Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A slow start to enjoying Niue (Kyle forced to rest)

[Kyle]With Begonia safely on a mooring ball, off the capital Alofi in Niue, we were soon given an appointment to perform all the officialdom of arrival. When we did go ashore, we had our first fumbling go at the novel dinghy landing procedure. Since there's so much swell here they have no dinghy dock. They also have no sandy beach on which to land.

What is done here is to pull the dinghy up to the wall. Everybody but one then scrambles up a ladder. The person remaining then attaches the dinghy to the hook on a big crane and then climbs out as best they can. This is the most difficult part because the crane is pulling the dinghy away from the wall, which is slippery and just a little too far away to easily reach. Once that's done, the dinghy is lifted onto a cart, where it can be rolled into a parking space and dropped off.

I instantly came to like the system. While getting on and off could be a bit nerve-wracking, the dinghies all sit peacefully high and dry in their spaces. This was way better than tying to a dock in these conditions, where they would all be bashing into each other all day and getting caught in each others lines

We had come ashore to clear customs. By the time we had dropped off the Pudgy in it's space, we had seen the procedure twice and as such were promoted to instructors for the newest arrival. Local dive operators and fishermen also use the crane to launch their big boats so there's always plenty of help around.

Customs came to the dock and picked us up in their van to give us a ride to their office. The guy driving was so cheerful he was practically giggling the whole way. The rest of the people in the office were also really friendly and helpful.

When we were done, they dropped us off at the yacht club (at our request). There was a guy there watching it for the real guy. He told us we needed to go to the Tourist Information Office to pay our mooring fees and to get shower keys, etc. The woman at the Visitor Centre was just great and couldn't have been more helpful. She gave us loads of brochures and advice on things to do on the island. When we said we weren't sure how long we were staying, she said, “No worries! Pay any time.”

That brings up another cool thing: We have now sailed so far that the people here all have Kiwi accents.

We thought we might want to rent a car while we're here and take a lap around the country. In order to do this, we had to go to the police station and procure myself a local driver's license. The police were great, of course, and in short order, I was issued an official government picture ID listing my address as “Begonia”. I like it way better than my Arizona license. I almost wish I was still at work so I could whip it out when TSA demands government issued identification and let them scratch their heads over it. Okay, no I don't, but it would still be fun.

Since I had been up since the start of my midnight watch, I was fading fast. We headed back to the wharf, where lots of nice people were there helping us launch. It got me thinking about the name of the country. Perhaps the 'u' was meant to be sideways; turned 90 degrees to the right?.


A little flashback:

A couple of days earlier, on our last full day at Beveridge reef, I decided I was felling a bit peckish and went outside to open one of our Suwarrow coconuts for a snack. As I was coming back in with the two halves, I slipped on the wet deck. My feet came out from under me and I hit the corner of the cockpit seat right in the middle of my back with all of my weight. The pain was pretty bad and I even thought there was a chance I had broken a rib. Since I didn't seem to have any symptoms of a pneumothorax and I knew there was basically no treatment for a simple rib fracture, I decided to just rest all day, which was easy because everything hurt.

The next day, I felt noticeably better so we decided to go ahead with our plan to head for Niue. By the time we landed and went ashore there, I was feeling basically fine, provided I was careful about what I did. Only certain specific movements hurt, like lifting the dinghy onto the cart at the wharf. Maryanne asked for a hand and immediately got more strong volunteers than needed.

Sometime in the middle of the night, we heard whale voices coming through the hull. It sounded like it was pretty close. It was a deep one and a high one. We imagined it was the mother and calf, apparently only the males actually sing, but these noises were very cute.

Later, I went to turn over in bed and felt a pop, followed by excruciating, stabbing pain. My screaming woke Maryanne up in a fright. While I gasped for breath, she helped maneuver me into a position I could tolerate. I spent the rest of the night frozen, trying not to cause any more pain.

Our plan for the next day had completely changed. Now the only thing we would be doing is getting me to a doctor.

