Waiting in Fiji for a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

Fiji without a Harley (17/9/07 - 16/11/07)

This is part of the fourteenth section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from Sri Lanka

17/9/07 Our first international flight on a no frills airline. Pacific Blue, has reduced the cost of travel from Australia to a number of the Pacific countries but requires a return to its Australian base for each interconnecting country. Any in-flight entertainment has to be purchased as does food and beverages, otherwise it's a regular service. We landed at Nadi Airport and caught a taxi to Lautoka, a non tourist town to its north and Fiji's second largest at just over 40,000 people. Customs briefly queried the tyre and suitcase of spare parts but allowed us to pass. Nadi is on the west coast and Fiji's main international airport, a five hour bus ride from the capital Suva. It is also a major port but the motorcycle is being shipped to Suva.

18/9/07 We have not previously visited any Pacific Islands. Australia's influence in the region is immediately apparent. The airport bank is Australian, the coins are almost the same size, shape and denomination as Australia's. Brand names we are used to at home are in the supermarkets. Everyone we have spoken to speaks good English and is exceptionally friendly calling out "bula", hello, as we pass.Plantation pine woodchip for export An enquiry at the Lautoka port area informed us that all shipping we might require will be out of Suva. Short hop flights to nearby neighbours are also from Suva but longer hauls will be from Nadi Airport, a little inconvenient. A walk around the town region revealed the sugar mill with cane trucks waiting to unload, and a wood chip stockpile for export. 

19/9/07 The Lautoka region is heavily Indo-Fijian. At the end of the 19th century tens of thousands of workers from India were brought here as indentured labourers to work in the cane fields. Many stayed and over time represented almost half of the population. Fijian nationals, fearing the loss of their country within a democracy, overthrew the government in a coup in 1987. Many Indo-Fijians fled the country, a pattern that has continued with each successive coup or instability. With each wave of unrest the economy suffers as tourism declines and Indo-Fijians fleeing remove skilled workers and money. The current unrest has reduced tourism to half what it was at this time last year. A quiet day resting and catching up after our hectic visit home. Travelling now seems like being home and going home seems like holidaying. Not having done any work towards writing a book since leaving the islands off East Africa eighteen months ago, and anticipating long periods of wait time in these islands, Sugarcane waiting for processing we resurrected thoughts on the project. 

20/9/07 The services and facilities here are better than we expected, perhaps a hang over from our recent visits to India and Sri Lanka. A mini bus took us the 220 km to Suva, four hours, comfortable and efficient. Fijian native people are incredibly welcoming. Room staff at our cheap hotel, introduce themselves, ask if they can help with anything. There is always a warm smile and helpful directions. Carpenters Shipping is the agent our motorcycle is supposed to be consigned to but their office has no paperwork or knowledge of its arrival. A quick check on the internet showed the container it was supposed to be shipped in from Singapore landed in New Zealand four days ago and was emptied and is now on its way back to Singapore? The motorcycle is supposed to be in Fiji in two days time, an unlikely event. We had been informed the ship Mol Mauao, was to bring the container to Fiji, but it is also heading back to Singapore. An email to the consigning agent, GGL Line in Sri Lanka will hopefully clarify the matter tomorrow.

21/9/07 Back on the bike hunting trail. By days end, Friday, we were no further advanced as to its whereabouts, come back Monday we should know byBrass band celebrates Police Week then were the agents last apologetic words. We did manage a visit to customs, they don't accept the carnet, a bond would need to be lodged and refunded when the bike leaves, then at the last minute they agreed to accept it "check-in, check-out", meaning they would trust us without a bond, however a customs agent is compulsory, we do not have the required licence to complete the documents. An optimistic result on the onward shipping was that one of the Tuvalu Government's boats is coming in for repairs mid October, leaving early November and takes passengers and cargo. Even more optimistic was their second ship, they only have two, would be returning late November to collect students currently studying in Fiji, we should be able to return on that vessel. As these ships only come to Fiji every few months, if the connections work, it will certainly reduce our costs and time.

22/9/07 Native Fijians are big people, they win many rugby games against larger nations, they're tall and solid. Having spent a lot of time in South East Asia recently where the people are of slight build and both Kay and I were tall arriving here we now seem short and slight. We decided to book our bedsitter hotel room for a week, cheaper and looks like we will be here for at least that long. 

23/9/07 Having decided to write the book we at least have something to do on quiet days, particularly Sunday when almost everything is closed in Suva. It has rained each day we have been here, even though the locals insist it is the dry season.

24/9/07 The weekendCatholic Cathedral in Suva over and checking our emails, a potential shipping logistics sponsor, advised us there was insufficient ROI, presumably return on investment, for their company in such an arrangement. We were surprised as we had progressed to actual amounts of money, advertising, each party's responsibilities etc. Perhaps they discovered that logistics in this part of the world is not easy, as we are finding out. The shipping agents have located our motorcycle, it is in New Zealand, still, missed the last ship out, and for some reason is missing the next one, likely date of arrival, 7th of October, or 20 days later than first advised and just four days before we have to leave Fiji for our son's wedding. Good news is we found a boat that normally runs monthly to Kiribati, however it has been in port now for over a month waiting on parts for its engine. The agent doesn't know when it will be leaving.

