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monica_yard_small.jpg (11550 bytes)Voyage Crew MONICA HALVERSON's impressions of FIJI continued...

Web Log Update - Voyage 148 Tonga to Fiji Part II-B
OVERLAU, Eastern Fiji
As we spent our day experiencing the town of Levuka, including its quaint little museum with interesting artifacts and explanations of Fiji’s history and a great seashell collection where we learned the names of the various shells we’ve seen on the beaches, some of the other VC ventured inland to Lovoni village. This village is located at the center of the island inside the crater of an extinct volcano providing a very scenic surrounding. The history of the village is as spectacular as the present day scenery. As recently as 1871, the warriors of this village were defeated by the then powerful Chief Cakobau through trickery. Previous war attempts to penetrate the Lovoni fort were unsuccessful so Cakobau devised a plan to trick the villagers. He sent a Methodist missionary, Reverend Frederick Langham DDE, up to the village to invite them to a reconciliation feast. The villagers accepted the invitation and during the meal were overtaken by Cakobau’s warriors. Cakobau sold the prisoners as slaves. He sold the Lovoni priest (who happened to be a dwarf) and two Lovoni warriors to an American circus. To this day, the Lovoni villagers believe that they are the strongest tribe in Fiji since they could only be defeated through trickery and not war.

fiji_map.jpg (20192 bytes)The small island of Ovalau provided all of us with a strong dose of history and our first impressions of Fiji which included beautiful landscapes and friendly people. With such an orientation, we were ready to move on. We pulled up anchor at 1940 and sailed south toward the Kadavu Group of islands. We anchored off of Dravuni Island on the northern end of this group at 0945 Saturday morning. Dravuni is a small island with a tiny village of about 80 people and a research station for the University of the South Pacific (USP) where at the moment two graduate students are conducting research on sea urchins and the fish that eat them. Captain Tony is the first to go ashore to present the sevusevu to the village chief. These small villages are steeped in tradition. Sevusevu is a gift which is expected prior to visitors entering a village. The gift is typically yaqona (kava) which is what Tony presents. The sevusevu is accepted and we are welcomed to the island and the village.

The plan is to spend the day ashore exploring the island and enjoying the beach; return to the ship for dinner; and then go back to the village in the evening for a performance of traditional dance. As we land on the beach, we spread out in various directions. Thor finds a good spot for his hammock between two palm trees. Anton hikes up a small hill recently cleared by an out-of-control fire to see the view of this and several nearby islands. Debbie walks along the beach until reaching a secluded spot where she can enjoy her book. Marty strikes up a conversation with a woman on the beach who is cleaning the catch of the day. Jan walks through the village and ends up having tea with the chief’s wife and exchanging small gifts (a lipstick for a pair of cowrie shell earrings).

Everyone we meet greets us with a warm "Bula" which means hello or cheers. Most stop to shake hands and introduce themselves. Several ask about our family status (married or single / number of children). We quickly start to see the importance they place on the family and relationships. There are several small children playing on the beach and in the village but the island is void of school-aged children as they are away at boarding school. The village is trying to raise money to build a school on the island starting with a kindergarten. To that end, they ask for a F$100 (about $50 US) donation from the ship in exchange for the evening’s dance performance. We all anxiously await the evening festivities as we know it will be a special event for both ourselves and the people of the village –everyone is planning to come including the two university students.

Launches take most of us back to the ship at 1600. There are six of us who remain on shore and wait for the next launch at 1800. This gives us two more hours to get to know the people. They live a very simple life. They have very few "possessions" compared to what we are accustomed to. They each work very hard with much of their time devoted to providing food – fishing, gardening, preparations and cooking. They are genuinely concerned about the well being of others including complete strangers that come to visit their island. This couldn’t have been evidenced more than by what happened next.

As the 1800-hour approached, we calmly sat and watched a most spectacular sunset behind the silhouette of the ship. The younger men of the village were all gathered on the beach in an intense rugby match. One of the local women came by and invited us to her home for dinner. Unfortunately, we had to decline as we needed to get back to the ship to change and get ready for the evening’s dance performance. Entranced in our surroundings, we hadn’t noticed the change in the sea. The tide had come in and good-sized waves were breaking right on the beach making a launch landing very difficult. Jimma, a very skilled and capable boatman, managed to land the dingy amidst the breaking waves.

