This entry was prompted by the forum on health by "Talesofawoolleymammoth" as well as by pictures of Fiji recently posted on Facebook by our friend Tom; plus I currently have time on my hands (Ali being back in Britain, looking after her convalescing mum, and it being a holiday weekend here in the States). And so, I've succumb to another self-indulgent retro-blog. Many apologies for using photos pinched from a previous blog ("Twenty two years ago today"), both for the repetition and lousy quality (even worse evidently for having been copied from one blog to another ; the relevant photos are currently inaccessible, but will be substituted as soon as possible).
Friday 4th May 1990, Suva, Viti Levu.
We arrived from Savusavu on Venua Levu back to the capital, Suva, at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. and trekked through town searching for somewhere to lay our weary bones. The recommended Coconut Inn
was full, so we ended up in The South Seas Private Hotel
that was cheap, fairly clean and magnificently mediocre.
Having unpacked we nipped into town to develop some films. By this time my guts were in turmoil and
Ali was feeling seriously weak; returned as rapidly as we were able and went immediately to bed – where we were to stay for the next two days.
Saturday 5th – Sunday 6th May 1990.
These were extremely unpleasant days. Neither of us could even contemplate food; we both felt like death, everything ached and fever sent us from uncontrollable bouts of shivering to rampant total body sweats. Saturday morning and the sheets were sopping and encrusted with grim, yellow, body-shaped, stains. I managed to pull on a pair of shorts and literally hobble to reception where, embarrassed, I asked for replacements and bottles of water. Sunday morning and I repeated the exercise, now feeling too sick to even consider embarrassment.
Monday 7th May, 1990.
This was the third day of wallowing in our stinking pit. My fever seemed to have broken and I managed to rouse Ali to make the daunting journey to the doctor's that was, apparently, just down the road. Walking was not easy, my legs kept buckling. Ali was dizzy and almost unable to open her eyes. I slung her arm over my shoulders and half-carried her for
50 yards or so before we both slumped to the pavement and sat on the kerb to gather some energy. Obviously we didn’t look too good as almost immediately a car drew alongside and offered to take us to the doctor.
Our self-diagnosis – Flu – was way off. It seemed we had dengue fever, also known as “break-bone fever”, a mosquito-borne virus that is well described by its latter name. We were told that there is no treatment and that you just have to ride it out. Oh…, and deaths normally only occur from dehydration, so make sure you keep drinking…
Following a sheet change it was back to bed.
Tuesday 8th May, 1990.
Ali continued to be ill and was now vomiting, although her fever was also down.
Wednesday 9th May, 1990.
Neither of us had now eaten since the Chinese, five days ago, and we still had absolutely no inclination to do so. Once again we stumbled along to the doctor's to get something for Ali’s constant vomiting which was causing increasing concern as it now consisted solely of old, black, treacle-like blood.
Plus, she now had a red rash covering her entire body. It turned out that the rash was indicative of dengue and is actually a sign of recovery. The black blood: she'd simply torn her oesophagus from the incessant retching.
Thursday 10th May, 1990.
I now also had the rash, which was bloody itchy. Ali wanted to go home.
The first sign of a return of appetite saw Ali send me into town to try to procure some tinned peaches. The walk was slow and tortuous, every step a massive effort. On the outskirts I was accosted by a man whittling away at what looked like a wooden mask. He asked my name and, to my horror, proceeded to carve it into the mask. I was totally at his mercy, having no energy to object to the scam that I could see unfolding before me, and was rapidly fleeced of some dollars in exchange for said mask. A few paces on and the offending article found a new home in a ditch – I was not having Ali know that I’d been done…
I returned with the prized peaches, but the smell
brought only panic to Ali’s eyes as she rapidly grabbed the bucket.
Friday 11th May, 1990.
Ali finally stopped being sick. We made it to the embassy to extend our visas where, majestically, Ali conjured one last chunder into a potted plant. Shared and partially ate a sandwich, our first food in a week, but then returned back to the Dengue hotel and bed.
Saturday 12th May, 1990.
Had a sudden urge for ice cream and tracked some down at Hari Krishner.
We both managed to consume a full sandwich, but then required a taxi to make it back to the hotel. This is tediously draining.
Made a plan to head for the island of Ovalau on Monday and from there to go across to the tiny island of Leleuvia. Fabled tales of Leleuvia by Tim, a family friend since forever, and his girlfriend Ange, are pretty much what sparked the whole travel idea for us. However, any change from this grim hotel was going to seem like paradise now – the staff having shown absolutely no compassion as to our sorry states.
Sunday 13th May 1990.
Initially a bright day so we forced ourselves to do a huge pile of hand-washing that seemed to take forever and left us totally exhausted. Then, in rolled the rain so up went the washing lines in our room and under which we subsequently lay, feeling weak and miserable.
Monday 14th May 1990. Levuka, Ovalau.
Up early and set-off in our bid to escape from Suva. Posted various photos home and then camped out waiting for the ferry bus. The bus duly arrived but informed us that you can’t board without a ferry ticket. We rushed off and tried to buy a ticket from the terminal but they’d sold-out: panic. At a loss, we decided to try Fiji Air
to see if we could fly to Ovalau. The prices seemed reasonable, so we took the last two seats, dashed to another bus stop and actually made it to the airport in good time.
The plane was a tiny propeller job and there was no hostess saying “your exits are here, here and here”, probably because there was only a single “here”. Ten minutes after take-off and we were perilously close to the ground (sea). Ali
was sure that we were about to crash and that the pilot was simply too laid-back/grogged-up to worry; but no, suddenly there is a muddy path beneath us, on which we landed (bounced).
Still feeling none too hardy we got a taxi to Levuka, the tiny Capital, which is caught in some 18th century time-warp. Parallel to the coast is Beach Street that consists of a line of dusty clapboard shops that face out over the dirt road to a strip of shingle and beyond to the sea, with all stores sharing a common, tired, planked sidewalk. Set back slightly, opposite the war memorial, is a hotel, The Old Capital Inn
. We were checked-in by Mary, wife of Emosi: the Fijian-Chinese proprietor that we’d come to seek out. Happy just to be away from the Dengue Hotel, let alone to have made it here, we sunk a beer – our first in ten days - sat at the dimly-lit rickety bar. Emosi is also the owner of Leleuvia and Mary informed us that, yes, you can still visit the island and yes he will take us over tomorrow. Drinking more beers to our good fortune and improved health we got chatting to two young local drunks who had wandered in, but, shattered, we were soon crying-off to bed.
Tuesday 15th May 1990. Leleuvia.
Up and a breakfast - a breakfast - of toast and eggs, followed by a quick jaunt down Beach Street to pick-up vital supplies: batteries for the personal stereos and a sulu (Fijian sarong).
Back at The Old Capital Inn
we were joined by an incredibly short Irish girl (who would later become known, not so originally, as “Irish short legs”) and a Danish guy, both of whom had apparently returned to Ovalau with Emosi to buy provisions. We waited for Emosi by the boat, a small motor launch already laden with crates of beer, bottled water and an enormous fish. He arrived full of jolly bluster, a stocky little man with weather-beaten moon face.
The day was rather grey, the wind blustery and the choppy water made the crossing a wet one. After thirty minutes or so we could make out an island - Leleuvia - in the distance. It looked really small. Twenty minutes later and we were close to the island and it really was small, no more than 100 yards in length. It’s idyllic, even on a bleak day: a golden fringe of sand rings a central copse of palms, between which the roofs of several bures (palm leaf-roofed cottages) peek. We dragged the boat up a gently shelving beach in front of a large covered seating area. There’s a cooking/washing stand to the rear and two local guys were busy around a gas burner. To the right, the island tapers to a sand spit on which several backpackers were grouped under a dilapidated palm shelter.
We helped to unpack the boat and were then shown to an available private bure, roughly constructed from coconut trunks and sheets of woven palm fronds. This was totally Spartan, with a mud/sand floor, shuttered hatches as windows, a raised sleeping platform with thin mattress enshrined in a mosquito net and, outside the door, a hurricane lamp ready for nightfall: paradise indeed. Fifteen Fijian dollars (six quid) per night, between us, with all meals thrown in, seemed pretty good.
We were introduced to the toilet/shower facilities: the former being a large hole in the ground surrounded by some privacy fencing and a lot of flies; the latter, a large plastic barrel mounted on a wooden scaffold from which protrudes, watering can-style, a shower head. The shower is predominantly sea water, occasionally 50:50 with fresh if it has rained heavily. There is no electricity on the island save a small generator which is gainfully employed powering a huge chest fridge in which the beers are kept. Emosi has his priorities right.
The first meal was a lunch of cold fish curry with rice and later dinner was spit-roasted chicken and rice. We'd not had rice for ages (and it was heaven after days of cassava, dalo and taro), but already we could see a pattern forming. Dinner over, we sat in the covered communal area, feet in the cooling sand, chatting to a couple of English guys, as the surf lapped languidly beyond. It seems all payments (for beer, cigarettes, soft drinks and other necessities) are on tab which could prove costly. However, we were recuperating and the beers were soon flowing. There were about a dozen other backpackers on the island and maybe six Fijian lads running the show for Emosi, who is mostly back on Ovalau. As the night drew in, lanterns were lit and distributed, the communal area now a buzz of chatter amidst the lamp-lit half-light. The Fijian lads hung around, joining in conversations over a few beers, then shared some grog, produced a guitar and a motley collection of home-made instruments and were soon singing renditions of "Leleuvia Blues" and "Ne sa Buna", that inevitably led to Bob Marley.
We retired refreshed and tipsy.
Bizarrely, I can still remember some lyrics from "Leleuvia Blues" - written by Craig (still in residence when we arrived):
"There ain't no blues in Leleuvia, except the blue, blue, blue blue sea.
You go to the loo, you take the bucket with you, in Le, Lu Lu, Leuvia.
Wake up from bed, to a hard-boiled egg, in Le, Lu Lu, Leuvia.."
As far as I'm aware he didn't subsequently make his living in the music industry...
Oh, and as for the dengue.... A full recovery (energy wise) took several weeks; its only lasting legacy is our fear of contracting it again and the complications that could arise from a subsequent infection...
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