25/9/07 It is raining again, or is it still raining. I think people look out here and say it is sunny like we would look out and say it is raining. Another morning working on the book. The loose idea that started in Mauritius in April 2006 is now pretty set. It was the time spent waiting for the motorcycle's shipping to islands off the East African coast that started the idea and it is again the likely time spent waiting throughout the Pacific, over the next year or more, that will hopefully finish the project. It is likely to be a coffee table book. Probably a short story and photos for each of the countries we have visited. The topics have been identified and with what was written in Africa last year it is now about 20% written. The last week we have been writing a story each morning, looking around town or following up on the motorcycle shipping in the afternoon, and planning the next days topic in the evenings. It is a larger task than we initially expected. Photos have to be selected, re-reading stories, editing etc. 

26/9/07 A boat isArriving at the island of Ovalau scheduled to sail to Tuvalu on the 27th October, the date of our son's wedding. We can have our "unridden in Fiji" motorcycle shipped to Tuvalu so that when we return we can immediately fly to Tuvalu. As the motorcycle has to return to Fiji, for later shipping to Kiribati, not much is lost, except it has to clear customs again.             

27/9/07 Tried today to get the motorcycle here on an earlier ship from New Zealand but no success. Appointed a shipping agent and arranged for onward shipping to Tuvalu. With the deadline of our son's wedding the four day window after the motorcycle arrives is likely too short to even get it ridden in Fiji. A day's delay in the vessels arrival, delay in customs clearance etc. could work against us. 

28/9/07 Still book writing in the morning and looking around Suva afternoon dodging thunderstorms and visiting shipping agents. Discovered another boat today that is rumoured to, about monthly, go between Tuvalu and Kiribati. A Kiribati Government vessel it has previously not shown up in our research. Unfortunately it won't take passengers so we need to go out and back to Fiji but the motorcycle might be able to go directly between the two countries.

29/9/07 Feeling that we have researched all available boats and flights out of Fiji we are ready to get out of Suva for a while we booked a bus, boat trip to Levuka on the island of Ovalau, off to the east. Heading out tomorrow.    

30/9/07 With a population mix of Christians, Hindu and Muslims we noticed the local McDonalds restaurant doesn't sell any pork products. HalalThe 1860's hotel we stayed in, Levuka milk is advertised on television. Muslims represent about 8% of the population and like in many other religiously mixed societies many international food chains have adapted to religious sensitivities. It would appear to be a better business practice to deny the 92% of pork eaters to attract the other 8% who can't eat anything from the premises if there is any possibility of cross contamination. With a similar religious mix in Sri Lanka the local Pizza Hut had also removed pig products from its restaurant. Hindu's make up 38% of the population who don't eat beef as part of their religion. Not as strict, beef products can be processed on the same premises as other foods that they can eat. Most local places here only serve fish, chicken and lamb, but the small chinese community, with their restaurants having few taboos against eating most things have an enormous variety to offer. The initial introduction of multiculturism to western societies brought great diversity in variety of foods. Is it now bringing restrictions?

1/10/07 Levuka was the capital of Fiji before it was moved to Suva. We stayed in the 1860 built Royal Hotel, wooden shutters for windows, uneven sloping floors, a billiard table downstairs, restaurant, movies in the evenings, internet, and like so many other building in this town, this historical era has remained. Not a lot has changed here since the capital left the place. In the 1960's it almost closed, escaping oblivion by the opening of a fish cannery. The pace of life is slow and the people are friendly. 

2/10/07 We are not doing much, a walk in the afternoon, a restaurant meal at night and conversation with other guests. Some come here to scuba dive, like a Canadian couple, here for a month, they have dived a couple of times every day. A mother and a grandmother, both looking after young children during school holidays, whilst husbands are back in New Zealand working, make up the other guests.

3/10/07 We learntRecent burial plot on the island today that next weekend is a holiday weekend, so our hopes to ride the motorcycle, at least for a day this visit, were pretty much dashed. Monday is the holiday, customs is unlikely to clear the motorcycle before Tuesday afternoon and we leave from the other side of the island Thursday. Out for a couple of walks past the cannery. It gives off a constant boiled fish aroma that permeates the downwind windward direction, and is the main private employer.

4/10/07 It is not raining here any less than it was in Suva. Everyday a few showers, not enough to be devastating but enough to be inconvenient. Each local household has a few fruit trees and a garden. Out of town graze a couple of cows for local meat or milk, a couple of pigs clear away household rubbish and also provide meat. We walked to the north, to a small resort, an excuse to get out of the hotel room for a couple of hours. Everyone called "Bula", the local welcoming, as we passed. A strong wind was buffeting the couple of yachties anchored up in the bay, a Frenchman on one and Canadians on the other. A large traditional sailing ketch, with young tourists was in port for the day and we have started moving at the locals pace, delaying our departure for another day's stay here.

