Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Report # 38 Lautoka, Fiji February 5, 2014 Wednesday Chance of rain, uncomfortably hot at 91 degrees

Port sign
The pier at Lautoka, Fiji
Our port of call today was a new one for us....Lautoka, Fiji. We tried to recall if we had been here on prior trips, but nothing looked it was new. What they did have here were several offers from local tour operators offering almost too-good-to-be true excursions around the island and surrounding waters.
All aboard 4:30pm prompt!
Buses and taxis on the dock
Tented pierside tours being sold

Gangway and stalls

Fijian warriors
Amsterdam docked
 To begin, according to one of their brochures, Fiji is an archipelago consisting of 330 islands, 106 of them inhabited. Their population is around 850,000 people with a blend of Melanesian, Polynesian, European, Indian and Chinese citizens. The last two nationalities were introduced to the area with the influx of the sugar industry. 

Sugar mill
Part of the sugar mill
The sugar mill dominates the town of Lautoka, and happens to be the largest mill in the South Pacific. It is not the prettiest of towns, as we were to discover later on, but has its charm of a 1950's era settlement.

Originally, we had booked a tour that would have taken us by sailboat to an outer island for 6 or more hours. A lunch was included, but we were concerned that it may be the underground cooking method type of lunch, and we were leary of that, having gotten ill on that type of cuisine in the past. 

So at the last minute, we cancelled and decided to walk the town. At least, the locals were running a continuous shuttle to the center of town, saving us the 15 minute walk in the hottest place we have ever been. This town should have been named Dante's Inferno. With barely a breeze stirring the leaves of the trees, the temperatures soared to over 90 degrees before 9am in the morning.

Shortly before we left the ship, there was a power outage, causing the ship to go dark. This is the second time that has happened while in port. Luckily, it did not last more than 15 minutes, although a safety drill scheduled at that time, had to be redone a bit later. With many folks off of the ship, we figured it was a prime time to send off emails, and we did it from the atrium area outside the Ocean Bar. We happened to have ringside seats for the drill, Safety of Life at Sea, as it was taking place on deck three below us. Nice to know that this crew is so well prepared for different scenarios.

On our way out of the ship, we crossed paths with Barbara, our port lecturer, who has been a little under the weather. She confirmed a rumor that we recently heard about Phuket, Thailand. The ship will not dock in the usual pier, but we will be tendering to the beachside in a nice bay full of restaurants and shops. In other words, it is not the middle of nowhere, where you have to take a tour, or see nothing. That was good news.

Several souvenirs stalls were set up along the dock, with the friendly vendors vying for your attention. We would have plenty of time to check them out later, although we did pick up some flyers on tours so we could compare prices with those of the ship. Believe us, there was a huge difference. We knew of many passengers that had made independent plans, such as the CC group. Will be interesting to see how they compared.
Some souvenier stalls too
Art and carvings
Looking for native clothing
Wood carvings were nice & reasonably priced 

Beer mugs for Fiji Bitter - local brew
Following the ship's new map from their booklet was not very useful. Once again, all of the cafes listed were either closed permanently or located elsewhere. We could not even find a decent place to buy a beer, let alone pizza (wishful thinking). We did locate a small housewares shop where we attempted to buy a $1 scrub brush. They would not take US dollars, even if it meant we were willing to pay double (Fijian dollar was 1.90 to the US dollar). Even though we were told the locals would take US dollars, that turned out not to be the case with most everyone that went to town. 
Ice cream cafe
The main strip in town
Park vendors
The only cool place in town
That is with one exception...... the major souvenir market, Jack's Department Store. We did buy a carved mask and a cannibal fork (everyone has to have one of those) for $20. 

Jack's department Store
Strip mall in town
MH Supermarket - biggest in town
More shops
A quick stroll through the veggie and fruit market left us feeling a little less than welcomed, since we were vastly outnumbered by the local Indian people. They probably find it strange that we like to take photos of the common carrots, potatoes, taro root, and what looked like ingredients for kava kava, their ceremonial drink that leaves your mouth and throat numb. 

The big veggie/fruit marketplace
Fresh produce

Cucumbers, we think

Eggs - $8 Fijian dollars = $4 US dollars

Carrots - 50 cents

Root veggies

Kava kava is the root of the peppermint tree
Alongside this market was a closed-in fish market, where the catch of the day was being sold. Already mostly gone, the aroma of fish was pretty strong, so we made a quick run through there.

Crabs for sale

Live crabs

Long, skinny fish

Parrotfish and other tropicals
Caught today
Tonight's dinner

Clean as can be
After walking each side street looking for cafes that were not there, we climbed back on the bus, and went back to the ship. Cooling off in our room, then hopefully in the pool was a priority at this point. By 2pm, a breeze had come up, and it did help keep us cool at the aft deck. It did help to pay several visits to the shower stall back there as well. That is, until the water was shut off. Later on, we found out that there was a break in the water pipes in the ceiling on deck seven, flooding cabins and hallways. Thus, the water shut-off. Guess that can happen anywhere, but it seems to be happening more often than not.

Oh well, good time to stop by the Terrace Grill and pick up lunch, which has been consistently good. Better than room service, we think. And quicker.

Sailaway was at 4:30pm, although few people went outside in the blazing sun. Our trusty hotel manager, Henk, stopped by for a chat. We just happened to have a short list of questions for him, which he gladly addressed. The first was regarding the reruns of movie programming on TV. Every two weeks, we seem to be seeing the same run of movies. Now that we are starting the second month onboard, these flics are on their third rerun. We simply asked why, when there are scores of movies to never have to repeat anything. The answer to this was that HAL distributes set movies to every ship in their fleet. They are carefully chosen ( pretty much PG, with not too much violence), but put together for perhaps a two week cruise. In our opinion, this does not work on the Grand Voyages. They are special, according to their brochures. Would it be so hard to tailor programming suitable for longer voyages? It's not rocket science, just common sense to us.

Our next question was about the type of beef being served onboard. This year, it is all coming from containers shipped from the US. We can only take Henk's word that it is all prime, not choice, although we can say that the prime meat we buy at home in California is a step higher in taste and tenderness. In addition and also food related, we asked if room service will come with a charge in the future. The answer was a resounding no. The reason we asked was that we had a receipt left on our room service tray, showing what we had ordered, but with a charge of zero. The last shipboard statement we got, every time we ordered room service, it showed up on our bill with no charge. That sure gave us the feeling it would have a charge someday. Henk says NO. And we should not have seen that slip at all, which he noted to alert the kitchen staff to be more careful with their orders. Hope no one gets in trouble, since we did not intend that.

Finally, we wondered why some ships have stainless steel handrails to access the swimming pools, and others do not. He said it had to do with the class of ships built. It was a design thing, not a safety concern. We think it should be a safety concern, because every time they wax those fake decks around the pool, someone falls getting in or out of the pool. Again, not a big fix, but those hand rails do help, and we wish they would consider installing them.

Dropping the lines
Sailaway party

Still too hot for guests
We ended up staying out back until sunset at the sailaway, since we were joined by tablemates, Bill & Marianne, and Henk & Lucia, our hosts. They shared their activities of the day, which is always fun and informative to listen to. That way we have the info to choose what we want to do next time, if we ever come back here. It was a surprise to see the Carnival Spirit anchored not far from where we were docked. They had been diverted here from Noumea, due to Cyclone Edna that had prevented them from docking there. Captain Jonathon mentioned that this storm had been downgraded to a tropical depression, and would be gone before we arrive there on Friday. Sure hope so.

Henk, Mary Ann, Bill, Marianne & Bill
Local boats

Rain was probable in the mountains
Boats in the bay
Private island
Tuna fishing boats
Sitting on the dock of the bay

Local tug
Center of town
Private yacht
Leaving the harbor
Container ship waiting for our spot
Boat following us
Green shoreline
Tug towing a barge

Carnival Spirit

Storm clouds, but no rain

Sun going down

Green hillsides
Bligh Water Bay
Small islets everywhere
On our way back to our room, we checked out the entrees in the Lido. The Lido restaurant was busy this evening, so it was no wonder that the dining room was half empty. It had to be due to the long day in port that was so, so hot. People were pooped. In fact, there were only six of us at dinner, although we were only aware of Barb being missing (it was her real birthday). Another couple did not show up, forgetting to let us know. We waited for 20 minutes, then decided to proceed with ordering. Just a subtle reminder to always let someone know, and not hold up the crowd.

Don't know how many folks made it to the Jazz, Blues & Rock 'n' Roll show this evening. We know we did not attend, because it was more exciting to watch the lightening show on the horizon that lit up the dining room all night.

One day at sea, and we will be in New Caledonia.

Saying goodbye to Fiji

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