Pacific Crossing 2010-12
Savusavu, May 5th – May 15th
We had intended to be in the Ha’apai Group of Tonga in May but we found ourselves in Fiji instead. Our feet were getting itchy and the weather in the wide open Ha’apai was persistently ugly and forecast to remain that way for the foreseeable future. All our paperwork was done for our internal checkout when we decided to throw in the towel. The weather that was so unappealing in the Ha’apai had the makings for a sweet downwind run to Fiji. . Back to Customs we headed to check out of the country.
After a mostly great three-day passage we arrived in Savusavu on a rainy Saturday morning, the 5th of May. We were led to a Copra Shed Marina mooring by an exotic looking fellow in a wooden dinghy. He steered with one hand and with the other he held an umbrella over his head in an attempt to remain dry. We were in a new country.
After many months spent in the quiet of the Tongan Summer, Savusavu was a shock to the senses. It’s not a large town but it is alive with stimuli. Indian music spills out of the shops onto the sidewalk as you make your way through town. The smell of curry envelopes you at every other doorway. The vegetable market is full of mysterious items which I had to have explained by the vendors. The root vegetables, however, could not compete with those in Tonga.
The day after our arrival we took a walk to the hot springs on the outskirts of town and engaged in a cooking lesson with a man named Morgan and his young friend Hartman. In a supermarket plastic bag they had placed several taro roots. The plastic bag was then wrapped in burlap and laid amongst some stones in the hot spring. “Forty-five minutes is all it takes” said Morgan. We were just in time for the great unveiling. Samples were passed around and we agreed that it was a fine way to cook Sunday dinner. It was at this point we knew that Fijians were not the shy, quiet folks we had left behind in Tonga.
The friendly, outgoing nature of the Fijians was catching. We found ourselves having in depth conversations with almost everyone we encountered.
During our first week in Savusavu we got together with several other boats and took the bus to Labasa, a large town on the north side of the Island (Vanua Levu). The scenery, we were told by our guidebooks, was worth the three hours on the bus. The scenery was indeed spectacular and our Fijian bus mates were very eager to point out the high spots. Waterfalls, cane fields and villages of interest were brought to our attention and after a pause to pick up more passengers our new Fijian friends passed us seela to chew on. The roasted corn on the cob was purchased from street vendors through the bus window. Hugs went all around as we said goodbye to our new friends at the final stop. I was unable to imagine this same scenario occurring on any of my bus trips back home. Our tour of Labasa was brief but interesting. As always the local vegetable market was a high spot. The burlap bags of spices arrayed on the tables were intensely colorful. Funny patchwork rugs hung from the roof timbers along with simple woven pandanus mats. One vendor offered me a taste of her dried fish which was much tastier than it looked. There was a large area reserved for the Kava traders with the large piles of what looked liked dried twigs waiting to be weighed for purchase. Our second stop was a Hindu temple which was open for walk-throughs. The most notable thing about the temple was that there wasn’t a chair to be seen. This was definitely not the church of my childhood. Our last stop on the whirlwind tour involved “long soup vegetable” in a local restaurant. Then it was back to the (same) bus for our return to Savusavu. Happily the CD had been changed.
Vanua Balavu, May 16th – May 27th
After ten days in Savusavu we were ready to be on the move again. Boats were pouring in from their season in New Zealand and the Harbor was getting a bit crowded. Our Portland, ME. Friends on Kite arrived three days after we did and we both took advantage of a microscopic window to head to the Lau Group, one hundred and fifteen miles back to the East.
Our tiny window of light winds from the Southeast turned out to be only about six hours long. By midnight of our passage the wind was blowing eighteen to twenty. The angle wasn’t as bad as we had feared and we avoided having to beat until the last several hours before arriving at the Adavaci Pass into Vanua Balavu. With a fistful of navigational data we crept towards the Pass in less than perfect light. We decided we’d take a look then make a decision. There was enough light to pick out the advertised dangers so we gratefully made our way in to drop the hook in front of Daliconi Village.
The small villages of Fiji continue to be very traditional. One of the more widespread traditions is the performance of sevusevu. When we want to anchor off a village and visit its sights we must seek permission from the village. This permission is granted during the ceremony of sevusevu. Early in the afternoon after our arrival we donned our sulas (the ubiquitous wrap around skirt worn by both men and women across the Pacific) packed up our kava offering and boat papers and made for the beach. We were greeted by four people who helped us pull our dinghies onto the beach. They asked if we could wait while the elders got ready to receive us. Not a problem. After a very few minutes we were escorted to the hereditary chief’s house and sat on the floor with our hosts. Jack, from Kite, was our spokesman. He requested permission to walk in the village and to anchor in the village’s “vanua” or land area. He then laid our kava bundles at the feet of the Chief’s stand-in. Chants were said and the Kava was picked up, thus granting permission. Sevusevu was followed by tea and plantain wrapped in pancakes. It was a great introduction to our friends in Daliconi. The only low point was when we stiff legged white folks had to get up off the floor.
