A restless nights sleep. We had such an early start today for our planned trip that I guess we were worried that we might miss our transport from the quay side when we docked. Damn you stupid Aussies of yesterday, you sowed the seeds of doubt in our minds!
Sue’s alarm and my mobile were set for a 6.30am wake-up but in any event we gave up fidgeting at 6.15am and got dressed. The ship’s camera displayed on our TV that it was a sunny day and we were just about to enter the port of Loutoka.
We had breakfast of fruit and yogurts in the cafe, before returning to the cabin and collecting our gear for the day.
We were one of the first passengers off the ship. Our adventure today had been booked on-line with a local independent agent. Our printed instructions were that we would be met Quayside by the representative holding a board with ‘Naussori Highland tour’ and be conducted to our transport marked the same. We were half an hour early and watched the line of stalls along the quay attempting to sell trips to the eager, disembarking passengers. We had pushed our confirmation papers into the faces of likely looking candidates but were just met with blank stares. The official Information desk checked our papers with no success. Though there was telephone numbers there was no name of any local agent there. Reassuring us that some one would come, we were asked to sit down and wait for 8am Fiji time. In other words expect them to be late.
We waited. At 8.05am we badgered the information desk and they rang one of the numbers. A fairly long conversation ensued, first in English and then into Fijian (not a good sign I thought). Then saying he will sort it, walked away. A few minutes later he returned with a large Fijian who looked at our papers, then said come and wait in the air-con. He took us to his large 4×4 Toyota which indeed was cool inside. He then rang someone and again had a conversation, first in English then in Fijian.
Turning around he explained that we would be going on our trip with him. He was booked to do a different trip but his office had attached him to us. The office knew about us but had not received confirmation, so hadn’t sent a driver. However, they were now busy setting things set up for us and he was our driver and guide for the 3.5 hour trip. We were the only ones on this excursion.
Relieved that we were at least going somewhere, we settled back into the coolness of the rear seats and chatted about what was being planned for us. Our driver turned out to have an excellent knowledge of the history and flora and fauna of the green but stiflingly hot countryside passing by.
First, we called into his office at the airport for us to visit the loos and him to pick up supplies for our trip. Continuing on, our next stop was at the market in the next town on route, initially to pick up a lady who was to introduce us to her mountain village (nothing gets done in Fiji without observing traditional protocols). She was there waiting, but it was her son who climbed into the car. He was to do the introductions. Imagine my delight when I discovered that he too played flyhalf in the noble game of rugby! We hit it off straight away.
Several miles out of town we turned off on to a cart track and headed for the mountains. Naussori, the village we were to visit, was 22 miles up an ever increasing and windy track that passed through some beautiful scenery. The only worry was the vertical drop, always to one side or other of the road. We stopped occasionally on our ascent to take photos and feel the heat. It had been explained that any electricity and modern comforts had been left behind when we turned off the metalled road. Our driver’s knowledge was vast, as he himself lived up in the mountains. We noted where the school bus stopped as it couldn’t venture any higher and that from now on the only transport for locals was the horse. Indeed, Navid (our introducer) owned a horse and it was his only way of getting about. Like the rest of the villagers he couldn’t afford even a moped. We discovered that Navid’s wife was a teacher and had just had a baby boy. Four in all. She was at present on 3 months maternity leave.
We dropped Navid off at the edge of the village. I guess so that he could warn his wife that we were coming. There is no mobile coverage up there, and anyway no one owned a mobile phone. I bet she got a surprise, as he had been away from home for two days and she wasn’t expecting him back. Our driver took us to the other side of the village so that we could look at the small school there. Really, I guess it was to give his wife time to get over the shock and prepare things.
With a suitable lapse in time we drove to Navid’s house and were greeted by his enthusiastic children, who insisted on holding our hands and squealing in delight. Our driver had told us that no Europeans had been up to the village in over a year. His company had not run a trip to Naussori since that time. I guess they probably didn’t believe that some one would book such a tour and insist on going.
We introduced ourselves to the whole family in the way we had learnt from the previous days adventure and then Navid’s wife took us on a walk around the village, and explained how they lived. The children accompanied us, each one vieing to thrust their little hands in ours. After visiting the church, the priests house and the stone first laid down when the village was formed in the early 1800’s we returned to her home . I spotted a tatty shack no larger than a garden shed, with faint Fijian writing on the door. To her embarrassment I guessed rightly that it was the village bar. The villagers are highly religious folk.
