Arrival in Suva

May 14, 2004

Suva Harbor, Fiji

Dear Friends and Family:

We’ve now spent two days in Fiji, after our seven day passage from Opua, New Zealand, and what a change it is! For starters, it’s REALLY HOT. This afternoon, in the cabin of Sequoia, the temperature reading was 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This evening, while we went ashore to dinner at the Royal Suva Yacht Club, it decided to rain, and it POURED. Getting wet during the dinghy ride on the way back was really rather pleasant in all this heat, and the only concern was HOW many ports we had left open, over WHOSE side of the bed…

Above:  Suva Harbor, seen from the hills above the city.  Sequoia is anchored near the center of the picture, just to the left of a larger, more visible sailboat.  Photo by Joe Carr.

Route from New Zealand to Fiji

Map of Fiji

Craig spent nearly the whole day yesterday making his way from one government office to the next. First, when we entered the harbor, we raised the "Q" flag, and radioed to Suva Port Control to find out how to get started on customs and immigration. They sent out the health officer, who stepped off the workboat, and got started on the forms.  The first form asked if we had any rats on board, and then, hilariously, "Do your rats have plague?"  Satisfied with our answers to these and other such questions, the officer looked us over, and then handed us a paper saying we were cleared by "health" and that we needed to go to the office of the Ministry of Health to pay for his services. Then, only the Captain (that’s Craig) is allowed to go ashore to pay our respects to Customs and Immigration. He dinghied over to the wharf for container ships, where the Customs office is located. There is, of course, no dinghy dock there, so he tied up next to the 100 foot high wall of a container ship, and climbed a gigantic tire up to the top of the dock. At each office, he filled out many forms (all containing the same information). Customs was assured that we would not bring ashore our New Zealand fruits, vegetables and meats. Immigration needed to be assured that we would all leave Fiji in due course. But it turns out there are several immigration offices – the taxi driver took him to the wrong one – and the chief in that office took him in the back door of the correct office, because the correct office had already closed at 2:00 p.m. They were willing to see Craig through the back door, seeing as how he was escorted by the Chief of the first office.

Getting the immigration done was important, because it meant we all got the stamps in our passports, and Joe and I were free to go ashore as well. We celebrated by having dinner at the Royal Suva Yacht Club, which has a very nice, inexpensive restaurant, with great food. The Yacht Club welcomes yachties from overseas, and for $38 Fiji per week, we can participate in all their activities, get laundry done, have showers, use their dinghy dock, etc. etc. – all in all a very good deal. We immediately arranged to have our laundry done (accumulated from the 8 day passage, and involving a fair bit of salt!)

Well that seemed like quite a lot to get done in one day, but incredibly, we weren’t done with government offices and had to continue the saga today. Joe had to prove to immigration that he had a ticket out of the country (he flies out this coming Monday), we had to obtain a cruising permit (to allow us to go to the outer islands), and we had to find the Ministry of Health to pay for the guy who asked us about the plague and rats. We went first to the Ministry of Fijian Affairs, which gives out permits for cruising yachts. The office is located in an old house up in the hills above the city, in a nice residential area. There is no sign, so if your taxi driver didn’t know where you were going, you’d never find it. We described to the officials where we want to go as best we could, and came away with a piece of paper which is our official introduction to village chiefs in the outer islands. Then we went on by taxi to the Immigration Office, where, after a long wait, Joe presented his onward ticket and we got the paper signed that will allow Sequoia to leave Fiji without him.

As we came out of the Immigration office, we heard a marching band approaching – it was the Police Band, much like we had seen in the early mornings in Samoa. They stopped in front of the building which contained the Immigration office, and played a complete Sousa march. They were then followed by a float, proclaiming the 125th anniversary of the first Indians coming to Fiji. There was a model of a sailing ship, and a number of waving Indians riding the "ship" followed by an Indian band with flutes and hand drums.

Joe was looking for a Fijian family that he had some contact with a number of years ago. We found another government building that supposedly had a staff directory for all the Fijian government employees, and found a friendly civil servant who made some calls for us. It turns out that Joe’s friend, Epeli Naua, was on a sabbatical leave, but our helpful civil servant friend made some more calls, and found Epeli at home. Epeli drove into the city and rendezvoused with Joe while Craig and I went off in search of the Ministry of Health.

The Ministry of Health is, according to the paper we were given, located on "Butt Street" in the unlikely sounding "LIC" building. Well that gave us a few chuckles, but we found it eventually, in the "Life Insurance Company of India" building, indeed located on Butt Street. When we paid our fees there, we were finally done with the bureaucracy involved in the arrival in Fiji. Of course, when we leave Suva, we’ll have to check out… and then check in again at the next major port…and then check out again… ad infinitum.

Craig and I stopped in the public market, which goes on for blocks. It has beautiful fruits and vegetables, a section for fresh fish, and an upstairs for "grog" (kava). After we loaded up with papayas, tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, bananas, oranges, limes and green beans, we headed upstairs. All of the books and the government agencies tell us that we must take a gift of kava to each village chief. It’s a root which is pounded and then made into a drink which reportedly tastes like dirty dishwater. It’s mildly intoxicating, and we’re supposed to participate in a kava ceremony at each village where we want to anchor. (This sounds pretty interesting). Anyway, the kava roots look like the bottom end of fruit trees prepared for bare root planting. We engaged a seller, and he weighed out ½ kilo packages of these roots, and then twined each package together in a sort of topknot.
We also found in the same area, sellers of spices, garlic, potatoes and onion. I wanted a couple of bulbs of garlic, so I selected them and handed them to the seller to weigh. He charged us 14 cents Fiji (about 10 cents US) for the two bulbs. What a deal! Craig handed him a 20 cent coin and said "keep the change" and the seller insisted on giving us another garlic bulb. One spice merchant had four foot tall cylindrical plastic bags full of different colored spices, grains and beans. We bought $1 worth of curry powder – it was at least a cup and a half – enough for many curries to come. All the spices and grains looked so beautiful, I wanted to have them all. But no space on the boat, no room in our bags. Needless to say, the smell in this area was wonderful.
We found a taxi ride back to Sequoia, and before long Joe also arrived, along with Epeli, his two little sons, and his brother, Iniasi. They were all very interested in seeing the boat. They had invited Joe for a birthday feast with pork roasted in an oven in the ground, and assorted other Fijian specialties, but I guess Joe had already had a fairly full day, and he elected to decline the invitation this time. He plans to get together with the family again just before he leaves to go back to New Zealand.
While we were entertaining, our friends Clive and Jean on Hannakin pulled alongside us in the anchorage. They had left Opua at about the same time we did, but they hadn’t made quite such good time as Sequoia. They had managed to make it through all the government offices in one day, and were sufficiently checked in for the weekend. We had a nice finale to the day by all going together to the Yacht Club for dinner. Unfortunately the rainstorm put a damper on our plans to bring the laundry – now clean – back to the boat, but all in all, I’d say it was a very successful day.

Tomorrow we head for Beqa (pronounced "Mbenga") where there is reportedly some very nice snorkeling.

Best wishes to all our friends and family –

Craig & Barbara Johnston

S/V Sequoia

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