Guava Jelly motoring past Mali Island just outside Malau
We knew that we were in the wrong as we arrived at Kia, a jewel of an island 15 miles north of Labassa along the Great Sea Reef. In Fiji, Sunday is the lord’s day and is spent going to church and doing little else. Swimming, fishing, and traveling are all forbidden. The church bells, actually huge wooden drums, were ringing out was we poked our way around Yaro Village trying to find a break in the coral so we could drop our anchors. The village kids were all waving and screaming for us to come in, but after a 3 hour motor on a windless, blazing hot day I decided that I needed a swim first. I hoped that God would understand.
Motoring into Kia Island on a windless afternoon
Riki helping me find a coral free spot to anchor
Riki caught a 3 foot long barracuda on the way in. We still had plenty of trevally and wahoo filling up our little refrigerators. So Riki decided to offer it up with the kava for sevusevu. We didn’t think too much about the fact that it proved that we’d broken yet another of the Sunday prohibitions.
Riki with his Barracuda
When we did make it into the village, we were greeted by the usual swarm of curious kids, but the adults seemed a bit off. There wasn’t time for sevusevu before church started, so we met with the village spokesman for a few minutes and then were whisked off to the Methodist church. The church was sweltering hot, the service was long and all in Fijian and Riki and I were both tired even before it started. Sweating, thirsty and with a hurting back I tried to put on my best face and enjoy the occasional singing with the usual soaring harmonies, but my relief was palpable when the doors were swung open and we were ushered out.
The whole island was in Yaro for the monthly fund raising service. The women brewed tea, rolled out pandanus mats and set out plates of fresh baked confections while we were introduced to Chief George and taken to the community hall to present our sevusevu offering. The ceremony was short and sweet. We chatted a bit, met some of the other village men and then were swept outside for afternoon tea with the rest of the island.
The whole afternoon seemed strange. Everyone seemed a bit off, probably due to our blatant disregard for the holiness of the day. We’d talked earlier about coming back in for kava after sunset, but when the clouds opened up and sent everyone scurrying to clean up and get inside, we were happy to take our leave for the night.
We came back into Yaro the next morning. We’d been told of a footpath to the peak some 800 feet above the bay. Normally we always get a guide whenever we want to go anywhere, but instead we were pointed to the trail and left to our own devices. It seemed odd, but after our Sunday experience we were beginning to expect odd from Yaro.
We hiked up to the ridge above the village and then back down the other side to Ligau Village. Our reception on the west side of the island was what we’d come to expect in Fiji. Sam, the first person we met on the way into town, stopped what he was doing and offered to guide us to the top of the island. It turns out that the path starts at Ligau and it wouldn’t have been right for someone from Yaro to guide us.
Hiking across the island from Yaro to Ligau
The school playfield in Lingau. I loved the chains of painted soda bottles lining the field:
After chatting in the shade with some of the village men, Sam started us up a well worn track through cassava and banana fields. The path quickly disappeared and again we were glad for our guide. Sam had told us that the climb was not straight up and that the path switched back to make it easier, but Fijian switchbacks and American ones differ wildly.
Sam and Riki towards the beginning of the hike
Sam and Riki ahead of me scrambling up the steep trail
The path was covered with loose rocks. Underneath was damp earth that did little to hold the rocks in place. There were few trees on the path. Instead sharp, wet grass lined the sides of the trail. Sam kept telling us to use 4 wheel drive, grasping clumps of grass with our hands as well as trying to dig in with our feet to keep from sliding down the steep grade. Sam used his cane knife to cut steps in the dirt, just like Delaware Johnny used to do with his ice axe down in Franz Josef. Periodically the path went into a shady patch where we could escape the punishing late morning sun. Still I was near heat exhaustion by the time we reached the top. Rivers of water were pouring off me, my shirt looked like it had been dunked in the sea while Sam, 2 years my younger, had barely broken a sweat. It was pretty obvious which one of us had grown up sitting on a couch playing video games.
Looking back to the reef outside Ligau from the trail
Just below the peak, there was an old cannon pointed out over one of the protected bays to the east. The story I’d heard before was that it was placed there to celebrate the end of cannibalism and the tribal wars over one hundred years ago. Listening to Sams comments, it’s more likely that it was placed there after it was stolen from a British Blackbirding ship. In the 1800s, foreign powers regularly raided Fiji, especially the remote villages and took the men as slaves. When the ships came, the natives had little recourse but to run and hide in the mountains. Sometimes the ships would fire into the hills. It looks like Kia Island obtained the ability to fire back.
Sam and Riki by the cannon:
View of the harbor from the cannon:
From the cannon is was a short hike up along a knife’s edge ridge with 100ft drops down each side. Riki took a pic of Sam and I on a little pinnacle that had my heart racing as I tried to not let me knees collapse and send me tumbling to certain death. The Sam edged out onto an even narrower little ridge that jut out to an even more exposed locale where Riki joined him for another photo op.
Sam and me atop a little pinnacle that turned my guts to stand on
Ligau village from the top
Sam and I sitting on the little knife edge jutting out from the top
Riki standing on that same ridge that Sam and I were barely comfortable sitting on
The heat was really getting to me and the noonday sun was being amplified by the black rocks. I had to bail on Sam and Riki and get back into the shade and drink water. The way back down was more of a controlled slide than a hike. When we got down to the village, the tide was out. Instead of climbing over a saddle back to Yaro, we hiked along the shoreline where I ran into some spectacular scenes and a sea snake hiding in the rocks.
Hiking around the point:
Riki hiking around the point
Sea snake hiding in the rocks
another great vista on the beach walk
When we reached Yaro, Riki and I were both pretty exhausted, but Sam really wanted to see our yachts. After climbing to the top of the island with us, it was the least we could do. As we were pulling my skiff down to the surf, Pastor Joseph came running down wanting to come for a visit as well. I dumped the whole party off at Guava Jelly, drank 2 bottles of water and went for a swim to revitalize myself.
For the rest of the afternoon we had one boat after another coming out and visiting. It was quite a different scene than we encountered on Sunday. We finished off the night with a beach party where Riki and I played music by a fire on the beach, drinking kava with the men and surrounded by tons of interested kids and the womenfolk in the shadows just beyond the firelight.