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South Pacific Cruise: 16 November 2007

Suva, Fiji

Suva is the capital of Fiji. It is a city of about 300,000 people and looks it. It has high-rise buildings, shopping malls, and lots of traffic. It was the largest city we visited on our trip. It was nice that we were able to tie up at the city’s wharf instead of anchoring off shore. That way, we did not have to wait for tenders; we just walked down a gangway. The Paul Gauguin is so maneuverable it did not need any assistance from the tug boat. I’m sure the captain didn’t want the old tires on the tug leaving scuffs on his shiny ship, either.

Rainy view from La Palette

Once again we woke up early and had coffee at La Palette. We sat on our balcony and watched the harbor workings as the ship approached the wharf. At 7:30, Chris went to the Grand Salon for a Pilates session. She enjoyed the workout, but she didn’t like the location. During the final ten minutes of the session, passengers started assembling for their shore excursions. There’s nothing like exercising with an audience.

While Chris worked out, I returned our movies, signed up for a tour of the ship’s bridge, and read. When she was done, we had breakfast at Le Grill. Throughout the morning there were short, but heavy, showers.

Bridge Tour

We went to reception at 9:55 to start our tour of the bridge. One of Les Gauguines led us from the lobby on deck four up to deck seven and through to the bridge. That was our second – and last – elevator ride on the ship. Once there, the ship’s second mate showed us around. The bridge was a large room with lots of windows and even more electronic equipment. There were monitoring panels and computer screens everywhere. They allowed the crew to detect and suppress fires, close water-tight doors, and see if any of the ship’s exterior doors were unlocked or open.

The main panel had controls and displays for the stabilizers, side thrusters, and a steering wheel for rudder control. The direction of the ship could also be controlled by an autopilot or from a tiny joystick mounted in front of an electronic map display.

The tour lasted for about forty-five minutes, during which there was another torrential downpour.

Build Your Own Shore Excursion – Pacific Harbour

None of the Suva shore excursions had appealed to us, so we hadn’t signed up for any. Instead, we planned to walk into the city and visit its museum. We grabbed our waterproof camera and an umbrella and descended the gangway. From the bottom, we had to walk a not-very-obvious route to get out of the wharf. The route included some pretty hazardous iron steps, and we couldn’t see how some of our fellow passengers would be able to navigate them.

Once we were out of the gate, we were besieged by taxi drivers who wanted to give us a ride. We told them all we were going to walk, and they let us go. However, it had started to pour down rain again. Even though we had an umbrella, we waited under an overhang for it to let up. While we waited, another taxi driver came up and offered to take us on a two- or three-hour tour. He kept lowering his rate. When he got to FJ$20 (about US$13) per hour, we said, OK.

We asked for some scenic views, so Binay took us up the highway on the north side of Suva and then turned west, following the coast. As we drove we encountered one rain storm after another, but the sun always came out in between them. We couldn’t help but notice the apparent poverty of the people living in Fiji. Nearly every home was either weathered clapboard or corrugated tin. They were small – one or two rooms – and very open. Everyone had a clothesline filled with laundry. We wondered how anything ever dried when rain fell every twenty minutes.

Chris felt very bad for the people who lived in those houses. They appeared to have no furniture, little shelter, and lots of trash. We passed very few houses that looked comfortable and/or maintained. Most of the nice buildings we passed belonged to either the churches or the police.

About 60km outside Suva, we came to Pacific Harbour, a resort town with a shopping center and resort hotel. Binay parked close to the shops and stayed with us while we took a look around. Chris did some shopping, but she felt rushed with both Binay and me tagging along. We did manage to find some things to buy: some carved wooden bowls for Chris and a tee shirt with a stylized shark on it for me. Binay held onto our umbrella and our purchases for us.

From the shopping center, we drove to The Pearl Resort for a quick look-around. We visited the main building. Chris loved the décor: clean Mediterranean-style couches with no back, chocolate-brown upholstery and two intense orange pillows leaning against each other in the center. The lounge area had big square couches with back bolsters on three sides and small table in the middle so diners can eat while reclined. Our tour concluded with a walk past the pool to a very nice sandy beach. It looked like a nice place to stay.

We drove back to town along the same route we had driven earlier. Once back in town, we stopped at the city’s large cemetery to take some pictures, but it started raining, so we didn’t get many. We noticed that some of the graves had fabric draperies around them. Binay told us they are put up at burial and stay up for 90 days. Some of the drapes were very elaborate. Others were simply fabric strips tied to strings above the grave.

An Unsuccessful Mission

Somewhere between Vava’u, Tonga and Suva, Fiji we had realized we would not be able to fit the carved swordfish bill from Tonga into any of our luggage. It was about six inches too long. While we had a cab, we decided to look for a box or tube to pack it in. However, Binay misunderstood me when I told him I needed to ship a swordfish bill. He thought we wanted to send a fish and needed a Styrofoam box with ice. Once he got that idea, there was no shifting it. I tried to explain over and over that we just needed to ship a long, fragile item, but he wasn’t getting it. He took us to several stores, but none of them had shipping containers.

One of the stores was a place called Cost-U-Less. From the outside, it looked like a 3/4 scale Costco. From the inside, it looked like a 3/4 scale Costco with only half the lights working. It had the same kinds of items as Costco and the same warehouse feel. But it did not have a shipping container for a forty-inch swordfish bill.

We drove back to the ship from the store, taking a mini tour of the city. Binay pointed out the new police headquarters that were under construction. The buildings looked like a luxury office building and were situated on a prime piece of real estate overlooking the ocean. We also drove past the president’s palace and just missed a changing of the guard. I did get a picture of the ceremonial guard after asking permission from the armed soldier nearby.

Burgers, Beer, and a Nap

When we finally got back on board the ship, it was after 2:00, so we had missed lunch. Chris picked up the phone and ordered two cheeseburgers with fries. I poured us each a beer from the refrigerator. The burgers showed up in twenty minutes. We were ravenous, and the burgers and fries were delicious.

While we ate a heavy rain started. Unlike the earlier storms, this one did not stop after ten minutes. In fact, it continued throughout the rest of the day and night.

Our lunch made us sleepy and we lay down for a nap. Two hours later, I awoke from a sound sleep and realized we had to get up if we wanted to be able to sleep that night. I roused Chris and we showered and dressed for dinner.

At 5:30, we went for drinks at La Palette. We sat with our stateroom neighbors, sisters Sally and Charle. While we all watched the pouring rain, we told each other of our day’s adventures.

An Exciting Dinner

We had dinner reservations at 7:30 at the Pacific Grill. As the time approached, I tried to figure out a way to get there without going through the rain. There wasn’t one. Just before 7:30, I went to the room to get our umbrella. We made a mad dash for the Grill without getting too wet.

There weren’t many other diners there, and we got a nice table away from the more open areas. Rain was blowing in under the glass partitions and flooding across the deck. Chris just took off her sandals and dabbled her toes in the water. My shoes were OK in the shallow stream. The folks at the table next to us weren’t as lucky. The awning started dripping on them during dinner. The head waiter held an umbrella over them while other waiters addressed the drips. Everyone was laughing about the madness and we had a great time.

The food was good, too. Chris had swordfish and I had an excellent stir-fried duck. We had only a small glass of wine each.

When dinner was over, we dashed back to shelter and ended up at the piano bar playing backgammon. At 9:00 we found seats in the Grand Salon for the night’s show: a variety show featuring all of the entertainers on the ship. We really enjoyed the parts of the show with Les Gaugines and Pete Neighbour. Kemble played well, but his Phantom of the Opera medley was overpowered by his pre-recorded accompanying music.

When the show was over at 10:40, we went straight to bed.

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