To Fiji, Out of
Nadi, A Visit to a Fort, Ovalau, Touring the Island, Back to Nadi, Reflections
Excited about going to Fiji, I did not sleep well. Kept getting up every hour on the hour.
At the airport I ran into a bunch of Ice folks I suspected were all headed to Fiji and I was right. I successfully got my tickets changed from a 1340 hours departure from Aukland to 1030. That’s when my problems began.
The flight itself was uneventful on a 767 jet and I sat next to a young lady who wants to study holistic medicine, get into sports medicine and learn massage. If she succeeds she will have the whole market cornered. She could sell a training program, give the person a massage afterwards and if they injure themselves, be their doctor! Smart gal!
Of course that led to a discussion of overall US fitness and obesity. I gave her my Atlantic and Pacific theories for lack of fitness in our population related to our sedentary nature, refusal to walk to stores, ease of access to fast foods, etc. Yet in America everyone wants to say their being overweight is a "medical" problem. How come this only happened in the last few decades? It has nothing to do with medical problems but everything to do with lack of self control. In Europe and the Pacific, people walk to trains, walk to their parks and sit around at cafes because their TV is so bad and no one wants to stay home to watch it. Or they are too poor to have cars so they walk. In the old days kids were the remote control and Dads didn’t have this apparatus welded to their hands like they seem to have today.
Damn, it was hot and muggy when we landed! Almost nothing is air conditioned.
My bags did not make it! AAARGH!! Really, how difficult could it have been? It did not bode well for a visit I already had some doubts about. I went to the claims desk and filed a claim being promised that someone would call me. HMMM!
From there I went to the visitor’s bureau, got some information and headed to the New Horizon Hotel/Resort. It was near the beach and I needed something pleasant to make up for my foul mood. The hotel shuttle (on its last legs) arrived and the first thing I noticed was a police kiosk right on the corner near the path that led to the beach. Not too comforting.
When you get right down to it this place looks and feels just like Florida. I will need to get out of town and into the hills in order to feel I am not back home.
The predominant amount of business owners here seem to be Hindu Indians with almost everyone very dark skinned.
A summary of the next day would have to include the words, "busy", "hot", "humid", "eventful", "happy."
I didn’t sleep too well either due to the heat (no A/C) or concern for my stupid bag. I kept waking up and would try to remember what was in it in case I needed to get reimbursed. My biggest concern was for the negatives as they were all in there. I had contemplated putting them in my backpack but thought, "nothing will happen to my bags." Harumph! I also remembered leaving Charlie B’s thinking I should put a change of clothes, some shorts and another shirt in my backpack. Again, I blew it off thinking nothing would go awry.
This experience also had me re-considering the possibility of getting trip insurance for my next adventure. So at 6 AM I was up with no place to go nor able to do much. I tried calling the airport at 8 AM but that was an effort in futility. So I chatted with the hotel owner (a great candidate for the 1999 Mr. Personality award) and got an idea of where I could go to get some shirts, shorts, and other clothing items plus shaving gear.
I slugged down a couple of cups of coffee and at 9 I called the airport again. Miracle of miracles my bag showed up! They delivered it about 45 minutes later and I was a happy camper again. Amazing how something so small as getting a piece of luggage can make one’s mood go from very dark to sunny bright.
I wasted no time changing out of my long pants and took a walk along the beach (such as it was.)
I fell into a conversation with a local and have to admit I got roped like a dope. He was trolling for tourists and before I knew it he was telling me about how his son had lost his fingers and how he had resorted to climbing trees for coconuts to sell in order to get his son a prosthetic device for his hand. Only after falling for it did I realize you don’t do that for a hand. Dumbass!!
I guess my brain was overflowing with happiness secretions numbing me to what I’d normal be very cynical about.
Amazing. I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. He told me to take photos of him climbing the tree and then he got a coconut, used a machete to chop off the top, made a nice hole in it for me to drink the milk (not bad tasting) and after I’d drank it he chopped it in half. Using a piece of the husk he’d chopped off earlier he scooped out what he called coconut cream. I did not particularly like it. I paid him $12 FD for this "experience with a real local!"
I do not think he was too happy but considering wages in this country are somewhere around $1.20 FD per hour, he did quite well. A day’s wages in 20 minutes.