Getting into the dinghy and especially out of the dinghy at the wharf, was a slow, trying, painful process. Maryanne got the dinghy out and stowed with the assistance of helpful bystanders while I tried not to appear to be trying to be useless.

The hospital was a few miles up the road. My legs were fine and I could walk without too much pain as long as I kept a good posture and didn't go twisting around to look at anything. We didn't get far before someone pulled over in response to Maryanne's thumb, which isn't a thumb here but a hand. The woman was actually only going two doors down, but when Maryanne explained the situation, she told us to wait a minute and she would drive us to the hospital, even though she wasn't even going that way.

At the hospital, I was seen by a doctor who reassured me that if I could move my arms at all, I hadn't broken a rib. Sprains can make painful pops and he didn't think an x-ray was necessary. He gave me a prescription and told me to rest for five days “as if you were here in the hospital, only home on your boat”

Okay, rest. Got it. We'll leave thinking about being tourists until then.

We went to pay the bill and were told it was $35NZD (about $27US). There seemed to be some misunderstanding. I thought it had been obvious, but I explained we were foreigners and had to pay the whole bill, not just the co-pay.

“What's a co-pay? It's $35”.

“We also filled a prescription.”

”Yes, $20 for the visit, $15 for the prescription”.

“Listen, here! I don't know what your game is, but I've been to lots of hospitals, albeit it America, and I know for a fact the bill should be at least $400, plus the one you send me two months from now for another mysterious $600, so let's just dispense with all of this bureaucracy and let me pay the whole bill now!”

“There is no bureaucracy. Your bill is $35”.

Well, I'll be... Perhaps I should have got a couple of MRIs

So back to rest then, but first, we'll do the nice walk into town.

Nope. We got a ride from the first car leaving the hospital.

We got dropped first at the yacht club, where I spent an hour unsuccessfully trying to connect to their wifi while Maryanne went down the street to work out internet plans b and c. We found one conveniently located near a nice-smelling Indian restaurant and popped in for lunch while we watched the Wheel of Death spin away on our useless browsers. I had a delicious veggie roti and a local (NZ) beer.

After an hour, I had spent a whole hour just getting one account balance from one bank. The 'good' internet was too slow to be usable. As a last thing, I decided to look up the medication I was given. I figured it was some kind of strong NSAID, which seems to be par for the course for orthopedic injuries. There was no literature with the prescription, just the pills.

Nope. It's an opioid. I didn't think doctors did that any more unless you're in end-stage cancer or you were a celebrity. Then in big block letters, it said “DO NOT TAKE WITH ALCOHOL”. I looked at my empty beer can: 4%. That's not much. It then went on to explain that both the medicine and alcohol slow breathing and there's a possibility that if you combine the two, you will just forget. Okay, no more beer today and remember to breathe in instances where you can't decide if you should or not. Well, luckily I didn't have a lot of either.

Then, almost as if on cue, I started to feel not very well at all. I was starting to sweat profusely and felt like I was going to faint and fall out of my chair. I made a conscious check and I was definitely still breathing; in and out. I decided to go outside and get some fresh air, where I could sit on the ground with my back against the building. I made it as far as the door, at which point I decided it would be better to just lie down flat on the ground. I happily noted that doing so didn't hurt my rib too much.

When I got there, I was surprised to find the proprietor and Maryanne looking down at me with expressions of concern. I suddenly realized having a patron sprawled out on the floor in the doorway of a restaurant would be bad for their business and felt terribly apologetic and embarrassed. I managed to get up and assume a normal position at one of their outdoor tables. Lucky for them, it was between lunch and dinner and we were their only customers.

A glass of cold water was brought to me and by the time I was done drinking it, I was just fine – like it never happened. That was weird. I had light-headedness when standing up too fast before, but never a full faint from an already sitting position. I don't know if it was really the beer, but I resolved never to combine even a smidgen of the two, just in case.

The weather the next morning was gorgeous, come-run-all-around-the-island-and-swim-in-our-many-bays weather. Doesn't that just figure?


I really needed the enforced rest ordered by the doctor for my injured rib. By the second day, it stopped hurting so much when I was just sitting there resting. I would get restless and try something other than sitting in a neutral position and I would immediately feel a sharp stab, reminding me that I wasn't supposed to be doing that. Being stuck on the boat was not a problem, but I couldn't even get anything productive done, so it really started to feel like I was wasting time while everybody around was having fun.

Late on day three, I had my first sneeze. Holy crap! Back to day one where all I could do was sit very still and say, “Ow, ow, ow!”

Maryanne got spared from having to listen to me all day when Martin stopped by. He’s the owner and Captain of Dona Catherina. They were the boat we first encountered as we arrived in Beveridge reef. They were now in Niue helping Oma Tofua, the local whale research organization. Martin said they were about to go out for the day and asked if Maryanne would like to come along. She said no, of course, because I needed help with everything and because she's already seen whales. Wait, nope...she's gone.

Unfortunately, they found no whales to study, so all she got to do all day was go for a sail and meet some nice people. The monthly supply ship was in the harbor for three days and they said the whales tend to leave while it's around. There has also been a remnant of a tsunami (1ft) that went through and they thought that might have spooked the whales as well. Still, they are doing research and no whales can be an important data point, just not as exciting.

Here is one of the great encounters Oma Tafu collected when Maryanne wasn't with them
Photo Credit: Oma Tafua

I entertained myself by parking myself in the cockpit and watching the ship's unloading process. It can't come up to the wharf because it's too shallow and has too much swell. It can't anchor because the anchor would smash the coral. What they do in Niue is use a big crane (THE crane. They only have the one) to lower a shallow draft aluminum tug and a shallow draft aluminum barge into the water. Both are ringed with lots of tire fenders. The tug collects two lines, each a quarter of a mile long, and runs them to the pier. The ship holds position by keeping the engines in gear against the pull of the lines, while the tug and barge go back and forth all day with container after container. At night, they undo the whole process and the ship goes out into deep water to drift until the next morning. They did this for three days.

In order to make room for the ship, some of the yacht moorings have to be removed and a few others vacated. We were asked to move the first day. The second day, the ship's Captain decided he needed the nearest three yachts to move even further back and we had to move again even though none of us even seemed to be in the same county.

By the time my five days was up, there had been two more sneezes. I decided I was done being useless and that I was just going so suck it up and deal with any pain. Maryanne wasn't really on board with my plan, but at the rate I was healing, it could be weeks, so I've decided that's just how my life is now.

We went ashore and I tried my best not to wince all of the time as we went about our day. It was supposed to be a physically easy day of being desperately annoyed at the almost non-existent internet, but we kept thinking up one thing after another that we wanted to do until we had turned it into a pretty tiring day. One of the last cool things we did before giving up was pop into a cafe at the end of the town for something cold to deal with the heat and dehydration.

Popping into the cafe was not the cool part. That's just normal. The cool thing was that they had a miniature golf course. We didn't check this, but just off of the top of our heads, we figured the next nearest crazy golf course has to be at least 1000 miles away. It might possibly be the most isolated one on the planet.

It was pretty cool, too. The course was carved out of Niue's jagged coral and had lots of precipitous views of the crashing waves below. My favorite thing was their roving hazard, a friendly cat whose name we never got, but I decided it should be Sandtrap. She followed us through the whole course, begging for a scratch. In the way of all cats, she always wanted to plop down for a rest right in front of the ball, or ON the ball, or over the hole. If I happened to lose to Maryanne by a mile, I blame Sandtrap.

{Maryanne: Later in Niue we had a major computer hard disc failure and lost all our photos - you'll just have to believe us that it is an amazingly beautiful place. We went to a backup, but lost 3 weeks of photos.. If I ever manage to fix the disc, we'll come back and post some pictures here}

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