01/10/2012, Vuda Point Marina, Fijiu
Well, the last two days have been full of activity. Since the rain has stopped and the Ark has landed at the top of a nearby mountain top, life has returned to a somewhat state of normal(what ever that might be).
On Monday, after getting the official notice that our new Rocna 40 kilo(88 pounds for us from the US) had finally arrived, we started out for the 1045 bus for Lautoka. As we walked out the road to the bus stop, a small van came along side and offered us a ride in for the same price as the bus. That doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it was not only a good deal, but would get us into town a good 40 minutes ahead of schedule(he picked up a few more people along the way into town). With most of the businesses closed from 1300 to 1400, we would now be able to get more done.
When the original import invoice came from Export Freight Services, there was a charge for BioSecurity in the amount of $8.00. When we got the invoice from the people that were handling the import papers(Carpenters), they upped the fee to $62.95! When I questioned them on it, they said they had made a mistake and it should have been only $30.00. When asked why there was a difference between what the importer was charging and what they wanted, they just told me it was a fee set up by BioSecurity. On the trip into town, we stopped by the BioSecurity office out on the wharf. Here is what they told us. They charge a fee of $150 to inspect everything that comes in in a container. The price is always the same. We should be charged by what percentage of the container we took up. Ever seen a container? They are huge and our anchor didn't take up that much space. BioSecurity told me to have the people at Carpenters call them. We hiked over to Export Freight Services and discussed the difference in the fees. Their suggestion--Just pay us the $8.00 and that should take care of the BioSecuity fee. No $30.00 fee, just the $8.00 fee. No problem there. There were a few more fees tacked on--forklift, lanning(?), delivery order fee, document fee,etc. All in all, between the two companies, we ended up paying an additional $139US for all the fees to get our anchor into Fiji. With the original invoice and these fees, we ended up paying $1362 for the anchor. Not bad since West Marine charges $1289 for the same thing and that is back in the US.
Once all the fees were paid and we had the paperwork we needed to pickup the anchor, it was after 1300 and the offices would now be closed so we went over to China Palace for another great lunch. Wontons, red pork fried rice and Sweet & Sour Pork. A very yummy meal. It's not as cheap as the taco carts back in Mexico(sure were great) but it sure tastes great.
We picked up a few more movies at the local video ripper store and then went to the local veggie market for some lettuce. It looked so bad that we passed. Figure we will be back in town on Wednesday or Thursday to get checked up for our next trip to the islands and we can pick some up then. We grabbed(had to wake the driver) a taxi(for what we were bringing back to the marina, it made sense) and headed over to Pacific Freight Services to get our new anchor. As we entered their warehouse, there it sat on a big wooden pallet. It was HUGE!!!! I wasn't sure we would even get it into the taxi for the ride back. Two big guys picked it up and wrestled it into the trunk and off we went with it rattling around in the back. Once back at the marina, the driver helped us get it on board the back of Zephyr. I took off the bubble wrap and there it sat, a HUGE chunk of steel to keep Zephyr right where we want her. It's like I said in an earlier post, when people passing our boat look at our anchor and laugh, I know I have the right anchor. I can already hear the laughter even before we get it in place at the bow.
Today was laundry day. Since we are heading back toward the islands in a couple of days, it will be nice to have clean clothes and sheets. It took four loads of wash and three runs of the drier to get everything done. At $6.00($3.24 US) per load of wash and dry, it came to $42.00 Fijian($22.65US) to get it all done. Not cheap but not outrageous as we have found else where in our travels. We were done just after 1300 and headed back to Zephyr for another job.
We have had a leak behind the navigation station that has been letting a good bit of water no only inside the boat, but also running over some of the electrical connection in the cabinet and inside the nav station. Well, I'd run beads of caulk over all the seams that I could see water passing through during last weekends flood. Maybe now it might be a bit drier. Guess we will see after the next storm. The block that the wires for the anchor light connect to was covered in green corrosion. I'd seen it long before I headed back to the US so I came back with two replacement blocks for the wires. First, I tried scraping and running a wire brush over all the contacts to see if I could get it cleaned up. No good. Too much corrosion. With a screw diver in hand, I headed in. Several of the screws would not come loose so I had to just cut off the wires at the fitting. I grabbed my electoral equipment and headed in to repair what I had just taken apart.
With my trusty crimper, copper laced grease(keep further corrosion out), screwdriver, wire striper, and all the electrical connectors, in I went. Now being on a boat, a job like this requires a bunch more time than a simple crimp of wires back on dry land. Here, you face a bunch of corrosion on a daily basis. For this reason, every fastener has to not only be crimped on, but I add some copper laced grease to each wire before I even do the crimp. Plus, the fasteners we use are special since the end gets heated with a heat gun(really HOT) to melt the plastic end at the end of the fitting. It shrinks down and seals the fitting. With the copper grease already in the fitting, there should be no corrosion inside of them. I also covered the place where the screws go into the fitting and the end of each "eye" as they get screwed to the block. I even covered the screws that hold the "eye" to the block. If this corrodes, I'd be amazed. I've turned on the anchor light so we will see later tonight(on a solar cell) when it comes on.
Off for a late shower and now another night at the movies. We watched "The Tourist" with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie last night. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. Great story.
More to come so stand by.
To get a idea of the size of the anchor, that's a big 5 gallon bucket behind it. It makes the bucket look small.
01/07/2012, Vuda Point Marina, Fijiu
Buying things in stores in Fiji is easy for most cruisers. We either whip out a credit card or we make a trip to the local ATM and get a bunch of cash. No problem. For locals, it another matter. I was looking through one of the local papers(Fiji Times) and spotted an ad from "Courts". They are one of the larger appliance and home furnishing stores here in the islands. I scanned the prices in the ad. Not too bad considering that everything they sell has to be shipped into town on one of the many freighters that arrive here. Each and every piece is subject to a hefty import tax so that tacks on even more to the price.
If you purchase an item on credit, depending on the price, a set of time is allowed for paying off the principle. Sometimes it's 52 weeks and many times for the more expensive things, it can be up to 156(three years)weeks. It's never longer than that. Take for example a combo package of a toaster and a coffee maker. It's listed for $149 Fijian. Payments are only $3.60Fijian for 52 weeks. That works out to $187 for the final price of $187. That makes for an interest rate of 25% on what you have bought. An Akita 42" LCD TV runs $2299. With the interest after the three years they allow to pay it off, the final price comes to $3556.00!!! Your final price is 59% over the advertised price! Try that in the US and I don't think you'd have any customers.
From what I've read, the economic crunch has really hit the Fijian people. The base hourly wage here is only $2.80 Fijian($1.51US). I had a conversation with one of the woman that manage the marina the other day about one of the girls in the office that left to get married. The woman manager asked me if it's was true that we Americans tell our kids that they can grow up to be anything. My answer was "Yes we do". Her response was that that was not how it was in Fiji. There are not a tremendous amount of jobs available in Fiji where a person can truly excel and grow and make a bunch of money. The girl that left(maybe making $3.00 Fijian) is a licensed pilot! She can't get a job because there aren't any available so she was forced to take what she could. With a nation faced with that dilemma, many people can get behind in their payments and loose possession of their goods. With interest that high, a native must be sure that they can cover the debt. Not an easy thing to do out here. Out here, most people live a simple life and from what we have seen are quite happy. Smiling faces are everywhere and always the cry of "Bula"(hello) from everyone we pass in town as well as out here.