Headed downtown on foot and along the way I kept getting honked at by the taxi drivers wanting to know if I wanted a ride. Obviously in a world of dark skinned people a light skinned one can only be a tourist. And I was the target of their interest.
Nadi town center is about 3.5 miles from my current resort and when I got into town I was accosted by a shitload of people wanting to know where I was from (I suspect this has been bred into their genes over the decades) and how long I intended to stay on the island. Depending on how you answered they’d try to corral you into their store or their friend’s store or some accommodation, or some tour. Everything seems to be on a commission basis and everyone knows everyone else so if they steer business to someone, they get some remuneration for their efforts. If it’s not a friend, you’ll get referred to an uncle, brother, sister, cousin, etc.
It got old and the best response was that I was leaving tomorrow. Of course, then they’d try to get you into a souvenir shop.
What a damned nuisance!!
I also got asked if I wanted to buy dope and just outside a church this guy asked me if I "wanted a sock."
I looked at him quizzically and said, "What?" He looks at me and starts making kissing noises with his mouth. YECHHH! It dawned on my he meant, "a suck!"
I told him NO in a voice that connoted disgust. Amazing. Outside a church.
I bought some curry for lunch and ended up getting nothing better than tiny chicken bones with bits of meat on them hiding in two little clumps of rice. Ripped off. Oh well, it did not cost much to begin with so what did I expect?
Even dessert sucked. I got an ice cream cone and it did not taste quite right.
I decided I’d be better off eating at the resort so I went to the Swami temple for some photos. I don’t think they wanted me to be taking pictures of the place as a guy showed up at the fence and stood there glaring at me. I wanted to go inside the complex but their guidelines stated that entrance was prohibited to anyone who’d eaten meat in the last 24 hours.
As human beings we sure have screwed up this religion thing. I can only imagine that when we die, if heaven exists, we will not be allowed to mingle with one another because I eat meat and won’t be allowed in. Same with Muslims and Jews. I eat pork so I am shit out of luck there. Used to be Catholics would go to hell if they ate meat on Fridays. Now it’s down to several weeks a year. Man made the rules and if God exists hew does not give a shit what we do as long as we are good to each other.
Moving on, I decided to make some phone calls to reserve a bed at the Beach Resort and also at Mavida House in Levuka, Ouvalau. I also booked flights from Suva-Levuka and Levuka to Nadi to get my flight to Hawaii. I got on an open air bus (very Polynesian) and went to the airport to pick up my tickets as I could not afford to miss my flight to Honolulu.
Back at the resort I engaged an English couple in conversation about what to do in the US. They wanted to spend three weeks so I told them about LA, SF, Yosemite, Las Vegas, etc. They were full of questions regarding cops, blacks, driving, traffic, tourists, and things along those lines.
The late afternoon around until bedtime was full of rain. From the verandah, drinking beer, nice and dry, it was a pleasant way to spend a few hours, looking out over the island and mountains and trying to discern where it was not raining and where the sun might be shining.
Out of Nadi
The morning of the 6th the resort owner gave me a lift to the bus terminal so I could catch the 8 AM bus to Suva.
Again, I was the only white guy on the bus. It was not the most rapid mode of transport but who was in a hurry? Not me. Plus, it was cheap--only $2 US to travel over 120 KM.
The bus ride was OK but not an open bus like many of the local ones. Many Indians and Fijians (read: unwashed bodies! PEE-EEWW!!)
I got off at the Beach House Resort stop, walked into the resort complex and checked in. Quite the nice place with 5 to a room in the dorms and costing $8 per night.
The setting is great and they offer plentiful activities: snorkeling, trips to waterfalls, volleyball, lawn bowling, and such. Food and drink is also available and very reasonably priced. The workers here will also climb the coconut trees for fresh nuts if we desire any. And no charge for the nuts! As a matter of fact, to bring them down also minimizes risk to tourists who might get conked on the head from one falling naturally.
The resort is on the beach and has a fairly decent stretch of sand. The water is not deep so during low tide no one goes out. At high tide it can get up to one’s waist or a bit higher. To go out further is risky due to rip tides.
Very peaceful and relaxed setting with canoes available for use but which can’t be taken beyond the reef area. There are several lazy resident cats and one lazy dog. They even have a bamboo swing hanging over the water. From everyone I spoke with who’d been here I’d not heard a bad word.
