Posts Tagged ‘Fiji’

Festive Flashbacks

January 5, 2014

I’ve never quite felt at home during this so-called holiday season. The hypocrisy of it wrecks havoc on my digestive system and it’s decidedly harder to wipe away the always-lingering bitterness from the plentiful plate of daily living. Looking at the state of things around me in this modern, disjointed world I wonder what makes everybody around me pretend to be serene saints on three or four occasions throughout the year and for the rest of it just let everything slither into hapless chaos and uninhibited destruction. On my end I feel a sense of urgency towards having to get my act together after this prolonged stretch of absence from my writing chores. After all this blog is my lifeline to the world! It is where I communicate with you, where I overcome my innate introversion, and where I realize that we in fact are in this together, interdependent and bound intimately together as fully emancipated peers. Each one of us is a fully self-regulating organism and needs to actively do its part. Every day, all year long! How come then is it that we always want to blame someone or something else for whatever is going wrong?

Back on the plane of our stubbornly continuing traveling adventure it is always deeply astonishing to me how quickly the experience of Aluna’s journeys on the open ocean is forgotten and the rut of civilized landlubbering creeps back up on us without the faintest hint of mercy. The extraordinary side of life with its awesome power of transformation is the price each and every one of us has paid for our lives of dull comfort inside our square little boxes anchored concretely on the land, and not much of it is allowed to flower amongst us, when we go about our daily business of splendid isolation.  An effort needs to be made to reverse this transaction! It is the poisonous fruit of a cowardly pact with the devil we made some time back! He promised us a quiet life away from the threatening dangers of nature, and it is now sucking the lifeblood out of our veins.

Let me take you back to a note I jotted down hours after arriving shaken, but safe and sound, in the beautiful Bay of Island up in New Zealand’s verdant Northland on this past December 5 of the just evaporated year of 2013. From there I’ll lead you further back to memories of the wavy and windy realm of the Southern fringes of the tropical Pacific Ocean.

‘It’s like a big, heavy concrete door has slammed shut behind me with a deafening thump and I’m left with all but memories of grey skies, foamy crests, hissing winds and the ever elegant petrels on their sinusoid trajectories of unperturbed bliss. In vain I’m trying to drift into the sweet realm of peaceful sleep. The mind is unable to sit still and set on staying awake at any cost. It has done so for the last four days and nights, once things had started to shift to the ugly side. The trip had started out very nice, smooth sailing, although not without excitement.’

Sultry heat and humidity had been on the menu for quite some time as the sun in its yearly procession of rising and falling declinations had climbed overhead while our stay up in Savusavu on Fiji’s Vanua Levu Island was beginning its winding down. The trade winds had slackened as is we heard is typical during cyclone season, making cruising amongst Fiji’s seven hundred or so islands actually quite pleasant. Therefore a diurnal rhythm of land and sea breezes was the order of the day as we finally set out for our journey South on November 25m after having waited for over two weeks for a suitable weather window. It was late in the afternoon and we rode gentle Northerlies on our way out of the bay towards the lighthouse that sits lonesome on the southwestern edge of always frothy Point Reef. A line of black-footed convection clouds waited for us just outside the reef, stretching from the Hibiscus Coast to our East all the way across the wide mouth to the South of Savusavu Bay towards the deep blue silhouettes of Vanua Levu’s Southwestern mountain ranges. After bobbing about for a good while in the windless shadow under its murky skirts we made it out into the steady easterly trade winds on its other side just as darkness set onto the waters around us.

