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.
Thursday, October 20 (Day 50)
Nadi Bay – Denarau – Drawaqa island
Breakfast at 6.45 and it must be 24 degrees. You’d never get me up at this ungodly hour at home, but here I do it with pleasure. The morning bird song chorus is an absolute joy to experience.
Today should be very special. I’ve found my way to Denarau Port, just north of the capital, where I’m joining the Tall ship, Spirit of the Pacific, for a three-night Captain Cook Tours cruise to the Yasawa islands archipelago. There are only 18 of us booked on this sailing and everybody, I believe, with the exception of myself and one German lad, Jan, booked this tour from abroad at great expense many months ago. I struck gold yesterday when I discovered that during October it is possible to jump on this beautiful ship and enjoy three days of tall ship cruising free-of-charge if I book three nights’ accommodation at the resort of choice. The package comes in at 375 Fijian dollars (around 140 pounds), and also includes three days of full board meals and my own beach-side bure once we get to the island.
I can’t help it, but this feels like an episode of Survivor or Castaway, or one of those other numerous reality TV shows which involve being marooned on islands or cast out to sea on a ship.
There are eight crew and 2 Yanks (elderly couple), 3 British (me plus a young honeymoon couple), 3 Aussies (a couple plus the sheila’s sister), 10 Germans (2 couples, 1 lad, 6 girls).
The journey through the Yasawas takes six hours, including a thirty-minute snorkel off a reef that we pass. I spot a huge school of colourful Clownfish. When the trade winds die we have no choice but to cut the motor and sit and wait for the winds to return. This gives this experience a very special authenticity. When the winds return several of the lads, including myself, help the crew hoist the huge sails.
Six hours of sailing behind us the ship manoeuvres its way around a peninsula and drops anchor close to our final destination. My god, not only does this ship look like my imaginings of HMS Bounty, but this could quite easily pass as Botany Bay or some far flung corner of Polynesia.
Very occasionally, when I am travelling, I experience something I’ve always called ‘one-of-those-all-coming-together-at-the-same-time-moment’ feelings. It’s almost as if time stops, the universe stops turning and I am consumed by a rush of euphoria; goose bumps breaking out all over my arms and necks. For a moment or two it’s like I’ve been transported to a higher place. This is one of those moments.
The castaways alight onto the support vessel and we motor our way into shore. The water is as warm as a bath; as clear as crystal. The song Postcards from Heaven slips into my head and I begin to very quietly sing the words to myself. And as if this perfect, this one-of-those-all-coming-together-at-the-same -moment feelings, couldn’t get any better, we are greeted on the shoreline of this paradise by what appears to be the Bremen Stadt Musikants. Get this: our welcoming party is a three-legged dog, a pet baby goat, a bloke in a surrong strumming a guitar, and a Fijian lady, who places a beaded necklace over each and every one of our necks. Surreal wouldn’t do justice as a word. It is like the goat and the dog are cartoon characters, who can talk. I half expect them to shake paws with us.
Somebody is sending me postcards from heaven.