Can you see the markers? Yep red on the left returning and narrow too!
07/15/2011, Mana Island
After a few days of provisioning and acclimatizing to Fiji, we motored to the small islands just off Vuda Point, and set our anchor in the busy mooring field of Musket Cove. This side of Fiji is where most of the tourists come, and it seems each island has its own resort. Musket Cove is splendid mix or tourism and cruising. The result is a yachtie friendly resort atmosphere, with yacht club, pubs, pools and restaurants. The setting is action packed, offering everything from jet boats to catamarans to paddle boards. We stayed for two nights in Musket Cove, watching and partaking in the action before we headed towards more tranquil anchorages.
Just around the corner we found a spot to anchor in about 40 feet off the end of Castaway Island, close to the even smaller island that the famous movie was made. Tourist traffic was decidedly down here, although we still were entertained by the coming and goings of passenger ferries, float planes, jet boats and kayakers! We have been travelling with our friends on Serenity, making the most of our time together before they head off towards Australia this year. We've been enjoying their company and the sundowners!
The next day we left Castaway to move inside the lagoon at Mana Island. When we got to the entrance, we could see small white caps and evidence of strong current flowing out of the pass. There have been huge swells hitting the outer reef over the past few days, large enough to attract the top surfers from around the world. There is so much water hitting the reef that it has its own weather system- a ring of vapour and small puffy clouds outlines the outer reefs. As a result of all of this swell action, lots of water is spilling over the reef, creating strong currents in passes such as the one we were in front of. After checking the tide table we decided we would go out to the nearby sandy island/reef for lunch and a dive, and come back later when the tide was coming in again so that the current would be reduced.
We anchored in front of the sandy island and had a quick bite to eat. After lunch, Michael and I had a nice dive along the wall at about 35-40 feet. The reef was not in pristine condition, visibility was below average, but the fish were plentiful. It was nice to dive right off the boat like that. After the dive we headed back to the pass. Although the tide was incoming, the flow was still outward at about 3 knots. We snaked our way in through the narrow pass and anchored in front of the backpacker resort.
A warm yet cooling tropical breeze is now blowing through the open hatches. Ahh, back in Fiji we are. Not sure that I can ever leave. One day stretches like warm bubble gum into the next. Waves lap the sides of the hull playing an everlasting melodic tune. Friends visit and linger. The sun sets in glorious hues of golden orange, setting the stage for the stars to do their southern dance across the sky. And so our cruising life goes on, Paikea Mist offering us the platform for this amazing experience of cruising.
(Still looking for Fly Aweigh though, she should be around the next corner)
07/09/2011, Spruce Harbour Marina
View from the stern of Kristine and Kolby's beautiful Kwa'neesh- we loved the liveaboard lifestyle in Vancouver's Spruce Harbour Marina
Wondering where we were? We spent the month of June back home enjoying Vancouver, our friends, family and even work! We are now back in Fiji getting ready to head out to Musket Cove and the surrounding islands.
06/02/2011, Makongai Island, Fiji
Look into those eyes and tell me what do you see?
A large muscular man, Suli sat relaxed, crossed legged on woven mat that lay upon the simple slated wood floor . Sporting a fresh t-shirt and shorts, he had already changed out of his pressed white shirt and sulu * he had worn to the church service we had attended together earlier that day. With a mischievous yet somewhat guilty smile on his face, he gently explained. "You will begin to feel itching in your throat- do not worry, it is the taro root leaves, they cause this to happen, it will not last". My mouth was already exploding, as if I had eaten a fist full of thistles, not the delicious leaves cooked in coconut and onion. (* a sulu is a traditional Fijian man skirt)
Relieved to know that at least I would not be expiring soon in some state of allergic coma, I still felt anxious as the constriction followed the leaves down my throat. Suli had warned me (mind you without full explanation) that I may not want to try the taro root, but in my adventurous culinary spirit, I went ahead anyways. As I was concentrating on keeping my composure and willing myself not to panic, Suli also ate some of the otherwise untouched plate of rolled leaves, I suppose to share the grief with me. His eyes grew large as he went through the same momentary pain as I. Around the woven floor mat, laid out with a traditional Sunday feast, others laughed and giggled at our predicament.
Dozens of plates of food lay beautifully arranged on the large mat, easily enough to feed the family several meals. Suli had been spearfishing on the reef the day before, and a wide variety of fish laid freshly seared on several of the plates. Others were full to the brim with rice, cassava, pork ribs, and a particularly delicious dish of steamed spinach in coconut and lime. In between the platters lay fresh lime wedges, salt and hot chillies for seasoning, as well as juicy wedges of freshly cut watermelon to quench thirst between courses. Suli sat at the head of the floor mat, and delighted in sharing the food with us and his extended family. Indeed a total of nine adults and four children ate their fill and yet there was still many plates left untouched. In a perfect example of modern day "eco" self sufficiency, all the food (with perhaps the exception of the rice) came from the island itself, and was prepared over an outdoor oven stoked with coconut husks and wood from fallen trees in the surrounding forest.
Sunday feast laid out on the mat, just before grace
The previous afternoon we had presented "Sevu Sevu" to Kameli, the headman of the small village which rests upon the edge of the calm bay inside of the fringing reef that surrounds Makongai Island. Sevu Sevu is an ancient ceremony of giving a bundle of Kava root to the headman or chief of a village. The chief then welcomes the visitor (whether Fijian or western, the tradition is the same) and allows full access to the village and surrounding waters. The root is pounded and then made into a drink. Men in Fiji drink the ceremonial Kava in the evenings, and they develop a yearning for it! The effects are soporific, lulling them into a restful state. Later that evening when Suli came to the boat to let us know that he would pick us up by boat for church the following morning, we were happy to hear from Suli that the kava we brought was exceptionally good.
After the meal, Suli sat on the rickety steps off the porch of his small house shoulder to shoulder with Michael. They were pouring over a book which Suli shared with obvious pride. Born on the island, his parents were residents at the time that the island was still a "leper colony".
Shoulder to shoulder
Surprisingly, the small hard cover book was entitled "Makongai- Image of Hope". Hope is definitely not the first idea that comes to mind when told that the entire island was used to quarantine "lepers" as early as 1911. Kameli had already informed us that as many as 5000 patients once lived on the island. The colony existed until 1969, after the cure for leprosy had been found, and the last residents finally sailed away from the island.
When it was time for Suli's afternoon rest, he graciously offered the book to me to take back to read on the boat. I read into the night, amazed at the incredible history of the island. Since the biblical times, leprosy was known as a death warrant of the worst particular kind. In the early 1900s when the number of cases spiked throughout the Pacific Islands, the disease was dreaded, and those who succumbed were outcasts. All sorts of cures were attempted, including hanging the victim upside down over a fire made using the branches of a poisonous tree!
In a resolute attempt to control the spread of the disease, the Fijian government determined that they would use an entire island for the purpose; Makongai Island was the chosen one. Lepers were literally scraped up from backrooms and alley ways where they had been left to rot. One of the worst victims exuded an ungodly stench that wafted for a quarter of a mile or more. Many had been ostracized from their family and friends and had given up any hope of a better life.
These remarkable individuals were the very fabric and sinew which was to weave itself into the magic of Makongai.
The colony was judiciously run by a nun by the name of Sister Mary Agnes. She was an exceptionally strong and driven woman who knew what she wanted, and people knew it would be best to follow her wishes. For decades, Sister Mary Agnes and her fellow nuns petitioned for and provided nursing care to the many people brought to them. From the start, they treated them as humans first, encouraging them to take pride in their surroundings, by looking after their own food gardens and decorating their huts in their traditional manners. Under their faithful guidance, the colony flourished. Throughout the island various villages were set up, a separate village for Fijians, Indians and Solmonese were established where people were encouraged to follow their own traditional customs. Yet despite this separation by race, the magic of hope evolved from the sense of family and oneness which unfolded on Makongai. All reported a state of equality and brotherhood, which outstripped any differences in race, culture or hierarchal background. At her request, Sister Mary Agnes was buried in the graveyard on Makongai Island, just beyond Kameli's small village. Even today her headstone is readily identified, surrounded by the more simple crosses of almost 1000 souls of those she cared for.
As people were brought to the island for the first time, they were often feeling alienated, ashamed and afraid , having been uprooted from their normal lives and routines by the disease. They did not know what to expect, yet when they were met at the docks and graciously welcomed to the island by other upbeat residents their outlook began to change. Indeed, they were given hope, and a spirit grew amongst the islanders that is rarely produced in other more typical settings we human beings find ourselves in. The approach was so successful that the colony was eventually opened up to the entire South Pacific, and took those inflicted from as far away as Tonga, the Solomons and even New Zealand.
These hardy islanders were amazing in their resiliency. The sisters saw to it that their life was rich and meaningful, even in the face of the often painful disease they battled with day in and day out. They held a wide variety of cultural festivities which they shared with each other, celebrated Christmas, went to school, learned new trades, made custom furniture to very high standards, stitched intricate and beautiful needle work pieces (sometimes without the use of fingers to push a needle through) built roads, and even a movie theatre on the island.
Residents were encouraged to keep up with the news of the world, and ironically it was one of the patients who first learned of the cure for his own infliction. Reading a scientific publication from North America, he was excited to hear that a sulphite based drug was being found effective in controlling the bacterial based disease. The islanders watched as the miracle drug cured one patient after the other. Upon eventually leaving the island many expressed a heartfelt sadness. In fact, when relapses occurred, they often rejoiced at the opportunity to revisit their 'family' on Makongai.
Kameli and Suli's village has six small homes close to the edge of the sea, the island is now home to 75 people in two villages
After spending our own delightful but oh- too -short time visiting with the Makongai islanders, exploring their island and reefs, we can't help but feel hopeful for the island, and the future of its people. We've had the unbridled opportunity to watch the villagers go about their daily routines, and been fortunate to take part in some of them. We've been shown their giant clam recovery program and discussed how they spawn and culture the tiny clams into specimins large enough to deliver to various reefs throughout Fiji, where each one is carefully placed in the hope of its survival. In the late afternoon we've watched parents playing with their children at the water's edge, the children shrieking in delight. In their small open windowed church we sat engulfed by their voices, both young and old as they sang their hearts out. Twice during the church service separate individuals addressed us in English, blessing our journey and thanking us for coming to their island. Thanking us?!!
Such is the overriding and I suspect everlasting spirit of Makongai, which lives on even today in the generous nature of such people as Kameli, Suli and others who hail from all parts of Fiji, who warmly welcome visitors to their island. Like those who have come and gone before us, we too were reluctant to leave Makongai.
Paikea Mist at anchor in front of village, ahh....how sweet it is, and how hard it is to leave
05/28/2011, Savu Savu
After 10 days of hanging on a mooring buoy at the Copra Shed Marina, Savu Savu we have finally left to seek new anchorages in the beautiful surrounds of Fiji. Leaving the first port of call always takes a bit of time. First, you spend a few days recovering from your passage, catching up on your sleep and repairs as needed, and later exploring the town and its surroundings. Savu Savu is a nice waterfront town, featuring numerous small restaurants where meals are inexpensive and delicious and the people are very friendly. Every where you go people smile at you from their eyes, and say "Bula!" as they pass you on the street. In stores and restaurants, they ask all sorts of questions about where you have come from, and are generally very interested in you and your family. Many of them take the effort to remember your name, and then call out to you when they next see you. The weather in Savu Savu was not quite as friendly to us as the people. We had lots and lots of rain, and when it wasn't raining it could get quite humid. Oh well, the beer was always cold and cheap at the Copra Shed Yacht Club!
We had to wait until Thursday to finally get our fuel- this was an interesting process of several boats ordering fuel, and estimating the amount they would need. Once they had enough orders, they organized the truck to come to Savu Savu to a small jetty dock. The truck parked on the side of the road, and a long hose was organized out to the boat. Unfortunately, the names of boats and amounts were recorded on unorganized slips of paper, leaving one boat without fuel at all, and another with far less than they had ordered. Ah, Fiji, love it or leave it!
After we cleared out of customs (in Fiji you have to clear in and out of the major areas as you cruise from one to the other), we went all of five miles to anchor outside of the Cousteau Resort. This is a posh resort in a beautiful setting. Not all that great on the boat though as the breeze brought in flying ants, which were very annoying to have onboard! We are now anchored in front of the tiny village of Makongai where six families live along the waters edge. The bay is very protected and the water much clearer than the areas around Savu Savu which were muddied by the frequent rainfalls. At mid day yesterday we navigated into the lagoon, through a small passage in the surrounding reef. Later in the afternoon, we had a tour of the village by the "headman", Kameli. Makongai was once a leper colony, and until 1969 had as many as 5000 people quarantined here. I can think of worse places to be quarantined, that's for sure. You can see the remnants of the colony here, complete with movie theater and jail. The graveyard beyond the townsite has as many as 1000 graves. The people who live here now make their money by running a giant clam recovery operation (as in the clams are giant- not the operation!) where they spawn and grow giant clams for distribution amongst Fijian marine park reefs. They also make a little bit of money from the cruisers by performing fijian dances for them when they come in to the anchorage. Village life is a quiet throw back to simpler times. There is no radio, tv or internet. While we were talking with Kameli, a villager approached us with a friendly welcome. She was swinging a large hind quarter of a pig's leg, as nonchalantly as I might swing a purse. She presented Kameli with it, and he explained that her family had caught a wild pig and were sharing it with the rest of the villagers. With no refrigeration, everyone must have eaten a lot of pork last night! This morning one of the families will pick us up by boat and take us to the other side of the island to church. My friend Beth has been to this island a few years ago, and on a Sunday, like us went to church with the locals. I can remember her saying how great the singing was, so we are looking forward to it! We will likely stay here another night, and then start to navigate our way along the north west side of the larger island of Vitu Levau. This passage is inside the reef, but is reported to be well marked. We will stop in a few niches along the way, and hopefully explore some of the reefs by way of snorkeling and diving. We are looking forward to flying home on the 7th of June for our nieces wedding, and seeing everyone back at home. Until then GO CANUCKS GO!!!!
05/19/2011, Savu Savu
We had a glorious sail last night to Savu Savu, through passages and alongside and around various reefs. The moon was full, and the seas virtually calm. I enjoyed handsteering Paikea Mist along our rhumbline during my watch. The boys are so techy and button oriented, it is the only time I dare grab the wheel and steer! With 12 knots of wind and only the genoa, we tried to keep our speed to around 6 knots over the last 50 miles in order to arrive in the daylight, and by 6 am we turned the corner into the protected anchorage of Savu Savu, by 7 am we had grabbed a mooring boy at the Waitui Yacht Club. We cleared customs by 11 and by noon we were eating hamburgers, fries and drinking a cold beer! We are all now going to have a little nap, although it is very hot and humid here, so we will see how that goes. The cabin temperature rose from a comfy 27degrees to 33 degrees at mid day here at the anchorage. The water temperature, which was 18 degrees in Opua is now 29 degrees celcius. It is humid, and my arms lie in a pool of sweat as I type this brief message! This will take some getting used to!
Thanks to Martin for being such a great crew and brother in law. And thanks to everyone who offered their words of encouragement when we were beating up against that maddening northerly wind, many thanks to you all, lots of love, Gloria, Michael and Martin