I signed up for the waterfall trip which was supposed to be a round trip deal with $5 FD to pay off the chief of the village who’d provide a guide to the falls.
As it turns out, we were told only one way transport was available and we’d have to make our way back to the resort using public bus or local carrier transport. Shouldn’t have been a big deal so 4 of us went. One young American guy, 2 Germans (Georg and Anagret), and myself. What we didn’t know was how far the village was off the main road. Little details like that which no one bothered to be truthful about. We were told 3 KM but it was considerably further than that.
So we get there and pay off one of the Chief’s sons as the Chief was drinking Kava and it must have been below him to meet us. But not to have his son take our money! Paul, the other American (and a bit of an asshole) wanted to join in and the rest of us said no. There is a lot of ceremony involved and we did not want to risk pissing off these machete wielding heathens.
I stayed with the German couple as they were older and we had to cross this river several times. Anagret was hesitant so I’d go across, show them what to avoid and they’d cross. Meanwhile, Shithead forged ahead and we did not see him until he was returning. Said he was headed to the village to drink with the Chief. He was wearing no shirt and that’s a mistake to start with but I said nothing. Let him figure it out for himself. Mistake 2 was that one does not invite oneself to these things. I had visions of the Chief and his sons getting pissed off at Monkey Boy and chopping his head off from sheer exasperation. Then they’d sit around and re-institute the local native custom of eating their victims.
In the old days it was custom for the victor to eat the vanquished. One chief reportedly ate 872 victims. For each he had a stone set into the ground and when a missionary came by in 1849 and saw the stones he asked what they signified and was told the story of Ratu Udreudre. The son explained it this way to the missionary, "he gave to none, however much he had on hand--it was cooked and re-cooked (by which it was preserved) until it was all consumed. He would keep it in a box so that he might lose none. He eat but little else, very little vegetable--and being an enormous eater he was able to get through a great deal."
So much for peaceful loving natives!
The three of us emerged from the deep cover of the forest which led to the falls and stood around wondering how we were going to get back.
The falls were OK, no great shakes but an interesting way to spend an afternoon and pass the time.
We took pictures of one another while there to prove we actually went.
Just as we emerged out of the wooded cover and onto the main path the leads to the road we saw a carrier truck drive into the village with a bunch of school kids in the back. We made it to the road and started hoofing it back when the truck returned and as it was deadheading back, offered us a ride to the main road. We asked if he could take us to the resort and for a couple of extra dollars did so.
Paul, by the way, had to walk the 4 KM up and down major hills in the full afternoon sun to get to the paved road back to the resort. Maybe the Chief’s way of paying him back for his arrogance and rudeness was to make sure no carrier driver picked him up on the way back! Ha ha I just can not imagine the hour or so it took him to walk to the paved road would not have had at least one truck go by and not offer him a ride.
He told us that when he got to the village he was told he couldn’t see the chief because he was taking a nap. Yeah, right. These Chiefs have quite a racket going on.
Later on I did a bit of swimming, played a bit of volleyball, took a shower to freshen up and went to dinner. Boy, it was great. For $4 US we got fresh grilled fish with veggies.
Some general observations here regarding dress. Many people wear flowered shirts or skirts. Very colorful. On Sundays the men wear sulus (skirt-like garb) instead of pants. Even the cops wear them except the skirts are more ornamental looking (as befits their post.)
A Visit to a Fort
A stunningly beautiful morning. Birds chirping away, surf pounding in the distance, coffee on the porch overlooking the gardens and ocean. One of the guys here climbed up this coconut tree and cut down all the nuts. Must have been over 60 of them. I suppose it was done as a safety measures so folks don’t get conked.
I went to Sigatoka with Terry. He’s from New Zealand but works in the UK at a center for disabled folks. It’s a non-profit organization that tries to prepare the disabled for life on their own.
We wandered around with one of my goals being to find a shirt or two. I noticed most Fijians wear flowered shirts so I figured, "what the hell, might as well." Normally this sort of dress pegs a tourist as a tourist but here the natives wear them therefore I did not think I could go too wrong. I may look like a tourist but when I get to the US it won’t stand out as a souvenir. I ended up buying two of them for about $9 US each.
