Customs, Immigration, and a crazy guy in a dinghy in the dark
31 May 2011 | Nadi, Fiji
Most countries have annoying customs procedures but Fiji is definitely at the top of the list. Basically every time we move the boat we have to check-out and check-in and it always takes at least a couple of hours if not the entire day to do so. As you can imagine this gets really old really fast. We checked out of Suva which took over 2 hours to do because they kept sending us back in forth between offices (it's funny how it is never anyones job to do this stuff). And for the second time we discovered that the customs guy at check-in hadn't given us all the paperwork we needed. Luckily he found it in his stacks-and-stacks-and-stacks of papers on his desk and hopefully we now have everything. We set sail on Sat night to do an overnight and came into Nadi on Sunday morning with a plan to check-in on Monday. We knew we needed to check-in to Lautoka but the customs guy in Suva told us we could just take a taxi from Nadi. Well that ended up being a royal pain. The taxi driver wanted to charge us on the meter from the Port into Nadi and then charge us $40 from Nadi to Lautoka. So it was going to cost us $80-100FJ to do the trip. So we got out of the cab and decided we would sail the boat the 12 miles up the coast to the customs. When we got there yesterday of course there were 4 guys just sitting around but none of them could help us we had to wait for the one guy who was helping another sailor check-in. We finally got the paperwork filled out and then they asked for our cruising permit for the outer islands. We were planning to go do that after checking-in but since we were also checking-out we apparently needed to magically have gotten the permit somewhere in the middle. So at 2:45 we set out to get the permit which made us really nervous because customs closes at 4 and we could tell this guy was not going to wait around for us to get back. We took a taxi to save time and of course he dropped us off at the wrong location. Mark and I divided to see if we could find anyone who knew where we needed to go. Someone told Mark to check the offices upstairs in the building and the woman I talked to told us to go down three buildings either option didn't seem great as they would take time to do but the woman I talked to seemed confident that was where we needed to go so we set out. The building did not look like it was going to be the place it was the commission of something building and had agriculture offices so we weren't optimistic. I reminded Mark that we both had our VHF radios so we could separate if needed. We entered an office that did not look promising (I can't remember what it was called but it wasn't something I'd think would be for us). Anyhow, somehow we were in the right place. Okay, now for me to quickly fill out the papers and get on our way...or not. This is the one and only office that takes all your information (passports, entry papers...) and enters the info into the computer. That's right we had to sit while this woman typed in all the info in agonizingly slow fashion. And when she was done she had to run off to make copies of everything (probably 20-30 pages). Oh lord how long was that going to take. Somehow we managed to make it back to customs in time and get everything done but we have definitely been in situations where we didn't make it so we were really happy especially because the anchorage we were in sucked and we wanted to move the boat somewhere better for the night.
We picked a nice anchorage just a little south of Lautoka and put ourselves right in the center of the bay positioned between the two reefs. We relax, cook dinner, lock-up the boat and settle in for a movie when we hear someone yelling outside. So we hurry up top as fast as we can unlocking the boat. A guy from the boat anchored behind us is in his dinghy. He has just seen the lights on our boat and is convinced we are on top of the reef. Of course we are freaked out and checking every GPS we have to make sure they all say the same thing. And they do we are right in the middle. We sure as heck weren't going to move the boat based on this guy who didn't even see our boat in daylight and thinks we might be on a reef but it is still unsettling and of course we make sure all our anchor alarms are set and that we watch our position closely until we go to sleep. Now that it is daylight we have checked and are positioned perfectly. Thank you crazy dude for freaking us out for no reason last night. Today we will hopefully head out to one of the outer islands