This is Panea. He lives alone in a small thatch hut just off the beach in Albert Cove on Rabi Island. He invited us into his hut and told us his story. He came to Albert Cove from a nearby village 12 years ago after suffering a head injury playing rugby. The injury left him partially paralyzed with symptoms similar to a stroke. He decided the best way to recover would be to swim and spearfish every day. He thought this would make his muscles strong again. Evidently it worked. At 70 years old he is self-sufficient, fishing every day and working his small farm beside his hut. He looks a little serious in this photo but he is a cheerful guy who welcomes all cruisers to his bay and his hut.
Beth sits with some of the many Mitchell family kids, writing down all their names and ages. We have just been walking the beach together at sunset collecting shells.
As we pulled our dinghy up on the lovely sandy beach, Horace Mitchell came to greet us with a hearty "Bula" (hello in Fijian) and welcomed us to his home in Namata Bay on Qamea Island. It's a picturesque spot with palm trees lining the beach and a coral garden sparkling in crystal clear water of the bay. A number of houses sit on the slope behind the palms with magnificent views looking out over the sea. Children ran down the beach to meet us, laughing and skipping. What a beautiful place to call home!
Namata Bay is on the NW corner of Qamea Island which lies to the east of Tavenui Island, the third largest island in Fiji. The Mitchells have lived in Namata Bay since the early 1900's. Their family history is an interesting story. Frederick George Mitchell arrived in Fiji on a boat from Australia in 1870. He fell in love with a Fijian princess, Adi Matalita, from the ancient village of Lovoni near Levuka on Ovalau Island. They married and had a son named Frank in 1883. Frank, who was to become the patriarch of the Mitchell family, married a Fijian woman named Emma Valentine. They settled on Qamea Island and so began the Mitchell family of Namata Bay.
We strolled along the beach and met Sheila, Tommy, Maria, Floyd and Frank Mitchell. We also met Kasa Mitchell who is the matriarch of the family. She was lovely and welcoming. "Our home is your home" she told us. Her husband, George, passed away just recently in March and although he is sorely missed she is surrounded by her children and 7 grandchildren: Kasa 12 yrs, Matilda 10, Poama 10, Irene 7, Mela 7, Alfred 5 and Charles 3. The school boat picks the kids up every morning to take them around to the next village to go to school. There are no roads on Qamea - only trails, so they rely heavily on boats for their transportation. The nearest store is on Taveuni Island, a 30 min boat ride away.
Many of the adults in the settlement work at the nearby resorts on Matagi and Laucala Islands which are good employers of the local Fijians. Most of the men fish for food for their families, often at night when the barracuda are attracted to the lights on their boats. One fellow is a farmer of taro root (like a potato) and kava plants. The Mitchells have sold off some of their land to Americans and are employed by them to maintain the homes in their absence.
Tommy took us over to Taveuni in his long boat to visit the Bouma National Heritage Park for the day. Namata Bay is a very protected anchorage and was a good safe place to leave our boat. His friend picked us up in his truck and drove us to the Tavoro Waterfalls where we hiked through the lush tropical rain forest and swam in the cool fresh water in a pool below the falls. Accompanied by our friends on "s/v Sidewinder" we also hiked the stunning Levena Coastal Walk past remote villages, the local Fijians shouting "Bula Bula" as we passed. In the village of Lavena the men were cutting open coconuts with their machetes and grinding out the coconut. Women were washing clothes in the river and children were playing in the primitive playground by the school. A board on a stump served as a teeter totter.
Even though they have very little, the Fijians in these villages are welcoming and appear happy and content with their lives. They are extremely generous as well. Maria in Namata Bay baked us coconut scones which were delicious and offered us papaya fruit from her trees. They always have the time to stop and talk to you, inquiring about our home and our children. They are also genuinely interested in our life as nomads on the sailboat. Maria told us about one boat that was moored in their bay for many days. The people aboard didn't come ashore. In our world this would be similar to someone parking their campervan on our front lawn and not knocking on our door to introduce themselves. She was obviously disappointed by this. It's evident they like to meet the "yachties" and hear their stories. The Mitchells have a special log book that visiting boats sign, often including art and memories of their time in Namata Bay. We printed photos we took of the family and put them in the log book. When we returned the book to Kasa she sat and read the most recent entries with all her grandchildren gathered around her. It was a precious sight.
On board Sarah Jean we carry gifts to offer the local people in return for their hospitality. Instead of candy we gave each of the children of Namata Bay a new toothbrush and toothpaste. We also gave the kids a Frisbee. To the adults we gave tea, biscuits, tins of corned beef, and fishing line. These were only small tokens of our appreciation to thank the Mitchell family for sharing their bay and home with us.
As we sailed away from Namata Bay I waved goodbye to the figures on the beach with a lump in my throat. I truly loved this Fijian family and feel so lucky to have met them. They have enriched our lives with their warm, welcoming and generous ways. This is the best part of cruising, having the opportunity to live with people like the Mitchells if only for a short time. Thank you Mitchell family and may we be lucky enough to meet again someday. Namata Bay is our favourite Fijian anchorage so far, both for the beauty of the place as well as the wonderful hospitality of the people.
Many years ago I worked with a quirky British guy named John Wilkins. Amongst other things, he taught me to appreciate classical music. He also introduced me to a rather unique word - "woofy". I think it was his own invention and he used it at every opportunity to describe something he liked. A delicious sandwich could be woofy. But an attractive woman passing by on the sidewalk could also be woofy.
I bring this up because we now are in the Bay of Islands - a large indent on the shore of Vanua Baluva in the Northern Lau Group. It is a very woofy place, in more ways than one. Yes, it is spectacular with its deep turquoise water, myriad of mushroom shaped islands and dark, mysterious caves. But it is also full of woofy noises that sound unexpectedly from time to time as if from small dogs that are lost in the woods. Sometimes one woof is followed by another. With the lower the portion of most islands consisting of bare rock, the woofs echo about the place in a strange and haunting manner.
We were told by a Swiss cruiser that the mysterious sounds come from air trapped in the small caves, forced out by ocean swells. Having heard one woof ring out in direct response to another we have dismissed this theory and now believe they are produced by some sort of bird with a one syllable vocabulary and powerful lungs. We'll ask the next locals we see and try to solve this mystery.
News Flash: Kiwi cruisers we met on a bush walk have now confirmed the sound comes from Fijian wood pigeons that are similar to those we saw on Stewart Island in New Zealand. The mystery has been solved but we have yet to see one of the elusive feathered woofers.
The kayaks are in the water. It is time to go explore the islands in the bay!
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.