Adventure 23 Solomon Islands part 2
19 July 2016
SOLOMON ISLANDS PART 2 –THE UNDISCOVERED PARADISE
HISTORY, CULTURE AND THE WANTOK SYSTEM
Sea Whisper continues to cruise the Solomon Islands seeking adventures and discovering the hidden delights of these tropical islands. We soon discover that Solomon Islanders are very obligated to their clan and their chief, known as the village ‘bigman’. Their Melanesian culture observes the Wantok system. A system that involves obligations and privileges with your clan and family who speak your language in your village. In Pidgin English it means ‘one talk’. In every village it makes sense to look after the clan’s people: to share food and land and community assets; but in the politics and public affairs of the country it can be quite corrupt. Favouring relatives and the ‘Clan’ in politics and public affairs can effect everything in this country. Their beliefs, land ownership and traditions are often referred to as ‘Kastom’. As we travel further in the Solomon Islands on Sea Whisper we hear stories from the villagers about the Wantok system and how it affects them as individuals and the present and future development of the Solomon Islands. Putting the Wantok system aside, here are some more of the stories and adventures about our summer cyclone season in the paradisiacal Solomon Islands where the scenery reminds us of a documentary on the Discovery Channel and the history is steeped in the leaf-hut villages of the remote islands.
WHAT IT’S LIKE IN A REMOTE VILLAGE
We meet Caleb Besa and Mendon Meza in the town of Gizo in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. They are outstanding stone and wood carvers who invite us to their respective villages - Kolomali and Varova on Rannogga Island about 45 miles from Gizo in the Western Province. Mendon will carve us a Fish God from river stone and Caleb has promised to carve a ‘Sea Whisper’ sign from Wasa wood. We must go and find their villages and see what it’s like growing up and living in a place without electricity, running water, phones, toilets and – gasp – the Internet? Where kids swim near crocodiles and people have almost no concept of time. Eighty percent of the Solomon Island population live each day like this. Food, shelter and almost every basic life necessity is available for them.
We sail Sea Whisper to Rannogga Island and pass by a fisherman in a canoe to ask where to find Kolomali village. “Around the reef on the other side,” was his response. We’ve learned the ‘the other side’ is a common and well used phrase in this country. We pull into the bay and in a flash the canoes are launched to come to greet us. Women and children gather on the shore. The village kids paddle like fury to Sea Whisper in all sizes and conditions of dugout canoes. Soon we spot Mendon in his long canoe with his welcoming smile. He is elated to see us. From a locker we dig out the ‘lollies’ to hand out to the eager little paddlers who are bailing their canoes like mad with their feet. We’re happy to be here and meet the people of Kolomali village of about 200 men, women and children. Hastily, we launch our little dinghy and row to shore making landfall through the surf to the black sand beach. With gifts for the chief we weave our way up the rocky path to the Chief’s leaf house followed by an entourage of kids. The Chief and his wife welcome us and accept our gifts: a flashlight, batteries and jewellery. We walk through the village and stop at Mendon’s house to meet his wife Emma and their children. Mendon proudly displays his carvings in his make-shift workshop under his house. He’s busy working on our Fish-God, carving and polishing it to perfection. The surrounding gardens are colourful and textured with tropical flora. The wood and leaf houses are scattered in clusters. Many of the children nude and almost nude stare in wonder at two white strangers in their midst. The toddlers cry and cling to their mothers. The adults seem a bit bashful as they cast their eyes in wonderment. This could be the first time they have ever been visited by a yacht and white people from a foreign land. We talk and sing songs with the kids; and begin to tell stories and laugh with the grown-ups. English doesn’t seem to be a problem for them. Walking about the village with a herd of kids following us and clinging to our sides like glue we feel warmly welcomed! The village adventure begins.
The next day Mendon, Emma and Eon their son take us to their garden before the Sunday morning Anglican Church service. We walk a long way into the jungle crossing streams up and down the river bank. The tropical sun is already hot. The still air is sticky humid. Gardens are never in one’s back yard in the remote islands of the South Pacific. We finally reach ‘the Mesa family garden’ which is a fair size patch of sloping land displaying reddish soil with crops and patches of cassava, peppers, ginger, eggplant, potatoes, yams and tobacco! We pick peppers and eggplants and then pluck a few crisp and tender succulent ginger roots out of the ground. The Solomon Island ginger has become a mainstay in our cooking onboard Sea Whisper. Close by the scent of the tobacco wafts through the humid air. Mendon is proud of his tobacco leaves. He makes cigarettes rolls with plain paper saving extra dollars at the market. Feeling very sticky and overheated the five of us wade into the river with our clothes on (that’s the Solomon way) and cool off in the tepid water. Wow, it is so refreshing - the clear and cool water. Back on the jungle trail, after a change of dry clothes, we trek back to the village and to the church service. Here everyone is dressed in their Sunday best. The Deacon greets us and escorts us right to the front benches where all the children are sitting. By now the kids know us and they are grinning like crazy and think it’s so cool that two white Canadians are joining them on the bench pews. We are introduced as special guests from Canada and are invited to give a little story about our journey on Sea Whisper in the South Pacific. The service is very nice and some of it is spoken in English. Solomon Islanders are very musical – it’s a must to attend the local village church to hear the singing. We like the music very much…..especially when Eon, Mendon and Emma’s son, plays his guitar. After church it’s back to Mendon’s house with all the family to eat the Casava pudding and potatoes that have been baking in the ‘Motu’ oven for 2 hours: the oven made of hot stones and covered with many layers of banana leaves and sacks. As we savour the Solomon Island hospitality, we’re thinking how lucky we are to be here!
The next day Caleb, the young wood carver, takes us to Varova Village (his village), to meet the women who might have some baskets to sell or trade. A basket is the common name for a finely woven straw flat shoulder bag with long handles woven from the Pandanus leaves. No luck so we move on to Rava village. Here we meet Glence, Lizian, Mona and Wanda. Glence promises to have a basket finished for me in the morning before she goes to the market at Seghe. The basket is stunning and I love it – so much that I wish to order more baskets from Glence and the other village women at Rava Village. We will be back in 2 weeks to pick them up. And there’s more to the story. Glence comes running after me and asks if we would like a woven sleeping mat. “Yes, of course,” was the quick response. We commission Glence to weave some small mats. Three and a half days later, Glence and her friend Lizian deliver to Sea Whisper (on their way to the Gizo market) 3 beautiful mats. Aboard Sea Whisper Glence explains in Pigin English that she did not sleep for nearly three days. “Me no sleep, me jus makem mats, weavem, weavem, weavem!” The designs on the pandanus mats are very impressive - woven entirely from palm leaves! “Lana Jola, Lana Jola, Glence and Lizian!”
So our village experience to the Rannogga Island villages was a real eye-opener. Food, shelter and the basic life necessities are there, with Gizo the nearest town, a 3 hour motor boat ride away. And now, onboard Sea Whisper after collecting our beautiful stone Fish God and wooden Sea Whisper sign, our increasing collection of baskets, rugs, stone carvings and wood carvings is getting rather large. Lionel thinks we will soon have enough goods to open our own gallery!!
FOOD AND DRINK FROM THE KITCHEN HOUSES
“Do you have any Recipes?”
How and when do we learn to cook? Growing up as a child I think of my mother in our family kitchen on our small country farm baking the bread, cakes, pies and her famous ‘Jenny’ buns as I and my siblings roamed around waiting for the goodies to pop out of the oven of our wood burning stove. Mom had the infamous Robin Hood cookbook and other notebooks with tried and true handwritten recipes. In Third World countries such as the Solomon Islands there are no cookbooks or resources for recipes and no ovens for baking. In remote villages the kitchen house, as it is known, has a wood burning smoky fire pit in the corner. Pots and pans on an open fire suffice as the cooktop and the oven. And also the popular Motu with the hot stones where the cassava, potatoes and fish cook and steam for a few hours at a time. In the Eco Wilderness Lodges there might be a small gas oven. Through the centuries village women have cooked the same foods every day in a primitive fashion: cassava, yams, island cabbage, fish and land crabs – and now rice has been added to their diet. We began to hear the question from the women “Do you have any recipes you could give to me?” I began to write out a few recipes on those recipe cards most of us have hanging around. Lionel suggested that I create a cookbook. So thinking of what the village people gather in their gardens on the land and what they gather from the sea: fish and shellfish, I put together a few simple recipes and ideas with the thought that they could create some different foods and nutritional foods to serve their families. Several copies were made in Gizo at a printing office. On International Women’s Day women at the markets and in various places where women volunteered and worked in the town of Gizo I handed out ‘The South Pacific Cook Book’. It was a hit. To Viera, the Pharmacy Officer at the Gizo Hospital I suggested “Maybe you could try one of the recipes.” Her response was “I want to try them all!” Hopefully it will help men and women rise above cassava pudding and lava lava. We were grateful to give something back especially to the amazing women who seem to be the centre of village life working hard each day to prepare food for their hungry large families and the important village feasts.
THE MARKET SCENE – THE ESSENCE OF SOLOMON ISLAND LIVING
The Solomon Island women are strong, talented, creative and hard-working. Their life stories are overwhelming. All day long they wash clothes, gather food for the family, cook, weave, work in their gardens and then prepare the vegetables and fruit for market at least twice a week. All the tropical fruits and vegetables are picked, washed and tied (with banana leaves and jungle twine) and packed into the canoes to be transported to the nearest market place – which is often a 2-3 hr. journey in a canoe with an outboard motor. And in many cases market goods arrive in paddled canoes from long distances which might take 3-4 hours. Strolling through the daily market is a unique and light-hearted fun experience. For us it is also important to hit the daily markets to replenish the fresh fruits and vegies for Sea Whisper. We wiggle our way through the crowded narrow passages finding the heaps of tomatoes, heaps of peppers, heaps of ginger, limes and hot chillies. “Just 5 dolla heap, just 5 dolla heap,“call out the women vendors eager to make a sale. Five dollars is equivalent to $1.00 Canadian. A good day may produce $100 - $150 Solomon dollars.” The transport back to their village costs $100 Solomon dollars. You do the math! Not a lot of profit for so many hours of labour: picking, washing, bundling and schlepping the goods to Gizo market. Everywhere there are heaps and mounds of coconuts, papayas, grapefruits, bananas, cassava, potatoes, beans, ferns, Chinese cabbages and saladee (a crunchy lettuce – our favourite); not to mention the HEAPS of Betel-nut. Walking by the coconut stands the ladies call out “Barbra, Barbra – coconut today?” We’re on a first name basis with Caroline and Eveleen. We add the coconuts to our basket of market goods. Our baskets are over-flowing and our shoulders are dragging with the heavy load. A good day at the market.
In Seghe, the settlement at the south end of New Georgia Island, there is a weekly Tuesday market. We are told the market starts at 0800 and we should go early. At 0800 there is no one there but the canoes laden with market produce start to arrive one by one. Some have paddled very long distances for several hours. We meet Linda from MBaroho village who is selling seaweed. She is bundling the seaweed and neatly placing it in individual small green palm leaf baskets. And then her husband Price appears. He is interested in talking to us about our travels. His English is very good considering he has only had grade 4 education. He tells us he loves to read and that he has learned English by reading. “Do you have spare books on your yacht?” he politely asked. Lionel jumped in the dinghy and scouted out a couple of books; the Tillicum and Sir Edmund Hillary’s expedition to Antarctica. Being a fan of history he was unabashedly thrilled. The bonus was that he was interested in history. We found more books onboard and when we met Price at his MBareho village a few days later we gave him more books and he proudly told us his 11 year old son was reading the books also. We were happy to say the least! Another kind of grand market adventure.
THE ECO LODGES
Sea Whisper is in the Western Province. Lucky us! Everything is here from impressive landscapes, historical sites, villages, sensational diving, pristine lagoons, small tropical islands, lush jungles and family-run low-key Eco Lodges. At the western end of Marovo Lagoon we discover Matikuri Lodge: a rustic and charming Eco Lodge with 3 grass hut bungalows and little balconies that hover on the edge of the sea. We anchor Sea Whisper and dinghy ashore to meet Benjamin, Jillian and their 2 sons who run this tranquil isolated Lodge amid lush vegetation and mangroves. Jilly is very interested in cooking. I am very happy to give her our South Pacific cookbook. She is very keen to make muffins, pancakes and scones for her Lodge guests. The present guests at Matikuri are from USA, Holland and Germany….4 in all. Jilly and I go to work and have a fun afternoon baking muffins and the scones for the breakfast in the morning. We are lucky; they turned out well. Then she suggested for the following day’s breakfast we make banana-papaya pancakes. It was planned that I show up at 0700 hrs. so we could get things going. Well….the propane tank was empty. It’s easy I thought - we’ll simply abandon the whole idea of pancakes and substitute fresh tropical fruit and biscuits with tea and coffee. “Barbara, we’ll cook the pancakes on the campfire outside,” announces Jilly. With the help of Junior and Hilary the sticks and pieces of wood were gathered for a fire, a makeshift outdoor griddle was confiscated from the kitchen and Jilly and I prepared a large pot of pancake batter: all the ingredients home-grown except for the flour! Wow – what fun and laughs we four had! The pancakes puffed up on the hot griddle through the smoke and fire as the guests waited patiently on the large over-water dining porch. Every morsel was eaten! Looking back Lionel and I are amazed that guests are not only traveling from many corners of the world to remote isolated Eco Lodges for an authentic cultural experience but they’re o.k. with eating camp-fire pancakes for breakfast!!!
IN THE SOLOMON ISLANDS – WHAT’S HAPPENING?
The Solomon Islands, have had several years of civil unrest in the past with ethnic tension. In 2003, Australia deployed a coalition of Police known as Ramsi, (Relief and Mission for Solomon Island.) This has helped to restore law and order in S.I. These advisers are working alongside the Royal Solomon Islands Police to ensure peace and economic growth throughout the country. In the six months we remained in the Solomon Islands we felt safe; never threatened or harassed or bothered onboard Sea Whisper or on land. When we met the Police officers and Ramsi coalition members in Gizo we told them our positive story about traveling on our yacht in the Solomon Islands.
