Its inexplicably humid. The sun isn't even up. I'm sure its around 30 degrees. Whoever wakes me up better have a large spatula to peel me off the mattress. I arise from an unsatisfying sleep a few hours later, only to discover I have slept on a Disney princess sheet in Tevita's house, more specifically, the living room of Tevita's house. Tevita has 5 kids. I know this for two reasons: Two of them are lying next to me, two more in the background screaming at full tilt and the last one is being well behaved helping the nanny make our brekkie.
Tevita is the fixer/driver/organiser on the mainland. He's also a legend. He fetched me from the airport and offered me his place instead of a backpackers, which I went for. You definitely want this guy on your team, like most of the other Fijian dudes I have met, he's not exactly small. Arms like my legs kinda deal but one of the warmest and most generous, genuine people I have met.
We scoff down some eggs on bread and slurp some instant coffee. The other 2 kids have now woken up and without too much concentrated effort they are now part of what I can only describe as a painful cacophony of foreign language noise with the musical notes of a child's scream.
Fiji. Am I really here? Its all a bit much to take in all of a sudden.
Bags in car, off to Suva we go. It should be about two and a half to three hours to the Fijian capital from where we are currently in Nadi.
The drive is quite something. Imagine what the rain forest and lush landscape of Fiji looks like, take a second and close your eyes and drift off.... Yeah, its beautiful, like that Timotei advert, but better. The thing that really catches me though, apart from the really picturesque landscape is the thing I have been fizzing over for the last few months. The flats. Endless flats. They just keep going.
So, for those of you that aren't fishing savvy, flats are the part between the deep open sea, and the dry beach. Generally on atolls and islands they are fairly large expanses that sort of make up an outer ring around the island. Flats are also where you'll find the majority of the fish species you'll target on a fly rod. Good flats are a wet dream for any fly fisherman. We drive next to the beach for about 5kms, there are literally 600 - 800m wide open flats all the way to the drop off the entire time. This is the big time. The Superbowl of fly fishing could be played here. It only gets better the further away form the mainland you go.
We drive through some pretty amazing looking villages along the way, one especially that is nicknamed “Rugby Town”. Joe Rocococo and some other All Black and Wallaby superstar's were all born here. Fiji loves rugby. Fiji is frothing over rugby. And with good reason, they look like they were born for it. As similar as it is to being in other island groups, the one difference is that here I'm small by comparison to these dudes. (Im a regular sized guy, 1,80m and 80 something kg's) In Indonesia I'm a giant, they all look frightened of me. Here, i'm a pip squeak, a mere inconvenience in physical terms for these guys.
Fun fact though: Fiji recently won the Olympic 7's. The country has also now become the first country in the world to produce legal tender in the form of 7 Dollar note. Yes, a 7 Dollar note. And yes it's because they won the 7's. This becomes quite clear when you actually hold the note and see the entire team is printed on one side, and the coach and captain are on the other side.
Apart from the obviously awesome thing this is to do, I'll tell you why it's so awesome. You know what the first thing the US occupation in Iraq did when they defeated Sadam Hussein? They removed his face from all the money. Do you have any idea how empowering that is for the people of a country to have their dictator removed from their money? Massively. Now imagine how proud this small nation of just over 800,000 people must be for their rugby team to win the freakin' Olympics! Well deserved I'd say! In addition the government also dished out what I understand is a pretty chunky piece of land to the entire squad and coaches. I know of a country or two that could take a lesson or two on how to handle their sporting heroes from Fiji....
At the dock, waiting for my barge to leave, it's organized chaos watching these guys load the boat. It just works though, it all comes together. Kinda like watching ants go about there routine, it looks like just frantic movement but I'm sure it makes sense if you're an ant.
Having worked offshore for a fair amount of time and a considerable amount of that time having been logged on the Norwegian Continental Shelf, you could say I have been influenced by the safety culture there. But lets be real here. I'm South African, we make a plan. The crane operator is a small dude huddled over the control panel of load-sensing valves and arms with a purple towel draped over his head and shoulders to keep the rain out. The flag man looks like he could mow down a wall. With ease. There are a few other guys involved in the loading process, who is crew on the ship and civilian isn't obvious as everyone is in casual clothes, and flip flops. Steel toed boots? Not so much.
Timber, JoJo water-tanks, 23ft skiffs, bags of cement, pockets of onions, sheets of corrugated iron, various other building supplies and veggies are all being slung over one load at a time. A pallet of bricks is divided into 2 piles and slung up without the pallet underneath. I imagine this is a weight issue. The crane looks like it tops out around 1 short tonne. I can accurately guess that a pallet of bricks weighs more than a ton. Everything finds a place, somehow. Then come the fuel drums. 200L items that carry a varied assortment of household kerosene, pre-mixed two-stroke fuel, diesel and run of the mill unleaded. This sort of just gets piled on deck. Then there about 40 12L canisters of propane that also find their home on the upper deck on the bow. We are now a 75m, mobile, one time only potential fireworks factory. Sweet. I cant see a fire extinguisher anywhere, should probably chill though. A fair amount of the cargo is sent below deck into the hold, mostly rice, flour and other harmless dry goods, oh, and my main bag... Surfboard, all my fishing rods and basically the reason I'm even here.
It starts raining. Hard. Really fucking hard. Ok, wow. I actually have not seen rain like this in a really long time. If you've ever seen a tropical rain storm, you'll know what I mean. It buckets down in the port for 30 minutes. The guys doing the loading don't seem phased. Some of them have oil skins and some other rain gear on, some of them just t-shirts and shorts. And flip flops. They just continue grinding and making things fit.
So the way that it works is that we are on a route which requires the boat to stop at 5 other islands after ours. Everything I have previously mentioned is packed in reverse order to make the offloading process as easy as possible. (So our stuff is packed last, and on top of everything else because we are getting off first.) Got it? Right. Then, basically when 90% of the work is done, Eddie (Tevita's dad and our go to guy/stakeholder from the Fijian side ) tells me that the plan has changed, the whole schedule is now backwards. Essentially meaning we will now be the last to get off the boat instead of the first. Also meaning instead of one night and arriving ten hours to have breakfast on our island, we will spend THREE WHOLE NIGHTS AND MAAAAAYBE ARRIVE ON FRIDAY!!!! I sort of stop listening in order to process this information so I don't hear the exact reason, I later find out it has something to do with the tides and the timing of our mooring. F*&ck.
So I was prepared to spend a night on deck or find myself a little corner somewhere on the boat for the ten hours it would take for our transit, but 3 days and nights? We needed to do something about this....Enter Bee and Em.
I had heard about these two from Chad a while back. They are two medical students from Denmark heading to the island to help the local nursing sister. They seem pretty chilled, a little on edge maybe, but very warm for Scandinavians. I guess you have to be a different breed anyway if you find yourself standing quayside in Suva about to embark on a journey to an island where there is no running water and electricity is a luxury for a few hours a day. Between the two of us and under Eddie's instruction, we get a cabin with 2 bunk beds for the trip. $500 Fijian later we are being shown our new quarters for the journey. I'm just gonna have to be honest here, it's not fancy, not at all. If the outside of the boat is anything to go by it paints a fairly clear picture of what you can expect from the inside. The hardboard interior has had a few coats of paint spewed onto it a while back, the floor is wooden and painted with what looks to be excess green anti-foul paint from the last time the boat was on the rollers. There is a sink and two bunk beds, the one positive is that there is aircon! Albeit, no remote for the damned thing, but working cold air none the less.
I have to recall one episode where a mate of mine, a certain Jeremy was on assignment for GQ Magazine I think it was. The new Airbus A380 had just come out, so they booked him a 1st class ticket to Zurich and a 6 star hotel for a few nights, all expenses paid to write about what it was like to live the “fast life” and here I sit on a converted Chinese rust bucket trawler with a certain uncertainty of whether or not we will arrive at all. Amazing the places writing will take you.
Its Friday today, usually offshore in Norway this means cheeseburgers for lunch. Sailing on Brianna , this means you will have a main course of mind numbingly bored with a side of “Please cant we stop so I can throw a popper at that atoll for 30 mins” Its getting bad. I'm revving, I need to get on land and just flick my fly rod, I don't even have to fish, I just want to wander down the beach barefoot and feel the line run through my fingers. We have been at sea for close to three days now, I have done way longer offshore at work before; 3-4 weeks when need be, but there's a difference. Offshore on the NCS (Norwegian continental shelf) is cozy, like a 5 star hotel, own bathroom, own bedroom, golf simulator, music room, gym, badminton court, sauna and great food. Here, I share a room with five other people and the “shower” isn't fit for a dog-wash. Trust me, when even a western girl doesn't shower for 3 days, you know its bad. The other issue is where to sit. The dining room holds 6 ok maybe 8 at a push per sitting which is fine and well, but when you're 130 people on board it gets really tight, really quick.
Dammit I better catch a lot of fish to make up for this! Its now 09:48. We have stopped at our last unpronounceable destination before our very own. We should be here for two hours or so whilst the boys offload and swap out some passengers. Our ETA is around lunchtime, hopefully the next time you check in here, I'll have something to show for my troubles. Tight lines.
Words & Imagery Nic Schwerdtfeger.