Another thing we have learned is that Fiji is a bargaining country. Just because an item is marked at $19.95, that doesn't mean that that is the price you will be paying. I bought two shirts at a store in town a few weeks ago. Each was marked at $26.95. When I went to pay for them, the clerk behind the counter told me he would sell them to me for $24.00. I hadn't even asked for a better price, he just gave it to me. We Americans are used to seeing a price on an item and just paying for it. That's not the way it is out here. Going to the vegetable market in the center of town is an education in itself. EVERYONE bargains there. The veggies may look wonderful and the asking price(by American standards) is quite reasonable. BUT--they expect you to bargain. They may be asking $3.00 for a bunch of carrots. You counter with $2.00. He may go for it or he may not. It's not a problem wether he will go for the $3.00 or not as there is always another vendor two steps away that might. I really have to work on my bargaining skills. They stink. I, like most Americans are simply used to paying what the marked price is. It's not that way out here.
A couple of months ago, the taxi's all raised their prices(approved by the government and urged by their Union) by 100%. There was no outcry until it happened because very few people knew it was even going to happen. Traveling from the marina to town went from $7.50 to $15.00 one way. A bus ride costs only $1.60 each way. We have taken very few taxis since we have been here, not necessarily because of the price increase(though it's a big reason) but we like to travel and meet the natives that ride the bus. Once the prices went up on the taxis, many more people started taking the buses about the island. Amazingly, the price even went down from $1.70 to $1.60Fijian. With the bad economy, the taxi union has made it much tougher for the average person to afford taking a taxi. When we are in town we've seen the majority of the taxis empty(unless it's raining). A couple of days ago, we were waiting at the bus stop just outside the marina with Christine off Teka Nova. She had never taken a bus to town in the two months that they have been in the marina. As we waited, a taxi came by and asked if we wanted a ride to town. Since we were giving Christine a lesson on taking the bus, we declined. To try and entice us into his cab, he offered to drop his price to $1.60 per person for the ride($4.80). Way below the normal price. Now all taxis have the meters like they do in the US, just most of the drivers don't drop the flog on them unless they have to. This way, they can bargain on the fares they charge. Is it illegal? You bet it is and they could get in a ton of trouble not only with the union, but also the government that wants their cut of the fare that is taxed. If the flag is not dropped on the meter, there is not record of the trip. It's all pure profit for the driver.
It's tough in the US and it's tougher out here.
01/07/2012, Vuda Point Marina, Fijiu
It's finally letting up with just a few sprinkles a few minutes ago. I turned a bucket right side up on the stern deck yesterday about noon and there is well over an inch of rain in it now and that was after most of the rain was over so heaven only knows how much we finally got. One of the locals that owns a boat next to ours had planned on going home last evening but all the roads to his house were washed out so he's stuck here for a while. The water into the marina is now off. Not sure why. It was off yesterday afternoon when I went up to take a shower but came back on later. We'll see how long it takes to get it back on as it's now Sunday and it's illegal to do most any kind of work today. Glad we filled our tanks a week ago.
Today, it's supposed to clear out a bit with only a 60 percent chance of showers.
Yesterday, during the downpour, we went over to Terry and Christine's boat Teka Nova for high tea. Wow, what a presentation by these Brits. Sandwiches and scones and tons of assorted pastries. A beautiful feast. Afterwards, the four of us came back to Zephyr and we learned how to play Mexican Train dominos as well as a game called Bananas. I'd heard of Mexican Train but never Bananas. Did fair in the dominos but sucked at Bananas. Too fast a game for me. Just couldn't keep up with the play. Oh well, maybe next time I'll do better.
Today, a few projects plus I now have to see if I can find a new chart plotter since Garmin has stopped supporting the software that runs in ours. It's hard to get motivated to do a job when it's pouring outside.
01/06/2012, Vuda Point Marina, Fiji
Twenty four hours later and it's still raining. I didn't know the skies could hold this much water. It hasn't ended since about 1330 yesterday. We went to the cafe up at the marina for lunch and saw the dark clouds coming from the west. We quickly finished our meal and started back for Zephyr. As we walked(quickly) around the perimeter of the marina, we were suddenly hit by a gust of cold air. Oh Oh, better walk faster. With in a couple of minutes of us getting back, it started to rain and has not stopped. No clue as to how much but one of the wheel barrows over at the work area was over flowing by last evening and it hasn't quit since.