The WWF (World Wildlife Federation) has a conservation program in force with Australian aid money. We met Jessica who is a Marine Biologist who used to live in Sidney, BC interestingly enough. She, her team and her husband Dan are employed by the Solomon Island government and working with the Department of Fisheries to deploy Rafters better known as the Fish Aggregating Device (FAD). These are devices made primarily from bamboo and are placed near the barrier reefs with the idea of attracting more small fish to the reef so the local people don’t have to travel in their canoes so many miles to get their food each day. Jessica and her team are working diligently to promote ways and means for Marine Conservation in the Solomon Islands. We visited their headquarters and learned a lot about their initiatives.
WOMEN’S DEVELOPMENT AND GENDER EQUALITY
On March 8th, International Women’s Day, there was an impressive celebration for women with the theme: ‘Promise for Fairness, Zero Discrimination’. In the Solomon Islands half of the population are women. However, they do not share half the wealth, resources and voice in their country. Women in the Solomon Islands continue to struggle with the mindset that males dominate females. The Solomon Islands has the distinction of being the fourth highest country in the world for domestic violence.
COOKBOOKS; In Gizo on International Women’s Day Sea Whisper handed out Cookbooks from Sea Whisper to women market vendors, women volunteers, women in business and women working at the local new hospital funded by Japan. It was quite thrilling to see the response to the ‘South Pacific Cookbook’ which was the brainchild of Captain Lionel. The plan is also, of course, to pass them out in the villages in the outer islands.
THE GIZO WOMEN’S CENTRE
How pleasant it was to meet Ashleigh Lustica from Adelaide, Australia who is at the helm of the Gizo Women’s Center. With an Australian Aid Funded program she is leading the Women’s Council in the Western Province to provide support and awareness in the communities for all women. I spent a morning with her at the centre and learned about some of her projects and initiatives: providing programs and workshops on family planning, health and family support, learning more about the WWF programs, the Police force and the Hospital in the community. “One thing I am presently working on is to help women vendors increase their profits at the markets, making sure they are safe and also building extra toilet facilities.” And as we spoke a crew of workmen were busily constructing the bottom floor of the Women’s Centre where there will be toilet facilities for the women very soon. Brava Ashleigh!
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Bank of South Pacific (BSP) are working together on marketing business Education training for women. The Markets in the Solomon Islands provide vital income for families as we learn from many women who we meet at the daily markets and in the remote villages. Glence from Rava village, Rannogga Island tells us her story. “The money I make at the market pays for school fees and our living expenses. My husband is sick and cannot work. So I do the market every week, weave the mats and baskets to make money for my family.”
Asian logging companies are logging and harvesting some of the Solomon Island’s national rain forests in very unsustainable ways. “Get up, Cut up, and Go” is how these logging companies are branded. It’s not unusual for some of them to work until midnight under bright lights. Greed for logs and trees! We visited a landowner of a large property in the Marovo lagoon who made a deal with an Asian logging company who did not hold up to their agreement to clean up and replant. The owner had to finally cut off the water supply to the loggers. It was 5 years before he could get the loggers to pack up and get off his land after making their fortune.
THE PACIFIC CLIMATE
The warm waters of the Pacific with rising sea levels, changing weather patterns and food and water shortages are becoming a plight in several areas of the South Pacific. The Pacific Ocean, the largest ocean in the world where many people live, is being seriously affected by global warming and the present intense El Nino. The water is warmer and the land is drier. And in certain areas the corals of the reefs are bleached severely causing many reefs to erode. In a discussion with a Marine-Biologist in Port Vila, Vanuatu we learned that the global warming and the El Nino have prolonged the longest coral die-off on record on our globe.
CHICKEN AND CHIPS
FIRST THE CHIPS
After meeting Glenta at the Seghe market and buying all her bags of scrumptious hand-made organic cassava chips (four in all) we request that she make more chips for Sea Whisper. “Where is your village?” we ask. “Mitchi village is on the other side, – quite far away,” she explains. “O.K. we will try to come there with our dinghy.” When we arrived at Mitchi village the villagers told us, “Glenta lives on the other side but we will try to give her the message.” Sea Whisper is anchored 3 miles away from Mitchi at Sasagana Village. Very early Saturday morning we hear a knock on the hull and low and behold it is Glenta and her husband Poltan. They have transported by canoe from Mitchi village an entire large pail of cassava chips for Sea Whisper…”But they need to be cooked,” says Glenda. Hearing that Sea Whisper was about to move to Chea village which was another 3 miles away Glenta said “Come back to Sasagana and we’ll cook the chips after church – 6 p.m.” Dressed in rain gear with our ipad in the dinghy we weave our way through the reefs in the pouring rain back to Sasagana village to cook the cassava chips with Glenta after the church service. It soon turns into a hilarious ordeal. In the dark with just a small flashlight we are groping around with Poltan to find a grass-hut kitchen house to deep-fry cassava chips: a light, a fire, cooking oil, cooking pot and instructions on how to cook them is needed. Glenta arrives from church with her entourage and things begin to happen: someone appears with a dim light; young family members gather coconut husks to start a fire, find the matches, and collect a cooking pot. Presto the fire is lit. Glenta blows on the flames. When the fire is hot the oil is poured in the pot and a host of village spectators are intently watching this rare performance with two soggy Canadians! With much laughter and frivolity, Lionel and I quickly learn how to cook small batches of the cassava chips - the rest remaining in the big bucket with the assurance, from Glenta and Poltan, the dry chips will be keep for one year!! Yippee….we pay our Solomon Dollars for the chips, offer our hearty thanks for the cooking lesson and bid farewell to these fabulous folks. We’re on our way…...the reef route back to Sea Whisper! It’s a little hairy to navigate safely 3 miles in the dark through the reefs of Morovo Lagoon. The rain is still coming down on us and now sheets of lightning are flashing in front of us. We precariously follow our 3 mile track with our navigational aids. Thanks for the lightning flashes and the ipad track that bring us home. Phew! And now we have the best organic cassava chips in the Solomon Islands. More precious moments in the life aboard Sea Whisper.
AND NOW THE CHICKEN
“Rutuku is where you get the eggs,” was the answer to our prayers from the Chea villagers. No eggs onboard means no poached eggs, no pancakes, no omelets, no fried egg sandwiches, no muffins, no cake, no devilled egg sandwiches! “And you can buy chickens there too,” declared Jillian from Matakuri Lodge. “And where is Rutuku village?” we ask. “On the other side before you get to Batuna village,” was the clear and simple answer.
At Rutuku we discovered a very primitive village with lovely people who took us through the tropical forest way up in the hills to their garden where they grow Island Cabbage and Saladee (a kind of lettuce that has a nut-like taste to it.) For the fresh eggs we had to walk ‘to the other side’ of the bay. What a find!! A full-blown operation of chicken coups and egg trays and shoots and then a human assembly line of chicken plucking, feathering, singeing and cleaning the birds in scolding water. Astounding! I was transcended back to my Deep Cove childhood where our dear mother many-a-time performed this identical operation so that our family of six could eat the most delicious fried chicken in the world! Along with 2 dozen eggs we bought two fresh birds and stuffed them into Sea Whisper’s freezer. Two crazy adventures – the Chicken and Chips!
THE SOLOMON ISLANDS - A DIVER’S DREAM!!
From World War Wrecks to deep drop offs, to shallow coral gardens and passes with flowing currents there is something for every palette in the divers’ world both day and night. In Marovo Lagoon, one of the largest double-barrier reef systems and chain of islands in the world, one discovers a diving mecca. We dive on a P38 bomber in Seghe which is perched in shallow waters off the runway strip of this village. This aircraft ran out of fuel and was forced to crash land off the runway. It was fascinating to see the propellers still intact along with its expansive wings. On another small island in Marovo Lagoon we discover Solomon Dive Adventures owned and operated by Lisa Choquette who has been diving for over 40 years; first in Hawaii, and then since 2007 her operation is based at a small island opposite Chea Village. Here we discover a small Eco Lodge called Kahaini Guest House and a staff from the village including a Dive Master and dive assistants and boat operators. They welcome us and make us feel right at home along with their quests. We soon become part of this friendly diving family – Solomon Dive Adventures. Immediately Lionel’s mechanical skills are put to work with their malfunctioned dive compressors. What was thought to be a 2 day stay turned into a 10 day sojourn with extraordinary dives everyday including 2 night dives! A first for me – the night dives. We had great diving adventures with Aimy (Greek) and Renato (Italian) who were guests at the Lodge. Lisa is an expert dive instructor and taught us every day about the corals and all the fishes ‘in the deep blue sea’. We plunged into the water on drop-offs and reefs diving 35 meters to find amazing species of fishes (large and small) and then working our way slowly up into the shallows to explore brilliant coral gardens and all the critters living there.
On two separate occasions we all ventured out for a night dive. The first was a shallow dive and to our amazement the fish were sleeping – some of them huddled together. So cute! And our greatest thrill was to discover Mr. Puffer Fish. How coy he was – this fat little puffer! He let us pat his back. What a thrill! Our second night dive took the dive team back to the Pink Cotton Candy wall where we dove to 15 meters and scoured the depths and caves with our bright lights at all the fishes hiding behind the rocks and crevices including huge crayfish.
Near Ghizo Island we discover the WW11 wreck of the Japanese freighter the ‘Tao Maru’. A wreck diver’s dream. The ship is about 140 m in length and was sunk by an American torpedo. Excited to discover what’s down there we anchor the dinghy to the line and descend below the magical 20-metre mark. And then at 30 m. to our amazement, we discover treasures: sake bottles littered everywhere on the bottom where the ship is resting on her starboard side. Close by there are crates of ammunition and a tank. Ascending slowly we reach the stern and discover, beyond our scuba masks, an astonishing coral garden with schools of beautiful tropical fishes on the hull and deck of the Tao Maru. This dive is classified as one of the ‘must see’ World War 11 wrecks. We loved it so much we decided to dive this enticing wreck 2 more times. In the coral garden on the upper deck we fondly recall Nemo’s hide-a-way. And there he was guarding his little ‘house’ and family in this Solomon Island aquarium. The Tao Maru and little Nemo…….a magical memory.
NOW IT’S TIME……. for Sea Whisper to leave this staggering beauty, unique culture, beautiful people and incredible history. After six months in the Solomon Islands Sea Whisper will set sail for Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu in the South Pacific.
A TOUGH SLOG TO VANUATU
Lionel calls this 'Down and Dirty Sailing', I call it 'Tough Stuff'. Here we are with Sea Whisper ploughing through SE 20 kn. trades with a 2-3 m swell and .50 m cross chop hard on the wind. Not exactly a joy ride -(more of a balancing act), but we're getting there slowly and surely tacking back and forth hoping each tack will be to our advantage. The rum line from Santa Ana Is. in the Solomon Islands to Luganville, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu is 430 nm. Sea Whisper, at the finish line, will have sailed almost double that distance! The self-steering vane is doing its thing and 'Super Yacht-Jock' is man-handling it all with the assistance of his crew – that’s me! Double reef in the main, staysail and reduced jib seems to be the winning sail combination. We've had some heavy rain squall activity this morning. S.W. managed to get some of the salt crust rinsed off including the salt spray on her crew!
We're doing 3 hr. watches 1800 - 0600 and then a nap in the day. We're managing to pull up the grib files (computer generated wind charts) via our SSB radio and good old Larry, our friend from Crofton sends us weather every day...bless his soul. So we have a good handle on the weather and sea conditions. There's no traffic: we realize Vanuatu get their cargo from NZ and Solomons theirs from Auz. So we're not in the shipping lane so to speak. The stars on our night watches have been mesmerizing - our favourite the Southern Cross.
The first few days of this passage have not been easy on the tummy (mine); and the applesauce, rice and ginger tea diet was pretty boring. Last night we ate salmon-cashew cakes and mashed potatoes - yes..salmon. John West Wild Alaskan red and pink salmon from Alaska, USA. We've sourced this tinned product in Fiji, Solomons and Vanuatu! Not quite like the salmon we catch in our back yard at home! And not certain how it all came together, thinking the Skipper needed extra sustenance this morning, he got poached eggs on toast. Needless to say the galley is a challenge especially on a starboard tack.
This story is a contrast to the idyllic anchorages and calm passages in the Marovo Lagoon in S.I. We're soon looking forward to the islands of Vanuatu where it is also very beautiful. It will be wonderful to make landfall, do our clearance in Vanuatu, rest up, and eat at 2 of the nice cafes we know in Luganville, do some more diving....and be very happy to have this long arduous passage ticked off the list.
That's all for now out in this vast ocean. We've sailed (on this passage) in the South Solomon Trench, which in one place was 8322 m deep! Counting down the weeks until we get home to see our families and friends. We really miss everyone (especially those 4 Super G-Kids). See you in August. Until then enjoy the summer and beautiful Victoria, the City of Gardens.
Barbara and Captain Lionel
Adventure 21 Fiji and Vanuatu
23 December 2015
Have you ever given a thought to stepping off the grid? Well, here’s a story of some expatriates who have done just that in an unusual style. Koro Island is a rugged remote island in the Koro Sea between the two main Islands of Fiji; Viti Levi and Vanua Levi. There are couples and families from many corners of the globe who have departed their homeland and landed in Fiji. They have had the opportunity to buy cheap parcels of jungle, some of which are on steep slopes, to create a ‘homestead’ you might say and start a new life. Koro Island is not your bustling Salt Spring or Gabriola Island. It’s rural and remote. One couple, a Scotsman and his Japanese wife, Neil and WaYing, built a beautiful post and beam house from native woods and then created a very lovely tropical garden with ornamental plants and fruit and nut trees. Another family of four from the US, two adults and 2 kids 3 and 6 yrs. are just beginning the construction of their new home on Koro. School for the children will be at the local village Primary school. And then there’s Kelly and Xavier who are developing and farming a huge multi hector plantation of native Fijian plants, trees and the raising of many chickens. Kelly has a grand eco-friendly mission to plant a forest of Vesi trees….the native tree that is becoming extinct in Fiji. Jennifer and Robert have built a delightful post and beam house nestled in a charming garden. They spend 4-5 months at their Koro get-a-way retreat and the remainder of the year living onboard their boat in Auckland Harbour in New Zealand. What an experience for us to visit each family and learn of their dreams to create a new life. Building supplies and equipment have to be shipped by freight from Suva. Designing disposal systems, water, and plumbing and electricity services is no easy task either. The local Fijians operate on ‘Island Time’ ….slow and sometimes not as sure. Nothing to say of coping with mosquitoes, rats and other critters. Call it what you like. Off the grid, out of the box, extreme living. It makes our Sea Whisper look like pretty good digs for us!
JACK’S PLACE…. THE ROTI PLACE
Viani Bay is in Somosomo Strait on the island of Vanua Levu. ‘Big Jack’ Fischer lives there with his dear wife Sophie. Jack is the native born resident who seems to be the mayor of this pristine bay on Vanua Levu. He runs the show at Viani; anything you need, Jack is your man. Besides delivering bananas and coconuts to your boat he will take you snorkeling to the Cabbage patch; diving to the White Wall, the Purple Wall and the Fish Shack on Rainbow Reef or hiking up to the big waterfall at Mt. Narata and into the Vidawa Rainforest.
At one of the parties on Jack’s beach Sophie announced that she would be making Roti’s the next day and would anyone like to join in? Three of us jumped for joy and said we would be there with bells on! How exciting to learn how to make Rotis from an expert Roti maker. Here’s how it went: 3 ladies from 3 cruising yachts gather some extra flour and a few spare vegetables. We are going to make, and you guessed it, vegetable curry. But first it’s the rotis. 10 cups of flour (a tea cup for measuring), vegetable oil (about 1 cup) and some scolding water, yes I mean scalding, is poured into the pan with the flour and oil. It’s not easy mixing fiery hot dough with your hands believe me….but we did it. It turned out like ‘silly putty’. Then we relaxed the dough. Rolling the Roti’s out flat comes next. Not so easy either getting those roti’s rolled into a nice round shape. Jack and Sophie’s young daughter was in charge of frying the roti’s. She stood over a hot wood smoky fire and turned out one roti after the other. It was a real event. Sophie and I blended the curry ingredients together and before you knew it – presto….the best curry roti’s in Viani Bay at Jack’s house were ready for the eating. We devoured the rotis laden with spicy hot curry. A perfect evening: an abundance of delicious spicy rotis mixed with good stories and laughter, Fijian friends, cruising friends, and happy Jack’s family. What could be better?
DIVING RAINBOW REEF
The famous dive spot in Somosomo Strait near Taveuni Island and Vanua Levu Island is Rainbow Reef on the SW corner of Vanua Levu. With some cruising friends we had a chance to dive 5 different spots on the reef. Some were: The Purple Wall, The Fish Shack, The Cabbage Patch, The White Wall. I’m sure you can conjure up a general image of what these dive sites might look like. Besides revealing a ton of fish, turtles and sharks, the vibrant soft-corals were extraordinary.
For 5 consecutive days Jack transported us out to Rainbow reef in his long boat with other snorkelers and divers. We dove the Purple wall, the Fish Shack, the White Wall to name three.
THE WHITE WALL
It was Day 4 and, after 3 consecutive dives at Rainbow Reef, it was time to dive the Great White Wall. This dive is a perennial ‘fave’ at Rainbow Reef. I was a bit nervous about this dive. Reports from divers who had done it described the dive as a deep one swimming through two tunnels and then a big ascent up the White Wall that is profuse with soft white coral bloom. The famous Jack Fischer transported the 4 of us in the long boat to the site of the White Wall for this amazing dive experience. We geared up and checked each other’s gear before summersaulting backwards out of the long boat. Down we went equalizing our air and preparing to enter the first tunnel. “Relax, relax,” I kept reminding myself. “Breath in deeply and exhale slowly.” Eileen and Ken were our dive buddies and they were very experienced. We were in good hands. Through the second tunnel and there it was….the Great White Wall, a huge white coral-laden wall 100ft. high. Stunning! Obviously, the soft corals thrive in the nutrient rich waters of Fiji’s archipelago. It was a ‘Wow’ dive and I’m glad I jumped in!
And Jack, you are the best Div Guide ever! Vanaka Vaka Levu!
MAKOGAI – ONCE A LEPROSY HOSPITAL
FROM LEPROSY HOSPITAL TO GOVERNMENT MARICULTURE CENTER
We had a brisk sail from Viani Bay in the Koro Sea to Makogai. Several yachts were here anchored in the bay. The interest at this island is the history of a Leprosy Hospital which operated from 1911 to 1969. In the 58 years over 4000 patients arrived at Makogai from many places in the Pacific and many countries in the world. Ethnic groups lived in separate villages. The island was divided in two to prevent the disease from spreading between the patients and the workers and staff. In the mid 1800’s it was thriving with a hospital, town, church, movie theatre, amphitheatre and all the dormitories and housing for the leprosy patients. Nuns came from France and Fiji and doctors from Australia and New Zealand to care for the sick. At its peak time there were several thousand people living here. In the graveyard on the hillside we visited a few of the thousand grave sites including the grave of Fijian Sister Maria Filomena who lived on the island for 30 years and contracted the disease. An interesting historical site of an old Leprosarium. Only relics and remnants remain under the vines and vegetation.
Today on Makogai, the fisheries officers who are based here are working on protecting species from being overharvested. They are culturing giant clams and transplanting them to repopulate in reefs around Fiji. The giant clams are stunning to view underwater. We see them in various places when we snorkel and dive. At the Mariculture Center we also saw injured turtles in large tanks which had been rescued from the sea. The old staff quarters of the Leprosy hospital are home to government fisheries and their families. Good luck to the fisheries officers and their projects on Makogai.
VUDA MARINA, FIJI
PREPARING FOR SEA WHISPER’S PASSAGE TO VANUATU
THE BIG BOAT JOBS
After a very pleasant six week trip home to Canada to visit family and take care of business we were back in Fiji in late September. And now the work begins to get Sea Whisper ready for passage to Vanuatu. On with the show! The skeg inside the rudder post had to be repaired. After Lionel spent hours and hours of grinding and sanding, Sikeli, a very skilled Indo-Fijian, completed the fibre-glassing. The next big job was to paint Sea Whisper’s bottom. We also required an up-to-date survey for our insurance. The Surveyor came to inspect the exterior before we went back in the water. After 6 days the big jobs were done and the giant crane lift lowered the Fraser 50 back into the water. Such a relief from schlepping boat gear, dirty dishes up and down the high ladder and going up and down to the toilet.
In between our boat work, we took time off to socialize with some of our cruising buddies.
At the Oktober-Fest celebration, Lionel and I won a dance contest! He laughed, as he said, “No-one will believe this as I don't dance!” We had to dance together with a blown up balloon held in various parts of our bodies without dropping or popping it. We ‘oldies’ won over about 8 other younger couples. Great Fun and the prize was a bottle of Fijian rum.
Now it was time to take local buses and taxis to Lautoka to provision Sea whisper for many weeks and months ahead as we were heading West and then North into remote territory of the South Pacific…..the Solomon Island group. With a lot of thinking, planning, shopping, record keeping and re-arranging and storing all the provisions, we were almost ready. Just the fuel and water tanks to fill. We spent our last two days socializing with our good friends, Colin and Ana aboard Ithaka, our dear Swedish friends, Sabina, Per and Ella aboard Breeze and saying goodbye to all our buddies working in the Marina who were now like family to us.
Log entry: October 8, 2015 Enroute Luganville, Vanuatu
1315 hrs. Depart Vuda Marina. Sunny NW wind. Sea Whisper provisioned, fuelled. Many goodbyes to all our friends. Heading to Navula Pass. 625 miles to go. ETA Luganville October 12th.
The passage was a brutal one. Right out of pass of the barrier reef we started to encounter the diversities: auto pilot was not holding course, extreme wind shift from NNE to ESE, 30 kn. winds In rough sloppy seas, tender tummies. For the next 2 ½ days we battled very strong trade winds and lumpy, sloppy and confused 4-5 meter seas and rain squalls. It was an absolute relief to make landfall in Luganville, Vanuatu at noon on October 12, 2015.
Log Entry October 12, 2015
1200 Arrived Luganville Harbour. Anchored in front of old wharf for Immigration, Customs and Health clearance. Uncanny observation: Captain Lionel gave the required advance notice of Sea Whisper’s arrival time in Luganville to be noon on Monday October 5th. How’s that for betting on Sea Whisper’s performance!
LUGANVILLE….FROM A JUNGLE TO A CITY TO A DIVING MECCA
The history of Luganville, Vanuatu’s northern capital is a fascinating story involving WW11 and the battles in the South Pacific.
Some interesting facts:
1942-1945 Over half a million Americans were stationed in Luganville ready for battle in the Pacific.
Infrastructure and roads were laid everywhere
Four hospitals, five airfields, jetties, torpedo boat base, market gardens, as well as Quonset huts for offices, workshops and servicemen’s accommodation were all constructed.
After the war the surplus equipment got dumped in the ocean: hence MILLION DOLLAR POINT, a great dive spot where one will find bulldozers, aeroplane engines, and jeeps and lots of Coca-Cola bottles. We found all this stuff on our dive of Million Dollar Point…even the Coca-Cola bottle bits and pieces.
THE LEGENDARY USS PRESIDENT COOLIDGE
DIVING THE BEST WRECK DIVE IN THE WORLD
GO WRECK DIVING
On Day 2 in Luganville, we were syked to sign up for another dive on the world’s most famous shipwreck, the President Coolidge. Originally a 200m by 25m, 22,000 ton luxury liner, it was converted into a troop ship in WW11. In October, 1942, the ship came to its demise when it hit a US-laid mine coming through Segond channel. It was doomed. The Captain ran the ship aground. Five thousand troops abandoned the ship with only two casualties. Last year we dove the bow and top of the deck and also into the cargo holds where we found weapons, gas masks and trucks. This year we will dive through the ship to find the porcelain ‘Lady’.
Geared up and gear checked we begin the shore dive to the line where we descend to the foredeck. Our Dive Master Tanu checks our buoyancy and decides I require another 2 lbs. One is always a little nervous at the start of the dive. I remind myself to breath slowly and rhythmically. We are diving down to 137 ft. and our bottom time will be 46 minutes. I don’t want to miss ‘The Lady’. We swim to a large hatch opening and down the three of us descend into the dark and gloomy hallows of the President Coolidge. Through the First Class lounge and state rooms we carefully manoeuvre and suddenly with our flash lights she appears, ‘The Lady’, a porcelain doll-like statue resting on a horse. A surge of excitement reaches Lionel and me. I study her, remove my dive glove and touch her face. She’s beautiful….’The Lady’. Check air, depth and gear. Dive signals to each other “All is Well”, and we begin our ascent through the pitch black ship and cargo holds passing rows of toilets, tools and trucks. Safety stop one- two minutes, safety stop two – five minutes and safety stop three - 10 minutes to allow the nitrogen bubbles out of our system. We reach the surface. A great dive. We almost wish it wasn’t over. Hope we can do another dive to learn more about the legendary President Coolidge.
ISLANDS OF NORTH VANUATU
THE HITCHHIKE, A FUNKY YACHT CLUB AND A NI-VAN WEDDING DRESS
We’re charting new territory and heading north through some of the northern villages of Espiritu Santo. We chart courses to Oyster Island, Hog Harbour, Port Orly and Sola. Waking up early in Hog Harbour (better known as Champagne Beach), we start the engine to move to the next anchorage. Whoops! Dead engine battery. How do we get to town, Luganville, 55 km. away to hopefully buy a new 12V battery for Sea Whisper? The answer is hitchhike. It is the only mode of travel. In the blazing midday sun we start out on dusty trails to find the main road. After a farmer shakes down 2 coconuts from a palm coconut tree and offers us the delectable juice we carry on. A pickup truck stops and transports us 10 km. On the side of the road we wait. It’s hot. It’s humid. Wait, wait wait while a young ni-Van told us the story how he walked into the hospital and picked up two babies whose mothers had decided to give them away!!. Fifty minutes later ride number two shows up. We hop into the back of the pickup and this guy takes us, after scouting out more gas from a farmer, all the way to town. We find the battery (approx. 30 kilos), fill our baskets with fruit and veg. at the market, drink an iced coffee at the Friends Café and 5 hrs. later return with all our stuff to Champagne beach in a decrepit van with nine other ni- Van and all their stuff including a 2 day old baby and the 18 yr. old mother.
At Sola in thee Banks Island group we check out of the Vanuatu country. But first we discover the funky Yacht club known as the Leumerous Yachtclub. We spend time with Robert who has a certificate of Hospitality hanging inside. There is a sand floor and 2 or 3 rudimentary handmade tables and stumps and to one side a sort of kitchen where he can prepare a meal given advanced notice. We sign up for a dinner the next day… only to be pre-empted by a Russian cruise ship (ex ice-breaker) whereby Robert would be preparing their lunch onboard. Better deal for Robert!
One more stop at UreParaPara on the volcanic island of Norbarb in the Banks. Officials gave us two days to leave the country. Amazing and beautiful volcanic island where the crater blew out
one whole side leaving it shaped like a horseshoe. The village people were delightful. The Chief and his daughter Breanna came out to Sea Whisper to greet us with coconuts and papaya (paw paw pronounced po po) and invited us to dinner. In the dark we fumbled through the mangroves and made our way to the grass hut. There we were presented with fresh flower leis. The next day (Sunday) it was the Anglican church service with its sand floor and rough park benches. Breanna tells us the family is preparing for her big wedding on January 6th with 4 couples to be wed. “What will you wear, I ask?” I would like to find a white dress or skirt but they are too expensive in Santo. “Come out to Sea Whisper and let’s see if we can find a dress. One hour later Breanna was fitted with a white full long tiered skirt with sequins. Aaha! How happy we all were.
Adventure 22 Solomon Islands
23 December 2015
Betel-nut, Nguzunguzu and Bukaware
Log Entry November 4, 2015
After 2 day passage from Ureparapara, Vanuatu, arrive at Temotu Province in Solomon Islands. Lata, Nendo Island. Anchored off pier. I rowed ashore to meet officials. They come out to inspect the boat. Major cloud burst.
Sea Whisper has made landfall in the Solomon Islands; new territory, a new country that extends 1660 km. SE from Papua New Guinea. There are 992 islands with only a third of them populated. So we’re up for many adventures in leaf-hut villages, resplendent scenery and volcanic islands, in big lagoons and pristine reefs and in diving adventures of WW11 shipwrecks and an underworld that is teaming with corals and fishes.
As the team of Government officials (Immigration, Customs and Health) approach the boat we’re a bit nervous with our check-in to the Solomon Islands. Presented to us on our departure from the Banks Islands in Vanuatu were baskets and baskets of paw paw (papaya), bananas, grapefruit, pineapple, tomatoes and coconuts, beans and what seemed like a bushel of eggplants. Maybe the officials felt sorry for us and thought we looked hungry or they were having a different day as nothing was said when the team came onboard to complete the paper work and inspections. Yippee! Bring on the smoothies, the salads, the stir-fry.
Rowing ashore in Codo (our tiny dinghy) to see the town, our landfall was rather shocking. The majority of the men and women of all ages have ugly red teeth and gums. We quickly learn about the Betel-nut chewing. A small green fruit that resembles a chestnut or lime is mixed with powdered lime leaf and water and mushed between the teeth. Ooooo… looks terrible, especially with those who have teeth missing in front. Wouldn’t want to kiss one of these guys!! Solomon Islanders like the taste and its astringent effect. But long time users are predisposed to mouth cancer. In Fiji and Tonga it’s the Kava. In Vanuatu it’s the green Kava and in the Solomons it’s the Betel-nut. These traditions live on.
History tells us that the Nguzunguzu (pronounced Noozu, Noozu), is the warlord carved figure that is attached to the prow of a war canoe to guide the canoe through reefs and protect the warriors. If the Nguzunguzu is held up by two clenched fists it means war; a carved human head denotes that the enemy is on a headhunting mission and if the Nguzunguzu is holding a dove the war canoe is signifying peace. The Nguzunguzu is now a national symbol and is embossed on the one dollar Solomon coin. Now we are looking for a walking stick with the Nguzunguzu…preferably carved from the Queen Ebony wood.
Bukaware Basketry and masterful carvings.
The Solomon Islanders are strong carvers. The carvings represent animals, humans, birds and fish and spirits. The baskets, trays and table mats are woven from the tough Asa vine. They are tightly woven, very attractive and sturdy. My cruising friend Jean from NZ has a beautiful basket and we are now on the hunt for just the right Bukaware basket. Hopefully we will find it in the Western Province.
AMBASSADORS, BREAD, AND THE WELL
WE MEET MOSES
Our first anchorage in the Tumotu province of the Solomon Islands is at Shaw Point at Ndendo (pronounced Nendo) Island. Almost surreal: calm beautiful bay, no trade winds, no sea swell, no reefs… and westerly exposure. A dugout canoe is heading towards Sea Whisper. We meet Moses, a nice guy despite the betel-nut stains all over his teeth. We must get used to the bloody red mouths! Moses welcomes us and gives us some history of this place known as Shaw Point. In the 70’s it was a logging camp. A company from Malaysia set up a logging operation to log the Kauri trees. Now the land is owned by the Anglican church of Melanesia and it is operating as a Technical Training School. Moses invites us to come to an assembly to meet the students and talk to them about our country Canada and our journeys on Sea Whisper. And then with his red smile he gently asks, “Would you be able to show us how to make bread?” “Sure, I think we can arrange to do this.” “Do you have any flour?” I ask. After a long silence, the answer was, “No.”
First Ambassadors, then bread-makers! Alright. We gather things together and prepare our talk for the student presentation. Rowing ashore we are greeted by some of the students who graciously adorn us with beautiful floral leis made from the Frangipani flowers. The fragrance is very lovely. And then we proceed to the buildings. We were quite shocked to see how everything was run down and in disrepair. The talk went well, lots of questions about Canada and the students were fascinated with our Sea Whisper adventures and the souvenirs and artifacts we showed them from other countries. Needless to say each one was delighted with our gift to them. A souvenir Sea Whisper pen.
After our presentation we walked around the property. There are 30 boarding students who study carpentry, electricity, agriculture and life skills. The buildings for study are old and decrepit to say the least. However, there is an Anglican church in good repair and a residence for the minister, another residence and chapel for the Sisters’ Diocese with a lovely garden including a variety of orchids. This large picturesque property has traditional grass houses for the staff, dormitories for the students, a soccer field and a kitchen and dining hall which is nothing more than a cement slab with a thatched roof and a covered campfire for cooking. The oven appears to be a 45 gal. drum. A quick study reveals that this will be the oven to bake the bread on bread-making day!
THE BREAD THE BREAD
The ingredients: White flour, whole meal flour, yeast, oil, salt, honey, water.
Equipment: Big mixing bowl, wooden spoon, measuring cups and spoons, plastic table cloth for kneading the dough, bread pans. Oh, and a big board to write out the recipe.
Gathering all the bread making supplies and equipment we row to shore in Coda and then head inland to the ’Kitchen’. Several women and students hovered around and the bread-making begins. We measure, mix, talk and laugh and tell stories as the dough comes together. Then it’s time for Janet and Frida to knead the dough. No problem here. These gals seem to know how to handle dough. Presto, the dough now rises in a big pan and then it is punched down and shaped into buns. What fun…everyone gets into the action! Second rising and it’s time to think about the oven….the well-used metal barrel that has a wood-burning fire underneath. After efforts of stoking, fanning and blowing the flames the ‘oven’ is hot and the buns are put inside - with the arduous task of closing the oven door (a cumbersome fabricated piece of metal rammed on the opening with some big sticks.) Twenty minutes later, the buns are baked, butter is smeared on them and we eat them. Yummy hot buns!
COME TO THE WELL
We were alerted to a fresh water spring close by to collect some extra fresh water and do some laundry. We head to the shore with water containers and 2 big loads of laundry. The spring is on shore but it is a small area and the tide is rapidly coming in. And then we hear a voice, “Come with me and I will show you the big well,” one of the locals calls out to us. Two hours later we are still gathering water from the well (the fresh water spring) and soaking, scrubbing and rinsing clothes and then having a major bath ourselves. We’re whistle clean and in no time the tropical sun air dried the laundry onboard Sea Whisper.
‘CANOED’ IN BLISSFUL SCENERY AND REMOTE ANCHORAGES
Everywhere there are emerald forests, valleys and mangroves cloaked in green. Volcanic islands jut up from the cobalt-blue Ocean and turquoise lagoons. Every vista is encapsulated with pure unspoiled scenic splendour. Sea Whisper lies inside the double chain of islands therefore the relentless Pacific seascape and swell has dissipated. A welcome break from the South East trade winds! In 22 days we have not seen another yacht. We are guessing that the cruising boats are in the western province near Gizo. We will begin to embrace the culture and the beauty and solitude of these tropical islands and pinch ourselves that Sea Whisper is here to explore this hidden paradise of the South Pacific, the Solomon Islands. This is paradise and the spirit of adventure awaits us. This is the South Pacific!
THE DUGOUTS…..THE SWARMERS
How do you think we feel when 5, 10 or maybe 14 canoes with kids paddle to the stern of Sea Whisper the minute we drop anchor? “Barbara, we’re being ‘canoed’!” shouts Lionel from the cockpit. I jump up on deck. It’s a heart-warming magical moment; big wide curious eyes, naked little chocolate bodies with their paddles stroking the surface as the dugouts jockey into position to manoeuver closer and closer. Who are these strange people, and where did they come from? They stare and stare at the same time flicking water out of the hollow of their canoes. Sometimes we tell stories and we sing songs and then we laugh and laugh.
TRADING AND KASTOM MANI
WHAT YOU LIKE… WHAT YOU HAVE? THIRTY SOLOMON DOLLARS?
Sea Whisper’s anchor has dropped in front of a village, and what do we see? A horde of dugout canoes paddling furiously towards us. Kids, babies, adults are stuffed into these fine crafted canoes and they simply glide across the water effortlessly. It is their only mode of transportation and in many cases the Solomon Islanders cover a lot of miles in a day. Whether it’s fishing, transporting goods to market, traveling from one village to another village, canoeing to the nearest town for supplies or to top up the phone (yes, many have phones), your dugout is your trusty vehicle.
Shyly the occupants’ pier at the boat and us. We begin our conversation by telling them where we are from and what are our names. Some are really keen to talk, others not and of course English is not their first language. Our Pidgin is non-existent! They are very curious to know if we have children. When we ask the children, “How old are you?” a puzzled look comes over their faces. Very few know the answer. A few industrious ones have already paw paw, green coconuts, beans, bananas and mangoes lying in the bottom of the canoe ready for trade. The trading sometimes goes like this. “Would you like some bananas and paw paw?” “Yes, thankyou that would be very nice. We like bananas and paw paw (papaya).” What would you like for trade?” “What you like, what you like,” is a common answer. In other words it’s up to us to decide what to give. So we bring out the pens, pencils, lollies, t-shirts, rice, Chinese noodles, canned salmon, books and batteries. We try to be as generous as possible knowing there is a line up for many more trades. Near darkness at the boat a few nights ago we heard a faint hello. We dashed up on deck and there in a dugout canoe sat a mature woman with a fat watermelon. “Would you like a melon?” She asked. “Yes, how much is it?” “Thirty Solomon dollars,” was the answer. Ok? After doing the math, ($5.00 Can.) was a fair price to pay for this beauty of a melon. At the next village when the kids arrived in the dugouts and swimming from shore we handed out slabs of watermelon. “Thank you, thank you,” they all hailed.
Other items for trade from the Solomon Islanders are carving pieces: wooden bowls, stone carvings, wood carvings, baskets. We acquired a lovely old bowl carved from ebony wood. It had been lying around in the dirt as I had to clean the mud from it when it came onboard. John had rowed far across Santa Ana bay from another village and was very keen to trade for a t-shirt for his grandmother’s old bowl. Judging by its appearance and condition it could have likely been his grandmother’s. We like it as it has character, and the Queen Ebony wooden carved bowls are quite rare.
KASTOM MANI (Custom Money)
Kastom is the name given by the Melanesians for their deep-rooted worship of their ancestors, their magic and their traditions. Kastom Mani is used for paying bride money and sometimes other tribal transactions, i.e. acquiring land from the tribe or handing over a magical skill. Joe from Manaka Island told us he had to pay Kastom Mani or ‘bride price’ to the tribe when his daughter got married. The items for Kastom Mani included pigs, carvings, bangles, food, Shell money and Feather money. The feather money is fascinating. In the province of Tomotu feathers are plucked from the neck of a small scarlet Cardinal and glued onto a platelet made from pigeon feathers. Then the platelets are bound together to make a coil. The coil of red feather money can be up to 10m long with 50,000 feathers. It takes one year to make one coil of feather money. At the ceremony everything is handed over and there is a big celebration feast and sharing of food. And, if you can believe it, we just had a visit from two canoes with the men returning from a reef where they were collecting a special breed of clam and mussel for Kastom Mani. John and Daniel will transport the clams and mussels by boat to Honiara, the capital, where they will receive $400 for a 20 kilo sack ($57.00). The goods will be sold for Kastom Mani. Fascinating tradition and a unique cultural wonder here in the Solomon Islands.
In a Garden of Eden
December 10, 2015 Log entry
1420 8 25.872 S 15 56.749 E Anchored at Uepi Island just off dive resort. Tricky entrance, narrow pass with fairly strong current. Circled around through reefs to anchorage - 65 ft.
Uepi Island Resort
Sea Whisper is excited to reach this destination as this is where we will meet our friend Sally from Melbourne, Australia. We met at Beqa Island in Fiji last year, and since she had booked in a dive holiday at Uepi Resort; and since Sea Whisper’s plan was to sail to the Solomon Islands we thought it might be possible to meet and dive together. Well, in the best made plans of mice and men…it worked. Sea Whisper anchors in the Marovo Lagoon December 10th and Sally arrives December 12th.
THE DIVE SITE
Uepi is one of Marovo Lagoon’s barrier islands. The setting is idyllic as it is exposed to the open sea on one side and overlooks the lagoon on the other side. The Uepi resort has a reputation of being very laid back, ecological and activity-oriented. The diving is rated as sensational: wall dives, drift dives with soft and hard corals and reefs, sharks, manta rays and multihued tropical fish.
THE GENERAL STORE
“Make sure you bring some money,” was the suggestion of one of the dive masters when we signed up for our first dive. “You might want to buy something,” as there is such a variety of fish, coral shells and clam shells. We all had a good laugh and off we went for the dive. It was awesome with reefs, a wall, a long tunnel-passageway and a multitude of fish. Sally, Lionel and I loved the dive.
THE DRIFT DIVES
They were a wow. We were dropped off at the head of the open sea end of the Charapoena passage. Down a deep wall we descended. The current was strong so we had to work hard to keep moving forward along the gigantic wall. I’m worried my 3000 bar air consumption will be depleted in no time! Down, down we go making our way along the coral sheer drop-off.
Sharks, fish are performing for us, the multihued fish are whirling against the current. It’s Act 1 of the Garden of Eden dive. We drift along the wall and our eyes see amazing things. Truly amazing.
THE SEA IS OUR VILLAGE
LIFE ABOARD SEA WHISPER
Many of you are aware of the extraordinary adventures of Miles and Beryl Smeeton who sailed their yacht Tzu Hang to many places around the world. They were an incredible team, learning the basic skills of seamanship and travelling the sea as Tzu Hang was their home for twenty years. In his book, ‘The Sea was our Village’ he narrates the stories of life at sea, people and villages and places they visited. An interesting read for seamen or non-seamen alike. The Smeetons, for some time, lived on a waterfront property on Salt spring Island. Lionel’s family (being avid sailors and seamen), were friends of the Smeetons.
