Posts Tagged ‘guitar’

Makogai, Ovalau and a Big Ole Yellowfin

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

We stuck around Namena a day longer than zee Germans. There was a northerly wind forecasted so they bugged out to get back up to Cousteau before they had to bash the whole way. We decided to go with the flow and head south to Makogai.

We had a forecast for 10 knots out of the north for our trip south, but it never materialized. Instead we motored in flat calm seas pulling two fishing lines behind us. Mélanie spotted a bunch of boobies going crazy over a bait ball and we abruptly changed course. The first hit came fast on the rod. Mélanie worked hard to try to get it in, but it was too strong and nearly spooled all the line off the reel before it shook the hook. It did create a knot which we didn’t get fully worked out before we got another strike. This one too through the hook as we didn’t have any drag setup because of the knotted line. I worked out the knot and got the reel ready to go again for the 3rd hit, but even with maximum drag, the fish spooled me. These guys were just too big for my rod and reel setup.

Instead we turned to the handline. We switched out the blue squid, which the tuna had been ignoring, for a blue rapalla. Fortunately the fish were still in a feeding frenzy as we circled around for another pass. The handline went taught and Mélanie started dragging it in. Unfortunately the fish spooked when he saw the boat and she wasn’t able to handle the line. We lost another one.

We came up with a new plan for fish number 5. When the handline went taught again, we kept motoring along for 5 minutes to tire the fish out. This tactic worked like a champ. Mélanie wrestled the fish alongside the boat and I hit it with the gaff. I don’t know how big the other fish were, but this beautiful yellowfin tuna was 30lbs and nearly destroyed my port visor above the nav desk during his death throws. It took us an hour, but we finally had our fish. We set off for Makogai.

We anchored off the old leper colony and took in the yellowfin carcass and ¼ of the meat for Camelli and the crew. It turns out that the Minister of Fisheries for the Eastern Division of Fiji was visiting the research station. Camelli didn’t have much time for us, but was appreciative of the tuna.

We went back out to the boat for a nice sashimi dinner including some ginger that we’d picked ourselves over a month ago for just this occasion. Afterward I went in for a music/kava session with the fellas at the research station. It was interesting chatting with the Minister of Fisheries. He was by far the most worldly, educated Fijian that I’d ever met.

Unfortunately the wind picked up out of the NW and gave us quite the rolly night. We had to bail on Makongai. The waves were wrapping around any protection, so we decided to take advantage of the northly to head down to Ovalau 25 miles to the south.

We had a great sail in 15-20 knots of wind. The highlight of the day was passing through a pod of pilot whales. They were holding on station and we got a good look at lots of them, but it was too rough and I didn’t have my camera out.

The pass into Ovalau was easy to navigate in the clouds and we continued our boisterous sail down the west side of the island to Wainaloka bay. Wainaloka is listed as a hurricane hole. It’s certainly a beautifully protected anchorage with great holding, but it’s a bit big to use as a hurricane hole. Still if you’re caught in the area, this is the place to go.

We were running a bit low on supplies, so we took the skiff in through the mangroves to the village and started walking towards Levuka, the old capitol of Fiji. Unfortunately we missed the 8:30am truck and there was no traffic of any kind on the road. After a couple of km we ran into a fisherman who’d also missed the truck, though he didn’t know it. Eventually we were able to call a taxi to take all 3 of us into town.

The cession of Fiji to the British took place in Levuka back in the 1860s and the town hasn’t changed much since. Walking the streets, you’d think you were in an old west town, as long as you didn’t look to the east towards the Koro Sea.

Mélanie and I walked around town and checked out the sites, poking our heads in and out of the various shops containing lots of things we didn’t need. We visited the small museum and saw a good shell collection and some of the history of the place. In the end Levuka was a poor provisioning stop. Fresh veggies are hard to come by except on Saturday. We ended up with some apples, carrots and beer from the MH and that’s about it.

