Saturday, October 22 (Day 52)
Drawaqa & Naviti islands
A juvenile hammer head shark flaps around, blood oozing from its mouth, as it tries to get free from the fishing line. It’s a truly beautiful creature. With each second that passes, its chances of survival are diminishing as the blood continues to flow and it is starved of oxygen.
“Let it go back in the sea. You can’t kill it” is the collective response from half a dozen or so of the Castaways on board the Spirit of the Pacific. With the hook safely removed from its mouth, the hammerhead is released back into the ocean where, after splashing around for a second or two, it confidently swims off into the distance. It’s funny really. I received a couple of well-meaning frowns when I said I wouldn’t join in the fishing because I’m vegetarian. But they’re just fish. Yeah, wait until you pull out some beast of a creature and see how you feel about killing it, I told them. And, sure enough, somebody catches a shark and a couple of the girls are virtually in tears at the cruelty of the spectacle.
As well as fishing and sunbathing on the open seas, we snorkel off a coral reef and visit another village (where the islanders put on a song and dance show for us), before returning to our island for our final evening together as Castaways. And it really does feel like that; particularly when a drum is banged to tell us when dinner and breakfast are ready.
After participating in an ‘international show’ in the main bure we stroll out across the sand in the pitch dark towards the sea. On Sunset Beach a bonfire is lit, the crew sing songs for us to the accompaniment of guitars, and copious amounts of Kava are downed as large spiders abseil down from the coconut trees above, their torsos occasionally lit up by the flames of the fire.
It’s my mum’s birthday today but I didn’t manage to get a Fijian Sim before I headed out to the Yasawas. Thankfully, Annika has come to the rescue and although I can’t get any mobile coverage from this isolated corner of the world, I do at least manage to successfully send her a text to tell her I am thinking of her. Like a postcard you are never really sure when it will be delivered, but hopefully she will get it some time today.
Happy birthday mum x
Friday, October 21 (Day 51)
Barefoot Lodge, Drawaqa Island
I look up at the night sky and a flaming fireball breaks up in the atmosphere, sending half a dozen individual pieces of the meteor hurtling towards the ocean in as many different directions. It is terrifying but at the same time a truly mind blowing sight. I don’t know whether I should run for the interior of the island in case this fallen space debris causes a tsunami to rush in from the south and drive a huge wall of water across this island.
Suddenly, I can hear noise coming from the right of me and, just like that, a pack of six snarling dogs are attacking me, biting at my wrists. They are driving me back into the water. Maybe I should try to swim away from shore. Shit, this is mental.
Uuuuuuuhhhhhh. I wake up and find myself sat bolt upright in my beachside bure with the pre-dawn horizon painted with a Walt Disney cartoon blood red and orange glow, straight in front of my open window. My God, that was some dream, and this view from my bed is off the scale.
I get up to snap a quick image and trip over the bottle of urine I carelessly left by the door last night. It took me hours to get to sleep with the whirring noise of my fan, the crashing waves, rustling palm trees, incessant gecko noises and a tree branch banging against my bure. (I’m certainly not complaining by the way). Next thing, I badly needed the toilet but with no electricity and no mobile or torch to guide me I wasn’t going to try and find my way through the jungle undergrowth to the communal toilet (where I was sure a spider the size of a plate was bound to be waiting for me anyhow). And I wasn’t about to take a leak outside in the bushes either, in case one of the villagers came by and I inadvertently insulted them by urinating on their land. So, the only other option was to gulp down the remainder of my water bottle and to pee into that. Well, it is never easy at the best of times to pee into a bottle. I’m not saying I do this often but I could well be into double figures over the course of the past 15 years. The added problem in this particular Pacific island paradise is no light to see what you are doing during the hours of darkness and large open windows through which anybody can see in. So I stood naked in my bure peeing into this bottle, trying my utmost not to let any urine spill onto the floor, and suddenly two of the ship’s crew come past shining torches that light up the huts and cast shadows over anything in their path. Clown that I am, naked, I hid behind the frame of my front door, trying for the life of me not to pee on the floor.
After snoozing again and falling into a deep sleep I wake for a second time with a start. Damn, I’ve probably overslept, missed breakfast and the trip to the local Fiji island community. I throw on last night’s clothes and leg it to the communal bure. Steph and Jamie are sat there alone.
“What time is it?”
“Quarter past six.”
“You look all over the shop!”
“Yeah, I’m a bit disoriented. Did you get caught short in the night?”
“Oh yeah, I weren’t about to try’n find the bogs so I pissed behind the hut.”
Last night, chief guide Lee told me the chief of this community wanted to have a chat with me this morning. God, how I hate authority. My mind has been ticking over since last night as to what I might have done wrong. I reckon I am probably the most culturally sensitive person out of our whole group. I even offered to wear a Sulu (surrong) instead of my jeans last night in consideration of local customs.
Jay slowly strolls over with a coffee and cigarette and sits down on what seems to be a special chatting bench, looking quite stern.
“Morning, Justin. Did you sleep well?”
Oh, shite, they saw me peeing in the bottle last night.
“The thing is that the others have paid full price to come on this trip and you are doing the special with the free ride here. They should have told you when you booked that you need to pay 50 dollars extra for today’s trip.”
Money. Why was I getting all worked up, wondering what I might have done to insult the locals when, as usual, it’s just about money?
I like the fact though that Jay won’t be bribed off by me or knocked down on his asking price. He knows that if the other Fijians find out he will lose respect, and that’s not something he’s willing to risk. And that’s a good principle in my view. What the hell. I know I’ve got a very good deal with this trip. I agree to pay the fifty (18 quid), especially as Annika is complaining that she’s lost her dance partner when I tell her I’m not coming on the trip.
We get the support boat out to the Pride of the Pacific and set sail for the small island community.
There’s no goat or three-legged dog to greet us here. We enjoy a quick walk around the village (population 300), and visit the Pentecostal church which looks exactly how a decaying missionary church on a far flung Pacific or Caribbean island should look. Then it’s the kava ceremony with the village chief, his ‘spokesman’ and ‘bodyguard’. They are covered in what look like dried grass and palms. And this doesn’t feel like a tourist show. Part of me wants to burst out laughing at the intense feeling of the surreal; part of me is in awe of this ritual and the genuine importance with which it is held by the locals. It is something from the long distant past so untypical of our world today. Pagan, if I might use that word.
Our American chief has taken to his high ranking post like a duck to water. It seems to have mellowed him and made him cut out his ex-military sternness. I am wearing my Fidel Castro Cuba t-shirt today just to test his military discipline and he’s been fine with me. Him and I knock back 3 bowls and, let me tell you, this stuff is about twice as pungent as what I had last night. Even my bottom lip gives off a small 3.4 tremor.
The entertainment has been cancelled as the villagers have some important social function today. I bling up with South Pacific props such as a shark’s tooth necklace, buy some Christmas presents for my family, take a few photos, including one of a beautiful kid and a particularly photogenic washing line, and we jump in our speed boat back to the tall ship. Bloody hell, the sea is rough today. The boat rides a couple of big waves and tumbles down the other side, sending sea water over all of us. I nearly throw up on the way back. Five cups of coffee, three bowls of kava and a rough sea really don’t mix.
Back at my bure I rest on my bed admiring the view out my windows. Even here, where time has little consequence – Fiji time, as they call it – the hours are flying by. I want the hands of the clock to slow down. More teeeeeek toooooook than tick tock, if you like. May I never return to the world of 20 days annual leave ever again.