Monday, August 19, 2013

Fulaga Island Part 2

Donning village attire

Cave climb

Anne with cave containing human remains

Remains from days of warfare and cannabalism

Village child

Village from above

Dinghy on beach

Secluded beach walk

Natural arch

Happy hour dinghy raft-up in lagoon
The remainder of our nearly two-week stay at remote Fulaga Island proved to be full of daily activities from dawn to dusk.  The long, narrow reef pass proved to be a wonderful snorkeling and SCUBA diving spot with opportunities to see big fish, sharks and amazing coral formations.  Timing the currents was important though as the tidal changes produced variations in water clarity and flow that would vary dramatically.  When the current was flowing out and emptying the lagoon, underwater visibility suffered.  During the peak of the incoming tide, clear ocean water brought better visibility and more big fish.  It also provided a magic carpet-like flying experience.  After taking our dinghies to the outside of the reef, we would drop in and be propelled like a group of flying super heros trough the pass while watching the amazing scenery go by beneath us. What fun!   Smaller passes between Fulaga’s inner and outer lagoons also provided interesting places to play in the current and see some beautiful topography. 

One day, we, long with other cruiser friends went ashore and walked to the village where we arranged for several young men and a woman to guide us through the dense jungle to the top of the island’s highest peak where we were treated to spectacular views of the area.  Along the way, we explored several caves that had, for centuries, been used by the islanders for shelter from storms and hostile invaders.  One cave even contained a pile of moss-covered, human skulls and bones dating back to the days of inter-tribal warfare and cannibalism.  It made us glad that we were visiting these people in 2013 and not 150 years ago when we might have ended up as the main course for a village evening meal.  In contrast to days past, when we returned to the village after our hike, our whole group was treated to a complimentary lunch of fish and fried rice served to us as while we sat on a woven mat in the shade of large tree.  These friendly and humble people were incredibly generous and quick to share anything that they had.

During one of our expeditions by dinghy, we visited a sandy beach that stretched for miles.  While exercising our legs, we scoured the beach for interesting shells.  Anne’s efforts rewarded her with a beautiful Chambered Nautilus shell in nearly perfect condition.  She was thrilled to add the rather rare, deep sea-dwelling specimen to her collection.

Our surroundings while anchored in the lagoon at Fulaga were idyllic but the weather was a little less so.  Located on the windward edge of the island group, Fulaga sees no protection from winds from the south and east.  While there, several days of strong winds and rain showers limited our outdoor activities.  We did take advantage though of all of the best days to get out and explore.  On one of the clear but windy afternoons, a group of us dinghied to the outside of the main reef pass to do a group SCUBA dive.  The plan was to dive in two shifts with half the group wrangling dinghies while the others dived and then trade duties for the second shift.  As the first group began gearing-up in their dinghies, while being buffeted by the strong winds and tossed about by the choppy seas, friends Ken and Beth drifted too close to a portion of the reef and were flipped over by a breaking wave.  They were both thrown into the water, just feet from there engine’s rotating propeller, and all of their gear, including two expensive underwater cameras, was scattered in the surf zone over the jagged coral reef.  Immediately realizing the seriousness of the situation, those of us nearby quickly leaped into action.  Rankin from “Gypsea Heart” maneuvered his dinghy as close as he dared and swooped Beth from the churning white water.  Mark, along with Derek from “Idyle Island” and Jon from “Evergreen” hurriedly swam though the breaking waves to Ken whose was doing his best to wrestle with the overturned dinghy that was being held in the worst possibly area by its anchor that had logged in the reef during the mishap.  While being continually  bounced off the jagged, coral bottom and pummeled by the incessant, breaking waves, the guys managed to right the dinghy and recover almost all of the lost gear.  While they worked, the girls carefully maneuvered the other dinghies out of harms way assisting where they could.  When the ordeal was finally over, the group had time to reflect on how dangerous the situation had been.  For Ken and Beth, it could have had life threatening consequences.  Needless to say, they were truly grateful for the assistance rendered.   Ken would later comment, while hosting a “thank you” happy hour aboard their yacht, “Eagle’s Wings”, that the village-like community of cruisers is comprised of  some of the most helpful, resourceful, and giving folks that he has ever known.  We certainly agree his sentiments.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Fulaga, Southern Lau, Fiji

Anne on lookout...entering Fulaga lagoon

Dozens of beautiful "cup cake" islets

Local fisherman on outrigger canoe

Mark in sulu

Anne with villagers


Mark drinking kava

School yard rugby

Anne, Beth and Sandy with school girls

Locally made kava bowl with simple tools

Anne with new friend

Friendly school kids

Simple canoe

Simple canoe paddler
One of our goals for cruising in Fiji this season was to visit the remote southeastern portion of the archipelago known as the Lau Group.  Until recently, this area has been off limits to foreign visitors and the small islands that run in a chain from north to south offer a glimpse at simple village life and spectacular scenery both above and below the ocean’s surface.  Since the islands lie more than 100 miles to windward of Savusavu, the most eastern port at which vessels can officially clear into the country, many cruising boats, will no doubt, continue to skip this area as it usually requires considerable upwind  bashing into the southeast trade winds to get there.  So, while enjoying the scenery and fantatasic scuba diving at Viani Bay on the east side of Vanua Levu, we watched daily for a weather window that would allow us to sail southeast to the island of Fulaga in comfortable conditions.  When the window presented itself, we wasted no time in heading off on the overnight passage with friends on the catamaran “Gypsy Heart” following close behind.  Our plan worked fairly well despite having inconsistent winds that required motoring much of the way.  Twenty eight hours after leaving Viani Bay, we found ourselves off the narrow reef pass entrance into Fulaga’s lagoon.  Conditions could not have been better for our entrance with sunny skies, calm winds, and a slack current just prior to the morning’s high tide.  With Anne on the bow carefully watching the shallow coral borders of the narrow pass and Mark steering while tracking from waypoint to waypoint on our electronic navigation display, we made it safely into the lagoon and breathed a sigh of relief.  At that point, we had our first opportunity to take in the majestic scenery around us.  Inside the atoll’s outer reef lies the L shaped island of Fulaga and dozens of small cupcake or mushroom-shaped islets all covered with palm trees and vibrant green vegetation. Each islet is so beautifully decorated that they seemed the work of professional gardeners.  We then motored through the glassy water to a protected nook that served as an anchorage closest to the main village.  It was there that we rendezvoused with friends Sandy and Rankin from “Gypsy Heart”.  We were soon joined by Ken and Beth, from the yacht “Eagles Wings”, who had also made the passage down from the northwest.

 A short while later, our group took dinghies ashore carrying cameras and wrapped bundles of Yagona root that we would present to the village chief in what was to be our first experience in a traditional Sevusevu ceremony.  A significant aspect of Fijian culture is that the lands and waters of these islands belong to the villagers and that in order to be welcomed, and to make use of any of the above, an offering of Yagona root should be made.  The plant, from the pepper family, is ground by the villagers into a fine powder and mixed with water to make Kava, a grog like concoction that has both ceremonial and recreational importance.  Once ashore, the women in our group covered their arms and donned sulus (wrap around, shin-length skirts) in order to comply with the local “dress codes”.  The guys wore either long pants or sulus, as is the standard for men.  We were also advised that hats, backpacks and sunglasses were not to be worn in the village.  It seems that these customs date back to the days of intertribal warfare and the associated cannibalism.  Apparently, strangers who approached wearing anything that protected the heads and backs or anything that masked their eyes were greeted with the utmost suspicion.    Approaching the village, we were greeted by several friendly residents who happily escorted us to the home of the chief where we were properly introduced and asked to sit cross legged on a large woven mat surrounding a large wooden bowl filled with the dirty dish water-like Kava.  A number of villagers were in attendance including one of the school teachers.  Our arrival seemed to coincide with a normal end of the day Kava drinking session.  So, the chiefs right hand man welcomed us with Fijian prayers and, one by one, passed to us half coconut shells of the drink.  As tradition goes, the recipient is to clap once before drinking the liquid in one gulp and three times after.  Having tried Kava in Tonga, we knew to expect the numbing effect on our lips and tongue and that, due to the taste, gulping was indeed better than sipping.  We asked many questions and were told much about the villager’s life on the island.  Their village, with 80 inhabitants was the largest of three.  A supply ship comes once each month, weather permitting, to bring basic supplies to the villages.  Otherwise, they subsist on harvesting food from the sea and growing a few basic starchy crops.  During our two week stay at Fulaga, we would be overwhelmed by the friendliness of these people and their willingness to share any of their modest provisions.  After the ceremony, we took a walking tour of the village taking time to visit the school where young boys played rugby on a dirt courtyard and adorable, uniformed school girls followed us about with wide eyes and huge smiles.  It was clear that they have had little interaction with foreign visitors and we felt a bit like celebrities.  On our way back to our boats, we met many more of the villagers who stopped what they were doing, walked toward us offering their greeting of “Bula Bula” while extending their hands for a handshake.  That evening, while back on our boats in the scenic, peaceful anchorage, we had time to thoroughly reflect on the day’s experience and felt fortunate, humbled and rather honored to have had the kind of reception that we enjoyed that afternoon.