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Destination Rabi - Part 2

Motley Crew Star in ‘Organised Chaos’

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Destination Rabi - Part 2


"French Farce as 'Motley Crew' boards the S.O.F.E."


by Garry Hawkins, U.K.

The wind had abated by 6am, the time I rose from my berth on top of a lifeboat. With bleary eyes, I looked up and noted that we'd arrived at Koro, a small island within the Fiji group. It was just too early, so I returned to the land of slumber.

The Spirit Of Free Enterprise (SOFE) didn't stay for long, and was soon heading for Savusavu, the main town of Vanua Levu (Great Land). Several hours elapsed before the SOFE reached its outer reef, where heavy surf pounded the white coral. We followed a coastline fringed by deserted islands, with seemingly endless sandy beaches illuminated by the burning sun.

We cruised into the beautiful natural harbour that was Savusavu, and docked adjacent to the marine barge Pacific Mariner. Our boat was anchored by two ropes tied to puny looking palm trees onshore. As soon as docking was complete, a mass of passengers surged towards the exit, desperate to leave the ship. The crew in their infinite wisdom decided that this would be an opportune moment to check everyone’s ticket, for the second time of asking.

It was as hot as hell in the sweltering midday heat, as the Motley Crew split into two groups. One sat themselves on planks on the left of the jetty, where there was absolutely no protection from the raging sun. The others, (those with more sense) sat beneath a huge tree, in the cool provided by its shade.

We waited for our charter bus to arrive which would take us from Savusavu to Koroko wharf, some 110km to the East of us. The bus left a trail of billowing dust behind it, as it arrived to mocking cheers. As if it had come straight from a classic bus auction, the lime green windowless Leyland was indeed an antique, circa 1950. Our Indian driver had constructed a Hindu shrine at the front of his bus. Ominously, it was littered with Indian and Fijian road safety stickers. There was no indication of the number of ravines it had recently plunged into.

Chaos commenced as everyone attempted to get their luggage aboard. Suitcases, backpacks, rucksacks, holdalls, coveralls, bedrolls, bog rolls, bedding, matting, sacks of rice and sugar were thrown through windows, squeezed through doors and stuffed into baggage compartments. The bus ride from hell merely required live chickens, a pair of goats and a sacred cow for complete authenticity.

Before the bus could depart, people flew hither and thither as more team photos were taken. Was there a large advert for Fujifilm emblazoned on the side of the bus? We had barely been going a minute before the bus stopped again. We had arrived in Savusavu township, in time for lunch.

Everyone scattered into supermarkets, hot bread stalls, market stalls and banks. In the market, the local townsmen were selling fish and chips; pieces of battered walu and tuna deep fried with cassava chips, all neatly wrapped in yesterdays edition of the Fiji Times. At the roadside, a local Church Group bellowed fire and brimstone via loudspeaker, their less than subliminal message wasted on the Motley Crew.

I paid for my trip by cashing AUD$1250 in travellers cheques at the bank. Walking around town the cash was burning a hole in my pocket; I waited for someone to cosh me over the head. There were no takers, maybe the muggers worked as slowly as everything else here.

After much procrastination and delay, it was all aboard the Banaba Express: ding, ding - fares please! The bus sped off in the general direction of Koroko. It was a long and winding bus ride that snaked along the metalled roads, through the thick, dark, primeval rainforests of Vanua Levu. The scenery was a continual juxtaposition of imagery where forests, beaches, local villages and the occasional tourist resort flashed rapidly past.

Local buses squeezed by us on the narrow dusty roads, the passengers shouted "BULA!" at the tops of their voices. There were road works and packs of squealing pigs. Mangroves lay stranded on islets cut-off from the mainland, resembling bonsai trees in the distance. Single palm tree islands stood aloof and forlorn, formed by years of coastal erosion and cyclone damage.

We stopped briefly at the thriving metropolis of Savusavu airport. It probably possessed the only toilet between here and Rotuma. Like lemmings with rippling bowels, we plummeted down the bus steps for a spot of light relief. The Sunflower Airlines Twin Otter sat emptily on the runway, without any passengers. The pilots demonstrated a perfect take-off, just as we were leaving.

There was much hilarity on the bus as the people on the left-hand side complained about the sun, which turned their seats into ovens and blinded their eyes. Meanwhile, those on the right basked in the cool of the shade and lapped up the luscious beach vistas. The bus reached Koroko, eventually. The ‘wharf’ consisted of a gap in a mangrove swamp, through which we would pass en route to Rabi. A covered Rabi launch awaited our arrival, but it wasn't big enough to cope with our voluminous luggage and a busload of tired passengers. We were forced to charter another launch from Koroko.

Human chains were formed as baggage was moved from bus to ground to boat. An advance party was dispatched in the Rabi vessel. Now burdened with all of the luggage, it sat low in the water and would be beaten to Rabi by the Koroko boat.

As the sun sank lower towards the horizon, giving us a romantic backdrop to our arrival on Rabi, where a large crowd had gathered to greet us. There was more baggage transferral, this time from boat to ground to a waiting army truck; heavy work left the porters dripping with sweat. The truck then ambled its way up the steep dirt road before its arrival at the Rabi Government Guest House; it crawled to a halt, having just missed the telephone line by mere inches.

Sweat poured profusely as shirts were removed in the evening heat - the luggage had to be unloaded, yet again. As the truck returned to the jetty, the view from the Guest House verandah was simply stunning: the bright orange glow of the setting sun contrasted sharply with the jet black rain that fell over Vanua Levu.

It was sheer pandemonium when the rest of the Motley Crew arrived. There was a bun fight for sleeping space and mattresses; everyone ran around like the proverbial headless chicken. Talking of chicken, dinner was served shortly thereafter. The communal table positively heaved with food: mutton curry, rice, noodles, boiled potatoes, tinned fruit, tea, coffee, orange drink and of course, chicken. Apres de jeuner, we sat replete, our appetites thoroughly satiated. We were weary but glad to have reached our destination of Rabi, at last.

Outside, the stars shone brightly in the clear night sky. We were serenaded to sleep that night by a Banaban sing-song ensemble. The night was to prove no less sonorous, punctured by a cacophony of clicking cicadas, wining mosquitoes and snorting snorers.


Copyright: Garry Hawkins: October 1997

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