We spent the last two days hanging out at a sandbar between the anchorage and Moturiki. It’s completely covered at high tide, but has a wonderfully sandy beach that appears at mid tide. Of course we had another photo shoot, played crib and generally had a very mellow time. From here it looks like we’ll be heading south to Leluvia and eventually Suva. The wind is looking light for the rest of the time that Mélanie is going to be here, so there’s probably going to be lots of motoring in our future.

Happy New Year from Viani Bay!

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

We pulled into Viani Bay on Christmas Day thinking that we’d celebrate the holiday with a snorkel and maybe some Fiji Gold. I’d picked an anchorage that looked like it had pretty good shelter from the south easterly winds. I couldn’t tell from the chart that there was a house right there, nor that the only place to drop the hook was about 150 feet from the beach right in front of that house. Indeed while we were looking for a place to drop the hook a respectable distance away, a very European looking Fijian man came out to the beach and directed us to the one good spot to anchor. Mélanie and I immediately dropped the skiff into the water and went ashore to say hi.

The man on the beach turned out to be Jack Fisher. I’d heard of Jack, as he is well know in the cruising community. He takes yachties out diving to all the good spots in the area at a dramatic discount over the local dive companies. The house belongs to his Aunt Francis and the whole Fisher and Evans clan was over for Christmas. Lunch was just about ready to be served. Our timing was impeccable and naturally we were invited.

I didn’t have my camera around for lunch. It consisted of an overwhelming spread of fish and curry dishes, boiled crabs, salads and of course cassava. I think that we each had 3 plates. Then it was time for desert and kava. Mélanie and I excused ourselves and went back to Bodhran to change out of our grubby sailing clothes and to grab the camera and instruments. We got back just in time to sit under the mango tree and get the party going.

I brought in a bunch of “pop-its” that I had left over from Diwali. The kids found it to be great fun exploding these on the back of their Uncle Johnny. Johnny is the definite black sheep of the family. Very entertaining, but he doesn’t work and spends a lot of his time scamming off everyone in the bay, so even Jack’s wife Sofie got into the game of blasting him with “pop-its.”

Went the sun got too low, we shifted from the mango tree to the almond tree for shade, but the grog party went on all night. We pulled into Viani Bay without expectation and ended up having a Christmas celebration that I’ll never forget and making lots of friends that we’ve been hanging out with for a week now.

We stayed in the anchorage off Francis’ house for 3 days. We’d go in for tea from time to time, but mostly we hung out on the boat with Jack and Sofie’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband Tukana. Tukes is the family’s singer and guitar player who takes Fijian culture very seriously. I left my spare guitar on the beach for him for the three days and you could hear it being played all day long. Naturally Tukana and I hit it off, but it was Elizabeth who adopted us. She came out and spent the better part of two days hanging out on Bodhran snorkeling, fishing and carrying on. She brought us out buckets full of hermit crabs for bait and even baited our hooks for us. Of course all the catch ended up going back to the house.

On the 4th morning, Tukana and Elizabeth were heading back across the bay to Jack’s house. Jack has a couple of moorings that he put in for yachties. We figured that would be a better place to hang out, so Tukes and Elizabeth came on board and drove us over. The next day we had a pizza party and then decided to go out trolling on the outer reef. Jack joined us on Bodhran and took the helm. We had three lines out, but didn’t get a single bite.

The next day we had Jack’s whole family out for a shopping run over to Taveuni. We were running a bit low on fresh stuff and wanted another try at a fish. The morning was flat calm. Jack took the helm and steered close to a number of bombies, but we still didn’t have any luck. We anchored off Waiyevo and took a cab to the MH in Somosomo to buy groceries. We had quite an entourage with us for whole shopping trip.

It took 3 trips in the dinghy to get the groceries and Fisher’s back on the boat. The wind was up and we sailed off the anchor. We had a rousing good sail with Jack steering the whole way back. The wind was blowing 15-20 knots slightly ahead of the beam as we blasted across Somosome Strait at almost 7 knots. Sofie would whoop with glee every time the boat heeled over. Still we had no bites until Mélanie pulled in the handline and found a small barracuda on the end. Once we were off Jack’s place we finally started the motor and picked up a mooring.

