Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Waya Island (Yasawa Group, Fiji)

[Maryanne]As we were sailing south down the Yasawa group of islands, we were so excited to get a call over the VHF from our cruising buddies from Lalamanzi. We last saw them in Whangarei (New Zealand) and always enjoy their company. It didn't take long before they had persuaded Kyle to change his planned destination for the day and stop off at Waya with them. The offer loaded with the opportunity not just to meet up again with them, but the promise of a freshly caught fish dinner!

We arrived from different directions, and Muzzi kindly snapped some pictures of Begonia under sail, and shortly we were anchoring off the island of Waya, just off the village of Nalauwaki. After a chatty and happy reunion we decided to spend the afternoon ashore at the village of Nalauwaki, do sevusevu, and take a walk. As we approached the village we found it was low tide and a tricky access for the dinghy. A village kid was also returning to the beach (on his corrugated iron canoe) and decided to act as our pilot through the narrow and meandering route through the coral - we made it, but it was hairy!

Ashore we were soon greeted by Devi and taken for our sevusevu ceremony, followed by a presentation of local crafts from the local smiling village women. Afterwards we were given quite the tour of the village with the usual friendly locals making it so nice. We were then left to our own devices and chose to explore along the beach with the promise of a waterfall just beyond the village. The sun was shining, the backdrop was spectacular, and the company full of excited chatter and laughter as we were caught up with each-other's adventures and mishaps.

A rare photo of Begonia under sail - thank you Lalamanzi!

Village life - including the corrugated iron canoe, drying pandanas, and a much better equipped kindergarten than those we'd seen in the southern Lau group.

A day spent with the lovely Rob & Muzzi (from South Africa)

Some really pretty patterns in the sand

Once we left the village and returned to our boats, we had an hour or so to refresh and change before enjoying the remainder of the evening aboard Lalamanzi. Aside from enjoying their great company we were also treated to some wonderful fresh wahoo for dinner. We were so happy that our expected plans for the day were waylaid for some heartwarming, cozy, company with friends. They also snapped many of the photos used in this blog post.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Somosomo (Yasawa Group, Fiji)

[Kyle]We were up early for the short trip south to Somosomo Bay. There were only two other boats there when we arrived, with another two coming in after we arrived. That felt way less crowded than Nanuya and we were looking forward to decompressing a bit.

The one thing there is to do there, besides snorkeling and walking along the long beach is to take a track across to the windward side of the island. There, you can snorkel on a WWII airplane wreck.

Somosomo Beach, sunrise, and rainbows

We had heard a few different people say they couldn’t make it the whole way through on the track. Storms had knocked a lot of trees down and the track had become overgrown. We had all day, a machete, and a GPS position for the wreck. I figured if we could find some sort of a trail to start with, we could bushwhack a new one the rest of the way.

We were wrong. The machete was great for cutting a path through, but it was slow going. We only had a third of a mile to go, so daylight wasn’t a problem. The problem was that at the speed we were going, the mosquitos could easily catch us. One or two we could have ignored, but then there ended up being swarms of them. Time to retreat back into the burning sun at the beach, where they won’t follow.

At that point, as a consolation prize, Maryanne decided to swim back to Begonia via the long reef. I walked to the other end of the beach to look for a path through the grass to the top of the adjacent hill. I only made it halfway before the grass got twice as high as I was. I could push my way uphill, but when I got to the top, I wouldn’t have been able to see anything beyond the grass in front of me, so I gave up.

The underwater world, as usual, keeps us amazed
The last picture being a close up of a giant clam

I returned the dinghy to Begonia and then had a snorkel of my own. That pretty much completed all of the recreational options for Somosomo. That was nice. We didn’t feel guilty about taking the next day as a lazy day aboard - a lazy day with an amazing view.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Nanuya Sewa (Yasawa group, Fiji)

[Kyle]As we were pulling up our anchor in Sawa-i-Lau, a floatplane came in and landed (cool!). Dinghies then rushed over from the charter cats, loaded with guests. They then loaded the plane full and took off for a scenic tour, landing again just before we were around the corner. I have to say I was not impressed with the airmanship of the pilot. He had an airplane that can step taxi at forty knots and a couple of miles of potential sea room, yet he chose to start a takeoff in a heavily loaded seaplane just downwind of the anchored boats.

Kyle was excited seeing the sea planes, and a bit surprised by how close they seemed to get to the boats.

Seaplanes, particularly heavy ones, are much harder to takeoff than to land, particularly because breaking the floats free of the drag of the water takes all of the power the engine can produce (I have Commercial single and multi-engine seaplane ratings). This guy finally broke ground just before the boats and actually had to weave his way between the masts as he accelerated to climbing speed. That kind of behavior may be thrilling for his hung-over passengers, but it is just a matter of time before he will end up crashing. Now I was double glad we had anchored where we did.