The next day we went for a walk accompanied by the Mayor. We thought he was going to his plantation but he ended up tagging along for the whole trip. We walked as far as Malaka, the next village, where the Mayor introduced us to a couple who make virgin coconut oil. We bought a liter and explained we couldn’t stay for tea because we needed to move our boats before bad weather set in. Our coconut oil producer generously offered to whisk us around the corner back to Daliconi in his boat. A fine thing. By mid afternoon we had said our goodbyes in Daliconi and made our way to the Bay of Islands, several miles to the north.
The Bay of Islands off of Vanua Balavu has until this year been a somewhat difficult place to visit. The Lau Islands as whole required special permits which you could get only in Suva. Much paperwork was required and many hurdles had to be leapt. The Lau Islanders lobbied for years to make it easier for yachts to visit and they finally got their way. With luck they won’t get more visitors than they bargained for.
Due to the weather, Shango and Kite were the only boats in all of Vanua Balavu. We also happened to be the first boats to check in with Daliconi this season. What good fortune. Once in the Bay of Islands Kite anchored in Ship Channel and we anchored in Shoal Pass. The mushroom shaped Islands and turquoise blue water were spectacular and empty. We enjoyed several days of exploration before tearing ourselves away.
Our next stop in Daliconi’s territory was Bavatu Harbour. The Harbour is surrounded by high hills and towering cliffs and is really lovely. It’s rather deep but with only two boats that’s not a problem. During our stay we climbed the huge set of stairs to the small village on the hillside. The village residents are actually employees of the plantation which fronts the Harbour. We signed their guestbook and received permission to walk to the two unoccupied plantation houses overlooking the water. The view was amazing, with Shango smack dab in the middle of it.
After several more days back in the Bay of islands we were up for a walk so returned to Daliconi by dinghy. After a twelve kilometer tramp in the rain to the village of Lomaloma we secured a taxi for the return trip. Along the way we picked up the Daliconi church choir which was hoofing its way home. As a thank you they performed a lovely church song in Fijian, English and African. Our visit to Daliconi was coming to a close and we sadly said goodbye to our new friends and to the beautiful Bay of Islands.
We made just one other stop in the Lau at the Island of Welagilala. This is a small low Island surrounded by a reef much like those in the Tuamotus. Because the wind had been blowing and there was about three miles of fetch we stayed only one night in somewhat lumpy conditions. The holding however, was great in sand. We visited briefly with one of the four Fijians who stay on the Island to fish.
On Monday May 29th we spent the night at Horseshoe Bay, a beautiful anchorage on the north side of Matagi Island. The snorkeling was really good. We encountered three giant lobsters under an overhang. They were very safe under our vegetarian scrutiny. Where there’s good snorkeling, it sometimes follows that anchoring can be a bit of a trial. It was certainly true here. Nonetheless it was an enjoyable stop.
Naselesele Point, Taveuni, May 30th – June 1st
After a nice sail from Matagi we dropped the hook at Naselesele Point at the north end of Taveuni Island. Kite was a day ahead of us and already had the lay of the land. “Don’t go to the resort around the corner. Jack was bitten by their dog.” Yikes. We skipped the resort luncheon and headed in to do some provisioning. The supermarket was terrific and there was a tiny little vegetable stand two doors away.
The following day we tackled the waterfalls of the Bouma National Heritage Park. Our taxi driver, Paul (or John, depending on who you asked) headed us down the very bumpy road waving to relatives all the way. His Aunt, Maria, staffs the Visitor Center at the Park. She took our entry fee, drew us a little map of the route to the three waterfalls and asked us if we wanted lunch on our return. Would vegetable curry be ok? Sweet.
We tackled the hike to all three Falls despite the onset of torrential rains half way through. By the time we returned to the Visitor Center we were drenched and very glad that we had ordered a hot lunch. Maria plied us with lemongrass tea (freshly yanked from the yard) and spare clothing to keep us warm while Paul made an emergency run to the next village to transport a bleeding man to the Bouma Nursing Station (think machete, finger and inattention.) Before too long Paul returned and Maria sent us off still wrapped in all her spare clothes. As an added benefit we managed to secure her recipe for cassava and pumpkin curry. Another great day in Fiji.
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