Bula From Fiji: October 14 2007
Bula from Fiji!! Bula is a Fijian greeting which means "hello/life/welcome" and everyone says it with a smile...from the construction workers to the pedestrians to the store clerks. Fiji is part of Melanesia...smaller in size than Polynesia but with a large population...which includes New Caledonia, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Wallis and Futuna and Papua New Guinea. Fiji has 333 islands...mostly unspoiled with coral reefs, forests, uncrowded beaches and friendly people. Flowers are placed behind ears and trousers are swapped for sulus (skirts worn by both men and women...elsewhere called sarongs or pareas). Fiji was first settled approx 3500 years ago of which little is known of the people...except that the tribes were given the reputation of being "fierce maneaters." And they still get mileage out of that descriptor as they sell "people forks" to tourists. The first European explorer (Dutchman Abel Tasman) sighted Fiji in 1643...Captain Cook followed in 1755 and Captain Bligh in 1789 (after the infamous mutiny on the Bounty). The people of Fiji (population approx 826,000) are a combination of Fijian, Chinese, Indian, colonial European and other Pacific Islands...creating a delicious mix of cuisines (especially amazing curries).
Savusavu is called the hidden paradise of Fiji...with population approx 5,000 people...located on the island of Vanua Levu. It is an area of old plantations, a whaling station (from years back) and geothermal springs. Sugar cane is currently the main product of the area. The Copra Shed Marina (www.savusavufiji.com) is the center of yachting activities. The marina gets its name from the oldest and most historic building in Savusavu...the copra shed (now restored and renovated). Copra is the drying of coconut in order to extract oils for a multitude of future uses. The town is within a few steps of the marina's dinghy dock which makes provisioning and services quite easy and simple.
(9/29) The rain persists but Saturday is the big market day in town and we do not want to miss it. The town is buzzing and everyone is ducking between raindrops. The fresh veggie market is especially full; cucumbers, tomatoes, eggs, cabbage, carrots, cilantro, potatoes, onions, spicy chili peppers and kava (yaqona). Throughout Fiji (and much of Polynesia) kava is a common ceremonial and social custom. It is made from the root of the pepper plant...in days gone by young maidens chewed pieces of the root into a soft, pulpy mass before water was added. Today, the root is ground into a powder before water is added...ah, progress. The liquid resembles dirty laundry water and is said to produce slight hallucinogenic properties...but more often simply a sense of calm.
(10/1) The day is grey but the rain has lightened. Off we went to explore...heading out of town on a dirt road toward the point. We saw flowering plants, wild pineapple, wonderfully large trees resembling old oak trees, dogs scampering (and healthier than we saw in French Polynesia), kids shouting "Bula" from home balconies and the ocean pass into Savusavu. The landscape is lush but seems a little more tame than French Polynesia, somehow. We made it all the way out to the point...a great turnaround spot because the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort (www.fijiresort.com) is there. It is a lovely place...thick thatched roofs over lounge chairs and couches, no walls around bar or restaurant...opening right to the pool and the ocean beyond. We had a cup of tea and then walked back to town. On the way back the funniest thing happened with a local dog...we became his "mule." We were walking along and were joined by a nice looking, medium sized dog. He bounced along beside us sniffing and marking...until...another dog was noticed (clearly the master of that patch of road)...then our little friend walked between us as if we were his body guards. Worked for him and he made it into the next territory. This worked well for him until a group of dogs outnumbered him and flushed him from between us...back he went from where he had started. (Chris - the poor guy was bitten unmercifully and chased into the ocean where he had to swim for safety. The pack ignored us - they just didn't like him walking on their patch of earth)
We have been using the several days of grey and gloom to get boat projects done; loads of cleaning Barefeet inside and out, stainless polishing (with help from some local kids), filling up diesel with jerry runs, re-storing and organizing, laundry, internet stuff (taxes, bills, etc.)...blah, blah, blah. We have also been watching movies...for US$2-3 you can buy a movie on DVD...definitely helped pass the rainy days. Food is delicious here in Savusavu. We have been eating great curries at Captain's Cafe (interestingly...good pizza, too) and Surf & Turf...very flavorful. Plus, the Fijian version of raw fish is called lolo...coconut milk and fresh fish with some peppers and spices...also very good. We have even found a trendy song that we keep hearing. Some call it the "Tonga Rugby" song but it seems that it is actually called "wanna takitaki"...funny part was us trying to hum a few bars for identification. So, it's a South Pacific version of bubble gum pop but it is snappy. We have finally finished our Panama beer and wine. Luckily, Fiji is a pretty good spot for re-stocking these items...PLUS...we have learned about new drink options. Primarily...rum and cola in one can...quite efficient and tasty, too.
