Surgeries, Cyclones, and Weddings
Sailing blogs should be about sailing and at last, I have some sailing to write about! But first, some background on where we were and what we did while waiting out the cyclone season in the South Pacific. After hanging out in California a few months, we are happy to report that Craig’s new hip is working wonderfully (even without the physical therapy he chose to forego). We traveled to the Oregon Coast to check on“mom” and “dad” (and restock the wood shed). From there, we traveled to Portland and spent the holidays with our three kids. Last, we traveled back to California to plan a wedding for our daughter, Alicia. We also made a few trips to Arizona to see my mom. Lots of traveling and lots of fun catching up with family and friends!
That being said, I have to admit it took awhile for us to get over the initial “culture shock” of being back in “the rat race”! After months of hypnotic seas, tranquil coves, and pristine beaches, we had slowed down. At first, the crowds and congested traffic assaulted our senses and made me want to run back to the South Pacific! I couldn’t fathom running around at that pace again! But after spending time with family and friends, eating at favorite restaurants (Bandaras in Newport Beach) and visiting old stomping grounds (like the Performing Art center, and favorite dance studios, ) I had a change of attitude. These things are good too. Before long, I was back in the fast lane, getting and spending and keeping up with the best of them (just kidding..well, sort of)!
A special thanks to Guy and Patsy Young who rented their beautiful home and gave us unconditional love and support planning our daughter’s wedding. We could not have done it without them and once again owe our gratitude (and our first grandchild) to this amazing couple! Thanks Guy and Patsy!
While we were traveling around the United States getting surgeries, visiting friends and planning a wedding, WindCutter was dodging cyclones in the South Pacific! November through May is cyclone season in the southern hemisphere and WindCutter found herself right in the path of Cyclone Pam, a force five hurricane headed directly towards our baby anchored on the island of Viti Levu. We tell people that she “missed a bullet”. Hurricane Pam turned at the last moment. It plummeted Vanuatu instead and left many homeless. Several sailors we know responded by taking supplies to the ravaged islands and many are still there helping rebuild. I wish we could say we were one of them, but WindCutter only sent supplies on other boats. She needed to stay on Viti Levu to be hauled out, bottom painted and have minor repairs made. During the high winds, part of our windless broke (while she was being moved to a safer location). We were not upset by this news, but grateful to the marina and good friends who moved WindCutter to keep her out of harms way! We are also grateful to Bruce on ‘Skabanga’ who tied our lines to a tree as Pam passed by….Thanks Bruce!
Our prayers go out to the people of Vanuatu and hope that they will be able to quickly get the supplies needed to rebuild and survive! With surgeries, cyclones and weddings out of the way, it is time to return and explore beautiful Fiji!
Fiji is made up of two large islands, with a myriad of much smaller outer islands. The large islands are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. We begin our journey on the island of Viti Levu, nestled in the lovely Vuda Marina (reputed to be a good cyclone hold). We are near the town of Lautoka which boasts a large Indian community (descended from imported indentured labour brought in by the then British authorities to provide workers in the sugar cane fields). The Indian food here is amazing but the cultures are quite different and there is some tension!
Fijian Indians are more business oriented than indigenous Fijians and this difference is noticed right away! In Latoka, most of the town shops are owned by Indians and have an Indian influence. Incense burns and indian goods (beautiful fabrics) are prevalent. By contrast, indigenous Fijians dominate the farmers market as well as thevillages around the island. While traveling through the many villages here, indigenous Fijians young and old wave and greet you with a hearty “Bula” and a big smile! They sell most of their “goods” at roadside stands. If you need help (like directions somewhere), they go out of their way to help you and consider you family if you visit more than once! Indigenous Fijians are proud of what they call, “Fijian time” (which means there is no exact time to do anything or be anywhere). Quality of life out weighs quantity and relationships outweigh possessions (most are very poor, yet very happy!).
The Indian Fijians are usually friendly but very “busy”….kind of like Americans! One example of this cultural difference is when I went with my Indian Fijian friend (aka our ‘driver’) to buy a cow from a indigenous Fijian. When we arrived, the cow was out to pasture so we hiked all over the hills looking for the cow (which we never found..he was told to come back the next day to look again). My frustrated Indian friend explained, “This is the different between Indians and Fijians; an Indian would have the cow clean, tagged, and tied to a tree ready for purchase! A Fijian does not see the problem spending a day or week or month looking for a cow! Ah ha! How true this statement is! After years of rushing around Southern California, I think I prefer the Fijian way (evident by the culture shock I experienced during our last visit)! I had fun looking for a cow and being greeted by happy villagers along the way! I loved taking my time, leaping over streams, skipping through tall grass and not having to be anywhere (can we say “Tiny Tim”)! Yet, I am retired, I do not have to be anywhere so I have the TIME to look for a cow (like, tough luck if you don’t!) So, while I like the idea of being “on fijian time”, I completely understand my Indian friend’s frustration. Only two years ago, I had a ‘cow’ (now I know where that saying came from) because I missed an event when I got caught in a long line at Costco!
My Indian friend was further exasperated because ‘Ramadan’ began the next day (he is Moslem) and there was no more time to look for a cow! Once Ramadan begins, his cow hunting days are over (for thirty days)! So, my friend settled for chicken instead and told me he’d find another cow, another day. Later that night, we were invited to his home for a delicious curry dinner with his lovely wife and family! We had a great time (even without having a cow!)
Speaking of cows, we toured Viti Levu by rental car twice with Carol narrating “left, left, you must stay left..don’t hit the cow (or goat or horse) in the road!” Craig almost caused several head on collisions when animals leaped in front of us or when he forgot which side of the road to drive on after making a turn! Yikes!
