110321; 0535 UTC SavuSavu, Vanua Levu, Fiji; 16°46.64'S / 179°20.06'E
When last we wrote we were hunkered down at Naiviiri Bay on Qamea Island. Philip had developed a case of cellulitis on his shin (a painful swollen infection of the connective tissue)from bug bites that had gotten infected. This showed up immediately after he went slogging to the village through knee deep, brackish mud. It wasn't a bad case but we knew we'd have to treat it aggressively with oral antibiotics and keep his legs (with many still-open sores from bites) out of seawater. The other reason we stayed at Naiviiri (and worked on projects and read and cleaned and even relaxed - for a change) was that our incoming GPS waypoints had brought us dangerously close to a reef that is awash at low tide. We knew approximately where it was, but we wanted good, high elevation sunlight for reef spotting to avoid this hazard while leaving the bay. Clear skies eluded us for many days as squalls rolled over the mountains and through the bay.
Finally convinced we had sufficient sunlight, we started off one day toward Vurevure Bay on Taveuni Island, a short hop of less than 5 nautical miles. Of course, just at the time we were approaching the area of the reef hazard, a dark cloud covered the sun and all obstacles seemed to magically disappear. Luckily, we slid past this isolated hazard by less than a boat length, though just as we passed it, we could just see a pale green (but very hard) ghost lurking beneath the water, barely visible in the diminished light.
Safe water between Taveuni and Qamea Islands runs through a narrow channel between the islands with waves breaking over reefs stretching out more than a mile perpendicular to the land, so as we threaded our way Philip stood at the bow on reef watch. Our entry proved uneventful and we searched for a mooring buoy whose coordinates had been given us. It wasn't exactly where it was supposed to be, but it was the only buoy that was clearly not part of an array of buoys of pearl farm oyster cultivation lines, so we took it. Using unknown moorings is always a risk, though we knew friends on s/v Intention had used this buoy and we later found out it was laid as a cyclone mooring for three masted schooner and had been recently surveyed, so we felt better about hanging on it. Winds were from the north and we were in a tight circular area of water ringed by coral to our lee.
On our first trip ashore, we spotted four young boys loping along the beach towards the site we'd chosen to land. Laughing and waving the boys raced into the water and grabbed our gunwales just as we were thumping onto soft sand. Like Lilliputians they gathered up Bacio and carried her up the beach to a stump and set her gently down, all the while filling the air with giggles and questions. Philip dug into our backpack and produced some large mango flavored lollies and the boys jumped on each other spoofing it up for our benefit. Of course we had to take their photos and that prompted even more little boy antics as they made faces and gestures while lounging on Bacio. Soon, Jesse appeared, a father from the village who seemed to be just checking us out. Appointing themselves as our tour guides, the boys ushered us down the beach and bullied one of their own into climbing an overhanging coconut tree and kicking down green (drinking) coconuts for our benefit. Continuing on, they were intent on showing us the way to the home of Canadians Claude and Danielle, friends of more than one of our friends and recent pearl farmers. As it turns out, Claude and Danielle were not home but we sat at their landing at the confluence of a small deep creek and the sea, while the boys skillfully chopped our coconuts with razor-sharp cane knives (a kind of machete) and laughingly presented them to us like waiters. They were cute, nice kids and we got a big kick out of them.
Our first visit was to Jim Hennings, the 81 year old patriarch of the estate at a point of land inside the bay which is reached only by boat or a narrow path through the jungle. Jim, of German descent and whose grandparents settled in Fiji in the 19th century, was remarkably spry and lucid as we sat on a log (and he on a milk crate) at the entrance to his modest but large open home. A tractor load of kids came by and Jim introduced us to his son, Fred, and a whole bunch of his lovely ethnic Fijian grandchildren. When we asked him how many grandchildren he had, he laughed and said he'd lost count. One of the little girls, not more than 6 years old, proudly carried an old 12 gauge, single shot shotgun over her shoulder and with a somewhat haughty little-girl manner marched by us into the house. Still surviving on copra production with only 255 acres, Jim also has the usual complement of cattle, pigs, chickens and goats, all of which wandered through the scene as we chatted.
The next day, back in the village, we found Claude and Danielle on their way out. They were friendly, but in a hurry, offering us water and advice as they prepared their working punt for sea. The advice they gave was that since this day was Sunday, it was a good day for sevusevu as all the villagers in the Vurevure settlement should be at home. We were to find Cocotoli, the village chief. Back on Carina, we dressed up (Leslie wore a sulu over her capris and Philip, a clean bright bula shirt),gathered boat cards and a sevusevu-standard 1/2 kilo bundle of kava root (yaqona) and headed back to the village. Our pack of village boys were again on the beach but had doubled in size. Again, they escorted us along as they peppered us with questions and jostled each other as our procession traveled up the middle of the "highway", which here is a rutted dirt road.
