- 01. Fiji…Again?
- 02. Fun & Games
- 03. Growing Indigenation
- 04. Coup de Grâce?
- 05. Friends Go Away
- 06. Mercy by Coup, Merci Beaucoup
- 07. It’s Nice to be Needed
- 08. Walk Like A Man
- 09. Extreme Retirement
- 10. Get a Grip
- 11. Dangerous Cargo
- 12. Drinking in the Holiday Season
- 13. Fit for Purpose
- 14. Emotion Sickness
- 15. New Fiji’s Eve
- 16. One Helluva Christmas
- 17. Enough is Enough
I have never suffered motion sickness in my life. I was particularly thankful for that this morning, as when I opened my eyes the room was swirling, the throbbing of cannibal drums signalling an impending attack. Frank was gone. Had they eaten him already? In a cold sweat I dashed up the hillside to breakfast.
The whole crew, including Frank, was already there. The waitress filled my coffee cup without even asking. Clara put her hand on my shoulder. “Feeling better this morning?”
“Not really — I was feeling pretty good last night.”
Everyone in the restaurant, including the staff, nodded and smirked. Uh-oh.
Frank sighed audibly, then smiled and asked “Ready for the cruise? We leave in an hour.”
“Sure, sure, no problem. A gallon of coffee and a side of bacon and I’ll be right as rain.”
We had a three-hour cruise booked to take us around the local islands. It included a guide, lunch on the beach, island hiking and snorkelling, amongst various other things. The tour operator had made it abundantly clear that they would only do this for parties of six. In my current state, I wasn’t sure whether I still qualified as a human, but it was obvious to me that as one of the six I’d be attending either voluntarily, or bound and gagged as ballast. At eleven, we boarded the twenty-foot aluminium skiff. It was a simple but comfortable open boat with a powerful outboard engine and a canopy roof.
Our guide was an island elder by the name of Emori. Emori knew every point of land, beach, waterway, structure, bird or fish we passed. He also had an uncanny knowledge of the year and sales price of any resort or mansion that happened into view, as well as the nationality of both the buyer and seller, and in a few cases, the conveying agent.
“This island was bought for ten million US dollars in 2004 by a Danish man for his daughter. She visits yearly and is much loved by the local villagers. The house atop that hill is owned by an Australian economist who built the resort on the beach below in 1997 for 375,000 Fijian dollars. He sold the resort to a New Zealand couple in 2009, and now visits only during the Australian winter, and is much loved by the local villagers. The construction you see to the left is the new marina being built by a Chinese man. He bought the waterfront there in 2012 for three-point-five million New Zealand dollars from a Spanish-speaking Italian sailor from Buenos Aires under the misapprehension that he was an Englishman living in Paris. The string of mansions on the left, starting with the red one halfway up the hill…”
This went on for about forty-five minutes. Here and there were a few modest-looking residences, which he ignored. I asked “How much does one of those normal houses go for?”
He looked a little insulted to be asked. “I have no idea. And they are changing the laws to prohibit foreign ownership, so you could not buy one.” Sheesh.
The boat took an abrupt turn out across the Bligh Water, and things got bumpy. Fortunately, Emori’s review of Wananavu’s real estate wonders went on hiatus, giving the group a chance to chat. Unfortunately, the subject turned to seasickness.
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but on a boat, when the subject turns to seasickness, it is always those who don’t get seasick that talk about it. In detail. Graphic, blow by blow detail. Those that do suffer the effects of seasickness go silent and head for the rails, staring at the horizon, desperately hoping the subject will change to cricket, or needlepoint, or anything else. Motion sickness can be a highly suggestive affliction, which is to say the difference between a mild case and an extraordinarily miserable experience can be listening to a description of vomiting at sea.
As I said, I have never suffered motion sickness in my life. Even so, a gallon of coffee is probably not the best way to start the day when you are already dehydrated and the humidity is approaching 100%. But then, a side of bacon probably isn’t the best calmative for an overwrought stomach, either.
“…then there was that cruise to Vanuatu when the ship was trying to outrun a cyclone, rocking like a carnival ride. Remember the woman spewing in the scrambled eggs at the breakfast bar? It was almost as bad as…”
The boat pitched and yawed in dissonant counterpoint to my stomach. Silent, I headed for the stern where the roar of the outboard obscured the conversation and the boat speed provided a gale of fresh air. If this wasn’t seasickness, for the first time in my life I was getting a good idea what those who get seasick experience. I guzzled a litre of water, and became memorised by the boat’s wake.
Mercifully, we soon arrived at a jetty on a sheltered island beach where we tromped ashore. A short hike over a hill brought us to the beach on the island’s open-ocean side. Emori asked whether we wanted to go for a longer hike, or back to the other beach which was best for snorkelling. The women were eager to snorkel, and the men to hike, although I wanted to do both. It was agreed that Emori would give the gents some hiking directions, but take the ladies back for snorkelling.