Saturday morning (10/6) we headed to the airport and picked up Lino and Phyllis. Chris went to High School with Lino who was on a business trip in Australia...and tacked on a few days at the end with his wife to visit us in Fiji. They safely arrived to the no walls (but covered), dirt floor "airport lounge." Everything immediately started on island time when we learned their bags (as well as everyone else on the plane) would arrive with the next plane...no worries as the airline would drop them at the Copra Shed Marina. Great...off we went for a walk through town and lunch from Captain's Cafe at the Savusavu Yacht Club. Lino and Phyllis are definitely good luck charms for us because it has stopped raining and the sun is out...yippee! We explored Fiji together...ate flavorful Indian curries, sampled delicious raw fish (Chris - Lino was a bit skeptical - but it went down OK), anchored in a quiet anchorage, walked down a dirt road brimming with tropical flowers, snorkeled in clear water with coral and colorful fish...and had time to just catch up and hang out. While anchored at the Point two sunfish (we think that's what they were) took up residence under the boat...seen as shadows below the water. However, we were able to coax them to come closer with bits of pancake...yes, they even nibbled some on the surface...very cool. Lino has become the mayor of Savusavu as he enthusiastically greets everyone he passes with an exuberant, "Bula." Too bad it was only a four day post but the States are calling.
Although Lino and Phyllis have left the sun is still shining...thank goodness. So off we went 10/10 for a leisurely motor sail East along the Southern coast of Vanua Levu Island. It puts a twist in the stomach because it is the opposite direction of Australia...but a worthwhile diversion. Wow - not more than two hours out of Savusavu and Barefeet hooked a gorgeous Mahi Mahi...truly a legit' four feet in size! The rest of the trip was less exciting..."just" a nice sunny afternoon. We entered Fawn Harbour and its "S" curve of a coral approach with Curly's waypoints and our chart plotter to find the anchorage all to ourselves...and anchored in 35 feet of water with great holding. Curly is a cruiser with loads of local knowledge and for Fiji$20 you can purchase his map of waypoints in order to avoid being a lost boat statistic due to the abundant...and largely uncharted...coral heads and coral reefs. If you can believe it...Fawn Harbour is our first anchorage all to ourselves since we began the trip...and it took going half-way around the world to find it. It is gorgeous and well protected. Due to the calm, lake-like conditions we paddled around in the kayak; grey herons flew from tree tops, waterline was solid mangroves, water clarity showed coral heads and a ray did a belly flop off in the distance. Strangely, there are patches of floating rocks...they look volcanic and porous...and sound like rain hitting a tin roof as we glide through them on the surface of the water. Wonder where they came from...has a volcano recently erupted?
Light rain has started to fall but our Mahi Mahi needs to be cleaned for dinner. Out of the fridge and from the garbage bag he comes...got a bit kinked but needed the curve to fit him in the fridge. Erin filleted him and used the technique she learned from Jim on m/v Special Blend to remove the skin...score the edge and then pull with all your might (pliers help) and off the skin comes in one piece. (Chris - don't worry that Chris' pliers get covered in salt water and fish goo ... just leave them out on the deck for a few days to get rusted shut.) Jim is quicker but Erin's cleaned fish looks great. We lightly battered one-third of the meat as Ems had taught Erin (whip one egg and juice of half a lime together; dredge fish tenders through egg mixture; dredge and coat with bread crumbs; quickly fry in small bit of veggie oil until browned on both sides; blot on paper towel)...and served it with mango salsa and rice. It really was delicious...and will be three nights full dinner for both of us.
