Stretching Our Legs

Life aboard a sailboat can get a little sedentary sometimes. At first sight this might sound like a logical contradiction. A sailboat almost by its very definition moves about, freely roaming the world’ s waterways at the deliberate mercy of the winds without attachments whatsoever to the rigidity and sometimes outright brutality of sedentary life. What I’m talking about here however is not so much of that idyllic and romanticized conception, but of the magical realm of the day-to-day experience. There your body speaks to you in its simple language and the senses are preoccupied with passionately observing every shade, move and gesture of your immediate environment. As a matter of fact you find yourself sitting around a fair bit more on a home floating on the water than in a dwelling situated firmly on dry land. There you simply push open a door and step out into the wild for a stroll. On a boat this requires a bit more work and therefore the supreme and immutable law of laziness dictates that you simply do it less often. This becomes especially so whenever the weather deteriorates and goes into one of those hyper-humidity fits, where for days and days water condensates out of the air in torrential amounts.

Once those periods of everlasting rain then finally come to an end a supreme urge comes bursting out from deep within you. It makes you hop in your tender with a giant leap, untie its painter with a single flick of your wrist, navigate with utter precision towards the nearest shoreline propelled by the most vigorous paddle strokes in your repertory, and before you know it you find yourself on an extended walk in the marvelous landscape that surrounds the protected anchorage where your floating home happens to be moored at the time.

You can crank that cleansing experience up a notch by clamping a pair of wheels underneath your buttocks, which is just what we did a couple days ago. Finally amongst the millions of things on those eternal lists of non-essential chores on board Aluna we happened to stumble upon the item with the badly needed maintenance to our two onboard bikes. Rust had gotten the better of them and a general check-up and grease-down was urgently in order. Doing maintenance on a bike and not take it for a test run is like a having diner without desert. It must have been quite a sight when after some wiggling and shoving I had found a way to load both bikes onto the outrigger canoe and I was under way towards the jetty with Beatriz paddling alongside in the inflatable, our trustworthy first tender to Aluna, a Sharper Image rebrand of some sports brand inflatable canoe.

The goal was to trek the six or so miles down to Cousteau Resort where a business visit for our artistic ventures was due that could conveniently be combined with a pleasurable outing. After inflating the tires to a hardness that would soften the bumpy road ahead most efficiently without compromising the tires texture, and after testing the grip of the breaks for firmness we strove through Savusavu’s main drag with our heads held high and as prime members of the genus homo erectus bicycliquensis. We have to breathe our way through the thick clouds of dust whipped up from the dry asphalt surfaces by the frantic activities of economic exchange before coming out at the other end of town relatively unscathed. Then the respiration can finally relax enough to take in the splendid scenery, while making way for some serious transpiration. I might have bragged about this before in my previous writings, but the sights along that short stretch of road are mind-boggling to say the very least.

googleearthThe crests of jagged elevations across Western Vanua Levu paint a baroque counterpoint of silhouette lines above the placid waters of Savusavu Bay. They are visually so enticing, they want to make you fall head over toe into the first of the many potholes along the road. The bursting blasts of color that emanate from the well-manicured gardens in front of the houses up the inland inclines make for real head-turning suitable for whiplash injury. Add to that the lush wall of green the tropical jungle provides as a backdrop for it all and you might be able to taste the visual feast with your imagination while sitting in your armchair dreaming of better days to come.

We had heard on the local grapevine that the famed Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort at the very end of the Savusavu peninsula offered entertaining activities for their younger guests who had come attached to those more mature VIPs they were diligently serving, and we thought we might be able to contribute to those with our own artistic educational work. Always chronically optimistic when it comes to the possibilities of the up and coming future I had fleeting images racing through my hyperactive mind, where a bunch of hyperactive kids are engaged in the creation of a spiffy dance-theater play. Backed by a vividly colored stage set it pretends to recreate the exotic life on the coral reefs that extend just off the sandy beachfront of the hotel. I figured the kids must have encountered quite an array of unusual life forms on the marine biology excursions the resort is organizing for them throughout the week to keep them far enough from their parents engaged in desperate relaxation. This resort is after all the remnant of the original dive center established here by Jean-Michel Cousteau a couple decades back, who of course is the son the of the legendary Jean Cousteau. This chap with and his prominent nose almost singlehandedly brought a first hint of urgency into the living rooms of my generation about the perils the world’s ocean are faced with due to man’s extended love affair with over-consumption.

The entrance of the resort grounds is protected by a security guard who sits in a screened hut camouflaged as a bure, which is the Fijian name for a dwelling of traditional construction. He graciously scans the colorful flyer of our dance classes, which we present to him with the intention of illustrating the purpose of our visit. He directs us the hotel lobby, where epoxy coated hardwood slabs and elaborate stone sculptures with cryptic symbols create the impression of fake authenticity. The manager is on Skype with a business call at the moment, we are told and the kind lady with her wooly hair at the reception desk invites us to wait for him in the lounge. We sink into the posh leather sofa and take in the hustle and bustle of complaining guests, hushed orders for the subdued staff, slowly gyrating overhead fans, the ever-present buzz of mosquitoes and flies, and the delicate clinker of fine glassware that emanates from the bar down the hall.

