Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Sawa-i-lau (Yasawa Group, Fiji)

[Kyle]Overnight, the wind calmed; we woke to flat water and a complete lack of any hint of motion. Our first order of business was to dinghy over to the more distant village of Tamasua to do our sevusevu.

We were met on the beach by Mace, who told us the Chief wasn’t on the island, but he would take us to the next in command for the ceremony. It went as usual and we were eventually given the blessing to make ourselves at home on the island and at either of the two villages.

First Village (Tamasua)

We had a walk along the beach and back and then took a stroll through the village to see who was about. As usual, everyone was warm and happy to interrupt whatever they were doing for a chat. As we were making our way to the dinghy, a man about a house and a half away waved us over to say hi.

His name was Sione. We introduced ourselves and talked for a bit. He was trying to fix the pull-starting mechanism on his weed whacker. I grabbed my chin and nodded in a manly way, while Maryanne went over to his wife, who was cooking on an open wood fire, to get some tips on cooking breadfruit.

After a while, Sione asked if we had done sevusevu. Yes, we said, we had done it with Manuel. Sione looked like he hadn’t heard of that name (or, more likely, didn't understand our pronunciation). Then he remembered Manuel was the guy’s middle name. Anyway, Manuel is not the guy, I’m the guy.

Oops! We apologized profusely. He waved off our embarrassment with his hand. “No problem! It’s not your fault. It’s our problem. We’ll sort it out. No problem at all. You needn’t worry.” Whew! We apologized again, but he wouldn’t hear it. He sent us away with a breadfruit for us and one for Muse.

We returned to Begonia, where we changed and then headed into the village nearest us for a walk up to the top of the hill behind. We could see the trail from aboard, so it immediately got put on our to-do list.

Atop the hill (for the views) and exploring Nabukeru Village

When we got back down to sea level, we walked over to the village to say hello. After introductions, we were asked if we had done sevusevu and where. We told them and then several people insisted we were supposed to do it there. They weren’t combined villages. They have their own chief and we should have done it there.

“Okay. Well, someone over there has the kava, so you need to take it up with them.”

They then asked us if we needed anything. Would we like to see any crafts?

”Sure. We’ll take a look. We’re just going to go to the end of the beach. We’ll see you on the way back”

When we got back, we found that they had set up a whole bazaar for us as if we had been a two-person cruise ship. We felt bad, because they had gone to so much trouble, but, try as we might, we couldn’t find anything that really appealed. Most of the stuff was the same cheap, plastic, stuff you would find in any souvenir store. We did end up buying some bananas from someone else. They turned out to be plantains. Good, but not what we were after. The guy then asked us if we had done sevusevu.

We polled the other boats and got way more than one answer on where they did sevusevu. In the Lau, everybody agreed who the chief was and where to do sevusevu. Maryanne says that here, it’s like walking into a pub and yelling, “Who is supposed to get this bottle of whisky?” You’d think with all of the boats coming in with kava, there would be more than enough to go around.

Low tide from village

Between the islands of Sawa-i-Lau and Nanuya is some stunning rocky scenery
And a great place for cruiser fun at low tide

The big attraction at Sawa-i-lau is the caves. They have these caves you can swim through. High speed boats packed with tourists, all wearing orange life jackets, come streaming in and out all morning to see them. The standard tour is of the main chamber plus another one that can be reached by swimming under a short overhang. We had heard there was a third cave, which required a bit longer swim through a tunnel to reach. At sevusevu, we asked our chief about this (he owns the caves). He confirmed it was true and said that if we wanted, we could show up at 11:00, when all of the other tourists were leaving, and we could see the coveted third cave.

We showed at 11:00. The guy collected our fee (now $50, up from $20, up from $5) and we were shown into cave one and handed off to our guide, who was currently finishing up with a resort group. He led us through to cave two. When we told him about cave three and that Mace and Manuel had told us to come at 11:00 to see it, he started down a long list of why it would not be possible to do today:

The tide is too high
The passage is too narrow
It’s only for women
It’s only for men
It’s only for pregnant women
It’s NOT for pregnant women
Global Warming
Nuclear Winter
Unfair golf handicaps
Bad airline food
Slippery when wet
Beware of dog
Rule 13
The 80/20 rule
The five second rule, AND
Don’t want to

Ah. I think the last one is the kicker.

The caves are cool, but we’re hard pressed to think they’re $50 worth of cool. Without being able to get to the third cave, I would go so far as to call it a scam. We are definitely not in the Lau anymore. Their typical guest seems to be the many tourists for whom the $50 is a mere .01% of their resort bill, so why not? It comes with a free boat ride.

The island of Sawa-i-Lau and its accessible caves

Camped out on the beach for the day was the same group of villagers who had set up the bazaar for us the day before. They seemed to be doing a reasonable trade selling plastic bracelets with “Fiji” on them. I felt less like a friend than a mark.

We stopped by for tea and freshly baked goodies at Muse. The family aboard Muse are so lovely, and between Phil and his daughter Hannah we joke they are baking their way across the Pacific (the Great Pacific Bake off). This day they were the “kid boat” for the anchorage (boats with kids alternate who hosts the group), this meant we were in the center of a merry-go-round of children climbing the back steps, running behind us and jumping off of the hard bimini into the water. Phil and Sarah were nonplussed by the chaos, for us it was a crazy novelty and we were able to sit at their table and have adult conversations while occasionally getting splashed.

The Snokel around Yarawa Island was way better than we expected
It also had the most clownfish we've ever seen in one place

We then returned to Begonia, where we hoisted the dinghy and prepared for departure the next day. Before we went, though, we swam out for a multi-hour snorkel on the reefs between Begonia and Tamasua. There were lots of good drop-offs and previously unseen types of coral to see. Fiji has many more soft coral types than we have seen anywhere else.

Our out of the way anchoring spot turned out to be a blessing for us. On our second night there, a charter catamaran came in with guest from one of the resorts further south. They had a loud generator that sounded like a lawnmower that they ran all night long so they could keep the A/C on for the guests. Nobody but the guests were happy about that one.

They left the next day, but were replaced by two others who did their best to create a Cancun-style drunken party all night. By the time the noise got to us, it was a mostly ignorable and sometimes comic muffle. I don’t think the others in the anchorage were so pleased.

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