04. Coup de Grâce?

  1. 01. Fiji…Again?
  2. 02. Fun & Games
  3. 03. Growing Indigenation
  4. 04. Coup de Grâce?
  5. 05. Friends Go Away
  6. 06. Mercy by Coup, Merci Beaucoup
  7. 07. It’s Nice to be Needed
  8. 08. Walk Like A Man
  9. 09. Extreme Retirement
  10. 10. Get a Grip
  11. 11. Dangerous Cargo
  12. 12. Drinking in the Holiday Season
  13. 13. Fit for Purpose
  14. 14. Emotion Sickness
  15. 15. New Fiji’s Eve
  16. 16. One Helluva Christmas
  17. 17. Enough is Enough

Annie was full of shit, the sun did not come out tomorrow. Sunday was badly named in this instance, drizzly and cloudy.

The resort’s outing for the day was a canoe trip to a “magic waterfall” over a “fern grotto” beneath which we could bath in “sacred pools”. This, I surmised from participation in the Friday expedition, not to mention a lifetime of cynicism, would prove to be a load of crap. Nevertheless, the prospect of another day staring at abandoned amenity was reason compelling enough to sign on.

Besides the bus driver, the tour had just four takers – us and a couple of young women. We left the resort at 11 am headed east (towards Suva) on Queens Road, one of the two main highways on Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island. (Queens Road follows the southern coast, and predictably, the northern coast is traversed by Kings Road.) An hour later we arrived at Navua, a charmingly shambollic town large enough to have a tavern, a store, a fish & chips shop, and a pier on the sizable Navua River. The driver pointed us towards the pier as he made a beeline for the tavern. It was noon, after all.

After a bit of bemused puzzlement on the pier, our suspense was broken when some cheerful strangers arrived, directing each couple to board one of two water craft. The craft could be generously described as “canoes”. They appeared to be largely watertight, about twenty feet long with a small landing-craft style bowsprit. Noting the lack of paddles, life jackets, or any knowledge as to who these strangers were or why they might be ordering us about, we complied. The strangers then split up, one boarding each craft, starting the outboard engines mounted on the transom of the canoes.

Soon we were pounding our way upstream. It was just as well we took the trip on a damp day, as in seconds we were drenched. Over the engine’s roar I bellowed at our stranger “I thought we were doing some canoeing?” He smiled broadly and nodded enthusiastically. This, apparently, was canoeing.

The ride took us deep into pristine native forest, the untouched beauty gradually dominating like a python on an increasingly breathless victim. Eventually we arrived and were instructed to de-canoe at the kind of tributary outflow such as your mother used to warn you to keep away from. “Follow the creek up, you will find the falls, the pools, and the grotto!” our strangers commanded. The four of us did.

We reached some pools which were stirred pleasantly by rushing falls, a sure sign of sacredity in South Pacific culture. Drenched to the bone already, we figured we’d best disrobe for a dip, lest we fail to absorb all the sacredness on offer. The girls wisely left us to our own devices, ahem, choosing instead to press on towards grottos unseen and magical falls unknown. Our sacred pools experience was memorably pleasant, if weird. I don’t recall being naked in my own private jungle whirlpool since.

Soon we followed the ladies up the trail. The waterfall was marginally magical, and the grotto grotty. The girls were nowhere to be found, not that we were looking all that hard. We headed back down the trail, happy to find our canoe and stranger waiting, but perplexed to find the girls, their canoe and stranger all gone without a trace. I assumed they must have taken a different trail back and left before us.

The return trip downstream was much more pleasant and quiet. Our stranger let the current carry us much of the way in swift silence, which we appreciated and saved him on fuel. Back at the pier, there was no sign of the girls or their canoe.

The bus driver stumbled out of the tavern and let us board. Without hesitation he commenced our return to Crusoe’s Retreat by executing a 180 degree turn at speed through a crowded market, which fazed no one but Frank and me. “Hold on,” I protested, “what about the girls?”

“They went on!” he shouted, waving in the general direction of Suva. They certainly went somewhere. We never saw them again.

Back at Crusoe’s, we headed for an early dinner in anticipation of an early night in desperate hope for a break in the weather overnight. Just as we were about to call it a night, twenty Fijians in matching garb filed into the restaurant, singing and clapping their hands. A rather gregarious yet effeminate gentleman identified himself as the minister, congratulating us on joining them for the Sunday service.

I surveyed the situation. There was simply no way out short of barging through the choir. By contrast, the path to the service bar was clear and open. I fetched us a couple drinks, which proved decidedly stiffer than those earlier on offer. We settled in for a little unsolicited divinity.

I have to admit, it wasn’t half bad. Like the villagers whose village we toured a few days earlier, this mob identified themselves as Methodists. Their singing, though, was much more enthusiastic than that of any Methodists I’d ever heard. It was more in the hair-raising teeth-rattling Baptist tradition, perhaps of the very, very, very southern Baptists, of the South Pacific, perhaps. I was grateful it wasn’t a full-on mass, either, as there was no communion, just a series of one-size-fits-all platitudes a person of most any religious persuasion could forgive after a stiff drink. Some of the men were quite pleasing to the, um, eye.

After shaking down the crowd for a few bucks, they left. On our way back to our bure, we stopped at the front desk to see if we could get a newspaper.

“Why would you want that?” she asked.

Why, indeed.

Monday morning greeted us with blistering blue skies. Then at breakfast the manager announced that the waters were open, sharks having abandoned the area. Halleluiah! Perhaps those Methodists were on to something.

We booked a snorkelling expedition to one of the more remote reefs. That didn’t start until 2 pm, so after breakfast we headed out for a jog. We were not spoilt for choice insofar as running routes went.   We could run down the beach, a surface which was alternately soft sand, soft mud, jagged rocks, or poisonous coral skewers. Or there was the dirt road, which was simultaneously soft mud and jagged rocks over mountainous terrain. We chose the dirt road, but after about ten minutes the extreme humidity and hilly terrain proved too much. Even so it was an enjoyable jaunt with tremendous views from the hilltops.

As for the snorkelling, the skipper made it quite clear that he was not so convinced that the sharks had moved on. He explained that to us only after making us sign a disclaimer. The snorkelling was good – not of Great Barrier Reef quality, but then, few places are. And the skipper’s paranoia – or was it good sense? – didn’t help. I stayed close to the boat so, should a leg suddenly go missing, I could swim back using the other before bleeding to death. But we both returned alive, all limbs intact, and I think we saw some fish, which are all the elements of a snorkelling expedition that can be classified as “good”.

Tuesday, our last day at the resort, was another sparkler. We decided to have another stab at that elusive objective called relaxation. Thus I spent the day poolside frantically writing up these travelogues. These final remarks, though, I am writing fifteen years later, but I recall clearly that day that three different people at the resort gave me shit for using a computer poolside.

“You’re not working are you?” asked one appalled Brit.

“C’mon, mate, whatta ya doin’?” queried the incredulous Aussie.

“I left mine at home…” said the American, shaking her head – regretfully?

I got many a furrowed brow of disapproval from others. The mind-boggling reality is that only fifteen years ago it was socially unacceptable to use a computer at such a resort. There was virtually no use, certainly no “social media”, at least nothing a middle-aged man would use a computer for, that wasn’t “work”. That day, I wasn’t working, I was blogging, but that word had hardly been coined.

We left for home, Melbourne, the next day. On the flight, Frank tapped me on the shoulder, motioning that I should take off the earphones.

“We’re not resort people. We’re just not resort people…” he said.

“No, we’re not. We’re just not.”

[Next: A Bloodless Coup?]

SK

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