The other morning at 7am, Apex, one of the employees of Dive Academy Fiji, swung by in his longboat to pick us up.
Apex and Eric
After visiting SCOOTS, he swung by Rewa, Waianiwa, and Peregrine, picking up more passengers. Altogether, there were nine of us: Eric and I from SCOOTS; Dave, Tessa, Nick, and Heike from Rewa; Joe and Michelle from Peregrine, and 9-year-old Wilson from Waianiwa. Wilson had been a recent addition to our group, having been invited by Tessa after meeting him and his family at a beach function the previous evening. Wilson was a great addition to our group - smart, funny, comfortable around adults. He and Tessa chatted nonstop with each other for the entire day, while the rest of us took silent bets on who would wear out first. In the end, neither did.
The occasion? Our friend, Dave, perpetually optimistic and always looking for an adventure (you may remember him from our "Daventure" to and from Labasa a few weeks back) had arranged a trip for all of us across the Somosomo Strait to the nearby island of Taveuni, where we would combine a necessary trip to town to fill up our dinghy gas cans and buy some groceries, with a visit to a national park where we would hike to three waterfalls.
Though I fully expected a wet ride across the Strait, it was completely splash-free and beautiful: the water in the Strait was calm, dolphins surfaced lazily nearby, and a rainbow arced across to Taveuni.
It was a good start to what would be a great day.
Heike, Nick and Tessa
Nearing shore twenty minutes later, Apex navigated deftly between submerged coral bommies, tipped up the outboard, got out, pulled the boat across the ankle-deep water and threw an anchor out onto the wet sand.
The rest of us hopped out and sloshed across the shallows (cruisers never arrive anywhere completely dry) to the beach. Except for Wilson, who was wearing socks and sneakers: without a word, Apex hoisted Wilson onto his shoulder and carried him to the beach, where he deposited him on the dry sand.
Once on shore, we waited a few minutes for the van that had been hired to carry us to all our destinations on Taveuni, to arrive.
When it did, our driver, Samuel, greeted us and off we went, in air-conditioned comfort. Our first stop was the Total gas station, where Eric and Dave left their gas jugs, to be filled later on our return.
Dave and his gas can
Our next stop was half an hour later, at the Matei Airport, the only airport on Taveuni, where we stretched our legs and had a bathroom break. A bit farther along, we stopped at a surprisingly-well-stocked store that had things like Peter Pan peanut butter, those cumin/coriander wraps we like, and other kavalangi delights. They also had warm roti, stuffed with curried veggies, that many of us bought for breakfast. Knowing that we were going grocery shopping later on, I only bought a couple packages of the wraps. I should have bought more: this store was much better supplied than the supermarket we visited later.
Another thirty minutes down the road - the pavement having ended, it was now composed of rutted dirt and rocks- we entered the Bouma Heritage Park, a big tract of land (you fans of "Monty Python's Holy Grail" can do the corresponding hand motions if you'd like) that has been set aside as a nature reserve. Within the park were the Tavoro Waterfalls, a series of three scenic cascades, that we'd come to see.
We each paid our $36FJ entrance fee to the ranger, and after studying the colorful drawing depicting the trail and the waterfalls, we were on our way.
The trail map
Ten minutes down a well-manicured trail with pretty plantings alongside, we reached the first waterfall.
The first part of the trail
The waterfall was pretty,
but the water in the pool at the bottom was cold, definitely too cold for me to swim, and in fact none of us did, since we hadn't even broken a sweat yet. Though this was about to change.
The second waterfall, according to the drawing, could be reached after another 40-minute hike. This portion of the trail also began with a manicured pathway that stretched along a ridge, but soon added switchbacks and stairs as it began to climb up the side of the mountain. I stopped a few times to catch my breath and look around for birds.
Everyone stopped for a few minutes at a strategically-placed gazebo that was situated about a third of the way along the trail, in a beautiful spot, overlooking a green valley filled with jungle and fields, and the ocean beyond.
The view from the gazebo
Beyond the gazebo, the track quickly degraded into mud, roots, and rocks, with some dirt-filled stairs thrown in at the steepest parts.
I'm happy to report that here in Fiji, they space the steps at a more comfortable height and distance for someone with short legs, such as myself, than they do in New Zealand, where the average person must have longer legs. Still, I let everyone go on ahead, while I walked slowly, watching and listening for birds in the thick jungle.
I kept hearing a bird calling. It had a loud, clear whistle, with one tone, like the first note of a "wolf whistle." I couldn't see the bird, but its call was easy to mimic, so I did, whistling in the same tone and rhythm as it did, as I walked along the muddy trail.
Soon a bird fluttered quickly across the trail behind me, and disappeared into a thick tangle of leaves and vines. It called; I called back. After a few more calls, it flashed back across the path in the other direction. This time, I caught a glimpse of a bird about the size of a mockingbird, with rusty-red plumage, as it streaked by into the foliage. We played the call-and-repeat game for a few more minutes before it stopped calling. I never got a good look at it, but from comparing pictures of the possible species, and listening to their calls on the internet, I was able to determine that it was a female black-faced shrikebill.
A female black-faced shrikebill (from eBird)
A little while later, sweaty, muddy, and tired, I arrived at the second waterfall. Everyone else was already there, having arrived quite a bit earlier.
Adventurers Heike and Nick had opted to take an alternate path that required two river crossings, and were in the process of sharing the tale of their harrowing experience. (They didn't take that path on the way back down the mountain.)
Eric said that he'd seen a really cool crab on the trail, and he'd called and whistled for me, hoping I was close enough to come see it. Apparently, I was too far away, and too engrossed in my conversation with the shrikebill, so it was gone by the time I got there.
When I arrived at the second waterfall, everyone else was ready to move to the third, so after a quick glance at the waterfall,
I headed back onto the muddy trail and continued on. Once again, I let everyone go on ahead of me, so I could meander along more slowly, watching and listening. I don't know whether I'd become accustomed to the exercise or to the slippery unpredictability of the trail, or if it wasn't quite as steep, or if I was just buoyed from my interaction with the shrikebill, but this portion of the trail felt the most enjoyable to me. Even though it was every bit as muddy and slippery as the other part of the trail, just as strewn with gnarled and twisted tree roots and sharp, fist-sized rocks, and the humidity and heat just as sweat-inducing.
A flash of dark blue and white caught my eye, as a pair of small birds flew across the path right in front of me. One landed in a fairly open area of vines, so I could get a really good look at it. They were silktails! Really pretty, strikingly-colored birds. I never expected to see a silktail, as they only inhabit the jungles of Taveuni and portions of Vanua Levu. But there they were!
A photo (not mine) of a silktail
Now I was feeling really stoked - but also really sweaty - so when I finally reached the third waterfall a few minutes later, I set down my backpack and walked into the water, without even slowing down. It wasn't warm. I didn't care. It felt great. Everyone else was also in the water, enjoying the cool respite after the hike. I sat in the waterfall pool, splashing cool water onto my face and hair, washing away the sweat.
But not the mud. This stuck tenaciously to my toes and ankles and calves, and no amount of rubbing with my wet fingers would remove it. It was no big deal, though...I'd probably collect some more on my hike back down the mountain.
Van and Eric at the third waterfall
After an hour or so enjoying the waterfall and its pool, we shouldered our packs again and began the trek down the mountain.
The purple crab that Eric had seen earlier made another appearance, standing his ground in the middle of the trail, turning to face each one of us who tiptoed carefully around him, white-tipped claws raised and ready to defend his patch of ground. I had to admire his courage and tenacity. Eric joked that it looked like the crab wanted to extract a toll from us.
Back at the visitor center, we took shelter from a sudden rainstorm and chattered about what a great time we'd had on the hike. Samuel and the van were waiting for us, so we piled in and began bumping along the dirt road, back to town. Most of an hour later, at about 3:00, we arrived in Somosomo, hungry for lunch. Our lunch options were limited to two small curry shops. We chose the one upstairs over the supermarket, and descended on the lunch counter ladies, who up until then were probably thinking that they could go home soon. They were out of almost everything, but they agreed to make a new batch of chicken curry if enough of us wanted some. Most of us did.
After lunch, we trooped downstairs to the supermarket, hoping to restock our boat larders. But...many of the shelves were empty. We learned, then, that the ferry that normally supplies Taveuni hadn't been running for several days, and so many items were in short or no supply. There was no flour, for instance, and so no bread in the bakeries. Fortunately, the store still had some of our favorite crackers - NamKeen cumin crackers - "Thoda salty, thoda spicy. Full Masti!" We bought several packs of these, along with some cans of tuna, and rolls of toilet paper and paper towels, and then headed down the street to find some fresh fruits and vegetables.
Rather than occupying a building, the produce market in Somosomo extends along the main street, comprising maybe a dozen plywood stalls, each piled high with papayas, citrus, cabbages, bananas, cassava roots, tomatoes, and those tiny little red and green nuclear chili peppers. We bought some papayas, tomatoes, Fijian limes (which are green on the outside but orange on the inside), and a cabbage, and then headed back to the van.
Samuel drove us back to the Total gas station, where Eric and Dave picked up their full gas cans, and then to the beach, where Apex's boat was again floating in ankle-deep water, the tide having come in and gone back out while we were away. We divvied up the cost of our van trip nine ways, paid Samuel, and then carried our groceries, gas cans, and backpacks across the shallows, and loaded them and ourselves into Apex's boat.
We enjoyed another smooth ride across the Somosomo Strait, arriving back in Viani Bay just after sunset. Apex stopped first at Waianiwa to reunite Wilson with his family, who were probably relieved to have him back, as we'd returned a few hours later than we'd predicted. Then he visited each boat in turn, dropping the rest of us off, tired, satisfied, and smeared with mud after another great Daventure.