That was New Years Eve. Both Mélanie and I had been feeling sick for a few days. We wrestled with going into the village for New Years or not. Reluctantly I took the skiff in to tell Elizabeth that we were going to bail. She met me on the beach and immediately asked if we wanted to have Tukes and her back out on the boat for a tanoa or two. This seemed like a much better plan. As it turned out, the village New Years Eve celebration consisted of 2 hours of church until midnight. Mélanie and I were both pretty happy we missed that one.

The real party was on New Years Day. The tradition is to douse people with water or even better pick them up and throw them in the water. This helps wash away the old year and bring in the new. We missed the morning mass dunking of people on the beach, but went in for lunch. The massive lunch was followed with a procession from the neighboring village women. They came marching through the village wearing makeup and their sunday finest, banging on pots and pans. The women from this village then proceeded to douse them with buckets and pans of water, including one filled with curry stained dirty dishwater. Waste not, want not.

We then settled into the familiar kava/music session under a mango tree. Like so many other places that I go in Fiji, there were plenty of musicians, but no instruments. So my uke and two guitars were passed around until it was time for the women to all leave for their own wetting at the other village. A bunch set out on foot for the 2 mile walk. Mélanie joined the crew that went by boat a short time later. I thought it best to leave the women to their business and stick around the village with the fellas.

I moved from the kava session to the volleyball court. I got in 4 good games, winning two and losing two, but burned the crap out of my feet on the black sand. It was hot enough to give me blisters on both feet. I had to bow out of the volleyball game. It was OK, the fellas were more impressed with my camera skills than my skills on the court.

We left at sunset after a nice swim and freshwater shower. The forecast is for no wind for the foreseeable future, so my next blog post might be from Viani Bay as well.

Albert Cove a Year Later

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

Mélanie and I took off from Dakuniba on a Saturday morning with light southerly winds. We’d delayed our departure by a couple of days while we waited for a trough of low pressure to pass. These lows are the price of sticking around during cyclone season. They’re filled with lots of rain and lightning, but so far haven’t been packing much wind. At least the water tanks are staying full.

We took the small boat pass out of Dakuniba towards Viani Bay and transited without problems. Our destination was Matei on Taveuni. The big northerly swell that we found once we rounded the eastern tip of Vanua Levu made us rethink our plans. So instead we scouted out the potential hurricane hole up Naqaiqai Creek and then settled into Buca Bay for the evening.

I’m sure that the village in Buca Bay would have been worth a visit, but the rumble of busses and trucks on the road turned us off. We didn’t even launch the skiff. Instead we got underway the next day and had a great sail north to Albert Cove on Rabi Island.

Riki and I visited Albert Cove last year and had an excellent time with Panea, Terry and Mariana. I was looking forward too seeing everyone again. I was surprised to an entirely new population to Albert Cove. I went to Panea’s house and found Keke sitting there. He lives on the other side of the island in Samale Bay. We’d met last year and we sat down and started catching up. Terry and Mariana were in the village for Christmas. No surprise there, but then Keke told us that Panea, at the age of 74, had gotten married and had a new born! He was still in his new bride’s village. Panea’s new brother-in-law, Peter, and family was staying in the house.

I brought in a couple hundred grams of kava, but that only filled two tanoas. They didn’t have any way to pound the kava at Albert Cove, so they made it up green instead. Basically you boil a bunch of newly harvested kava root. Once it’s nice and soft, you pour off the water and then pound that in a bowl with a piece of wood. With dry kava you normally pound it in a steel container with a long steel rod. Once the green kava was pounded, water was poured in until in formed a thick slurry. The slurry was then put in a cloth and water poured over it to create the final mix. The resulting drink was too strong for Mélanie and myself. We politely excused ourselves after two bilos and went back to the boat.