As we entered the village, eyes peered out from behind curtains, toddlers openly stared and adults waved and greeted us with a warm "bula"! At the porch of the chief's home, there was a sudden shuffle and pandanus mats magically appeared and were laid on the wooden floor. Chief Cocotoli, obviously suffering from an infection of his eyes, removed his sunglasses (as we had done with ours before entering the village). The chief spoke little English, but Jesse (met the day before) and Tom, Cocotoli's son, did most of the talking. For an hour or more we stayed and talked, as they, and Tom in particular, were curious about us. The pack of village children, grown in numbers still, sat quietly along the periphery. Tom produced and old and well worn atlas and we showed them where Washington State was in the USA. As is always the case, our professions, our ages and whether we had children was on top the list of things they ask. Finally, warmed by our welcome, we departed the chief's home and into the pack of boys who created quite a kerfuffle at the diminishing supply of lollies. Despite this, they surrounded us all the way back to the dinghy, stepping into any photo we tried to take along the way. As a team, they carried the dinghy like a litter for royalty, down the beach to the edge of the receding water and waved wildly as we motored away back to Carina. One boy nonchalantly tried to "stow away" on the stern of the dinghy waving to his friends as we pulled away, jumping off as the water started to deepen.
On our list of must-dos at this end of Taveuni was to visit the Bouma National Heritage Park which incorporates almost all of eastern Taveuni, a preserve of rainforest, reefs, waterfalls and wildlife. The following day we put ashore at Civa Pearl Farm once again, and encountered Danielle alone along with Mika, an employee. After a quick chat, Mika indicated he was from the village of Waitabu, which is in the park and he'd walk with us up the road; the park was roughly 4 kilometers away. In his mid-twenties, Mika chatted about the park and how his village has preserved the reef and supplements its income from dalo (taro) by hosting tours. On our way up the road, we passed the well constructed home of two Peace Corps volunteers who at the time were organizing villagers in various project.
Mika left us there and we continued up the "highway" to the Tavoro Falls visitor's center. We were the only visitors that day and Maria, the hostess, took our entrance money but also probed us about any fishing equipment we might have to trade. Promising to stop again before we went home, we walked up the neat path to the falls of the Tavoro River. Pictures cannot capture how lovely and soothing these falls were and how pristine the pool. Philip donned swim trunks, waded in and swam toward the chop at the base of the falls. Feeling the temperature of the water (cold!), Leslie decided that taking photos was a better idea. After Philip's brisk swim we climbed to the viewpoint above the falls and sat for a lovely rest looking east from Taveuni at the Koro Sea and Qamea island.
Later, back at the visitor's center, Maria was keen to seal a deal and we agreed to accept papayas and lemons in return for the fishing equipment Maria wanted. It was a little odd, her husband was napping and ignoring us in another part of the picnic shelter while her small son, with a head full of kinky blond hair (seen often in Pacific islands) just looked at us like we'd dropped out of a space ship. We ended up getting a bunch of lovely fruit in trade for fishing equipment we were willing to donate so both sides were happy.
The following day, we set out to find Vunivasa Estate, a working farm of 3000 acres run by a Danish couple who Jim Hennings had suggested we should meet. Walking in the heat and rapidly rising humidity, it was an unusual hike as it was uphill both ways (or so it seemed). We eventually found the unmarked entrance to the farm and started down the drive. As the rutted drive descended toward the Tasman Strait sparkling in the morning sun, pineapple fields began to appear that filled most of the valley to our south and teams of farm workers moved slowly tending the crop. A lorry-load of pineapples slowly pulled away as we approached, bouncing towards the collection of farm outbuildings.
No one seemed to pay any attention to us, even as we waved and called "bula", until we passed through a gate. Here we were greeted by a dobermann pinscher galloping towards us. She was friendly enough but pushed us with her head, perhaps trying to steer us in one direction. To our left in the shadows of a tractor shed, we spotted a man who we thought must be Peter, since he looked a whole lot more like a Dane than anyone we'd met so far. He shrugged at us, and raised both hands in question and we went forward to greet him. Philip introduced us and apologized for the intrusion and Peter, once he knew who we were, was very friendly, directing us through another gate into the garden surrounding the main house, to wait while he finished up conferring with his farm manager.
Peter soon bounded up the path and joined us, leading us to the old rambling wooden home as his dobermann circled us, seemingly excited by the unusual activity. Peter led us up the steps to the front porch, where at a small table sat Lillian, his wife, reading while a spectacular tabby cat snuggled her. Sitting and watching the water, we talked over glasses of freshly made papaya/orange juice, even touching on delicate geo-political subjects one wouldn't normally discuss with strangers. However, Peter and Lillian quickly ceased to be strangers as we shared stories and learned of their projects to bring innovative earth-friendly and sustainable agriculture to Taveuni. To this end, they've established a Taveuni grower's cooperative for the purposes of training and secured funding to bring a specialty (agronomy) volunteer to the island to help them. At the lunch hour, they insisted we join them in their dining room. Hundreds of books lined the room and we chatted of favorite books and authors through a healthy meal of mostly home grown food. We also talked terra preta, nitrogen fixers, sources of open pollinating seeds, plus literature, cyclones, health care and politics. Filled with food and good cheer, it was difficult to say goodbye to these kindred spirits, but by mid afternoon we ambled back up the drive and walked back to Carina.
At this juncture, we were ready to head back to Savusavu, though the remnants of a tropical low near Vanuatu kept delivering strong NW winds that would make sailing back an exercise in tacking across the choppy Koro Sea into almost 30 knots. So, digging deeply in our lockers, we unearthed a tiny store of patience and waited two more days before embarking. In the interim, we had the chance to revisit the village and say goodbye, though we missed (sadly) seeing the rambunctious boys who were all at school every week day about 5 km down the road at Bouma.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake