Cruise Report # Thirty– Day 52 – Monday, November 12, 2007

In Port – Suva, Fiji

From the Ships Navigator

We will embark the local pilot at 6:30 am and sail on a northerly course towards our berth in Suva, Fiji Islands. The weather forecast for today predicts an outside temperature of 77 degrees and a gentle breeze blowing from the east-northeast with a force of 3. What was not mentioned here was the local fact that there is a 100% chance there would be an afternoon downpour.

Bula – Welcome to Suva, Fiji

Suva is the capital and largest city of the Fiji Islands and is located in Rewa Province on the southeastern coast of Viti Levu Island, on Suva Point, near the Rewa River. It is Fiji’s chief seaport, with excellent harbor facilities, making it the primary stop for transpacific shipping traffic and for Pacific cruises. Duty free shopping, tropical scenery, and unusual hotels that attract thousands of travelers from Asia, Australia, and the United States to Suva each year; tourism employs a significant number of the city’s workforce. Modern Suva is the most ethnically diverse city in the Fiji Islands, with about equal numbers of Indians and Indigenous Fijians. The Fijians of Melanesian descent make up 50% of the population. Another 45% of the population is made up of Indians, whose ancestors were brought over in the late 1800’s to work on British plantations. The last 5% consists of Europeans and other Pacific Islanders. The people of Fiji know their nation as “Viti” – Fiji is a (presumably Tongan) mispronunciation. The official languages of the nation are Fijian and Hindustani although English is widely spoken, as it is taught in their school system.

Our visit

Bula – Bula, we would hear this word many times over during our visit as it has many meanings such as Hello, Welcome, Good Health, etc. In addition, it is always freely given with a wide, honest smile, without an ulterior motive. Shortly after the ship was secured to the wharf, and had been cleared by local immigration officials, a local folkloric group the Meke Dancers, started gathering for a pier side performance that, we were told, proceeded for the next hour and one half. This was a beautiful presentation, which we sadly missed, as we were on the first tour bus to leave the dock area. Before the thirty of us boarded our air-conditioned bus, we were greeted with a hearty Fijian – Bula – as we were each presented with a lovely shell lei, as a gift. As we made our way through four or five blocks of morning rush hour traffic, our knowledgeable guide, George, cheerfully pointed out the city’s landmarks and flourishing businesses including – yes, you guessed it – McDonalds, and KFC.

Our first stop, Government House, now the Presidential Residence, necessitated parking halfway on the grassy shoulder and halfway in one lane of the two-lane street. This was our first photo opportunity, as we were invited to take pictures with one of the formal soldiers who guarded the entrance. This soldier was a giant of a man in Army dress uniform, standing at rigid parade rest, showing no emotion what-so-ever. His uniform consisted of a soft red tunic blouse and a black lava-lava. No one dared to comment on his apparel, even though to some it looked like a skirt. Visitors were not permitted inside the immaculate grounds and residence. We continued south of the city where we were given a private tour of the new Parliament complex. Although the parliament has not sat for several years, due to differences between the elected representative government and the Fijian Army, the building is kept in tidy tip-top shape, and one can almost visualize the business of government being conducted there. Throughout the day we saw no signs of unrest, or military checkpoints.