The next morning I noticed the overly ripe smell wafting down from the bananas. So it was time to make banana bread. I knew that you could use the pressure cooker to do it, but I’d never tried before and didn’t have a recipe. We just followed a normal recipe out of a cookbook and poured it all into a pot that we fit inside the pressure cooker on a trivet. We added a cup of water to the bottom of the pressure cooker and left the weight off. After 30 minutes cooking, the water was gone, so we added another cup. After an hour we had a perfectly cooked, moist loaf. I probably could have used the weight to make it cook faster, but I was afraid of it being too moist. Either way it sure came out better than using my temperature challenged oven.

While we were waiting for the banana bread to cook, a greatly overloaded boat of picnickers from Peter’s village 5 miles away showed up. The boat, Rise Again, was blaring music while they went by and hit the beach like an invading army. Rise Again beached herself at a sandy spot where the creek hits the beach and people piled off. A volleyball net was setup and the party started. Mélanie and I decided to go for a snorkel while we let the banana bread cool.

The snorkeling was great with warm water, medium visibility and lots of good fish. I spotted a lobster down underneath an overhang in the reef, but made sure not to tell anyone where he was. We ended up snorkeling all the way down to a beach at the south end of the bay, but the wind was up and it was too cold to stay out of the water for long, so we turned around and had another nice long snorkel back to the boat.

After enjoying a couple nice hunks of banana bread, we went for a walk down the beach and then joined the party. We brought in the guitar and uke. The battery for the stereo had gone flat. Peter used to be in a band that toured Fiji and was great on the guitar belting out boogie woogie rock and roll rhythms as well as singing a bunch of traditional Bonabin numbers.

I went out to the beach to take pics of the sunset as the party broke up and the boat left to go back to the village. Peter sat inside Panea’s house and provided the soundtrack as every left. I didn’t get any really good pics so I drained a couple of bilos and said goodnight. Peter hadn’t had a guitar to play in years, so I left him mine for the night.

The next morning, Mélanie and I were listening to the SSB radio when we heard about a tropical depression forming and heading our way just after Christmas. Albert Cove was no place to be during a cyclone, so we brought a bunch of Christmas presents in for Peter’s kids, picked up my guitar, said our goodbyes and took off.

As we sailed south past Nuka, we picked up internet and saw that the depression was going to pass right over the top of Vanua Levu. It was still a few days off, but I wanted to have time to get to a good cyclone hole. We intended to go back to Nasasobo, but the SE wind convinced me to stay on the other side of Kioa. We had a rockin good sail close reaching in 20 knots of wind, though Mélanie was a bit worried at times. We headed up the cyclone hole at Naqaiqai creek for the night.

This morning’s weather shows the depression strengthening into a full cyclone and passing north and east of Fiji. Nasasobo is still a better spot than this if we get any big seas from the north, so we’re making our way there for when the cyclone hits. We’ve still got a few days, so I think we’re going to hang out in Viani Bay where we can get some good snorkeling in and hopefully have internet so we can see how the storm progresses before we go into informational blackout in Nasasobo.

Vanua Balavu

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Bats noisily chirping to each other as they suck the nectar from the flowering trees behind us, Irie, Guava Jelly and Bodhran lie rafted together in a sweet little anchorage while a low pressure system rolls overhead. Doris, Hannah, Riki and I had skiffed through this little hole 3 weeks ago. Awed by the steep walls, clear water and beautiful coral, we idly chatted about trying to squeeze one of the big boats back in here. The arrival of Christian and V on Irie turned idyl chat into a mission.

Shallow, clear water combined with dramatic rock formations and caves make the Bay of Islands in Vanua Balavu one of the top anchorages that I’ve visited. Irie had taken a detour to Namuka-I-Lau when Guava and I sailed up here, so Riki and I had a week to explore the bay and get to know the good people of the head village on the island, Dalaconi, before he got here.

Riki had been here last year and we warmly welcomed into the village. Not that we aren’t always warmly welcomed into Fijian villages, but it’s special when the people already know you. Few cruisers go back and retrace their steps. We didn’t spend too much time in town, but we did make the trip to Loma Loma to pick up some meager groceries. Of course we also spent a few nights drinking kava and playing music and we came back to the village again when Irie came in to do their sevusevu. I’m afraid that I’m going to give Dalaconi short shrift here. I did get some great pics and had some good times there, but we’ve got to get back to that mission.

