Piecing together the puzzle: Tuvalu from Fiji without flying
Day 3,326 since October 10th 2013: 200 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic!
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
Fiji – the gateway to everywhere
We have returned the Saga to Fiji for the third time of four. That relates to the logistics of this project. I couldn’t see another way. But it is also always a pleasure to be back in Fiji.
Last week’s blog: Swire Shipping’s good ship “Highland Chief” – passenger no. 1
In last week’s entry I left you while I was still onboard Swire Shipping’s good ship Highland Chief. We had reached Suva, Fiji’s capital, and it was Friday afternoon. The Ukrainians onboard were joyful as news had received the world, that the city of Kherson, which lies beautifully on the coast of the Black Sea, had finally come back under Ukrainian control. You could see the happiness pouring out of their eyes. It wasn’t until after midday before agent Fritz (great name) came to escort me off the ship. I thanked Captain Kannangara and his brave crew for all their kindness and wished for all of them to have fair winds and following seas. Then Fritz and I walked down the gangway and followed the marked walkway through the port area. I wore a hardhat and a high visibility vest provided by the ship as Fritz explained that his parents came from Fiji and Tonga, and that there was some German in the family tree on the Tongan side. Customs was really easygoing and I was soon after cleared to walk out of the port and into central Suva. I handed Fritz the hard hat and kept the high visibility vest as we parted. Then I made my way through the busy market area which was bursting with fresh produce. The entire area was buzzing with life and it wasn’t long before I heard someone calling my name?!
Tevita in blue next to his friend.
I turned around and saw Tevita from Swire Shipping. He was talking to a friend at the market and waved me over to say hello. Tevita was the ships agent back in August when I left Fiji, and he brought me to the gangway of Vanuatu Chief back then. It is always good to see a familiar face. The reality of the Saga is that I reunite with very few people after I leave a country. After a short while I was on my way again. I had some shopping to do including buying some high-end beach slippers which had been sponsored over PayPal by my friend Zach, who found it appalling when he saw the photo of me in Samoa, wearing a traditional shirt, a traditional lavalava, and my blue Salomon running shoes :) Well Zach, I finally got around to buing them and now I don’t know how I got this far without them. Back in August I met Joji Tamani who runs an adventure tour service. He’s a former pro rugby player among many other things. We made a trip up into Fiji’s interior back in August. Joji was kind enough to store a box with my belongings when I left Fiji in August and now that I had returned, Joji offered that I could stay in his spare guest room. But Joji wasn’t home! When I called him, he was out kayaking with a group of guests and wouldn't return until the following day - so he instructed me to pick up the keys at his friend Dave’s house. When I met Dave, he had a toddler on one arm and a puppy circling his feet. Dave shook my hand, handed me the keys and asked if I drank beer? We agreed to get together later that day…
Dave! A formidable host :) We saluted a few times to the world population reaching 8 billion people that night.
Once I found Joji’s house I locked myself in and met his dog Mudu (pronounced Mundo). This was my first time in Joji’s home and he wasn’t even there. Imagine the level of trust!! I walked around his home and found the guestroom which had my box from August along with a shipment which had arrived from Salomon in France: new gear!! Thanks Salomon! Then Dave called and told me he would pick me up at 5pm for dinner at his place. In the old entries you can frequently read that I’m not much of a drinker. I enjoy the occasional beer or a glass of red wine in good company. My second year in Hong Kong (during the pandemic) changed that a bit. On a weekly basis I would get together with the nutcases and we didn’t hold back on red wine. Frequently we even enjoyed the “worlds best wine”. Oh, I miss the boys and the weekly get-togethers. Well, I left Hong Kong early this year and my tolerance for alcohol has once again dropped. Dave is a great guy!! He poured me a beer as we sat outside on his porch and shared stories. He does sound and video for a variety of productions and has worked with James Cameron and David Attenborough to name a few! Dave is also a good host and made sure my glass was always full. I returned to Joji’s home around midnight and drank as much water as I possibly could before spending my first night back in Suva.