An interesting point that George made was, hardly anyone wears a watch. Fijians run their lives, he explained, on ‘Fijian time’. “When the sun rises it is time for breakfast, when the sun is overhead it is time for lunch, and as the sun goes down it is time for supper and bed – All on Fijian time”! Since our tour was billed as “The Flamboyant Flavors of Fiji”, it was necessary to drive twenty miles or so into the countryside west of the city. On our arrival we were met by a Mr. Gatt, who along with his wife and a cadre of faithful workers. Every member of our group was greeted and a locally made lei plant material was placed around our necks, and we were handed a small bottle of rum vanilla. These dedicated folks are attempting to take advantage of Fiji’s special climate to develop a spice farm that can eventually be operated by native Fijians and turned into a viable economical industry. Once our favored group was seated, inside a large three sided covered workspace, Mr. Gatt gave us a short history of the operation and then invited us to sample some of their products of nutmeg, vanilla, peppercorns, cardamom, and other spices grown on the farm. As he spoke, several young men were tending pieces of large green bamboo that were resting in a nearby fire-pit. They were cooking the “snacks” that were to be served for lunch. When it came time for lunch, the bamboo “cooking tubes” were split open with a machete, and out poured cubed potatoes, fish, and meat, all cooked to perfection. The menu also consisted of pans of circular slices of sweet pineapple, mounds of bananas, and what looked like fresh water shrimp. We were also offered drinks from freshly opened coconuts, in addition to several flavors of soft drinks and bottled water. As walking tours of the fields where the spices grew got underway, a small table was set up for selling their products. Uh-oh, here comes the gouge I thought, but that was not to be the case. Everything we purchased was more than a bargain, and Barbara came away with a sack full of processed and tastefully packaged spices. Too soon our tour of this little slice of paradise ended and we were returned to our ship. We felt as though we were very special, as ours was the only group that took this excursion. However, after comparing experiences with others in our Cruise Critic group, we realized that any tour or private venture that took one into the countryside was special.

After a quick lunch in the Lido, we left the ship and walked into the city. We were on a quest to find a craft shop that was selling “Cannibal Forks”! You do not even want to know what they were used for. Our first stop was in what was billed as the “largest fresh vegetable market in the South Pacific.” This very large two-story building held stall after stall of untold varieties of locally grown crops. There is no welfare in these Island Nations so if one does not work, one does not eat, and I suspect these merchants were selling produce that they had grown themselves. The people we met in this market place were not well off, yet we saw no beggars. The second story was billed as a place for “dealers,” and we were not sure just what they were “dealing” so we decided to investigate. As it turned out this floor was devoted entirely to “Dry” foodstuffs, mainly Kava roots and spices. We watched with interest as some of the members of our crew sampled a locally prepared drink from Kava roots. Apparently it is not that palatable to the western taste buds and leaves the lips a little numb, as it contains a naturally occurring, mild narcotic. Leaving the marketplace we walked further into the city but never did find the craft shop. We had been warned to beware of the street hawkers, but were not bothered. We did find “Jack’s,” a modern two-story shop operated by Indian businessmen, which catered not only to tourists, but to the local Fijian citizens who are third and fourth generation Indians, as well. Barbara purchased a traditional Indian dress and pants, complete with a matching beautiful shawl. We were tired by now so during a break in the afternoon rainstorm we managed to find a quiet place so I could sample the locally produced beer, and Barbara could edit photographs she had taken that morning. As we sat and enjoyed our respite, the rains started again, but it did not deter the group of young boys in a nearby park playing Rugby, the national sport. Also interesting were the local buses that passed by with their “canvas windows” rolled down. City buses, and there seem to be hundreds of them, have no glass side windows, as they are “naturally” air-conditioned. The young Fijian women working in the bar were delightful to listen to as they chatted and laughed together. They were typical of most everyone we met that day – a delightfully warm and loving people. Returning to Jack’s, Barbara spent the last of our Fijian Dollars on a pair of fresh water pearl earrings – for pierced ears. The significance here is that she does not have pierced ears! She has been hard pressed to find clip-ons in every port we have visited. As we walked back to the ship, we expected to be caught in the rain but had no such luck. This was not the case for the scheduled “Police Band” who had been scheduled to “sail us away” with a rousing performance, but were rained out.

Once again, as darkness descended, our lovely home-of-the-sea slipped slowly out of the harbor, and headed for our next port on the island of Western Samoa; Apia. Ahead of us were our “Two Tuesdays” as during our transit we would sail across the international dateline, into “yesterday.”

Till our next report we bid you a fond farewell, and hope that you have enjoyed reading of our travels.

Jack and Barbara

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