I am wrapped up in one of Fiji Airlines warm blankets with a big smile on my face. We are on our way home.
We spent last forty-eight hours in New Zealand packing in some serious logistics. First, we traveled back to Whengerai (2.5 hours away from Aukland) to attend a seminar on the updated check in process for Indonesia. We reunited with the Scoots for one more cocktail and a dinner hosted by 13 Indonesian customs officials and at one musician with an interesting hat.
We filled in the questionnaire: Do you strongly agree, agree, undecided, disagree, strongly disagree?
We stayed the night in Whengerai, then got an early start toward Auckland to turn over Sister Mary Francis on our buy back contract. The turnover did not go quite as planned, and we spent the next 20 hours trying to figure out what to do with her. Luckily, Sam at Backpacker’s Car World hopped to action from a half world away, while on his vacation, to help us get her settled in. In the wee minutes before we had to arrive at the airport, we nestled Sister Mary Francis in next to one hundred of her sisters and cousins, then popped her keys in the nearby mailbox. She will undoubtedly be picked up by more travelers next spring and spend another few months traveling through New Zealand. Fair winds and dry roads, Sister. Thanks for all the fun times.
We gave hugs all around to our New Zealand friends, gave Max the Cat a scratch behind the ears, and left quickly with those cheerful sailor smiles that say: “I’m not going to bring up the fact that we might not see each other for a long time, because you never know.” It would be uncouth in the sailor-world to mention this fact aloud.
We weave our way through New Zealand customs and immigration, checking out and getting our substantial amount of luggage through the process. Then we try to "relax" while we wait for our gate to be called.
We fly a few hours to Fiji, land, then trudge through Fiji customs. The cold stored up in my feet from the airplane ride actually feels like it is condensing in the hot humidity between the airplane and the air-conditioned airport. Once cleared, we head toward the hotel shuttle. The driver hoists our heavy bags into the back of the van and welcomes us to our seats “Bula!”
We smile, take our seats, and put on our seat belts as the driver putters off. As soon as we look up, we are already at the hotel. The “fifteen minute walk” from the hotel was more like 5, at most. But, with as much luggage as we have, we are grateful for the lift. We are treated like kings as the Fiji Gateway Hotel puts our luggage on a rolling cart and delivers it to our room for us. The room is large, open, and even air conditioned. We test the bed and find it has the best pillows we have slept on in ages. We try to remember the last time we stayed in a hotel: work trips December of 2015.
Starting to relax, we head over to see the pool, grab some beers at the bar, and settle in to listen to live Fijian guitar music. Two gentlemen play and sing with lovely voices. We eat our first batch of fish marinated in coconut milk, chilis, garlic and lime. It is delicious. The cool Fijian lager is chilly, and immediately forms beads of tropical sweat to soak our hands. We are back in the tropics!
While we relax and drink our beers, Andrew calls our friend Fredie. We have a feeling it would be offensive if we were to return to the yard without giving him a call for a ride. A woman answers the phone, there is a bit of a confusion, some concern, and then Fredie takes over the line. “Hello?”
“Hi Fredie, This is Andrew.”
“Eioh, EEIIIOHH! Hi Andrew. Andrew and Leslie from Sonrisa, right?” Soon thereafter, our ride from the airport is arranged.
The anticipation of the next morning is like Christmas. We set our alarm clocks to 5:00 a.m., and plan to get to the airport by 6:00 a.m. Will Sonrisa be in good shape? Will she welcome us home? Will she be happy to see us? We are atwitter with excitement. As soon as our alarm rings we jump to action, ready to go.
We land in Tonga, walk off our little airplane, explain to customs why we have a one way ticket, and pay all the fees necessary to be welcomed in. A Tongan man with a large cart rolls the suitcases out of the plane and over to several platforms. No turnstile necessary here! Mahlo! Everyone.
Fredie is here to meet us. He’s sporting a new hairstyle, and he waves cheerfully at Andrew. While putting the bags into the back of the van he looks me over and laughs.
“Eioooh, Eioooh, You have gotten fat! So fat, I can’t believe it, huh?”
I raise my eyebrows and stifle a laugh. “I guess so!” I can’t quite discern whether this is intended to be a compliment.
We all climb into Fredie’s van and off we go. “I’m so glad you called last night!” He tells Andrew, happy to be the one we called to help us from the airport. “I told you when you left last time, you do not call a taxi ever. Not ever. You let Fredie come pick you up. I will take you to town, to the airport. Anywhere.”
Andrew thanks him again.
“Eiiooh! Could you hear my wife when you called? She said Fredie, Fredie! A Pelangi is calling you! Fredie, why is a Pelangi calling you!?” Fredie impersonates his wife with a high pitched, nervous squeal, then laughs and laughs.
We all laugh. Andrew says, “Yeah, although I don’t think she called you Fredie.”
“Ah, Eioh. No. She only calls me by my Tongan name.” Fredie pauses. “I think Tongans are sometimes afraid to talk to Pelangis. But not me!”
"Well, your English is much better than my Tongan, that is for sure." Andrew confirms, and at this Fredie laughs.
We bounce along the loosely paved road from the airport. “Man, Leslie, she has gotten fat! I didn’t even recognize her!” Fredie says to Andrew, pointing backward at me with his thumb. Andrew squeezes out a nervous laugh. “Andrew must really keep you well!”
“He sure does. He keeps me well fed with cheese and beer.” What else could I say? This remains the topic of conversation for much of the drive, until thankfully we move on to the death penalty for use of marijuana in Indonesia. Even this cannot sour my good mood. We are almost home!
As we pull into the yard, I can see Sonrisa standing settled and secure in her cyclone cradle. She seems quiet and relaxed, having lasted the entire season without any cyclone activity at all. Fredie pulls in right next to her, and we all pile out of the van. The moment we have been waiting for is here! We are back to Sonrisa!