The conditions, however, proved too difficult for the six of us to enter the boat. Rick (from Canada) and I jumped in but as we did, the waves came crashing over the bow of the dingy drenching us and flooding the boat. At that point, Jimma had no choice but to leave us on the beach and get the dingy out of the breaking waves. He returned to the ship to get another crew person to assist, baling out water along the way. In the meantime, we walked along the dark beach looking for a calmer landing spot but to no avail. By now, several locals had joined us on the beach, each asking me if I was okay and whether I wanted a towel or something warm to put on. Their concern for my well being – a total stranger – was overwhelming. When we finally concluded that Jimma was not going to be able to land the overly buoyant dingy on the beach due to the breaking waves, the local villagers decided they would take us out to the ship in their wooden fishing boat. The whole time they’re getting the boat ready, they’re assuring us that everything will be okay – which it was.

They delivered us safely to the ship just as dinner was being served. We invited them to join us. It was truly wonderful having these generous men join us for dinner, especially after all the hospitality their village had shown us throughout the day. As it turned out, these people weren’t the only ones concerned about our well being. As we pulled up along side the Soren Larsen in the villagers’ fishing boat, First Mate Sal stood waiting with bated breath to find out if we were all okay. When Jimma got back onboard from the dingy, he approached me with an emphatic apology for having gotten doused when trying to get into the dingy at the start of all of this – as though he was somehow responsible for the waves (which is, of course, ridiculous)! Sal and Jimma’s heart-felt concern for us had even exceeded that of the local villagers and, as a result, really moved me. This day truly demonstrated that there are people in this world who still really care about other people – a virtue that hasn’t been totally lost in our fast-paced modernized world.

As enriching as the day was, it ended a bit disappointing. Due to the difficult beach landing and no other means of getting ashore, we had to cancel our plans to attend the local dance. We still wanted to make a donation to the village school fund. The next morning, the water at the beach was still too rough to land the dingy so Jimma and Joost went alone, tied the dingy to a mooring, and swam the rest of the way to the beach. They left our donation and many thanks; and, bid them farewell. Once they were back on the ship, we were underway again headed to nearby, uninhabited Namara Island where we arrived one hour later.

Namara Island proved to be the perfect spot for a beach barbeque. The food was prepared Australian-style: steaks grilled on a hot metal plate on an open fire garnished with onions fried in beer. It was a mere coincidence that Australian – and vegetarian – crewmember Dave was in charge of the grilling. There was an American flair to the process as well: everyone standing around the fire and offering their "suggestions" as to how to best cook the steaks. Everyone’s efforts, however active or passive, paid off as the steaks and veggie burgers were excellent! We each took a turn at "cooking" ourselves as we roasted marshmallows over the fire for desert. I, for one, found Dave’s cooking to be quite superior to my own! Following lunch, a game of cricket ensued. The Aussie’s, Kiwi’s and Brits even allowed the Americans to join in despite their ignorance of the game. Playing in the sand presented an added challenge but fun was had by all. Marty attempted to leave his mark on the island by building a bamboo hut – a good effort but doubtful that it will still be there the next time any of us return. Nick proved to be the adventurous one of the day as he hiked around to the back of the island and then blazed a new trail across the interior to get back to the landing spot. We took advantage of the peaceful anchorage and spent the night.

We pulled up anchor at 0915 on Monday and headed north towards Beqa Island. On our approach to the island, we spotted a breaching humpback whale (or whales) off of the port beam. It was lifting itself completely out of the water and landing on its back or side. We were close enough to see its long flipper (almost one-third of the whale’s total body length) protruding in the air as it fell on its back into the water. These whales are huge ranging in length from 50 to 60 feet and weighing 35 to 50 tons! It is quite a site to see such a large sea creature lift itself completely out of the water. We were not close enough to determine if there was one whale jumping repeatedly or multiple whales. We’ve since learned that they typically travel in groups of 3 or 4 so its possible we were seeing more than one.

We arrived at Malumu Bay on Beqa Island at 1750. Too late to go ashore, we spent a quiet evening with drinks and dinner on deck enjoying a spectacular view. This bay runs deep into the island with lush green steep hills on both sides. Once again, the contrast of the colors and shapes between the sky, land and sea provide a sensational setting for an evening aboard a traditional brigantine. Andy and Barry add to the perfect evening by playing the guitar and singing. The 34 of us on the ship have been together for a fortnight now and are very comfortable with each other so conversations flow easily and naturally with a lot of emphasis placed on our collective experiences over the previous two weeks. I have come to realize how the people that you share the experience with influence the impact an experience has on you. As such, these 33 shipmates have had an impact on my life and vice versa which creates a type of bond between us. Knowing that our remaining time together is short, we spend the evening enhancing the relationships that we’ve begun and celebrating our time together.

