January 25, 2015
It’s 8:30 at night and all is well. We are fed and showered and ready to tell the tale. We arranged to take a sailing schooner from Nada, some 50 miles to the north, for a cruise by several islands and spend some time snorkeling at a tiny islet. Fortunately, the excursion included transport via bus there and back. We gulped down our Wheatabix and coffee and climbed aboard a rig with too many miles. We started down the road realizing quickly that the suspension was kaput as we banged over the first speed bump. The rickety machine could muster 50 mph downhill and 20 going up. The hour drive to the boat stretched into 1.5. It was still OK since I was not dodging cows, goats, horses, mango and papaya peddlers. No sign of barbed wire to keep livestock off the road.
We stopped at the ritzy Shangri-la resort to pick up some other adventurers. I am sure that their reaction was the same as mine when we reached the dock and saw our ride. The 100 foot schooner was resting and peeling quietly as we clambered on. The handrail almost came off in my hand. All that I could think was that the boat had probably served against the French at Trafalger and would probably float one more day. A crew member thrust a glass of sparkling wine in everyone’s hands to help settle their nerves.
The mandatory safety lessons are evidently not part of the Fijian naval code. He showed us how to put on life jackets salvaged from a German U-Boat and read us the instructions in Fijian or German or some language that I couldn’t understand. I think he said that there might be enough to go around in the event that Moby Dick attacked us. Honestly, I have no idea what he said. He said that our second continental breakfast of the day was served in the galley and that the bar would be open all day.
I knew that 10AM was too early for me to drink a beer. I also wanted to make sure I could find the life jackets that I knew we would need before we reached the harbor breakwater. However, I did get my cultural awareness lesson for the morning. The boat passengers were mostly Kiwis and they were not concerned about life jackets or the idea of feeding and swimming with sharks in a tipsy condition. I guess that the boat provided unlimited drinks of all kinds as part of the deal was just too tempting. Before I create too much of the wrong impression, despite the copious quantities of beer consumed by some, everybody had a good time and there were no issues. OK, I conclude that the New Zealanders and Aussies can handle their beer. Next topic.
We sailed by a number of small islands. From a distance you can see the ring of sand and the green foliage that sits like frosting on top of the islet. One of islands was where “Castaway” was filmed. They explained that there was a five star resort a mile or so from where Tom Hanks was eating crabs. The seas were calm and turquoise. They set the main sail and we headed towards our destination, a small island that the tour company leases where we would have lunch and snorkel. There was a pitch for power snorkeling as an extra cost along with offers for massages and hair braiding. We passed.
We were given a snorkeling coach, Mike. He got the three senior citizens. He helped us get on the equipment. Between the life jacket and the foam noodle, we would not need to swim too hard. Mike is a burly man who spent 10 years of his earlier life working in the cane fields. His massive arms provided plenty of support for Peggy and Bobbie as we navigated the reefs. The adventure was wonderful. It was swimming with aquarium fish in their purple home. The coral was huge and provided the nooks and crannies for the multi-hued fish. My favorite were the tiny bright purple guys. After a good swim we got out to have lunch. Plenty of salads, fruits and a selection of meats and naturally a beer. The salads included Kokoda, raw fish marinated in coconut cream and lime and baba that is made from taro stems. All was good. Also managed to gulp a swallow of Kava, the traditional mildly narcotic drink. Tasted like weak, muddy coffee. I don’t think it will catch on despite the side effects.
We would swim on the other side of the island after lunch since they chummed for sharks with chicken bones from lunch. The sharks were two foot babies who came within a few feet of our feet. I just kept looking for Mama shark. On the other side of the island the snorkeling was equally great especially when we started feeding them bread that Mike had brought out to the reef. I didn’t even mind getting nibbled on as the cloud of little zebra and angel fish covered me. It was great fun although probably not the most natural way to observe them. Also got a close up of a giant clam and managed to keep my fingers out of the mouth.
The trip back to the mainland was relaxed with plenty of guitar music and beer. The main sail was working as the wind had picked up a bit. Mike explained that they don’t set all the sails because it is hard too find crews who have the knowledge and skill. He enjoys his job much better than working in the cane fields. We enjoyed his company and patience with us novices. Mike is a good example of the Fijians that we have met. They are friendly and warm and genuinely enjoy the national greeting of “Bula”.
Now we get to pay the price for our great time by dealing with the sunburn. It was worth it.