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February 19, 2020
Suva, Fiji: Navua River by Longboat

Gail writes…

Back when we had to cancel our stops in Samoa, Regent scrambled to arrange new excursions in the new last-minute added port of Suva. A form showed up on our door just after Russell had gone down to listen to the morning lecture. I read through and decided to request the longboat ride up a river to a waterfall. Afraid it would fill quickly, I ran downstairs to drop the form off. Since I had already planned to sit and write a web letter while out, I carried my PC down with me. I came around the corner and there was a line of about 50 people already. All I could do was get in line and hope for the best. The PC got heavier by the minute as the line crept along.

But when I got to the desk, I was issued tickets on the tour I wanted – right on the spot! Our call time was 8:30 a.m. It would be a 6-hour excursion. All the other excursions had a shopping stop; this one did not. That alone was enough to win me over. I hoped Russell would think it was the right choice.

Fast-forward to today.

Our sunrise arrival in Suva

Right on time at 8:30, we left the ship and headed by bus to the staging area for the longboats. It was an hour drive, but the on-board guide – Tony, a local man – was simply amazing. He explained how once upon a time Fiji practiced cannibalism, and the King could have as many wives as he wanted. That all changed after the second wave of missionaries came in and wisely realized that they only had to win over the King and all others would follow. (The first missionaries did not fare so well, and – as Tony said – “ended up in the pot.”)

When we arrived to the place we would leave from, next door there was a restaurant: “Cannibal Country.” Hmmm. I was more interested in all the specialty bread shops that seemed to be on every corner. But no time to get a snack; we had to change into our suits. (I wore mine there, so I just slipped off my shorts.) There were about 30 women trying to change in one very small restroom that only had two stalls. It was a bit of a comic mess, but soon everyone was changed and had their lifejackets on.

I had been told that there were two types of outboard engines – 25 hp and 40 hp – and that we should try to get a 40. As luck would have it, our guide Bill had a 40 hp. This was looking good. The boats hold six to seven passengers each. We had six. Getting better. Ours was the last to load and I was the first on, so I got the front seat! Perfect.

The river was stunning. Bamboo groves line the shores. Waterfalls peak through the branches as they cascade down the mountain sides. And the small rapids (ripples really) were just enough to add some excitement. Because we were in one of the two fast boats, we passed folks and soon we were at the front of the line, leaving everyone else behind.

Navua River

The same source that told me about the hp also told me that there were larger rapids. The guides unload everyone so they can get the boats through safely. He also said that their guide allowed them to stay, so I knew it could be done. As we approached the beach we started to ask – well okay, beg – to be taken through. Initially he said “No,” but then said “Okay, the men must get out, but the women can stay.” Whoo hoo!

So, as the guys stood on shore and got a few photos we headed in the rapids. We were going upstream up rapids. I got soaked. It was fabulous. No other guide took their passengers through, so just us three women had that experience.

The next stop was still 20 minutes upriver, so the guys got back onboard and off we went. I had no real idea what we were heading into… but you’ve seen the travel shows with a thundering waterfall plunging into the clear pool at the bottom? Well that’s it! It was a stunning scene.

By the time we got there, many of the other folks were already in the water having fun, so I went in to join them. My word, the water was cold, and I about changed my mind. But another passenger motioned me over to him and I had to swim to get there. Once I made that plunge, I decided to go all out and try to make it to the waterfall itself. He and I pulled ourselves along the rock wall.

The current of the water as it hits the pool is really strong and the spray is blinding. We got about two thirds of the way and he decided to swim across to the other side, so I went with him. We made it… then he left. I was sitting on a submerged rock ledge, just amazed at where I was, when two of the guides swam up and asked how I was doing. I guess they thought I was stuck.

Once we agreed I was okay, Bill told me to follow him and he would take me behind the waterfall. What? Really? Now I am an okay swimmer, but the current and the spray made it really hard. Bill shouted, “Take my hand and kick,” and finally we made it back across. We went backwards along the rocks toward the falls until we were behind. He shouted, “Keep going until your bum hits a rock ledge, then sit there”. He sat next to me. Then it was, “Now stand on the ledge and reach your hand through the water.”

Okaaay. I kind of stood crouching, and frankly scared I would be swept off… but I did it. Then he told me to fully stand up. WHAT? “Stand up and lean out. Let the water hit your back. I will hold you”. Um, okaaay. So, I stood, and he put his arms around my waist and kept shouting to lean further; he would hold me. I committed, and by golly he did have me, and I did something I never ever thought I would. It was a “Titanic” moment… without the music. And that is when I realized I had done it all with my sunglasses on. Yep, I still have them.

This was amazing… but the tour was still not over. We headed back downstream to the village, where we would be welcomed to the village as new members, share a meal and experience cultural dances.

The Fijian people are the friendliest people was have ever met. They’re deeply religious and believe strongly in love, religious tolerance and justice. Most of the country is now Christian. After the traditional dances a prayer was offered before our meal.

Koromakawa Village

I had a very nice conversation with a young man named Sam (shortened from the longer Fijian). He feels that the rising seas is part of the end times. Both he and Nem, the host, expressed concern. They said that the country of Fiji was the first country to sound the alarm. Beaches are disappearing. Even the river we were on is “more like the sea now.” There are tides and saltwater where it was only fresh before. It is affecting the fishing along the river.

Before we left, I commented to Nem that he had a wonderful speaking voice and a warm personality. He was funny and welcoming. He told me that he comes from the tribe that was the speaker for the King. They would go out to the tribes and tell the stories. He says it is in his DNA.

I loved Fiji. As I told the bus guide as we chatted on the way back, Fiji is no longer a dot on the map. It is people and stories and places. I will remember Pauline the sales lady, Tony our bus guide, Bill who helped me find courage, cute little Moses (the son of our host Nem), and Sam whose 2x great-grandfather was English. Sam said, laughing, “I am nearly as dark as the others.” And all the ladies who cooked a most delicious meal for us – I know what that is like, and they honored us with their talents.

Bill (our longboat pilot) and Nem (our village host)

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