Sea Whisper has been our home for over four years. The place where we live out each day aligning ourselves with nature, the storm, the calm, the trade winds, the reefs. And then the extraordinary places and people in the South Pacific where we embrace ‘out-of-this-world’ experiences in the remote islands, the traditional villages, the urban centres and the playground of the Pacific where one can dive and snorkel in the amazing underworld.
Each day brings challenges of weather, navigation, boat service and repairs, maintenance, water-making, cooking, cleaning and all in all…..just keeping a happy ship. Life aboard is alive with wonder and excitement and adventure. Here in the Solomon Islands we have not seen another yacht in over three weeks. It’s rural, remote and every island is filled with scenic splendor. There are no sounds….only the call of birds in the lush green landscape. In the distance a dugout canoe paddles rhythmically through the ripples of the sea. Ahhh.
Eckhart Tolle discusses in ‘A New Earth’ the present moment is all we ever have and Life is inseparable from the Now, “We have this moment,” the Present. Our journey to these Third World countries has given us opportunities and precious moments to learn and to share our goods and talents and support schools with amazing friendly people in their remote villages and to be ambassadors for our country Canada. We savour the moment, this moment….the Present.
02 August 2015 | Tonga Fiji
Adventure 20 – New Zealand to Tonga and Fiji 2015
On a skype call from NZ to Canada I was asked the question, “When are you sailing again Grandma, and where are you heading?” “In about 10 days when we finish getting the boat ready Caleb,” I responded to my youngest grandson. “We’re heading to Minerva Reef and Tonga. Back into the South Pacific.”
If you have ever cruised in the Gulf Islands near Vancouver Island you will know that it takes some organised planning to prepare your boat for a weekend or summer holiday. In a relatively short time though you can be ready to jump onboard for a nice family boating vacation. First you stuff your boat with food for the barbecue, soda pop and beer, taco chips and chocolate and biscuits and marshmallows for the ‘s’mores.’ Then you load all the toys for the kids that will fit onboard: paddle boards, boogie boards, wake boards and knee boards!
Not the case with ‘OFFSHORE’ cruising! Weeks and months of repairs, upgrades, service and maintenance to your vessel are required to get ready, to get set – before you sail. This cruising season 2015 Sea Whisper has had 2 new water tanks installed; and if you think that might be not too difficult a task, think again. Firstly, it took Lionel 3 days to disconnect and lift the engine out to gain access to the top of the keel water tanks and then a further 7 days to cut the old aluminum tanks out of the keel. The next step was to clean and prep the cavity and measure the space for the two brand new plastic tanks. The installation for the new tanks began with foam packing to prevent movement. The biggest hiccup occurred when Lionel got trapped under a plywood lid which had been fabricated to cover the new tanks. Shear strength and force and his smaller frame enabled him to worm his way out ever so slowly to safety. In addition Sea Whisper is sporting a newly designed tail for the wind generator, new electrical and plumbing, sink drains, and assorted repairs and maintenance. My favourite galley addition is the new mesh fruit and vegetable hammock.
When I arrived in NZ at the boat at the end of April this year, Sea Whisper looked so welcoming: tidy, clean - ready to sail. I felt like I had come home. Captain Lionel had done a marvelous job: completing a big list of mechanical, electrical, plumbing and miscellaneous repairs, etc. plus the cooking, bottle-washing and boat-keeping tasks. A big bouquet of fresh flowers graced the main cabin and greeted me as I stepped onboard. Sea Whisper looked beautiful and I was so happy to be re-united with the Captain and the ship. Kudos to the Captain! We shared the flowers!
Before Sea Whisper’s departure from New Zealand, there was just enough time for a quick car-camping trip to the very tip of the North Island to see Cape Reinga and the North Cape. The weather was bleak – cold and miserable and completely socked-in. Such a disappointment but in the dim light we could make out sharp jagged peaks and the coastline and the lighthouse at the point. The isolated settlement was established in 1908 with 3 houses for the lighthouse keepers and their families. The pounding surf below at times sounded like cannons going off. In the unsettled weather we hiked some of the tracks and wilderness areas on the North Island. Our favourite was a long day hike on the Cape Brett track.
PAC’N’SAVE IN THE TOWN BASIN
Back in the Whangarei town basin we enjoyed our last days in this charming town and went on a big shopping spree at ‘Pac n Save’ to fill the lockers and stores aboard Sea Whisper. The list is getting smaller – but still on the checklist is a visit to the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity to buy bags and bags of clothing to take to the people of the villages on the isolated islands of Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu. And then to the local shops to stalk up on the school supplies for the villages. Almost done, we collected our sails at the ‘Doyle Sails’ loft. The weather window was looking good for our passage route. We must go. Whew – did we forget anything? Check check check!
0UTBOUND NEW ZEALAND
May 14, 2015 after everything was stowed away we untied Sea Whisper’s dock lines and headed for Marston Cove where we waited final weather and custom clearance, and had a very nice send-off party with other yachts heading out on passage routes to the islands.
NEXT STOP...MINERVA REEF
May 17, 2015 Sea Whisper departed from Marston Cove, New Zealand on the passage route to Tonga. The passage was 5 days to Minerva Reef. Steady SE-SSE trade winds averaging 15 kn. You might like to check out the early history and shipwrecks on this amazing reef in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at the top of a mountain that is 50 feet under water. South and North Minerva reefs, over 250 miles from land, were named after the Australian whaling ship Minerva was shipwrecked on south Minerva in 1829. Alongside Minerva lies the Tonga Trench, a 2000 km. long ocean valley that stretches from Tonga to NZ. The trench reaches the deepest ocean depths in the world. In 1962 a Tongan sailing vessel called Tuaikaepau, (meaning slow but sure) en route to New Zealand with 17 crew onboard, hit South Minerva. The crew took refuge inside the abandoned wreck of a Japanese freighter. Captain Tevita Fifita and his son, after the crew had been marooned on Minerva for 95 days, built a raft with 2 rudimentary tools: a broken blade of a knife and a nail. They plied the wood from their ship to build this substitute for a boat. They sailed their raft named Malo e lelei (meaning Good Day) to Fiji in the SE trades to get help. By the end of this whole ordeal and extreme hardship the remaining castaways were finally rescued. Five lives had been lost and many were sick and disabled.
THE KINGDOM OF TONGA AND THE TA’OVALAS
After 2 days in spectacular North Minerva waiting for a northerly to pass through, we set the sails and headed for Tongatapu, the capital of Tonga which is Nuku’alofa. The passage was 3 days with favourable winds.
On May 27, 2015 Sea Whisper sails into the harbour at the time of the ‘March for the King’ a celebration to mark the opening of Parliament. How delighted we are to see the Tongans again sporting their Ta’ovalas and Kie kies in the Tongan tradition dress. The Ta’ovalas are the prominent pandanus mats wrapped around the strong bodies of the Tongans. So distinct, unique and flamboyant. The school students are dressed in their crisp white, blue and maroon school uniforms. We are greeted with “Malo e lelei” as we wander the bustling street markets, the shops and the cafes and local foodies. The next day the school students along with the King (King George Tapou V and the Queen), begin their inaugural parade bedecked in their school colours and banners. They step smartly on the pavement “Left, right, left, right” to the rhythm of their brass bands. The verve and pulse in the city bring about a festive celebratory mood. We join the throngs and celebrate with the Tongans.
WHAT A WALOO!
Not long after our departure from Nuku’alofa Lionel shouts from the aft deck, “fish on, fish on, and it’s a big one!” There’s something very exciting, scary and adrenalin-rushing when a big fish bites the lure on your hand line under full sail at 7 kn. Lionel steps to the plate on the back deck. He takes the hand line and starts to pull it in hand over hand. “It’s a waloo and it’s huge,” he shouts! There’s no gaff or no net! Lionel tugs and heaves this whopper of a fish slowly to the boat. Barely maintaining his grip and foothold he yanks the 4 ft. waloo over the back rail and flops it down on the deck. Anxiously, with towel in hand, I grip the towel around its head to calm it down. Three hours later Mr. Waloo was cleaned, fileted and packed into Sea Whisper’s freezer. “Yippee, we have fish for our friends in the village of Nomuka!”
HAPPY IN HA’APAI
Two years ago Sea Whisper landed on the island of Nomuka in the Ha’apai Island group in the Kingdom of Tonga. The bay on Nomuka has such historical significance. It is the location where the famous ship ‘The HMS Bounty’ took on water 250 years ago. We had some great adventures and met a lovely Tongan family. The Finau Family. In October 2013 after village tours, mat weaving, school visitations, church services and a big Tongan feast we said goodbye to our Tongan friends. “We hope you will come and see us next year,” Lavinia lamented as we bid our farewells. Well, we didn‘t make it back in 2014 but on June 2, 2015 Sea Whisper sailed into the bay on Monuka Island, Ha’apai, Tonga to re unite with the Finau family and the villagers.
LAVINIA, THE LOVELY TONGAN MOTHER AND OTHER TALES
Lavinia was born on Nomuka Island. She and her husband Hamani have 3 children, Siva 14 yrs. William 12 yrs. and Kalifi 10 yrs. Hamani is a fisherman and tries to catch Waloo to sell to the markets in Nuka’alofa and he also takes care of the family’s plantation. Since Lionel and I had just caught and landed the big waloo we were delighted to pass along fresh fish to the families in the Nomuka village as a welcoming gift from Sea Whisper.
Lavinia greeted us with a big warm ‘Bula’ at her gate and couldn’t wait for us to go to school and see Siva. “She’s in form 4, she will be so excited to see you!” And indeed she was.
In Tongan schools in Form 4 to form 6 the kids are ages 12 to 15. The teacher and Principal invited us to come and talk to the students on Friday (the English speaking day each week at school). Lionel and I put our heads together and came up with an idea. “We’ll compare Tonga to Canada,” together we thought: geography, landscape, industry, customs, multi-cultural peoples, wildlife and natural resources. “We’ll run with it, and see how it goes.” So we and 35 students had fun discussing Canada and Tonga, followed by some singing and action songs and then a drawing project. And to finish we spoke about our adventures aboard Sea Whisper in the South Pacific and displayed artifacts which we had bought and had been given. And you might have guessed it, the students all received their very own ballpoint pen and drawing paper from Sea Whisper. All in all a fun Friday school afternoon in Tongan.
The day we arrived the village people were burying one of the elders at the grave yard. Women and men in Ta’ovala’s and Kiekie’s and some men in Tupenu’s scraped dirt over the grave with shovels and sticks. For one week the village mourns and many of the village activities cease - no fishing or weaving. People gather for prayers in the village houses and at the grave site to honour the elder Tongan.
We see pigs, chickens, and dogs everywhere. The men are returning from their plantations on foot, horseback or rickety old bicycles. The women in their dilapidated houses are cooking and grilling over open fires….the tapioca, and casava and fish for their families. The children are running around the yards kicking a soccer ball. At the seashore Saani, one of the village ladies is seen approaching the shore from far out on the reef with her bucket of octopus. She greets us and presents one of the slimy creatures to us as she proceeds to tell us to pound, pound, pound it and boil it. “We’ll give it a try Saani,” as we pack the gooey thing back to our boat.
At church on Sunday, everyone is dressed up in their best. It is the main event of the week. Little girls in their fancy dresses, sparkling shoes and white bows tied in their hair. Delightful! The singing (no music accompaniment), the Tongans and their indomitable spirit move us during this blessed hour. We are immersed in the Tongan culture and we love every moment.
After the church service, lovely Lavinia has prepared an amazing picnic for us. Wow, especially for Sea Whisper and Scoot (our buddy boat). “I have cooked some Tongan food for you. Let’s have a picnic. We don’t have much to give but we give our hearts and our blessings to you,” Lavinia speaks so humbly. Since picnics are one of my very favourite things in the world, we heartily accept without hesitation. About 10 of us pile into a truck and we ride through plantations on a bumpy dirt road for a few miles to a beautiful remote beach. The grass mats are spread out on the sand. The picnic begins with a cup of Tongan coffee served in china cups and saucers. Unbelievable – here we are on a picture-postcard beach with the sun and sand on the remote island of Nomuka in the Ha’apai Island Group drinking delicious coffee from china cups! Beautiful scenery, sounds and fragrances surround us. My eyes begin to fill and I have to press the lids together. How lucky we are to experience something so exotic! As we sit on the grass mats below swaying palm trees with this lovely Tongan family, Lavinia presents the rest of the picnic on cotton tablecloths: teriyaki chicken grilled on an open fire, coconut chicken baked in the lovo oven, casava, plantain bananas, curried chicken wrapped in green leaves, tortillas, fish baked in banana leaves, grilled fish, deep-fried fish appetizers. Before our eyes the grand picnic unraveled….foil after foil, basket after basket. And dessert - a chocolate cake by Sea Whisper. What a Tongan feast. A Royal feast! Lavinia deeply wanted us to experience the traditional Tongan food. And we did in spades! “Malo, Malo,” Lavinia!
After our grand picnic, we all had a walk on the beach and enjoyed the sublime nature. And then we piled into the truck and headed into the jungle to check out Hamani’s garden. Here we found orange trees, casava, tapioca, papaya and lime trees. A typical plantation in the villages and back lands of the Tongan islands.
Back at the village it was time to bid farewell to all the Finau family and some of the villagers. There were smiles and tears and endless waves as they faded out of sight on the beach of Nomuka Island. Another out of this world adventure in the Kingdom of Tonga.
Log Entry: June 17, 2015 En route Fiji
1600 1933.1S 177 36.6W SOG 7.3 COG 271 W SE 30 gusting to 40. Bar 1014. Heavy rain squalls with 40 kt. SE trade winds. Took down main and mizzen. ½ jib furled.
After a tough ‘down and dirty’ three day passage from Tonga we arrived in the harbour of Suva, the capital of Fiji. For the last two days the SE trade winds had been blowing 35 and 40 kn. gusting to 45 kn. The seas became enormous - 4 and 5 meters with some ‘greenies’ coming on deck. Needless to say Sea Whisper rolled and pitched. Added to this a bit of sea sickness, sleep deprivation and white-knuckle gripping due to the relentless rolling, this passage proved to be a pretty tough one. Tough for the crew – not for Sea Whisper!
