Saturday, May 5, 2012

Yasawa Group, Fiji

The first island we sailed to from Lautoka was Malolo Lailai, home of the famous Musket Cove Yacht Club, of which we're now life-time members. The tony resorts that surround the cove are a welcome respite of luxury to many cruisers who lay by the sparkling pools and sit at the bars. One of our favorite bars was out on a small islet, covered in coconut palms and was nothing more than a small circular thatched roof over the sand. La and Va were the barmaids and not only were they fast with bringing out the cold Fiji Bitter but they remembered everyone's name. Guests of the resort, mostly Kiwis and Aussies on vacation, would often strike up friendly conversations.

But after almost a week of decadent relaxation, we decided to move on. Corie took off on The Shannon, a Union 36 sloop, with it's owner, Kevin, in search of 'epic' surf, leaving Ruthie and me to crew Rutea. We picked an easy first destination, Mana Island, just 8 miles away and according to our charts, we'd have to anchor offshore. However, when we approached, we could see markers for the entrance to the lagoon - these markers were not on our charts. It was a narrow and winding route through a gap in the coral reef but we made our way close to shore, dropped the anchor and scoped out the shore with binoculars. There's one big resort and a couple of 'backpackers' - essentially youth hostels - on shore along with a restaurant, dive shop, a few souvenir stands and a small village. We took the dink in and it wasn't long after we had been wandering around when a young boy approached us. We exchanged greetings and he said, "Would you like to see our school?" We took him up on his offer and he led us through the village, where it seemed like everyone shouted "Bula!" to us. The school itself was a dilapidated 3-room building but I could tell that this very poor village was proud of it.

One of the backpackers was putting on a traditional dance show that evening so we took the dinghy back in. Our expectations weren't that high as it would be impossible for a resort as small and remote as this to attract superior talent but the dancers still put a lot of effort into their art and the small crowd was tolerant of their mistakes and seemed to appreciate the show. The final dance was a group participation number and the dancers ordered everyone out to the beach and formed two long lines - except for Ruthie and me - we were put out in front, probably because we were the oldest ones there by 30 years. They proceeded to teach us a Fijian version of the Macarena and I did an admirable job of providing the most entertainment with my inability to coordinate any of the moves.

As we had been talking with some of the locals about where to snorkel, we were directed to a small sand cay about a mile north of Mana Island. With all our gear in our dinghy, we headed out the pass, towards the cay but it was a lot different being out there in a 3-meter dinghy than a 15-meter sailboat. As we approached the cay, we could see waves breaking on all sides of it plus more waves breaking on the surround reefs. We finally found a spot to drop the dink's hook but the conditions were kind of rough and the snorkeling wasn't that great so we headed back to the boat after just a short time. This time as we were negotiating the pass the outboard died and it caused our hearts to skip a beat but after a few hearty pulls it started back up. That would have been a challenging row if it hadn't started!

The anchorage had become rolly that night and even into the morning so we were eager to move on to our next destination - Navadra Island (many of the consonants in Fijian have an 'n' sound before them so the name of the island is pronounced 'Navandra'). It looked like it formed a well-protected anchorage, especially with the large reef that almost completely covered the entrance. It also appealed to us as it's uninhabited and sure enough, we had the place to ourselves. But it was far from a calm place to stay - the waves wrapped around the end of the island and kept Rutea rolling from side to side. We did snorkel to shore and explored the beach some but headed back to our rockin' and rollin' boat before too long. It felt like we were really isolated and remote.

I was looking forward to going to a real Fijian village where we could present 'yaqona' ('n' sound before the 'q') or kava as is the custom for visitors when requesting permission to anchor in a village's bay. We made our way to the small village of Yalobi ('n' before the 'b') on the island of Waya and just as soon as we pulled the dink up on the beach, we were met by a man who introduced himself as Atu. He was wearing the remains of a tattered t-shirt and a bright red and very dirty sulu or type of skirt. He apologized that the village's chief wasn't around but he took us to some village elders instead. There were three old men sitting on a grassy knoll, just up from the beach. They put down a tarp for Ruthie and me to sit on (I have to learn how to sit cross-legged discreetly while wearing my sulu) and one of the elders accepted our gift of yaqona and began a chant. From time to time the other old men would offer a response, either verbally or by clapping. It was very interesting and we chatted for a short while afterwards, one of the elders inviting us to come back in the afternoon for a rugby match. The village was very poor and it appeared that many of the men were laying in hammocks, snoozing. As we'd walk by, some of them would manage a "Bula!" but many just ignored us.

We went back in the afternoon for the rugby match and joined some others who found a spot of shade created by a small house. We stood for a while not realizing that one of the women there had instructed her son to get us something to sit on. So we sat on a wooden bench while mothers with their babies sat on the grass. I couldn't believe how hard the teams played in that very hot midday sun. The second game was just beginning when one of the children came to us and said that our dinghy was filling up with water.

I thought we had pulled the dinghy high enough on the beach to keep it out of the water but the tide had come in and waves were breaking over it. Not only was it filled with water but it was almost full of sand, too. Quite a crowd had gathered around it and as soon as I pulled the drain plug, people started working on getting the sand out. It was a real mess and I was relieved when the engine started. Back on Rutea, we settled in for yet another night at a rolly anchorage and promised ourselves that the next place we stayed would have to be calm or we'd go nuts.

However, here we are, anchored between Naukacuvu and Nanuya Balavu Islands and it's still rolly. It's insanely beautiful, though, and we did some of the best snorkeling this afternoon since we've been in Fiji. While we were having lunch, I thought I heard someone say, "Bula" but it wasn't until I heard someone banging around on the aft deck that I popped out of the cabin to find a Fijian man sitting there. He had swam up to the boat and climbed aboard. "Do you want fish?" he asked, holding up a string of brightly colored small fish. We selected a couple of the larger ones, paid him and watched him pop the gills out of the fish. They made a terrific meal.

Tomorrow we're heading to the Blue Lagoon and if it's calm, we just might stay there a few days.
At 5/5/2012 8:36 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 17°11.67'S 177°10.59'E

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