08/17/2012, Suva, Fiji
Well, we're two days into Suva and moving along nicely. We headed into town on Thursday to get the lay of the land. We found BioSecurity as well as Immigrations. Didn't bother to go in as this was a scouting trip. Well sort of. We were ultimately in search of the Holy Grail of Fiji---COST U LESS!!! It's like a scaled down Costco.
After walking through town and seeing the government building(big), we walked to Thurston Garden, named after some guy that brought lots of plants(non native)to Fiji and let them go wild. Do that today and boy would you be in trouble. I guess back then(early 1900's) it was fine. Inside the garden(big fenced off area with no real garden)was the Fiji Museum. Having been here for ten months, we felt it was time to learn a bit of the history of Fiji. We spent about two hours going through the rooms learning about Fiji, a couple of hundred years ago. Fascinating really.
Once done, we grabbed a taxi and told him to take us the Cost U Less! We'd researched the address and found that there was a McDonalds right next door. Double score!!! Oh, the grease and fat. Our bodies were about go into overload of all things bad for you. Suddenly,as we crested a hill, there they were. Cost U Less and McDonalds in all their glory.
We had the taxi driver drop us off at McDonalds as it was now lunch time. It was packed with school kids from the academy right down the street. Dozens of them, all getting corrupted by burgers and fries!! We have brought America to the islands and they will someday pay for it. High cholesterol and chunky thighs. It's coming and they don't even know it yet. Anyway, I digress. We looked up at the menu and there it was--The BIG MAC-with fries and a coke. America at it's finest. Two orders were placed and we stood and waited for nirvana. Well, it was not to be. Yes, we got our meals, but this McDonalds doesn't have salt and pepper! Who ever heard of a restaurant that doesn't carry salt and pepper. Ever had a french fry with no salt. It was drab and these were McDonalds fries. Reputed to be the best in the world--BUT NO SALT! That taste that has stood in our mind for all these months of doing without came crashing to the ground. To say they were bland would be an understatement. Strangely, no ice was in our cups of Coke. Just Coke. Lots and lots of Coke when you leave out the ice. Still cold or sort of but far more of the stuff than I've ever gotten in the past. I didn't even go back for a second cup. Weird. Don't these people understand that if you add ice, you give the customer less Coke so there is more profit? Oh, and if you want a packet of catsup to go with the fries, it costs more. No freebees at this McDonalds. Even the napkins are rationed. Straws--help yourself. It was the only thing in the racks at the normal self service stations around the store. Once that fantasy was crushed, we crossed the alley and headed for Cost U Less!
Unlike Costco, no membership was due which made it easy. When you shop at Costco, you know that you may end up buying mayo in 55 gallon drums but at an incredible price. To good to pass up even if you end up throwing away a bunch of it. When we lived in Louisiana, they had pickled pigs feet in huge jugs. Heaven only knows what you do with them. Not so with Cost U Less. Most of what you get there is in reasonable sizes. OK, paper towels still come in 15 packs but lots of the rest is the same thing you would find in normal grocery store. Having lived in Fiji for a while, and having shopped the local grocery stores, we found that many of the items that Cost U Less carried, we could find in town at or below what they were selling them for here. Some were even more expensive than a regular store. Go figure! Well, we still walked out with a cart load and needed a taxi to get us back to our dingy so they still made out all right having us a clients. We passed on a few items that we know we will pick up on our next trip. We're not done there yet.
That was about it for Thursday. We had seen and done enough damage to our minds and bodies. Friday was coming and we had plans for it.
This morning(Friday), we took off later than we had expected but made it into town by 1100. We were headed for BioSecurity. Keeper of our $3,000 cat bond. We'd been hit by that when we arrived last October and now we wanted to start the process of getting it back. We had our original receipt so we had the paper to prove we had given them a bunch of money. We talked to once person who then brought out the person that issues the refunds. Since it had been a while(about 10 months)since we had given them the money, she requested a letter from us requesting the refund and once she had that, we could probably pick up our check on Monday. Say what!?!?! Could it be that easy? This was an agency of the government. Was it possible that they would actually give us back our money that easily. I was willing to see, so I agreed to bring them a letter that afternoon(required a trip back to the boat) and off we went utterly surprised.
Next, we headed to Revenue and Customs to see what it would take to get clearance. One man told us to grab a cab as the office was a good mile south of the city. $5.00 later, we stood outside their offices. Here, government springs into action. "The office you need is on the main wharf, not here". The officer gave us two names and sent us on our way. This time as a penitence, we walked all the way back into town and found the wharf where the offices were actually located. It was one block over from where we grabbed the cab!! Once into their offices(only had to ask for directions a couple of times) the people could not have been nicer. Just show up when you are ready to go and they will take care of the clearance paperwork for Zephyr as well a getting our passports stamped. The big catch is that once all that is done, you have to pull up your anchor(or drop the line from your mooring buoy) and be out of the harbor in 3 HOURS! You have 24 hours to be out of the country. We will have to make sure that we are READY to go before we ever step on a bus to go there. That's not a lot of time but it can be done. That's one reason we want to make sure we get the money back from BioSecurity now rather than later as we will have to find an currency exchange as Fijian money can't be exchanged just about any where in the world. Only Fiji will take back Fijian money and give you other currency(US $). I guess we will see how all this goes when we start the next week trying to get our money back from BioSecurity.
I know this is taking quite a while to read, but I'm almost done.
Next, over to the Embassy for the Federated States of Micronesia. To go there, you have to submit a request for a cruising permit before you even arrive. We needed the form. It took some doing and help from a local security guard but I finally found it(at 1630) just as they were preparing to close. The young women behind the counter cheerfully gave me a copy of the form and advised me to bring it back and she would fax it into the appropriate people and get the permit paperwork started. We've heard good and bad about the application but all tell us to keep a copy of it aboard so incase the original gets lost somewhere in the great paperwork shuffle that all government agencies do, we will have some shred of evidence that we had actually applied for the permit. We've read more of FSM requirements so we will be ready for them when we return to their offices on Monday.
Keep good thoughts coming our way all of you out there reading this post. The games are about to begin. OH, and yes, I did take the request for refund letter back to BioSecurity as promised only the agent(she cuts the refund checks) I had talked to was "at the bank". "No problem" I answered. I was happy to wait till Monday to see what happens. As will all of you out there reading this.
08/14/2012, Suva, Fiji
After two days in Vunaniu, we pulled up the anchor and took off. If you believe the weather people, today was the last day before much bigger winds were set to hit the Fiji Islands. We'd waited out a day of bigger wind than what we wanted to face for the final push to Suva. Patience is the word for cruisers.
Up came the anchor at 0730 and out we went. Seas were pretty much calm. maybe a 3 foot swell at it's worst. Winds were very light. Of course, what little there was was right on the bow so sailing was out of the question. With the engine purring right along, we headed East toward Suva, the capital of Fiji.
Along the way, we saw at least one whale. A big one passing right behind our boat. Other than that, it was pretty much uneventful. We watched the harbor to see if any boats were coming out and there were none, at least until we were all lined up for entry. Then(of course) the ferry that goes to SavuSavu headed right out the pass. Our timing has always been excellent. We make sure that no one comes near the pass till we want to come through and then we know that another boat will be there to greet us.
We covered the 38 miles in just under 6 hours so our timing was just fine. We had very little wind till we were about 5 miles out and then it came up at about 10 knots where we could have actually put out a sail but it was too late by then. Oh well. Motoring is fun isn't it?
We're now at 18 06.610S 178 23.757E attached to a mooring buoy in front of Tony's house. He's the man that owns the Vuda Point Marina.
Tomorrow, we're off to explore the city of Suva!
08/13/2012, Vunaniu Bay
We spent yesterday still in Vunaniu Bay relaxing after two straight days of motoring in just about no wind and calm seas. Totally the opposite of the forecasts we had heard. That was just fine with us.
Late in the morning, we launched Puff and took off for shore. The custom in Fiji is that if you are going to spend a day anchored in a bay and there is a village in that bay, you MUST go ashore and give a gift of Kava, also known as Waka. This is a root that is grown all over Fiji and other islands in the South Pacific. The root is ground up, put in a bag and soaked in water and then drunk. It has the look of dirty water and puts your tongue and mouth to sleep. It can be quite relaxing if you drink enough of it(so we have heard).
