sailed from SavuSavu to the Lao Islands and met the most wonderful people and i dare say heaven on earth....
Sorry for the lack of postcards people, but the ones in SavuSavu really suck. So far i've only sent one each to me mum and dad. When i find non-sucky post cards, I"ll buy up the lot and send em all out!
And there is more pics in my photo gallery on this site too....
So here's what I've been up to:
The overnight sail out to Lao was ridiculously amazing. It was a full moon and the swells were coming on strong at the bow and the breeze was blowing strongly in our favor. All the phosphorescence lit up as the waves crashed upon the hull. It was just invigorating!! Even though I took some really good seasickness medicine I still felt pretty "off" and found myself curled in a bunk sometimes because my eyes kept wobbling in my head. They refused to stay focused on anything...they were rolling about as strongly as the boat !! but on the whole it wasn't that bad and i spent several hours during the night up in the cockpit on watch.
We arrived in the wee hours of morning and saw the sun come up over Vanua Balavu. The Island is made of limestone and the constant action of the waves has carved a niche all around the island, so that it looks like its floating on the water. Lots of little 'Mushrooms" as we called them, rock formations that teetered on water worn pedestals dotted the bays. We navigated through a small passage in the reef and rested in a lovely bay and had a relaxing day sleeping and snorkeling. THe water clarity wasn't as outstanding as I'd hoped and my best guess is that the limestone particles hung suspended in the water. Nonetheless, visibility was good enough and the water delicious enough that for a while I had a hard time wanting to return to Leto. Peter taught me how to dive down pretty deeply (for me around 20 or 25 feet) so I had lots of fun at the bottom chasing after colorful fish, observing giant clams (HUUUGE) and bright purple enormous starfish.
The next day we puttered over to Dalaconi (pronounced DalaZON-ee) and we paid our Sevusevu to the chief (a large bundle of Kava). We all sat in the chief's house and they said a lot of words in Bau (fijiian) and clapped their hands and declared that the village and its waters were now ours and we could do as we pleased. We sat down to tea with the local ladies and got to know our new friends. The next few days we we to shore several times and went for a long walk (escorted of course, you can't REALLY go anywhere without an escort or that would be considered quite rude). I also came ashore to watch the nightly came of volleyball, which the fijiians there are very good at. Everyone plays, including the youth AND the big older ladies. (mature ladies in Fiji tend to be very tall, and shall we say "robust" women, but MAN can they hit a volleyball with the rest of them!!). THey played until the sun went down and couldn't see the ball anymore.
We then moved to the bay of islands just north of the village. I can not explain to you the beauty of this place and pictures can not do it justice. Everywhere there are mushroom rock formations and inlets and caves and secret and majestic and perfectly sheltered coves. The water ranges from the loveliest richest royal blue to the lightest most delicate turquoise to the most handsome deep jade fit for any Chinese emperors crown jewels. We saw large sea turtles and manta rays.
THe locals said all the fish were good to eat, so that night I tried my luck out at fishing. Cathy (who had actually fallen ill, during this time, requested a pan-sized snapper for her dinner). I, who have never caught anything more than a boot in my life, managed within a few minutes to catch her just that!!! I shall try to upload that picture I was so ecstatic and it was such a beautiful fishy! I felt quite a bit sad at having to kill it but I tried to honor its spirit by ensuring that in less than an hour's time it would be gobbled up in my very thankful belly.
I've caught several more things too....a sea eel, which was almost 3 feet long and very nasty looking (we threw it back) and a baby grouper, which was too small to feed any of us. We've eaten very well, between what I've caught and what the locals so graciously have given us, which leads me to the next chapter of this narrative.
After a few blissful days in the bay of islands, we made our way to MBavatu, which lies in a lovely sheltered cove surrounded on all sides by high unscalable cliffs dotted with unbelievable vegetation that somehow dug its roots into the limestone foundations. As we anchored we met our first new friend there Sundari, who informed us that a tiny village (henceforth known as "the hamlet") lived very high over our heads and that they would be happy to have us for tea the next day. We were hesitant to visit them on a Sunday, but he insisted. He ALSO insisted that we take a look at his catch, for he had been spearfishing all day. Indeed, he had caught many fish, maybe 10 or 15, from very small to quite large and of a variety of shimmering and shining colors. We felt that surely that food would be coming right out of their mouths and tried to resist, but it was futile. We took our gift and had a lovely fish dinner that night.
THe next day, (after church hours) we went to the little dock and turned the corner and lo! exactly 273 steps awaited us straight up the side of a formidable mountain. Up and up Peter and i climbed (Cathy still ill in bed). After mounting the summit the land flattened and we found ourselves in a narrow grazing pasture amongst the coconut teas. We would find out later that there were many many acres of pasture after pasture and hundreds, maybe thousands of coconut trees, and that this was, in fact a coconut plantation. But more on that later.
We passed amongst some wary looking cattle and at the threshold of the hamlet Sylvia, Sundari's wife greeted us. Within the gates of the hamlet was a bounty, a haven which to describe now brings awful pangs of sweet delight into my heart, for this was my favorite place that I have visited so far. There were about 6 houses. They were well built with surrogated steel roofs and immaculately clean astroturf lined porches. They consisted of 2 rooms each, and were spartenly but elegantly furnished. We got to know Noko, Sundari's brother, and Fanny, his sister. Noko was married to Emma, and Fanny to Iliesu, who was sort of the head manager of the plantation. That is all for the adults that lived there, but we also had the pleasure of the sprightly young children Christopher and Upedu (Sundari and SYlvia's) and several others i could not name. Lendua and Noce were teenagers, 15 and 17 who helped out there too. The hamlet centered around a large meeting building, open on all sides which had a generator and TV, which they were using now to watch DVD's on, as they did each Sunday afternoon. SUndari confessed that he loved action movies, and i promised to send him some when I return home. It was quite an isolated life, the few of them, tending to their 27 cattle, 16 sheep, several pigs, chickens, horses 3 cats, and one dog. The cattle and horses roamed freely through out the entire plantation and roosters sometimes had to be chased out of the houses.
Iliesu brought us to the "main house" upon which the owner of the land, Tony Phillips, sometimes resided. Philips supported this hamlet, and very well, i might add. They lacked for nothing, had a sat. dish for emergency phone calls, (i too, used it to send text messages), papayas, mangos, bananas and of course coconuts were just dripping from the trees. The bay and reef were full of edible fish. They had a large tractor and a backhoe provided by mr. phillips as well. Tony Phillips house was located somewhat higher up than the village over looking MBavatu bay and it was an amazing sight, seeing little Leto in the bay below and being able to lookout over the mountains to the sea beyond and see the water crashing like white lace over the reefs beyond even that.
When we descended we made to leave, but it began to rain and Sundari insisted we stay for tea. Which we did and Peter gave him several good lures and Sundari was very greatful. Noko brought us a whole bag of ripe bananas (which was good, were were getting low on fruit) and then Sundari presented us with the largest bunch of green banana's you'll ever see!!! laden with these gifts we said our goodbyes. We had planned to leave the next day but the people here were so kind and wonderful that we decided to stay. Also it was overcast, and navigating the reef was very difficult in low visibility. It stayed overcast for nearly 5 days, so we stayed in MBavatu and learned more about our wonderful new friends.
On Monday they collect coconuts. On Tuesday-Thursday they squeeze coconut oil. On MOnday Ilisesu, Lendua, and Lendua's father Ilisoni, who was visiting that day from a village across the island came swimming by snorkeling with spear guns in hand. They had caught an enormous Walu (well, not enormous but 3 feet long perhaps and looking very fine) We invited them on deck for tea and Sundari insisted on cutting us the largest portion of the fish. We felt very bad to take so much, but these people won't here our protestations in the slightest. Of they went, and we made baked our walu in lemon and it was delicious.
