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Friday, July 22, 2016

FIJI: Sawa-i-Lau, Snorkeling with Yasawa's Fishies

Neon clams against mauve coral.  How cool is that?!?  Sawa-i-Lau, Yasawas, Fiji.
Unwilling to pop $55/person for Sawa-i-Lau's caves, I looked a little deeper for my fun - snorkeling!  

Hard to believe, but nearly a month passed since my last snorkel, on Makogai.  

Best of all, the tourists came mostly for Yasawa's  Sawa-i-Lau caves, so the likelihood of a fin in my face was low -- for the most part these crystal clear waters were all mine!  The skies were sunny, the waters warm, the coral heads, substantial.
These guys like to hide in plain sight, motionless., almost as though the believe they're invisible.  In the right spot,
they very nearly are.  
Sawa-i-Lau, Yasawas, Fiji.
Like the Tonga's Ha'apais, Yasawa's  Sawa-i-Lau reefs appear to be partly in recovery.  While there is some dead coral, some corals remained healthy and others bear bright new "buds" of growth.  

Our friend Patty of Armagh called this set-up "the Nursery."  Sawa-i-Lau, Yasawas, Fiji.
The reef is populated with the usual tropical pretties... Again, like most of Tonga, turtles, rays, sharks -- larger species, to me  the primary indicators of a vibrant ecosystem were are noticeable in their absence.  

Still, definitely worth the dip.

Curious?  Or protective or harassed?  Clownfish in anemones.
Sawa-i-Lau, Yasawas, Fiji.
And thanks to finally seeing Finding Nemo, whenever I see clownfish, as I did there, predictably amidst the anemones, I keep hearing Albert Brooks (Marlin) and Ellen DeGeneres (Dory)'s voices.  While I'm not nor do I have any intention of bagging the cuties for anyone's aquarium, I now wonder if they feel harassed and protective, when before i just thought they were curious.

Not sure what this was, but its head reminded me of a seahorse,  Tip to tail, it was about five inches long.  Sawa-i-Lau, Yasawas, Fiji.
In the reefs, the only thing I take, is pictures.

That fuzzy-looking reddish creature in the lower right corner is bad news for the reef.  It's a crown of thorn,a coral eater with a  voracious appetite.Sawa-i-Lau, Yasawas, Fiji.
Another crown of thorn, this one's the sea foam green colored spikes, below the white coral.  Sawa-i-Lau, Yasawas, Fiji.
Location Location
We are still in Fiji's Yasawa islands, anchored off Blue Lagoon Resort, Nacula island (S16.54.761 E177.23.024).  Sawa-i-Lau was our anchorage (S16.50.808 E177.28.047) before this one.

The changes in tides and light transformed the colors and shapes of these cool rock spires at Sawa-i-Lau, Fiji's Yasawas isles.
Cruising by the Numbers
December 2014 to November 2015 we sailed over 10,000 miles from Florida to New Zealand.  where spent cyclone season.   In May, we sailed 1,000+ miles to Fiji.  Next we’re off to Vanuatu, New Caledonia finishing in Australia, 4,500+ miles later.  There, around November, we’ll sell our boat, travel a bit, then go back to work …somewhere.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

FIJI: Caves at Sawa-i-Lau, Yasawas?!?



Sawa-i-Lau, Yasawa Island, FIJI.  Yes, I really did take this photo and it really is this stunning!
FIJI, Yasawa Island, Sawa-i-Lau:  Who could resist a trio of swimmable caves? Indeed the Yasawas Sawa-i-Lau caves are considered #1 on the "must do" list for the Yasawa Isles, both in Trip Advisor and by several folks in cruiser-oriented Soggy Paws Fiji Compendium.

Sawa-i-Lau cave entrance.  Yasawa Island, FIJI.  
After getting pounded on our attempt to sail from Savasavu, Vanua Levu to Fawn Harbor, en route to the Taveunis, we decided to reconsider how to spend our few waning weeks in Fiji.  Fiji's Taveuni Island is one of the country's top draws, snagging several of the "Top 10 Things To Do in Fiji" spots.   It's chock full of fun stuff to do... waterfalls, hiking, world-class diving and reputedly among the best in Fiji, snorkeling, villages....  

Then again, we love beaches.  Most of the places we've cruised in the South Pacific (notable exceptions: Panama's Contadora in Las Perlas, Galapagos [as long as you don't mind being usurped from your spot by a seal], French Polynesia's Tuamotus and Tonga's Ha'apais) have not been all that beach-y. One Soggy Paws writer described the Yasawas as a cross between the Tuamotus, Tonga and Fiji's Laus.  

That sounded pretty darned good to us!

Charter boat.  One of two ways to get to Sawa-i-Lau caves (if you're not cruising).  The other is by float plane. 
We figured we'd enjoy a more leisurely cruise in a few spots in the Yasawas, rather than skip them or try to cram in too many stops in too short a time, which would've been the case if we went to Traveuni.

We hung a u-turn, did some Southwestern short hops with rather than against the wind down Vanua Levu, then overnighted to Sawa-i-Lau, Yasawas.  

Paddleboarders at Sawa-i-Lau, Yasawas, Fiji.  These folks were off another catamaran charter, though they stayed overnight.
We anchored off Yasawa Island's Sawa-i-Lau area in the morn in a misty downpour.  Before long, though, the sun came out and... Wow!

Soaring purple-gray basalt cliffs fringed with verdant tropical hillsides.  

Dramatically spired rock formations, thrust sword-like, skyward, rising up out of the ocean along the shoreline and from the shallows.  As the tide recedes, their rounded bases with mushroom-like stems further accentuate their already surreal appearance.  

The water shimmers in blue-green jewel tones... jade, emerald, turquoise, aquamarine, cobalt. shifting as the light and tides rise and fall.

The ubiquitous and quintessential arc of coconut palms complete Sawa-i-Lau's picture-perfect setting.

Fire.  Yasawas, Sawa-i-Lau, Fiji.  Unfortunately, fire's as ubiquitous as the coconut palms in the South Pacific.
Here at least we were not downwind of it.
Oh.  Yeah.  We came here for the caves!

Then another cruiser let us know the caves now cost $55 FJD/person.  They chose to opt out.  

Given the fabulous land and sea caves we've already seen -- many of them free -- so did we.  

While most folks rave about Sawa-i-Lau caves, one Soggy Paws writer commented -- back when the caves were $5-10/person plus a $15 shared guide fee -- "It's just a cave.  Good for 20 minutes amusement."

Granted, if we weren't on a multi-year exploration, or vacations were few and far between, sure, it would make sense to pop for the cave.  Certainly, the folks who arrived at Sawa-i-Lau caves via charted sea plane or boat are likely to find the entry price chump change, comparatively.  If we had kids, we'd also spring for the experience, even if we passed.

Despite passing up on Sawa-i-Lau's caves, their primary draw, we don't for one minute regret our stop there.  Caves or not, it's a drop dead gorgeous spot!  

These Sawa-i-Lau's rock formations reminded me of Saguaro-cactus.  Yasawas, Fiji.
Low tide reveals the mushroom stem like water undercut on these unusual rocks.
Location Location
We are still in Fiji's Yasawa islands, anchored off Blue Lagoon Resort, Nacula island (S16.54.761 E177.23.024).  Sawa-i-Lau was our anchorage (S16.50.808 E177.28.047) before this one.

Cruising by the Numbers
December 2014 to November 2015 we sailed over 10,000 miles from Florida to New Zealand.  where spent cyclone season.   In May, we sailed 1,000+ miles to Fiji.  Next we’re off to Vanuatu, New Caledonia finishing in Australia, 4,500+ miles later.  There, around November, we’ll sell our boat, travel a bit, then go back to work …somewhere.

FIJI’s Lil’ Indian Canetown – Labasa

Fruit juice lady, Labasa's market.
Vanua Levu, Fiji.
FIJI.  While Savusavu is Vanua Levu’s cruiser mecca, Labasa is this second biggest island of Fiji’s “big smoke.”  Savusavu’s population is ~ 3,500; Labasa’s ~30,000. 

Savasavu’s population swells with cruisers, influencing the relatively small local population, peopled with a noticeable chunk of expats (mostly from the US, New Zealand and Australia) as well as locals* and cruisers.  A little more growth and you might expect a Mickey D’s, as there was in Suva.

* A mix of “pure” Fijians and other Pacific Islanders, Chinese, East Indians and a blend of those cultures.





Fiji.  Labasa's market.  One portion in one of its two sprawling buildings.
Labasa, near Vanua Levu’s Northern point, is a whole ‘nuther world. 

Labasa mannequins; the locals
do dress up this much, too!  Fiji.
Beginning 1879, a tide of indentured servants from India swept in to work Fiji’s cotton and sugar cane fields.  Sugar cane is still Fiji’s #1 economic driver, and Labasa is one of the country’s primary areas for growing and processing the cane. Today, no longer indentured servants, the predominating Eastern Indian culture imbues this bustling, dusty town with its vibrant, exotic culture.

Bananas, plantains, papayas, passion fruit… few if any made their way into Savasavu’s produce market.  Cyclone Winston ravaged Savausavu’s fruit production, Labasa survived comparatively untouched. We’d heard these local treasures were readily available in Labasa.

Besides, busses are a wonderfully cheap way to get a good overview of an island.  Over 100 clicks and a few hours ride away, a trip to Labasa was a no-brainer for us. 


Labasa, Fiji.  Sugar cane truck coming through while pedestrians wait at crosswalk.  All the trucks we saw
were all this overloaded or more.
Breadfruit at Labasa market.  They're big!  The blue bucket
provides a comparative sense of scale.  Vanua Levu, Fiji.
Atypically, we decided to catch the express van, which was just a few dollars more, $10 FJD/person, versus $8 FJD/person.  We’re more a fan of local busses, so we planned to either take one back, or make another trip on one.  The “7:30 am” van left at 8, and arrived in Labasa at 10:30.

Boiled skinned breadfruit is getting whittled into small pieces at
Labasa market.  Buyers add this starchy fruit to curries. Fiji.
While the trip takes a while, the scenery whooshes by far more quickly that you can whip out a camera and figure out how to take a shot without a part of the bus or someone’s head blocking part of the oft spectacular scenery.  More about that in a future post.




Handcrafted floor coverings, painted tapas and woven pandanus mats for sale at Labasa's market.  Fiji.
We ambled over to Labasa’s sprawling produce market, satisfying both thirst and hunger by downing a shared 1 liter “Coke” bottle of freshly squeezed fruit juice.  Indeed, to our delight we did find and purchase bananas, plantains, passion fruit and papayas.  Still, Suva’s Central Market offered far greater variety.  Also, while Labasa’s kava was grown on the island, Vanua Levu, Suva market’s kava came from Kadavu, regarded as the best, worldwide.

Carved kava bowl at Labasa market.  This is the most beautiful kava bowl I've seen.  Fiji.
Closer look at the fine quality of carving on this kava bowl.  Labasa, Fiji.
When I asked one of the market ladies how to learn more about cooking with the local produce, she offered to take to her place for cooking lessons if I was interested.  I was, but given Labasa’s distance, it struck me as interesting but overly logistically challenging.

While the boys ducked into a coffeeshop, us gals checked out the handicrafts section upstairs, ooohing and aaahing in particular over the painted tapas, ranging in size from placemats to substantial area rugs and large pandanus mats, some getting woven on real-time, on location. 

Purchased a small horn pendant from this Labasa lady.  She was a bit vague about what it was made of.  Fiji.
Despite the handicraft section, shops and a plethora of eateries, overall, Labasa is not a tourist town.
This hip Labasa mannequin was not turbaned.
We suggested Steve consider this
for his next hairstyle.  He didn't.  Fiji.
Still, one feels otherworldly transported. Graceful women with cafĂ© au lait skin and long, jet-black hair dress like princesses, swathed in brightly colored layers of shimmering and gauzy fabrics, sparkling with sequins, beads, pearls, gold and silver. Some of the men stand tall in their stately turbans.  Trucks overloaded with cane lumbered through town assertively taking right of way over way over pedestrians.

We had grand plans to experience Labasa’s Indian and sugar cane culture… to visit
  • the Naag Mandir “Snake” Temple, bus or a $20 cab 10 click ride out of Labasa – a place where its cobra rock continues to reach new heights and offers believers miraculous healing
  • Wasavula village and ceremonial site, a $7 cab ride from Labasa to see cannibalistic artifacts from less friendly bygone days
  • Fiji Sugar Cane Corporation’s mill and see if we could wrangle a hard to get tour (free, if they’re willing, requires closed-toed shoes, no loose clothing and no photos are allowed) – also outside Labasa and a cab or bus ride


Instead, we gawked, shopped, ate and in general dawdled. 

We searched in vain for Trip Advisor’s much vaunted cheap and delicious Horseshoe Restaurant – apparently no longer in existence.  The lack of patrons in most restaurants gave us pause, though we later attributed it to the carnival tempting customers away (not us as we already went to it in Savusavu).  Other more popular restaurants appeared unclean and overly limited in their gluten-free options.

Labasa's only food cart vendor.  He sold spicy little burras.  They were good.  Vanua Levu, Fiji.
I did manage to temporarily stave off our hunger with the tiny discus shaped, spicy fried burra, purchased from the only food cart we saw. Like bhuja (more on that salty-crunchy snack in a future post) burra is gluten-free as it’s made from a ground lentil pea flour.

Burras with tamarind dipping sauce at Decked Out Cafe, Savusavu.
Eventually, we settled on The Oriental, adjacent the bus depot and market.  Despite its lackluster concrete box exterior, The Oriental was quite clean inside.  Each of the five of us ordered a different dish to share, the winner was a black bean-gingered beef dish.  It takes a while for five folks to order and eat.  An hour and a half later, we realized we were quickly running out of time.

We’d heard the bus back could return quite late.  The express van was due to leave at 2:30.  We swung by at around 1:45, saw it already there and nearly fully loaded.  We clambered aboard. His van now full, without further ado, the driver left.


We arrived back in Savasuvu – “cruiserville” -- a bit before dark, grateful to be back and appreciative of all-too-short a glimpse of a culture still intriguingly foreign to us.

Spectacular Sawa-i-Lau, Yasawas, 10 miles from our current location, anchored off Blue Lagoon Resort.  Fiji.
Yes, this is my photo and it really does look like this!
Location Location
We are currently in Fiji's Yasawa islands, anchored off Blue Lagoon Resort, Nacula island (S16.54.761 E177.23.024).  We visited Labasa while anchored off Savusavu, Vanua Levu, Fiji (S16.46.706 E179.19.785).

Cruising by the Numbers
December 2014 to November 2015 we sailed over 10,000 miles from Florida to New Zealand.  where spent cyclone season.   In May, we sailed 1,000+ miles to Fiji.  Next we’re off to Vanuatu, New Caledonia finishing in Australia, 4,500+ miles later.  There, around November, we’ll sell our boat, travel a bit, then go back to work …somewhere.

Friday, July 15, 2016

FIJI: Savusavu “Action-Adventure”

FIJI:  Savusavu Bay's entrance.  We hovered, nearly motionless for three hours from 4 -7 am in 200 feet of water with no anchor.  We wanted to enter the bay on good light after our overnight sail from Makogai.  The steam is due to Savusavu's natural hot springs.
Scoping out Savusavu's "Sport's Day" carnival
ferris wheel.
Our uncanny ability to arrive at civilization at the outset of a long holiday prevailed upon arrival at Savusavu.  Our sorry produce state would wait, as Fiji’s “Sports Day” just kicked off. 

While “Sports Day” meant closed stores, it also heralded the opening of a town carnival.  Dead tired after our overnight passage from Makogai, I nonetheless joined our cruising buddies Steve and Patty from Armagh and Lonnie and Bona from another doppelganger boat (Pearson 365) to ours, Good News for the carnival.  

We’d already gotten a nudge to check it out from Waitui Marina’s lovely Jolene.  “Those guys – the local police band – really have the moves!  You gotta see ‘em!  They’re playing at the carnival tonight.”

Disconcertingly rustic and primitive controls for Savusavu's visiting ferris wheel.
While Wayne wisely caught up on some much-needed sleep, I figured his absence was a good thing; otherwise he’d likely banned me from the ferris wheel.  Given my lack of life insurance, one look at its operational mechanics – and Wayne above all is a safety-conscious mechanic – the ferris wheel would’ve been off limits for sure.

FIJI:  Savusavu carnival Ferris wheel rules sign looks far more well traveled than read.
Supposedly kava doesn't impair mental
clarity.  Still this screams of "beer me!"
for the Ferris wheel staff.
Even without Wayne’s ability to caution us, I’ll admit the kava bowl for the Ferris wheel staff did little in increase our confidence in their enterprise.

Amazing how these little details, coupled with enough rickety-ness and much greater than anticipated rotational speed, reminded me of Santa Cruz California’s ancient and deadly* Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster.  Who knew a roller coaster could classify as an action adventure?

*Seriously – there have been deaths on Santa Cruz’s coaster.





Night-time - time to climb aboard
Savusavu's ferris wheel.  FIJI.
After the Ferris wheel, we considered the little lamb ride, but without checking were sure we exceed its weight ratio as surely as we exceeded the height ratio of the bouncy castle and inflatable slide.  Watching the kids on the latter offered excellent entertainment.

FIJI:  Savusavu view from the top of the ferris wheel.  Not sure why they didn't point it toward
the more picturesque harbor!

Savusavu's impressive police band at Sports Day carnival.  FIJI.
And we were indeed impressed with “the moves” of the local police band, who seemed to take their crowd control capacity as seriously as their music and dancing.  We found ourselves shifting position several times as the band literally marched on.

Carnival? Cotton candy!
And what carnival would be complete without cotton candy? 

We approved, though sampled the local Indian confections instead of the fluffy pink stuff.

A good time was had by all.

The next night aboard our boat, Wayne asked, “Where’s all that screaming coming from?” 


The ferris wheel, I informed him, based, perhaps a tad smugly, on first-hand knowledge.  The carnival and its ferris wheel continued on in full swing.

Steve of Armagh pours on his Southern charm for the Savusavu carnival gals, asking advice on how best to indulge his sweet tooth.  FIJI.
Location Location
This post is a recent retrospective of our time on Vanua Levu’s Savusavu, where we spent 3 weeks, from June 24th – July 13th.  Then, after a foiled attempt to sail to Traveuni, we headed to finish our Fiji travels in the Yasawas.  This was pre-posted along the way, from off Nabbuwalu, Vanua Levu (S16.59603 E178.40.965).  By the time it posts we'll be making our 74-mile overnight passage to the Yasawas.
Our FIJI cruising marked in red, with solid done, dotted planned.  Not for navigational purposes.
This is a "crow flied" map.

Cruising by the Numbers
December 2014 to November 2015 we sailed over 10,000 miles from Florida to New Zealand.  where spent cyclone season.   In May, we sailed 1,000+ miles to Fiji.  Next we’re off to Vanuatu, New Caledonia finishing in Australia, 4,500+ miles later.  There, around November, we’ll sell our boat, travel a bit, then go back to work …somewhere.


FIJI Makongai: Rebuilding After Winston


Uh oh, resplendent in turquoise, our Makogai skiff pilot in major foulies
Wayne, fruitlessly attempting to
get less wet on our ride to
the Makogai village
.
Making our escape from Levuka's reputedly rolly anchorage in the wake of a mini-squall, we were lured to Makogai of the Lomaiviti isles by Soggy Paws Compendium's mention of giant clams, a black pearl farm, an historic leprosy hospital and good snorkeling.  Besides, Makogai offered a protected anchorage only 18 miles from Levuka, and shortened the sailing distance a bit to Savusavu, our next Fiji port of call.

After threading our way past Makogai’s reef in the approaching sunset, we noticed, "Gee, those sure are some odd looking trees!"   Most of the several boats in harbor bore Sea Mercy flags, including one of our long-lost fellow "Puddle Jump" yachties, David of Anahata.  


David of Anahata swimming in from setting
the skiff anchor to accommodate
major Makogai tide shifts.  
Ahhh, Winston, we surmised.  The record-breaking Cat 5 cyclone  struck Fiji with devastating impact earlier this year on February 20th, 2016.  Gusts were recorded as high as 190 mph.

We arrived on a Saturday night, which meant no matter what, nothing much would be afoot the next morning.  Sundays on Fiji are days of church. Or, for those of us who do not partake, rest and relaxation.  Given we'd sailed overnight from the Kadavus to Levuka, then that same day from there to Makogai, we were overdue for a good rest.