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Just as last year on my solo trip (read about it here, here, here and here) we had to make our way through the maze of islands and reefs of central Fiji before heading out into the open sea. The four and a half mile wide pass between Batiki Island and the Wakaya reefs lay about fifty miles ahead and we hoped to weave our way through there with the light of the early hours at the crack of dawn. For once the timing worked out beautifully and by late next morning Aluna was approaching another gloomy line of dark squall clouds, this one trailing off the Western tip of the sizeable island of Gau, which lay on our port beam. Inching our way underneath it once again all of a sudden I felt the main sail jibing violently to port for maybe twenty seconds before flapping right back to where it were. A round area of churned up water about twice the size of Aluna’s decks emerged from underneath the starboard hull and hurried away to the East, little white foam crests dancing wildly on it in a furious merry-go-round. I glanced up at the clouds above and there was a dark gray but translucent hose descending from a protrusion in the puffy ceiling, aiming very slender looking for that very same spot of dancing water. It slowly descended from its lofty heights and before we knew it a full-blown waterspout did its daredevil tango moving away to the West.

Where there is one there might be more, went through my head for some strange reason or another, and I turned my sight to the East where two of our spout’s cousins were doing their dance coming towards us, their style more resembling a boasting inner city hip hop riff. A barrel of twirling spray sat at the base of the one closest to us and from its top the slender hose rose up in an elegant arch until it entered the angry clouds. A quick bearing taken and tracked over time revealed to my relief that it should pass us aft. If it fancied to stay on its present track that is, of course! Aluna fortunately was already picking up speed and we came out into the bright light again to the South of the cloudbank, staring back at the spectacle. The triplet of spouts wandered off to the West, doing their little mayhem for just a bit longer. Eventually they were dissolved and rinsed away by a black curtain of rain as the giant cumulus cloud above it collapsed in a massive downpour of rain.

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From there onwards the trade winds grew steadier. A diminutive ribbon of land, the barely visible visual manifestation of Fiji’s big mainland, Viti Levu, separated the watery sphere from the areal one along the horizon line to the West, and kept creeping slowly aft of our beams. Towards the evening the jagged outlines of the Kadavu Islands, famed for the world-class diving along its many reefs, took its place, themselves slowly drifting northwards. The time had come for us to bide farewell to the last remnant speck of land under the moody rule of Commodore Josaia Voreque Bainimarama and his Bainimarama Republic. A spotty wireless hookup just before nightfall brought in a last fresh version of the nicely groomed seven-day weather forecast served up by the diligent folks at passageweather.com. It confirmed the previously acquired notion that the next couple days promised to bring very smooth sailing and beyond that a dubious we-shall-see flickered tantalizingly in the crystal ball of our future.

For the night I settled in my all too familiar watch bunk routine of dozing off for an hour or so between poking my head out into the dark to scan the horizon for possible intruders, ready to poke holes into our blind trust in being the only human presence out there for miles and miles, plowing the nocturnal but for the time peaceful South Pacific waters unhindered by any solid obstacle. The trillions of twinkling stars looked down from their steady little chairs embedded in the blackness of space across the firmament, rocking back and forth in perfect synchronicity with the chaotic rhythm of wave trains big and small, running under Aluna’s twin hulls in unceasing succession.

The second or third day in a passage the knots that tighten up your guts on the bumpy sea for the first couple days slowly start to unravel and you can dedicate a bit more attention to what happens in your surroundings, which, as long as the weather is kind, can with a little carelessness be considered as monotonous at times. With this backdrop every unusual event becomes highly dramatic and you delve your whole self into it like a ram on a testosterone overdose. When the first avian hitchhiker of the journey touched down wearily and sat a bit stunned on the spare sail just aft of the starboard companionway, we went completely gaga over it. Of course the term hitchhiker used here is a slip into the realm of careless or superficial linguistics if not the outright politically incorrect.

Those birds are not hitchhikers because they have no thumb to hold up in the air when we pass them by, and this one hadn’t even asked for a ride. They are no blind passengers either because they usually have their eyes open and are perfectly able to see. Nor are they stowaways because they always spend their short time aboard on deck out in the fresh air, usually with their tired feathers ruffled by the wind and a weary expression on their beaked faces. But those few seabirds that manage to land on Aluna’s decks are always good company, taking the edge off the permanent loneliness of the open sea for the duration of their stay.

