Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Fiji’s Bygone Capital, Levuka, Ovalau

Lush Levuka, Fiji’s former capitol is also one of Fiji’s few check-in point options.  We were impressed at the highly visible red-orange navigational markers posted on the church clock-tower roof and in the hillside behind it.
Now a sleepy little backwater, whose clapboard storefronts look more like an old Western movie set*, it takes a bit to imagine that nearly 200 years ago in 1822s, Levuka was established as Fiji’s bustling capital city.

Back then, sandalwood trade, whaling, copra and just general piracy made for a wild, avaricious and raucous town.  As each industry died away, and Fiji ceded to Britian, Suva became the less geographically challenged primary port of commerce and in 1882 usurped Levuka’s capital status.

We wanted to sneak a peek at a piece of Fiji’s past, and to replenish a few groceries, so we stopped at Levuka. 

This very soft-spoken Levuka Fijian farmer gently explained how to prepare the ferny yet supposedly spinach-like oka greens he sold.  His young son appeared far less enamored with my ghostly complexion.
As we dropped anchor late on a Saturday morning, Farmer’s Market was in full swing, the typical day for it in Fiji and Tonga.  There were only a half dozen or so stands, selling mostly the same stuff… taro roots and leaves, pumpkin, and oka, a ferny-looking spinach-like green.  I wanted to try the oka, but opted out on that blistering hot afternoon.

The creepiness of these quirky antique pipe figurines in Levuka museum’s display were oddly alluring.  
We enjoyed a little respite from the heat in the un-air-conditioned museum, which offered a smattering of town history, a good-sized shell collection, a pleasant mish-mash of other bits and pieces.  Good for about 15 minutes.

Stopping in site of the original M&H supermarket (there’s a substantially larger one in Suva across from the Central Market, which is quite nice) our hopes of better produce options were dashed. What was there was heavily depleted, not that fresh and a bit pricey.  We left with some carrots, cukes and bell peppers, bypassing the battered tomatoes and soft, sprouting spuds.  Most of the remaining stock was heavily processed package goods and non-food items.  This was only slightly less true in another Levuka supermarket I checked out.

Levuka, where Fiji's primary grocery store chain, MH  began.  The one in Suva is much nicer.
We passed the guidebook recommended Whale’s Tale restaurant, which was hopping but didn’t register on my nose-knows-must-stop-for-a-bite infallible restaurant irresistibility meter*.  Nor did we stop at the recommended watering hole aka Grand Hotel, as with shut entry doors, we assumed its welcome mat was not out.  That, despite being hot, hungry and thirsty.  Worse, Levuka’s Saturday throngs, converging under the town’s covered store porch sidewalks left me feeling a bit claustrophobic.

*If a whiff of the wafting scent of an eating establishment makes my mouth water, it’s a definite go, not, no go.

Still undecided about whether to linger at Levuka overnight or leave*, we watched a few minutes of a couple overlapping rugby matches. Those guys – and gals – play hard for a full-contact game without protective padding or helmets!

*Our options upon leaving were pushing on to Makogai (18 miles away) or even straight through to Savusavu (66 miles away). 

Back at the boat, we determined
  • the power generator other cruisers complained about was not that loud (especially compared to Suva’s industrial clatter)
  • the tuna factory was a bit pungent, but paled in comparison to PagoPago’s (American Samoa). 
  • while Soggy Paws Fiji Compendium also commented on the anchorage’s rolliness, it wasn’t too bad, but we knew that could change quickly
  • The final deciding factor was whether or not the Digicel wifi was viable at anchor.  We were able to get a signal, but at a molasses-like “speed.”  We could’ve subscribed to the Grand Hotel wifi, but my gut was telling me to get out, ASAP.

We did, just catching the edge of a rainstorm on the way to Makogai.  As we distanced ourselves from Ovalau, Levuka appeared to be a bit of a convergence zone, its peaks a cloud vacuum which needed to periodically divest themselves of their moisture.

With a sigh of relief, we dropped anchor in Makogai’s sunset-bathed glow in a calm bay.  We satisfied our curiosity about Fiji’s former capitol, picked up a few sundries and moved on.  Levuka’s worth a few hours if you want a brief passage break, but not that compelling for a longer linger in my books.

