Thursday, October 14th, 2010
A few days before we sailed into Suva harbour the Captain held a muster on the quarter deck to talk about Fiji. Some of the crew, including Mate Mike, Rebecca, Ollie and Logan, had been to Fiji before and they regaled the crew with stories of past adventures, recommendations for sightseeing, and general tidbits and facts about this rich and fascinating island group. Guidebooks to Fiji were scattered around the salon as people made their travel plans on their off-watch. Those with similar interests made agreements to travel together, while some craved solitude and had more of a solo exploration in mind.
With the ship divided into a generous watch system there was plenty of time for everybody to get their Fiji on. The crew had three days off in a row to do whatever they wished before returning to the ship for a day of ships watch, ships work and rest. By 5pm on the first day everybody who was off piled into the skiff and headed for the Royal Suva Yacht Club. The yacht club is a wonderful first impression of Suva. It’s architecture has an almost colonial feel to it, while it’s interior mingles a splash of retro cool with 50s country club sophistication. And fully manned and membered with locals and lots of Fijian kids in small boat programs – Captain says it is his favorite yacht club in the world.
One could easily spend months in Suva alone and not discover all of the hidden gems of this eclectic city. We had just over a week. While reading guide books is a good start to discovering a new country everyone found that the locals were more than happy to be our guides. As one man put it, “Bula and welcome to Fiji. Help me, help you, blow your mind.”
Eating can be one of the most enjoyable ways to explore a culture. Without food there would be no industry, no creativity, no dancing, no art and no life. Inspired by the Asian and Indian influences in Fiji the ‘batcave’ girls began their Fijian experience by draping themselves in fabric and bangles and dining out at a little Indian restaurant called Ashiyana. This ‘restaurant’ quickly became the crew favourite and most of us dined here at least twice during our stay. Everything on the menu was absolutely delicious, but it was Nisha, who served us with wit and grace, who brought us back time and time again. She took particular pleasure in teasing the Captain when he came to dine. She remebered him well from previous visits when the Picton Castle crew also claimed Ashiyana as their own. While it was clear that our culinary loyalty was to Indio-Fijian cuisine, the crew did eat elsewhere. One evening Swiss Chris, Mike, Paula, Ollie and Dave Brown ate at Daikoku where the Japanese teppanyaki chefs prepared a flaming meal to show and where the saki flowed like water. Indeed there were no shortages of good restaurants in Suva, but the crew did more than just explore their taste buds during the week.
The busy markets provided there own kind of stimuli. Nadja and Donald found their utopia in the busy downtown outdoor Marketplace market where the selections of fresh fruit and produce overflowed the stalls. This market is acres big. All kinds of produce from the country and a babble of nosies, a heady brew of fragrances. Others discovered the downtown craft markets (Suva flea market, Government craft centre, and Suva handicraft centre) where local artisans sell their wares at reasonable prices if you are willing to bargain. In local lore it is bad luck for the vendor to lose their first customer of the morning. Joh and Brad took advantage of this superstition and walked away with amazing local art for a ‘steal’. In the past the Picton Castle had acquired a lot of cargo and at the mere mention of the ship our crew made friends. The Captain personally had quite a few friends in the craft markets and was invited to birthday parties and weddings during the week.
Many of the crew got away from downtown Suva during our week stay. Frankie took a trip to Caqalai to go diving. Having been to this particular reef twenty years before she was curious to see how time and tourism had changed the natural environment. Tammy spent an afternoon diving to a wreck in a nearby harbour. Paulina, Lauren, Ollie and Siri took a seven hour bus ride into the mountains of Viti Levu to visit Navala, one of the last truly traditional villages in Fiji. They brought with them gifts of kava as an offering to the chief and were treated to a cultural treat in return. Ali and Vicky later took the same trek to the village where the local school now boasts an illustration of the Picton Castle on their chalkboard next to a poster of an Inuit girl and her husky which represent Canada. We truly have sailed a long way from home!
Rob M took the twenty minute flight to the island of Ovalau and spent some time exploring the city of Levuka – the first European settlement in Fiji and Fiji’s first capital city. He said it looked like an old wild west town. Roselyne and Jan took the same trip and while dining at a downtown restaurant met the provincial representative for Moturiki, the island next door. After spending a few hours with him they were invited to visit the island where they were treated like family and participated in a local kava ceremony. They visited the rural school where the children performed a dance for them and they witnessed the most curious tradition (developed since the colonial era) of synchronized, regimented tooth brushing – to the beat of a drum.
Alex, Meredith and Paul rented a vehicle and drove around to the south end of the island on a drive aptly named Coral Coast drive where they took in the sites and the sunset. The ‘brocave’ boys also rented a truck, piled it high with surf boards and ‘bro-raderie’, and set out in search of good surf. When they found no waves that day but they didn’t give up, they attempted to surf the famous Sigatoka sand dunes instead. The Suva Forest Park which is a 30 minute bus ride out of town offered a refreshing break from hectic city life. Lorraine and Tiina spent some time hiking around the well marked paths in this tropical forest and many of the crew found themselves taking an afternoon swim in the deep pools of the forest. Ollie captured some amazing footage of Taia swinging off a rope into the cool recesses of a pool 30 metres deep. After those rope-swing heights most are ready to tackle our fore-yard rope swing from the fo’c’s’le head with renewed bravado.
But you don’t have to escape the city to get off the beaten tourist path. Despite the fact that Fiji is a major international vacation destination, Suva is not a tourist-filled city. Unlike New York City or London or Rome, the local population here is not jaded by outsiders and is genuinely interested in showing you a good time and curious about your impressions of their country – swelling with pride when you say that you have truly enjoyed your stay. While crossing a busy intersection one afternoon Katelinn met a group of local women who invited her back to their home for dinner and out to the clubs for a night of dancing. We all enjoyed nights of dancing on the town at Traps Bar, O’Reilly’s and Friendly. Adrienne, WT, Donald, Paulina and Mitch rented an apartment in the hills above Suva for the week and many o’ crew spent their nights there – tuckered from trekking or dancing and ready for some R&R or a long-anticipated Skype conversation with family at home.
Yes, Fiji was a rich and enjoyable experience and almost everybody was lucky enough to fall in love…with a Bollywood movie by the name of DABANGG! This movie inspired more conversation and laughter and impersonation than any other movie to date. All I can say to our friends and family back home is GO SEE IT! When your best friend, father or daughter break into spontaneous dance -complete with hip thrusts and bended knees – or when their t-shirts burst into a million pieces when they flex their newly developed sailor muscles – you will understand the meaning behind it all!