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  OCTOBER , 2011
MEMORIES OF FIJI


October 4 – 15, 2011



Here are Sonia and Trevor, our friends from Australia, arriving in Savusavu on October 4.  It had been three years since we last saw them.

We thought that we had two weeks to get to Lautoka on Viti Levu but we were mistaken.  Trevor and Sonia were flying back to Australia on October 15 and that meant only a 10 day stay aboard Bella Via.  We still had time to get to Lautoka but it meant that we couldn’t dilly-dally.

We started out with a trip to the market for fruit and vegetables and then a delicious lunch at the marina café.
Some Fijian’s still use a traditionally constructed bamboo raft to cross the river that separates their village from the town of Savu Savu. The raft was as long as Bella Via at 40 feet and only 6 feet wide. It is propelled simply with a long bamboo pole which is sometimes used to push against the river bottom when shallow or like a double ended paddle when in deeper water.
On our way out of Savusavu, we pulled up to the marina dock to fill our water tanks with fresh water and say goodbye to the staff.  From left to right are Joe, Dolly, Leoa and Pio. This is the second time that Pio is pictured in our web site.  Previously he was helping us with a mooring.  That’s Bella Via behind them.


We were headed for Viti Levu, the southern and largest of the Fijian islands.  We had planned a few day hops to cross the Koro Sea and enter Bligh Waters, which would take us to the coastal passage along the north shore of Viti Levu.

One of our stops was at Makogai Island, the site of a former leper colony.  We had been told that some of the buildings were still in evidence.  We went ashore in the morning and were surprised to see several people on shore, as we had been told that everything had been abandoned.

We were met by a Fijian named Kameli, who told us that the Department of Fisheries now operates the site and it is a giant clam breeding operation.  He very nicely offered to give us a tour.

Here is Makogai Island, a very picturesque setting for the former leper colony and the Department of Fisheries breeding of giant clams.  Most of the foundations of the leper colony buildings are still present, with the Fisheries staff living in the converted dormitories.
The clams that we saw were in several different stages of growth.  They were in large, shallow, cement troughs, the water of which is exchanged with fresh sea water regularly. The sea water was pumped up to the troughs.  When the clams are large enough, they are moved to the sea and continue to grow.  The whole area is a marine reserve.
Here is our tour guide, Kameli, with Sonia and Mary.  The leper colony existed from 1911–1969.  In its heyday, there was a population of 5,000 people from the South Pacific inflicted with the disease.  With the advent of drugs to treat leprosy, the colony was closed and the few remaining patients were transferred to the hospital in Suva.  The Fijians were getting the grounds cleared in order to have a 100th anniversary celebration.  They still had a lot of clearing to do.  In the background are the remains of the screen of the colony’s movie theatre.
Over 1000 people are buried in this overgrown cemetery.  We also saw several graves for the Catholic Sisters who treated the patients and who, we presumed, succumbed to the disease.  Some died quite young.
The inner passage on the north shore of Viti Levu included several very picturesque sand cays.  Here are Trevor and Sonia as they enjoyed walking on one such sand cay.
Trevor diligently kept Paul’s filet knife sharpened in the hopes that we would catch a Mahi Mahi while we crossed the Koro Sea.  We had been told that it would happen there!
Sure enough, Paul and Trevor landed a beautiful Mahi Mahi.

By October 13, we were in Lautoka.  We spent two nights in this harbour, as Trevor and Sonia would be taking a taxi to the airport from Lautoka on the 15th.

We really enjoyed the Lautoka market, one of the largest and cleanest that we have seen in the South Pacific.  We were able to stock up on just about any vegetable that we wanted.


October 15, 2011

At 0530h, we said goodbye to Trevor and Sonia and Paul took them ashore to meet their taxi for their ride to the airport.  It was a good 10-day visit. 

October 16 – 24, 2011

We spent the next nine days in Saweni Bay, which is a very nice anchorage only 3.5 miles from Lautoka.  Most yachties choose not to stay anchored in Lautoka because there is a large sugar cane factory there and the huge smoke stacks regularly emit black smoke.  The cane factory operates 24/7.  In a southeast wind (the usual) the black soot lands on the boats.  What a mess!

We relaxed in Saweni as well as preparing for our next guests - Pat and Brad, from our home town of Windsor, Canada.  We were delighted to see ‘Division II’ anchored there, with Kiwis Dan and Amy and their three children, Paige, Oliver and Riley.  We last saw them in Whangarei.  They spent this entire season in Fiji.  They were getting ready for passage to New Zealand and we were able to spend a morning on the beach with them before they left. 

