29 June 2009 | Yadua Island, Fiji
Greetings from Yadua Island, Fiji
Even though this anchorage should be totally protected the wind has been screaming over the hill the last three days. It is finally mellowing out so tomorrow (I think) we'll make our way to the Yassawas with Tin Soldier. Sophie's birthday is the 30th and we promised her we'd be at Blue Lagoon for that.
Yesterday we had quite the adventure taking the long hike over the island to the village to do the sevusevu (not to be confused with Savusavu, been there, done that, ate the curry).
Sevusevu is a long-standing tradition whereby visitors to an island or village call upon the chief and offer a gift, or "sevusevu" of Yaqona, also known as Kava. (Kava is a root that when ground and mixed with water produces what looks like muddy water and tastes, well, like muddy water. The drink is said to have mild narcotic or soporific qualities.)
If the chief accepts the sevusevu he will offer a blessing to you and you are welcome to enjoy the beach, the water, the village, etc. In fact, in the past the acceptance of the kava also obligated the chief and villagers to be responsible for your safety and well-being. Sounds like a good trade, eh?
So we're anchored off the beach in Cukuvou Harbor. As I said, the (only) village is on the other side of the island, there's really nothing on this side except for the pretty beach and good snorkeling. Nevertheless, according to our guide book it's considered proper and respectful to go to the village and do the sevusevu. We had waited for i>Tin Soldier to arrive and also for the wind to die down a bit so yesterday was the day we were going to make the trek to the village.
We weren't quite sure where the trail head was, and even where to land the dinghy (the beach is surrounded with reef, making a dinghy landing at low tide impossible). Fortunately for us that morning a small fishing boat with 6 of the villagers came into the anchorage and visited our boat. We chatted for awhile and discovered they had come to the side of the island to do some fishing and to spend the night on the beach. We explained that we were planning to hike to the village to do sevusevu with the chief and they showed us where to land the dinghy.
Once armed with bug spray, snacks, water, etc. we hit the beach. It's a good thing our new friend Sita from the village was there- there's no way we would have found the trail head without him. He led us part of the way up the "trail" which in reality was little more than a goat track- very narrow with lots of overgrowth. So Sita walked with us for a little way and then told us to stay on the "main" trail and it would lead us to the village. He also told us it would take us about 2 hours to get there. As he walked away I jokingly called out, "Hey if we're not back by dark come find us!"
It did indeed take all of 2 hours for us to reach the village- we didn't set out until 1:30 so we were concerned that we wouldn't be able to make it back to the beach before dark. The hike itself isn't particularly strenuous or stressful, but the footing was sometimes unstable- the ground is covered in dead vegetation so it's quite easy to roll your ankle on a hidden rock or hole in the ground. Additionally the reeds and grasses were taller than I am- a machete would not have been out of line here- we had to brush it aside as we made our way. (Here's the part where I'm supposed to let you know that John has a machete and wanted to bring it but I told him that would look silly. Doh!)
When we finally arrived at the village of Denimanu we were instantly greeted by the most amazing and friendly people! The women stopped what they were doing and came over to introduce themselves and greet us with a hug, and a kiss on the cheek. The village itself was very neat and tidy in a picturesque setting with the bures (houses) built amongst giant lava rocks and a beautiful bay.
We explained that we'd come to do sevusevu with the chief. They smiled and told us the chief had gone to Cukuvou (our anchorage!!!) but would be back soon. We explained that we really couldn't wait till he got back because we didn't want to make the hike in the dark. They seemed disappointed that we couldn't stay longer (as were we) but they understood. Then they put there heads together and conferred for a moment and told us we could do the sevusevu with the chief's cousin. One of the women, Salla, escorted us through the village to the chief's cousin's house, and introduced us.