Then we stopped at a little dive and had curry chicken for lunch. ($1.50 US) Following that we went to the Tavuni Hill Fort. It commands a strategic position virtually unassailable from below and overlooking the Sigatoka River. The fort contains grave sites and a head chopping stone. On arriving we should have seen it coming but after paying the $3 US entrance fee were assailed by the standard schlocky tourist souvenir stuff and asked if we wanted to look at more handicrafts. I fled after paying my entrance fee and started wandering around.
The bus to and from the fort was the typical open air bus and cost me about 20 cents US. In town we changed busses and headed back to the resort. When we got back we each went to the snack bar and snarfed down a "plunger" of coffee. YUM YUM
Not sure why we equate Fiji with white sand but we do. However they have black, gold, off-white, and white sand beaches. Just that the white sand ones are fewer. I suspect the white sand beaches are locked up by the fancier resorts.
As if it is not bad enough to lose one’s luggage, what happened 4 days afterwards can really grate on one’s nerves.
On a hunch, when I arrived in Suva, I went to check my Nadi-Honolulu booking. Finding no United agent, I started at Fiji Air, got referred to Pacific Air and finally ended up at Air New Zealand.. Lo and behold! My tickets were canceled as some pinhead assumed that since I did not make my 1330 flight out of Auckland I must have died or something.
The agent who made the changes to my itinerary should have re-booked all my other travel but did not. So I ended up playing a waiting game with ANZ in Fiji as they attempt to explain to the Auckland office what happened. I was not a happy camper.
But let’s return to the beginning of the day.
The morning started well albeit at 545 AM. It turns out that one of the bunkies snores and he decided to do so at 5:30. So I could not sleep any more. Took myself an early morning swim and had my caffeine fix about 7 AM. At 10 I caught the bus to Suva and we ran into a bit of rain. Unbeknownst to me, the bag which I put in the baggage compartment of the bus got quite wet. DAMN!
Arrival in Suva was one of hot weather which did not make the lugging of a backpack and a blue bag easy.
Suva is fairly metropolitan and home of the only university in the Polynesian Islands. It’s also a place where I did not feel so harassed by every huckster on the street.
Come to think of it, it’s the constant bothering that makes me not want to ever return here. The only peace and quiet a tourist gets here is at the resorts and resorts are not really "Fiji."
After lunch I got my encounter with the airlines resolved and got the hell out of town. What gets me is that the news of my bags being lost and my ticket cancelled soured me so much on this visit that I even contemplated not going to Ovalau.
The airport is a bit of a pain in the ass to get to with no direct bus service to it. Sure sounds like a make work project for taxi drivers. But the amount of money involved is a pittance, really. The bus ride cost me $0.40 and the taxi a dollar.
My driver said his brother was the famed golfer VJ Singh. Since I am not knowledgeable of the game I could not comment on it but I think my leg was being pulled.
Seeing the size of the airplane I was about to embark on I figured that since my day was not going well it would probably continue the trend with the airlines telling me my bags were too big. But all went well.
I took off in this two engine prop job that looked like a graffiti artist’s palette. Fifteen minutes later we land on this tiny airstrip in Bure which is supposedly the only place on the island flat enough to accommodate aircraft. It is 16 km from Levuka and the bus took 35 minutes to get there. Now THAT’S slow!!! The roads were awful, rutted, unimproved, dirt and mud which had last seen a grader a year or so ago. It hugged the coast all the way to Levuka and occasionally I thought we’d end up in the drink.
Talk about the boonies!! This place was it. Now I felt like I was in the real Fiji. It’s easy to fly into Nadi, head to a resort and think you are in Fiji when all you are doing is snorkeling or diving or kayaking or drinking kava. Not so fast, cowboy.
Along the way to Levuka there were several small villages, all decrepit and run-down looking, men hanging out on the side of the road drinking kava, most everyone wearing very raggedy looking clothes. Few work. They sit around all day doing I know not what. How a person can go all day long doing nothing is beyond me. Maybe if it your only way of life and you know nothing else?
I got dropped off in front of the Mavida Guest House and was greeted by Matilde and Lydia. They gave me a single room with a 3 speed fan for $20. Right away I noticed the bed was shrouded by a hanging mosquito net. HMMMM!!!
I seem to be one of the few tourists on the island. Maybe it is the wrong season. However, I did see many natives with dark smudges on their foreheads. Only a minute or so later did I realize it must have been Ash Wednesday. Goodness, to think that in a few weeks it will be Easter.
