Friday, December 21, 2012

A Slow Boat to Savusavu

Note to self: Never EVER EVER travel just before Christmas! And especially not with too much luggage.

I am sure that my experiences aren't much different from all those travelers in the U.S. trying to get somewhere tonight by air. Except the Fijians are much pleasanter to be with, than Americans, when they are under stress.

The "show time" for the ferry last night was 8pm. We got there at 8pm and found the dock mobbed with people and stuff, and they were still unloading. Fortunately it was a fine evening, not too hot, and not raining. We amused ourselves watching the ship next to us trying to load containerized freight with a giant forklift, with children playing, and people and cars milling all around. Amazingly, no one got hurt, no one got mad, no one told anyone what to do.

We finally got aboard at 10:30pm--another incredible mob scene with no order, but no violence at all. In the U.S., I'm sure a group of frustrated travelers would have just jumped the flimsy line keeping us funneling (squishing) into the one-person-at-a-time gate. For us, it's a nightmare--we're each dragging 2 big rolly bags and wearing a heavy backpack--of boat parts, etc. It was about 100 degrees in ship loading area, and we were all sweating like pigs. There were lots of old ladies and little kids in the crowd, and very few people had regular shoes (just flip-flops). I was worried about rolling over everyone's feet with my bags. There was no crowd control, it was a madhouse. Except, it was Fiji, and nobody was mad, everyone tired, but smiling and mostly polite.

Once we got through the crowd, we had to drag our 4 too-heavy rolly bags up a narrow flight of stairs. Two Fijian guys going the same way grabbed 2 of the bags for us and hefted them up the stairs. (It helped that Dave had grey hair--I think next time I'll wear a grey wig and limp a little).

Even though only half of the people were loaded, every inch of common area floor space was already packed--even outside. Even under the signs in the lobby that said "No Sleeping Here", there were already people with mats laid out and sleeping.

Fortunately, we had paid extra for a cabin. Unlike our previous trip, where we were almost the only ones in the cabin area, all the cabins were full. And *surprise* the walls are paper thin. Last time we took this ferry, there were so few people in the cabins that it was very quiet and very pleasant. This time, most cabins had 4-5 people (grandmas, kids, etc etc). This morning when I opened the door, there was an entire extended family sleeping in the corridor--spill-over from the cabin opposite ours. Having a cabin means that a couple of people get to sleep in real beds, and they have a private bathroom, and access to the cabin-area (shared) shower.

Fortunately we had eaten last night before we showed, because the cafeteria was locked up when we came aboard, and they didn't announce that it was open until about 11:30pm. By then, we were already trying to get some sleep.

Out in the common spaces there were bodies laying on the floor sleeping everywhere. At least no goats and chickens, though :)

I don't think the ship got underway until around 1:30am. The swell as we were coming around the south coast of Viti Levu made the ship roll from side to side sickeningly--leftover swell from Tropical Cyclone Evan, who had only left a few days before. I NEVER EVER get seasick, but I was feeling it a little. (The 2 shots of rum I drank to put me to sleep might have been a contributing factor, though). We could hear someone puking in the cabin next door. Fortunately, when we turned north, the swell was behind us, and the motion was not bad at all. By morning, the sea was almost flat calm.

Our friend who had taken this ferry once below had warned us about the freezing cold cabins. They said they couldn't sleep because the cabin was so cold, even with sweaters and long pants on. On the return trip, they taped the vents closed. Well, typical Fijian non-maintenance seems to have taken care of that problem. The boat interior spaces are hot as heck in general, and our room was just barely cool enough through the night. Sitting in the dining room this morning, it is also warm. I suspect half of the chillers have broken down and have not been replaced/repaired.

The cafeteria was supposed to be open at 7am, so I set my alarm for 6:45 get up and get in first and get a table and make sure we got some food. In typical fashion, the cafeteria was closed when I got there at 0710, and no one knew when it would open. I went back to bed. They finally made an announcement over the PA that it was open at 0830.

Breakfast was overfried eggs, greasy sausage, not-quite-toasted white bread, and instant coffee. Or you could have a soda, cookies, and chips (blech!) But we ate it anyway. Fortunately we brought some fruit with us. I am worried that they will run out of both food and water before we get to Savusavu. Unfortunately, since we were already lugging too much luggage, we didn't "provision" for this trip adequately.

When I got to the dining room I managed to get a table near a window, so I could hook my GPS up and see where we are (our cabin is an interior cabin and you can't see anything). We were "hove to" off a tiny island, lightering a few people and stuff ashore. Now (0930) headed for Koro Island, ETA noon, if I understood the annoucement (in Fijian) correctly. Savusavu is another 2-3 hours beyond Koro, and they'll be (optimistically) unloading in Koro for at least an hour.

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