Fiji has shut down their airport and is broadcasting about flash flood warnings so it's only going to get worse. I just pulled up the radar from the airport(10 miles south of us) and it's pure rain coming from the west. Glad we are already floating on water.
01/05/2012, Vuda Point Marina, Fiji
Bureaucracy has reared it's ugly head again. If you have been reading my posts for a while, you might remember my quest to get permission to set off the old flares that are well past their expiration date as a "training" session. While it is required to have flares on most boats in the US, very few of us have ever had to set one off. You are only supposed to do so in an emergency. Zephyr carries a large assortment of flares. From smoke, to rocket flares, to hand held flares, we have tons of them. Well, it's been several years since we bought some of them and they are now past expiration date. Now here is where they get you. While in the US, I'd stop in at Coast Guard stations as we came down the coast asking for permission to try some of the "expired" flares out to see how to do it. If Zephyr is ever sinking, I don't want to have to stop and read the instructions on how to set them off. Every Coast Guard station(boy I'm persistent) told me "NO--You can't set them off." It's also against the law to throw them out because of all the stuff inside that is VERY flammable. It's also against the law to carry them on your boat once they are expired. You are only allowed to have "current" flares on board. It's like I said, it's the government giving you no real way out of a situation.
Well, a couple of weeks ago, I stopped in at the marina office to see if I could set off my old flares out past the break water off the marina. They had no problems but suggested I take it up with the local police department. OK, the local office is right beside the entrance to the marina. I walked out and explained to them what I wanted to do. Actually, there are about 5 other boats(only 12 boats have people living on them as of now) here that all have expired flares on board and few of them have ever set off flares. They wanted to join me in this "training" session. The officers at the station had no problem with my plans. It was all set for Christmas eve. We would surely get Santa's attention as he flew over the marina. A few hours later, one of the officers dropped off a letter at the marina office telling me that he'd called the main police station in Lautoka. They killed the idea. I'd have to go into town and get permission and a permit. Christmas was off.
A few days(just before New Years eve) later I stopped in at the police station in Lautoka to see if I could get permission to set them off on New Years eve. Heck, everyone was going to be setting off fireworks. What would a few flares matter. Sorry, I would need to fax or email a request to Commissioner Weston's office to get authorization. OK, what is his email address? They had no idea but if I came back again the following week, they could help me out.
Well, yesterday while I was in Lautoka checking on my anchor(where are you?), I stopped in back at the police station. Now, I would have to go to Commissioner Weston's office. Off I went in search of his office. They had given me general directions so at least I had an idea where it was. I got there just about 1415. "Sorry, you need to visit a different office down stairs". So down I went. They told me no one had ever requested such a thing and that I would have to go down to the wharf and see FIMSA(Fiji Island Marine Safety Office). I stopped in one more time at Commissioner Weston's office. It would not have done me any good as Commissioner Weston was out of town anyway. As I left Weston's office, it started pouring. I grabbed a taxi as I had planned to be on the 1510 bus back to the marina along with Tracy who was running other errands. A few minutes later, I was at FIMSA. I hiked up the stairs and explained to a nice lady at the counter what I wanted to do. I started out my conversation with "I'm going to ask you for something that no one has ever asked for before". She agreed with me after I told her what I wanted to do. There was a man standing at the opposite end of the counter as I explained my plans to her. As it ended up, the man at the counter was actually one of the main people at FIMSA. He headed back behind the counter and made a call to someone in Suva(the capital of Fiji). He came back a few minutes later and handed me a piece of paper telling me that he needed "Name, place where you want to do this, when, how would be doing it and what kind of flares I wanted to set off". He was going to fax it to another office in Suva to see if he could get authorization. Since I have no phone, he took down my email address and told me he would get back with me. Apparently, a "Notice to Mariners" has to be issued to all the maritime offices of exactly what we want to do so no one will send out rescue boats when they see the flares go off(if they actually work). I grabbed a Taxi and made it back to the bus in plenty of time. So far, I've not received an email with a YES of a NO. I guess time will tell. I'll let you know how it ends up.