Once settled in my room, showered and having sorted out all my wet stuff from earlier in the day I walked into town to get something to eat. Along the way I got to hear singing coming from inside the churches. Incredibly beautiful harmonies and tones.
I ate at the Whale’s Tale. A bit pricey for Fiji but I was hungry. After dinner I met Arnold, the husband and father of the owners. He had a bowl of kava brought over and contrary to what the Lonely Planet says about it tasting like muddy water I thought it was bland but had a peppery taste. My tongue started going numb, too. You don’t really get drunk drinking it more than slip into a somewhat narcotic state without the narcotic. It takes a lot to get you buzzing and consistent long term use turns the skin scaly, causes weight loss as the body becomes unable to properly get nutrients into the system and causes other physical ills. All this has only been recently discovered.
There is also a whole ceremony associated with its drinking which deals with how to accept the cup, how to drink, how to pass on the cup, etc.
First the cup is dipped into the kava bowl and the person receiving it claps not with the flat of the palm but with it cupped so as to make a hollow sound. It is drunk quickly and in one gulp, the bowl passed to the next person and 2 hollow claps given. Not sure what the claps represent but probably has something to do with appeasing gods.
Suffice it to say, Ovalau Island is NOT the land of lattes and cappuccinos.
In the room it was very hot even with the fan at high speed. It was gruesome. Since there were mosquitoes, I had to put the net down and this made things worse as the fan could not blow through the netting that well and I had to endure this constant droning noise.
Levuka was the first capital of Fiji until 1880 or thereabouts after which it was moved to Suva. Now there’s a story!
Levuka is squeezed between the sea and the mountains so growth was severely restricted. It currently gets its power from huge generators similar to what is in McMurdo. Although well muffled, they are still noisy.
When it came time to pick another place, the Brits sent out folks to find a suitable place. They came back raving about Suva and how nice it was. Unfortunately they went there during the month the weather was nice. The rest of the year it is miserably humid and rainy and stormy. Which is why the main airport is in Nadi. If it were in Suva, no visitors would ever come to Fiji.
The Mavida Guest House is OK. Run by Matilde and Lydia it has charm but not much more. My room is a single for $10 US with a shower complete with free mosquitoes down the hall.
The town’s main employers is the tuna cannery currently closed for renovations. It was bought by the current owners of Bumblebee Tuna and will employ over 1000 people.
Being here is like being in my cousin Jorge’s little town. Lots of small stores, the smell of the stores is the same as I remember in Brazil, people hang around with nothing to do, etc. Not much difference.
Touring the Island
Having gotten up early the next morning I set out for a tour of the Island. It entailed a nasty truck trip (they are the equivalent of bus transportation here) to a village set in the caldera of an old volcano.
As part of the adventure we got to go to one of the interior villages (from where the tour guide called home) and our guide took us around the village pointing out its location in the caldera of an old volcano, the church, the drums used to call the faithful, the school and then we got to see the Chief’s house. Obviously the biggest house in the village. But before we could we had to pay the mandatory homage of money or kava. In there he had a huge TV, a VCR, and other nice luxuries. Villagers would gather in his large living room to watch TV in the evenings when the generators would run from 6 to 10 PM. The state maintains the generators and village pays the fuel cost as a tax. I guess it is the only way to provide electricity when there are so many islands.
We also got a history of how Fiji came about and was settled and ruled up through the colonization by the Brits and subsequent importation of Indians for labor. (India Indians, not woo-woo Indians) Lots of myth, lots of corruption, greed, corruption and cruelty.
As part of our tour we were treated to a typical lunch and got a good tour of the village. We then proceeded to walk all the way back but caught a lift along the way. A quite nice day after all. But it rained very hard all night and awoke me with all the pounding of the water on the roof.
Also there’s something eerie about being in a country where men, boys, girls, and women walk around with large sharp knives. Reminds one that 150 years ago these people were cannibals.
Once back in the civilization of Levuka I bought a soda for 1.20 Fijian and then realized that this was equivalent to an hour’s wages for these people!! It’s the equivalent of us paying $7.50 per soda from a machine. We really do not realize how well off we are.
I decided to see if I could change my ticket back and was able to so I left a day or two earlier than I had intended.