Mr. Manager emerges from behind the heavy office door after a good twenty minutes and walks right past us for no less than three full times before dedicating a short snippet of his most valuable time to explaining to us in no uncertain terms that the resort only promotes native Fijian culture and activities related to ecology in the strictest sense of the word. The presence of his demonstrated importance makes it crystal clear that there is no need for us to explain our intentions any further. At our request to have the colorful flyer (really, it’s quite cute, designed by a local lady who donates her graphic skills to the Planter’s Club) included somewhere on the hotel’s bulletin board his pale pink hands of very European complexion swipe absent minded but nonetheless with absolute deliberation over the shiny epoxy coating on the shelf along the wall and he deliberates that the hotel does not engage in such mundane activities as would be the advertisement of community events. Thus concludes the business portion of our outing, which now turns into a pleasure affair of the purest kind.

Planter Club 21 July 2013 events originalAfter the showdown with the highest authority of the premises the wooly haired lady at the reception has all of a sudden lost most of her generous charm so typical for the simple Fijian folks. Our declared intentions of continuing the afternoon stroll towards the beaches behind the resort are met with outraged resistance. She says that this would not be allowed and that we would have to read the resort’s policy for unregistered visitors. Fortunately the security guard outside in his grass thatched hut is not as fiercely patriotic and he patiently explains to us that if we continue the gravel road and then turn left we will find a path that leads to the beach. His call of duty however still requires him to warn us that we were under no circumstances supposed to enter any of the resorts premises along the way. He is innocently delighted with our assurances that we have no intentions whatsoever of committing such an abominable deed.

bikeride1Relieved of the tricky dealings within the business world we now find ourselves involved in a relaxing joyride with our bicycles over hard sand on a splendid beach. The tide is coming in but it is no more than about half way up. A shallow stretch of lukewarm water is gently lapping at the ochre sand seaward of the two slim tire tracks we leave behind us. It covers grounds in various shades of brown with hints of timid yellow and subdues greens. Further out the color scheme mutates into the blues. These are light blues, lighter than the sky above it, turquoise flirting with celeste, hinting at sandy bottom suitable for anchoring, were it not for the line of dancing bright white right behind it. There the extensive reef comes to a crashing end and the seafloor drops vertical into the depths of the open ocean, which today is frosted with the usual little crests of whitecaps churned up by the ever-steady trade winds howling in from the Southeast. A minuscule human figure is burned to charcoal black by the bright background under the punishing tropical sun. It rides a slender canoe way out just short of the breakers and appears focused on extracting subtle nourishment from the reefs intrinsically complicated ecosystem. Further on and closer to shore a muscular man wades through knee-deep water, his skin burnt to a nutty chocolate brown. He holds a three-pronged spear over his head in his right hand and a shorter one with a single fish dangling in his left.

bikeride2We have changed over to the realm of simpler human beings who are not infected yet with the ugly habit of interpersonal exploitation. Sharing and serving are cultivated virtues here, and this makes everything plenty, abundant and there for the taking and the good of all. A good two miles of beach later we pass two men with bush knives in the underbrush who seem to be collecting firewood. Their bright smiles gleam from within their dark and healthy faces and animated greetings are exchanged. Soon we arrive at a village set in between the towering coconut palms. While we stand there in awe of the scenery and wondering where we might be able to go for a quick swim to cool off from the sweltering heat the two men catch up with us, one maybe in his forties with heavy rubber boots on his feet and a good bundle of branches and sticks on his broad shoulders, while the other must be in his early eighties and walks with an elegant gait holding a single crooked branch in his hands. Not only do they lead us to their favorite swimming hole, but on top of it they invite us to use the showers at their house to rinse the salt off our fair skins after the indulgence. Once that is all done with a good while of spirited conversation follows where amongst much other local lore we are told that the sea levels have not been rising at all since they moved to this exposed location over thirty years ago. Then we’re back on the bikes cruising the bumpy dirt road back to town. Stacked in our backpacks a cluster of green bananas and a sizable papaya on the sweet point of yellowing sing the silent song of natural generosity and mutual respect.

bikeride3

There’s a wicked climb waiting for us once past the airport where a twin-engine airplane creates a steaming hot whirlwind that almost knocks us off our bikes before it accelerates down the landing strip and climbs into the sky. It’s too hot here to do too much of the ascent mounted on two wheels and we denigrate ourselves to masters of two dusty pushbikes until we reach the pass where the road starts to descend again towards the town. Just short of the summit a goat with a nifty goatee and devilish eyes inspects the tires of our vehicles with its raspy tongue while her two offspring munch on the switch grass that peoples the roadside behind her. Once back in the saddle it’s a swift downhill ride where we come to fully appreciate the maintenance work done on the brakes. The test run is now completed and a warrant of fitness issued informally without much fuzz about rules and regulations and not one single trace of bored officialdom.

The body will most certainly complain a bit the following day about sore muscle fibers and aching joint cartilage here and there, but the eyes and ears will be happy for a good long while to have had the opportunity of feasting on shapes and colors and many soothing sounds for almost an entire day. We clearly have to stretch our legs more often!

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One Response to “Stretching Our Legs”

  1. luis Says:

    hola Beat y Beatriz,
    Un abrazo desde san pancho.
    gracias por tu blog Beat.. me encanta como escribes. Un abrazo desde esta tierra “no tan firme” pero que por ahora soporta nuestro peso.
    muchos recuerdos

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