One of the things that really impressed me was how they heard our names once and could remember them. That's pretty good considering that with Tin Soldier there were seven of us. When we got to the cousin's house Salla said, "John, come here. Glen come here, in here. Sophie, come here with me, Marilyn sit here, please." So we got all squared away and the chief's cousin did a very formal and proper sevusevu ceremony with us. It was a rewarding experience and we could tell that it really mattered to them that we'd gone to the effort to respect this tradition.
After the sevusevu we really felt we needed to rush off: we were thinking at this point that if we were lucky we just might get to the beach before dark. We took a few quick pictures of our new friends and headed back up the trail.
Well, guess what? We got lost. We'd been at it for about an hour and the sun was getting really low in the sky. Maddie and I were bringing up the rear and just as I started thinking, "Hmmm, I don't remember that little patch of land" John walked back and said, "Hey, do you remember passing this?" Uh oh. NOBODY remembered that little patch of land. So we had a quick conference and even though we all felt pretty sure we hadn't passed any kind of fork in the road we were all even more sure that we had not passed that patch of land on the way to the village. Nothing to do but turn around and try to find where we'd missed a turn.
So we back-tracked for a bit and came to a section that John and I were SURE we passed on the way to the village. So again we must have missed our turn.
I'm getting a little stressed out now because we're fast running out of daylight, the girls are really tired and some of us Meridian are out of water. Fortunately Tin Soldier still had water and we both had snacks. John had also packed a couple of space blankets, two flashlights, and- bless his heart- a VHF radio. (See, we're not total losers. Don't call Child Protective Services yet.)
We decided our best course of action was to call the boat Sea Esta who was in the anchorage and alert them to our situation. That way, if the need arose (personally I thought it already had) they could dinghy to shore and ask Sita or one of the other villagers spending the night there to come find us. A short while later we turned around and saw an angel, I mean a woman, with a young man coming down the trail. They were on their way to the village. We were so glad to see her! We explained our plight and she walked us back to the nearly invisible (no wonder we missed it) fork in the road where our beach trail split off from the main one.
We said goodbye as she headed to the village and then started off again, this time on the right path. I was still a little nervous about our prospects, however. It was deep dusk and although we had the two flashlights the trail was hard enough to make out in daylight. We all stayed very positive though for the sake of the girls. They were both REALLY tired at this point (walking five hours straight will do that to you!) and a little scared. I assured them that we could at least find the village again and they would take care of us, or the worst that could happen is we would spend the night huddled together under space blankets eating trail mix and granola bars. They didn't find that idea very appealing (although twelve-year-old Jaryd did. He's such a boy!)
So then it got really dark. And it became very difficult to see the trail. Several times we had to stop and scan the area with the flashlights to be sure we were still on the trail. I was beginning to make my case for getting Sea Esta on the radio and asking them to start rescue operations when we see two flashlight beams coming towards us. It was Sita and his brother! They knew we hadn't come back and had become concerned because of the children (thank goodness we had kids with us!) so they'd run up the trail to find us. They even brought extra flashlight. Hurray! We are saved!!
From there it was still another hour to stumble down the path. Even with 5 flashlights it was DARK! When we finally made it to the beach we were given a very warm welcome from the villagers (there were about 10 of them) who were staying there. The women in the group took particular interest in Maddie and Sophie (probably sympathizing that such nice children could have such irresponsible losers for parents) and were hugging and kissing on them quite a bit- they realized that the girls had had a rough time and were working hard to comfort and cheer them.
After thanking them profusely we headed back to our boats and passed out.
The next day we went back to the beach to visit with them again. They had previously told us that the excessive winds during the last several days had prevented them from getting to the mainland for supplies and they were low on sugar. We didn't have any sugar to spare but we were happy to share some of our provisions with them. (We would have done so anyway of course but now that they'd saved our lives I wanted to buy them a car!) We gathered up some food items and batteries, and they were very appreciative. In return they presented us with drinking coconuts and papayas, yum!
John and I both agreed that although we could have done without the Yadua Death March, the experience of meeting these kind, warm, and friendly people is one that we will always treasure.