BULA Fiji!

alex rust

31 August 2010

After four days of good winds we caught site of Fiji’s big island and turned the boat towards suva, its capital and largest city. The sun had just set and we were still about 30 miles out but the glowing lights of one of the largest cities in the south pacific shown brightly filling the darkness of the otherwise unlit open ocean. There is much reef around the coast and especially the entrance to Suva’s harbour and without daylight and no marked beacons to define the channel a night entry would be difficult. I pulled out the charts and noticed there were two blue range lights inland from the reef channel. Range lights are used to guide boats at night and give a bearing for a boat to steer by lining the top range light which is farther in the distance with the lower light which is closer. As we came closer and watched for the blue range lights we saw an unidentified vessel coming right at us with a huge spotlight circling their perimeter. At first we thought they might be pirates, then the Fijian Navy and then when we crossed paths found out they were a squid fishing boat. It was one in the morning and Joe was at the helm as we spotted the blue lights he kept them in line on the approach keeping the reef we couldn’t see just feet on either side of the boat. We turned the corner entering the calm waters of the huge bay and headed towards where an old guide book i had picked up told us where the royal suva yacht club was. We got on the radio and announced our arrival the port authority but they must have been sleeping because we got no response. We had heard of a boat just three weeks before getting a $10,000 fine for not following the proper entry protocol and did not want to share his fate. Jim and I kept a close on the bow to make sure we steered clear of any fishing traps, anchored boats or random buoys that might be in our path. We were anchored in a good spot by 3 am and fell asleep immediately after setting hook.

We woke up in the morning to find we had anchored in a cargo ship graveyard with several showing only a partial hull or bow out of the water similar to how an iceberg shows only its tip. I was amazed we hadn’t hit one the night before. Every few hours we would here a loud pop followed by a slow creak. Probably air pockets escaping as these bohemeths slowly sank into their final resting place. A couple days later we would climb on one of the bigger ones nearby and reenact the titanic or peer down the random exposed porthole but for now we worried about checking in and not getting stung with a huge fine.

After several radio conversations and hours later customs arrived along with representatives from the Fijian health and agriculture departments. We cut them some watermelon as they searched the boat and after what seemed like endless paperwork we were give names of buildings and ministries within the government that all had to be paid before we could be ‘officially’ cleared into Fiji. Three days and $425 later we were finally official. I hadn’t seen beauacracy like that since Cuba.

Our first walk into town was full of ‘BULA!’ or ‘BULA BULA!’ or maybe even a ‘BULA BULA BULA!’ but those are less common. ‘Bula’ is the local greeting in Fiji as well as a way to express your particular emotion at the time you say it. The streets were filled with both Indian-Fijian and native-Fijian as the Indians had been shipped in by the English a couple centuries before to farm the sugar cane fields and the descendents decided to make Fiji home. This makes for an interesting environment with colorful Hindu temples and the smell of fresh curry mixed with the Melanesian native culture but also has caused some strife as there has been four coups in the last two decades stemming from whether an Indian should have the same voting rights as a native. Despite that they get along a great and the coups have been bloodless. Fijians are some of the friendliest people in the world everywhere we went people would invite us to come see their house or have us sit with them for a Kava session. Kava is a dried root that is ground into a powder and mixed with water in a larger wooden bowl then served to each person sitting in a circle from a coconut shell. Each time you get a bowl full you are to say ‘bula’ and when you finish drinking everyone in the circle claps three times before the next person receives his/her bowl. Kava first numbs your lips then tongue , face, ears and can numb your whole body but is different for each individual. It is very customary in Fiji and many Fijians have Kava sessions daily. At one particular session we brought some Kava root from Tonga to share. The Fijians didn’t like it but that might have to do more with the several attempts Tonga has made to conquer Fiji over the centuries than to the taste.

While getting checked in we got to know the staff at the Royal Suva Yacht Club. One Fijian in particular was named Moses and lived up to his name. He was a strapping 6’6 and built like a lean ox. We became good friends with him and one night while bringing a group of 14 locals back the boat and our 8 horse power motor couldn’t handle the weight (the dingy is rated for five persons) Moses jumped in the water, strapped the rope around his neck and swam us the rest of the way. Another night a couple of locals were getting a little out of hand with a kiwi girl we were with and Moses swooped and picked up each of them by their collars dragging them around the corner. When he came back we asked him what happened and all he said was ‘took care dem.’ You are ever at the RSYC make sure to look Moses up.

Another night there the manager shut down the yacht club and personally took us out for a night on the town. He told us they didn’t get many young sailors through there and wanted to show us a good time. After taking us to eat for some local cuisine he showed a nice bar on the water just outside of town. After shutting it down and because it was Sunday we naturally thought the night was over. Then the way back he directed the cab down an alley to what looked to be an empty building. He lead us down the stairs to a club where a band was setting up. There were nine in the band and there were the best in all of Fiji playing everything from Bob Marley to Metallica. The place was packed that Sunday night and we later found out he had arranged the whole thing just for us and had spread the word all around Suva. I even swapped cloths with him that night wearing his native ‘sulu’ (which is like a kilt) and he my cargo shorts. We didn’t want to leave but the next day we had to set sail to get Joe to the airport and back to school…

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