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Our avian passenger, let’s settle on this for a temporary label of our furry friend, had asked for a nickname right away, as soon in fact as he had landed. He begged to be named. We did not want to burden our guest with his common name of ‘Sooty Tern’ and even less with his lofty sounding scientific denominator of ‘Sterna Fuscata’, so ‘Rascal’ sprung to mind quickly enough, because ‘intruder’ would not really be a name. Although his face looked more like the feathered cousin of a raccoon, his charming smirk was convincing, if not outright irresistible. He seemed oblivious to the mean spiritedness of the human race but was also not inclined to accept any kind of well-intentioned culinary donation from our part. Tiny tuna fish flakes and little cheese scrapes extracted from a quickly assembled sandwich in our hands, crumbled nuts from a half-munched can in the back of the cockpit, and specks of lettuce leaves and miniature cuts of papaya flesh whisked from the fresh provisions in our open-air fridge were offered one by one, but were met with the most stern rejection, as if nothing in the world of human consumption was going to be able to corrode our feathered friends habitual and certainly for him much healthier diet of freshly caught seafood. While our gastronomical offerings were so very much below Rascal’s level of tolerance, our general company must have been agreeable enough for him or her. At least enjoyable enough for staying put on that perch for the rest of the day, in spite of us clambering in and out of the companionway whenever we pleased. Sometimes during the night Rascal decided to return to his own realm of wilderness. Left behind in memoriam sui were the signature marks of his avian kind: streaks of greyish-brown droppings that, once washed away with a bucket of seawater or two, revealed semi-permanent yellow stains of acid burn on Aluna’s weathering topside paint.

To be continued shortly!

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A Last Lean Look at the Fijian Experience

November 15, 2013

svusvupanLooking at Fiji Island Nation from the perspective of this little place at the tranquil shores of the formidable Savusavu Bay, where we have loved and lived for what by now amounts to quite a considerable amount of time, it appears that this scattered speck of land so lost in the vastness of the Southwest Pacific Ocean finds itself at the very same crossroads many other places in the underprivileged corners of the world have stood at one time or another in their recent modern history. It is being overrun by the brutal pressures of the global commercial oligarchy, forced literally at gunpoint to take up the nasty habit of economically productive consumption. Of course the economy in monetary terms is the only accepted standard here. Sustainable strategies of have been kicked out the window before they had a chance to catch their breath. Traditional social structures and customs are all but whipped out. Left behind are only superficial remnants, desperately clung to as means for the confused locals to maintain a fickle identity that is quite obviously sick with a very serious bout of posttraumatic impotence.
Like in most other places where tourism has stepped ashore in leather boots and claimed a reckless foothold in the local economy, the question that most seems to haunt the local folks in their encounters with those fair-skinned invaders of their streets, streams and beaches goes something like this: ‘So how do you like Fiji?’ It is not so much an actual inquiry that I see in their eyes when they muster me in tempered fear, but a plea to confirm fast fainting remnants of their pride and self-esteem. Just barely have I mumbled my polite: ‘Oh yeah, very nice! Beautiful indeed!’ they splurge into a tirade of positive explications of how well everything is in this exemplary corner of the world. Just as we the intruders, the locals are not interested in seeing the fissures in their crumbling world, much less so through the probing eyes of visitors who muster them up with red, puffing and by stern faces. We want to hang on to our illusions as long as possible, as if our lives depend on them. And maybe they do!
About a week or so ago an awful deed was committed in Savusavu town. It happened overnight and it took me a good while to realize the actual extend of it. Our usual stroll to town leads us from the little jetty of the Surf’n Turf Restaurant, where we tie up our outrigger canoe, along the little playground inside the waste-high cyclone fence with bright green posts, and the backyard of the hardware shop wit hits rack of PVC pipes, to the parking behind the brand new office building, where after one year of completing construction activities most sweltering, glass enclosed office spaces are still awaiting tenants. Then we cross a dirt road, approach the main drag of town and pass the sky blue building to our right, which a plethora of government offices call home. Here the Ministries of Education, Women’s Affairs, the Offices of Micro-finance and Bio-Security and a good handful of others all house lazy-looking officials sitting on weary stools behind run-down desks in badly lit cubicles. Along that same facade I saw the first one. Attached firmly to every column with an excessive amount of wide and brown packing tape between the many windows along the sidewalk, a poster advertisement was staring at me aggressively. It was always the same one and continuing our walk through town it stared at me from everywhere. The shameless posters of those tasteless posters had not spared one speck of bare wall in the entire town. At the meat shop, at the banks, at the pharmacy, even the bulletin board of the town council sported this latest example of precisely calculated exploitation of the simple mind.
A picture supposedly speaks a thousand words, so I snuck up to one of those funky invaders yesterday with my digital camera to provide you with a visual in support of my verbal tirade. You may now judge for yourself and we shall see if you share my outrage. Should you not be willing to partake in my fury towards the desolate pitfalls of modernity, you might have to consider an extra-clinical self-diagnosis of insensitivity towards the bombardment of billboard publicity, which in your defense is a very common, albeit a bit trivial, ailment of our media-saturated mankind.

CameraA thousand one hundred ninety-nine dollars is a lot of money for most any Fijian citizen. The Fijian dollar converts almost two to one to the US dollar, but you might remember my friend Bot, who cuts through the brush surrounding the luxury hotel in town and earns two dollar fifty an hour for doing so. This means, should he decide to fall for the perfidious lure advertised now all over town, he would have to save up over the course of ten of his 48 hour work weeks without eating or drinking anything at all. And he’d had to sleep in town, since he wouldn’t have a cent for the bus fare, all that in order to be able to afford this monstrous attribute of civilization. Not that I’m suggesting in anyway he should!
Let’s look a little closer at this splendid offer. For that respectable sum the happy buyer ends up with three gadget of technology, that will forever alter not only his vision of the world around him, but also his freedom to roam about this gorgeous garden of Eden with only very light strings attached to his vulnerable soul. The satellite dish might bring him two or three free channels with abysmal and vulgar programming filled with alerts that his free month of subscription will run out before he even knows it. Not to stay behind his beloved neighbors he will succumb sooner or later, hand over his hard earned cash, and from now on to eternity his anorexic paycheck will be reduced not only by this monthly donation to the media moguls of the world, but also by his contribution to the fitness of the petroleum barons of global domain, in order to fill the ever-thirsty tank of the explosion powered heart of his purchased setup for bound- and thoughtless media consumption. With that he is also condemned to set his definite mark on the ever accelerating expansion of humanity’s mammoth-sized carbon footprint and with that the systemic destruction of his very own living environment.
This very latest advertising frenzy is happily happening under the always vigilant eyes of the mighty national government, the well-schooled nose of the noble town council, the dwindling social control of the tribal elders, the lucrative noise-making abilities of the various religious leaders, and the zealous attention of all the other authorities burdened with some kind of pastoral duties towards their local subjects. While any poor kid with a trigger-happy spray can would be very quickly branded as a public vandal of the worst kind, sliding down the slippery slope of becoming a full-blown terrorist, this kind of defacing and subversive activity of reckless commercial trickery is very kindly tolerated, if not blatantly encouraged around here, it seems.
Sitting at the edge of a picture-perfect beach just yesterday during what might be our last joyful outing before Aluna’s imminent departure for less cyclone prone latitudes, a young local chap comes strolling along at a very leisurely pace and approaches to shake our hands for an informal chat between strangers. It turns out he works as what he proudly terms a massage therapist at the luxurious Namale Resort, which occupies the vast peninsula to the left of the picturesque bay our beach overlooks. Under the tutelage of super-wealthy owner Anthony Robbins of commercial motivation game fame, guests there learn to fulfill every last one of their ego’s aspirations while soothing their greedy souls sipping sweet tropical milk shakes and roasting their timid bodies in the sultry sun of the Hibiscus Coast. While the most affordable massage on the premises sets them back a hefty $275, according to our newest acquaintance of the instant friendship type, the administration of the resort passes a mere ten percent of that on to him, the actual provider of sweat equity. Our broad-faced and gold-toothed friend has learned to undercut this ruthless bout of 21st century exploitation. He lures guests to his home just at the other end of the beach, where the sleepy village of Naindi slumbers on a slightly slanted hillside amongst colorful flower gardens. There he offers them the same quality massage (his own words!) in a slightly more humble setting steeped in tradition (his own words again), accompanied by a full meal of local delicacies prepared in his own version of the renowned lovo, the Polynesian, or here Melanesian, earth oven found all across the wide Pacific ocean under slightly different names, all for a mere fifty dollars. That special deal seems to lure quite a respectable number of the worthy guests away from the fancy resort and over to our humble friend’s own machine of monetary extraction.
There is obviously a sound entrepreneurial touch to our friend’s exposé as well. While maybe just a short year ago I might have jumped in outrage at the miserable commission he has to content with, today I have become a bit suspicious at the veracity of such claims. While perfectly possible and even probable, sadly enough it is also just as possible and probable that this picture of economic injustice is painted by the hard earned experience of our massage therapist. It cannot escape his nimble mind that it is precisely this kind of sleek talking that provides the crucial argument to lure his wealthy customers away from the gated security of their well-manicured bures of traditional allure to the more wild but also more honestly friendly atmosphere of an actual Fijian village.
Be that as it may, it must be an uneasy relationship between the two villages on either side of the coast next to the resort, where, according to our informant, a majority of the workers of the lower rungs on the administration’s payroll originate. There’s a steady traffic of people in flashy uniforms strolling along the beach in both directions, but also groups of women in colorful dresses trying to keep their kids from rolling around in the sand, and other men obviously just going about their business.
In yet one more twist of the percentage kind we learn how easily injustice of the economic kind is learned and perpetrated. Sam cleans yachts and helps out with all kinds of other boat related chores. He edges out a small living with his maritime handyman skills and adds to it with inventing all kinds of tragic stories to extract little loans with aspirations of becoming donations from his clients. Every time I meet him he comes up with a new version of his string of misfortunes, his cell phone having fallen in the water, his ATM card swallowed by the machine at the bank, his kids being hungry at school due to lack of funds, his creditors coming after him this very moment, in short, anything remotely tragic enough to encourage a drain in your wallet through human empathy. I have myself had the fortune to look after a yacht here at Copra Shed Marina, and part of that job included scheduling with Sam for him to clean the marine growth off the bottom of its hull. The owner had allocated the sum of F$50 for that chore and I was in charge of paying that to Sam once the task had been completed. Once I met Sam at the dock he seemed weary and wanted to postpone the cleaning with all kinds of dubious excuses, his daughter injured this morning, the water being too turbid, and a big Lionfish circling under the neighboring pier being among the more logical of them. I managed to convince him to agree to get started, after which he disappeared with the explicit intention of fetching his gear. A half an hour went by and no Sam in sight. After an hour he finally reappeared and brought along a young fellow, which he presented to me as his helper for the day. The two of them set to work for the next hour and a half, mostly Sam shouting orders from above and the other guy pumping his lungs while free-diving back and forth under the hull. Once the cleaning was finished Sam again disappeared and since I knew a nutritious diner was waiting for me back home aboard Aluna, I left myself as well. I had not reached home sweet home for more than a couple minutes when Sam came scooting along in a dinghy. He obviously had come to claim his pay. Since my soft heart had caved in once a week ago to his latest reel of financial wrath, I deducted, as he had insisted I’d do, the small sum from the payment and handed him a bundle of cash, consisting of two twenties and a five. He immediately asked if I didn’t have two tens, which I did not. His pal must be awaiting payment as eagerly as Sam himself and must be waiting for him ashore. You can do the math yourself, but I myself am having trouble to imagine that good ol’ Sam has the noble intentions of paying his crew a good thirty dollars, so the only way to explain his need for tens is that he will hand down a mere twenty percent of his catch to his momentary employee. It has to be said in his favor that twenty percent is twice as much as ten, so the shame to carry around on his broad shoulders due to the economic abuse and exploitation of others of his own kind is lessened by half in strict mathematical terms. Just as with the African war lords and gloomy-eyed tribal chiefs who sold their own people as slaves to the Spaniards and English along Africa’s Western shores a couple centuries back, it seems clear that blame is always much easier to paint than the moral guilt and real responsibilities born by the actual perpetrators of the many crimes against humanity our race has had the intelligence to commit. Sam has learned the first and foremost lesson of the monetary economy: Rising up towards the promised land of wealth and power is done by stepping on the innocent backs of the less astute.
With our stay here rapidly coming to an end, it is hard to wrap my mind around all this in any concrete and hands-on kind of terms. By official definition I’m nothing than a fleeting visitor here, barred by government decree from any kind of activity that would bulge the carefully drawn curtains enough to reveal between the rose colored drapes the true tragedy of this steamrolling invasion of the capitalist kind. This truly boundless wave of re-colonizaton of the already colonized is nothing less than a force-fed takeover by the senseless material-bound mind, a mind that can count, but no longer feel, plan, but no longer care, define, but no longer understand, mandate but no longer lead by example. It really is the exact replica of the cancerous growths that more and more invade our physical bodies world-wide, where by some strangely meaningful defect at the core of our existence a senseless growth is unleashed that expands into heinous tumors without the slightest sense of proportion, and blindly overpowers the carefully cultivated systems of checks and balances good old Mother Nature had in store for us back then, in those ancient times of wild and brutal, but very functional harmony, before we all gave in to our fickle fears of the raw side of life, and decided to fall down the rabbit hole of comfort.

