Day M53: This Is The Odyssey

19.11.11: I rose belated and bedraggled from my cabin at some godly hour and headed upstairs to grab some breakiefast. No Full English for me, sir, I’m happy with the Alpen, thanks. Then it struck me: I had agreed to do a talk today about my adventures around the world. Why did I do that? Heaven knows; I guess I’m a rampant self-publicist. Unfortunately, my name was put down as ‘Gareth’ Hughes on the Ship Newsletter. Quite why a guy called Gareth would present a show called ‘Graham’s World’ is a matter for greater minds than mine. I blame Willy, the ship’s Deputy Director of Entertainment; who sounds like a scouser, but do not be misled, he doesn’t come from Liverpool, he comes from Birkenhead. Consequently, like all Birkenheadians, Malaysians and Nigerians he’s a Kopite and maybe the whole ‘Gareth’ thing was sweet revenge for all…

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Day M54: …And So To Fiji

20.11.11: Today was a red-letter day for the Odyssey Expedition. I would step foot on the hallowed turf of the 188th country of The Odyssey Expedition: FIJI. Our port of call was Port Denarau: a rather artificial creation on the west coast of Viti Levu, the biggest island of the 300+ specks of land that make up modern Fiji. The tourist brochure bills it as something of a ‘resort’, the kind of thing that makes me breathe in sharply through my teeth: a golf course, a shopping centre and a Hard Rock Café. Eek. But I have to say I had an absolutely awesome time. Most due to the fact that on the journey to land I got chatting to a fresh-faced young couple, Molly and Angus, from Adelaide who managed to restore my faith in all things Australia. We went to the local shop, I…

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Days M55-M57: The Longpigs

21.11.11-23.11.11: 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…

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Days M58-M59: A Coconut Full of Kava

24.11.11-25.11.11: Kava is the tipple around these parts. Like beer and wine in Europe, it’s the one strand of commonality that runs through this disparate set of islands. Brewed (that’s probably not the right word) from the mulched up root of a tree, it looks a lot like muddy water and tastes like cold nettle soup, with some mud thrown in for good measure. I had a blast of it in Vanuatu and found it somewhat lacking in the taste department, although it did make my mouth go numb, which I suppose is a blessing if you’re intent on having a second helping. It’s served in a half coconut shell (or the skull of your enemy in less prissy times) and passed around from person to person with a CLAP before you drink and a CLAP CLAP afterwards. For years Kava was tapu (taboo) for woman…

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Days M60-M61: The Super Sevens

26.11.11-27.11.11: I was rather expecting the old Southern Pearl to be leaving today, but its ETA in Suva has been pushed back by a day so it wouldn’t be leaving until Monday... at the earliest. Ah well, thinks I, so long as Sandy doesn’t object to the strange hairy man from the other side of the world staying a couple more nights... On Saturday night, Sandy and I headed back over to Peter and Ann’s for round two of my Kava Initiation ceremony. Losana from last night was there (laughing at my drunk n’ disorderly behaviour the night before) along with a few others who had popped around for Kava and the Super Sevens Rugby, in which Fiji was doing remarkably well. So remarkably well that they went on to beat New Zealand and take the first round of the international tournament: and deservedly so –…

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Days M62-M65: The Chief’s Hairdo

28.11.11-01.12.11: 7am on Monday morning, I was just about mustering up the energy to drag myself out of the bed when my mobile rang. It was Lopeti, the port agent from Neptune Shipping. The ship was delayed so I didn’t need to come down the docks until 2pm. After staying up until half three last night getting my blogs uploaded, I was so relieved for the extra lie-in I would have happily danced a jig, if it didn’t mean getting out of bed. So I turned over and went back to sleep. I eventually got up around 10am. Sandy had left for work hours ago. I made myself a massive cup of tea and started getting my things together. At noon came a second phone call from Lopeti: the ship wouldn’t be leaving until tomorrow. Leaving that afternoon is one thing, having to ask the lovely…

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Day M87: Suva Ascending

23.12.11: The good ship Southern Pearl arrived in Suva on last night. However, since we had been to Wallis and there’s a particular breed of snail that exists on Wallis that the Fijians definitely do not want on their island, we weren’t allowed to enter the port until morning, lest one of them naughty snails was hiding on the bottom of an improperly cleaned container and was eluding the snail-hunter-in-chief by hiding in the dark like some crafty badger. So we drifted out in the ocean for the night. You’ve got to be careful when drifting: you can move massive distances, even with the engine off. Hit a reef and it’s game over for your career at sea – you’ll be lucky to escape jail. Do you know how long it takes for a cargo container such as the Pearl (top speed 15 nautical miles per…

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Days M88–M89: A Very Fiji Christmas

24.12.11-25.12.11: Wiping the hangover from my forehead, I exited my bed in a manner reminiscent of a slinky going down the stairs. It was 11.15am. Check out was 10am. Oops. A quick shower and some heartfelt apologies later, and I fell asleep in the TV lounge waiting for the rain to stop. The afternoon of Christmas Eve I darted into Suva Town for a little bit of (traditional) last minute shopping. I needed to get a little gift for today’s Secret Santa. I then headed over to Sandy’s brother’s place and met up with Sandy, Peter and Ann, as well as a bunch of Sandy’s mates a good old fashioned Christmas barbeque. As with barbeques in the UK, it was raining, but since when has that stopped anyone? Peter has just got back from Durban where he was one of the Fijian delegates. Just want to…

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Days M90-M91: The Fijian Chief

26.12.11-27.12.11: Boxing Day was a long, lazy day, but one in which I learnt an important life lesson: if you’re in a small swimming pool and you get everybody in it to run in a circle, you can create a whirlpool. True story. My ticket out of here, the Southern Lily 2, doesn’t leave until after New Year, so I’ve got a week or so to spend mooching about, causing trouble and generally being a crimson-headed nuisance. The day after Boxing Day, a new chief would be installed as head of Sandy’s mum’s clan. I was invited along to the ceremony which would be held in the small village of Buca Levu, a couple of hours drive out of Suva on the eastern side of the main Fijian island of Viti Levu. I’d be a fool to turn an opportunity like this down, and as I…

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Day M92: The Cannibal King

28.12.11: It was just after 9am when I said my fond farewells to Sandy’s mum and the village of Buda Levu. I jumped the bus north towards the town of Rakiraki, wanting to explore the island of Viti Levu a little more. In case you were wondering, ‘Levu’ means ‘Big’, so ‘Viti Levu’ means ‘Big Viti’. Well, actually, it means ‘Big Fiji’, as ‘Viti’ is the Fijian name for their own country: the version we know, ‘Fiji’, is actually a Tongan word. Strange but true! This time of year the days start with a burst of blisteringly hot tropical sunshine, cooking the wet ground and creating a steamy atmosphere: yes you’ll sweat so you might as well get used to it. Around noon the clouds (typically) roll in, but then that’s what makes Viti Levu so marvellously green. The afternoon is given over to the rain…

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