Meanwhile, a huge front has headed toward Fiji with tons of rain coming with it. We expect over an inch today and over 2 inches are forecast for tomorrow. The radio is broadcasting flood warnings every hour so we expect it to get really wet here. No winds, but LOTS of water. It's the rainy season and we are about to find out how rainy it can be if the forecasts are to be believed.
01/03/2012, Vuda Point Marina, Fiji
Let's get caught up again on the last few days. OK, todays is Wednesday here while the rest of you are still enjoying Tuesday. On Sunday, I fired up the old(well sort of new) oven and made more of my Cranberry/Walnut Bread. I even braided it as I have done before and it came out great. Helps to have enough butane in the tanks so it doesn't go out in mid bake as happened when I made my last two loaves of bread a few days ago. So, now for breakfast, we have Cranberry/Walnut toast with butter(yes, real butter)and some cinnamon sugar on top. Our breakfasts out here, while they used to be cereal, are now either oatmeal(me) or Creme of Wheat(Tracy), or some rolls we pick up in town, or some of the different breads I have baked. We stopped having cereal as 1--Can't find one I would enjoy eating and 2--the price is so far up there that I might as well eat dollar bills instead of the cereal.
Monday, something happened that I have been avoiding for the last 3 1/2 years. Once Tracy was out of bed, she started digging under the forward berth and handed me bottles of liquids for hair permanents!! The day was finally here!! Now, let's set the stage for all of this. Before we left Denver, Brenda Hass set us up with all the equipment(thanks Brenda) we would need to not only give each other hair cuts, but also the things we would need so I could give Tracy a permanent. Well, I've been avoiding it ever since we left on Zephyr 3 1/2 years ago. I could just see(at least in my mind), all of Tracy's hair falling out once I did the job. There are lots of chemicals involved in giving a permenent(I have to wear gloves!). Now, let it be known that I will never cut Tracys hair as I prefer it longer rather than shorter but being out here where it can get nasty(let alone hot and humid) she prefers it shorter. OK, it's her hair. Last week, Tracy went into town with a friend and joined her as she(the friend)was getting her hair cut(not Tracy). Tracy asked about getting a permanent and from what I hear, the woman just stared at Tracy not understanding what she was saying. With a few hand gesturers and and more talking, Tracy got her to understand what she wanted done. Tracy even told her she would bring in all the equipment and solutions to do the job. No problem. She would do the job. Tracy took a look at her equipment and saw that her comb looked like it hadn't been cleaned in years. Once Tracy was back at Zephyr, she thought about it and decided that she just didn't trust the girl to do her hair. When I was in town on Saturday, I cancelled the appointment.
Well, Monday was the day. I'd put it off for as long as I could. Tracy had managed to get a permanent done before she left the states may months ago, but it just isn't done out here(in Fiji). Most of the women out here have naturally curly hair and if any thing, would need it straightened. Out came all the bottles and rollers and papers and things I had no idea what they were for. On came the computer and we got on You Tube and watched a video or two about how to do a permanent. Amazing what you can learn for the internet. We put one of our chairs(actually our only chair) at the table in the salon and off we went. Combs, papers, rollers and long white pins and we had what we needed for the job. It took a while just to get the rollers on but I managed. I've watched and given hair cuts to men but I've never seen a woman get a permanent. It's a long and involved job and I won't bore you more than I have already with the details(lots of mixing, squirting and messaging of the hair), but about 3+ hours later, it was done. I had given my first permanent and her hair has stayed attached(YEA!). She's not bald as I feared plus she has some curl and body in her hair.
