Ruins of the leper colony, slowly being reclaimed by the jungle.
Yesterday we left Savusavu and headed southwest about 50 miles to the small island of Makogai (pronounced ma-kong-guy). We had a boisterous sail, especially in the morning, getting hit with one squall after another - reef in, reef out, reef in, reef out . . . . It cleared in the afternoon and we had a great sail with 20 kts of southeast wind on the beam, arriving at the pass into Makogai at about 2:00 pm.
We visited this island about 3 years ago when sail training with John and Amanda on Mahine Tiare. It is a really interesting place - it left a strong impression on us at the time, confirming our belief that we would love cruising and exploring the South Pacific, particular the small and remote communities. It is a former leper colony, once housing more than 5,000 patients. The remnants of the colony and the cemetery are still here. It is also a Fiji Fisheries center where sea turtle are raised from hatchlings until they are large enough to fend for themselves, and where giant clams are bred and raised for repopulating reefs throughout Fiji.
So we sailed into the bay with lots of memories and a strong sense of deja vu - only this time we were aboard Sarah Jean! We went ashore and met the village chief, Camelli. We did a brief sevusevu gift ceremony there on the grass, presenting Camelli with a bundle of kava. A gaggle of little kids looked on, clapping their hands at the required time as part of the sevusevu ceremony. Camelli then showed us around - we saw the new batch of baby leatherback sea turtles that are being raised a big concrete tank. In another tank he showed us several species of giant clams. He explained that the largest one was ready to breed and invited us to see how the clam eggs are fertilized and to see the life of a giant clam begin as a tiny, floating embryo. The small village is lit by a generator that runs for a few hours each night. Unfortunately the generator engine was low on oil. Camelli asked us if we had any oil to spare. We always carry lots of extra so were happy to give him some so the village would have lights for the evening. We went back to the boat and were fast asleep by 8:00 pm - exhausted by the early start and full day of sailing.
This morning we saw something new and different. As Beth looked off the bow of the boat she noticed all kinds of strange looking fish just under the surface of the water. At first she thought they were squid but after watching them closely we could see rippling movements on the sides of their bodies. We then concluded we were looking at a whole school of baby cuttlefish - a very weird and seldom seen creature. We'll have to go and snorkel with them - get a closer look and maybe take some photos.
Our plan is to stay here this week and then sail to the island of Kadavu, further southwest, before heading north again to Port Denarau on the west side of Fiji where we'll meet our son, Brian, and his girlfriend, Lindsay. We're looking forward to that!
In the Photo Gallery section of the blog we have just posted 5 new albums of our travels in Fiji east of Savusavu. The latest albums are:
Daliconi Villaage on Vanua Balavu
Bay of Islands
Vanua Balavu - The North Side
Taveuni - Waterfall Hike
Enjoy these great spots and the wonderful people we met.
Katherine Bay is located on the southwest side of Rabi Island, protected by a minefield of intimidating reefs. The anchorage itself is beautiful, surrounded by lush hills and fringed by mangrove trees that hide a labyrinth of dark canals. These are used by the locals who paddle their outrigger canoes from shore through the canals and into the bay to fish.
The most striking feature of this area is the great white church that sits high above the village, a tropical cathedral that shines brightly in the sun - a landmark that can be seen for miles out to sea. When we went ashore to explore the area a group of kids latched onto us, taking turns walking alongside and holding our hands. They showed us around the village and then guided us up the hill to the church where we met the pastor. He told us about the village and the history of the church. It took many years to build and then rebuild after major cyclone damage - a testimony to the commitment of the villagers.
A special moment came when the pastor directed all the kids to a pew and then sat down beside them. Together they sang us one his favorite hymns, their marvelous voices echoing inside the cavernous church as we gazed through the arched windows, past swaying palm trees and out towards the tiny sailing canoes gliding across the sparkling turquoise water far below.
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!