On the verandah Navid had brought out his new baby boy. They called him Joe. He was clearly very proud, especially when we held his little hands.
To enter the house we had to go through the Welcome (Bula) Ceremony. This involved Cava. Cross legged we sat on matting in the centre of the room watch Navid make and mix the potent liquid that I dislike and for some reason, Sue finds pleasant? With clapping and the handing over of a cava filled coconut bowl we downed the lip numbing potion in one. Then, to show our appreciation we did it again!
Navid’s wife brought us rolled pancakes and a tea made with lemon leaves which you spooned in raw can sugar. It was really rather pleasant. We were told as guests we would be expected finish all that was offered. This included the cava!!!!
Gratefully, at first, our driver helped us out with the cava. As we ate the pancakes, to much hand clapping, he consumed bowl after bowl, until Sue couldn’t take it no longer and forbade him from having anymore in case he drove us off the mountain road. He complied.
However, when Sue asked to use the toilet, Navid and his wife searched but failed to find the key to the toilet door. I resisted the temptation to ask why they locked the loo, but they searched so earnestly for it, that I remained silent lest I embarrass them. In desperation Sue was taken to use a neighbours.
As soon as Sue disappeared Navid and the driver set about the cava again. To limit there intake I squatted myself down next to them (kills my knees) and began the clapping and quaffing ceremony, hoping that Sue got back in time before I lost all feeling in my mouth and throat. When she did return, thankfully she figured out what I was doing and she squatted down and helped finish off the seemingly bottomless bowl. The return journey back down the mountain was going to be done with crossed fingers.
With food and cava finished we were invited to look into the kitchen. I could see from my position in the lounge that they had an extremely old cooker. However, this was for show, at the the back of the small kitchen was a fire with smoke billowing out and the family stew pot bubbling away merrily above it. It was to be their lunch and his wife proudly showed us the vegetables she had prepared. No doubt they would have eaten this earlier but her husband had brought home some strangers to entertain. It would never happen in our country!
Navid’s family have been fortunate. Five years ago an Australian women visited the village at the time when his wife had just given birth to their daughter, Mare. She had made a promise to support the child and she kept her word. Every so often she sends them things she needs and occasionally visits. She has provided them with a generator (only one in the village) and a small TV. Despite being a teacher, these items are beyond their means. Navid is a farmer.
Their dream is that one day she will be posted to a school on one of the islands so that they can catch and eat fish. She is at present working in a school in the centre of the island and this means that the family has to move to the village there during term time. The Government supply the teacher and school building, but the villagers have to provide the living quarters for them. A teacher can be sent anywhere.
We said our goodbyes to the family and village and with trepidation got into our vehicle and prepared for the journey down the mountain, hopefully down the track.
Part way down we stopped for the driver to pick wild guava and we helped him eat them. Quite flavoursome but more to the drivers liking than ours. We eventually reached the highway and it was decided that we should go and have a look at Merryl Island. It was a mangrove swamp that had been reclaimed and was now the home to a golf course, a water park and five 5* hotels. We circumnavigated the island, stopping at the Sheraton to walk through the reception and have look at the beach. Interesting, but as the driver said, ” Beyond the means of most Fijians.”
We stopped in a Nadir on the way back and did a spot of shopping, Sue bought a dress and I another Fijian rugby shirt (looks really cool!)
We returned back to the ship for 3.15pm. Our 3.5 hours trip, in fact took 7 hours and was a brilliant adventure.
After coffee and cake and buns in the cafe Sue had a doze on the bed (cava kicked in) and I read some of my book. We changed for dinner and then made our way to the theatre for a piano concert by a well known Australian pianist who also could play the violin. It was enjoyable as he played all the popular classical tunes and then finished off with a more modern medley. We had opted to enter the theatre from Deck 5 which gave us a seat in the very top tier which increased the visual distance to the stage thus making it difficult for Sue focus. However, her ears are still good and we didn’t move.
Lunch was with our two dining companions and we spent the time relating our two adventures in between courses. Afterwards, Sue and I took a turn around the decks and admired the stars before watching a duet on the promenade and retiring for the night.