Oogivesadam? We very nearly didn’t!

Lautoka Fiji, a small town (not that) close to Nadi
Tuesday 22nd April, Lautoka, Fiji.

Gym Time with YM

Up bright and early today, and head straight for the Gym up on deck 10, must try and work off all the extra calories I believe I consumed yesterday. I'm not unlike the man in a leaky boat, having to keep on bailing out the water just to stay afloat, though in my case it's to 'burn-off' calories, to at least keep in the sort of shape that wont easily be mistaken for a beached whale. I worked hard prior to this voyage, to lose some kilos , and I've no wish to find them again anytime soon. I didn't consider my weight excessive, It was my height/weight ratio that was out of kilter….. I would really have preferred to have my legs stretched to compensate, but the medical profession haven't the ability or know-how to do that yet.) By the way, and this is an excuse to brag as well, where does the 7 kilos that I lost go to….anyone have the answer to that? Anyway, after a boring boring boring 80 boring minutes on the treadmill, all I burn off are a measly 625 calories…. that'll only cover 3 bottles of beer, 2 gin and tonics, half a bottle of red and a vanilla icecream! I'm way behind, as that's less than half my daily consumption…. better keep on bailing then! After the Gym ( and I'll say it again, is there anything more boring than an an hour on a treadmill? Two hours maybe, but I am not prepared for that punishment? ) YM and I head down to the Pinnacle Grill for breakfast. One of the 'perks' (there aren't that many) of booking a so-called 'De-Luxe Suite' is that you can take breakfast for no extra charge in this 'exclusive' fine dining restaurant. It sure beats trying to join the 'bun-fight' in the Lido self-serve cafeteria restaurant, and is actually quite a civilised way to start the day.

After breakfast, we head ashore, to catch the shuttle bus into Lautoka town. YM and I were last here in 1976 (not a misprint, yep, it really was 1976 !) on the SS Australis….it was a regular port-o-call for us during our summer/Xmas cruises from Sydney. While never a favourite port stop, the wharf where we used to dock did have a certain 'run-down' tropical charm about it. Today, 37 years later, it looks like we have docked in the middle of a container terminal…. which in actual fact, we have….utterly charmless. We join the queue for the free shuffle-bus, shuttle-bus and shuffle along behind some of the many elderly passengers while their walking frames inch forward at a pace that would even annoy a snail Fijian. During the short 5 minute journey to the centre of town, the coach captain (driver?), after the obligatory ” Who is from Australia….G'day mate” “Who is from Canada…. Bonseuir” “Anyone from USA…blah blah blah” etc, gives us all a brief lesson on how to speak Fijiian…. Bula, means hello….Bula Bula means 'hello hello' ( ello 'ello, wot we got 'ere then?) and vinaka (sounds like vinegar but with a 'k' not a 'g') which means 'thank you'. As we had now reached the town centre, and our destination right outside his (surprise surprise) Uncle's 'Fiji Jack's Little India' emporium, that was the end of language lessons for the day. And so armed with these rudimentary linguistic skills, YM and I set out to explore Lautoka Town…..Bula… Bula …., Bula…..,Bula. You'd be surprised to learn that nearly everyone we passed actually greeted us with a 'Bula' and in response we 'Bula'd them back. The fact that they were all passengers from the ship didn't matter, we were taking our first steps in becoming fluent in Fijian. Pretty soon though, we tired of this, and feeling decidedly 'Bula'd out', we decided to get out of Lautoka, where Oosterdam passengers seem to outnumber the locals by a ratio of 10 to 1, and head to Nadi, ( prounounced 'Nandee' for some reason) a much larger town close by. Memory plays cruel tricks on you, as I would soon find out. When we were here in the '70's we always used to hop in a cab and go to Nadi, as the shopping ( for Pioneer or Kenwood Quadraphonic HiFi Systems and Akai 'reverse-o-matic' cassette decks!) seemed to be much better and it was only a 10 minute ride away! When a passing Taxi stopped to ask if we wanted a ride, i asked him how much to take us to Nadi. I thought I had misheard when he told me “Thirty Dollars”, so I replied, ” Thirteen dollars?” ” No, thirty” he said. You gotta be joking mate, for a 10 minute ride away, what'dya think, I was born yesterday? As we were close by to the bus station, we headed there, and our luck was in…. a bus was just about to pull out, with a big sign in the window that said 'Nadi Express', so just for the fun of it, and because we had plenty of time to kill until the ship sailed at 4:30 pm, we caught the 'Kahn number 5' bus to Nadi, for a fare of just $1.90 fijian each ( $1.15 aus). OK, it didn't have airconditioning, and was as hot as a pizza-oven inside, but as soon as we started off, and with all the windows open, it was bearable….. even the music playing on the 'sound system', though very loud, was great….. an eclectic mix in the Bob Marley/Fijiian/Bollywood genre.

We hadn't gone more than 50 metres out of the bus station, when the bus stopped to pick up some passengers. Another 50 metres, and again it stopped, for some more passengers. After about 6 or 7 such stops, and 15 minutes later, we had still only just made it as far as the outskirts of town. It soon became apparent that as well as the 'fixed' and scheduled bus stops, the driver, a skinny little Indian guy, would also stop anywhere along the road where someone was waiting. His modus operandi was to pretend that he wasn't going to stop for them, and then at the last moment, while they were frantically waving their hands in the air, he would slam on the brakes and skid to a halt. If you wanted to get off the bus, you pulled on the 'string' which dangled along the length each side of the bus's ceiling, which sounded a horn, and again, he would pull over without slowing down, until slamming on the brakes. I also noticed that even when the bus came to a halt, the disembarking passengers never seemed in any hurry to get off, but took their time getting off their seat, picking up their belongings and slowly, Fijian style, amble off the bus. This exasperated the skinny bus driver, who would rev-up the engine in a bid to make them hurry up….. fruitlessly as it turned out…. it takes more than a revving engine to hurry along a Fijiian.

The Kahn's bus driver

During the journey, YM changed seats many times. Each time a passenger, with a seat more forward than hers, got off, she quickly moved, with the ultimate aim being to get a seat at the front of the bus. Eventually, she succeeded in making it to the very front seat, her favourite position. I was content to sit behind her on the opposite side. We soon realised that this was going to be a FAR longer journey than we'd anticipated, and the closer we got to Nadi, the fuller and more crowded the bus became, and the shorter the distance between stops! Soon, I found myself squashed in my seat between Joshua Loma's big cousin and a Fijiian version of a female Sumo wrestler. Talk about togetherness… we were about as close as you could get without having an actual intimate relationship! Is it possible that for the past 37 years Nadi has been moving further away from Lautoka? Sort of like a speeded up version of the 'Continental Drift'. What other explanation could there be, because I can never remember it being this long a trip, even allowing for the frequent stops. At Nadi Bus Station, 2 hours after leaving Lautoka, we finally un-entangle ourselves from our new 'friends', and took a look around town.

Nadi Bus Station

Mmmm, Nadi is not quite how I remember it. The shops all seem to be a lot smaller and less attracttive than I recall ( but reassuring to see that one still had a dust covered 'Akai Reverse-o-Matic cassette recorder' for sale in the shop window) and not that much in the way of interesting sights to see really, apart from the large colorful fresh fruit and veg market.

