As you know we hiked up the equivalent of Mount Kilimanjaro today. Well, not really but it sure felt that way to me. Anyway, I made it back alive, which is a real blessing. Of course it wouldn’t have happened if Dan hadn’t been using the electric prod to keep me going but then you’ve probably already read about that.
What happened after our hike is something that truly blew us away. Yesterday when we came to present sevusevu Chief Isimeli invited us to come back to their home for lunch this afternoon. When reached the visitor center at Tavoro Falls Lutz & Gabi asked if we’d mind if they walked back to the village instead of wait for John to pick us up. Sanaila was planning to walk along with them. Of course we certainly had no issue with them walking but I certainly wasn’t going walking up and down that hilly road. I’d already reached my limit. So, they went on and we waited by the river for John to pick us up.
After about a half hour or so John showed up and we headed back toward Vurevure Village. Along the way we saw Sanaila, Lutz and Gabi walking but they refused the offer of a ride. Of course they were almost back to the village so it was understandable.
We all arrived at the village within minutes of each other and Sanaila lead us back this his parent’s home. As we arrived and were taking off our shoes (you never enter a home here without doing that) Elizabeth, his mother, came out to greet us. She insisted that we come inside and sit down.
As we walked in the scent of a long day of cooking permeated the air and made my tummy growl a bit. I was definitely hungry after the tortuous hike and every whiff my nose encountered smelled better than the last. I couldn’t wait to see what wonderful delights Elizabeth had prepared for all of us.
She was scurrying about getting things ready and motioned for us to sit down on the couches, which were made from car bench seats and covered with colorful material. In the center of the small, tiled room was a wooden table with four chairs, four plates and four placemats. Each chair had a beautiful red flowered cover on it, which made for a beautiful accent against the stark white tablecloth. Lutz and Gabi sat on one couch at the end of the room and we sat on another. To our left was a wooden table filled with lace and colorful printed linens.
As we sat in there chatting while Elizabeth was busy in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on lunch I started to realize something just wasn’t right with all this. Why are there only four chairs and plates? Where will the rest of the family sit to eat? Of course I’m sure this is the same question that was in all our minds at this point but no one dared speak it out loud.
Sanaila, who had left us to shower after the hike, came in and sat in the large chair on the long wall of the room. I surmised this must be the chief’s chair but since he was out Sanaila was acting as the man of the house so he commandeered it. We had a wonderful time with him discussing everything from politics to village life. He’s a exceptional young man with an amazing head on his shoulders. Elizabeth and Isimeli can be very proud of the man they have raised.
We learned some interesting information from Saniala as we sat there discussing life in the village. If a man wants to start a new village, he has to go to the chief and get permission but first, he has to acquire a whale’s tooth to present to the chief. The larger the tooth, the more likely the chief is to agree. He also has to have a plan for his new village that includes rules and codes the people there will have to live by. Once the chief gives his blessing a parcel of land will be given to the young man and he will then start his own settlement. Moving forward the young chief will be mentored by the older one. When problems arise in the new settlement the older chief will come and help settle them. Sanaila is in college now but he hopes to come back after college and begin his own village. He has some great ideas for his village and we are all certain he will make a wonderful chief someday.
After about a half hour Elizabeth began filling the table with food….lots and lots of food. It all smelled so incredible and even though we had no idea what some of it was, it looked wonderful too! Once she had placed all of the dishes on the table she motioned for us to sit. Finally we couldn’t take it any longer and Dan asked where everyone else was sitting. Sanaila informed us that we were the guests and would be eating at the table. They would not eat now but later. What? Seriously? You invited us here to eat and Elizabeth spent the entire day in the kitchen working yet you aren’t eating with us? Sanaila went on to explain that guests such as ourselves are not all that common in their village. This makes us very special and the way Fijians so their appreciation is to present us with a grand meal. WOW! This is something we never expected and it did feel a bit odd. After all, Elizabeth worked so hard and Sanaila had been so kind as to escort us through the mountain to the waterfalls. But, as we know, this is not our country or our culture so we must conform and so we sat down.
The meal Elizabeth prepared was extraordinary. There was green curry chicken that had potatoes in it. No, not your traditional style of curry but so delicious! Sanaila told us that is his favorite meal and we could see why. She also prepared deep fried eggplant, cassava, homemade roti and taro leaves. Now, the taro leaves were something I would have been certain I wouldn’t like but they had this cream sauce on them and oh my heavens….they were magnificent! I fell in love! Elizabeth also brought out some hot tea served with milk like the Brits drink.
To say this meal was amazing is such an understatement. The food had so much flavor; and was so different from anything I’ve ever eaten in my life. Honestly, there was a time in my life that I was so picky about food I’d have probably turned my nose up at all of this but I’m glad I’m not that way now because I’d have missed an exquisite culinary feast.
Elizabeth finally sat down with us and talked a bit as we were finishing our meal. I’m sure she wondered if we truly liked it because there was so much left but we all ate until we couldn’t eat another bite. I can’t remember the last time I ate so much at one sitting. She’s a delightful hostess and we all enjoyed our time eating, talking and learning about her and her family.
After we rested from the magnificent banquet Sanaila offered to take us on a tour of their village. The walk was well needed by this point. We all offered to assist Elizabeth in cleaning up but she wouldn’t have it. She insisted that we go with Sanaila so off we went. As we started the tour of this very small village it began to mist a bit but not enough to deter us. We met Louis, the pastor, and saw their current church which is just a covered, outdoor patio with benches and a small makeshift pulpit. We were told a new church is being built and they hope to have it done by December.
Along the way we saw the colorful houses with open windows and some with no doors rather brightly colored prints hanging in the doorway. We saw a couple of homes that were under construction, which was very interesting. One belongs to Pele. We stopped to chat with him for a bit and learn about how they construct their homes. At this point they only had the concrete footers and some of the slab installed for his home. It’s a village event when a home is being constructed. All the men participate in whatever way they can. Pele was a very cool guy and we all enjoyed our stop.
Here, as in many villages we’ve seen, they have communal kitchens and outdoor showers. Of course some of the homes also have their own kitchens, like Isimeli and Elizabeth’s place. As we walked along we saw dogs, ducks, cats and piglets. Everyone stopped to say, “Bula” and make us feel welcome. We even saw where one family was drying Kava.
Vurevure Village is not very large. There are probably only twenty homes there but it’s a beautiful village and very clean too. There are dirt footpaths that lead all throughout and the brightly colored homes that stand out against the lush green grass and foliage of the forest. It was such a treat to have a personal tour by a young man who is so proud of his people and his village.
Our tour took about forty-five minutes and we ended up back at Isimeli’s home. When we arrived Isimeli was outside and welcomed us back in to sit at the table. Here we chatted with him about our hike, the amazing meal Elizabeth made and their village as we drank orange drink. Isimeli is one of the most talkative chiefs we’ve met during our trip so we learned much from him. He offered lots of information and was also very curious about all of us. We spent a half hour or so with him and then excused ourselves. The tide was going down and it would be getting dark soon. We needed to get back to our boats while we could still see to navigate over the reef.
This has been the most extraordinary day in our circumnaviation. The hike to the top of the world was amazing and the lunch and company at Isimeli’s home was something we will never forget. We will always be grateful to the entire family for showing us such a warm and wonderful welcome. I only hope we are able to come back and visit them again next year!
Until next time,
Jilly & Dan
P.S. Elizabeth, if you ever get to read this I hope you know how much we truly loved the brilliant meal you served us. Next time, however, we will insist that you and the family join us! Vinaka vakalevu, noqu itau