With the job at Customs not completed, I decided to explore the rest of Lautoka to see what the town had to offer outside the normal retail stores and restaurants. I took the main drag north until I happened to run into a police officer who asked me if he could help me. He explained the ins and outs of Lautoka and Fiji how I could purchase(actually lease)property in Fiji if I wanted to. They are looking for foreign investors to help out with the development of Fiji's economy. Foreigners can lease(the government owns all the land) with the provision that I will develop the land and make some jobs for Fijians plus, I'll need a native Fijian to be with me as foreigners cannot own(lease) land without a native as a part investor in the deal. While we plan on staying here for a while, investing in land is not the course we plan for the future. I thanked him for his help and info and moved on. I'd reached the far north edge of town.
I turned left and headed down the last street in town. I'd found what I was looking for. This street and those that branched off it were full of parts places for cars as well as boats. I'd found the place I'd been looking for in Lautoka. Where to go if I needed parts of something fixed. Electrical parts--starters, alternators and more. Stainless steel parts and screws. I even found a place that sells step down transformers to convert 240 volts down to 120 for Zephyrs electric needs. If you read my earlier posts, you know that I've been pursuing one of these ever since we got into town. We have to run our generator every day to keep our batteries topped off since we can't run our systems on the 240 volts that Fiji(and most of the rest of the world) uses. The place I had talked to about it(last Wednesday and Thursday) had yet to get back with me about it. I'd gone to visit them again earlier in the morning yesterday before I'd headed into town to see if they had made any progress. Their response when I asked them was a blank stare. They had no idea what I was looking for. So much for getting good help from that company. Now I knew where to go if I needed any parts for Zephyr in the future.
I continued my journey around Lautoka checking store after store seeing what was available. We expect that we will be needing some sort of air conditioner shortly for Zephyr as the temps and humidity climb through the Winter(Summer here). It's already 84 degrees and 68% humidity at 1100 in the morning. I hit hardware store after hardware store and every grocery store(lots os small ones around town) to see what is available. There was a bus back to the marina at 1510 but I knew I wasn't going to make that one as I still had some more stores to visit. The next was at 1630 and that would be no problem. I hiked South of town to Fiji Meats. We'd bought meats from their store at the Mall(bears no comparison to US malls). This was their main store for Lautoka. I walked in and was blasted by cold air. Really cold air! It felt incredible! I spun around in the center of the store letting myself be bombarded by the cold air. Oh my, it felt GREAT! I needed to see what they offered as we could order meats on line and have them delivered to Zephyr--frozen. I found out the specifics for ordering and picked up some boneless chicken breasts as well as two sirloin steaks. These will probably the first solid beef we have had since we ran out of Costco steaks months ago. What a treat plus, the steaks only cost $11.00 Fijian(about $6.00 US).
I hiked back to the buss station and found the Vuda bus about 1615 and found it darn near full to capacity. Lots of people(many students) heading home. By the time it left, people were standing in the aisle. I'd traveled the 1510 bus several times with it being close to capacity but this one was packed. I'm not sure if this driver took a different route, but we made it to the marina in 30 minutes instead of the normal 45 the other bus takes.
This morning, I got my hair cut. It's been quite a while since Tracy cut it and I was long overdue. I wanted to make sure that I looked like my passport photo. For those of you that thought I should compete in the Ernest Hemingway look a like contest with my new beard, I'm here to tell you that it's gone. I'm clean shaven all over again. It lasted about 5 weeks and as the heat and humidity climbed, it had to go. I sat on the back deck and let Tracy clip away taking photos as it slowly disappeared from my face. I'm back to my nice clean cut all American self all over again. Sure feels nice to have it gone. Lots cooler too.
We celebrate Diwali today. A Hundu festival celebrated all over the world. Businesses are closed all over the island and no work is done. We still have boats coming and going at the marina with Fijians here getting the job done. Indians are no where to be seen. Fireworks are going to be going off as the sun sets this afternoon. The marina has movie nights every Monday, Wednesday and Friday out on the grass by the yacht club. Tonights is "Bride and Prejudice". A film from Bollywood. India's equivalent of Hollywood. It's going to be our first film from Bollywood. It's going to be a fun night as several other boaters attend along with us.