The Fruit Market in Nadi
It's been a busy day...
Morris Minor in 'good nick'
I needed to access the internet, so began to look for a cafe or bar, which had wifi. No luck with that, so when we came across a Vodaphone store, I went inside to buy a simcard for my ipad. Now I have heard about Fiji-time…. like 'island-time' only slower….but this was ridiculous. It took half an hour to purchase it and another 30 minutes to get it connected. As there was no decent places in Nadi town to eat, we took a cab to the Sheraton Hotel, situated on Denau Island, the large resort area about 15 minutes away.
We had already been informed by a number of people that by cab we should be able to get back to Lautoka where the ship was docked in no more 20 to 25 minutes, no worrys mate! ( Obviously the Nadi/Lautoka 'drift' is not as severe as I first thought then) By the time we got to the Sheraton it was already 2:30 pm. I asked the cabbie, Mohan, to wait for us while we had lunch, and to be outside at 3:30pm, and by my calculations that would allow us plenty of time to get back onboard well before sailing time at 4:30 pm. We had a very enjoyable lunch at their beachside restaurant, right on the sand close to the waters edge…any closer we'd have got wet. YM and I both chose the Fish Curry ( we are craving for indian food), washed down with a couple of local beers and some NZ Sauv Blanc.
At 3:30 we made our way to the foyer, to look for our taxi, and it's then that YM decides she needs to visit the rest room. I look around, but can't see Mohan, but after a few anxious minutes wait, I breath a sigh of relief as his taxi drives up as promised. (luckily for us, asking him to hang about was a wisemove, as there are no spare cabs around, and I see a few people waiting for one)
“Where is your wife?” Mohan wants to know. ” She'll be here any second” I tell him. Why is it that women always leave things to the last minute…. or is that just a peculiarity of YM? After 5 more minutes, and still no YM, I ask Mohan to wait, while I go look for her. Whatever gave me the idea to go and look in the hotel gift shop first…. because that's where she was…. doing some last-minute shopping. One of the sales assistants was in the process of undressing the manikin in the shop window, in order to take off it a coloured 'top', (it was the last one) that YM had spotted while on her way back from the restrooms, and had thought looked 'really cute' ! She said she needed to try it on, and wouldn't be very long…… “NO WAY” I told her” we have to get going NOW, or we'll miss the ship” and with that I literally pulled her out of the shop and into our waiting cab. The traffic, like many other things in Fiji, does not seem in much of a hurry to get anywhere fast, and so after a while I began to worry as whether or not we are going to get back to the ship on time. Whover told me that it was only a 20 minute drive away obviously didn't possess a watch, or they have taken their information from before the two towns started drifting further apart. It seems I'm not the only one to worry, as Mohan the driver asks “Will they know if you aren't aboard?….. Will the ship will wait for you if you haven't arrived by 4:30? ” Yes to the first question, no to the second Mohan. He looks at his watch and informs me that we still have 7 minutes left and that ” We should make it, I try my best” and his best was pretty good…. speeding up and overtaking everything in sight, although I'm thinking that he may have left these new tactics a tad too late. As we came to the outskirts of Lautoka I spotted the ship, YES! … and tried to calculate the distance still to cover….I try to pacify YM with the good news ( she is still sulking about the cute little top she missed out on, and it didn't help matters when I'd mentioned earlier that it would be her fault if we missed the ship….a bad mistake on my part…..you'd think I'd have learned by now! ) and tell her that “with a bit of luck we should make it”.
Mohan's Taxi
As we turn onto the quayside, the wharf is deserted, not a passenger nor crew-member in site and the main gangway gone! Keep driving along I tell Mohan, as I spot a much smaller gangway (gang-plank more like it) midships. As we pulled up alongside the 'gangplank' I hear an announcement booming out from the ships loudspeaker system …. ” Will Mr or Mrs T******* of suite 7**2 please contact the Main desk immediately”. The meter in Mohan's taxi showed $37 dollars, so I threw him a $50 note. He did start to look for the change, but we were already out of his cab… ” Thanks Mohan, keep the change mate” I shout back to him in gratitude, as we scuttle aboard the Oosterdam. Waiting for us on the gangplank was the Master-at-Arms, an amiable pommie fellow,(usually) who growled into his walkie-talkie, presumably in touch with the Captain on the 'bridge' the information that “7**2 have arrived back sir”. “We aren't the last are we ?” asked YM, putting on her best 'little miss innocent' act….. I should've taken a photo of the moment, to capture the look on his face. Anway, we have made it back to the Oogivesadam with literally seconds to spare…. and are at last greeted by a warm 'Welcome back' by one of the young Indonesian crew, said with a genuine smile on his face.
Full steam ahead Skipper, we're off to our next stop…….. Suva.



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