October 4 – 7
16 21.734 S 179 21.586 E
Posting by Dennis:
Our exit from the reef to Malau went kind of as planned with Barb as lookout on the bow. Only Barb was doing a lot of yelling “Port! Port!, Starboard! Starboard!”, as we wove are way through the coral heads that loomed just below the surface. It was quite exhilarating to finish the reef passage unscathed. We anchored just off the village of Malau in a comfortable twenty five feet of water with a mud bottom .(water so murky we couldn’t see anymore than 2 feet below the surface). We were between the buoys for the propane terminal and what looked like an abandoned jetty for the saw mill. This was not going to be a quiet place at all. As we found out it is also were the local nearby villages come to catch the Labasa bus so we had boats going by all the time. Everything about this anchorage was in contrast to our last stop.
We were able to watch a propane tanker come in and offload some propane, not quite the same technique that would be used in the USA but it works. Also watched a ship come in at high tide and beach himself in the soft mud next to the jetty. He stayed there for a couple of days while they loaded and off loaded materials.
The first day I went to shore and took in our propane tank to get filled. The first guy said no they didn’t have the correct fittings to fill the tank. But as I did not seem as though I was going to go away another guy said he would check. He went into a shack and came out with a hose that would adapt to fit US tanks. He proceeded to take an old piece of wire and scrape off the crust and dirt. I was a little skeptical but my options were few. He then took the hose over to a large 200 pound tank and connected the hose to it and opened the valve and let liquid propane shoot out the end of the hose, a good reason not to smoke. He screwed it to our tank and removed the bleeder screw and opened the valve and he sat there with liquid propane flowing down the tank like lava and a propane fog filling the air. When the it was full and a stream of liquid shot out he installed the bleed screw and wallah we had a very very full tank. I am sure it is fuller then any time in the past, all for $11.60 Fiji, less than $6 US and I am sure that more of it went into the air than went into the tank.
The next day we caught the bus into Labasa and searched out the Yamaha dealer to fix our outboard prop. The prop was now slipping so bad that we could no longer go faster than an idle. The dealer said he did not have one but could order one from Japan and would have it in a month or so, for a mere three hundred dollars. We said no thanks and asked if anyone else would have one. He sent us to a back alley shop that tried to sell us one that was for a fifteen HP and was at least twice as big as ours. This guy sent us to another place deeper into the alley to an old blacksmith shop that had opened in 1911. As we entered the place it had one four foot fluorescent fixture hanging in the middle and there were piles and piles of old junk everywhere. In the back sat the original forge. I can’t even imagine just how hot it must get in this old tin building when they fire that thing up and get it hot enough to work steel. I asked the guy if he could fix it and he said it would be $28.00 dollars and to come back at three and he would have it done. When we returned it was almost done and as you can see, it was no great work of art (3 new brass bolts), but it would get us by until we could get to a place, the US probably, where we can get a new one.
Next we stopped at the Grog Pounders just so I could take a couple of pics of them pounding kava. It was another dark dingy place and I walked right past the counter into the back and took a couple of pics. I don’t think anyone else had ever done it before because the women working were really glad to have their pictures taken. It made their day! People here love to have their picture taken, it goes with just how friendly they all are. Now off to have lunch at a local restaurant, I had sweet and sour chicken, which was more like sweet and sour batter balls, Barb had Chop Suey, a much better choice. Then it was off to the market and replenish our veggies, (cucumbers, tomatoes, bok choy and lemons).
We sat in the shade to escape the heat while waiting for the bus. As we sat there an old man came up to me and asked me were I was from. When I said the US he got all excited and asked if I could do him a ‘BIG FAVOR’. I could tell by the look on Barb’s face that she thought we were really in for it now. So he started by telling me that he wanted help from Muhammad Alli to set up a boxing club in Fiji. Barb quickly explained that Muhammad was dead. But he was aware of that and he had sent the letter to the family via the mayor of Louisville Kentucky a month ago and had not heard back from him yet. He was hoping that the mayor could talk to the ‘Alli’ family and get some help for his boxing club. Now since I was from the US and so close to Louisville, maybe I could talk to the mayor and the Alli family. He wouldn’t take no for an answer and gave me his address so I could write him back after I had checked with them. His wife was chatting with Barb and Barb was saying how hot it was. The woman got up and went over to a stand and came back with two big ice cream cones for us. After which they said goodbye and went off to catch their bus leaving us to eat these dripping, sticky ice cream cones. Fiji hospitality, barely making it day to day with little income but yet choose to buy us ice cream.
The last place I went was to the plywood plant to get a tour as I had met the supervisor the day before. OSHA (for our non US friends it’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has never been near this place!! Not one piece of equipment has a guard or any type of safety device. The tour started with the logs entering the plant and going to the peeler where a log is reduced to a coil of thin veneer in thirty seconds. This is done while a guy walks above pulling out the poorer pieces. The veneer then goes to dryers and sanders and then it is glued and pressed. Only the smaller press was working, the larger one was broken (who knows how long it has been out of commission). It is than sized and graded. All this is done with a lot of manual labor and with equipment that is so old. An example is the final inspection and grading which is done by two guys that flip over every sheet by hand and stamp each one using an ink pad and a rubber stamp (there was no reject pile at all). The people are very proud of what they do , take a lot of pride in their work place and love to show it off.
On our last evening we had our first home BBQ hamburgers with fresh lettuce and tomatoes!! It was so so so good after all the fish and Fiji food! Malau was an interesting and entertaining stop.