We left Tahiti suitably early in the late afternoon and arrived in the capital of Fiji [Suva] just after 5.30 in the morning.
The Fijians see tourism in general and cruise ships in particular to be one of their most important income generators. In consequence the local band, national TV and local radio were on the dock side to greet us. We disembarked and joined our bus to the river Suva at 8.30 am. The excursion was billed as "A day in a Fijian Village" but this did not adequately describe the wonderful experience in store for us.
It is quite clear to us by now there is a cadre of intrepid explorers who always choose the more adventurous excursions. Through our shared experiences there is a strong bond of friendship forming amongst this most eclectic mixture of people.
As we passed the light industry that supports the dock activities we passed a BOC gas and Gear centre. There were a few factories such as Colgate, Nestle and a large cement factory. All these were guarded by soldiers more reminiscent of the rag tag soldier in black Africa.
Military coups are regular occurrences in Fiji. The Fijians greeting is "Bula" and everyone including the soldiers were shouting this to us as we passed by in the bus.
The narrow strip of land between the road and the rain forest is populated by single storey huts the size of two garden sheds. These are the homes of thousands of poor families who lease the land from the government for 99 years.
There are a few buildings which have incongruous looking TV aerials sticking out of the roofs and 90 percent of the population travel by bus which explains the hundreds of 1950's buses running round at break neck speed.
Ten brightly coloured dug out canoes were waiting at the jetty on the river. We were given life jackets and bin liners for our bags. The canoes were fitted with 25hp Yamaha engines and carried approximately 6 to 7 passengers.
The journey up stream was exciting to say the least. We stopped for a rest and an optional swim in the most beautiful fresh water lagoon which was fed by a seventy foot waterfall.
As some of us started swimming the most horrendous storm began with thunder and lightning to add to the drama. If you have never been in a tropical storm on a swollen river travelling along at 20 mph you have never lived.
Several passengers with ashen faces cursed me for shouting Yea! Hah! Ondelay! Ondelay!
The canoes were being passed by tree trunks, branches and abandoned rafts flowing downstream.
As the storm grew in intensity the rapids grew more frequent and we started shipping water at an alarming rate. It was bloody marvellous and we would have not missed the experience for the world.
Miraculously we did eventually get to the village in the middle of the rain forest with no more serious injuries than a few cuts and bruises, looking and feeling like drowned rats. This feeling remained the same until 5 in the evening.
A fellow passenger called Michael who was an American with a sinister background was chosen to be our Chief for the day. He seemed perplexed when told the ceremony to bridle a village maiden had been outlawed in 1952.
The villagers made our stay a wonderful experience with dancing [which we took part in] initiation cava ceremonies, history lessons and demonstrations of weapons of the past. The villagers were cannibals until 1885 and were "partial to white meat" according to one particular big girl.
I suspect the enjoyment for several of the passengers was sullied by the threat of the return river journey.
No one spoke on the return journey other than Michael who sat behind me and wanted to tell me about his sexual exploits where he lives in Nassau, London and Istanbul. He and I have become pals and we will meet up for a few beers later. Lesley and I keep saying this can't get any better, but it does. We were shattered when we returned to the ship, so we had supper in our cabin. The Chablis must have played a part in sending us to sleep since we didn't notice the ship leave harbour for New Zealand.
P.s. A story was related to us in the launderette this morning. On a previous cruise a couple carrying out a clandestine affair decided they would be safe having a little hanky panky in the launderette. They locked the door but were found out and escorted off the ship at the next call.