You know the theme song for the TV series Red Dwarf makes no frikkin’ sense at all? Have you ever stopped to consider why? It’s because the composer, Howard Goodall, originally intended to write different lyrics for each episode, as he did for Blackadder II. A passing remark in the first episode ‘The End’ alludes to Lister’s wish to live in Fiji: hence fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun, sun. Obviously Goodall has spent a week in Suva in cyclone season. Not that Fiji’s capital city isn’t fun, but overcast skies and incessant rain mean the ‘sun’ part probably doesn’t warrant saying three times in a row.
The good ship Pacific Pearl drew into Suva port on Monday morning. The second most expensive ferry ride of The Odyssey Expedition (after the ill-fated trip to Cape Verde) was over. 1,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean and now, thanks to daylight savings, my time zone was GMT+13. Oh my God I can’t believe it, I’ve never been this far away from home…
For the others onboard, the ship would be turning around and heading back towards Australia, but it was time for me to check out. After having a mini-heart attack when presented with my bar bill, I had my passport stamped into Fiji and set off to say goodbye to as many of my new chums as I could find. The good time I had on board was mostly down to the excellent company of George and Donna, Stef and Crystal, Christy, Bryson, Wil from Trinidad and the Ents crew – Willy, Gareth, Rocky who gallantly put up with my antics with aplomb. Around 1pm I disembarked, taking advantage of the free minibus to the city centre. Again, if you’re expecting palm trees and ukuleles, Suva is sure to disappoint: set around a working container port and with a busy, noisy, mostly concrete city centre, Suva isn’t your Pacific picture postcard town. But with over 300 islands to explore in Fiji, there’s usually little reason for a tourist to linger.
One final story that I’d like to tell about the cruise ship is this: one of the crew (and – of course – I’m not going to say who) and I had an interesting conversation about the morgue on board. Yes, cruise ships have a morgue. There are a hell of a lot of old people out to sea, eating too much and drinking too much… if anybody pops their clogs it’s not like you can just throw them overboard (unless you’re really lucky and they happen to be Osama bin Laden). And so, down in the bowels of the ship is a refrigerated room whose sole purpose is to provide accommodation to the occasional cadaver or two. Or three, as it happens. But no more than three. So I ask the question that you’ve all now got in your head. What if more than three people die on a single cruise?
Well, there are other refrigeration units on board. Their primary purpose is for food, but when needs must, they can have the food removed and replaced by a stiff. And has this ever happened? Well, not on the Pacific Pearl, but yes, it has happened.
I know death is no laughing matter, but somewhere in my fetid imagination a new recruit to the kitchens – Bob – has been told by the head chef to go get the ‘longpig’ from freezer F326. Not wanting to appear ignorant of this particular cut of pork strangely missing from his course in catering college, he sets off while the rest of the kitchen staff do their best to contain their giggles. ‘Longpig’ is the Melanesian slang for ‘dead human that we intend to eat’. Bob opens freezer F326 and screams like a little girl. Inside the freezer is old Aunt Margery, rather frosty and incredibly dead, preferably in that ‘leaping tiger’ pose that dead bodies tend to adopt in Indiana Jones films. The rest of the kitchen staff, meanwhile, laugh themselves to tears.
Longpig! They cry. Bob’s a good sport: he takes it on the chin… although the nightmare plague him for the rest of his life.
Talking of edible humans; before the missionaries turned up in the 1800s and spoilt everybody’s fun, Fiji, in keeping with most Melanesian and Polynesian islands, was notorious for its cannibalism. Why the hell not eh? We’re made of meat: why feed the worms when you can feed a family of 4 for a week? Apparently, some took it to rather icky extremes: stories abound of victims being kept alive for days while slowly being relived of their fingers, toes, hands, feet, arms and legs in that order – sometimes being forced to eat parts of themselves, like Ray Liotta in Hannibal. Human skin would be smoked and kept as a light snack when the kids fancied something a bit crunchy but also a little chewy. Eating your enemy was the ultimate insult: it meant you controlled their soul in the afterlife. Strangely enough, this fine young cannibals would also eat their deceased elders, presumably to keep their spirit in the family.
However, the popular image of missionaries being thrown in a big cooking pot is, sadly, not accurate. The indigenous people of Melanesia and Polynesia didn’t have the metallurgy skills required to make a massive cast-iron cauldron – the best you could hope for would be to be chopped up and cooked in several clay cooking jars. Although I am assured that the tribal chief would most definitely steal the missionary’s top hat.
There is a train of thought that the reason that pig is off the menu in Judaism (and some of its derivatives) is not owing to lack of Bronze-aged refrigeration techniques (pork rots at pretty much the same rate as other meats), but because (as the name ‘longpig’ suggests) human flesh and pork taste pretty damn similar. Maybe it was the one good thing to come out of the desert djinns dreamt up by the illiterate tribes of the Middle East – a distaste for cannibalism. I don’t know, being an immensely religious person, I have never eaten pork, but the grilled cheese and human sandwich I ate in Vanuatu didn’t half smell like bacon to me.
The next stage in my plan for world domination is to get to Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands. With the shipping companies Pacific Direct and Neptune agreeing to let me on board the MV Southern Pearl (not be confused with the Pacific Pearl – that was the cruise ship) next Saturday, I had just under a week to explore the island of Viti Levu. If only it would stop raining…! The weather forecast did not bode well for ferry travel to the other islands, and after burning so much cash on the cruise, I was in the mood for laying low and keeping my meagre coffers in the black.
I arranged to meet Sandy, my CouchSurf host, after work. Sandy’s CouchSurf profile is pretty impeccable: a local Fijian with over 100 friends and about 18 people prepared to vouch for her (I’ve been vouched for 8 times), there was little question as to who I would prefer to stay with. Sandy, like me, is 32, a graduate of History and Politics, an avid globetrotter and really really loves a nice hot cup of tea. She runs Dialogue Fiji, an organisation bravely trying to get the various political parties, charities, aid groups, military bigwigs, tribal chiefs, community heads and religious leaders together and talking. Talking about what does not matter, so long as they are sitting down in a room together and acknowledging each other. The political history of independent Fiji has been fraught with factionalism, in-fighting and coups d’etat, so any dialogue is better than none.
Sandy will be moving to the UK next year to do an MA in Peace Studies, so this could be the beginning of what Humphrey Bogart would call a beautiful friendship. Knackered from the cruise (yes, I know), I opted for a night in. After Sandy and I put the world to rights over a cup of tea, I settled down to see what my GPS had picked up on the ship over her. I was more than happy with the result.
But it got me thinking: is there a way to put all my GPS logs from the last 3 years into one big fancy map? After some DIY HTML and two days of copying and pasting, I came up with this, which is now on the front page of the website. If you click on the map it’ll open a new tab which is fully zoomable.
But you know the best bit? Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but there can be little doubt that my journey around the Gulf of Mexico makes a great ‘O’, there’s definitely a ‘D’ to be found in somewhere Europe if you squint. The Red Sea provides the first ‘Y’. There’s an ‘S’ in India and another in South East Asia. You can’t look at Indonesia and tell me that my trips to The Philippines, East Timor and West Papua don’t make an ‘E’. And the final, flamboyant ‘Y’ made by my voyage to Melbourne, the bus ride to Sydney and the Pacific Pearl towards Fiji is beyond all doubt…
Yes, ladies and gentleman, not only have I travelled to 188 countries without flying, I’ve also inadvertently managed to write the word ODYSSEY across the surface of the Earth. In case you weren’t already aware of this fact, I F—ING ROCK!!!