Journal 35; Southern Fiji
June 24 - July 22, 2011
We tend to favor the road less traveled so we sailed 140 miles southwest of Savusavu, Fiji to Kandavu Island and the Great Astrolabe Reef. We thought the overnight sail would be slow and pleasant but we ended up with a week’s worth of sailing in one night. We departed Savusavu at 5 am so we could anchor by the following evening but with unexpected strong winds (and heavy squalls) we arrived close to our destination by 1 am. We then dropped most of our sails to wait for sunrise before going into the anchorage.
We anchored in a protected anchorage just off of Kavala village because we were expecting a strong cold front to blow through (southerly winds). The front was everything we expected: 2 days of strong winds and heavy rains. We hung safely at anchor with no worries, the only boat in the large bay.
The weather settled and we went ashore to present our sevusevu (Fijian tradition of presenting dried kava, an intoxicating root, as a gift to show respect to the village chief and elders). The elders gathered in the chief’s home for the sevusevu presentation. We all sat on floor mats while they mixed the kava in the traditional manner using dried leaves as a strainer and a coconut shell as a cup. You must take the kava in one swig so they ask, “do you want low tide or high tide?” meaning ½ a cup or a full cup. For anyone that has tasted kava the answer is obvious, “Low tide!” There were prayers of thanks said in Fijian and synchronized clapping of hands for the solemn ceremony. The ceremony complete, we were then welcome to walk around the quaint village where they showed us the church bells (see below) and their meeting hall. The meeting hall was a gift from the United States during President Regan’s term and his photo is still prominently displayed. They use the hall regularly including every Monday morning when the men gather to divide out the weeks tasks.
The elders explained this week was special because two brothers were returning to their village after working in Texas for 10 years. Before departing the U.S. they loaded a shipping container with supplies to build four houses for their families. The following day a small transport ship arrived from Suva at high tide. The captain drove the ship aground in front of the location of the new homes, tied off the ship to trees along the shore, they lowered the bow and then the village began to unload the ship during low tide. Amazing what these people can do!
For the next two weeks we toured the Great Astrolabe Reef going from one tiny island to the next snorkeling in pristine waters and relaxing. Most of the islands are uninhabited and there were few cruising boats. During one snorkeling trip I christened my new spear gun, an early birthday gift from JoDon. I spotted a grouper lurking in the reef and shot him right through the gills. The fish was very delicate and the meat tasted like lobster.
In anticipation of strong northerly winds we made our way to another protected anchorage, Vagola Bay, and it turned into a most memorable stay. Another safe anchorage all to ourselves.
Immediately after dropping the hook a young man, Ethan, came to our boat in his kayak. He explained that he was Seventh Day Adventist and since it was Friday afternoon his Sabbath was about to begin. He invited us to his home on Sunday (there are no activities on Saturdays).
On Sunday we went to their house and this is his story. Ethan was recently married, had a new baby and his auntie lived with them in his small home. His auntie lived in Australia for many years as a nanny and housekeeper. She said, “I always worked for Jewish families, they paid the best.” Ethan explained they preferred to live outside of the village but he had title to his land. His clan had been given legal rights to their land several generations back and their chief had the final decision over land use and all other important matters. Their clan also owned land on the other side of Kandavu Island they had taken many years from another tribe. The two tribes fought a battle and Ethan’s clan won and then took all their land. As Ethan explained, “We don’t have individual civil rights like America, but this system (clans with chiefs) works for us.” He seemed genuinely content with his clan. He had no issues (at least publicly) about the Fijian military government. The new government has installed some new, strict rules, including a ban on spear fishing at night, but they were for everyone’s benefit.
The colourful Kandavu Parrot.
We later got to know some other young men who came by and greeted us. We asked them if they needed any supplies, and after some prodding on my part, they asked for a tee shirt from America. I gave them a tee shirt and the next day they returned with a cassava (yucca) pie that must have weighed 10 pounds and a lovely shell. Cassava is a very dense vegetable and it had been cooked with coconut to make a thick cake. The boy’s mother had made the pie for us in appreciation for the tee shirt. In turn we gave a gift to the mom, a kitchen knife that had been my mother’s for many years. JoDon and I thought my mother would smile knowing her knife was now in a Fijian village.