10/11 we are off to Taveuni. Chris visited 15 years ago and has been excited to visit again ever since we left on this trip. Taveuni is known as the Garden Island (due to lots of rain and the resulting lushness of crops and flowers and trees) and is the third-largest island of Fiji (population approx 9,000)...located just across the Somosomo Strait from Vanua Levu Island. Taveuni is a mere six miles wide but has a volcanic ridge that soars some 4,000 feet...very dramatic but often veiled by clouds. By tradition, the village of Somosomo is the most "chiefly" village. That is, it's chief is the highest ranking chief in all of Fiji with the big meeting house the prime location for Fiji's influential Great Council of Chiefs. Oh yeah, Taveuni's coastal road is paved ONLY from the airstrip to Somosomo...the better for the Chiefs to attend meetings. It's good to be Chief.
We arrived and anchored off of the village of Somosomo...black sand and mud bottom in 30 feet depth with a mouth of a river on one side and a coral ledge on the other side. Not ideal but the anchor set and ashore we went. We beached the dinghy next to a school which seemed to have just ended for the day. How excited were all the little boys to help us bring the dinghy up the beach?! They were a great help and made the task very easy. We wandered around and Chris found a dirt path up a hill...and I mean straight up a hill...that needed climbing. We made it to the top and ooohhed and aahhed at the views. Back aboard and the anchorage was indeed rolly...as we had been told. Ah well, we decided to head for a better spot...especially because the sun has come out and really heated things up. But no swimming in Taveuni...most shark attacks in all of the South Pacific.
10/12 we made the quick hop to Viani Bay just through the Somosomo Strait, approx 50 miles East of Savusavu. Viani Bay is a well protected anchorage with beautiful scenery and world class diving just a 10 minute dinghy ride away (rainbow reef, purple wall, white wall, cabbage patch and others). Not to mention Jack Fisher. Jack is the self-appointed goodwill ambassador to cruisers and could not have been more welcoming. He invited us to his home for a kava ceremony and took us for a day of amazing snorkeling and diving. The snorkeling and diving was just the two of us and Jack as our guide. We were amazed by corals; fields of yellow, bright magenta, deep purple, bright green, light blue...in many different shapes; plate, stag horn, waving fan, cabbage (twice as wide as Chris is tall), brain...and on and on. The colorful coral is such a shock it almost seems unnatural...kind of like a Christmas tree that has been flocked and then painted blue or green or pink. Thing is, it is natural. Quite amazing. At the end of the afternoon Jack joined us on Barefeet for a drink and we learned more about his slice of paradise. Jack has lived in Viani Bay for most of his life. His grandfather, a Scottish planter, came to Viani Bay in the last century and developed a coconut plantation. Over the years, much of the original plantation has been sold, but Jack and his extended family still live on the edge of the bay, and make their living by cutting copra, farming, fishing and catering to the yachties.
Jack and his siblings went to school in Savusavu or Suva...only coming home for about a month a year around the holidays. This meant boarding with friends or relatives (an expense not all families could afford)...and greatly missing family back in Viani Bay. Jack changed all of this for the better by getting a primary school set up in the Bay...for boys and girls in grades K-8th with sports, too. The kids seem happy to be close to home but supplies are scarce. If you care to send anything along to the school...please send it care of Jack Fisher, Jr. at Post Office Box 90 in Waiyevo, Taveuni, Fiji.
Jack knew we were leaving early the next day in order to make it back to Savusavu to welcome s/v Barraveigh after their passage from Tonga...and brought us fresh water prawns, an armload of mangoes, several papayas, several red chili peppers and a stalk of bananas. He is quite a generous man who really loves Fiji...and hopes that everyone else will, too. 10/14 we headed back to Savusavu at 6am. It was a bright, sunny day with almost no wind...simply gorgeous to see the nearly undeveloped shoreline of palm trees and rolling hills slowly pass by with fluffy white clouds above and smooth, lapis blue water below.
We are back in Savusavu at the Copra Shed Marina on a mooring ball. We will hang out here a few days in order to top up diesel, provision for the passage and catch up with Bobby and Suzi. Then it is off to Australia...roughly 1400 miles...with a possible pit stop in Vanuatu or New Caledonia. So, if you do not hear from us for awhile we are probably on our way to Oz.