Several boats came and went while we were in Saweni Bay.  Customs in Lautoka was kept busy checking boats out of the country.  Destinations varied, although most were headed for New Zealand.  In our case, we still had some cruising to do and we would not be leaving until mid-November.

October 25 – November 8, 2011

On this morning, we motored 12 miles south to Port Denerau where Pat and Brad had been staying at a resort for one week.  It was time for their two week stay aboard Bella Via.  We would be cruising another island group, the Yasawa Islands – the most popular part of Fiji.

Here is our obligatory arrival picture – Paul picking Pat and Brad up in the dinghy.  This was their third stay aboard Bella Via but the first time in the Tropics.  The other times were in Australia and New Zealand.

One of the southern islands in the Yasawa Group was only about 20 miles from Saweni so we headed there the next morning.   Over the next two weeks, we managed to get to quite a few anchorages as we went up one side of the chain of islands and down the other.  Luckily, Paul had spoken with a yachty when we were in Saweni Bay and he loaned us more detailed charts of the Yasawas than what we had.  He also gave us many valuable waypoints.  Thanks to the generosity of Ernesto aboard ‘Libertee’, Paul spent much less time up the mast looking out for reefs.

On the first of our beach walks with Pat and Brad, we came upon a fellow sitting under some palm trees.  Paul asked if he could buy some drinking coconuts.  We continued walking the beach once the price and amount had been agreed upon.   On our way back to the dinghy, when we stopped for the coconuts, the fellow had woven a palm leaf basket for Paul in which to carry the coconuts.
Later Paul discovered that using his new drill was a lot easier to get into the interior of the coconuts than removing the outer layers with his large cleaver.
One of our favourite anchorages was at Yaqeta Island (pronounced Yangeta).  When we went ashore we found this school – with pleasant looking school rooms and a litter-free school yard.  We were invited by the headmaster to return the next day for the weekly Friday assembly.
The following morning, we were seated on the porch at the head of the assembly of well-behaved children.  After a few words by the headmaster and a few readings in Fijian, one of the ministers from the village spoke to the children.  The teachers then performed a health check – all hands and fingernails were checked.  The class that has the cleanest fingernails receives and keeps the award plaque until the next week.
Towards the end of the assembly there was the flag raising ceremony with the singing of the national anthem.  Three young boys marched out to the flag pole, accompanied by these two boys on the drum.  Note the traditional Fijian drum. Their drumming was spectacular.
In an effort to promote recycling, bins have been hung in various locations around the school property. These bins are used by the students to collect paper, plastics and food scraps. The effectiveness of this programme was very obvious by the pristine condition of the entire school property.
At the close of the assembly, the headmaster asked if he and the rest of the teachers could come aboard at the end of the school day to see Bella Via.  They had never been on a sail boat before.  Later that afternoon, Paul picked them up in the dinghy and we had a delightful hour with these teachers.  The next morning, before we moved on to another island, Paul went ashore to deliver a CD with pictures of the teachers aboard Bella Via.  He returned with a basketful of fruit and vegetables and a fan for Pat and a mug for Mary.  Such generosity!
We also did sevusevu when we first arrived at Yaqeta village.  We wanted Pat and Brad to see the ceremony that we had enjoyed earlier with Bob and Julia.  Unfortunately, the chief was not in the village and we met with the elected school manager who does not drink kava and who, we felt, couldn’t care less that we were there asking permission to walk through the village.
We did enjoy our tour of Yaqeta village – which was quite spread out with a population of 500 people.  Young Alice, pictured here, was our self designated tour guide.  What was amazing was that there were no fences – it was not evident where one person’s property ended and another one began.  But that is just our North American minds – Alice saw nothing unusual in that.
We managed to give away the rest of our eyeglasses in Yaqeta village.  Alice brought us to her grandmother (second from the right) and the word quickly spread.  There are actually two or three more women who aren’t in the picture who received glasses.  Boy, that is a fun activity!
Of course, Paul fished every chance he could.  Here is a beautiful Trevally that Brad reeled in.  The meat was very tasty.
Some of the villages in the Yasawa Group do not have their own school.  The children have to travel quite a distance to get to school, and often travel by boat.  Here are the Malakati village children in their sharp purple uniforms going off to school.
Brad and Pat treated us to dinner at a resort in the Blue Lagoon anchorage.  The anchorage was renamed Blue Lagoon after it became famous with the filming of the movie ‘Blue Lagoon’ with Brooke Shields.
Paul, Brad and Pat visited this small cottage industry farm to purchase vegetables from Toki and his wife. Toki told Paul that most Fijians, who garden for their personal needs, only grow root plants. He said that most don’t have the good soil and continuous source of water that he has. He also said that most are not willing to put in the amount of labour that is required. He sells his vegetables to yachties and to the local resort restaurants.
By November 8, we were back in Lautoka.  There was little wind and it was very hot and humid.  We had taken the canopy down because of the smoke from the cane factory.  That meant that the coolest place on the boat was the back steps out of the sun.  Here are Pat and Mary as they relax before dinner.


November 8, 2011

Pat and Brad took a taxi to the airport at 1900h.  We had a delicious last night dinner of chicken kabobs and garlic prawns with salad.  We said good-bye after a wonderful two-week visit, with an invitation to dinner at their place when we are home in Windsor in February.

November 9 – 14, 2011

We headed back to Saweni Bay in the morning.  Our friend from New Zealand, James, was flying into Fiji on Sunday, November 13, to help us sail the boat back to New Zealand.  Paul was actively studying the weather for a good window for the passage.  We also spent our time putting the boat in passage mode instead of cruising mode.  All breakables were put away, the rigging was checked, safety checks were done, and passage food prep started.

Paul is checking our series drogue, which is stored in a large duffel bag.  Before we leave to go to sea, the lines are laid out and prepared for easy deployment if needed.


While we were at Saweni Bay we were excited to hear Dave and Fran from ‘Melric II’ calling another boat on the VHF radio.  We had been awaiting Dave and Fran’s arrival in Fiji.  They are completing their 6 year cruise of the South Pacific, including Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines and are heading back to New Zealand.  We first met Dave and Fran in Bundaberg, Australia, in 2006.  In 2008, when they learned that we would be heading for New Zealand, they graciously offered all of their NZ charts.


Here is Mary handing over the New Zealand charts that Dave and Fran loaned us a few years ago.  We are always very careful when people loan us guide books and charts.  So often, we have heard from other yachties that charts were loaned and never returned.  We always make careful notation of what has been borrowed.  When we get back to New Zealand this time, we will be mailing back to ‘Libertee’ the Yasawa Islands charts and handing over to ‘Division II’ another chart.


We have been asked repeatedly if we like Fiji.   An excerpt from an email that Paul wrote to our daughter and son, answers that question best:

“…We have seen as much of Fiji as we can and we are thick into passage preparations.  Fiji for the most part was visually stunning with its mountainous terrain and its spectacular beaches.  The people are very friendly, constantly greeting us with a smile and the ever stated greeting of "Bula!"  As for the interactions with the people we much prefer our earlier experiences in the more northern islands of Fiji where we have come away with many fond memories.  In the south and particularly in the Yasawas, where foreign yachts and tourists frequent, the islanders have gotten into the bad habit of asking for things from yachties without any offer of something in return.  We were regularly asked for pre-mix (gasoline) and fishing lures.  It's not that these people are starving.  In fact they are much better off than the islanders in the Louisiades of Papua New Guinea but they have come to see foreign yachts as an easy way to get something for nothing. I don't agree with this and yet I am uncomfortable saying 'no' to such requests.  But I did.  

If we have an opportunity to return to Fiji we would like to circumnavigate the northern most island of Vanua Levu where we spent our first three weeks.  As for the tradition of bringing kava to the chief of villages and participating in the welcome ceremony of 'sevusevu' we would say that this practice seems to be waning.  As for bureaucracy, Fiji is the worst.  At least in Savu Savu the customs agents were exceptionally friendly.  Here in Lautoka they are remote and authoritative.  The rules appear to be different in different jurisdictions and visits to the customs office are required any time we move any significant distance.”

November 14, 2011

It’s Monday, November 14.  James, our friend from New Zealand, has arrived to help with our passage.  We had hoped to leave for New Zealand tomorrow but the weather has been changing and the early window has closed.  There is a good possibility that we will be leaving on Friday.  The next Journal entry will discuss our passage and arrival in New Zealand.

May you stop and enjoy each sunset, especially the fiery ones!

 

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