We carried our bundle(purchased in Lautoka) ashore and we were greeted by two of the local kids and two women of the village. They escorted into the village to the house that is owned by the man who owns the village(Joshua). He's 82 and still getting around quite well. He even goes out in the bay fishing, rowing his own boat! I should be so active when I'm 82! We met his brother(70) and were led on a small tour of the village toward the chiefs home. The chief is actually Joshua son. Why Joshua isn't the chief, we have no idea. When we got the the chiefs home, we was out so we returned to Joshuas and had a nice chat. We met several of Joshua sons and their children and grand children. Two of Joshuas sons were in the military, one killed in Lebanon several years ago. After a nice cup of tea, we headed back to Zephyr with an invitation to return later for the proper Sevusevu ceremony.
At 1800, we climbed back into Puff and headed ashore for the ceremony. We were greeted ashore by more of Joshua's sons and escorted to the main house. There are over 100 houses in Vunaniu so it's one of the largest villages in the islands. The chief was still gone but we were advised that he had accepted our gift of Kava and were welcome to stay in the bay as long as we wanted to. We could come ashore and visit their homes and people anytime. Vunaniu is just 35 miles west of Suva(the capital) so I'm not sure how many boats visit their beautiful bay but we were welcomed with open arms.
We sat on the floor in the main house with Joshua and several of his sons and their wives and children and grandchildren. The children all stood around next to us and just stared at us. I'm guessing they don't get many cursers stopping into their village and the children had rarely seen foreigners. The youngest was 18 months and the eldest was probably 7. Most attended the local school several miles down the road. One of the youngest was in kindergarden. Jo, Joshua's son did the Kava ceremony for us, opening bags of pre-ground Kava. Each small bag costs about $1.00 or $2.00 and the roots are then placed in a cloth bag and dunked in the water in a large ceremonial bowl. It takes a while, but with much mushing of the bag the water works its way through the roots and the water takes on a earthen color. Once done, a prayer is said around the circle for the Kava and then we start drinking. The first bowl is to the male guest(me) for drinking. I was asked "low tide or high tide?" Not knowing what that meant, I said "high tide". More kava was added to my bowl!!! Low tide=small bowl. High tide means a full bowl. Everyone says "Bula" and then I start drinking. It took me a few times but I got it all down. The proper way is to chug the entire contents in one big slug. Once I drank it, there was more hand clapping and it was then refilled and passed to Tracy. She was the only women in the circle. Others were present but they sat farther back away from the bowl. She drank her's right down followed by more clapping and more exclamations of "Bula"(Fijian for Welcome). We, being the guests had our own bowl(the inner shell of a coconut). The rest shared a bowl. As the evening progress, we gathered more and more of the sons and their wives and children all gathered around the bowl.
The Kava ceremony is a time of gathering where stories of their day are told, questions are asked and people learn about what is happening in their families lives and the lives of guests. They were very interested in our travels and our lives aboard and ashore. Where had we gone? How long had we been traveling? Where did we come from? Did we have any children? It made for a fascinating evening for everyone. We learned about their family life and it's closeness. All of Joshuas sons(except for the son in the military)still live in the village with their wives. Joshuas brother is the minister for the church of the village. His wife had been a school teacher(passed away 3 years ago). We learned about their daily lives and they learned about ours. They were surprised that when I "retired" from the furniture business, that I had gone to work for Tracy in her company. It's not the normal for a man to work for his wife here in Fiji. The women in the group all had big smiles on their faces.
We finally said goodbye and headed back to Puff about 2030 having had a great time learning about their families and their lives. The sons escorted us back to Puff and then pulled her to deeper water so we could row out to where we could start our motor. One thing about Vunaniu Bay, it has a large delta at the village probably caused by the river that passes by the village. The shore is a good 1/4 mile from where it gets to shallow for motoring and the oars come out.
While we have been in Fiji for almost 10 months, this was the first time we have participated in a Kava Ceremony. In the islands off Lautoka, most are now populated by tourist resorts where the ceremony isn't done any more. It was a wonderful evening.
08/12/2012, Vunaniu Bay
Well, plans got changed this morning after hearing the latest weather forecasts broadcast over our SSB radio. Fiji Met was calling for 15-20 knot winds from the southeast and hazardous seas. Other forecasts were for a bit lighter winds but getting worse as the week progresses. We decided to pull up the anchor and take our chances and get farther across the base of Viti Levu before it got really nasty.