.Native Fijian villages dominate the island (while the cities are primarily indian) and fruit stands offer fresh papaya, coconut and pineapple. Sites to see here are The Sleeping Giant, and the orchid gardens! The rainy (north) side boasts of lush, green jungles and sandy white beaches! If you like luxury, you can golf and stay at four and five star hotels near Denarau Marina (on the south side) but it won’t give you the “island” experience that Fiji is known for. For us “sailing folks”, the drive was nice, but it is nothing compared to island hopping!
Sailing With Kava
Cruising in Fiji is amazing! We keep saying, “It doesn’t get better than this!” But we are sure it will!! Our goal is to spend the next few months exploring Fiji: the Mamanucas, Yasawas and hopefully the Lau group! We know our adventure is dependent on weather and reefs unknown and seas and timing so planning is hard to do. We have learned that a sailors plans are only as good as his circumstances… it can change, but we are hoping it won’t!
Today, the sun is shining, the wind is blowing and we are ready to go! We’re stocked up on Kava root. Presenting Kava root (sevusevu) is traditional and expected! It’s the Fijian way to gain permission to anchor and explore an island. Kava is reserved for smaller islands that house villages rather than resorts! Think of it as being camped in someone’s yard and asking permission before you can enter his house. Kava is not considered a “payment” to visit but rather a century old tradition. In the old days, villagers brought Kava to other islands as a peace greeting.
Kava is prepared by mixing it with water (or coconut water) and pressed in a cheese cloth. It is passed around in a bowl that you share; you sip, clap three times and chant “Yea, we did it!” (Just kidding about the “Yea, we did it” part).
Once anchored, you are supposed to ask the first person you see to take you to the village chief. The chief will either give you a “Sevusevu ceremony” where you will drink the Kava with him (it tastes a little like dish water and has a numbing affect on your mouth) or he will take the kava and let you off the hook to explore (some sailors like Kava…probably because of the buzz it gives you).
So far, we’ve had two Kava ceromonies while exploring the Mamanuca Islands. These islands are beautiful! The first trip was with honeymooners Austin and Alicia Egger (aka our daughter) who spent a week sailing with us after their honeymoon in Northern Fiji on Savu Savu. The second was with our good friends Dave and Corinne Pincus whom we first met in Mexico. Both trips were amazing and a great time. We visited the islands of Malolo Lailai (Musket Cove), Yunuya, Monuriki (Castaway Island), and Mana to name a few.
The island of Malolo boasts the famous Musket Cove Marina and has excellent resort facilities ( lifetime membership to all cruisers), it also has several secluded beaches you can walk or bike to as well as excellent hiking! No need to bring Kava here…the cruisers bar is open 24/7 where mostly Aussies, Europeans and Americans meet and swap sea stories. But further removed from civilization is the island of Yunuya where you will need to present Kava before exploring. The first time we visited Yunaya, we gave our Kava to the first person we saw who disappeared. Later, we discovered a village and met the chief’s son who told us we gave the wrong person our Kava (oops!). In spite of the Kava mix up, the people were gracious and friendly! The children followed us around like puppy dogs while villagers showed us the island which included a school and church (most native fijians are Christian). Villagers cooked and bathed outside their small huts and a few invited us to dine with them. ‘Sam’ (our tour guide) climbed a coconut tree and threw down 5 large coconuts for us to enjoy (Austin had a great time cracking them open and even learned to climb a coconut tree himself!)
When Craig and I returned a few weeks later (with new friends), we were greeted like family and given a sevusevu (kava) ceremony right away. ‘Sam‘ was there to introduce us to the chief and more family members. We sat in a circle on a huge mat and talked. I gave bubbles and candy to the children and we all exchanged smiles. Sam later took us on another tour of the island and introduced us to the school task master. Before we left, we gave Sam a Tommy Bahama shirt, and his wife a pearl necklace. We hope they appreciated the gifts, but know they have all they need. Very happy people! It was a wonderful visit!
Even more remote then Yunaya is the island of Monuriki (Castaway Island). This island is breathtaking. White sandy beaches, and completely uninhabited (so no Kava needed here)…well, that is, uninhabited without the tourist who visit every few hours on tour boats! It was here Tom Hanks played the shipwrecked Chuck Noland in the film Castaway. It is also one of only three islands in the South Pacific where the large colorful ‘crested iquana’ lives and rare sea turtles give birth. The only draw back to this island is the tourist boats! Ugh! While we were anchored, several arrived, dropped people off to explore, and snorkel and then left! It wasn’t until the end of the day that we really had the island all to ourselves (ah the pleasures of having a sailboat!)
Our time sailing in the Mamanuca group was brief but amazing and I can’t wait to go back for more (we had to return to drop our guest off at the airport!) We loved having visitors and hope they loved the islands as much as we do!
As we prepare to set sail (by Friday), we plan to visit a few more islands in this Mamanucas before heading north towards the Yasawa Group. From there, we will sail to Vanua Levu, hopefully with a stop on Taveuni before heading into the Lau group. It’s a big ‘wish’ list and like I said before, subject to change dependent on weather!
For now, we’ve got lots of Kava, and lots of provisions! Repairs on WindCutter are almost complete, and we are ready to sail! Where we go after this season is still “up in the air” and again very dependent on the weather! It’s an “El Nino” year (more on that next time) so our path may change with the wind….We will keep you posted!
I don’t expect to get internet for awhile (although one never knows) so don’t expect to hear from me for at least a month. Nothing new with that comment, right?
Until my next blog, here’s a fijian proverb to “chew on” ! See if you can figure it out (I’ll tell you what it means next time!) Hint: It is a fruit and describes CRAIG 🙂
Fijian Proverb: “Vinaka vakaniu, sega na ka e biu” !