Anyway, the sail was a nice, fast reach and before noon we were dropping anchor at Nanuya Sewa, just off of the resort. We are definitely heading more and more into the touristy areas.

Oh, boy, resorts!

At Nanuya Sewa, we anchored next to eight other boats. By nightfall, the number had grown to eighteen. Anchoring is less about finding the right depths/protection, and more about finding space between the other boats that isn’t miles from shore.

When we got there, a big power boat saw us searching and told us he was leaving in a few minutes. That gave us the freedom to anchor without the usual buffer of space between us and them. When all of the other boats arrived, we found ourselves in the front row, closest to shore.

We rowed to the resort, where we were met with several signs delineating exactly where we were and where we were not permitted. Mostly we were not, although anyone with a cash register was within limits.

From the resort we could walk across the island

This place definitely has a different vibe than we have been seeing before. Ferries and tour boats are constantly zipping around, all of them going way over the five knot speed limit. There also seems to be twice daily seaplane service and I saw one helicopter also arrive and depart.

Our tourist thing for the day was to take the trail to the other side of the island to the tea shop, where we would be able to sit and look at the beach while drinking tea. We would have gone anyway, but it was nice to know we would have an enforced stop in the middle.

When we arrived at the village there, we were told the tea shop was closed because they were having a groundbreaking ceremony for the new village hall, with which the tea shop owner was involved. We decided to have a look around anyway, since we were there.

About ten steps later, I spotted a young couple sitting at a table eating lunch. Maybe it’s not closed. We asked if it was possible to have a little something. “Sure!”, they said.

It wasn’t until later that we realized we were not in the tea shop, but at a backpacker’s accommodation and the tables were their common eating area. They made us a big fish curry that ended up filling us up for both lunch and dinner.

Freshly fueled, we did some exploring and located the closed tea shop way on the opposite side of the village. Since we had plenty of time and energy, I convinced Maryanne to take a trail that angled off from the one on which we had come. It led us down through the mangroves and eventually crossed the island diagonally.

We emerged at a beach resort that was peppered with signs saying that we were not welcome when their boat was there, barely welcome when it was gone. The area is owned by a tour company who brings passengers out for an afternoon of tightly organized fun every couple of days or so. They had just left, so we were permitted to walk along the beach back to our dinghy. On the way back, we noticed Muse anchored as well as Pirluoit and Duplicat. The last two we hadn’t seen since our first trip through the South Pacific in 2017. Dreis (he’s Belgian) from Pirlouit was the guy who taught us how to properly crack open a coconut using the back of a machete blade. We also met Justin and Linda, who had just made their first long passage from New Zealand on their newly acquired Fountaine Pajot. They saw ours and decided to come over and compare notes. We, of course, told them it was a laugh a minute. They were impressed that Begonia has sailed as far as she has with our only real wear and tear issues being cosmetic.

We also met a woman on the beach called Lai. We were looking at her sandwich board of possible tours. We had already done most of them, since most were boat related. As we were saying goodbye, she asked if we would be interested in a lovo. Why, yes we would!

A lovo is an in-ground oven of heated stones covered with leaves and dirt/sand. The noun has also become used for the feast that is cooked in a lovo. She offered us a good price that probably wouldn’t get us appetizers in the resort. The only catch was that, because it was a big effort on her part, she wanted at least six people to come. We told her we’d spread the word and hope for the best.

Our first Fijian Lovo

We managed to find four others who definitely wanted to go, plus a few other maybes. By the morning cut-off time, Lai texted us to say the lovo was on. Coincidentally, a boat from the resort was going around offering a traditional feast for only $99 each. Uh, no thanks. Theirs did include dancing, though, which we could sort of see from the boat. It lasted about fifteen minutes.

The lovo coincided perfectly with the end of Happy Hour at the resort (which really was only one hour). We ducked around the fence at the beach and arrived just in time to see Lai and her husband opening up the lovo and putting its many layers into baskets made of coconut fronds. Then they laid out a feast before us. There was fish, of course, but also chicken, potatoes and a bunch of other steaming yummies. In addition, they had a few different salads to pick from. It turned out to be more food than we could eat.

In the end, there turned out to be seventeen adults and eight children at the lovo. We all sat on makeshift seats and upturned buckets, eating our lovo in Lai’s back yard by the light of our headlamps. The crowd was very pleased. The consensus was that, while not as upscale, we were all having a much more authentic Fiji experience than the rubes next door. We were all very grateful to Lai for going to all of that trouble for us and she was very thankful to all of us for coming.

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.