I remember the first time I heard the name Fiji, many years ago. Name of a country of tropical islands with extreme beauty somewhere on the other side of the world, in the middle of the Pacific, where rich people go on vacation. I was about Maya’s age, living in Bulgaria, dreaming about tropical islands of extreme beauty, and Fiji was on my bucket list of places to visit, even though I had no idea how to get there. Now that I think of it, the best way to visit Fiji is aboard a sailboat.
My Fijian dream is about to come true.
After a couple of days sailing from North Minerva Reef, we approach Port of Suva on the southeast side of Fiji’s biggest island- Viti Levu where we can check-in in the country. On the VHF radio we hear the port captain speaking in Hindi to one of the few commercial ships in the port and to another ship in Fijian! We call for permission to enter the port and receive instructions (in English) where to anchor.
In Fiji, there are three official languages: English, Fijian and Hindi, all three broadly spoken and studied in the local schools by all children. Fijian is widely spread, spoken as a first language by Fijians who make up over half of the population. Fijians of Indian descent, nearly 40% of the total population (brought as contract workers from India during the British colony), speak a local variation of Hindi, known as Fiji Hindi. English was brought to the islands during British colonial rule and was the only official language until 1997. It is still the primary language used in government, business, and education. This means that almost everyone in Fiji speaks at least two language, and many are trilingual!
We arrange the checking-in through Suva’s Royal Yacht Club over the radio and wait for a few hours for the customs and immigration officials to arrive with a small motorboat. They are the first Fijians we meet- friendly smiling people, not in too much of a hurry, with dark skins and black curly hairs. There is a polite nurse with them, asking us if we are in good health and taking notes. Two guys look around the boat, open the fridge and some storage compartments. It’s all good. We fill the endless entry forms. But all this is not enough. We need to go on land and look for the quarantine department, the port captain, the doctor’s office and a place at the end of the city where we can get a cruising certificate that will allow us to visit the rest of the islands. Arriving in Fiji by yacht and the clearing procedures can be really complicated, slow and expensive. In some other places, like Nadi, agents offer to do all the running around for a fee, but in Suva you can do most of the clearing procedures yourself and it’s the cheapest option. But we have to spend a day in Suva walking from one end of the city to the other with a bag full of papers and forms. Here is some very important information on clearing procedures for yachts arriving in Fiji @Noonsite.
Thus, we explore Suva.
We kayak to the Royal Yacht Club. The only royal thing about it is its name. The small marina is nothing but a dirty little cove with fishing boats and derelict vessels, and so shallow a normal yacht can only enter during high tide. From here we walk. It is a few kilometers to the city’s center, passing by the local jail, the big beer factory named “Fiji Bitter, The Real Taste of Fiji”, the central market, and the commercial port, before we reach the city center with its colonial buildings and busy stores. First impression of Fiji- dusty, noisy and crowded- nothing to do with the image of a tropical paradise in the tourist brochures and in my dreams. Yet, I love Suva’s atmosphere and authenticity, its diverse population and architecture. I realize how much I like to walk in big dusty cities now and then, to feel the vibe of busy streets and the colorful disorder of markets.
Perched on a hilly peninsula reaching out into the sea, Fiji’s capital and main port city, is also known as the “New York of the Pacific”. A third of the nation’s population lives in and around Suva- a multiracial and multicultural city with representatives of all major indigenous Pacific groups. The city is the political, economic, and cultural center of Fiji and also the economic and cultural capital of the Pacific, hosting many regional headquarters of major corporations. Also here is the University of the South Pacific’s main campus, as well as many major international agencies and diplomatic missions from the region, which has attracted an influx of Pacific migrants from all neighboring countries, who study, work and live in the city and its boroughs.
Suva, with a mix of modern buildings and traditional colonial architecture, also has a thriving arts and performance scene, with a growing reputation as the regions fashion capital.
Yet, Suva is not very popular with tourists and vacationers seeking picture-perfect sandy beaches and resorts. Although Suva is on a peninsula, almost surrounded by sea, the nearest beach is 40 kilometers (25 mi) away and the nearby coast is lined by mangroves. Most of the city center, including the old Parliament buildings, is built on reclaimed mangrove swamp.
