Being that this is the inaugural edition of the “Where the Heck are You?” column, perhaps it would be best to start at the beginning …
Awakened by the crash of the breaking dawn, I struggled to free myself from the sheet glued to me with perspiration … “oh yeah,” I remembered, peeling away first the clinging linens, then the mosquito netting, and finally staring out the window at the tropical scene, “I’m not at home in the mountains.”
Palms, ferns and vines, and brightly coloured jabbering birds greeted my gaze through the window slats. Looking down, I could see a basketball sized green-skinned coconut lying nearby on the ground, obviously the main culprit in disrupting my dreams. I went outside, and in the gathering light of the tropical dawn, I regained my bearings. Today is Wednesday. I had departed LAX on Sunday around noon and mysteriously landed in Nadi about 7:30 Tuesday evening … supposedly only a twelve-hour flight … so what happened to Monday?
Apparently, Fiji is not only a world and a half away from the Alpine regions I call home, but becomes a day and a half plane ride away due to Fiji lying on the 180th meridian, the International Date Line, and where “day” begins. Having arrived in the mid-evening darkness, I had seen little of the landscape of my first island adventure. I was taken aback, in this pre 9/11 era, when I walked out of the jetway into the concourse to be greeted by a platoon of young men in neatly pressed kaki Sulu’s, the Fijian men’s traditional skirt, with assault rifles slung across their chests. hmmm ... I had heard that Fiji was a tremendously friendly place ... and so it was! The guards all gave broad smiles and big “Ni sa Bula” greetings as the we passed by them. Clearing Customs and Immigration was per functionary. With many more Bula’s exchanged and a quick stamp of my passport, its very first, I was in Fiji!
A boy bearing the infectious Fijian smile was waiting with a placard for me at the arrivals gate. He looked to be twelve ... upon querying, he assured me he was fifteen. With a little assistance, he got my expedition pack into the trunk of the tiny Holden sedan. Then he drove for about 30 minutes through the completely unlit country-side, bouncing down a rutted dirt track navigating mud puddles big enough to be swimming holes. Finally arriving in Saweni, he deposited me and my gargantuan backpack at the little four-room guesthouse on the beach.
I spent a couple days in Saweni, relaxing on the beach and recuperating from the disorienting flight, before leaving Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji. I was bound for the Yasawa archipelago about 100 km to the northwest where I would spend a week on a tiny island of Waya Lai Lai in the Namara village.
Mid morning, another boy, this one was only thirteen, arrived at the resort on Saweni beach driving a little green pickup truck. Obviously this boy was another graduate of my grandfather’s school of driving – if you can reach the pedals and see over the dashboard, you are old enough to drive. He was to take me to the port city of Lautoka to catch the village’s sometimes twice weekly but more often than not just weekly boat out to Waya Lai Lai. The boy and his family were from the Namara village, where his grandparents still lived. He drove me into Lautoka to his family’s shop where I could stow my pack until the boat was ready for departure later that afternoon.
I wandered about town, picked up a couple sundries, made a visit to the central marketplace and had some fried fish for lunch and purchased some yaqona and had it pounded. Yaqona root is pounded into a powder and mixed into water to create the Fiji ceremonial drink kavakava. It is tradition for a visitor to present the Tui (tribal chieftain) with a gift of fresh Yaqona as waka, a tribute and gesture of friendship. Not one to thumb my nose at tradition, especially since Fiji had been cannibalistic up until the early twentieth century, I brought a kilo of yaqona as my waka.
That afternoon at the Lautoka wharf, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into … the men from Waya Lai Lai were just finishing up loading supplies for the village onto the little boat and were ready for Sonja, a Med student from Germany, and I to board. There would be about a dozen of us altogether, the captain and his helpers, a half dozen villagers that came to Lautoka to trade and visit family on Viti Levu, and the two of us that would be joining the village for the week.
The vessel for this 100 km open ocean journey was a mere 7-8 meter plywood stitch and glue boat. It had a covered area with four or five wooden pews for praying ... er ... benches to sit on. I took some comfort in noticing the gleaming and new looking 75hp Yamaha outboard clamped to the stern and the unmistakable orange of the life jackets tucked under the pews. Bula’s were exchanged, dock lines were cast off, the outboard engine roared to life, and we were on our way!
The drone of the outboard motors lulled me into a meditative trance. As Lautoka’s wharf faded from view I recalled that Fiji is surrounded by some of the most shark infested waters in the world, causing me to contemplate the life jackets under the pews. If this boat don’t float – do I really want to be treading water?! Snapping out of my daze, I leaned over to the captain and out of idle curiosity asked how long was the trip to Waya Lai Lai? I then got my first lesson in Fijian time keeping, “oh, ‘bout half hour” he replied with the archetypical Fijian smile. I smiled back and thought to myself, at twenty something or maybe thirty knots, the boat will take at least two and half maybe three hours to make the voyage.
This would not be the last time I would hear “oh ‘bout half hour” while in Waya Lai Lai. You will discover, that the farther you venture beyond the boundaries of western industrialism, the fuzzier time becomes. Time, in of itself, is a most ethereal concept in the outter islands of Fiji; even more so than Mañana Time is in Latin America. At least you know mañana is coming tomorrow. I would come to understand Fiji time to recognize these divisions – daytime, nighttime, time-to-fish-time, time-to-eat-time – you get the idea, it is a very simple life that provides for a lot of free time. Thus, I still had a couple hours of free time on the tiny boat before our arrival at Waya Lai Lai.
-- This tale is continued in ¿What Happened to Monday? – part 2. The conclusion of ¿What Happened to Monday? includes daily life in the Namara village of Waya Lai Lai and island traditions such as the Lovo feast and the Sevusevu and Yaqona.
MrBill, Gather Essentials: Travel Correspondent
published twice monthly to Gather Essentials: Travel
"¿Where the heck are You?" is the usual greeting I receive from friends and family since they are never quite sure just where I have been. "Where the heck are You?" is a traveler's column. Come with me for a journey to foreign shores, tropical locales, and places you may not have even heard of. Along the way I will introduce you to people; their cultures, art and cuisine, and together we will share an adventure. MrBill wanders and ponders. He is an avid traveler and photographer. He has extensive experience in the fields of Information Technology, Culinary Arts and Hospitality. Originally from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, MrBill now resides in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe. Keep up with all of MrBill's adventures by joining his network.
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