Fijians were entirely different than tongans in their interactions with foreigners. Everyone you make eye contact with or pass by on the street gives you an enthusiastic BULA!
Most Fijians speak English and are very pleasant to be around. Outside the main cities the villages sill have a tribal style governance. Most have a Chief or mayor/counselor type person in charge. Each village we visited we were greeted by a community representative and were expected to give a sevusevu, or gift, to the higher ups of the village. The most common gift being kava root, which is then pounded into a powder and blended with water in a large kava bowl then drank a half coconut cup at a time in a ceremony.
The villages own rights to the land, coastal water, even the fish so the kava is essentially an anchoring fee for using their space.
We stocked up on 6 bushels of various size ranging in price of $5-$15 each, the larger being for longer stays at a village and smaller for one night or day trips to villages.
After a few days in the city of Savusavu, we needed to get closer to the airport, or at least the same island as the airport, for Jamey to fly out so I decided to take a southern route around fiji. Our first stop was Makogai island and just before arriving I saw a mahi mahi jump out of the water just ahead of the boat. Minutes later I saw the fin come out of the water as one hit the lure I was trolling and pulled in and heaved another few days worth of food onto the boat.
We arrived at Makogai with our kava in hand expecting to be invited to a kava drinking ceremony. The village counselor took our kava, asked where we were from and said a prayer in fijian, did some clapping and that was it. A bit of a let down, we were expecting to get kava drunk with a group of fijians. Instead we were given a tour of the old leper colony that was on the islands for the beginning of the 1900’s and graveyard with over 5000 people who lived in the leper colony.
Next was a tour of the giant clam nursery the government is funding to give the people of the village some income.
We did some snorkeling and pulled up anchor for Levuka, the old capital. We could have sailed all the way to the airport at Nadi for Jamey’s flight but he preferred to spend the time exploring Fiji rather than sailing the whole time. We arrived on Sunday afternoon and went ashore. The town looked like a ghost town with no one out in the streets. We bumped into a german traveler who was heading to dinner and asked us if we wanted to join him on a village tour and guided hike the next day. We agreed this would be a good way to spend Jamey’s last full day and met up the next morning for the hike. We all piled into a taxi to take us to the village at the center of the island where we would hike back to the coast after our fijian lunch. EPI, our tour guide, has been running these tours for the past 20 years and did an excellent job of explaining all the edible and medicinal plants and roots of the forest.
While waiting for our lunch to be prepared Epi took us to the local swimming hole where we took a dip and jumped off the tree into the water.
Epi organized one of the village houses to cook us lunch. He shares some of our tour fee with the village and it is a way to bring some money into the village and keeps a good repor with the village.
The entire meal had been live and growing that morning and was fresh picked from bush plants, and all of it was delicious.
Eggplant in coconut milk, taro leaves, taro root, casava etc. We managed to eat every bit of food served and left for the hike with full stomachs.
Jamey caught a bus out at 4am which went o a ferry to the capital, Suva, then had to take another bus to the airport at Nadi. It was a rough way to start the full day of flying he was in for but it was either spend the day on the bus or two days at sea sailing to the airport.
Layla and I pulled up anchor the next day and made way south, stopping for the afternoon at a little island just south of there to do some snorkeling and beachwalking.
We sailed through the night to Kadavu and the “Grreat astrolab Reef” The reef was named after a boat that ran aground there in the 1800’s. We tried to organize a dive but the divemaster of the resort we stopped at hadn’t shown up for work all week and no one had heard from him. No diving for us. We mad the best of the anchorage and took the dinghy to the village at the mouth of the river. It was low tide and the river mouth is shallow and mud, too shallow even for the dinghy. I was trying to motor through 6” of water and ended up getting out and dragging the dinghy by hand. A couple women in a dugout canoe saw my struggle and told me to follow them through the deeper part of the muddy river.
We came to the village and were greeted at the first house we came to. First we were escorted to one of the higher up’s house who asked us the typical questions, where are you from, what do you do etc, then got down to business, how long do you want to stay in OUR bay, we wanted to visit the waterfall at the village and the counselor had a boy lead us to the waterfall, stopping at the house of the man who OWNS the waterfall to pay our $5 entrance fee. By now we had an entourage of about a dozen children under 10 years old escorting us to the waterfall. I jumped off the rocks with my little tour guide and enjoyed a nice swim.
