[100707, 0035 UTC, Lesiaceva Point, Vanua Levu, Fiji; 16°48.55'S / 179°17.29'E]
Dear Friends ;
We set sail from Wallis Island for Fiji in a squall and arrived in Fiji in a squall. All-in-all the trip was enjoyable - we had plenty of wind and moved along well - though we did have some squalls along the way where the wind would shift dramatically and increase in strength (once to ~40 knots).
Fiji is an independent country with historic ties to the UK; the Queen's Birthday was a national holiday and her image still adorns the colorful Fijian dollars. It is a country with an interesting history filled with colorful figures (e.g., Bligh and Cook), changing politics (Fiji was conquered and ruled for a period by Tonga and has recently had a few coups), exploitation of peoples, and cannibalism that lasted well into the 19th century. Fiji was in fact "named" by Captain Cook, who mistook the pronunciation of the word Viti (the name used by indigenous peoples for the nation) for "Fiji". The mistake has been perpetuated to this day.
Fiji is a land of resorts set alongside traditional villages - from backpacker dorms to hostels to exclusive over-water bures - all of which welcome visitors from worldwide interested in its lush jungles, lovely tropical climate, extensive coral reefs and gorgeous beaches. For a cruising yacht it represents perhaps the greatest challenge of all - charts are notoriously inaccurate (many have Captain Bligh's original soundings), uncharted reefs abound, and its waters depth cannot always be read by the color. In this day of accurate gps navigation, many yachts are still lost each year in Fiji.
Savusavu is a port of entry in Fiji and the only one on the island of Vanua Levu. When we arrived here flying our Fijian courtesy flag and yellow Q (quarantine) flag, we were shown to our mooring by Aseri, the do-everything, kind, security man for the rustic and friendly Waitui Marina. (Waitui is the Seven Seas Cruising Association Cruising Station and we had been corresponding with them for about two years.) Soon after being secured to our "helix" mooring, we had officials ferried out to us to clear us into the country, each climbing aboard with bags of official papers for our clearance. In short order, we were in possession of a large stack of paper and an invoice for $33.75 FJD (payable at the hospital), and welcomed ashore.
Savusavu is an interesting town in a pretty setting, situated between low coastal mountains and hilly, jungle-covered Nawi Island. There are a number of hot springs visible from our mooring where boiling hot water seeps up just near the tide line making clouds of steam in the cool early-morning air. We're told that some villagers boil vegetables in a very active spring nearby the school. It is a small town of essentially one street, but it has two large grocers and many smaller ones, plus a few reasonably well-stocked hardware stores. Commodities are readily available - flour, sugar, rice, milk - but so are exotic spices and dozens of varieties of tea. Indian music wails loudly out along with wafts of incense from the many stores lining the street. They sell all sorts of cheap plastic, Chinese-made doo-dads in bright and garish colors as well as colorful saris, (bula) shirts and other clothing.
The Savusavu public market bustles everyday but particularly on Saturday when vendors arrive by bus (labeled Vishnu Holdings) from the mountains and villages nearby bringing the freshest of produce. Indo-Fijians and ethnic Fijians are represented in about equal numbers - along with a smattering of Chinese and folks of European descent (Kiwis, Aussies) - and the dress code is universally bright and colorful - from floral "island prints" to saris. In fact handmade clothing is a bargain here and you can buy a full floral print outfit of a dress and full length underskirt made for about $25 FJD ($12.50 USD).
The Copra Shed, a historic waterfront building and home of the "marina" by the same name has an upscale realtor, equally upscale gift shops, an internet/copy shop, the Savusavu Yacht Club, and a small "swindlery" selling bits and pieces of boat gear, including a Fijian courtesy flag for over $80 FJD! Savusavu is a place where $2/hour FJD is considered a good wage.
Everyday in Savusavu, sailboats flying flags of scores of countries, arrive from Tonga or New Zealand, including boats participating in rallies which are traveling together. This can make for tight quarters as the "creek" or inlet is relatively small and already occupied by moorings owned by Copra Shed Marina and Waitui Marina. Boats frequently (and foolishly)arrive at night and, despite two anchor lights (one being a bright purple neon light) we have been nearly hit by incoming yachts who are unwilling to wait for daylight before coming into the crowded inlet.
We have been in Fiji now for five weeks (yikes!) and have only ventured beyond Nakama Creek and Savusavu a couple of times, having been engaged with boat repairs (ongoing), and provisioning. We write today anchored in Savusavu Bay in front of the elite Jean Michel Cousteau resort at Lesiaceva Point only three or four miles from "the creek". Here we plan to snorkel and enjoy exploring the reef. We are thinking of venturing ashore and visiting their bar for a libation and a view of how the rich folk vacation. Of course, we DO have the same view. We DID have a great day with cruisers from three other boats, renting a Ford SUV van and driver and traveling over the mountains to Labasa, the island's biggest town and home of its sugar mill. This excursion also involved a side trip to a Hindu temple built around a cobra shaped ("growing") rock and a village ceremonial site.
Time has passed quickly for us as we've been continuously busy, arranging for shipments of marine supplies and a permit to visit the rural Lau group of islands, plus working on projects, all the while settling into life in small town Fiji. In addition, we've converted more of our ship's lighting to LEDs and solved problems with previous LED installations, fixed some leaking ports, and simply fallen into a daily routine involving a stroll down Savusavu's one short main street with stops in the public market and various shops where we uncover tiny treasures.
Arriving in a new country always involves a bit of adjustment - to language, the customs, the available foodstuffs, to available services, etc. Our Pacific languages/culture and guidebooks books teach us that we should not expose knees or shoulders and wear no hats or sunglasses in villages, AND no carrying a bag over your shoulder. It's also a very serious mistake to ever touch the head of any Fijian chief as the head is considered sacred.
Kava is serious business in Fiji and to visit many anchorages and villages requires a "sevusevu" or gift of kava root (only root, no powdered stuff) to the chief. If you arrive later in the day, you will be invited and obligated to share the kava in a ceremony with the chief. Once the sevusevu is accepted, you are welcomed and protected by the village. Jeez, it seems like it'd be easy to make a bad impression!
Fijians, though, are naturally friendly and you'll be walking down the street and a complete stranger will walk by and, in a sing-songy way, call out "Buuuuulaaah"! Next week sometime we are being invited to tea or supper at the home of our favorite honey vendor, an Indo-Fijian, who sells us light, lovely Fijian honey. That'll be an interesting experience and one we are looking forward to.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake