Bracing for the cyclone: Day 13

Various news publications reported Cyclone Mick as a battering, vicious storm, causing a lot of devastation to Viti Levu in December of 2009. BBC showed disheartening video footage of the aftermath. Al-Jazeera accentuated the death count. The Telegraph wove together an anthropomorphic description of Mick using beastly adjectives galore. All of these articles were factual, but, for the highlanders, they certainly didn't incapsulate the energy and emotion of the experience. Oddly enough, the village of Nakavika seemed to find the Category 2 storm amusing.

It could have been their disinterest in the art of worrying, a display of strength or courage, or it could have been the normalcy of the event in the middle of the appropriate season. Whatever made the villagers jovial throughout Mick made my first hurricane a memorable adventure, rather than a lip-biting, pant-wetting mud fest.

Our First Coastal Venture

After one week of get-to-know-yous and what-the-heck-is-thats, Garrett and I needed to spend some time online in Suva, in order to contact our families and update Nomadderwhere. Our host mother, Fane, came along with us to turn our day-trip into a weekend, giving us some meals and a place to stay overnight in Pacific Harbour, an hours drive from Suva.

I'd never seen the capital city before, and though I wasn't all too impressed, it offered an ample amount of amenities we took full advantage of after a week in Nakavika.

We took a mini-bus to Pacific Harbour, singing along to the Beyonce's music videos being played, and planted our tired buns on floor mattresses at Fane's other sisters, two flea-ridden kittens curling up tight to Garrett's legs. In the morning, we took our time walking to the Arts Village, a collection of apartments, shops and old Fijian war bures where tourists flock for culture.

A long beach nearby had us entranced, running into the waves haphazardly, and Fane watched on, her clothes flapping in the steadily increasing winds. It was Saturday; should we go back to the village or spend two more days at the beach? Our project objectives made that decision for us, and we met the carrier a couple hours later. Had we fallen weak to the glory of the ocean, we would have missed that crucial opening in weather and road condition.

My First Landslide

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Nothing amplifies the terror and drama of a massive rain storm better than a corrugated tin roof. I slept a total of 30 minutes the following night, dozing and jerking wide awake for the majority of those dark hours. If I were at home and 15 years younger (who am I kidding...I would do this now), I would have lurched out of bed, climbed the stairs on all fours, and cowered beside my parents' squished against the dust ruffle.

There, on my half-inch foam mat on the floor of a wooden home in the middle of a caldera in the South Pacific, I had no plan of escape for comfort. I didn't know the drill.

What if the house slides down into the ravine about 20 feet away? Is the wind strong enough to rip the roof from its anchoring nails?

I heard something thunderous outside but not thunder - a mini-avalanche. Was it right outside my window? Come to find out the next day...yes, it was. Though our house was comfortably far from the landslide zone, these crashes of dirt, water and trees were our neighbors, and I perked my ears toward the next rumbling echoes, hoping they wouldn't surround me on all sides.

The Not So Impermeable

Sperrys in Mick

The ominous evening was evidence enough; there was a cyclone approaching. And while every man and son began tying their homes to the soppy ground, Abel came over to ask Garrett and me,

Want to go for a walk to find my cows?

A category 2 hurricane was klobbering the highlands. Sure, let's go for a wee stroll.

By the time we reached the edge of the village, our rain shells had no purpose other than weighing us down. Sweat on the inside and rain on the outside, I acquired a very uncomfortable second skin. Had I taken my camera, even in a Ziploc bag, it would have been toast.

Walking along the road toward Suva, we approached the land bridge over a cavern that was quickly filling to the brim with water. Under normal weather circumstances, this cavern, known as Namando, allows the river to run through one opening not much wider than a person. Under these weather circumstances, the rocks couldn't even begin to persuade a route for the water. The river pounded through. A couple boys, heads wrapped in t-shirts to keep the rain out of their eyes, stood transfixed, slowly watching the rain advance on their village's main access to civilization. We crossed the bridge and followed an old road, in search of some mischievous brown cows.

Laughing all the way about whatever immature topic delighted us at the time, I stopped periodically to take a breather and gaze out from our route along a hillside. The interior stretched on; it was drenched. The kind of rain that could permeate skin and souls fell without fail from the gray and frothy skies. I stared on thinking, "There's no way anyone could visually capture nature's emotion the way I perceive it right now. She's all wound up. Today, she is a beast, and she's coming for us."

We finally got to Abel's cows and stood dripping as he untied all five of them from their trees. Throwing a rope to me, I assumed the position of "cowgirl," not a role I've always dreamed of, but standing in the midst of a heaving storm made me feel displaced and giddy enough to be just about anybody. Each cow crossed the road slowly and carried on chewing new grass. Abel tied each one down again.

Is that it? You just had to move them to the other side of the road?

Yeah. Let's go back.

Crossing the land bridge once more, the water was many feet higher than we last observed. Abel knew we were jazzed by the entire scene and led us down the hell-inspired rocks that edged the cavern. The turban boys at the top called down to us, suggesting we evacuate or die, but we were hypnotized. Standing beside the gushing river, we saw where the water pushed through without patience. And for the few minutes, we stood in the belly of a time bomb letting the water rise to lick our toes. I shivered at the magnitude of the future, and we crossed the bridge one last time before it was demolished.