Approaching Levuka at dawn from the Kadavu isles, the lone spire at the edge of town reminded us of Ua Po, French Marquesa’s spires.
Location Location

June 18, 2016 we arrived and left Levuka, Ovalau isles, Fiji S17.40.897  E178.50.168).  We are currently in 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.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Fijian Postcard Moment: Hidden Waterfall Hike

Stirring of kava in communal bowl for ceremonial drinking. Kavalu Bay village, Kadavu, Fiji.
Never mind that the salt content in heavily exported Fiji bottled water is saltier than our watermaker when it’s working properly, the stuff we sipped off a hidden Fiji waterfall was pretty darned tasty! 

It all started because we heard there was a waterfall near our anchorage off the isle of Kadavu, accessible off the mangroves at high tide.  We’d  “parked” just off the island’s primary store, between the villages of Kavalu and Solotavui, and asked some locals leaving the store in their skiff where the waterfall was.  “Go to the village thataway [they pointed to a small island, indicating the village was behind it], and ask them,” they replied.

Gaston of Bidule accepts kava in ceremony.  Kavalu Bay village, Kadavu, Fiji.
We dinghied around the indicated island, seeing no village, but looking for a big enough gap in the mangroves to lead to a village.   A brilliantly colored parrot passed overhead, its body a vivid scarlet red, its wings shiny cobalt-blue and emerald-green.  We entered a gap in the mangrove, eventually passing a bamboo raft with a pallet lashed atop it, a red dugout canoe, then, the mangrove opened into a wide dead-end, at the village’s doorstep. 

We were greeted by waves and shouts of “Bula! Bula!”  whilst one villager pantomimed the removal of a hat, as one of our friends was still wearing his, a faux pas when visiting a traditional Fijian village.  We later discovered we were the first yachties to visit their remote village this year.

Wayne drinks kava. Kavalu Bay village,
Kadavu, Fiji.
We tied our dinghy up to a tree next to a local skiff and asked to meet with the chief to offer our sevusevu.  Several men, led us to the community hut, warmly asking the usual “Where are you from?” questions.

We removed our shoes and entered the hut, joining the men already seated upon woven pandanus mats, the communal kava bowl already out and filled. 

I noticed unlike the Ono, Nagara village community house, there wasn’t a “no smoking” sign posted.  An older local man lit up an ultra-skinny obviously home-wrapped cigarette, tapping its ashes into a large clamshell he brought with him for that purpose.  We were told the tobacco was Fijian.

The chief, resplendent in his genuine Hawaiian beer shirt and sulu arrived and joined the widening circle.  He also asked us where we came from and about our travels, then accepted our sevusevu kava offering. There was a round of blessings in Fijian, after which the chief gave us his permission to “Do as we chose” upon his lands.  He then invited us to join the kava ceremony. 

Jimmy, from Kavalu Bay village, Kadavu,
Fiji guides us first through the mangroves
to a local waterfall.
The kava bowl was stylishly stirred by a young man with long, slender fingers.  He scooped from the bowl with one coconut shell cup, and poured the kava into a second cup, held by an intermediary.   The intermediary then passed the cup to the first recipient.  Before taking the cup, its recipient first clapped once, burst forth with a “Bula!” then accepted the cup, and drank it dry.  Once done, the drinker declared “Maca!” (or something like that -- which we’d heard third-hand meant “empty.”)  There was some combination of clapping, then the cup was passed back to the intermediary, who again had it filled from the server, then passed it the next person in the circle.  This continued until everyone was served.  It was determined we could imbibe in a second round of kava with time enough to make it out to the waterfall and back before the tide dropped too much.  And so we did.

We left feeling well and truly welcomed.

Apparently, Jimmy drew the short straw, as he was selected by the villagers as our guide to the waterfall.  Fit, tall and muscular, with slightly graying hair, Jimmy appeared to be in his forties; his English was excellent.  Jimmy’s 14-year-old son, his only child, went to school at the neighboring village.  His son’s mom lived in Suva, Jimmy told us.