Needless to say, the Suva city in Fiji welcomed us. We alert the Ports Authority of our arrival and soon the Department of Immigration, Customs, Health and Bio Security come to Sea Whisper to clear our vessel into the country of Fiji. We share the harbour with freighters, yachts, cruise liners and fishing boats. On shore the hustle and bustle of the friendly Fijians heading to the huge and vibrant Municipal market, flooding to the city buses, shopping, eating roti’s, licking ice-cream and just lazing around calling out ‘Bula’, brings about an eclectic scene. We dive right in: riding the buses, eating the roti’s, walking shoulder to shoulder with the crowds, shopping at the Municipal market, visiting the kava and flower vendors whom we know… and simply inhaling this friendly culture and the Bula smiles that go such a long way. Another day we find the Grand Pacific Hotel along the shore; a stunning colonial style building just renovated and reopened after 100 years. We stop for a lovely breakfast on the patio.
BATAI AND HIS ‘ROTI’ MOTHER
Last year in Fulaga in the Southern Lau Islands we spent 2 weeks at the Manaka village where Batai Illaisa was the island nurse taking care of the 3 villages on the island. He now works as a nurse in Suva. Low and behold we found this neat guy at his job at the Remand Centre of the Suva Prison. It was so great to see him! He and his mother paid a visit to Sea Whisper and we eat Paella and chocolate cake together and shared many stories. Calera then invited us for roti’s to the family home in the village of Nasouri. We jumped at the invitation to meet the rest of the family; and we do like roti’s. An hour’s bus journey and we arrived at the village and walked through plantations in the dark to reach the settlement where Batai’s mother rents an old plantation house. Calera and her daughters greeted us warmly: Liti who is a hairdresser, Nani, a nurse like her brother Batai, Kini who studies Human Resources; and there is another son, Mele who could not be there as he is at boarding school. The large straw mat spread on the floor as the gathering place and the dining table is a familiar sight to us. “Come in and sit down and be part of our family,” says Batai. We sit cross-legged on the mat, smile and are surrounded by Fijian friendliness. We are part of the family. The pots of curries, vegetable salads, casava, salsa and the basket of hot roti’s take center stage in the center of the mat. We present our chocolate banana cake and include it with the food offerings. After the blessing, we begin the feast. We eat well; roti after roti, telling stories and laughing. One of life’s greatest pleasures is sharing food together. Then Calera has something special to tell us. This Fijian single mother many years ago had to think of a creative way to pay for her children’s education. And here’s her amazing story.
ROTIS FOR LEARNING
Can you imagine how many roti’s one would have to make and sell to put four kids through school and college? “I turned them out by the dozens for my kids to sell on the streets of Nasouri,” announced Calera Ilaisa, the single mum. “I made the roti’s all day and piled them neatly into buckets for Batai, Kini and Nani to stand and peddle the tasty morsels in the town. A good night for the three of them was a $60.00 take and three empty buckets. Each curry roti sold for $1.00.” Calera pivots on the straw mat and proudly smiles at each of her children.
Today while Batai and Lani are nursing and Kini is studying economics at college and brother Mele continues his college education the family continues to rent a small bungalow for $250.00 Fijian ($150.00 Canadian) per month in the middle of casava and tapioca fields in Nasouri. It’s quite basic living accommodation. But it’s a great improvement to the one room they lived in when they shared a house with other families when the children were growing up. For now they live each day with smiles on their faces. One day soon they hope to build a house on their deeded land in Labasa, on the island of Vanua Levu.
How entranced we were with the Ilaisa family’s story! We thank them for a wonderful cultural evening and head out in the dark with Batai on the dirt muddy road passing by the crops of casava and tapioca. An hours bus ride and we’re back to Sea Whisper at the harbour in front of the Royal Suva Yacht Club.
BEQA ISLAND BECKONS SEA WHISPER
We’re sailing to the rugged small 36 sq.km island which boasts a 64 km. long barrier reef. After a short 20 mile passage Sea Whisper enters Beqa Lagoon through the reef and anchors in front of the Ravi Ravi village and the Beqa Lagoon Resort.
A DYNAMIC DIVE TO FEED THE SHARKS!
After a school visit to the Secondary School to meet the Principal and Vice Principal Elana and Raijeli, and to view the impressive hilltop land sight and the Bequ lagoon, it’s time to go diving. First, a good practice dive would be in order to check Sea Whisper’s anchor in 55 ft. of water, and then a dive to a couple of bommies near the boat. All is well; gear, regulators, BC’s and dive tanks all feel good so we signed up for some open water diving with the Beqa Lagoon Island Resort. The first day was a two tank dive on coral reefs with soft corals and teaming fish. The next day – a two tank Shark Dive! We were ready! In our dive boat there were recreational divers from USA, Canada, Australia and Japan. The Fijian Dive Masters have created a shark–feeding dive sight where the divers (all of us) sit along a man-made wall to watch the Dive Masters feed the fishes and the sharks. A few nervous moments as we psyched ourselves up and jumped in and made our way against the current and the surge and the waves to the rope line that took us down to the steep gully where we descended to the bottom floor at 80 ft. The nerves evaporated quickly as literally schools of fish wrapped around us. And then the sharks!!.....A bull shark, lemon shark and a nurse shark. Wow! One of the Dive Masters reached out for my hand and glided me into the centre ring of the action. Never will I forget that moment of all these fish, rare critters and sharks swimming around us. It was an amazing rush. Lionel followed with the Go-pro to capture the action!! Yes, Fiji’s reefs offer amazing diving experiences.….10/10 this one!
THE RUGBY MATCHES
Fiji is fanatical about their rugby and we were delighted to learn that Ravi Ravi village was playing host to two matches on Saturday. Behind a choked verdant mountainside of dense forest and jungle the playing field, sporting goal posts of bamboo and short mowed grass, was primed for the performance. On with the show. The visiting teams arrived and set up their practice routines. The tropical sun shone and the local village families and visiting fans perched themselves all around the periphery in front of their small modest houses surrounded by shrubs, flowers and a few shade trees. The setting was ideal. The game begins as the players join forces and dominate the field in their scarlet red jerseys and lime green jerseys. Instantly, the scrums and lineouts heat up the game and we are right in the action a few meters from the play. Lionel, a serious rugby player back in the days at Brentwood College, follows every move and enlightens the non-Fijian spectators about the play and its strategies. Some spectacular rugby. Another great Fijian experience.
POTLUCK AND A POT OF KAVA
We got invited to the Secondary School Teachers’ monthly Friday dinner and Kava party. A great finale to the rugby matches. After the games the women teachers were busying themselves cooking curries, rice, grilled eggplant, seaweed, rotis, baked pumpkin and fish in the lovo oven and their simple kitchens. The feast began with heaps of food presented on individual plates. As we gazed around the room, the setting seemed almost surreal: the serving table laden with heaps of Fijian foods, the woven grass floor mats, the friendly Fijians arriving in sulus and sarongs and the fragrant warm evening air wafting through the open windows of a very old heritage building. There was a blessing and Lionel and I thanked the Ravi Ravi village for their Beqa Island hospitality reaching out to us Canadians and providing such a memorable experience. The food was absolutely delicious. We even tried the shredded seaweed which was quite tasty. The evening was not complete without the Kava (latin for intoxicating pepper), bowl and the Kava ceremony. Suddenly, we had to brush up on the ‘Sevusevu’ ceremony…the social gathering that truly captures the essence of the Fijian culture. When you receive the Bilo (the cup) from the chief’s spokesman, you cobo once (cup your hands and clap loudly), and after receiving it and drinking it completely you cobo three times. And you guessed it, the ladies are served the cup last in this patriarchal society. Through the doorway arrived more Fijian men carrying guitars and ukuleles. Soon they began to sing upbeat, happy and harmonic music. Bring it on! Boy oh boy, am I lovin’ this!!! Their enthusiastic Fijian voices are smooth as silk and clear as a bell! In a short while, to my astonishment, appears a very fine Fijian man (one of the village rugby players) who asks me to dance. Oh my, I get to sway and whirl to those guitars and ukuleles as the Fijians embrace freedom and joy with their beautiful music and song!! The Fijians are so lovely. They offer so much: their love, warmth, hospitality, their village, their culture. All we have to do is reach out and take it!
‘DINGHY, DINGHY, WHERE ARE YOU?”
In the pitch black night through a jungle path we made our way back to the dingy. Oh oh - the tide had risen a lot. Where was our dinghy? The flashlight flickered and there in the distance we made out the red canvas covering. We waded into the water shivering slightly knowing one of us would have to swim out, retrieve the anchor and swim it in. “Help you?” came a welcome voice from the dark shore. Two village men in wet suits were on their way to go night diving. They could see our predicament and one of them slithered into the sea and headed for the dinghy. Whew! In a flash he brought the dinghy and the anchor chain to shore for us. Helpful Fijians. “Vanaka vaka levu.” We started the motor and cut around the edge of the reef without poling or paddling and soon arrived safe and sound aboard Sea Whisper where she was anchored in 55 ft. of water inside the Beqa lagoon.
Throughout our 2015 sailing adventures in the South Pacific Islands of Tonga and Fiji, we discover that Tongans and Fijians are proud of their culture and traditions remain strong on these outer islands.
FIJI TO BE CONTINUED……in the next adventure. Bula Vinaka
Adventure 19 Vanuatu
14 February 2015
VANUATU The Happy Country
Log entry: August 21, 2014 Enroute to Lenakel, Tanna Island, Vanuatu
Cleared Customs and Immigration from Fiji
Log entry: August 25, 2014 Arrive Tanna Island. Anchored behind reef.
Black sand. A gathering of ni-Vans on the shore. Hoisting our Vanuatu an flag
After a 4 day passage from Fiji to Vanuatu at 0900 August 25th Sea Whisper enters Lenakel on the island of Tanna to clear Customs and Immigration. We are in a new country - the 'Happy Country' we are told. We are looking forward to meeting the Ni-Vanuatu (ni-Van) people (Melanesians) in their villages and learn about their culture and customs. We've heard and read about active volcanoes, shipwrecks, traditional ceremonies, Rom dances, friendly villages, Kava bars, hikes, jungles, dugongs, trading goods.... and more. We will begin our exciting adventures of Vanuatu, a country which in 2005 was selected as the only South Pacific country to receive a grant for sustainable economic growth. PROUD TO WIN THE MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE.
HISTORY OF VANUATU
The country dates back 3200 years to the Lapita people who crossed the sea from Tahiti, Hawaii and New Zealand and then much later the Polynesians and Europeans. Some facts:
Capital City Port Vila, Efate Island
Languages Bislama, English, French and 100 plus local languages.
Each village has their own language because long ago the villages were separated by mountains and rocky headlands.
The Bislama language will make you laugh! Really cracks us up when we hear:
"Do you speak English?" Yu tok tok Engglis?
"Sorry I don't understand Sore, mi no save!
MOTHER HUBBARD DRESSES, BEACHES AND A BOILING VOLCANO
Upon Sea Whisper's landfall at Tanna Island we see activity on the shore. We're curious about the gathering in the square under the big Banyan trees. Peering through the binoculars it appears to be a local market with ni-Van women wearing long colourful dresses. Hastily, we launch the dinghy and head to shore to find the officials and commence our paper work with Immigration and Customs officers.
At the market we weave through the women and young children and babes in arms. We discover huge shimmering mounds of papayas, grapefruits, tomatoes, spinach, banana hands and 'LapLap', the country's traditional food. LapLap is mashed taro and beef or corn-beef wrapped in a banana leaf and baked in the Lovo, the earth oven. The women are wearing ISLAND DRESSES or sometimes known as MOTHER HUBBARD DRESSES!
These traditional, roomy, colourful and uniquely designed garments with scallops and epaulettes look more like a costume than an everyday house and garden dress. In the middle of the 19th century these dresses were introduced to Vanuatu by the missionaries. Everywhere we look there are women draped in a blaze of colour. We love the MOTHER HUBBARD DRESSES. At the shore we meet Ruth and Mari and admire their Island dresses and I ask "Where can I buy a Mother Hubbard dress?" Ruth responds in perfect English, "I have one for you at my house. Wait here, I will go and get it." I have only known this woman for three minutes! I am so excited. Skittishly we wander off through the dirt roads and pathways to her humble grass hut. She presents me with an ISLAND DRESS: the fabric hand-painted by Ruth in the traditional ni-Van design and then sewn and made into a lovely dress. Wow, now it's mine... my very own ISLAND DRESS. I quiver with excitement and her wide smile tells me she is thrilled to pass her ISLAND DRESS on to me.
At the beach we stroll around and the sights are intriguing: women are bashing clothes on the rocks with sticks and scrubbing and rinsing the daily laundry in the fresh water pools near the shore. On Tanna Island there are underground thermal springs that continually flow out to the ocean. At low tide the fresh water pools become the laundry tubs for the village people. And then the hand-rung laundry is sprawled all over the hot rocks and secured with bigger rocks to dry. Should we consider bringing our boat laundry to the fresh-water spring laundromat? Kids are everywhere splashing in the warm water and playing games at the beach. And some of them are helping mum wash the buckets of clothes and spread the garments on the hot rocks to dry. The families are wandering along the beach taking in the little pleasures of the day. This is the local life in Vanuatu.
MT YASUR VOLCANO
A two hour ride in a 4WD on a bumpy road through villages, rainforest, coffee plantations brought us to the ash plains of Mount Yasur, an active volcano. The landscape suddenly became an enormous barren gray desert. Any moment an Alien may appear! Along a steep path up to the crater rim we climbed. The ground started to tremble! And then roar, roar, roar! It was very scary. Lumps of red-hot molten rock shot well above our heads, followed by golden fireworks. Suddenly all goes quiet. And then another big bang and the ground shakes again and the lightning flashes. Somewhat terrifying but we were cautious not to go too close to the crater. Recently one woman coaxed her guide to accompany her to the edge for photographs. They were both killed instantly with the hot molten rockets of magma.
MEET DR. JEFF UNGER FROM VICTORIA
Another curiosity was to check out the hospital up the hill in Lenakel, Tanna where we understand that Victoria, B.C. doctors have been working for several years. Dr. Lewis and Dr. Hildebrand, to mention a couple. We walked up the steep hill out of town to find the 40-50 bed hospital with a maternity ward, a men's and a women's ward, a children's ward, tuberculosis ward and an operating room for minor surgeries. What a delight it was to meet Dr. Jeff Unger and his wife Carla and two their two daughters, Marin and Neva. This lovely family from Oak Bay in Victoria plan to put in a year in Vanuatu. They have a house on the hospital grounds where there is a volleyball net for the staff to play volleyball. In the hospital it was interesting to see how many ni-Van family members were visiting and supporting their loved ones at the bedside. Especially mothers and grandmothers. And the women were sporting their Island Dresses!! Oh Yes! There were 2 babies born the day we were there and it was interesting to see Dr. Unger's daughters engaging with the new mothers. The scene was all very casual with families and pets and open doors. Bravo Victoria Doctors!
CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN, FORGE EVERY STREAM
Mt. Marum, 1270 m
Village Ranvetlam, Ambrym Island
Distance/duration 25 km. Day 1 Hike up to the volcano crater and
camp overnight on the caldera. Day 2 hike out.
Team 2 Canadians, 3 Mexicans, 1 Pole, 1 ni-Van Guide
Supplies/gear 2 Tents, sleeping bags, foul weather gear, sunscreen,
water, 2 lunches, 1 breakfast, 1 supper, bug spray,
large cooking pot, coffee and chocolate
Weather Iffy? Cloud and possible rain
Through the jungle and bamboo forests we hiked climbing through lush green mountains and valleys for 3 hours. We keep going with our packs feeling heavy and finally reach the ash plain with its lush vegetation. Plans have changed. We will not be heading up to the caldera due to the inclement weather. We will be stopping at the hut. It's raining and still several kilometers of hacking through scrub and old lava to reach the hut. We all press on. After a long hike on the ash plain the hut becomes visible through the scrub and small trees. "A hut, we ask?" Our eyes glare at a small platform with half-moon horizontal logs and a roof of palm branches. There are no walls. Hmmm. The wind blows, the rain falls. We pitch our tent on the ash plain beside the hut. We are tired and hungry. We make dinner plates out of palm leaves. The tent leaks. Yanick's (our guide) campfire crackles and we huddle around the burning sticks. We start to dry our wet socks and boots. We eat our sandwiches and then Yanick asks the big question. "Do you want to carry on and hike up to the volcano rim?" Two more hours up and two hours back to the camp. We take a vote. Five out of six decide to go for it despite the weather. We are so eager and hopeful to be rewarded? with a view of the active volcano doing its magic despite the weather. We hack our way through the wet underbrush of the ash plain, and the old lava and reach the riverbed. And the hard work starts. Up we go traversing side to side hopping over the big boulders, forging through the riverbed and the flowing stream. Onwards and upwards determined to reach the volcano rim and see the smoke and the red-hot magma and then return to the camp before dark. March, march, march. It's a blessing we don't have the weight of our backpacks. We reach the narrow razor-backed ridge and slowly and carefully make our final ascent still hoping to catch a glimpse of Mt. Marum and mother-nature doing her thing! However, the weather is deteriorating. Destination reached: we can barely see one another in all the mist and fog. A brief stop. A misty photo-shoot as we hope for a break in the mist to see the crater. No luck...just a whiff of sulphur and smoke and ash! "Please let's go down," I called to our guide a little anxiously. Down, down, down. The steep trail, not so forgiving, led Yanick and the team back to the river bed with the water much higher now. The boulders of the riverbed became more challenging. Picking our way through the clumps of bush, scrub and fog we were back down on the ash plain. Arriving at the hut and our make shift camp we were all were soaked to the skin. Ah.....it's time for a sip of Tequila, some hot tea. Alejandro, a professional chef, took charge and concocted an enormous pot of hot delicious curry. Our guide roasted bananas. We told stories, laughed and recapped the day.....our long and arduous hike up the mountain. And then some of us collapsed into the tent which now had a second tent on the bottom to stop the seepage from the ground. The others sprawled out on the hut platform with the rippled floor boards. After a bit of sleep in the wilderness it was early morning. It was into our damp clothes. Huddled around the fire with hot coffee, bread and jam we strapped on our packs and headed back to Ranvetlan village. Even though we missed seeing the fiery volcano, four nations had joined together for an out-of-this-world wilderness experience! " 'Tankyu' Yannick!"
NAMBAS - PENIS WRAPS AND BARE BREASTS
September 24, 2014 Anchored at Vetgod village, Banam Bay, South Malacula Island, only yacht.
What a beautiful bay with great protection from prevailing winds. We lower the dingy and almost instantly a flock of naked kids come running along the beach to greet us. We secure the dinghy and are mobbed by kids between 2 - 10 years. John Eddy Saitol accompanies them. He is the spokeman for the village. Everyone is so friendly and speaks fairly good English. We notice how poor they are. The women are wearing torn and soiled dresses and the children are running around with little to no clothes. But the smiles and hospitality is uplifting and they are delighted to see us. The village is small big the spirit is big! While I am visiting the ladies, Lionel is arranging for the men and women to perform a traditional ceremonial dance.
Tomorrow comes and we are asked to show up in the forest at 3:30 pm. Before we go we learn that the two major cultural groups are the Big Nambas and Small Nambas. The Small Nambas' men wear only one pandanus leaf around the penis and tucked into a bark belt. The testicles are exposed. Big Nambas men wrap large purple pandanus leaves around their penis. The loose ends are secured in a thick bark belt. As we arrive we are greeted by the 'Small Nambas' men. They shake our hand and present a fresh garland of leaves around our neck. The Tamtams are ready to beat a rhythm and the dance begins. There are chants and intricate steps back and forth on the earth dance floor in the forest. It's awesome, it's wild, it's extraordinary! The costumes, the movements, the tamtams, the spirit - all stunning. We love it! And above all, it was a Birthday surprise for me!
The women are not to be outdone by the men. In another part of the forest we find a robust energetic group of women and several children ready to perform for us in their flowing grass skirts and bare breasts. The chants begin and the dancing begins with the beat of the Tamtam echoing through the trees of the jungle. Tamtams beat. Bare feet stamp the earth. They smile and invite me to join in. I want this forest-dancing experience to last forever. Some of the small children are shyly perched on the periphery and taking it all in. The jungle-forest, the dancing, the beautiful smiling ni-Van women and their ancient living culture.....never to be forgotten.
Thank you Lionel for my unforgettable birthday present.
MY VILLAGE, MY GARDEN, MY ISLAND
In the outer islands the ni-Vans' mission and purpose in life is to protect the land. The islanders boast of their life-style, "I can go to my garden, go fishing, lie under a mango tree, play with my children and grandchildren, weave, carve, sit and tell stories, dance, walk and dream. If we have our land, we can have this life." However, in our travels throughout the remote islands of the South Pacific and its villages, we can see that things are not always rosy in the outer islands. Most people have little money to educate their children and see that their families have proper health care. Members of some families are forced to move to the 'city' to find work to help support their families in the outer islands.
For two Canadians, we are here in Vanuatu to celebrate the culture, the land, the beauty and the extraordinary happy people of the villages who have smiles a mile wide. During the day in the village children play under the glittering sun. Women are coming and going from the family garden, the weaving assembly and the meeting hut where they sell their goods i.e. baskets, purses and mats. The woven purses are irresistible - I now have a dozen of these gorgeous fine-woven gems. The women are also busy looking after the babies and preparing the evening meal. We take it all in. It's exotic. The culture, their traditions and their spirituality overwhelms us. How fortunate we are to experience such happiness and peace. Men are taking care of their crops, and some are fishing, hunting or building outrigger canoes. Others are carving, drinking Kava and meeting in the Nakamal, the men's clubhouse, where they talk about matters of their village and country.
At Lolong village on Pentecost Island we feel at home with the hospitality extended to us. Michael and Mary are preparing a dinner of all local foods for the sailing yachts Sea Whisper, Windkist and Don Leon. The Chief of the village, Joseph, walks us all along the dirt paths and roads through the village. People are going about their day, many of them silencing themselves under the shade of a large banyan tree. We meet and greet many smiling women and children. We chat. We buy handbags. We look and see. The culture, traditions and spirituality overwhelms us. Exotic. How fortunate we are to experience such peace and happiness.
DIVING IN FIJI AND VANUATU
Lionel and I experienced some wonderful underwater adventures on Namena Island in Fiji.
In the warm waters of Namena in Fiji we dove Grand Central Station, The Rainbow Wall and The Pillars. What a thrill to experience such a grand underwater tropical garden of soft and hard corals, an amazing number of fish species including barracuda and white and black tip sharks. Awesome!
In Vanuatu we dove the luxury-liner/trrop ship wreck of the USS President Coolidge. We were able to dive through various parts of the largest and most accessible shipwreck in the world. This ship was sunk after hitting a friendly mine in 1942. Five Thousand troops were rescued.
It was a bit spooky diving through cargo holds and bathrooms, etc.
The dive site of Million Dollar Point where thousands of tonnes of military gear and equipment was discarded and dumped into the ocean rather than give it to the local Government who refused to pay 6 cent on the dollar.
Sea Whisper's adventures to be continued in 2015.
Adventure 18 Fiji 2
30 September 2014
THE FAMILY VISITS FIJI….BULA FIJI
On July 2, 2014 a little Air Fiji Cessna airplane appears in the distance and then drops out of sight to the bottom of the grass strip to land up hill on the beautiful island of VANUA BALAVU. Today is a special flight from Suva, the capital of Fiji. Out hops 6 passengers, 4 of whom are John, Camie, Blake and Nolan Bentham from Victoria, BC. Our family. They are carting their hand luggage, pillows (for sleeping on the plane), vegetables and fruit from the Suva capital farmer’s market, a load of fishing lures and a fishing rod! Whew, after traveling quite a distance they have arrived safely from Canada to join Sea Whisper for 2 weeks in the ‘LAU Island group’. Whoopee – they have landed here to visit Fiji’s wild frontier and to explore the remote villages of the northern LAU Island group, and the schools; to learn about the Fijian culture, to play rugby with the kids, to attend village feasts and have a lot of fun and just to hang out as they say! Add to the mix water sports, swimming, snorkeling, wakeboarding and fishing. The dance begins in the sunshine of the villages and the warm waters of the Lau!!
Prior to their connecting flight to the Lau, the 4 of them had spent 1 ½ days in Suva, the multi-cultural capital of Fiji. There they were introduced to Fiji’s two cultures…Fijian and Indo-Fijian peoples, the students from the University of the South Pacific (of 12 Pacific Nations) and the grand Municipal market with all its cabbages and Kava amongst a ton of other farm-market produce.
Bula is the Fijian Hello. It’s the best known word in the Fijian language.
For the next 2 weeks Sea Whisper will be our family home together. We are excited to plan our days and pack them with culture and adventure. We will explore the hidden villages and, with the single word ‘BULA’, be adopted by the locals. Soaking up the Fijian friendliness and affection and the glittering scene that surrounds us will be a world class experience. Let’s get started!
DALACONI, A REMOTE VILLAGE IN NORTHERN LAU
We are off the tourist track! Within the 330 islands most Fijians live in villages with their extended family or clan and a Hereditary chief. Blake and Nolan look around and soon realize that life is pretty simple here in the village of Dalaconi. There are no stores, no TV or Recreation Center…. only a supply ship stopping once a month with supplies from Suva. They people are poor. They have so few material things. But they are rich in other ways. In this small village of Dalaconi, everyone helps each other and they share what they have with friends and family. They are sustained by food sources from the land and the sea, living the lifestyle that their ancestors lived. The men, women and children are happy enjoying their freedom in this Pacific paradise. When we approach them their faces are calm, wide and plain with a wee bit of curiosity as they intently gaze at us. And now after meeting Lionel and me, the villagers are very keen to get to know the family. We are interested in them; they in us. We soon become friends. Today in this small hidden village of Dalaconi on Vanua Balavu Island in Fiji we will perform our SEVUSEVU and be accepted into their family.
We thought 2 boys 11 and 13 yrs. would seem a bit shy and somewhat bewildered at the thoughts of wearing a wrap-around skirt (Sulu) to meet the Chief and perform our Sevusevu, the traditional ceremony for visitors to be accepted into a Fijian village. We give ourselves a little briefing on village protocol: no hats, sunglasses, never to touch a Fijian’s head and to sit with our legs crossed in front. We practice, Bula (hello), Vinaka (thank you) and Goodbye (moce). Off we go with our bundle of ‘waka’(kava) in hand. The Chief is delighted to meet 2 smart young lads from Canada. He places them on each side of him in a hearty warm embrace. But before we begin John is invited to the back garden to pound the Kava with the big steel mallet. Pound, pound, pound. The Kava root is now a fine powder to be mixed with rain water and squeezed through a silk cloth. Back to the ceremony and the silence, sitting cross-legged; boys in their Sulus, girls in their Sarongs. How smart we all look. The ‘mixer’ of the Kava circles the Tanoa (Kava bowl) with his hands indicating the Kava is ready to drink. The chants begin and the Chief receives the first offering in his personal Bilo. Then the Bilos (drinking bowl made from the coconut shell) are passed around in silence and we all take our turn sipping the muddy chalky substance. The silence is broken with the Cobo claps. Everyone is smiling and we now have completed an age-old tradition. We introduce ourselves and talk (talanoa) about our travels. We have enjoyed this unique experience. ‘Pa’ the Chief’s sister magically prepares a luncheon spread of grilled fish, fish with coconut, yams, spinach and cassava for all of us. We are one family.