Back to Nadi
The 10th of March I took my fourth trip on the Levuka/Bureta Road. What a spine shaker! Arrived in Nadi and booked in at the Horizon Resort again. I left my luggage in a locker at the airport and took the bus to town to do some souvenir shopping and grab some lunch.
It was so infuriating to walk along the street and get accosted by every single shop keeper or taxi driver. Walk into a shop and you’d be surrounded by 4 or 5 sales people all asking you where you were from, how long you were going to be here, how long you’d been here, etc.
I gave none of them my business and finally found a shop where I may have paid more but no one harassed me.
I will be glad to leave this place and I know I would never want to live here, either. So corrupt, lousy services, bitter racial hatred.
So, all in all, if I had to do it all over again, I would not have gone to Fiji. I really should have spent my time in New Zealand or tried harder to get to the Cook Islands. For the life of me I can not now understand what makes folks feel that Fiji is so attractive. It is a dirt poor country, dirty, unimproved, many villages only have electricity in the evenings and that they get from generators. Sewer systems are local rivers or streams or the ocean. It is hot and it is humid. Quaint? Possibly. Fun? Well, not my idea of it, anyway.
Of course, you can go to a resort. And many people do. But to go to an island (most resorts are on islands) and stay in a gated environment with a bunch of other tourists hanging around in air conditioned buildings drinking concoctions that include funny little hats and umbrellas while watching "canned" shows which purportedly showing the locals doing "native" dances just does not cut it.
To stay in local villages involves this silly routine where you must see the "chief" of the village to get his permission and then bring him gifts of either food or money or kava. Can you say, "extortion?" Granted, it's not a lot of money but it's pretty goofy to me. And for that privilege you get to look around and maybe take some photos. All the while combating heat, humidity, and bugs. OK, if I wanted that I could stay in Florida and turn off my air conditioner.
And really, Fiji is just like Florida except it has some mountains on the larger islands. Sleeping is difficult because of the heat especially if you stay in a village. Even some resorts have no A/C. Some have those goofy little 3 speed fans you have to set on high in order to get a breeze through your mosquito netting.
And the constant badgering by the locals? YEESH! No matter where you go, the locals chase you down and the conversation goes like this: "Bula! (Hello in Fijian) where you from? How long you in Fiji? When you leave Fiji? You want stay in resort? You want come in my shop?" Every day, every village, by virtually every doorway the same litany of questions. AAAARGHHH!!!!!
And the outright racism and hatred for each other that exists there? Years ago when the country was colonized, sugar plantations were developed and since it was under British rule, the Brits brought in Indians (from India as opposed to woo-woo Indians!) as indentured servants. Well, the Indians brought a work ethic with them that has now resulted in them dominating most businesses and government. The natives are pissed off but unlike the Indians failed to capitalize on their abilities. So the Hindus despise the locals and the locals loathe the Hindus.
Did I already mention the "chief" system? Of course I did. But the locals have a system where there are local chiefs and then district chiefs and island chiefs and a council of chiefs with a "head" chief. Everyone of those little bastards expects to get paid off. None seem to work. What they say goes in a village or council. I thought serfdom was over?
While traveling through New Zealand, Fiji, and hearing about Australia's problems with their native population (not the least of which should be included America's Indians and other Indians in Central/Latin America; plus, of course, Africans) I came to the conclusion that we need to defend the European conquest of those countries.
Anyone looking at the history of the Incas, Mayans, Apaches, Iroquois, Mohicans, Sioux, Tutsis, Maoris, Australian natives--(I can't remember their names now) plus most tribes in Africa would see they were all violent and bent on either defeat of other tribes or cannibalism or sacrifice.
True, we introduced disease but at that time no one knew what a germ was much less what to do to stop the spread of those diseases. We defeated them with our superior weapons (yeah, OK, we took their lands, too, but that's the way society functioned in those days) and had they had those weapons instead of us, they'd not have waited a minute to annihilate us. We were more evolved. We were more intelligent. We were more advanced.
So........the point is????
We may be Human but we still act out and believe in "only the strong survive" in a combat/conquest environment. We still feel we need to "preach" to others about how much better "our" system and way of life is.
We do that now with money. Give the impoverished money (don't bother making them work for it) and it will keep them under your thumb.
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Copyright Vilmar F. Tavares 2005