We finally tore ourselves away from Fulanga in the Southern Lau group. It was a beautiful spot and the group of boats that were there made it especially fun. Our first true village experience in Fiji was very positive overall and we got to know one of the teacher's & his wife pretty well. We had several visits together, they came to the boat one day, we went to their house for tea and Jon helped fix their laptop. We also had 4 of the local kids over to our boat for a visit which was a first for us and we were amazed at how polite, calm and respectful the Fijian kids are. It is really touching. I wish they knew more English so we could converse more. We took a group hike one day up to a viewpoint and got a real feel for the lagoon as we see if from pictures in the cruising guides. We also visited some caves that day, one of which had some leftover bones from the days of cannibalism, all green with age. After a few hours in the village, we'd come back to the "oasis", our nickname for the boat, take a shower and then mull over all that we experienced that day. It is a totally different way of life here, full of contrasts, and it takes some time to process it all.
We spent several days over on the reef anchorage which is one of the prettiest anchorages we've ever been to. It felt very south Pacific with little rock island dumplings in a pool of clear water- every shade of blue. There was a great long beach to walk and I found my first nautilus shell. I've since found another one, so Liz, your shell collection is growing! We did a lot of snorkeling which was nice but overall, not as nice as we were expecting. I fear that the world's reefs are on a downturn. The Chinese seem to be on most island groups we've visited in the Pacific, helping the locals collect all the sea cucumbers they can find. They pay them a few dollars for each one and then they're dried, roasted & shipped back to Asia to be eaten or used as a flavor enhancer in soups, etc. Meanwhile, the reef loses these creatures that help so much to balance it, and the locals get a few fast bucks only to be left with reefs that are now stripped of their filter feeders. And sadly, these local young men are doing bounce dives to more than 150 feet now (we talked with one of the divers on Fulanga) to get them- and getting decompression illness as a result. There is only one chamber here in Fiji and poor inter island transportation to get there so these men are becoming very sick & some paralyzed. And to think that most of these island villages have a subsistence way of life, depending on the reef for their food makes it a crime to damage it so. We often wonder at what point people develop a conscience? Oh and shark finning continues too.
We drift dove the pass several times only one of them with scuba. The pass was subject to swift currents which made diving logistically challenging since you need a dinghy at both ends in order to get in, do the dive and have a ride at the end but since you can't know where you'll surface, you need a manned dinghy at the end to boot. One day we all went out to dive and were just figuring out who would do what when a couple got set to the side of the pass and then capsized by a breaking wave in their dinghy! It was actually a very dangerous situation and we aborted the dive to essentially save life & gear. On another day, we decided to install a mooring to facilitate our diving and this took up so much time that we missed the tide switch. We did the dive anyway but the current was roaring in by that point and I got ill on the dive from the current, mask squeeze and the changes in depth. Not going to do that again! On the last night there, we had a dinghy raft-up for happy hour where we all tied our dinghies together in the shallows off the beach and then passed hors d'oevres until after sunset. We toasted our friendships and the cruising family. We agreed that we're not out here for the sailing, but for moments like this.
But, it was time to move on & see someplace new. Not to mention, this cruising season is flying by. We had to say goodbye to Jan & Rich on Slip Away for now since we're headed different directions. Plus, they couldn't leave just yet since they have beer brewing at the moment and it mustn't be disturbed! They measure the specific gravity each day so they know when it can be bottled. Then they'll be flush with homemade brew for several weeks. We got to share their last batch with them- a stout- and it was delicious!
We sailed overnight directly to the Great Astrolabe Reef island group of Fiji. It was named after a French exploring ship that wrecked here years ago. Along the way, we crossed back over the meridian of 180 degrees (Fiji straddles the meridian) and once again, the charting software & GPS went haywire, changing our plotted course to go around the world, requiring that it be shut down & restarted. The last time we crossed the meridian, we ended up plotted out in Bolivia! Doesn't boost your confidence in chart plotters! So, the reef is supposedly beautiful here, the diving good and there are several high islands to explore. The wind has piped up so we haven't been able to do any diving yet but we're really enjoying another village scene on the western side of Ono island at an anchorage called Madre. We did our sevusevu without a hitch on Sunday afternoon but did get persuaded to attend another all Fijian church service. Our church is the outdoors & the natural beauty around us but you can't blame these people for their faith. Plus it was productive in that we managed to find out about a trail that we could hike the next day. The village is full of friendly souls and is unique in that it has a stream running though the center & 2 pedestrian bridges that connect the homes on each side. We met the nurse and saw the dispensary which had nothing in it other than a few faded posters with health info & a mostly empty box of gloves.
Yesterday was a great all day hike with friends. There were 8 of us and we set out with the usual village guide. No matter what you're doing in the village, there is always someone who meets you on the beach and then you just seem to get handed off to one person after another. At first we thought we were being monitored but then quickly realized that they are just being polite- they're trying to make sure you are taken care of. You are an honored guest in their village and you are treated as such even though you may just want your independence. But alas, we were finally set free at the outskirts and we carried on across the island on a really pretty trail to another village. There, we were welcomed and given coconuts to drink. Then they told us about how the trail continued on to a small resort so onward we went. When we got there, the wonderful owner brought us inside and gave us a complimentary beer. We sat and chatted for an hour on plush couches among lovely interior decorations. They had a parrot who could say lots of words including rock-n-roll. Then, all of us hit the trail again to start heading back. We were greeted by smiling Fijian kids, local villagers using the trail to carry food from their plantations and more parrots in the treetops. Of course we had a dog who followed us and stole our hearts. It got to eat cheese & salami and enjoyed a good amount of patting as well. We found out later it's name was Striker and it was good friends with another dog called Mildew- for it's coloring! When we arrived back at the village where we're anchored, a lovely lady named Melina invited us all into her house for tea & cakes. All 8 of us sat down on the mat in her humble home for some homemade lemon tea. You can't get this sort of treatment just anywhere.
And today Jon & I went ashore hoping to do another hike up to some cliffs that rise above the anchorage. For this one, we were glad to be met on the shore by a girl named Sofa who showed us the way. We reached a great view of the anchorage, then continued on to her family's plantation on the SE side of the island. We chatted as much as we could along the way and enjoyed the peaceful woods. When we got back to her house, her mom insisted we take some the bok choy she was growing in the garden and a few papayas. We've been living on canned vegetables for several days now since we're completely out of produce so this was a real gift. We came back to the boat to get ready for a planned traditional Fijian meal that we were participating in as a fundraiser for the church. I brought in a bagful of various items off the boat as a thank you for Sofa & her mom Kara. The Fijians generally won't ask you for anything, but they do appreciate a swap and we are happy to do it when we can. We're all carrying extra food items for swapping as well as whatever we have to give off of our boats that might be of help. Since Jon & I have one of the smaller boats overall, we don't have room to carry much extra but we do find ourselves scrounging up things here & there.
The dinner was really fun. It isn't about comfort since none of us are "conditioned" enough to sit on a mat for any length of time. The meal was nicely prepared and included roast pork, cassava, various parts of the taro plant cooked different ways, a curry dish, followed by lemon tea & cakes for dessert. We all donated cash in return. It was fun to look around the room and see all of us together in our colorful clothes. We do wish that the Fijians would forget their customs and sit on down with us for the meal but they won't- the custom is that we eat first, then they eat afterward. And therein is more to think about. We want to get a glimpse of what their life is like unchanged by western ways but at the same time we're seeing things that we think would be better if they adopted our way of thinking. But the fact of the matter is that things ARE already rapidly changing and we're part of it. Every boat that comes here is having an influence. For once though, we feel like we're not too late to get the best of it.