THE SCHOOL, THE PLANTATION, THE RUGBY, THE VILLAGE
We all walked to the SCHOOL on the edge of the plantations. Here the boys found the friendly teachers and the students in their crisp blue and white uniforms. I must say my grandsons also look very smart in their Sulus and Fiji shirts. This is a primary school – grades 1 to 7. Already we recognize Melanie from the village. She is smiling at us and welcomes us into her class. Melanie, who speaks impeccable English is a very bright 12 year old and wants to be a Doctor some day. The boys are eager to pass out the pencils, pens, flags and Canada pins we have brought for the students….all 26 boys and girls. There were more boys than girls. Each student stood up from their simple wood desk and bench-seat and told us their name and their age. Voila! We’re making new friends and we’re told there is RUGBY after school in the small field. Blake and Nolan chit chat with the kids and make friendly connections. Kids of all ages play in the dirt, on a rough grass field or the village beach. Even though life is different here, kids are kids and Blake and Nolan found out that there is a common bond between Fijian and Canadian kids.
Walking in the hot sun on the dirt road to the PLANTATIONS, we notice a mass of vegetation. There are banana trees, coconut trees, papaya trees, mango trees and lemons, limes and oranges. The crops on the ground are casaba, yams, taro and some spinach and pumpkin. And of course Kava bushes. Our eyes are dancing in all directions as we take it all in. All of us are genuinely curious about all that we see: The male villagers in bare feet coming and going on the narrow dirt roads branding their machetes and the men and women packing large palm-grass baskets laden with fruits and vegetables that they will take back to their village. A horse passes by with the rider balancing a load of wood for the kitchen fires in the village. The family is humbled by the every day villagers’ routine of gathering food from the land and the sea. An indescribable scene.
It was time to play RUGBY with the village kids. Every male from five to forty plays rugby in Fiji everyday on the smallest patch of grass! Blake and Nolan are very athletic and fit right in with the village boys (and girls). My, how they stood out with their blonde hair and fair skin amongst all the dark Fijians! What fun to watch all these spirited kids as they ran, laughed, talked and tossed themselves around.
Every young male aspires to be a rugby star in Fiji. Fijians are fanatical about their rugby game. Even the smallest patch of dirt plays host to a rugby scrimmage. And then there’s the big leagues….. Pacific Nations Cup with Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Australia, NZ and Japan. Genius on the rugby field can translate into political power! In Suva, the atmosphere at the match we attended between Fiji and Italy at the National stadium was electrifying! 15% OF THE Fiji population is registered Rugby players!
Our family had the opportunity to observe life in the hidden VILLAGES in front of the lush mountains of Northern Lau. It was fascinating for us to be part of the village life observing how simple, basic and not too ambitious their daily existence appears. Inside their tin and straw and bamboo houses we observe how the families live in very small primitive spaces. How their mothers and grandmothers prepare simple food in sooty metal pots on wood fires on dirt floors inside smoky ‘Kitchen Houses’. In a separate house the families sleep (many children in one room). Blake and Nolan visited Melanie and her brother’s house one morning before school. In their blue and white uniforms, the school kids sat on the ground by an open fire eating their pancakes that their Grandmother ‘Bru’ had prepared.... blue smoke wafting in the air inside the small kitchen house. At the lunch break the boys and girls walk from the school back to their village for lunch - fish, casaba and rice. Not your conventional Canadian lunch-box lunch! We watched the women make coconut oil, weave mats and purses, wash clothes in pails and cook the family meals on open fires. The men were catching fish, walking around with machetes, working in their plantations, fixing their boats and drinking the Kava. One day, in Dalaconi Village, while Camie is visiting the village women who are weaving and making cocoanut oil she meets Maja and her little baby and they have a wonderful visit….young mothers. Maja with jet black hair, Camie with long blonde hair. Striking contrasts.
John can be seen a few yards away on the beach with another ‘yachtie’. They are helping Joe, the village spokesman who is a keen fisherman, fix his outboard motor on his fishing boat. Joe shows us wicked scars from shark bites while spear-fishing at night on the outside of the reef. He limits his fishing to inside the lagoon now.
The boys are mixing it up with the local village kids with a rugby game on the beach. This day has captured magical moments. BULA Fiji!
John is a keen fisherman. Very soon he is rigging the gear and on day 3, with 2 lines in the water; one with a Tom Mac spoon and the other a feather, we get 2 hits…a double header. With Lionel’s encouragement John hurls the yellow-fin tuna on the boat keeping tension on the line - never mind wasting time with a gaff or net! Wow, both slippery tuna are sprawled on the aft deck. Rod and hand lines go in all directions. Towels quickly wrap the heads of the fish to calm them down. Hang on tight should the powerful tails start slapping you!
VILLAGE FISHERMEN Regardless of the weather the men of Dalaconi village strike out at dusk in their open boats to the outside of the reef where the seas and surf are strong and fierce. Here for 3 to 4 days at a time they fish, fish, fish for the big tuna. Can you imagine the discomfort of hanging out and upside down in a 15 ft. open boat in the heavy rolling sea hoping to catch big tuna on hand lines with the most rudimentary gear. Some of these fish are sold at the bigger markets. The ‘Catch of the Day’ becomes paramount as fish is the mainstay of the Fijian diet and also the prime fare at village feasts and ceremonies.
THE KID BOAT
A banner in the Marqueses Islands in French Polynesia spelled out ‘Kid Boat’. Onboard Sea Wisper were 2 kids and their parents. Sea Whisper did not have a banner but we had 2 great kids …Blake just about 13 and his brother Nolan 11.They were active and busy with water sports every day- swimming, diving, snorkeling and wakeboarding. Yes, a wakeboard in the remote islands of Fiji! It’s a good thing that we were the only boat in the anchorage. At 0700 hrs. Nolan could be heard calling from the aft deck “Lionel, Lionel, let’s go for a wake-board! Off they went spinning around the nooks and crannies of the Bay of Islands, an idyllic group of islands in the northern Lau. And then it was time for a snorkel out to a reef or a swim with their mum around an island. Snacks were a big part of the day. Popcorn, chips and cookies. And if the kids were not too tired, mixing bread and baking oatmeal cookies was part of the day’s activity.
And at night the stars in the Southern Hemisphere made for interesting entertainment. The Southern Cross is my special star and Noley’s too! In their journals Blake and Nolan wrote all the words and phrases that were part of each day.
AN OVERNIGHT PASSAGE
Log entry July 7, 2014 Enroute to Viani Bay from Bay of Islands
0000 17 09.4S 179 13.5W SOG 6.1 COG 274 W ESE 10-12 kn.
It was midnight and passage out through the reef went smoothly, retracing our route in through the pass. Slight swell. Wing on wing. Family crew doing well.
And then at 1000 hrs in the morning we hear, “Fish on, Fish on!” John has just nailed a big Dorado (20 lbs). He hand lines it carefully to the boat and with everyone holding their breath he heaves the big fish onto the aft deck. What excitement onboard with only 7.5 miles to go to Viani Bay!
A good passage wouldn’t you say?
THE FEAST AND THE CABBAGE PATCH
The first day we arrive at Viani Bay there is a feast at Jack’s place. Jack is the local Fiji guide who arranges snorkeling and diving and fishing and feasts for the Yachties! The Fijian women and men at the waterfront village have roasted a pig, and cooked fish, chickens and vegetables in their ‘Lovo’ ovens.
We headed to the beach for the feast; John, Camie, Blake and Nolan’s first very big Fijian feast…and what a feast it was!
The Cabbage Patch is a local famous reef for snorkeling. Off we went the next day with a catamaran full of people with Jack as our guide to the Cabbage Patch…..a coral garden profuse with Coral Cabbages as big as a room. Blake and Nolan were constantly free diving down the vertical drop-offs to the cabbages, the brilliant corals and the many species of fish. At the end of it all we caught a nice ‘Walu’ while motoring back to the anchorage. It was a big fish to share and it was delicious on the BBQ.
A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
We decided to go ashore and stretch our legs. After getting vague directions to follow a jungle path to another bay on the other side of the island we struck out from Viani Bay. We walked and walked through rainforest and cocoanut plantations and suddenly out of the wilderness appeared a group of indigenous Fijians. Oh my, we were startled. But after our “Bula, Bula” introduction there were big smiles and gestures to follow them. Three families were living together in what is considered a Settlement. They guided us to their primitive dwellings and weaving hut and plantation. Kids, dogs, adults, cows and chickens surrounded us. “This is a National Geographic experience,” proclaims Camie. We passed out Sea Whisper pens, and ‘Canada’ pins. You would have thought they won the lottery; they were so excited and grateful. Two of the children offered to show us the way to the bay across the island. After walking a great distance we stopped at another plantation and decided to turn back. Waving goodbyes to the ‘Settlement’ we struck out on the jungle path back to Sea Whisper. A textbook adventure!
A JUNGLE WALK TO THE HOT SPRINGS
At Fawn Harbour on Viti Vanua Island, another Sevusevu ceremony with the Chief a traditional village. The next day something different: a journey to the Hot Springs at Fawn Harbour. And where are they? A few inquiries to the route resulted in “Follow the creek.” This we did. Tripping over boulders in the stream, climbing up the banks of the flowing creek, squeezing through barbed-wire fences and tramping through plantations we kept forging ahead. “This can’t possibly be correct,” I shouted ahead to Lionel who was leading the pack. “Just follow the creek,” was his response.” I was dragging up the rear and kept plodding along. About an hour later we came to some hot pools in the middle of the bamboo jungle. What a find! We dumped our laundry in the hot pools. The shampoo and body wash went into high gear and the scrubbing began. In no time we had clean laundry and whistle clean hair and skin! Back to Sea Whisper down the creek bed.
THE FINAL STOP …..SPLIT ROCK AND SAVUSAVU
Rated as one of the best places to snorkel in Fiji is Split Rock near Jacques Cousteau Resort, a lavish beach front resort and Vila. With masks, slippers, goggles and ‘Go Pro’ we head to the coral reefs. Our discovery - an array of stunning fish…some small and some big. Oh, oh I see a shark! I come to the surface and call out “Shark, Shark!” Some of us got to see the White Tip as he cruised down below us. And later at the outside barrier reef we snorkeled and found more wonderful fish, soft and hard corals and more sharks. The boys were thrilled!
At the Jacques Cousteau we pretended to be tourists and indulged ourselves with exotic fruity drinks with little umbrellas. That’s all our budget allowed….The price tag for one night is $1,000. I might add the hefty rate includes meals and a kid’s club!!
The little town of SAVUSAVU is known as the prettiest town on Vanua Levi. It’s set on a Peninsula with lovely views across the bay. A great place for Yachties to visit and stock up on supplies and provisions and pick out a good restaurant. And indeed we did. “Surf and Turf” is the name of an outstanding family restaurant serving extraordinary local food. The catch of the day ‘Wahu’ in a curry sauce was the favourite of Camie’s and my choice was a grilled fish in a black bean sauce. It took forever to eat but I enjoyed every morsel! Our farewell dinner was mixed in with Celebration for Blake and Nolan’s summer birthdays. Cake and homemade delicious ice cream was the finale of this exquisite meal!
And the last day a picnic lunch at Blue Lagoon and then off to the airport and back to Canada. We have had the most exciting, cultural and adventurous holiday together in the stunningly beautiful cruising waters of Fiji. John, Camie, Blake and Nolan announced that their holiday was filled everyday with many “Once-in-a Lifetime-Moments.” BULA FIJI.
BARBARA AND LIONEL AT A FIJI WEDDING
On the this day Lionel and I attended a wedding in a village on the other side of Vanua Balavu. How honored we were to sit with the Bride and Groom in their Wedding costumes. The feast was elaborate…the women cooking for days on end and still every moment of the ceremonious day going at it in the back gardens spread all over the ground with their pots and pans and cutting, chopping fish, lobster, clams, cassava, yams, spinach, beans and foods we did not recognize. We sat with the bride and groom and indulged ourselves in the finest of feasts. Our wedding gift: A nice tray with a big red and white Maple leaf on it, 2 special pens from Sea Whisper and a few Fiji dollars.
DIVING AT NAMENA ISLAND
Lionel and I discovered a secluded island paradise with some extraordinary diving. It is only 25 miles from Savusavu and offers the best diving in Fij,
a Marine Reserve. The first day we snorkeled and discovered magnificent soft corals and bommies and deep drop offs. But the world class experience came the following 2 days when we did 3 scuba dives: Grand Central Station, Rainbow Wall and The Chimneys! Wow…we discovered patch reefs and coral gardens in glorious colour illuminating the sea, channels, tunnels, and vertical pillars that were simply alive with schools of fish, sharks and little macro critters of the ocean. Taking the Padi scuba course in New Zealand was definitely worth it. What an amazing dive experience! Not to be forgotten.
CUTTING SUGAR CANE AND MILKING COWS IN VUDA, VANUA LEVU
We were fascinated with the sugar cane industry on Vanua Levu. The cane is harvested for 6 months between June and December. Dusty fields of the tall cane can be seen waving in the hot sun. Walking to an Indo-Fijian village we got invited to a farm with 40 acres of sugar cane being harvested. And guess who had a chance to hack away at the canes with a big machete? Cane-cutter Lionel. The cane workers, who are mainly Indo-Fijian begin work at 0600 and cut cane until 1500 hrs. when they load the truck that takes the cane to the factory. The SUGAR CANE TRAIN rattles along on a small track with cars and cars of cut cane. So picturesque! We ended up getting invited to Brig and Sarusa’s home for a curry dinner with dahl, rice, mango pickle, roti proceeded by KAVA! All in the day of village life in Vuda, Fiji.
MILK THE COWS
I think my story rivals Lionel’s sugar cane. On my early morning walk to the Indo-Fijian village passing sugarcane and vegetable farms I met a farmer who had 7 cows. Two of these cows were milking cows. “What time do you milk your cows?” I asked. “Seven in the morning,” he answered. When I invited myself to help milk his cows he took me up on the offer. “Show up tomorrow at 7 and you can milk the cow.’ At 0700 I arrived at his farm, As he was finishing saying morning prayers. We began to milk the cows. It took me way back to my childhood in Deep Cove when as a kid I helped my mom and dad milk the old ‘bossy’. What a hoot! I can still see the astonishment on this Indo-Fijian farmer’s face!
With that we will sign off this adventure in Fiji as Sea Whisper, after some repairs, heads west to Vanuatu. A new adventure awaits us!