The mountains north and west of Suva catch the southeast trade winds, producing moist conditions’ year round. For this reason, the city has tropical rain forest climate and receives substantial amount of rain, such that the term “fine weather” in a weather report simply means “not actually raining”. Suva has relatively constant temperatures throughout the year, varying between 28 °C (82 °F) and 22 °C (72 °F) and hardly a day without rain. Yet, the two days we spent there the sky was blue and the sun was shining.
I walk with great pain in my lower back and my entire right leg, after I suffered from a pinched nerve on our way to Minerva Reefs, but at least i am grateful that I can walk at all. One of the first places we visit is a local drug store where I can buy any kind of medicine over the counter, so I don’t have to look for a clinic. I explain my pain to a young Indian nurse at the pharmacy and she gives me anti inflammatory pills and something special for my pinched nerve.
In fact, I have been diagnosed by a professional already. Doctor Petar Chaushev is a relative of one of our friends in New Zealand- Doctor Boris Penchev, and he helped me via e-mail, determining my medical condition and suggesting possible treatment and medication.
After I sent him an e-mail explaining my problem, he answered back: “According to your description of the pain in your lower back, I believe that you have pinched a nerve on the right side, at L5 level of the spine – the sciatic nerve. I suggest that you do the following test to determine if your condition might have some permanent damage or not. With someone helping you, try to walk slowly on your heels and see if you can lift the toes of both legs at the same height, or if the right foot is closer to the ground. If you can lift them equally, then you can continue to take anti inflammatory twice a day after meals, rest a lot and do some light careful exercises. “
We continued writing e-mails with my online doctor Chaushev and thanks to him (and to the no-prescription-needed-medication in Fiji) I got much better much faster.
After a couple of months, when I was all better, my doctor wrote to me that the best thing I can do now is to keep my back muscles strong and in shape and thus- the spine well aligned to prevent the same injury from happening again. Exercise and control your weight! I think this is the best advice for everyone out there- stay fit and maintain your back muscles to avoid this sort of painful injury.
Dear D-r Petar Chaushev, if you are reading this- thank you once again!
And to all of you out there wondering how cruisers and sailors deal with medical situations- this is how!
The day we spend walking around Suva was enough to see the main points of interest and then keep going.
We visited Thurs ton botanical gardens and Museum, passed by the Presidential Palace and Albert Park, and stopped at the central market to buy fruits and vegetables for the boat.
I was ready to rest for at least a week, after the long passage, but our friends from catamaran Invictus sent us a message that goes something like this: “We are getting west wind for the next couple of days! You get west wind once a year in Fiji, so don’t miss this chance and start sailing east immediately! We are in Savu Savu and will meet you in Lau! Mercredi Soir are already on their way there, so you have no excuse- BE THERE!”
The prevailing winds in Fiji are from the east, so the passage from Suva to Lau is usually extremely difficult against the wind. So, we just arrived in Suva, and now we are getting these extremely rare west winds, which are perfect for sailing back east to Lau Group of Islands where our best friends will meet us in two days. Why didn’t we stop in Lau then, on our way to Fiji, instead of sailing to Suva? We couldn’t stop in Lau on our way to Suva, because it is not possible to do the clearing procedures there- no option to check-in. Arriving from New Zealand you have to sail to one of the few places in Fiji where you can officially check-in: Suva, Nadi or Savu, otherwise you will be illegal. You have to obtain a cruising permit for the rest of the islands, and only then you can sail to Lau Group of Islands (which is 160 NM back east, where we came from).
Here we go again. Back on the boat, sleep one night at anchor, and sail again. We start in the morning, sail overnight with the wind on a broad reach, and arrive in the late afternoon on the next day. We drop anchor in one of the South Pacific most spectacular anchorages- The Bay of Islands. Here I will find my postcard-perfect white sand beach and much much more.
To be continued…
Watch our short YouTube episode Sailing to Suva
If you are reading this …
… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories and watching our short videos, but far fewer are supporting us. We haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories and videos for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog and YouTube channel often for their support, a sort of a friendly monthly subscription. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures, to film and edit, to translate, take a lot of time and hard work. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, watch the videos and want to support us, consider becoming one of our patrons and part of our Nomadik family for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month. You can choose the amount you want to contribute and for what period of time, and you can always change your mind and change or stop your pledge. We use the funds collected through Patreon to upgrade our photo and video equipment, so we can continue creating. Thank you!
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana