After a week of unrelenting dark clouds and rain, the weather gods blessed Fiji with a perfect day. My natural response, of course, was to go diving.
Afterwards I climbed into my rental car and headed west to a hostel outside of Sigatoka, a small town that is close to my interview locations for the next four days. The sun was shining, my windows were down, my hair was salty, and Pearl Jam was on the radio. It was bliss.
An imposing honk snapped me from my trance. A tractor trailer was tailgating me hard. Stubbornly, I stuck to my pace, determined not to satisfy the driver. Thirty seconds later he sped up to pass me, despite the fact there was a double yellow line. Are you serious? I grumbled to myself.
But he didn’t pass me. He pulled up right beside me on the opposite side of the road and gestured furiously to my back tire.
I don’t care where you are, that is never, ever a good sign.
I quickly pulled off by a nearby village, the tractor trailer on my tail. In fifteen seconds my perfect day took a drastic turn when I realized that yes, my tire was indeed very flat. My stomach dropped: I was at least twenty miles from the next town, and I had absolutely no cell service.
The three men from the tractor trailer came up to me. They didn’t speak much English, but the tire pretty much spoke for itself.
Before I could even begin to come up with a plan, they launched into action. One went into my trunk to grab the spare, one went back to the truck to get his tools, and one searched under the passenger seat of my car for the jack. They moved as if they were responsible for getting me on the track to finish the last leg of the Indy 500, and I just stood there, gaping.
By this time we had amassed quite an audience. No less than a dozen kids from the local village had emerged to scope out the scene, some asking me about my travels and some just giggling quietly behind the car. One of the truckers kindly suggested I lock my car as a curious (nosey?) youth began poking around inside my dive bag.
Everyone who walked by stopped to look. At one point there were four men huddled around my tire, until one of the truckers barked at them and they scattered. Kids peered into my windows and climbed into my trunk and watched the proceedings with earnest. I tried to talk to the truckers but the language barrier prevented us from getting too far, so I just smiled and said “vinaka, vinaka” or “thank you thank you” over and over.
In ten minutes it was over. The truck driver pointed to the tire then pointed to me and just said “Slow”. Ok, I can drive slow, I said. I ran to my backpack and pulled out a $50FJD bill (about $23 USD) and tried to give it to him. He looked down at me without saying a word and walked back to the truck.
I stood stunned on the side of the road, truly worried that I had offended him. But thankfully he appeared a minute later, clutching a $20FJD bill to give me as change.
“For Fiji Bitters!” he said. That I understood — Fiji Bitters was the locally brewed beer (there were signs absolutely everywhere), and $30FJD was enough to buy each of them a round or two. I smiled and thanked him again.
I made it safely to my hostel and arranged with the rental company to have the car fixed tomorrow. Unexpected hiccups like these come with the travel territory, but it makes all the difference to have folks on your side. Even (or especially) when they’re strangers.