I feel like it's been awhile since I've written anything. Now I guess I'll make up for it. I hope everyone is well and having a good summer. We do miss the New England summer and all the fun things to do at that time of year. The update on the generator pump is that it became evident that the original pump we ordered was never going to actually materialize, we could tell- and sure enough we've gotten no call or email as promised from the chandlery at Copra Shed. So we ordered one from the USA and hope it arrives here before we leave Fiji. We'd given the old pump to an electrician who thought he could fix it but instead, he returned it to Jon is worse shape than before. But unlike dad's chainsaw, we didn't have to pay for it to come back to us in pieces. So Jon spent part of 2 days using fiberglass, solder, a drill & a lot of ingenuity and got the darn thing working again! It leaks like a sieve since the seal is bad but we are able to use it for the short term. He also fixed the camera case using PVC cement, borrowed from another cruiser. So if you get a crack in your polycarbonate underwater camera case, you can use the 2 part PVC cement to fix it. We haven't taken it scuba diving yet since there's been no opportunity but for snorkeling it has been leak free. It is a desperate feeling that you just can't get anything you need in these faraway places. Meanwhile something breaks nearly every day, I kid you not. It might just be a lightbulb that stops working due to corrosion or the brushes in the autopilot need replacing when we're underway or the discovery that the mouthpieces on our scuba regulators are falling apart (and we have no spare) or the outboard is puffing extra smoke or the alternator stops putting out power due to a loose ground wire, but it's always something every day and it takes time & worry to troubleshoot. Yesterday, Jon's sunglasses crumbled but this is the spare pair since the prescription pair apparently fell off somewhere on the day we did the waterfall hike. You can use the soldering iron to melt plastics together and if you need more plastic such as he did for the coffee maker, you just melt some of a plastic fork or something similar! So each day, I say to Jon: “Good job fixing the (whatever it is that broke today) since he has been Mr Handy Man this trip more than ever. We've been on this Evergreen for nearly 14 years now (our first boat was a 31 foot Cape Dory also named Evergreen) and what still feels like new isn't anymore even though we're constantly replacing old things with new!
I had put some pictures on Picasa and linked a couple onto the beginnings of a blog entry since I knew we'd have no internet for pictures in the Lau Group of Fiji. Did you know that any picture on Sailblogs should be clickable and take you to Picasa where we have a bunch more? Once on Picasa you can arrow through the pictures in the album attached to that Sailblogs entry or you can choose one of the other albums from different places we've visited. We haven't figured out how to make it easy to go from Picasa to Sailblogs, only Sailblogs to Picasa.
We spent a couple of days at a windy anchorage at the top of the island of Taveuni since we wanted to do some hiking with Vaughn & Sharon on Reality & Richard and Ali on Vulcan Spirit. So we rented a taxi for the day starting at 7am in order to get to the parks at the tip of the island. It was $90 Fijian for the day which is $45US and we divided this number between the 3 couples. So as you can see, it is affordable to do things here! There was a bakery across the street and we all planned to get some treats there for the day, having checked the day before to be sure they'd be open. But true to island style, they were open, but there were no treats to be had since no one had made anything. I continue to get hit over the head with this kind of thing. You just can't hope for these things to be like it is back home or anywhere close to it. Throw away your grocery list too while you're at it.
We hiked on 2 lovely trails that day that allowed us to see 5 beautiful waterfalls. My favorite waterfall was the last one since it was set up in the distance from the trail through a beautiful slot in the rocks and the swim up was filled with fish- I had brought my mask. We all swam at the waterfalls and then we'd get out and hike on to the next one. The trails were so carefully groomed and planted it was amazing. Colorful tropical foliage everywhere. The second trail was the popular Lavena Coastal Walk which paralleled the beach for a few kilometers, then turned and headed up a river to my favorite waterfall. Along the way, we passed 2 small Fijian villages with friendly kids and a very subsistence way of life. The kids use the trail to get to & from school and they really enjoyed practicing their English with us. The look so cute in their uniforms and you can't take enough pictures of them- they want their picture taken and then to see it on the camera screen. I have noticed though that we make babies cry. We do look different and they are just plain scared! The drive over to the parks was about 1 ½ hours on a bumpy dirt road, passing lots of farmland and locals tending their plots. They primarily grow coconuts, cassava, bananas, taro, pineapples & kava root. At the market though I've been able to get red leaf lettuce, bok choy, tomatoes, cucumber, green beans and eggplant. We saw a couple of people pushing homemade wheelbarrows. They are made using bamboo sticks for the frame, a coconut for the wheel with a stick through the middle and an old sack for the bucket.