5/10/07 The Fiji National Day celebrations started in Levuka today. The local oval hosting most events, football the big draw card. It didn't take long for the field to be cut up as showers again moved through, players getting muddier as the day progressed. Small team shelters along the fields edge provided their players and friends refreshments and a place to avoid the rain. The local minister for tourism arrived at our hotel in the evening, quite a celebrity in the small town. 

6/10/07 The boat and bus trip back to Suva started at 5.30 am, four hours, and when we arrived it was, yes, raining. We are almost pleased not to be riding, not really. The slightly depressing city, coming from the such lovely setting of Levuka, didn't help our mood. Fiji National Day celebrations were occurring in the city park.

7/10/07 Looking outViews across the reef to neighbouring islands from our hotel verandah early this morning we could see the container ship Cap Spencer arriving, hopefully carrying our motorcycle. An efficient port, working on Sunday the ship was unloaded, reloaded and gone. 

8/10/07 Monday public holiday and everything is closed. 

9/10/07 The container was moved to a bonded warehouse but won't be unstuffed till tomorrow. Our customs agent, necessary here, expects the motorcycle to be available for clearing tomorrow. We leave Fiji for Australia, and our son's wedding, the day after tomorrow so we won't be able to use the motorcycle this trip, but it is essential it clears customs before we leave for Australia. On our return to Fiji in a month we hope to ride for ten days before the motorcycle is again shipped, this time to Tuvalu. Free storage for the motorcycle while we are away was arranged with the company who will be onshipping the motorcycle.

10/10/07 Paid for the port fees, handling, customs clearance and onward shipping but didn't get to see the motorcycle, still at the bonded customs warehouse so we won't see it till our return to Fiji in a month's time. 

11/10/07 Caught a fast minibus to Nadi on the other side of the island and a flight back to Australia.

12/11/07 A month later we returned to Fiji. At the shipping agents, William and Gosling's warehouse, we expected to see the motorcycle, unsighted since it left the Maldives three months ago and transhipped through Sri Lanka, Singapore, New Zealand. Yet again, in the saga of shipping the motorcycle, someone hadn't done their job correctly. This time the motorcycle had already been shipped on to Tuvalu. The last words I said to the agent was, "You won't ship it to Tuvalu before we return will you?" A laugh and definitive "no" was the answer. It has now been in Tuvalu since the 4th of November. The agents were supposed to store the motorcycle, awaiting our return, then onship to Tuvalu on the 26th of November.  As it has now not been ridden in Fiji it will need to be returned here, at some stage. Our onward shipping plans, to Kiribati then to Samoa are instantly thrown out. William and Goslings shipping manager was apologetic and is looking into how they can assist us rectify the situation. The number of times we have had "stuff ups", particularly when transporting the motorcycle, when things have been taken out of our control, on this trip is amazing. Switching our planning midstream we booked on the earliest flight to Tuvalu, Friday, in four days time. Rushed to the Kiribati Embassy to get a visa just in case we can get on a boat directly from Tuvalu to Kiribati, only to discover that as from last month, Australians no longer need a visa to enter Kiribati. Assuming that information is correct it is a small win for the day.

13/11/07 It rained almost all day reflecting our mood and we didn't leave the hotel. Rethinking our future travel plans and getting back into writing the book occupying most of the time.

14/11/07 Another visit to William and Gosling shipping. They were very helpful with trying to solve the problem they had caused and were looking into solutions, either bringing the motorcycle back to Fiji after our visit to Tuvalu, or Kiribati, at their expense. Shipping schedules the main unknown. Either solution proposed would suit us as we need to return to Fiji because of air connections, minimising extra expenses caused from the mistake.

15/11/07 An email from Williams and Gosling, our only means of remote contact. There seems to be no easy solution to get the motorcycle back to Fiji. There are simply no ships. So tomorrow we head out to Tuvalu not knowing where the motorcycle will be going afterwards. It is a relaxed aproach to life the Fijians have. Somtimes too relaxed for us. It is easier to stop a problem happening than to fix one.

16/11/07 Flights leave from Nausori Airport, just north of Suva, a small busy place mainly for domestic flights. Security was strict yet people could wander in and out of the secure area freely. Tuvaluans, carrying home as much cheaper goods as possible lined up. One lady, seeing our light luggage asked if she could utilise our spare capacity to avoid or at least minimise her excess baggage, she was still 33kg over the maximum allowed. The turbo prop Convair 580 arrived and looked quite ancient, self folding steps, doors to the pilots cabin kept open the whole flight, waterless toilet, but spacious seating.

Move with us to Tuvalu or go to our next trip to Fiji


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