Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bus Treks and Uprising

The bus ride to the Uprising Beach Resort was 3 hours long—I knew this, but hadn’t quite filled in Sam or the boys because I wasn’t sure if there would be mutiny to hear there would be 3 hours tacked on to our already massive trip.  It was a local bus, but big and air-conditioned.  I figured it would be packed with other tourists heading to their various resorts along the southern coast, but it was locals and us.  Along the way, as Jackson exclaimed with delight how he couldn’t believe how close the road was to the ocean, the men around us smiled.

Now, a 3-hour bus ride really isn’t so terrible, even after all the travel—but here’s the kicker. 
No food was allowed on the bus.

Have you read In The Heart of the Sea, the survival story of the men on the whaling boat?  One of the men who survived his whaling expeditions but always kept a stocked hanging net of food provisions right above him in his berth.  Sam must be a descendant of this guy; 3 hours without food is absolutely unthinkable.  I ended up breaking up the last of my dark chocolate bar with caramel and sea salt and distributing it among us (Kenyon was sleeping, so shhhh, don’t tell him that he missed out).
I told Sam that the bus ride was ‘like 2 hours or so’, and broke the news gently at about the 1 hour and 45 minute mark.  I’m alive to write this, so luckily it went okay.  
I really loved the bus ride, and my only frustration was that I saw so many things I wanted to photograph but all attempts were recorded as a blur.  Houses are incredibly simple by US standards; made of cinderblock with corrugated tin roofs.  The Hurricane Andrew survivor in me wondered how these structures would hold up in any sort of intense wind.  There was an occasional cow, chicken and horse.  We passed by hilly landscapes incredibly lush with greenery, and wove around the ocean scattered with palm trees and other tropical plants.  Fishing nets were laid out in one front yard, and at one bus stop a man was selling yellow squash-looking fruits under a newspaper.  As we waited, another bus pulled up next to us and we could see the women pointing and smiling at Jackson’s lighter hair, skin, and eyes.
I was absolutely sure that the bus ride would be 3 hours of management of the kids’ exhaustion, excitement, boredom, and punchiness.  I couldn’t have been more wrong, and thus could not be more thankful.  They all looked at the sights, Alex and Kenyon slept, and Jackson made attempts to read until our position in the back of the bus proved too bumpy.

Just at the point that were all starting to feel the hunger set in, the bus dropped us off on the side of the highway; we could see the sign to turn for our resort about 30 yards ahead.  No big deal, right?  Except for the fact that we had 6 large suitcases, 3 backpacks, a booster seat, a laptop bag, and a purse.  Laugh or cry, right?  Hahahahahahahaha.  All but one bag was a roller, so we balanced that one on a roller, all carried a few things, and set off wheeling everything on the gravelly road.  I prayed that when we made the turn into the resort, buildings would be visible immediately.  

We had walked about 20 feet when a pickup truck pulled over to the side of the road just in front of us.  I never got the man’s name, but let’s just call him Our Savior.  Our Savior asked us where we were going and loaded our suitcases in his truck.  We piled in and he drove us into the resort (which was quite a ways down the road)—his son went to school with the resort’s owner, so he was quite familiar with the place and drove us right up to the front.  We tried to thank him with some money, but he declined and said he was happy to do it.  I had read about Fijian hospitality and kindness, and it was evident just then.

At check-in, the beachfront bure that I had reserved back in May and dreamed about ever since was not available, and we were upgraded to a villa.  Although the villas are not directly on the sand like the bures, I can’t complain—this place is absolutely beautiful.  The kids are most impressed by the flat screen tv that swivels in the wall to face either the bedroom or the sitting room.  But for me, the outdoor shower is the best and I’m trying to figure out a way to install one in Denver.
As soon as we reenergized with some food, we explored and spent the rest of the day at the pool and beach.

The absolute highlight of the day happened that afternoon, when we walked down the beach and saw an American local taking a couple of kids at a time for rides out on his small catamaran.  We hung out and made a sand castle until he came back, and the older boys asked if they could go.  Kenyon of course didn’t want to miss out, so I went along with the three boys and Todd, the sailor, who turned out to be a retired California fireman who came down here to live; his decision was cemented by the arrival of his half-Fijian daughter, now 7 years old. 
Todd had Alex stand up on the horizontal part of the mast that holds the bottom of the sail; Alex leaned back against the sail and rode with the waves at a quick chop.  We sailed far out, where Todd knew of a reef that we could see, and the boys and I watched as coral passed underneath us and then dropped off like a wall.

When we reached shore, Sam was chatting with a British expat friend of Todd’s named Phil.  Phil was carving the skin off a plant with his pocketknife and handed it to us to try.  Sugarcane.  Delicious.
Phil also gave the boys a couple of wild bush cucumbers, which they argued over and devoured with some salt while playing in the pool with Todd’s daughter and her cousin.  We thanked the men with a drink and spent the next hour or so chatting on beanbags on the grass, hearing how they came to be here and what life was like as the sky grew darker and rumbled overhead.   It could not have been a more enjoyable day, in my book.

For dinner, Sam and I took Todd's advice and ordered the kokoda, a raw fish salad that is the Fijian take on ceviche.  Made with lemon juice and coconut cream, it was absolutely delicious.  Kenyon fell asleep with his head on Sam's lap right there at the table, and we all headed to bed early after a fantastic first day.

Sadly, we leave in the morning, but we're looking forward to what awaits us at our village stay in Namatakula.

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