The boys invited us to their village. We went there literally paddling up a creek until the water was too shallow. Their village was just a few houses with fresh water provided by a spring. They lead us to a small waterfall for a refreshing swim.
The boys explained they farmed throughout the week and went fishing on Saturdays so they could have meat for Sunday dinner. In the mornings they ate cassava pie and then walked to their ‘plantations’ which we would describe as small plots. For lunch they would pick fruit from their trees and for dinner they had vegetables from their gardens: yams, cassava and sweet potatoes.
Kava was their cash crop that enables them to build a house and buy other supplies. Kava requires four years for it to mature and every year they plant 1,800 plants. A local merchant pays them F$30 (US$18) for every kilo of dried kava.
The boys then invited themselves to El Regalo for a kava party. Three boys arrived at sundown on a one man kayak carrying a guitar and a big kava bowl. While JoDon was down below fixing pizzas for our party I drank kava, always a low tide portion. I was relieved when the bowl was finished. The boys then started mixing a second bowl of grog. By that time JoDon joined us in the kava party and she had a lot of fun teasing the guys. After several cups of kava JoDon thought it would be a great idea in joining them for a smoke. The boys smoked a local root that is thinly twisted and rolled with strips of newspapers.
Between cups, the boys played their guitar and harmonized songs. It was quite entertaining. Toward the end of the second bowl of kava the guys explained that the new government has banned “wash down.” It is punishable with 7 years of imprisonment to drink alcohol after drinking kava. I was shocked when they replied, “Do you have some rum for a wash down?” Well, use your imagination how that turned out. By 1:30am I told the boys to go home since it was obvious they were enjoying themselves too much to ever leave. The three of them loaded into their one-man kayak with their kava bowl, guitar, and two large sacks of giveaways from El Regalo (a bag of used clothes and a big sack of empty wine bottles that their mother uses for potions). It was quite a sight! There was no moon that night and it was absolutely pitch black outside. I asked the boys, “How are you going to find your village across the bay?” The three immediately looked up at the stars and pointed while saying, “Home is that way.” I’ll have to try that one the next time I’m lost in Dallas!
We were moving very slowly the next day as we prepared to leave Vagola Bay, but not before Ethan paddled by El Regalo and shouted, “Did you have a good kava party last night?” Nothing gets missed in small villages.
We did another overnight sail to Port Denarau, Viti Levu Island (the big island of Fiji). We caught this large MahiMahi as the sun went down and it was completely dark as I hauled it onboard. We sailed fast and again had to lower all our sails to avoid arriving before dawn but the trip was overall pleasant. Arriving Port Denarau was like stepping into Florida except full of gawking Australian tourists rather than snowbirds. It was quite a shock after spending time in Kandavu.
We had a few repairs to take care of, including the generator would not start due to an electrical problem of some-sort. A local electrician (Fijian of India descent) was aboard El Regalo working on a broken microwave and he claimed he could also fix the generator. I handed him the generator’s wiring schematic and he pushed it aside. The electrician was really pissing me off by not answering my questions about what he was doing and not responding to my opinions to solve the problem until the generator fired up a few minutes later. I then got over it, very quickly.
Port Denarau was too much but we did enjoy visiting with many fellow cruisers that we had met over the past years. Some we had met in Panama and Ecuador and we would cross paths all the way to New Zealand, and now Fiji. After too much time in Port Denerau we moved north to the Mamanuca and Yasawa Island groups.
The islands here are beautiful but different than other parts of Fiji we have visited. This is the tourist center of Fiji and most every island has at least one resort. Tourism is great for the local economy but we cruisers are spoiled rotten by normally having so much beauty to ourselves.
Brian and JoDon
These underwater photos from The Great Astrolabe Reef can be elarged by clicking on them.