7. Diamonds & Lumber – part 2

There was still time before lunch duty and so we relaxed on deck –yes, away from the passengers- and watched the ocean go by.  Regardless of how I was doing it, I was thoroughly enjoying my new adventures at sea.  I’d catch full views of whales occasionally and other fish swimming around too, it was fun!

It’s the 7th day and our ship is approaching Honolulu Harbor, it is still the dark hours of the morning. The ship has slowed its pace as it enters the waters of Hawaii, the Harbor Master must board, enter the Bridge and take over, bringing the boat into the port.

I am awake and find myself at the railing on deck to bare witness something I never even dreamed of; the lights of the city. Twinkling from the homes along the mountains were thousands of tiny lights; it was like someone tossed millions of diamonds on to hills of black velvet and I remember saying to myself, “Oh God this must be heaven.”

The experience of a different place; it is now twilight and as if lost in a dream yet feeling the state of wakefulness, I watch the sunrise happening over Honolulu. It was something completely new to me.

It wasn’t at all dark like Fiji as in the level of lights there; just as you cannot count the stars in the sky, it’s how the sight of those lights affected me at that moment. I am looking on at Waikiki.

Back to the kitchen for breakfast service with a definite air of excitement!  We’ve stopped here for supplies such as fresh water, fresh foods, mail and laundry exchange as well.  The length of our ship’s stay in port is 12 hours; our shore leave would be about 4-6 hours.

A group of us hailed a cab and asked the driver to take us to a great place where we could shop and check out a little of the local scene, which we could enjoy in a short period of time.  He took us to a big mall complex (which a few years ago I returned to, it was still there) and I ate pineapple of course!  And for another enjoyable treat I had a watermelon shake for the first time in my life, it was delicious!  I bought some Hawaiian shirts too.

Back to the ship and we are heading towards Vancouver, Canada and another 7 days at sea. Our ship is bringing sugar in from the plantations of Fiji for delivery into B.C., Canada. British Columbia was extending a wet welcome – it was soooo cold especially due to the fact I come from a southern tropical climate. I was used to warmer rains!  This rain was freezing and it was my first experience in cold rainy weather.

There was a warming period however – I met and fell in love (or so I thought) with a lovely French – Punjabi girl.  Sonia was 18 and one of many daughters of a sawmill big shot in Canada.  We first met at local nightclub, dancing and having a drink or three.  Hold on, I got just a little ahead of myself, so I’ll detail it out for you just a bit.

A friendly passerby on the street directed my friends and me to this particular club as we walked along the streets of Vancouver one early evening.  He too was an Indian national. We fell into a mutual hello as our eyes met, we all began conversing.

It started off with our ‘what to do around here’ answered with his suggestions of shopping, restaurants and a great club that was a good place where a younger crowd meets.  He told us that he too went there sometimes.

We found it and went in. It was a nice dance club, no hard liquor, only beer and soft drinks; that’s a good thing as younger people were welcome there too.  We grabbed a few seats and about 3 or 4 tables away sat a group of young girls.  I couldn’t see exactly their faces but naturally that assemblage received my attention.   Ah, eighteen and still so innocent.

At first it was difficult to catch a full glance of her face but as the girls began going off to the dance floor, I got a clearer vision.  And I’m so glad I did.  She and I definitely began to notice one another; it was that subtle eye flirtation and shy quickly looking away yet a corner smile would form as the head turned.

And every time I looked her way I noticed she too was looking my way.  All the while I’m going through fifty ways in my head as to my approach and if I did, what should I say?  This went on all evening.  I felt we were surely on to something and I wanted to know what that might be. I felt she may be thinking the same things, I hoped.

Well that night, we didn’t meet, the guys and I just hung out for maybe two and a half hours but not once did this young lady and I verbally communicate.  The guys and I had to return to the ship for an early morning start for breakfast, so we left and that was that.

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Sonia is of course a fictitious name but trust me, the young Canadian gal was very real  🙂

 

3. Dreams Are Visible Over the Horizon

I am a teenager now.   My curiosity is wildly stimulated not only by my own vivid imagination but seeing those cargo ships coming in near every week and the urbane passenger luxury ships calling to port -at the rate of four to five per month- left sparsely an idle moment in this youth’s fanciful thoughts.

Convenient for me I had a friend who worked for the only travel agency in Suva.  This fellow very much enjoyed the food from my house and so for a few favors I exchanged roti and curries.  Jackpot!

I was now supplied with travel brochures, posters, schedules and best of all, passes to go on board the ships -passenger or cargo- as a visitor, yes passes!  These items were extremely valuable to me and if you’ve read up to this point from the beginning, you know this.

Wherever I would be wandering in my town and for whatever purpose that day, I’d keep my watchful eyes fixed on the Pacific Ocean.  Never mind the Harbor Master being the first to bring in the ships; for me it was my appreciation in what those vessels at port represented and that is how I (metaphorically) brought the ships in to the Port of Suva.

🚢Some of the ships I recall were the U S Flagships, SS Mariposa and the SS Monterey.  The P&O Liners were a constant to the Fiji Islands.  And you can be certain if there was a ship headed this way and I was at all able, I’d make a bee-line straight down to the docks!

Even if it was a cargo ship on a brief overnight stop for supplies on its way to Hawaii, New Zealand or Australia just for example, I could almost guarantee myself a meet with some of the crew.  I’d arrive at port with overflowing eagerness and full of enquiries.

Usually only some of the troupe came ashore.  I was there to greet and be helpful; perhaps recommending a comfortable spot for a perfect meal, steer them to a decent tailor, an honest souvenir trader or perhaps even to the watchmaker-jeweler’s shop where my brother worked!

If I had enough free time in the morning, I’d use my pass to go aboard.  Otherwise I could wait –barely- till the early afternoon.  On the day-only ships, I’d have to off board an hour prior to their 5 o’clock evening sailing time.  That’s all right because I knew another ship was soon to dock within the week!

If these people hadn’t been here before, they’d ask me something about my island and after providing the best answer I could, then I felt it was my turn so I’d ask questions about where they came from.

I’d ask them to describe for me some of what they have witnessed in their travels and well you can imagine how this continued to fuel my dreams!  The majority of these people were only too glad to converse with me; maybe it was my dashing good looks?!

As every day came and went I soon realized this hunger was indeed a zealous fire; one in which I simply had to explore the world surrounding me, no turning back, in order to find any contentment with my life, ever!

My spirited resolve having given birth to a ceaseless passion, I knew I could write my own destiny; at least I’d give it my best shot.  Oh how I coveted a life beyond what I thought was my best dream!

Looking out to the horizon and catching sight of a ship -which looked like a small toy- moved me in such a way that I realized nothing could hold me back from aspiring to my full height.  These lofty dreams were going to carry me out to sea.

For the most part I am now stepping into a different circle from that of my recent boyhood island life.  I find myself making many friends from all over and this gained for me quite a few pen pals as well.  They were mostly from New Zealand, Australia and America.

I had gone aboard the SS Mariposa one morning and I remember an especially kind gentleman; I first saw him standing on deck, uniformed and talking with some fellow officers of the ship.  It must’ve been the way he carried himself I guess, and I remember thinking how important and impressive he appeared, daring to believe he’d make a great friend!

Carefree as I was and not at all shy, I approached them.  They all greeted me and the light communications began.  I recall feeling joy at the fact they made time to speak with me, a young starry-eyed boy.  I continually made eye contact with him as we all spoke, which led to our one-on-one conversation and he introduced himself as *Stéphane Vieuxmaire.   I almost immediately and confidently told him that I knew I could work on this ship someday.

“Of course you could!” he enthusiastically said to this eager heart and with a warming smile to be sure.  This wonderful man eventually became a close friend to the family.  Stéphane was of French descent and he was the 1st Mate, Chief Officer.  With his encouraging reply, I could see myself standing beside them on deck, uniformed and all!

And you know this vision stayed within me for many years: if not as an officer then for sure a world traveling passenger!

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Thanks again for coming around for another dose.  We wish for you all a wonderful gathering in thanks with all your loved ones and at least one delicious meal shared.

And if you cannot be together at this time, please send the LOVE out there to them, to all!  Here’s to my loved one currently deployed: away for his birthday, thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years – come home safely my dearest, all of you!

Until next Sunday night, after the stuffing and cranberry has run out, tune in again for the continuing chronicles!  And I look forward to your comments 😉

*Stéphane Vieuxmaire is a fictitious name to protect the privacy of the very real person in this life history.