The next morning Joji returned, took a look at me and laughed. It wasn’t long before I went back to bed again. Later that day Joji and I headed out for lunch at Fierce Chicken which is a part of Grace Road Group, which is owned by Grace Road Church, which many describe as a cult. They originate from Korea but moved to Fiji in 2014 after their leader, Pastor Shin Okjoo, declared Fiji to be the “center of the world as promised in the bible”. Grace Road has a rather large presence in Fiji with 300 Koreans and 100 Fijian’s working for their restaurants, beauty salons, construction firm, hardware store, and farm. It all goes to fund their church and vision. Pretty fascinating story! Anyway, Joji was just making a short stop at his house as he was heading back out on a job together with Dave and wouldn’t be back the entire week. As such Joji left me with the keys to his home, told me to feel at home, and asked me to walk and feed Mudu. Wow! I spent three days with Joji in the interior back in August and now all of this? A stranger is most definitely a friend you’ve never met before! :)
Dinner on a budget! Crackers with SolTuna Tuna Chilli! Best tuna in the world ;)
We are down to the last three countries in which has become such an incredibly long endeavor. Three more countries and my ambition will be met. Three more countries and we will have promoted every country positively. Three more countries and we will have created world history. But my goodness these three remaining countries are not going to be easy. Tuvalu is perhaps home to 11,000 beating hearts and hurricane season is setting in. The country which is made out of flat narrow atolls isn’t far from Fiji (all things considered). I’ve known of the Tuvaluan Government operated ferry (ferries?) for a while but information is scarce. There are other options: barges, tankers, container ships… In some parts of the world, you can learn a lot through internet searches, emails, and phone calls. Fiji is much more of a “show up in person kind of place”. And as such I got to work. First stop: Tuvalu High Commission.
Tuvalu High Commission in Suva, Fiji, on a rainy day.
Ms Suriana Koau Tausi at the Tuvalu High Commission front desk was very kind, as most people tend to be. She took my email address and promised to return with more information once she had done a little internal research. On the top of her head, she only knew that the ferry “Manufolau” had recently left Suva (a bit more than a week ago). Ironically it had been at wharf in Suva for five months before heading back to Funafuti…a week ago! I thanked her and went on my way again.
The Fiji Red Cross Society HQ, Suva, Fiji, on a rainy day.
Next stop was at The Fiji Red Cross Society. Fiji is not the first country which we have returned to three times. But Fiji Red Cross is the only National Society I have paid a visit to on all three visits. During my first visit I joined their Christmas Party. During my second visit I met Mr Romit Maharaj and we stayed in touch. Romit was off island during my third visit but suggested that I sat down with Ms Luta, from the Fiji Red Cross, who’s Tuvaluan, albeit grew up in Fiji. It was good to see Ms Luta again (we met in 2019) and we were joined by Ms Louisa as well. The three of us had a good time talking about Luta’s ferry journey to Tuvalu to visit family, and we spoke of many other things before I headed back into the rain.
Williams & Goslings, Suva, Fiji, together with Oliver :)
This time I was on my way to Williams & Goslings who were said to be the agent of a cargo ship, the “Nei Matagare”, which runs monthly trips to Tuvalu. I stepped into the building which also housed many other agencies and quickly found myself talking to two men who informed that the “Nei Matagare” had been taken out of service. Then another man walked up to me and just stood there staring at me? It then dawned on me that it was Oliver!! Oliver was Neptune Pacific Lines agent who received me off the ship when I first reached Fiji in December 2019!! Oliver broke into a big smile and after catching up he took me to see the manager, Mr Eddie Yuen. The three of us then tried to work out who would be the agents of any tankers or barges heading to Tuvalu? Eddie remembered that my blogs from 2019 about being onboard Neptune’s good ship “Capitaine Quiros” were well received. That legendary ship brought the Saga to three new countries: Kiribati, Nauru and Fiji. We also spoke about Neptune’s (NPDL’s) service to Tuvalu. But it is complex given their strict COVID-19 policies. It doesn’t help that Tuvalu is currently experiencing their first large outbreak (more than 200 cases) as they are slowly trying to open up their borders (hotel quarantine is still required). But Eddie promised he would try to help. As I left Oliver and I exchanged phone numbers and agreed to meet up for kava.
I caught a movie to get out of the rain and rest my mind. I loved Black Panther!!! But this? Black Panther Wakanda Forever?? It wasn't made for me...
After the movie, which did not impress me, I returned to Joji’s home to read and reply to emails and do some more research. The next day Ms Suriana emailed me contact details of Ms Kaafia at Tuvalu Ministry of Transport. I quickly sent Ms Kaafia an email requesting information on the ferry schedule and it wasn’t long before she relied with an email address I could write to make a booking for the ferry? I wrote her again asking about information on the next ferry departure and soon received another email which just read “I think this Thursday”. What!? Could I join a ferry to Tuvalu this week?!? How could everyone I had spoken to have missed that? They couldn’t – Ms Kaafia had to be wrong, right? I emailed her again and asked if she could confirm the name of the ship? Her next reply came a few hours later and only read: “Sorry Sir, It already here…the MV Manufolau, it just arrived a week ago”. Okay, just another day within Once Upon A Saga. I wrote Ms Kaafia once more asking her about the next departure (once more). I have not heard from her since.
Rach and Marty from Very Hungry Nomads are in Fiji for a few days between Kiribati and Samoa. They only have Samoa left from visiting every country in the world!! Congrats ladies!! Less than 10% of those who enter the tiny club of reaching every country are women. I was looking forward to meeting them but they are in Nadi and I'm in Suva. We're all busy and can't pull out a day to meet up. Darn it. Well, safe travels to Samoa!! I will see you somewhere some day :)
Craig Lyon is a friend and Maersk employee whom I was first hosted by in Papua New Guinea back in early 2019. I was once again hosted by Craig in Brisbane, Australia, earlier this year. And during my Fiji visit in August Craig sent me a text encouraging me to pay Jeff and Bernie a visit at Shipping Services in Lami, a short drive out of Suva. “Two awesome guys” he described them as. I didn't find time back in August but this week I got into a taxi and made my way to their office where I introduced myself as a friend of Craig. I was invited into Jeff’s office, offered tea, and as I shared my story Jeff stopped me and called Bernie into the office. The three of us talked for a while and they made several calls trying to work things out on my behalf.
Shipping Services in Lami, Fiji. Agents of our friends at Maersk.
We learned that Campbell’s Shipping Agency are the agents for tankers calling Fiji. But Campbell’s did not know of any calling Tuvalu and reasoned that they must come straight from New Zealand, Australia, China or elsewhere. Gold Rock transports barges with gravel and rocks from Fiji to Tuvalu. The barges are dragged behind a tugboat and it is a very slow process. According to Jeff I might have a shot of reaching Tuvalu on one, but it was unlikely to be before January. Trade Pacific Shipping Agency is the agent of the Tuvalu Government owned ferries. They were not aware of the schedules for November/December. But the overall consensus is that the “MV Manufolau” would have to return to Fiji soon. Seasonal workers and students in New Zealand and Australia will be returning home for Christmas through Fiji. Some will fly but there is very little flight capacity and the tickets are too expensive for many. So, the ferry will be the only way for most Tuvaluans to return home for the holiday season. Yeah – good guys Jeff and Bernie! I might see them again.
Jeff to the left and Bernie to the right. Bernie served as a UN peacekeeper in Lebanon and in Cyprus around the same time I was a UN Peacekeeper in Eritrea/Ethiopia. Good guys for sure.
With everything we have learned this week I’m guessing its probably going to be the ferry which will get us to Tuvalu sometime during December. Unfortunately some people think Tuvalu Government will not operate the ferries for this season due to COVID-19. The crossing is 3-4 days depending on weather. NPDL could also decide to support, but it would require special permission and risk to their business. If the ship contracts COVID-19 because of me, then it will costs them two weeks of quarantine and A LOT of money. I of course argue that it can be done safely. I am fully vaccinated and have never caught COVID-19. But I’m not willing to take the costs if something goes wrong…so why should they?
Mudu was a street dog that wiggled its way through Joji's fence one night he was sitting on the porch together with Dave. They were talking about how nice it would be to have a dog. She was in bad shape and scared on the back from what looked like a kettle of boiling water that had struck her. Now she's healthy and strong and too big to make it through the fence.
Albert Park, Suva, Fiji, after the rain.
I’m now officially a dog walker. I walk Mudu once or twice a day which is rather nice. It is a good excuse to go for a walk and a great time to catch up on the BBC Global News podcast. I usually listen to an hour a day (2 x 30 mins) on speed 1.25. I tried speed 1.5 but it was to fast for me. 1.25 is rather perfect and saves me a bit of time every day while staying updated on current affairs. I listen to other podcast at regular speed which then makes me giggle when I switch over to the Global News podcast. Because by now I have become attuned to the presenters speaking 1.25% faster than what they actually do. So, before I manage to adjust the speed from normal to 1.25 the presenters sound slow/drunk. Whatever makes you smile, right? This week I have also managed to backup 34,145 photos and 3,511 video clips from my iPhone to my PC so I could save it all on a hard disk. The pleasures of a modern world. I use an app called Simple Transfer which relies on a WIFI connection. I also cannot use my phone nor the laptop while transferring files. It has taken somewhere around 15-20 hours. But now the past three years are securely backed up. We wouldn’t want to lose two years of memories from Hong Kong plus Palau, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and Fiji again. What a year this has been already. Thanks to everyone who helped.
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - deep into bureaucrazy and logistics
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga