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Monday, June 13, 2016

Fiji's Astrolabe Reef Isles: Dravuni, Kadavu

Dravun, in Kadavu Fiji's isles are surrounded by shallow reefs and clear, turquoise waters.
Path from village to hilltop overlook,
Darvuni, Kadavu isles, Fiji.
Fiji, Kadavu Isles of Astrolabe Reef, Dravuni (note - photos coming in post update in a few days).  Admittedly, I was a little nervous upon arrival at Dravuni, our first Fijian village.  Fascinated as both Wayne and are when it comes to exploring new cultures, I worry about offending, and worse, spoiling the villagers’ images of yachties or “Europeans” (just about anyone “white” is considered European). 

“Don’t…” warned other cruisers who’d traveled these waters before us
  1. wear sunglasses
  2. expose your shoulders or knees or higher
  3. carry anything over your shoulder, including backpacks
  4. stay or do anything ashore or in the surrounding island waters without getting permission from the chief and/or town mayor
  5. enter the chief’s hut without first removing your shoes
  6. when offering “sevesevu” (gift), generally of kava root* to the chief hand it to him directly
  7. expect women to be on equal footing with men, impacting where and how we as women sit and whether “chit-chat” from us is welcome, nor can we be sure we’re invited to the kava ceremony along with our man
  8. assume gifts given to the chief or mayor will be shared with the village.  If that’s your goal, keep your goodies separate and hand them to villagers in gratitude (likely for their use alone) or donate them to the school or church.
Not quite mango season as it's winter here.  Lovely mango tree's beautiful leaves and blossoms..  Dravuni, Fiji.
*Kava, a root that’s first pounded, then mixed with water and drunk with much ceremony from coconut cups scooped from a large communal bowl.  More on kava and the ceremony in a future post.   Gifts of powdered kava are considered far inferior.

Bountiful butterflies in Fiji.  Catepillers are slow enough to photograph.  Dravuni, Fiji, Kandavu isles.
Would our kava be considered worthy?  Would our gifts be considered appropriate?  Did we wait too long to ask permission to anchor and stay? (Our 40-mile, 7-hour close-hauled sail in mostly 20-knot winds from Suva to Dravuni began in the wee hours, after little sleep and a bit overmuch imbibing the night before.   We anchored for the afternoon, settled our queasy stomach, then crashed for the night.)

Sticks and crudely painted stones, not quite with what we expected to see at Dravuni's lookout point.
Ironically, the villagers could’ve cared less.  More on why in a moment.

The first villager smiled and waved us in, his eyes unreadable behind his dark, reflective sunglasses.  Shortly, we were directed to Joann, a young teenage girl, likely the best English speaker. She guided us past thatch-covered vending stands, huts, raked yards, the post office and primary school to her father, the chief.  Her toddler brother began wailing at the sight of our chalky faces; his mother quickly picked him up to soothe him.  “He does that whenever he sees whites,” she explained, apologetically.

One of many happy, healthy dogs on Dravuni,
a marker of prosperity.
We shed our shoes, wiped our feet, stepped over the toddler-gated door and sat down at the chief’s urging, joining him upon the hut’s pandanus mat.  Wayne duly placed our carefully wrapped kava sevusevu offering in front of the chief upon the mat.  He handed another gift bag of sundries to Joanne, who gave its contents a cursory glance, then chucked them over her shoulder into a corner.  Several times I noticed she snapped

The chief asked us for our paperwork, which we didn’t know we needed to bring ashore.  He seemed quite concerned about it, though was content for us to bring it ashore later.  He asked a few questions about where we came from, then welcomed us to walk through the village, up the hill, and for kava “later.”  During this period, I noticed Joanne snapped photos of us with her cell phone. 

We asked how many villagers lived in Dravuni, 70, he told us.  He also told us that both P&O and Princess cruise ships stop there, the latter with as many as 2,500 passengers.  We tried to imagine what it must be like for a small village of 70 to handle 2,500 visitors!  Hence the level of moderate disinterest in one small sailboat with two yachties!  Further observations made it clear these folks needed the time between cruise ships to do their work and get in some R&R (rest and relaxation).

“Go.  Walk through our village and see the island,” the chief said with a wave of his hands.  We all stood, as we understood we were being excused, and left.

We noticed signs of affluence… carefully penned pigs, friendly dogs with glossy fur coats, a school, a post office, several teenage girls busy with their cell phones. 

Wayne, aka "Lollyboy" bringing a little sweetness and joy to local village kids.  Dravuni, Fiji, in Astrolabe Reef.
We did not see teenage boys or men who appeared younger than in their 40s, only children and women and older men.  Several elder gents hanging out together on a porch waved us over.  A little boy with them leapt off the porch, beaming his welcome, and clutched my finger in his tiny hand and led us to the porch.  There we enjoyed a brief and pleasant conversation, answering the usual “Where are you from?” questions.

Next, Joanne brought us to the major’s house, who was in the midst of shaving, though he didn’t seem to mind the interruption.  He also asked us for our paperwork and was also content for us to bring it ashore later. 

Ridgetop view of Dravuni, Fiji, in Astrolabe Reef.
Joanne led us to a broad, flat, well-trod path which exited the village and made its way up to islands hilly lookout points.  We ambled up to enjoy the view, then returned to our boat for later.

We returned around 4 pm with our paperwork, figuring it was the right time for that and kava.  Joanne again sought us our, and conjured up another man, bringing him down from the nearest hillside where the men were doing some farm work with taro.  One of his eyes was blue and appeared blind.  We showed him our paperwork and it appeared he wasn’t able to read it or sort out which of the several bits of it he needed to confirm were in proper order.  Eventually, he appeared satisfied, and handed the lot back to us.  He also invited us again to kava, “later,” and with some linguistic prompting from Joanne, again welcomed us to the island.  We determined the kava invitation was more made out of politeness than genuine desire for our presence, so simply returned to the boat and stayed there until we left the next day, more than happy to leave Dravuni’s rolly anchorage.

Still, despite the lackluster welcome, we were pleased to leave the noisy hustle-bustle of big city Suva, its murky brownish waters, its scent of burnt rubber and general grime for Kadavu’s clear waters, verdant isles and simple, quiet villages.  We were primed for a more authentic Fijian village experience, figuring we would find it at our next stop.

Dravuni, Fiji's cruise-ship cresent beach.
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 Dravuni from June , 2016, anchoring at S18.45.4 W178.31.05 (and re-anchoring at S18.45.436 E178.31.162, still rolly and worse for grinding on rocks or coral).  After stopping at Ono, we are currently at our 3rd stop in the Kadavus, off Kadavu island (S18.58.913 E178.25.164).  Likely our next stop will be Levuka, Vitu Levi, then on to Savusavu.

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.