As you can tell from the photo at the top of the post, what you call things(cereal is not the only thing) here will vary from what things are call in the US. It's Rice Bubbles not Rice Krispies like it is back home. Shopping for food becomes an adventure since many items are called different names here. Labels become important because they alter but don't change the overall look of what you are buying. The further west we have gone, the fewer and fewer cereals are available and what is available can sky rocket if the US is involved in any way. Freight can drive up the price dramatically as coming by ship gets very expensive and with the airlines to soon cut back(7 per week to 3 per week) the numbers of planes flying to Fiji from Australia, it's going to get worse.
For those Google Earth fans, our home for the next 6 months is 17 40.889S 177 23.169E.
The adventure continues.
Here is the picture of the President. Lets see if it goes through this time.
10/22/2011, Vuda Point Marina, etc.
We got here on Tuesday and on Wednesday, I searched out the local boat repair folks to get them started on installing an electrical conversion unit to step down the 240 volts that Fiji runs on to the 120 that Zephyr runs on. I happen to run into the owner of the yard as he was checking out another boat here and he dispatched two electricians to look at out system with in a couple of hours. From their response, you would have thought that they had never seen another boat with our situation. Just about all the boats that come here from the US are running on 120 volts and all(if they want to use the existing power) need to have their system converted to work. It's a simple converter box that plugs into the existing box on the wharf and then plugs into your existing wiring on the boat. No big deal(I thought). These two guys made some calls and were stumped as to how to proceed. They thought they might be able to get a converter from Nadi(just South of here) and have it shipped in. They would check and let us know. Off they went. Hearing nothing from them by Thursday morning, I hiked up the hill to their offices to search them out. One of the people in the office told me that the one they had tried to get was taken by another boat for the cyclone season. They would have to find another and I would have to buy it. I'd told them that I wanted to buy the unit while they were at the boat, not rent it for the six months we would be here as the same problem would exist if we ever went to any other marina anywhere else in the south Pacific. They said they would get on the internet and let me know.
Friday, we decided to go into town figuring that we wouldn't hear from the boat people(Baobab Marine). We hopped on the 10:45 local bus($1.60 Fijian each) and took off for town. Let me tell you, this bus doesn't take a straight ride into town. He goes off the main road and up side roads picking up and leaving off passengers. We'd go up one road, pull a U turn and come back down it. It took us about a hour to make the 12 kilometer ride. It may have taken some time, but we got to see the back roads of Fiji. Great fun to see the rural areas outside of Lautoka.
One of the primary reasons we were headed for Lautoka was to sign up for Vodafone as our internet carrier. We had originally signed up with the only local(at Vuda Point) carrier(Tomizone) that charges $50.00 Fijian(about $30.00 US) for a 7 day access or 1.2 gig usage which ever comes first. We'd found a different contract(same company) that allowed us 90 days usage but only 500 megs of usage. We had no idea when we signed up that the 500 megs was for the entire 90 days. Let me tell you, 500 megs gets used up fast out here. That's not a lot of info on the internet. The first day, we used over 150 megs. 500 wasn't going to last long. We talked to other cruisers that were staying here and they all talked about Vodafone. It uses a dongle(like a flash drive) that plugs into your computer similar to what we had used with Verizon up in Washington state before we left there. Vodafone would be fine for what we needed.
Having been away from "civilization" for a week or so, we had run out of veggies and other fresh things and since Lautoka has one of the largest fresh markets we wanted to search it out. We also needed to find a "Super" market for the day to day things we would need. We found the fresh veggie market just a few feet from the bus station. It was HUGE!!! Stall after stall of all types of veggies, many of which I had no idea what they were. Up and down the isles we went taking it all in yelling out "Bula"(Hello in Fijian) to all the folks we met. What a great bunch of people. Smiles and welcome glances every where we went. We decided to make the market the last stop before our return to Zephyr. Best not to carry the veggies we needed all over town.
We found a local restaurant(Tiger Bites) that specializes on a somewhat Chinese menu. We stopped in and each had a huge plate of chicken fried rice($3.00 Fijian, about $1.80 US) and two bottles of Coke. All for a total of only $10.00($5.46 US). Man, I'm going to love it here. We'd be hard pressed to cook up what we got for the same amount of money. There are a tremendous amount of restaurants in Lautoka so it is going to take us a while to find the perfect one for us. The search for it is going to be fun.
We continued around town stopping at various shops seeing what was available. "Diwali"(a huge Hindu festival) is coming next Wednesday so many of the store were advertising specials for the holiday. There is a huge division of cultures here in Fiji with it split just about evenly between Fijians and Indians. The Indians were originally brought here many years ago to be the workers for the Fijian. Now, over the last 100 plus years, the Indians have taken over much of the business and wealth of the nation creating a lot of civil strife between them. There were riots here in Lautoka several years ago. Many of the Indians have returned to India to escape the persecution they felt they were receiving. I will admit that the majority of the businesses we went into were controlled by either Indians or Chinese.
We searched out the local(and some say the best)meat market(Fiji Meats) in the local shopping center(bares no resemblance to shopping centers in the US). There they had a nice selection of meats. Not a lot of beef as Indians don't eat it but tons of lamb. If we ordered some meats, they would make sure they were frozen when we were ready to pick them up. Always a bonus for us cruisers with our tiny freezers. We picked up a half kilo of "Minced Beef"(hamburger) and a packet of "precooked" lamb sausages. We had the "minced beef" last night and it was so lean that there just just about no juice running out of it as it cooked. Tasted just fine to us. One test completed. Tonight, we will be barbecuing the lamb sausages to see how they stack up. Another day with no curry. What am I to do? We boarded the 1540 bus for Vuda Point and got back here about 1630. Just in time for a quick shower. Nice to get all that perspiration off me.
Yesterday we were invited to attend an party given by the Fijian Cancer Society at one of the local homes. We were told that the President of Fiji would also be there. We, along with 7 others from the marina met at the parking lot this morning for the ride to the party. Our driver, in classic fashion, had no idea where the party was to be held so with cell phone in hand and the help of one of the others that were going to the party, we finally found our way there. We paid for our tickets and joined the more than 100 people milling around the estate. Eventually the President gave his speech and then tea and sandwiches(along with a ton of cakes and cookies and fruits) were served. As I waited for the line for food to lessen, along came the President. I introduced ourselves to him and had a quick word about our arrival here and then off he went to meet others at the party. Not bad. In the country for less than a week and we've already met the President!! I did go back later and more formally introduced myself and told him about our arrival and how helpful the Customs and Immigration people had been upon or arrival. Seems to be a nice guy but from what we have found out, he is just a figure head like the Queen of England. He puts a face on the government but has no real power. It resides in the military junta that took over power were back in the 1990s.
So now we are back at Zephyr with the generator running on the back deck getting our batteries charged. I hate running it(as the folks on the boat next to ours quickly picked up their things and walked off their boat)but there is little I can do at this time. I may be forced to buy a converter while I'm back in the US and bring it back with me. I contacted a company that sells them and while they can ship it to Fiji, Fed Ex charges over $500US to get it here. That's one of the reasons I'm heading home. This next week, I'll be getting all the paper prepared and taken care of with Immigration. I'll need a letter to allow me to reenter the country upon my return and that has to be procured before I leave not after I get back. If you don't have that letter, they won't even let you on the plane.
We're about to shut off the generator and head over to the "Yacht Club" for an afternoon beer. We finally finished what we bought in Tahiti. It was hard work but we did what we had to do to get rid of it.
I tried to add a picture of the President but the internet here just can't handle it. Go figure. It locks up the computer every time.