"Babu my man, bula bula, good to see you, how are you?" I shouted to my favorite taxi man who'd got up at 1am to come and meet me. A tiny Indo-Fijian, short, thin with a happy face and a little square well trimmed mustache.
"Very good" he replied in his usual humble manner and a barely detectable Indian wobble of the head.
"I can't believe you are crazy enough to get up this time of night, and besides I didn't think you'd recognize me", I said.
"Ooo yes I knew it was you when you came around the corner, but you had a mustache last year and now it is gone" he replied matter of factly. Fijians are people people, when they make a friend they always remember every detail, and they talk about the person for years to complete strangers. They notice things that we westerners are in too much of a rush to even contemplate - I doubt I would have noticed if Babu had shaved his moustache. Each time I leave the tropics I tell myself not to forget the laughter, the genuine warmth and innocence of the people. Yet within a couple weeks, the stress and pace of modern society sucks the magic from me and I am back to the frantic consumerism which blankets our culture.
We rattled along the road, Babu telling me about his family, how work and his life is just the same. It felt as if time had stood still since I had left, a year had passed yet nothing seemed different. Babu still had the same air freshener can glued to the dashboard, and still had newspaper on the floor so passengers didn't dirty the floor. But eons had passed in the last year, Jen and I had moved from Fiji to Denver, started new jobs, spent 6 months in the Antarctic, bought a house and now I was back in Fiji. But to Babu, all was the same.
We rattled along the roads, passing small square homes with tiny porches and a single yellow incandescent bulb illuminating the limp laundry hanging in the damp night air. I thought of all the open windows, and the inhabitants sleeping off the kava while mosquitoes gorged on their blood. I wondered if mosquitoes flew well when full of kava blood. "Sojourner looks great, I see it everly time I go to da marina" Babu remarked. I perked up when he spoke of Sojourner and realized that within 30 min I'd be standing on the deck of our boat, to embark on a new and scary adventure. For a year I have worried about the torrential rains, the cyclones, the baking sun, the bugs, the mildew and desire for boats to self-destruct in the absence of their owners. The desire is so strong that boats return to chaos orders of magnitude faster when left alone. They employ all the elements, reveling in the rapid self-destruction that can be accomplished when nobody is trying to maintain order. I wondered how SJ had fared, but knew this was the third time she'd spent cyclone season in the tropics and that she would be in pretty good shape. Besides, my friend Morua had been looking after her, topping up the batteries weekly and keeping leaves off the solar panels and out of the deck scuppers every day.
We pulled into the marina, lights reflecting of the masts and decks of boats. Some boats I immediately recognized and memories came flooding back. But I felt like an outsider, a visitor who has to work and is no longer a part of the cruiser clan. I didn't care, I had a mission and no time to hang with the yachties. Pulling up behind SJ, Babu's lights illuminated her. There was a deep ache in my gut, as if I was re-uniting with an old girlfriend. This was crazy - she's just a boat. But this boat had carried us through good times and bad times, 30 days at sea from Mexico to the Marquesas, 8000 meandering miles through the Pacific, storms and dilemmas. She had been our home for 5 years, and there was a part of our soul in that hull. Babu offloaded the bags and drove away, leaving the sound of crickets, frogs and the slight breeze slapping some halyards on aluminum masts.
I had planned this moment for weeks, knowing the yard was mosquito infested and it would be pitch black and there was no room inside Sojourner. I pulled out my head mounted light and dosed up with deet. I sat on the side of the deck for a moment, listening to the sound of the breeze, and insects. The stars were intense and I sat there looking for the southern cross. There it was in the South West, a fist above the horizon with Mimosa and Acrux aligned with the south. It felt great to be on Sojourner and I had to fight that lump in my throat. Pulling back the cockpit canvas I loved the familiar smell, the mixture of teak, mahogany and mildew. Sojourner never smelled bad, she always had a quality wood smell, and Jen kept her spotlessly clean. Peering inside all looked well, if not chaotic. The dinghy was stuffed inside, all cushions were uprooted and all cabinets open. Even the floorboards were uprooted. I do this for airflow, and it has the added advantage of making it appear to have already been looted, although we have never had a problem.
The bilge was dry, the battery monitor said +6 amps and 13.6 Volts. Perfect. Mo had done his job well, and other than much of the woodwork coated in mildew, SJ looked like she had resisted self-destruction pretty good. Nothing seemed to have changed; Fiji time had seemed to apply to Sojourner. I climbed back on deck and simply sat, not even noticing the mosquitoes. I looked out toward Musket Cove and remembered my rapid abandonment of SJ a year ago. The frantic rush to put her on land and start a new job in the US. It seemed to be years ago and I couldn't believe how much my life had changed.
But for now we were re-united, and for a month, at least, it will be like old times. Me relying on SJ to keep me alive and SJ needing me to keep her going. There was a lot of work to be done - a whole boat to be re-assembled and tested. Somehow the hard work was appealing, it was just me, Sojourner, the tropics and 1265 miles of open ocean to be crossed. Goose pimples covered my body and I sat there until 6:15am when an orange glow from the east silhouetted the masts circling the marina. Mynah birds, red-headed finches and flycatchers began their frantic cacophany for the new day. The tropics felt like home, but there was no time to relax, there is 2 months of work to be done and only 7 days available to do it.
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