Smooth and Soothing Return to Fiji

June 18, 2013

After ten days on a benevolent sea we’re hove to in the lee of Koro Island, a little fat-banana-shaped Island in the middle of a sea named after it just to the South of Vanua Levu, the “Big Island” of the military republic of Fiji. Picture perfect sailing it has been to the point of being a little boring, but then that does depend on one’s attitude, or does it not? The only hiccup in our journey is that today is Saturday, and overtime fees for ever-cash-hungry officials would add considerably to the already quite substantial check-in fees into this touted island paradise. So we’ve escaped the rocky waters of the open sea, churned up by peaceful but persistent trade winds, and are stretching time to push our arrival time at least into Sunday afternoon, hoping that we’ll be allowed to hang on the quarantine buoy until Monday morning and clear in during regular hours.

A silver waxing moon in transition from half empty to half full hovers gracefully overhead and, underneath racing shreds of convection clouds that rise over the wooded crest of the island to our East, casts speeding shadows on the dark and smooth waters around us. Gently rocking Aluna allows us some hours of sleep, while she bobs back and forth with her mizzen sail and rudders pointing in opposite ways. Like this we’re drifting in a jagged yellow line on the luminescent chart that slants slowly away from the coastline. The routine though is still the rigid one of life on the open ocean. An hour and a half of slumber, then get up, look around, scan the horizon, and check the position. Then I’m allowed to huddle back into the sleeping bag on the deck pod’s watch bunk that’s been my friend since we left the Bay of Islands just barely escaping the strides of yet another frigid Austral winter. The eerie calm is cut from time to time by gusts the tumble down on us after spilling over an island that reaches barely four hundred meters in elevation. The dreaming is still hectic, chaotic and of epic proportions during the interrupted sleep. Medieval battles, cybernetic gadgets, abnormal physics and outrageous personalities put the likes of Fellini, Dostoyevsky, Kurosawa and even the notoriously poor imagination of the well-remunerated and over-celebrated creators of Hobbits of sorts and the many other modern pseudo legends projected on the silver screen are all put to shame by what an overhyped and quite feverish mind can do in the freefall of reality deprived of the regularity and normality of living on land.

The next morning it’s a short four-hour sprint across the last stretch of the Koro Sea and we round Point Reef while it lies fully submerged by the high tide. Radio conversations soon reveal that our hopes of a lazy Sunday afternoon are doomed. Whoever comes into the harbor has to bite the overtime fees! This seems to be the present rule, but: contrary to the very strict sounding official policy that no vessel is allowed to touch Fijian soil before checking in at one of the designated customs ports of the country, the officials generously tolerate us anchoring overnight in front of the Cousteau Resort at the very extremity of the Savusavu Peninsula, and like that allow us to come into Nakema Creek on Monday morning.

Now it’s hot again, really hot, sultry, sweaty, sticky, simply sweet and  lovely! The officials are truly nice, polite, very professional and with plenty of Island charm. By the end of the day we’re legal. A quick stint ashore reveals much of the same as last year. The big office building with the giant glass window is now finished, well mostly that is, but it stands almost empty. One giant office space contains a single desk with a secretary typing something into a computer. The market stands and bus terminal bustle busily just as they always had. But of course, for Beatriz all this is new and I’m sure there will be new and exciting things in it for me too before long!

In the meantime I promise to get to work and talk story a good bit about Aluna’s latest maritime adventure. Life out there in the big blue is after all still highly sacred and on a very different plane. So much is there to be learned out on the wavy gravy that it always happens to shatter the monotony of the bloated and blistered comforts of our weary existence walking the entrails of civilization.

On the Home Run

August 2, 2012

We had been waiting for the wind to fulfill the terribly rational prophecy of the meteorologists and back to the South. It had been huffing and puffing feebly from the West for the last couple days, painting heaps of churned up grey into the sky above and sending a full day of calming drizzle down to us as a sweet and refreshing heavenly gift. Finally on the morning of June 22 they obliged, cooled down and came at us gently but with a clear hint of the icy sphere of Antarctica. We left our cozy, cradled cocoon in the late morning hours, pulling the anchor out of its azure holding ground, squeezing through the tight opening of the atoll’s pass, and soon were underway on the final stretch of our voyage north to the temperate climes.

For a good while the seas were flat and only after we had left the reef and its temporary inhabitants a couple miles in our wake that we entered again the rolling reality of the open oceans. But the wind was gentle and on the stern, from where little by little it wandered down the numbers of the compass rose and settled in the Southeasterly quarters for the rest of the passage.

The second day the breeze had stiffened a bit and by nightfall we were doing a steady seven to eight knots. I’m never comfortable leaving the big sail up during the night. Even during the day the big main sail up the mast means constant worrying. Will the wind pick up? Will we get it down in time if they do? Is that bend in the yard as much as it can take? And so on and on! Anything can happen out there on the oceans and the fragility of the slender bamboos that make up the spars of that sizeable sail are a bit like propping up over-cooked spaghetti when it comes to their task of holding up the 260 square feet of white tarp. Even a slight increase in wind can make them deform into all kinds of wicked shapes and make the hair in the back of your neck rise from slumber like a waking monster of the netherworld. But I was in a what-the-heck state of mind at this stage. There were certainly bamboos of sufficient size to be found in Fiji, I tried to calm myself down, so worse come to worst if we brake one of the spars, we should be able to reach the islands easily with our smaller main sail. Aluna raced through the night like a galloping horse on a dusty racetrack. I kept a keen eye on her speed by turning on the GPS every now and then. There were peaks of ten and every now and then hits of eleven knots and the riding was good. Exhilarating in fact, the rushing of the water along the plywood hulls seemed like the bow of a high-pitched fiddle caressing its master in a tight embrace. Big slabs of dark clouds wandered overhead, obscuring the myriads of sparkling stars for long and lonely moments before moving off with all their towering might to the distant horizon in the Northwest. The moon was young and only with us for the first couple hours of the night. The rest was laid in darkness until after seemingly endless waiting the morning hours announced their imminence. First with a timid shine creeping up from the horizon, then with the trepid tremor of dusk and finally with the red burning luminous explosion a new day broke. And we were still speeding along. For another whole day and another whole night.

Matuku Island

The following morning a solid landmass lay just off our port bows. Matuku Island loomed mysteriously in the morning mist, its high and verdant peaks thrusting up the cottonesque trade wind clouds into heaps of cumulonimbus formations. We had entered the Koro Sea and territorial Fijian waters, delimited in the West by Viti Levu, Fiji’s mainland, in the East by the many low and strewn about islands of the Lau Group, and in the North by Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest landmass and our intended destination.

Totoya Island

Two more islands soon came in sight. Far off to the East in the gleaming light of the morning sun sat the silhouette of Totoya Island, a volcanic cone with its South face collapsed, opening the submerged caldera to the sea and creating a splendid natural harbor. About thirty miles further to the North Moala Island loomed and we spent the day admiring the outrageous beauty of these outcrops, the fruits of violent volcanic upheaval in a not so distant past.

Moala Island

By four in the afternoon we had made our watery way past Moala Island and were getting ready for our last night on the bumpy seas, the eighty and some miles stretch to Koro Island, around which we would have to make our way in the morning to enter the great Savusavu Bay, centered on Vanua Levu’s South coast. There were more little islets and treacherous reefs off to port only a couple miles from our intended course, so a careful watch was needed all night long. As we had grown used to by now I stayed up in the cockpit until two in the morning, but which time Nephi emerged puffing out of the port companionway and took over the duty of diligent attention, staring into the night, scanning the horizon for possible hazards to our navigation. Feeble lights from scantly electrified human settlements, but none of the navigational lights indicated on the charts seemed to be on working order. Not until getting close to the Southern tip of Koro Island did we see the first effects of Fiji’s cash strapped government, emitting its sweepingly reassuring message of navigational certainty out into the darkness of the early morning hours. Once rounded the last jagged promontory of this island with a backbone of volcanic cinder cones it was a last run towards the light tower sitting gingerly on the seaward extreme of Point Reef, which marks the entrance to Savusavu Bay.

Navigating the gusty downdrafts in the lee of the feisty green palm tree studded peninsula I called Waitui Marina on the VHF, announcing our imminent arrival. We were met by a small outboard motor powered skiff just off the concrete commercial wharf at the entrance to Nakama creek and guided to a mooring buoy close by. By 10:30 in the morning we were tied up and safely connected to solid Fijian ground through a world renowned helix mooring, which like a giant corkscrew is twisted and wedged into the seafloor and guarantees to resist the violent pulling and jerking of a super yacht tossed about by a major cyclonic event. Like in trance we waited for the friendly officials to come aboard. Patiently we filled out the many very important looking forms. Grumpily we paid the rather steep fees for the health this, customs that, immigration here and bio-security there. Gratefully we accepted the news that we were now free to go ashore!

The hustle and bustle of the little town of Savusavu looked surreal. A beat-up truck spewed clouds of badly combusted diesel fuel into its immediate surroundings and collected garbage left in black, white and orange plastic bags at the roadside. A handful of tinted windows sporting SUVs pursued smaller and quite obviously lesser vehicles for personal transport, the latter mostly rusty and worn out beyond fashionable style, advancing exclusively thanks to their owner’s trustworthy friends of mechanical genius in the messy world of an intentionally crippled economy. A good amount of men, women and children preferred the ancient form of displacement on proper feet and walked leisurely along the dusty waterfront. All this commotion however was only a shabby background painting for a slew of shiny cruising yachts clogging up the elongated harbor basin that stretched out between Sauvsavu town proper and the verdant Nawi Island. That slew reeked obnoxiously of self-importance and demonstrated cultural (and monetary!) supremacy. Welcome back to reality, my friends, welcome back to the realm of capitalist contrast where the plush haves are very much busy obscuring all light and lust from the thin plastic plates of the sadly sober, clearly curious and slightly jealous have-nots!

Sunset over Nawi Island, Savusavu Bay in the background