Mangroves of Kadavu, Fiji at high tide.
Jimmy boarded our dinghy, only carrying a short machete, with a mahogany handle, which he made by neatly and securely binding the handle to its sturdy blade with fishing line., Our French-Canadian cruising friends from Bidule, Lizanne and Gaston, followed us in their dinghy.  As we headed off toward the waterfall, we noticed the friends Meaghan and Chris from the Canadian sailboat Tangatatu were at their boat.  They’d left hours prior in search of the waterfall. We stopped by and upon finding out they’d yet to find it (after turning down an offer to be taken there for $6/person from a villager near the store), invited them to join us, too.

Dinghies tied off at trailhead to Fijian waterfall in Kadavu isles, Fiji.
After about 15 minutes down another mangrove channel, Jimmy directed us to a spot to tie off our three dinghies and begin our hike.  In a few spots, the trail was quite muddy.  Other points the vegetation was waist high or higher. At a stream crossing, as the shortest hiker, I foolishly tried going through the stream rather than billygoat-jumping across it and got dunked waist-deep, holding my non-water camera above my head to keep it dry.  I managed to dunk both times – there and back -- crossing the stream.  Several times Jimmy made use of his machete to clear the trail.  More parrots soared overhead, this time visible only in silhouette, though their chatter was quite audible. 

The trail to waterfall was a bit muddy
in spots.
Kadavu isles, Fiji.    
Then, after a particularly lush, damp, dense green spot of jungle, we arrived!  While the waterfall was only about 50 feet tall and made up of several short falls, it still feltas if we were stepping into a postcard.  The rocks over which the waterfall spilled were a deep charcoal color, with white sheets of water cascading down over them.  The lush foliage-fringed pool below the waterfall was clear, and could easily hold a party ten times the size of ours.

We stepped into the cool, refreshing water and made our way over to the rocks for a waterfall shower.  Bliss!   Ahhh… this is what we came to Fiji for!

We took a sip.  The water was fresh, sweet and mineral-y. Even though the waterfall supplied village water, were unsure whether it contained bacteria our system wasn’t adapted to.   With some regret, we didn’t drink deeply or fill our water bottles. 

No doubt about it – we were tramping through
an enchanting jungle to the waterfall. Kadavu isles, 
The hike back took only 15-20 minutes.  As we approached our sailboats, Chris and Meaghan invited us all, Jimmy included, to their boat for a cuppa. 

Over coffee and tea, we learned Jimmy’s village was keen on their solar power, which they relied on much more than other villages, who rely more on their generators.  The solar power for “Jimmy’s” village, with gel batteries lasting 10 years, were provided via an AID project from India.  They were maintained by a woman in their village who spent six months in India for training, surprising given the patriarchal nature of Fijian village life.  She also services the solar power for other local villages using it.  The solar power’s sufficient even for the movies they watch on a PC in the community house as well of course for charging their mobile phones.

Partial view of the waterfall; without my water
camera, wasn’t willing to risk my non-waterproof
camera for the full waterfall view.
Kadavu isles, Fiji.
In another 21st century touch, Jimmy claimed the store we anchored near was open 24/7 (though one of Wayne’s stop there, no one was manning it).  The store did not sell beer, though it could be ordered for delivery a week in advance when the Thursday supply ship came in. Jimmy, his pride evident, said, “We drink kava here.  It’s better.  Kadavu kava is the best, the strongest there is.” 

The time came for Jimmy to be returned to the village before the tide became too low for the mangrove passage in.  Meaghan and Chris took him in, just as the sun was beginning to set, early over the hills surrounding the verdant valley. 

It was a good day, living the life the stuff dreams, and bottled Fiji water, are made of.

Just before we got back to our sailboats, this rainbow greeted us. Kadavu isles, Fiji.
Location Location
We recently left Fiji’s Kadavu isles of Astrolabe Reef, where we spent nearly 2 weeks, from June 5 to June 17, 2016.  Sixty miles across, Astrolabe’s the fourth largest barrier reef in the world.   This post was written about our time at our third Kadavu isles anchorage, off Kadavu island, (S18.58.913 E178.25.164), and sent from Savusavu, Vanua Levu (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.  Then 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.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Fiji Village “Adoption,” Ono, Nabuwalu, Kadavu Isles

Took, explaining the best Fijian ways to
extract ccocnut water.  Ono,
Fiji, Kadavu isles
After sevesevu* at our second village, Nabuwalu, in the Kadavus of Astrolabe Reef, we were ready for a wander over Ono islands’ hills and dales.  Before long, we encountered a friendly local, “Took,” who offered to show us the island’s boiling pools, a few minutes away.  We took him up on his offer to guide us there.  The boiling pools were where the local tucked their cassava roots until the banks, where the hotter water there steamed it until cooked.

