Sigatoka by Bike

A beautiful iron grey predawn turned silver, then golden, and silver again as the sun eased above the horizon and rapidly rose higher.  I took the lack of red as a good omen, and prepared for a ride.  A nourishing and sustaining breakfast of porridge, and a kit bag packed with needful things.  Today would be the Sigatoka run. I was heading onto road that I had travelled before, by car several times, and by bus, as well as by bike as far as Pacific Harbour. . I knew its condition and remembered roughly where the bad patches were, so I was reasonably confident I would have no nasty surprises.  Nevertheless, I was reluctant to ride without my armour and debated long with myself before I finally gave in to comfort.  The day was just too hot to be jacketed.  I wondered seriously if this was a decision I would regret.  All the same, gloves and shoes to protect hands and feet is all I wore other than normal clothing.  (My armoured jeans seem to have shrunk a bit, and the fully armoured trousers are hotter than the jacket).

I am very pleased I slapped on some SPF because I was barely out of Suva when I realised that I was going to be scorched.  I stopped at Pacific Harbour to slap on some more. I now have very tanned forearms, from the wrist of my motorcycle gloves to the sleeves of my tee.. 

I pulled off the road several times on the journey.  There is always something interesting to look at; a river, some fishing boats, souvenir shops… What surprised me was that whenever I stopped at a quiet spot to rest and contemplate someone would appear from nowhere every time, to ask me how much I paid for my bike.  I still find this irksome.  It is one of those questions one just does not ask, unless one is seriously considering buying the item in question, and even then one must preface the query with "If you don’t mind me asking"…How did I learn this etiquette?  It is not written down anywhere I am aware of. 

So a typical conversation with a Fijian goes:
"Nice bike"
"Thanks, I like it.  It gets me around."
"How much did you pay for it?" 

Sometimes they might lead up to it sneakily; " How many cylinders? How many cc? How much did you pay for it?"

Even in the shop where I bought a Coke Zero, the Indian woman serving me looked out the door at the bike parked at the curb and dispensing with the courteous preliminary admiratory statement said "How much?" I was thinking "Coke – why is she asking me?" and it took a moment to realise she was referring to the Honda. 

I can’t help but feel I am being sized up for my potential wealth.  That is a laugh.  Wealth and Alan are two words that have nothing in common whatsoever. But I digress.

The road from Pacific Harbour on to Sigatoka is reasonable for the most part, but there are some unpleasant rough patches now and then – some of them unfortunately on bends.  That can throw your line.  The road gets a bit bendy in places.  There are no speed advisory signs in Fiji that I have seen, and some bends definitely need them, even though the national speed limit is only 80 Kph. A couple of bends for which even 60 would be too fast caught me almost unawares before I took stock of my situation and learned a little caution. Even then, one of them was nearly my undoing on a downhill curve.  Although I was sweeping left well inside my lane, comfortably cruising at only 50 or so, I was suddenly faced with a huge truck coming the other way, and encroaching half onto my side of the road.  The driver was accelerating round what was for him a right hand curve, uphill, and taking advantage of every increment he could make to keep his speed up.  I’m quite proud of my reaction.  I remembered clearly the advice I had heard and read many times.  Look where you want to go.  DO NOT look at the vehicle coming towards you.  You will go where you are looking.

Without really thinking about it, I ignored the truck, looked at the gap I wanted to go to between it and the left side of the road, pushed down on my left handlebar and twisted the throttle.

I remember glimpsing a huge wheel right beside me, and hearing a startled yell from the cab above, then I was past.  Safe and sound and still doing well under 70 as I stopped accelerating and eased back.  Normally after a close call like that, I have a wee adrenaline rush and a brief case of the shakes, but I felt only elation that the physics of motorcycling had worked for me.  That truck driver was a lucky man.  Or maybe not.  The survivor of a fatac gets to tell the story.  No question about who would not have survived. My jacket armour would have done me no good at all had I connected with the truck.

I stopped a little later on the side of the road about 30k short of Sigatoka to look out over a beautiful blue lagoon where a group of men were netting fish in the traditional way.  A young man materialised beside me and shook my hand. After the usual queries about bike prices, my origins and where I lived, the subject turned to what I was doing.  I foolishly mentioned I was just admiring the lagoon and thinking I might like to swim in it.  Mistake.  Nothing would serve but I should accompany him then and there back to his nearby house which was of course right beside the best place to swim in the entire area.  I explained I was planning to swim after I had been to Sigatoka and I had to go there first to meet someone for lunch.  A white lie.  He made me promise to call in on the way back.  I don’t like to lie, but am very reluctant to accept these offers from strangers partly because I don’t want to find myself inconveniencing people in the midst of their daily lives, but also because I have am inclined to believe there may be some ulterior motive behind the invitation.  See how suspicious I have become?  Once that would never have occurred to me. 

I extricated myself by making promises  I never intended to keep. I assured hime I would call in on my way back, and rode on. 

Sigatoka is a scruffy, dirty looking town on the banks of the eponymous river, and today it was bustling with activity and surprisingly full of tourists.  I assume they are from the nearby coastal resorts.  I had a quick look around, found an excellent coffee, in a craft gallery and bistro, and then from a different shop bought some fish and chips which turned out to be really good.  I took them back to a beach about 8 Km back on a side road from the main road into town.  I had discovered it when looking around on my way back in the rental car after the Buabua and Lautoka training trip.  I took a photo then. 

This is where I went today and swam, after I had eaten and rested.
The tide was in and the water a little deeper than in this photo.

It looks pretty dead out there, and I had planned to swim right out to the reef, but in the dark patches of coral that you can see in the photo, I discovered dozens of different species of tiny little reef fish, in all shapes and amazing colours. These are my favourites when diving.  I can spend hours watching them, and did. The tiny blennies, gobies, damsels, angelfish, Moorish idols and little wrasses, and others I cannot name, in shades and stripes and spots and hues that beg to be photographed; brilliant fluorescent yellows, greens of every shade, electric blue so bright you would think it was lit by LEDs, and iridescent polished silver.  There were bigger fish too, but they were skittish and gone as soon as seen. The little ones however hung around their coral and did not venture far.  I watched schools of miniature rainbows,  solitary, startlingly bright specimens, and discovered drab camouflaged fish.  I also found the most incredible cobalt blue starfish, and a strange long snake-like sea cucumber. There were some colourful corals too. I would have liked to have had that SOPAC camera with me today.  I must save up for one. 

There was a bit of a current, and I got some good shoulder exercise swimming against it to stay parallel to where I had left the bike under the coconut trees.  I spent a happy hour or so just watching fish, until the pressure of the mask on my swollen upper lip became too uncomfortable. Then I dried off, changed and spent a little longer lazing under the trees. 

Strangely, no one approached me for a change, though several people passed by. A few girls rode up the beach on horses, accompanied by a local, and one of them said "Bula". 

When I said "Good afternoon" to a pair of young European women walking by up the road, they very pointedly ignored me.  Probably Dutch or German, I thought. 

The ride home was relaxed and uneventful, except I found I had to make frequent stops to stretch and limber up.  My knees started to get the old arthritic pains after sitting in the riding position for any length of time.  It was well after 6 by the time I arrived home. so that was almost an eight hour day. 

And a good one.  I shall sleep well tonight.

About Uisce úr

Though I am old with wandering Through hollow lands and hilly lands, I will find out where she has gone, And kiss her lips and take her hands; And walk among long dappled grass, And pluck till time and times are done, The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun.
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2 Responses to Sigatoka by Bike

  1. Observations of a Perpetual Motorcyclist says:

    Great post Alan. There is no doubt in my mind that learning that tip about looking where you want to go, and not at the hazard has saved me countless times. Riding in Fiji must be quite an experience at times. Thanks for liking my blog. David


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