After the waterfall we went to the chiefs house. He was in bed resting and didn’t want to be bothered with us to receive his sevusevu of Kava. His wife, who had answered the door, convinced him to get up and speak with us. We gave the kava and he asked the same interview questions, where are you from, how long will you stay,what do you want to do here, etc. He accepted the kava then gave us permission to stay at the anchorage and visit the village and swim in the waterfall (all things we had already done) since we had given him kava.
We wanted to dive the reef but couldn’t spend days waiting for a missing dive master so we gave up on the dive and sailed to the western fiji island group of mayanuca. Musket cove was an over developed tourist trap full of resorts and overpriced food.
We signed up for a two tank dive here and went on the most depressing, worst dive either of us had ever done. Layla has a strong personality and told the dive master she wasn’t doing the 2nd dive and wanted to pay for just the one dive. They wouldn’t budge and said they had already run our credit cards, which was a lie. We skipped the 2nd dive and relaxed on the roof of the dive boat while the rest of the people were in the water.
We ended up getting a refund in exchange for a promise to tell other people the dive wasn’t bad. We were fed up with the touristy area pretty quick and cast off to the next island group to the north, Yasawa. We stopped at the southern most island of the group, Waya Lailia. While driving the boat around the reef off the village we saw two people on shore waving us to them. I anchored just off the beach from where they were and we launched the dinghy to meet our greeters. Mini and her husband welcomed us and had us sit on their mat to chat for a while. The husband had a big bandage on his shin with some local leaves stuffed under gauze to heal it. He said it had been a month and asked if I had any antiseptic on the boat, I agreed to bring him some that evening. They gave us some casava and papaya for us to bring back to the boat. We said goodbye and went walking through the village, with everyone waving and saying Bula! As we walked through. We met another friendly girl in her mid 20’s who invited us to sit on the grass and chat with her. She had two kids of her own and another dozen or so village kids playing around with us, one particular two year old was all over me. .
The tropics aren’t kind to skin wounds. Any little scratch I get takes weeks to heal and is prone to infection. The fijians aren’t any different, except they don’t have bandaids and neosporin in the villages. Our new friend asked if I had bandaids on the boat I could give and I agreed to bring some the next day.
The next day we went for a hike up to the peak of the island for a great view of the beach reef and surrounding islands
After the hike layla had a date with Mini where Mini would teach her how to cook fried eggplant in coconut milk. We brought all the ingredients off the boat to Mini’s house and she got started. I always relate being on a boat to camping but this experience made me realize how lucky I am to have luxuries on the boat, like a gas stove and a refrigerator. Mini had her frying pan over a wood fire to fry the eggplant, the same way they cook all their meals.
Layla asked if she had a can opener to open the tuna and she said yes, the knife is just there. I figured I’d take care of that step for Layla.
Rob and Bri had bought a barbie boogie board and never used it that they left behind. I figured the village kids would get more use out of it than I would so I gave it to her as a gift and greeted with thanks, and to my surprise the question in all seriousness “what are you bringing me tomorrow”?
Mini’s father had passed away 10 days prior and there was a ceremony in the evening that she invited us to. The proper dress for fiji ceremony is a sarong. I didn’t have one so I grabbed the sheet off my bunk and wrapped it around my waist. There were about 30 people from the village at the ceremony. All the elder men around one kava bowl doing the clapping thing and constantly pouring coconut cups full of kava for one person to drink at a time, then the cup was filled again for the next person in the circle.
This went on for the whole two hrs we were there. Layla and I each had about a half dozen cups of kava, which produced a slight numbing effect on the lips mouth and throat, similar to a menthol cough drop. We sat down for a fish and casava dinner with one of the older men. There were about 20 place settings and only 5 or so people eating. We asked why no one else was eating and he replied that everyone would rather just drink kava.
We were getting fed up with the constant requests for food and supplies and other things we needed. We pulled up anchor and headed for Levuka, an industrial city, to check out of the country.
We stocked up on fresh fruit and veggies and
We had to bring the customs officials out to the boat in the dinghy, which was crowded with the four of us.
We were cleared to leave for New Caledonia.