The three boats made their way back up to the Bay of Islands 5 miles to the north. The next day Christian, V and I went out fishing/dinghy exploring. We went through that same little hole that Doris, Hannah, Riki and I had gone through a week before. This time Christian pretty much decided that he was going to get Irie in there. I’ve been thinking about staying in Fiji during cyclone season this year and it’d be valuable to scout this place out as a hurricane hole.

The next day at high tide, we made it happen. Armed with a hand held depth sounder and my camera, V and I took off in the skiff to scout/document the way in. Riki climbed aboard Irie and started playing guitar. For some reason that didn’t seem to help, so he climbed up Irie’s mast to help spot coarl heads.

It should be mentioned here that Irie is not a particularly maneuverable vessel. She’s a 33′ steel bath tub with a big keel running her entire length. She draws a moderate 5′, but if we needed to turn sharply, it’d be all over. Prior planning was the key. Too bad I was busy taking pictures instead of measuring depths. Actually we’d scouted the route ahead of time. It all looks very tight, but there were only two spots where the passage underwater was really cramped. Christian has been at sea for many years now and calmly navigated these constrictions like they were wide channels.

Christian decided on a nice sandy patch after the second constriction to drop the anchor. Once it was set, Riki looped a stern line around a tree and brought it back to Irie. The anchor wasn’t quite in the right place, so Christian and Riki worked as a team snorkeling down the 15 feet to the bottom to shift the anchor and chain to just the right spot. This was the first time I’ve ever seen a 45lb anchor set by hand! Once everything was set and a few celebratory beers were drunk, it was Guava’s turn to come over.

There’s no pics of Guava or Bodhran coming in, but we scouted a shorter route to the anchorage for the other boats. It looked like there was more coral on this route, but it was deeper and much shorter. I climbed Guava’s ratlines while Christian hung out in the water with his mask to mark the shallow points. Just like that Guava was in and rafted up along Irie. The tide had come in, so Bodhran anchored outside for the night. The next morning Riki came out to help me in. The wind was blowing and it was pouring rain, but by now this was old hat. All three boats came in without incident and no coral was harmed in the making of our raft.

We spent a week rafted up in that sweet little anchorage. Bodhran was only 10 feet off the rocks, but we were surrounded by hill on all 4 sides and the wind barely touched us. Derrick and Allison off Kalida and Geza and Eva off Rotor were still anchored outside, but came over for a potluck. We all went snorkeling together through a cave in one of the islets that had a large air pocket in it. Geza and Eva donated their longboard so we could tow it behind Christian’s dinghy. I can’t believe that I didn’t get any “skurfing” (skiff surfing) pics, but good fun was had by all.

One day we decided to bushwhack up the hill behind us. The rock all along the bay is very sharp and jagged and the jungle is dense and foreboding, but Christian thought that he spied a mango tree up there. If one of us was going to be here during cyclone season, it’d be valuable to know if there was fruit in the neighborhood. So V dropped us off on the shore at the head of our little bay and Riki, Christian and I set off with our machetes and cane knife to scout the hillside.

We immediately found a sweet little cave on shore, so I had to climb in and take pictures from it. From there we ascended up to the base of the “mango” tree. The consensus is that it’s not a mango tree, but looks like a mango tree and still could be a mango tree. By this time we were already ¾ of the way to the top, so we pushed on and were rewarded by a view looking out over the outside lagoon with a distinctly good looking wall for snorkeling.

So the next day was snorkeling outside on that wall, which was indeed pretty spectacular. In total Riki and I spent over three weeks in Vanua Balavu. The fishing was good. The scenery was great. The people are as good as anywhere in Fiji. Huge fruit bats greeted us at the end of each day and chirped us to sleep at night. All that would have been great on it’s own, but a big thanks to Christian for having the drive to try and get us back into that spot. Finding a spot like that made Vanua Balavu truly special.


Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

After 3 days in Savusavu, Bodhran, Guava and Irie were all topped up on fuel, water and groceries. We were ready to go and even more impressive, we had a forecast for easterly winds turning northeasterly. We decided to capitalize on the unusual northerly and shoot for Fulanga 190 miles to the southeast.

Fulanga is in the southern Lau Group in Fiji. For many years the Lau was accessible to cruisers by special permit only along with a hefty daily fee. 3 years ago the Fijian government opened up the group for cruising, and it’s quickly becoming a favorite destination. The problem with the Lau is that you have pass it by check into Fiji and then work your way back against the prevailing tradewinds when you want to visit. Fulanga is about as far up against the trades as any point in the Lau and would make an excellent jumping off point if we could lay it.

Doris and Hannah had 3 weeks left before they we scheduled to fly back to the states. While in Savusavu they went to the Air Pacific Sun office and booked connecting flights out of Vanua Balavu in the Northern Lau and the only island in the Lau Group with air service. Hard schedules are anathema to the cruising sailor. They make for bad decisions and missed opportunities. Of course there’s no way to avoid them when a visitor comes on board, but if the wind didn’t cooperate we could have some problems making Vanua Balavu by the appointed hour.

Bodhran, Guava Jelly and Irie all left Savusavu in the afternoon and set a course for Point Reef where we’d then be able to make the turn southeast to Fulanga. Of course our forecasted east northeasterly 10-15 knot wind ended up being 15-20 knots directly from the southeast. Doris and I rounded the point shortly before the sun went down and proceeded to bash into a sloppy head sea. We only made 10 miles good towards our destination during our first 4 hours. After that we got tired of getting beat up and cranked up the iron genny and motor sailed for the lee of Taveuni which we layed about 3 in the morning. Not the most auspicious beginning for a passage, but we used the light winds behind Taveuni to regroup a bit from the night’s beating and were ready for the easterlies when the filled in with the rising sun.

Once we got the wind, we spent the next 36 hours close hauled on a port tack. The wind died again the second night out and I used the motor for a couple hours to make some more easting. When the wind filled back in we had a perfect line for the pass at Fulanga which we raised a little after noon.

The pass at Fulanga is narrow and has a lot of current. If you judge the tide wrong it can be treacherous. Guava had arrived 20 minutes before Bodhran and had judged that the pass looked pretty good. Riki had been in here last year, so I was happy to tuck in behind him. With Doris posted on the bow as lookout and we transited the pass fairly easily. The water clarity in Fulanga actually complicates matters. It’s hard to judge the depth of the coral heads. In the pass you can avoid most of them, but once you get through to Fulanga’s expansive lagoon, there are patches where you just have to cross your fingers and hope for luck.

The lagoon in Fulanga is a spectacular a spot as I’ve been in the Pacific. A barrier reef surrounds a large “U” shaped island with the opening pointed to the northeast. Inside, the lagoon has a few large islets, but the real distinctive feature are the hundreds of mushroom shape rocks strewn everywhere. With depths rarely getting deeper than 40′, the entire lagoon is an anchorage capable of handling many hundreds of boats. We followed Guava into Riki’s favorite anchorage behind a sand spit in about 15′ of water.

Irie overnighted in Numuka-I-Lau and hit the pass the next morning. Doris and I jumped on Guava and motored out to meet Irie and snorkel the pass. The current was running strong, so we skiffed to the outside and drifted the pass back in with our dinghies tied to our waists. The sky was overcast, so the colors in the coral were a bit muddled. Still we were rewarded with a huge school of mating coral trout at the pass entrance as well as a few good sized white tipped reef sharks. Afterwards we finished off the day with music and a fire on the beach along with Jamie and Lucy on Bamboozle.

After two days on the island it was high time that we went to the village and did our sevusevu. The main village is on windward side of the main island. There’s an anchorage off the lagoon on the leeward side. From there it’s a ¾ mile hike along a scenic, but mosquito infested path across the island. The village had nominated Tai as the yachtie liaison. Riki had met Tai the year before, so we went straight to his house.