We left Taveuni the next day even though we didn't want to. It would've been a great island to bike on but the wind had switched to the north, the anchorage had become rough and a weather window had opened up to head 175 miles SE to the Lau Group. This island group is one of the most remote and therefore traditional parts of Fiji and it has only been open for sailboats to freely cruise since last year. You can only get there during a weakening or shift in the usual SE trade winds. Of course we all sailed right by them on the way here from NZ but you can't stop since there's nowhere to check in. We reluctantly parted ways with Reality & Vulcan Spirit since they weren't going to Fulanga as we were. The following morning we headed out at dawn and did an overnight to arrive in Fulanga.
Our passage took 29 hours and the weather was beautiful. We crept out of our anchorage at 6am just as it was getting light being careful to follow our GPS track from the trip in since there is reef everywhere. Because it was only one night, we felt pretty relaxed about the trip and just hoped the light winds would hold out until we arrived. We got a mahi mahi on the way and so it was fish for dinner and on the way to Taveuni we got a nice walu which is the Pacific's version of spanish mackeral so we've been flush with fish lately. It was a crystal clear night and the moon rose around midnight scaring me as usual. Even though I remind myself that it will be coming up on my watch, it still appears as a faint orange ball on the horizon and my first instinct is “what the heck is THAT?!” This seems to be universal among sailors and even this same moonrise startled our friends. We arrived the next morning at the pass in time for the tide switch which is important since it's a very narrow pass into a lagoon and all the tidal water has to flow in & out of the lagoon via this pass. There are about 20 boats here in Fulanga right now, all spread out but since most people love to dive & snorkel, there were something like 8 dinghies hovering outside the pass waiting for the same tide switch we were so they could drift dive in. Sort of like a big welcome party and not the usual thing we see. The island of Fulanga is surrounded by reef that forms a lagoon and inside are a zillion mushroom shaped rock islets, some of which have beaches. It's really beautiful & feels very South Pacific.
Our friends on Slip Away & Charisma arrived at the same time we did so we all came in together, got settled and then went ashore to the village to make our first sevusuvu. The sevusevu is the traditional Fijian ceremony that is used for community meetings, life-cycle celebrations and for visitors to seek acceptance into a village as is the case for us. In short, you come ashore dressed in a sulu (a wrap around skirt) with a bundle of yaqona (Fijian for kava) in hand, approach a villager and ask for the Turanga ni Koro who is the elected village headman and you state your wishes. For us it is to meet the village people, to anchor in their waters and to swim on their reefs. He will take you to the village chief and sit you down in a circle on a woven mat across from the chief. You remove your shoes whenever you will step onto a mat. The men need to sit indian style and for this Jon is not really built for. Ladies can sit with legs to the side which is much easier. Anyway, the Turanga ni Koro kneels in front of the chief and says a few sentences in Fijian expressing the purpose of our visit, he slides the kava toward the chief, who then recites some traditional monologue, there are a series of cupped claps called “cobos” and then if all goes well, you're in! They already had kava prepared so we went right into that part of the ceremony rather than have to wait for it to be prepared. A half coconut shell serves as the cup and it is passed around the circle. When you are presented with the cup, you cobo right before you drink it down all at once, then you cobo 3 more times afterward if I remember right. Kava is the root of a pepper plant so within seconds your mouth and lips feel a little tingly but not burning. We stopped at one or two cupfuls since it isn't quite as good as a beer but it was SO good to finally experience this sevu sevu and find out that it wasn't as scary as we'd all thought it would be. There were rumors that you'd have to sit drinking kava for hours or that you could be denied acceptance. I don't see how this could happen; these people couldn't have been more welcoming.