Yesterday, the freighter(Southern Fleur) arrived at Lautoka with our anchor aboard. I'd fired up our navigation computer and watched the ship come in our our AIS program. She docked shortly after 0730. I grabbed our paperwork and headed out for the 1100 bus for town. Down to the docks I went and watched as container after container were off loaded onto trucks for distribution and unloading. I got all excited and tingly knowing that my new anchor was in one of those containers. I headed for Customs as I had no idea where the company was that was the transfer agents for our anchor. Now I'm not totally familiar with all of Lautoka and many of the smaller streets have no signs so the agents in Customs had to go by where stores are in town. It ended up being right around the corner from one of my favorite curry restaurants as well as the biggest liquor store in town. No problem. I knew exactly where to go(it's near the liquor store). I got there about 1230 and when I asked about my shipment(producing all the paperwork that I had), I was informed that while the ship(and my anchor)were here, the container was on it's way to Suva(capital of Fiji) and would be off loaded there. Say what??? Yes, that't right. I could wave at it as it left the harbor and headed out for Suva arriving there in a day or so. From there, it will be off loaded and unpacked, sorted, labeled and then re packed, re loaded and shipped by truck back to Lautoka for me to pick up. That makes sense doesn't it? Why bring it here even though the paperwork says it's for here. They had no clue as to why it was going to Suva, but it was. I have a feeling that this company doesn't get anything off the ships here in Lautoka, it only gets things sent to Lautoka by truck. As to when it will be here, they have no clue. But they did assure me that it will get here eventually. Meanwhile, they told me I needed to start on the import paperwork to get it officially into Fiji. They don't do that. They sent me to a company called Carpenter's. Now Carpenter's is a huge company(even an auto dealer and hardware store)that has many facets. Importing is just one of them. It's now 1250 and most of the companies shut down from 1300 to 1400 for lunch so I had to get there fast. Luckily, no place in Lautoka(second largest town in Fiji) is too far away and I got there at 1257. Just in time for the people behind the counter to tell me the guy I needed to talk to(Phillip) was out of the office. Instead, another young lady came to the counter and helped me out. She made some phone calls and verified that my anchor was on it's way to Suva. At least, while it was on it's way, they could handle all the paperwork needed to get it legally into the country. I handed over my Bill of Lading as well as a copy of the invoice. Since we have no phone(who would I call out here that I can't call on Skype?), they will have to email me with any questions they might have. Today, I got an email telling me to fill in a form and send it back to them. Now why they didn't give me the form yesterday(close to Lunch time and they wanted to leave the office?) while I was in their office, I have again, no clue. Since it needs to be signed, I figure I will be heading back to Lautoka tomorrow to give them the signed form. So, out there, some where is our new anchor. It should be in Suva by tomorrow. It's not that far(120 kilometers by road, several hundred by boat). As to when it will finally show up here, we have no clue. Since we still have a perfectly good anchor sitting on the bow, we plan on heading back to the islands on Saturday. Of course, I still have to go to Immigrations and get our clearance papers to go the whole 15 miles to the islands.
Today, I took everything out of the navigation station. Ever since we bought Zephyr, she has had a leak right over the nav station getting water on many of the thing that we store in there. Well, today, I cleared out everything. Lots of papers were soaked and many had lots of black mold all over them. We pitched a good bit since many things were just not salvageable. Oh well. Since I will be in Lautoka tomorrow, I'm going to give the station a day to dry out as I washed the entire insides with bleach water to kill the mold that was still hanging around inside. While I'm in Lautoka, I'll purchase a tube of caulk to seal up the back edge which is where the water appears to be coming in. With enough caulk, I hope to put an end to all the water coming inside. Sure hope so. It was a mess inside there.
So that's the way it's going here in Fiji. It's currently 92 degrees with a heat index of 109!!! Sure am glad we have the air conditioner. I took a shower a few minutes ago and was soaked with sweat by the time I did the short walk back to Zephyr. Still, it beats shoveling snow.
I'll let you know how Lautoka is tomorrow.