It turns out that Riki was the fist kai palangi (white person) to ever return to the island for a second visit. Needless to say we received a warm welcome. We were escorted to the chief’s house, performed our sevusevu and paid our $50 per boat fee for visiting the island. Before lifting the permit process, Suva charged a daily fee to be in the Lau Group. A portion of this fee was supposed to go to the villages. In practice, it never tricked down to the islands. The free right to anchor is one of the tenets of maritime law the world over. Also once you perform sevusevu, you supposedly have the right to anchor, fish and generally go where ever you want in the territory controlled by the chief. Still we’re visitors here and if they want $50 a boat to visit one of the most fantastic anchorages in the world, then it’s a small price to pay.

We spent 2 weeks in Fulanga, alternating between the more remote anchorage and visiting the village. We went to church on Sunday and were treated to a big spread afterwards. The schoolteacher, George, and his wife Ma, pretty much adopted us with Ma baking and making food for us every time we came in. We played music and drank kava a few nights. The generosity of the people was overwhelming even by Fijian standards. The monthly supply ship was broken and months overdue. Resources were running low and we were still treated to the best that they had to offer. We tried to reciprocate in kind with whatever supplies we had on board, but how to you repay someone who has next to nothing and feels bad that they can’t offer more.

Subsistence living the order of the day in Fulanga. With plenty of arable land and fish in the sea, the population get’s by fairly well. Unfortunately they don’t grow kava or tobacco not to mention petrol, cooking oil and rice. They do have magnificent vesi trees. A tropical hardwood, the wood carvers are hard at work most days shaping it into rough kava bowls that are sold to Suva where they are sanded and finished. They do a little bit of finish work, mainly with the softer woods that they carve into masks, dolphins, turtles or whatever else catches their fancy. I ended up buying a rough kava bowl and took a picture of a design which I’ve tried to carve into it’s rim. It’s not done yet, but will be much nicer than the plastic mixing bowl that I’ve been using.

We had a big going away party a few days before we left Fulanga. It started out to with a hike up to a cave filled with bones up above the village. The stories differ on whose bones these were, but supposedly they belong to 19th century invaders from Tonga. A number of the skulls have large holes in them presumably where they’ve been bashed in by war clubs. From the cave we continued up to a high point with a good view of the village on once side and the lagoon on the other. On the way down we visited another much larger cave, this time devoid of human remains.

Upon returning to the village we were treated to a big lunch. The highlight of which was steamed clams in coconut milk with seaweed mixed in. From there we were late for a concert at the school. What you didn’t hear? The kids have never heard country music and Christian, Riki and I were slated to perform for them. It was news to us, but good fun. Especially when the Spanish couple from Caps Tres goaded the kids into clapping in time. They finished off by singing a song back to us. It was all very sweet and a good precursor to sitting down to a big bowl of ole locally preferred narcotic beverage, where we proceeded to swap songs back and forth with the Fulanga Band Boys. At one point there was even a conga line going. I’m not sure how that started, but a good time was had by all.

The wind had been out of the north for a few days. A very odd wind direction during the hight of the tradewind season. We were beginning to get a little worried about getting the girls up to Vanua Belavu for their flights home. With only 3 days left, we got a light southwester which eventually clocked around to the southeast and pushed us nicely up to Vanua Belavu covering the 120 miles in just over 24 hours.

Upon reaching Vanua Belavu and doing our sevusevu, we learned that they weekly flight to Suva was often cancelled. The runway is situated on a hillside. Planes land on a grass slope at about a 25 degree angle. Too much rain and the runway gets too muddy to land. Not enough visibility and it’s dangerous to come into the until airstrip. The village tourism commissioner, Sam, set us up with a 6 am 4×4 ride to the airport.

It was touch and go when we got there. Suva had tried to cancel the flight, but the dour fella that ran things in Vanua Belavu overrode them. So thankfully the girls got out, albeit a few hours late and Riki and I went back to being singlehanders again.