Here is a short story about the last 24 hours here on the Fijian Island of Vanua Baluva. It is also known as the Exploring Islands - a massive coral reef that encircles a least 8 major islands. Vanua Baluva is located in the northeast corner of Fijian waters and is one of the most northerly islands of the Lau Group. This area was previously off limits to cruisers as the government wanted to preserve their traditional culture. Fortunately, for a small fee we are now able to visit these areas.
We arrived at the well marked pass yesterday at noon and followed the range markers through the reef to the inner lagoon. We also followed a series of GPS waypoints that we obtained from an experienced local cruiser named Curly - last name unknown - who hangs out in Savusavu and offers regular seminars on the perils of Fijian waters! At any rate, his waypoints worked well and guided us to the anchorage at Dalaconi Village without incident.
Within a few minutes of our arrival friends on a Swiss sailboat approached us in their dinghy and advised us we were in luck - tonight there would be a pig roast and dance show in the village - to be put on just for the 4 yachts in the anchorage. It sounded like fun so we quickly launched or own dinghy and prepared to go into town to meet the local people.
There is a tradition in Fijian Villages - the formal greeting process of sevu sevu - or gift giving. Upon arrival at a village for the first time one seeks out the village mayor or head man, as well the chief of the village. They usually watch you arrive so this is not too difficult to figure out. You are then taken to the chief's home where you explain the reason for your visit and how long you plan to visit. A gift presentation of a bundle of kava roots is from us to the chief, along with some other small gifts. The chief graciously accepts the gifts and the welcomes you to the village and tells you that their village is now your village and that all doors are open - we are welcome to go wherever you want!
The mayor then took us for a tour of the small homes, the church and the community all, all laid out along a sandy beach with lush hills rising up behind. About 150 people live in the village so there is also a small elementary school. Older kids ride a truck to the high school in the larger town across the island.
It was about this time the dinner party started. Everyone was dressed in their finest clothes - the men all wore their sulus - their man skirts. The kids were thrilled with the balloons brought by one of the cruising boats and later really went crazy when they were all given plastic bracelets that glowed in the dark - such fun!
Getting back to adults, we were first all presented with beautiful flower chokers, followed by a Fijian feast - all local food. Delights include the roasted pig, stuffed crabs, baked fish, palusami - taro leaves soaked on coconut milk, taro root, fish cooked in lemon and coconut milk and lots of other good stuff. As we ate, we were entertained by singing and dancing and even tried cups of kava, served by the mayor from a giant carved wooden bowl. This was an interactive evening so from time to time we were pulled out of our chairs to dance with the locals. When we all had enough and our eyes were weary we were sung a goodbye song by an ensemble of almost the entire village - beautiful voices and beautiful harmony.
The next day we went to the large Methodist Church in the middle of the village to get another fill of the great singing. It was fantastic! After the service we were invited to the home of the minister for lunch with the pastors who walk from village to village on Sunday. We all sat on the floor along a reed mat covered with the delights of the region. This time the menu included fresh barracuda. Yummy!
The local Fijians are wonderful people. They are warm, friendly and always smiling. Their English is excellent allowing us to have good conversations about many things. It's only been 24 hours since we arrived but we already become immersed in the local culture. How great is that!
One day we went for a land adventure across the island to the town of Labasa. We rode the rickety public bus through the hills and valleys for 3 hours each way. There is a great market in Labasa and wonderful Indo-Fijiin food. On the way back the bus was packed with local travelers plus lots of school kids heading back to their homes in the countryside.
The photo above was taken at the bus station near the Labasa market square - just one of hundreds of kids waiting patiently for the start of the long, hot bus ride home.
We have posted some photos of our Fijiin arrival port, Savusavu. It is a wonderful small town with a nice mix of Fijiin and Indo-Fijiin culture, combined with yachties from around the world. Nearby is the luxurious Cousteau Dive Resort - a nice place for a fancy lunch but beyond our budget for dinner!
The photo above was taken in the garden in front of the Coustea Resort.
We have just posted a new album of photos taken on passage from New Zealand to Fiji. Included are some shots of Minerva Reef, the famous submerged atoll in the middle of the ocean. We spent a few days anchored there.
The image above is the top of Sarah Jean's mast in big seas shortly after leaving Minerva Reef en route to Fiji. This photo was taken by Mark on Merkava who was sailing beside us.
The trip back from Labasa on the other side of the island was a little crazy. The bus was already totally packed when we stopped and picked up about 30 school kids, taking the bus passenger count to well over 100 people!
Savusavu, Fiji: "Yachties Safe - Drama at Sea"
This was the headline in the local Fiji newspaper a couple of days after we arrived in Savusavu. It was a stark reminder of the dangerous reefs here in Fiji. A New Zealand couple on the yacht "Touche" was rescued after their sailboat hit a reef and sank just east of Savusavu. How terribly tragic for them. We recognize how quickly this can happen and our hearts go out to this couple.
There is a fellow named "Curly" who lives on his houseboat in Savusavu. He's a delivery skipper and has sailed Fiji waters for 50 years. He runs seminars for cruisers who have arrived in Savusavu, providing valuable information on reef avoidance. We of course immediately signed up after hearing of "Touche's" misfortune. It will have been the best $10 we have ever spent if it helps us to keep Sarah Jean and ourselves safe while sailing in the reef strewn Fijian waters.
Although we've had some hot sunny days in Savusavu, today is overcast. We had some heavy rain in the night. We're have checked out with the local officials, provisioned, fueled up and are ready to leave Savusavu. We'll motor out and anchor off the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort tonight and wait for improved weather before we head east to explore Rainbow Reef, Tavenui Isand and Vanua Balavu Island in the Northern Lau Group. It's important to have good sun overhead when entering the anchorages so you can see the reefs clearly. Besides watching carefully with our eyes we have a new Navionics chart chip, Nobeltec navigation software and Google Earth so we have some excellent tools to guide us.
Savusavu is a yachtie's haven and we have really enjoyed our stay here. The anchorage is well protected, there are many great restaurants on shore to choose from - $15 Fijian ($10 C) curry dinners to an upscale dinner on the deck of the Savusavu Yacht Club. There is a large Indo-Fijian population in this small town of 5,000 and both Fijians and Indo-Fijians are extremely friendly, always greeting you on the street with a smile and "Bula" (hello in Fijian). The sunsets here are fabulous and we've enjoyed some great diving. Our friend Mark is taking his Dive Master course with Koro Sun Divers here in Savusavu so we've joined him on a couple of dives - to the famous "Dreamhouse" dive and out to Namena Island Reserve. There we saw the amazing soft corals Fiji is famous for - every colour of the rainbow - spectacular diving! On Norm's birthday we rode our bikes out to the Cousteau Resort and enjoyed a lunch there in the beautiful setting overlooking the Koro Sea.
The bus ride to Labassa was an adventure. This is a larger town on the north side of Vanua Levu that is largely Indo-Fijian, many of whom are descendents from the indentured workers brought from India in the late 1800's to work in the sugar plantations. We were the only Caucasian people on the bus and in the whole town for that matter, along with the other cruisers who accompanied us on the trip. We visited the market, had a lunch of chicken curry and rode the bus back with a huge gaggle of school children which was very entertaining.
It's time to sail from the safe haven of Savusavu and begin our explorations of some of the 300 islands of Fiji. We'll exercise great caution as we navigate these waters. And we look forward to enjoying the villages, the diving and the friendly people of Fiji.
We've enjoyed some spectacular sunsets in Savusavu. This shot was taken from Sarah Jean's cockpit looking west out into Savusavu Bay.
We arrived in Savusavu this morning at first light. We had an uneventful night last night motor-sailing in a light breeze under the stars. Savusavu is on the island of Vanua Levu. Luckily I had emailed ahead to the Copra Shed Marina to reserve a mooring as it is very busy here with all the boats that have sailed from NZ. There must be over 50 boats in the mooring field. Tons of palm trees on shore. It feels a lot like the Marquesas here - very dense rainforest.
We are on a mooring now. It's nice and peaceful compared to the strong winds blowing at Minerva Reef. We have a light rain shower coming down but very warm and tropical. The customs people should be out to the boat soon to check us into the county. We may have a short nap and then this afternoon it will be time for beers on the deck of the Savusavu Yacht Club. We were here in 2009 when we sailed from Samoa on Mahina Tiare II with John & Amanda Neal so it's good to be back on our own boat now. Sarah Jean is getting the salt washed off her with this rain shower.
All is well on board with both VERY happy to be here! There are lots of boats here that we know from when we crossed the Pacific last year or who we know from Minerva Reef or Opua - so it should be fun here! Mark on Merkava is here too. We'll be in touch in a few days to give you an update on the town of Savusavu and let you know what's happening here in Fiji.