Monday morning we joined the skiff carrying volunteers from the anchorage to the village, a wild, wet 20 or so minute ride.  Observing everyone aboard wearing some sort of foulies (wet weather gear - or - a modified garbage bag works in a pinch), and glancing across the white-capped waters, we followed their cue.  Word to the wise – when your skiff captain wears foulies don’t expect a dry ride!  Foulies or not, everyone still got soaked.


What’s left of the 50-year-old school on Makogai, post cyclone Winston.
Australians Ian and Wendy of Outsider arrived on Makogai within a week of Winston, capably taking charge of the Sea Mercy’s efforts there. Makogai is Sea Mercy’s biggest Winston project, a substantial effort including sewage and water infrastructure assistance, establishing a worksite to support volunteer efforts with a kitchen, pantry, toilets, the complete rebuilding of what was a 50-year-old schoolhouse, and considerable fix up and clean up of homes and the area at large.


Not sure how this local Makongai boy got blue-handed, but we were all amused.
Once a Habitat for Humanity volunteer of the year, Wayne got handy with a hammer.  He worked with James of Carpe Diem to clear off a foundation, saving viable nails for re-use.  He, James and David also together built roof trusses for a home.

Hannah of Carpe Diem, who makes
killer fritters.
    
I picked up broken glass (injury prevention - lots of folks tooling about barefoot – stray nails were a big problem as well), stacked usable glass slats blown out from the original schoolhouse for reuse, helped stack recycled timbers for later use, ordered the pantry and dominated the volunteer cooking.  C’mon, I am after all the galley wench!


Sadie of Carpe Diem, corn-rowed on one side
by a lovely local Makogai lady.  Sadie’s mom,
Hannah, hovers in the background.
Considering the level of devastation on Makogai – not to mention how scary as hell the cyclone must’ve been -- the resilience of the children, gleefully playing amongst themselves and with the volunteers kids, impressed me.  As well, the adults played a mean game of volleyball.


James, of Carpe Diem, studly posing
after unintentionally breaking
this c-clamp.
Hannah, James’s wife, mentioned the villagers appeared depressed when Sea Mercy first arrived.   Over time, they regained their spirits as relief efforts continued. We arrived right after the volunteers and the chief shared a sevusevu, followed by a village-hosted thank you dinner for the volunteers.  We heard both were exceptionally heartfelt events.


Makogai Fiji, Sea Mercy’s
visiting yachties list
Our last workday, one of the village women presented Wendy with two large bunches of healthy, fresh greens and a bag.  The greens were cilantro and parsley.  The bag held a couple kilos of long beans.  Wendy nearly teared up at the sight.  All were grown from seeds Wendy got spirited in shortly after arrival.  This, I thought, looking at the luxuriant greens, is what hope looks like.  Vibrant life literally taken root in rediscovered self-sufficiency.


Wendy of Outsider, Makogai Sea Mercy
ringmaster while her husband Ian was
recovering from an infection.
We came to Makogai in search of giant clams, a pearl farm and a leprosy hospital and saw none of them (though our friends from Tangatatu did see some giant clams there).  Nonetheless, when we left Makogai five days later, we felt far better for the experience we did have.  Thank you Wendy, Ian, Sea Mercy, the volunteers and the villagers of Makogai.


Makogai-grown cilantro and parsley, from seeds Wendy acquired.











Location Location

This post is a recent retrospective of our time on the Lomaiviti isle of Makogai, anchored at S17.26.530  E178.57.135.  We were on Makogai from June 18-23rd 2016.  From Makogai we sailed to Vanua Levu’s Savusavu, where we spent 3 weeks, from June 24th – July 13th.  Then, after a foiled attempt to sail to Traveuni, we headed to finish our Fiji travels in the Yasawas.  This is posted along the way, from off Nabbuwalu, Vanua Levu (S16.59603 E178.40.965).

Image pilfered from Wikipedia.

Cruising by the Numbers
December 2014 to November 2015 we sailed over 10,000 miles from Florida to New Zealand.  where spent cyclone season.   In May, we sailed 1,000+ miles to Fiji.  Next we’re off to Vanuatu, New Caledonia finishing in Australia, 4,500+ miles later.  There, around November, we’ll sell our boat, travel a bit, then go back to work …somewhere.