We headed out waiting for the worst and instead got one of the nicest days we have had in quite some time. Winds were less than 3 knots and seas barely had a 1 to 2 foot swell. Instead of running into the east to west current we had been warned about, we had a following current that helped speed us along at between 6.5 and 8 knots. We were making great time. We decided to go for broke since we had such good speed and make for Vunaniu Bay(18 15.676S 177 52.094E), about 41 miles farther along the coast.
With the anchor up(nice and clean for a change), we headed out at 0845 and pulled in just after 1500. As we headed across, we saw lots of clouds building over the island but they all stayed away from us. It was a beautiful sunny and hot day. Perfect for a nice bit of motoring.
We dropped our anchor and settled in and relaxed for the evening having the entire bay to ourselves. Surprisingly, a catamaran just pulled into the anchorage--at 2300 hours!!!! What are they crazy!?!!?!? You have to go through a cut in the reef to get in here and even in daylight, I still stood watch at the bow. Maybe they have been here before. That's the only reason I can find to come into a reef strewn section of the Fijian coast.
I'll let you know what tomorrow brings. The weather is supposed to get worse(maybe yes, maybe no) if the forecasters get it right.
08/11/2012, Robinson Crusoe Resort, Likuri Harbour
What a day(and night) it was.
We dropped the lines to the marina just after 1000 this morning and headed for the fuel dock. Our good friends, Paul and Karen off Gigi were there to take our lines as we came in. It's great to get help when you need it. We finally headed out after taking on 48 gallons of diesel at a cost of $228.00US. About $4.78US per gallon. High I know by US standards but cheap around most of the rest of the world. We finally headed out of the marina at 1030 and turned South. We were headed for Momi Bay, just inside the passage out through the reef where we planned to go tomorrow to start the trip to Suva,the capital of Fiji. Winds were next to nothing so we pressed on under motor power. It seems that what we did to the motor may have solved the problem of air in the diesel lines. Once we got to Momi Bay, it was still calm and only 1300 so we decided to press on for the Robinson Crusoe Resort in Likuri Harbour about 15 miles farther than we had planned. We made our way through the reef that surrounds this side of Viti Levu with waves crashing on either side of us as we passed. Once through, we turned left and headed around the south side of the island. Waves continues to crash onto the reefs all along the south side of the island. We're not talking small waves either. These were big rollers that could swallow a boat whole if you got to close. We had finally escaped the pull of the western side of Viti Levu after almost 10 months here in Fiji. Around we went in almost calm winds and barely 3 foot seas.
There is a narrow channel through the reef that surrounds the island that leads you right into the resort. It's on a river so there is no coral to dive on but the countryside is beautiful down here. We dropped the anchor at 18 03.153S 177 17.043E about 1530, five hours after we left the marina covering just under 30 miles.
The weather really surprised us as the forecast from Fiji Met(the countries weather service) had called for 15-20 knot of wind and 3-5 foot seas. We got less than 5 and maybe 2-3 feet of swell once we exited the reef. We haven't gone ashore yet but the views of the countryside are just great. The resort was putting on a show for it's guests tonight and we could see the fire dancers on shore putting on what appeared to be quite a performance.
What was really fascinating about today was the nighttime sky. It's rained a bit recently(big time in Nadi today)and so the air is extremely clear. The night sky was incredible. Add to that the fact that there was nothing but still water around us at the anchorage and we could see the reflection of the Milky Way and all the stars in the water around our boat. Stars by the tens of millions were bright above us in the heavens and reflected in the water below us. This is what cruising is about for me. Spending time under the stars far from city lights and experiencing the beauty of our universe. It's great to spend time in the cities and meet the local people and experience their culture and heritage, but don't get me wrong, tonight was SPECIAL!
08/10/2012, Vuda Point Marina
Well, it's been 9 days here and the ugly weather has passed(we hope) and it's time to set off again. We're going to be heading south and make our way around the island to Suva, the capital of Fiji. If the weather holds, we will jump from one cove to the next till we get there. Normally, the weather around the south side has prevailing winds(and currents) from the east so it may take a while to get there. From there, hopefully AMerican Samoa. We have till the end of September to finalize our plans and with Mother Natures help, we can get there.
Stick around, I'll post more as we head out. Internet is supposed to be available around the south coast.