The next day we had a date to visit them pressing coconut oil. (it was a tuesday). UP we walked through majestic wide open pastures, full of tall imposing coconut trees. I half expected any moment for T-rex to come bounding through, so strange and ruggedly beautiful was this place. THe press was located in a big open air shed. We were shone around and it was really interesting to see how it was all done. First the cococuts were cracked upen with a masheti (oh dear god, how they didn't lose their fingers!?!) And then a large grinder which looked much like a juicer, ground out the coconut flesh from the middle. (usually Noko, Lendua, Noce, or Sundari did this. ) Then the finely fleshed coconut was set upon a very long metal plate, maybe 20 feet long. Below the metal, a fire burned on the husks of coconuts. Four batches could fit on the long plate. And Syliva's job was to keep turning over each batch. The batch farthest from the heat was the freshest, and as they were rotated forward they got nearer the fire and she turned them over more often, til it was nice and dry. It smelled most pleasant here of course, like toasted coconut! YUM!
Then the dryish toastedish coconut was scooped into a large cylendar, where it was placed into a manual press which was mounted to a sturdy wooden support. A large lever was then pulled down and the cylendar squished down on the coconut and lo! oil squeezed out the sides into a waiting container. Again and again one would pull the lever, as the cylendar slowly pressed more and more oil from the coconut itself. When the pressing got very difficult, a horse sturrip was attached via a long string, and a man's entire body weight was used to pull down on the lever. In an attached room they had gallons and gallons of the stuff ready to be shipped to Suva.
We brought them gifts of homemade jam and tea and they gave us starfruit and papayas. The next day we visited the hamlet and bought from them several bottles of their coconut oil. We spent the next few days there, exchanging gifts nearly every day, us fishing and bringing them our bounty, and them loading us with fruit.
It's true that those that have little give so much. They were the gentlest people, who spoke in low sweet tones and liked to laugh hartily. They were a diverse mix too. Sundari, Noko, and Fanny were all half indian. Syliva was half chinese, and I'd say a fair amount of Tongian ran through their blood as well. Only Emma seemed fully Fijiian. Yet they all worked together in harmony each having his or her own job. They worked together in eachother's company with the youngest children bounding around playing games and such. (The older school agers were off at school in a village not far away, and they came home every fortnight) Once the weather cleared up I was very sad to leave them. Sad indeed. Our time was getting short in Vanua Balavu (Cathy was feeling better by the way!!!) and so we headed back to the bay of islands. Unfavorable weather was heading our way, so we had to leave a little early.
The overnight back was much more gentle and I didn't feel sick at all. The swells were very large though (as it had been very gusty for a few days and the Koro sea has a reputation for rough seas) but the waves were coming up from behind and rolling underneath us, which became a rather pleasant sensation after a while. It was cloudy and very dark however on the return as the moon was small and hidden anyways. We made it back to SavuSavu yesterday without much ado. So today Cathy and Peter are clearing customs for the next leg of the trip which goes up through the two main fiji islands, stopping in Nananu-icake, Yandua, and then to Laotoka. We're to hit the market and do out internet stuff and we''ll probably leave tomorrow.
The last two weeks were very easy going but the next two week we shall be sailing nearly every day. Cathy and Peter need to leave Fiji ASAP as the cyclone season is close. They must clear Laotoka and then make for New Caledonia when the weather presents a good window, and then they are on to Australia.
As for me, I shall probably stay with them until Laotoka, where on I shall have about 10 or 12 days on my own in Fiji, where I"m planning at the moment to Head out to Raki-raki and Nananu-i-ra Island for some backpacker fun.
There really are a lot of gaps in this account, but there is yet much more internetting and i'm paying a whopping .07cents a min...(which isn't really bad at all).
I've been eating very well, and feeling so happy to be alive. Cheers to everyone! and much love!
the happy reverend crofttee