Following breakfast the next morning, Captain Tony goes ashore and presents the sevusevu to the chief of Lalati village. The gift is accepted and several of us go ashore to see the village. We land on the corner of a jetty that has been built out of stones. It runs perpendicular from the village out into the bay until it turns 90 degrees and continues until reaching the rocks on a small peninsula. It creates a narrow walkway which we make our way down with the children that met us leading the way. Eleven-year-old Sally and her four-year-old brother showed us their village. We met a few of the women – two were tending to infants while another was sitting in her furnitureless home weaving a pandanus mat. From the village we followed a muddy, slippery, narrow footpath through dense vegetation up over a small hill to a two-year-old resort on the other side. On the way, we met a man carrying a bundle of taro followed by a pig and five dogs, in that order. Further down the path we had to step over the lead rope of a grazing cow. A couple of large butterflies with black velvet wings with deep purple spots fluttered about us.

In a matter of a few minutes we reached the Lalati Resort. It consists of seven bures in a well-landscaped section of rain forest facing the bay and offers guests scuba diving, sea kayaking, surfing and lots of white sandy beach. It is nice to know that the village owns the resort so the profits come back to them but unfortunately there were no guests at the moment. Tourism in Fiji has been negatively impacted by the political instability of the country (which from our experiences is unwarranted and unfortunate). After touring the quaint little resort, our guide asked if we wanted to see the garden. Without knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we said "yes". With machete in hand, our young agile guide leads us off of the path and into the thick vegetation. After a few minutes of walking, we reach the base of a very steep hill (about a 45 degree incline) and a clearing in the vegetation. We begin our ascent and soon reach the potato patch where plants are positioned on individualized terraces randomly placed on the hillside. We climb and climb and climb until we reach the end of the potato patch and find several young men working in the field further up the hillside. We learn from them that the best way back to the village is to go back the way we came. As we look at the steep descent below us, we quickly change our plans to see the rest of the garden and start to head back.

Maneuvering our way down the hill like an upside-down crab proved to be the best technique. By the time we reached the bottom, you could have used our clothes for a laundry soap commercial! Another day, another adventure! We made our way back to the village along the beach where we passed pigpens on stilts elevated a meter or so off of the ground –probably needed for high tide. Once back on the ship, we found half of the village. Men, women and children of every age were onboard exploring the ship from top to bottom. They seemed as curious and interested in our environment as we were in theirs. Once the villagers were back on shore, we pulled up anchor and headed out of the bay, through the lagoon, and back into the South Pacific Ocean. We made our way northwest towards the Mamanuca Group of islands on the western edge of Fiji.

We sailed through the night before reaching Malololailai Island at 0940 on Wednesday. This is only the second night sail we’ve done since arriving in Fiji. As such, we relish in all the positive aspects of the night watches including the bread making. VC Joe (from Australia) volunteered to make the required eight loaves plus one for the midnight to 0400 watch to consume. Coming off of a four-hour watch at 0400 and sitting down to a hot drink and freshly baked bread with your watch mates creates a fond memory of life on the ship. The bread this night is particularly good – and it was Joe’s first bread making experience. It was "bonza" bread, as the Aussie’s would say. (For those readers who don’t speak Australian, bonza means magnificent.)

Malololailai Island is a resort island. Most people go ashore and check out the luxuries the resorts have to offer: chaise lounge chairs on the beach, swimming pools, drinks with ice, souvenir shops and ice cream. We spend the afternoon enjoying these things which we have learned to live without during the previous weeks. After spending the afternoon relaxing at the resorts, we rejoin the ship and motor two hours over to Nadi Bay for the night. Being the last night of the voyage, we have a farewell party. Thor represents the group in making toasts to recognize and thank the crew for all they’ve taught us and done for us over the previous two weeks. The words don’t come close to expressing our true appreciation. The permanent crew is absolutely stellar in teaching a group of novices how to sail a tall ship. They are experts in both sailing and in teaching. They have the patience of saints. They work incredibly hard and play almost as hard. They take their work most seriously yet have fun doing so. They set a high energy standard for everyone on the ship. Because of their efforts, we prepare to leave the ship with an increased knowledge of sailing, a relaxed state of mind, and a revitalized spirit. How do you thank someone for that!?!

Thursday, July 26, is sign-off day. VC spend the morning exchanging addresses and saying good-bye. It’s the end of an 884-mile voyage, the beginning of many new friendships and an experience we shall never forget. Thank-you Soren Larsen crew!!!

End

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