Emori’s instructions were quite succinct. “Go down the beach, and when you see the path up the hill, take it. Good view from on top.”
“Can we get to the jetty if we go down the other side?”
“Yes, yes.” Emori nodded.
Frank, Aydell and I strode off down the beach towards the next hill while Clara, Lucy and Shirley headed back with Emori towards the snorkelling jetty.
We hadn’t gone far when we realised that we’d received no instruction as to how far this path might be, nor how to recognise it when we saw it. But we were on a small island, how lost could we possibly get? Every two hundred meters or so we’d repeat the same conversation: “Is that a path?” “Is that the hill?” A kilometre or two later we arrived at a settlement which most certainly had a path leading towards an unquestionable hill. We turned inland and upward.
This was no jungle or wilderness. We hiked through a jumble of small, rustic holiday homes, all empty and silent. The path turned from paved to gravelly to muddy as we reached the crest, which offered nice views between the cabins and trees.
Our pace quickened hiking down to the sheltered side, not least because it was downhill, but also because I was still hoping to get a little snorkelling in. At the hill’s foot what remained of the path directed us across an ill-maintained tennis court. Across it a grounds keeping crew ignored us as they plied their trade on a vast, weathered beachside compound. It was either a resort or a private residence, I’m not sure which, but it was shuttered in any case.
I looked down the beach expecting to see the jetty and our boat. There was the jetty, but no boat. Hold on a minute, that’s not the same jetty. Past it the beach came to an abrupt end on a rocky point, waves crashing across.
“Excuse me,” I assailed a groundskeeper, “is there another jetty on the far side of those rocks?”
“Oh, yes” he said, nodding and smiling.
“Can we get there by walking down the beach?”
“Oh, no!” he warned, shaking his head frightfully.
Aydell, Frank and I looked at each, “Now what?”
“Which one of you was dropping the bread crumbs?” Aydell asked as Frank turned to retrace our steps. Happily we didn’t need the bread crumbs, as we managed to find our way back uneventfully.
Back at the sheltered beach, we found the ladies floating face-down a few hundred metres offshore, which might have been alarming had they not been wearing snorkelling gear. Frank and Aydell began to set up a place on the beach to lunch.
I dawned a snorkel to take the plunge myself. The remaining flippers available were too small for me, limiting my range. As I sloshed around near the boat, Emori stood on board watching the distant ladies, particularly Clara, with increasing concern. “You’re friend, she has gone too far!” he announced, causing me to reboard to see for myself. Lucy and Shirley were not far and headed back, but Clara – Clara was a kilometre out, still going further downwind towards that rocky point with the waves crashing across.
Emori started waving and hollering, beckoning Clara to come back. His concern was contagious, making me forget that Clara was a strong swimmer that knew what she was doing. Soon Lucy and Shirley were on board, wondering what all the commotion was about. “Clara’s way the hell out there, we’re a bit worried.” I explained. Shirley looked over, surprised to see how far Clara had gone. I could see it in her eyes that she shared our contagion.
Lucy would have none of it. “Clara’s a strong swimmer. She knows exactly what she is doing.” Emori, Shirley and I looked at Lucy, realising she was right. As if on cue, Clara reversed direction, doing the backstroke for her long return swim into the wind.
In minutes, Clara was back on the boat. Shirley briefly lectured her on the foolishness of swimming alone. She had a point, so Emori and I chimed in a bit. Clara simply rolled her eyes and shook her head. She had a point, too.
The resort had provided an extravagant lunch of plastic wrap and take-away containers. Buried somewhere in there in relatively inconsequential amounts was some food: a few sandwiches, salad and fruit. We consumed it amidst the sand flies on the beach, reminding me that picnicking on the beach is always more fun in prospect than in reality.
Loading stuff back on the boat, Aydell’s skin-coloured hearing aid was blown off of his ear by a sudden gust. It slid in slow motion across the jetty planks until it found a gap just big enough to send it plunging into the sea, settling somewhere beneath the waves amongst a gazillion coral-coloured stones. Over the next few minutes each of us in turn would scour the bottom for a few moments, quickly realizing the futility of the exercise. Even if we found it, the water would likely have ruined the electronics anyway. A thousand dollar piece of technology vanished in an instant, gone with the wind. For his part, Aydell took it well, with a shrug. I smelt insurance.
It was our last night at Wananavu. Dinner was much the same as it had been the previous two, although relatively sober, at least for me. As they cleared our plates, six large Fijian men surrounded our table, towering over us, arms crossed, like something out of The Sopranos. Was this a shake down? Or was this security, and I was about to be called to task for my antics of the previous night?
Neither. Much to my astonishment and relief, they broke into song, the only soprano being a gent well over six feet tall weighing some 300+ pounds. They performed several choruses of Isa Lei, the Fijian farewell song – beautifully, flawlessly, emotionally, affettuoso.
It brought us all to tears.