*Click here for more info about sevusevu at ourfirst Fiji village stop and more on that and kava in a future post.  Also - this post with be updated in a few days with eight more images and some other goodies, when wifi is better.

Ono’s boiling pool, near a former village, but not far from the current village of Nabuwalu.
Transplanted from a Suva village to experience the village of his mother’s childhood, Took seemed hungry for both doing his best for us to enjoy our Fiji experience and to learn more about life beyond Fiji.  “My mother told me many stories about her village,” Took told us.  He claimed his great-great grandparents settled on Ono to escape the fighting and cannibalism on Viti Levu and create a new life for themselves, living off the land.  Took lives at his uncle’s home, helping out as needed, including at the town church’s Methodist services, as his uncle is the pastor.

Nabuwalu Bay overlook on Ono island, accented by beautiful but invasive morning glories.
The next day, Took led us and another cruiser, Lizanne from Bidule, on a vista hike.  Took explained the villagers – mostly elderly -- laughed at him as he struggled as we did ascending the sometimes rough trail over the ridge to their plantings of taro, kava and other crops.  “Too hard; they get up at 5:15 in the morning to start their farming day, climb this hill, and carry their crops all back.  The village I come from, it’s much easier,” we were informed.

These tall orchid plants were prolific
on Ono, Kadavu isles, Fiji.
Took’s ambitions were far from provincial, however.  “I want to marry a European [Caucasian],” he declared.  “And I’d like to visit Australia.  I have family there.”  At twenty-four, at least the latter is certainly still in the realm of possibility for him, though thus far, every Fijian villager we talked to about their travels had yet to leave the country.  Australia seemed to be the top choice of where to visit, just as New Zealand was for Tongans.

Waist high ferns flank this Ono, Fiji trail, as seen surrounding Lizanne and Took. 
Envious of other villager’s stories of their experience on visiting yachts, Took asked us if he could come aboard to see what a cruising yacht is like.  We invited him over for an early supper.  We also gave him a taste of Wayne’s moonshine, when he expressed interest in giving it a try.  We sent him off with that and some wine we had and didn’t like for church communion, though given his interest in mixing it with the moonshine, we’d be surprised if the wine made it to communion.

Panoramic view of Kadavu island’s shore, gazing North off Ono, also part of the Kadavu isles of Astrolabe Reef.
We hope Took’s memories of us did not become clouded with a hangover, as yes, we assured Took, truthfully and emphatically when we asked, we are very much enjoying Fiji.

Northern Bay off Ono, viewed from our hike originated
out of Nabuwalu village on Ono’s opposite side. 
Location Location
We’re now in Fiji’s Kadavu isles of Astrolabe Reef, 60 miles across, it’s the fourth largest barrier reef in the world.  We stopped at Ono from June 7-12, 2016, anchoring at S18.58.913 E178.25.164.  This post was written from our third Kadavu isles anchorage, Kadavu island (S18.58.913 E178.25.164).  Likely later today we’ll stop another Kadavu anchorage, closer to Astrolabe Reef, then Levuka, Vitu Levi, then on to Savusavu.

Big papayas!  Took, happy to ham it up
for the camera, offers perspective.
Cruising by the Numbers

December 2014 to November 2015 we sailed over 10,000 miles from Florida to New Zealand.  We spent cyclone season in New Zealand, where we did lots of boat work and traveled by car from New Zealand’s Northernmost to Southernmost points.   We left New Zealand in May, traveling over 1,000 miles to Fiji.  We’ll spend a few months here, then go to Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Australia, racking up at least 4,500 miles this year.  We expect to arrive in Australia around November, where we’ll sell our boat, travel a bit, then go back to work somewhere.
There’s a long, shallow stretch in front of Nabuwalu village, enough so the moderate tide leaves a muddy, moonscape for stranded dinghies to cross to return to an anchored boat.