The Boat Ride
Making a quick trip to the grocery store back home is rather simple.
In Fiji, like most things, it isn’t quite so simple. Our opportunities for
shopping come once a week when the community’s fiber
boat makes its weekly trip across the straight for some shopping on
Taveuni. We can hire a boat but this gets very expensive.
It hadn’t rained since we arrived and then a big storm rolled through
Thursday. Friday some of the remnants still remained but the seas
didn’t look too bad. We were supposed to shove off around 8:30 am
but the boat captain had to collect copra, dried coconut, from the
other side of the island and then he had to eat breakfast. So we
ended up departing around 9:45.
We thought were prepared for rough seas as the first ride to the
island was in similar weather and we got rather wet from the sprays.
The first part of the journey wasn’t so bad but soon the 1.5 meter
swells had us rocking pretty good. There were nine of us sitting in
this little fiber speeding across the straight and the captain advised
us all to shift over to re-distribute the weight. This happens often
during travel on fibers and seems to help from time to time. Thirty
minutes into the usually 45 minute trip the captain asked if anyone
had something to bail out the water. That and the fact that it was
taking twice as long as usual got me a little worried.
The real fun started, though, when we hit the reef not once, but
twice. In the middle of the straight is a small reef that I have seen
on the crossings before. I guess this time we hit it just right at
the bottom of a swale. The engine suddenly jerked from the water and
the captain almost lost control of the lever. We slowed a little and
then examined the damaged. The propeller was still in tact on the 40
HP Yamaha motor but mangled pretty badly. The captain put the engine
in the water and started off again but to no avail. It was like
driving a car in neutral, a lot of noise but no action.
We puttered along like this for an hour and a half until a boat came
to tow us to shore. We were soaked, sun burned, and weary. But
alas, that is just the first leg of the journey. We flagged down a
taxi and made our way to the market. Shopping is relatively easy as
there is about only one good option, the ubiquitous M&H Store. They
are scattered about Fiji like Wal-Marts and Dairy Queens across West
Texas. Just about anywhere we go, we find one or two. There are
other options but it usually involves haggling and going to several
stores to find everything you need. We found most on our list except
coffee, a sink stopper, and a rubber spatula. Shopping here is
somewhat like a treasure hunt. We can find some really good things
one trip and the standard variety stuff the next. They had real
coffee the last time out but this time no such luck.
After buying enough to last us a month we struggled through an
embarrassing check out process, as our local cards wouldn’t work. My
card had just gone through at a store across the street but for some
reason it decided not to cooperate. Such is the norm in a developing
country. You sometimes see the conveniences of home but most of it is
held together with a shoestring. We’ve learned to always have a back
up plan ready.
After checking out we loaded up into a taxi and prepared for another
adventurous trip in the fiber. The exciting thing about return trips
is everyone that went buys four times their weight in stuff to take
back. The boat captains are very creative in their stacking and
weight distribution abilities, but I’ve learned to always carry the
bread. No matter what it will get smushed if you store it in your bag.
Word had gotten out of our earlier travel woes as three councilmen,
both boat captains on the island, and two additional fibers had come
to escort us back home. People definitely take care of you around
here. With a new propeller firmly affixed to the Yamaha we ventured
back. However, I don’t think anybody checked the engine, as it didn’t
seem to be cooperating as we left the bay. A decision was made to
change plans and lighten the load. So naturally our starboard
traveling fiber companion scuttled over and one of the women
disembarked our vessel and ventured on in the other. Passenger
exchanges in rough water is quite the treat. The boats edge together
and then suddenly converge with everyone yelling in Tuvaluan. I think
they are saying watch your hands, as it would probably be a good way
to loose a few digits, or in my case straighten one out.
We continued on with the lightened load and soon realized this was not
going to work. So the decision was handed down to get serious and lose
the Pulangi’s, white people. Now we are talking adventure. The third
boat came up and we followed the same process, edge up, yell, and then
hop on. It was relatively easy and quite fun.
So we were finally on our way at a pretty good clip. The new boat
captain was obviously more seasoned than our prior captains as he not
only had a water-bailing device but could bail water, drive the boat,
and chew on a rather large hunk of wood. I’m not sure what the wood
was for, but with his well defined jaw line jutting out from below is
water drenched ball cap while bailing water in one hand and brutally
fighting the engine lever in the other he reminded me of a forlorn
pirate looking for his booty. An eye patch and hand hook where all
that lacked in the heroic scene.
I turned my focus to the rather large surges coming over the edge of
the fiber and made sure my personal floatation device was securely
attached. One of the passengers kept commenting on how much rougher
the morning was but I wasn’t convinced. It was a nail biter all the
way home to the peaceful waters of our bay.
The good news was we had made it back home from shopping alive. The
bad news was our stuff was still coming in the other boat. I almost
felt like I had scaled a mountain and forgot the flag.
In summary our short trip to the store took seven hours, two
propellers, three captains, and a mid water boat switch. The really
good news is we get to repeat this process in 3-4 weeks! Such is life
on a small island in the South Pacific.