Afterward, a nice man named Matai gave us a tour of the village and we met & shook hands with so many warm & friendly souls it was hard to remember everyone's names. But the kids really steal your heart. I had 2 stuck to me like glue. We walked around the village and met 2 of the 4 teachers, saw the school, the church, a woodcarver at work, a lady dying the pandanus leaves that are used for weaving and admired the unique style of house here that is round and of course landscaped with little flowering shrubs. As is typical of the islands, there is a clinic but no nurse, a generator that doesn't work, a little store but there is nothing in there to buy. A supply ship arrives about every 6-8 weeks and is due this weekend, so that is good for them. We won't be buying anything here though since they only order what they think they need and we would therefore be taking from them. That afternoon, the 6 of us went back back to the anchorage and had happy hour on Slip Away to mull it all over. In a nutshell, the experience in this village named Monacake was a real highlight of our Pacific cruise.
The next day was Sunday and we were all invited to church. Jon & I had originally thought we might walk into the village with Slip Away & Charisma who were going to church, but then skip church ourselves in favor of a walk to the far village to get some much needed exercise. But after talking with a couple of villagers who kind of wondered why we were headed away from instead of toward the church, we quickly realized this wasn't going to go over very well. So we walked with one of the teachers- Davida to the next village and joined him on the church pew for an all Fijian service. We picked out 3 words during the sermon: Obama, America and Martin Luther King. I'm not sure whether they approve of the US or not but they are following the teachings of Martin Luther King. In the middle of the sermon, the chickens outside had a squabble and it was difficult to hear. There's a great deal of singing and volume is important. Babies were frequently passed from one family member to another to keep them quiet and there was a solemn but good vibe going, along with a nice ocean breeze through all the open windows.
Afterward, we were invited for lunch at Davida's uncle's house. Once again, we sat down on a fine woven mat for the meal. A long tablecloth was layed down and the plates & food were set on that. Fortunately, they gave us forks but they eat with their hands. We had delicious fish, octopus, cassava, bananas, Fijian cabbage cooked in coconut milk and we had a coconut to drink from. Afterward, a bowl of water is passed to wash their hands. Mid way through, a one eyed cat entered the room and curled up in the corner to sleep. We were told this special meal is only eaten on Sunday and the rest of the week they eat more simply. We felt very honored to share it with them. The kids did more singing for us in the main courtyard in front of the church and we also just chatted with them. They really crack me up, constantly in motion, hanging all over each other, giving each other joking jabs and trying not to be left out. It seems universal that kids will be kids. They had a hammock by the seashore and they were all piled into it at once. We met back up with Slip Away & Charisma and headed back to our boats. Jon & I went for a quick snorkel late in the day, expecting nothing more than exercise but instead we saw 7 lobsters, a huge eel completely out and posed like a cobra, a juvenile puffer fish (looks like a bright yellow pea) and a bunch of other stuff.
And lastly, today, Jon & I and Jan visited the school. We sat down in the kindergarten and 5/6th grade classes and chatted for a little bit with the kids. The teacher has to translate most of it since even though they teach English, the kids can't speak it very well. We talked about where we came from in the US and how we sailed here. The kids are very well behaved & respectful of us. In the afternoon, we took another quick snorkel, Jon speared one lobster to secure our dinner and then 2 of the teachers (one is Davida) and his wife came out to our boat for a visit since they've never been aboard a sailboat before. We showed them around, showed them the electronic charting since they asked how we knew how to get here and we chatted as much as we could.
No doubt about it, we are worlds apart. But we've never had such a rewarding experience with the members of a village as we have had here and we hope we are making memories for them as well. Before we left on this trip, we sat down at a pizza parlor in Onset, MA, with our friends Mark & Judy on Windbird who had just completed their circumnavigation. They raved to us about Fiji and how special a place it was. Well here we are and we couldn't agree more.