The first thing I did when I got to shore was hug a tree. I hugged that tree until it blushed, and the dirt beneath it shook, and the butterflies sang.
I sang too and all the people stared because I’m no kind of singer, but my daddy is, which makes me a great pretender.
Then, of course, there were formalities to take care of and I did so over a glass of cold white wine at a picnic table. It’s me and that wine, with my passport being tossed around between a woman from customs, two men from biosecurity, and two from immigrations. French fries and my uncontrollable dance jolts, between us all.
They tell me that Olivia is a Fijian name, and they want to know how on earth I have a Fijian name. I say, “Only the mushrooms down in the dirt know the truth of my origins, and though this country feels like home, I’m almost positive no part of me is Fijian. I can tell you that most of the women in my family are named Olivia and it’s rather confusing when we are all gathered together.”
“Do you have any animals onboard, Olivia?” Asks a man from Biosecurity.
“Well I‘m a wild animal, and I’ve always wanted a pet, but I don’t have one yet. You know what kind of pet would be cool? One that can change colors- like a chameleon! I want a pet that can turn from green to purple in a blink. A pet more colorful than a lava lamp or a rainbow or a sunset. Do the iguanas here change colors?”
Him, “Yes, from light green to dark green.”
Me, “Well that’s not as exciting as purple. So besides me, and the pet that I long for, onboard I’ve got insects galore. I reckon there are about 300 spiders, plus a few cockroaches and lord knows what else, and I‘d be ever so grateful if you could help me exorcise them from the boat.”
The man says, “It will cost you several thousand dollars if we do. So, do you have anything of that nature onboard?”
I take a sip of wine and a gulp of air, then look him straight in the eyes. I say, “I do, but I can’t afford to say that I do, and I promise you that I will murder them all by tomorrow because I do recognize the destruction an invasive species can have on a place.”
“Ok well I’m going to mark down here that you don’t,” he says.
In the midst of all of this there is some big ta-do on the dock and I excuse myself to see what the fuss is about. The fuss is over a blue-blooded, three-hearted, nine-brained, boneless creature! That’s right, there’s an octopus in the water and it’s a big one and it turns from white to red then inks the blue into black. I’ve been searching for an octopus for far longer than I’ve been searching for an underwater hermit crab. It’s such a thrill and I’m at the height of all heights.
I go back to the picnic table, dizzied by elevation, and I’ve got the whole uniformed gang laughing at me or with me, I can’t tell which. I don’t even know the words coming out of my mouth anymore and I feel buck wild. Is it me, is it the wine, is it the land, is it the sea, is it the octopus?
A man from immigrations says he wants to meet the people who created such a creature as me, so I FaceTime my parents who are one day minus six hours away. My parents have no clue that they are speaking to people who are officially official, but they confirm for the officials that I have always “been this way.” One of the officials tells my parents, “We would like to keep your daughter in our country. We can offer her some land with a few horses, five mango trees, and a coconut tree.” I don’t know what my parents think of this offer, but it sounds like a rather nice dowry to me.
Anyway, I have to sign so much paperwork to enter the country, that I put that octopus’s ink to shame. It costs money too and nobody takes credit cards, so I find myself at an ATM holding many $100 Fijian bills in my hand. You won’t believe what’s on the $100 bill….. a cockroach! Yes, you heard me. I confirmed with everyone, including biosecurity that my eyes were not deceiving me. And nobody knows why the cockroach is on the bill, but they agree it is as hysterical as I think it is.
May your money be as abundant as cockroaches, but do remember, to love anything too much, is a dangerous thing.
After I’m “in” Fiji according to the ink and cockroach bills, I dash to the boat with a mechanic. His name is Sami and his grandmother came from India and he tells me that Savusavu is known as the hidden paradise. He wears a short-sleeve denim jumpsuit and I covet it.
When I start the engine, nothing misbehaves, no red light, no instrument fog. The impeller is perfect, the sea strainer pure, and my engine doesn’t even have a thermostat.
Sami says, “Your engine looks and sounds good. I think your boat has a ghost.”
I say, “In fact, she does have a ghost. One for sure, perhaps many. Lately they rein in the galley or bathroom, but I suppose one could have snuck into the engine room when I wasn’t looking.”
Sami says, “I believe you.” Then he tells me that he enjoys speaking to me so much that he would like to invite me to his house for dinner, so that I can meet his family.
Sami doesn’t know what’s bloody wrong with the engine, but decides to clean the heat exchanger and change the alternator belt, because it’s a little loose. I learn then, that the belt drives the raw-water pump, a fact which I never knew.
Sami cleans the heat exchanger in the bubbling geothermal hot springs near town. He says he cleans all of his engine parts there and that if I wanted, I could fry an egg up there too.
I spend the rest of the day staring at clownfish at a place called split rock. I am taken there by a nice Californian captain who is bone-headed- which in Fiji means a man with white hair not a numbskull- and his crew, two Canadian cops. One of the cops rolls his eyes at everything I say. I remark that it is possible to carry on a conversation without judgment. The captain tells me that the cop, “…is not used to dynamic women and because you are very easy to meet it throws him for a loop that you are certainly not easy to know.”
At first my feelings are hurt by it all, then I decide that I don’t care if the cop rolls his eyes at me. If he rolls them enough maybe they will roll into the back of his head and his blindness will allow him to see the world with more openness and clarity!
We spend sunset with a group of young Mexican racers on their TP 52. They just raced in the Transpac and are making their way to Australia for the Sydney Hobart. I want to race with them. I invite myself. I tell them that a race boat with “nine Mexicans and one Arkansan has a really nice ring to it.” We would surely make the headlines, even if we didn’t win.
That night I sleep in a cloud of mosquito repellent and fixate on meeting a Fijian chief who can heal broken bones. A little bird told me that healers like that exist here, in the deepest part of the bush, up the tallest mountains, on the most remote islands.