Posted on Leave a comment

Lepers & Giant Clams, Oh My!

The time has come to continue moving throughout this beautiful country. We’ve seen so much here at Vanua Levu that we feel we are ready to start making our way south and west. Today we said goodbye to the local friends we’ve made here in Savusavu and headed out. 

Just about 27 NM south of Savusavu is the small island of Koro. There are a couple of resorts on the west side of the island and there’s a nice little cove you can tuck into where they have mooring balls. We arrived late in the afternoon and picked up a mooring. We were the only boat there so we had the entire place to ourselves. NICE!

From what we understand a few years ago the Kepalangi (white people) began buying up property here to build their vacation and retirement homes. Let’s be clear. Non-Fijians can’t actually buy property here but you can purchase a 99-year lease. It’s pretty obvious when you see the homes dotting the shore and scattered across the hill that the people buying up the property were planning a very well to do resort like atmosphere. Apparently, however, their love of island living didn’t last as long as they expected and many of them have vacated their homes so there are many standing empty. Even one of the resorts is currently on the market so if you have an extra $2.5M lying around maybe you could get a good deal.

Anyway, we only stayed for the night and no one ever came out to collect any money for the mooring. Quite frankly the place looked all but deserted. We saw a small fishing boat out fishing the reef and a couple of kayaks but that’s it. There were no people walking the beach nor was there any noise from generators for that matter. 

The following morning we set out for Makogai Island. (prounonced Mako’nai) I was so excited to get to this place. This place is known for their giant clams. Yes, clams as big as people! It’s the stuff movies are made of and I couldn’t wait to get there to see these things. But, there is a lot more to Makogai Island than giant clams. 

Approaching Makogai.

Makogai actually has a very interesting past. From 1911 to 1969 it was a Leper Colony. They brought Lepers here from all over the world. As we entered the bay I had to kind of chuckle as I remember my Daddy always saying, “Well, it could be worse you could be living in a leper colony.” My guess is that Daddy never saw one because this is one amazing and beautiful island! 😄

After arriving and partaking in some anchor down libations we put the dinghy in the water and prepared to head to shore. No longer a leper colony, Makogai is now a government island with a marine research station and even though this is a government village and not a traditional one, sevusevu is still expected. Once again I donned my layers of clothes to cover my knees and shoulders. Within seconds every inch of my skin began to glisten as all of my sweetness started oozing out from every pore. But, it’s a tradition and we must do the right thing. So, onward Christian soldiers…onward!

It was a bit tricky to get to shore as the tide was low and coral surrounds the beaches. After a bit of searching we found a very narrow channel through the coral next to the concrete pier. Dan pulled the anchor onto the coral sand beach and we made our way up the beach. We started to look for someone to lead us to the man who runs the village. There was a young man in his late 20’s or early 30’s mowing the grass. He stopped and came over to introduce himself.

The man’s name is Seru. He’s sort of like the Taraga Ni Koro for this village. I say sort of because as I mentioned, this is a government island. The village where we anchored is full of government workers and Seru is one of them. These people are part of the marine research station here. Only some live here full time. Most, like Seru, come in for two weeks each month. Here they are cultivating giant clams, coral and they even have a sea turtle hatchery. They are very devoted to protecting the marine environment.

Us with Seru.

Seru led us across the lawn to some plastic chairs that sat under a tin roofed structure. After presenting our kava, Seru offered to give us a tour of the island. First up was the marine facility. Now, when I say facility you’re probably thinking of a place with large tanks and things like that. Well, that’s not really what we saw. There are several long concrete wells and a couple of round tanks too. Only a few of these tanks/wells had water in them.

One of the round tanks had about a dozen baby sea turtles in it. Another tank had a dozen or so juvenile clams that were about a four or five inches long. Each one had a different colored mantel (lips). Also inside this tank was a really odd looking blue spotted stingray. Neither of us had ever seen on before so that was a bit of a treat in itself.

Blue spotted stingray

Since the marine facility is rather small the tour only took about fifteen minutes. Afterward Seru took us through the jungle to see the Leper Stones. These are the gravesites of many of the Lepers who died here. Along the way we saw remnants of buildings that were once part of the hospital including part of a movie theater. The jungle, however, is an unrelenting beast that takes over every stationary object in its path so very little of the buildings are still visible. Even so, it was a wonderful and FLAT walk through the village and jungle.

When we returned from our hike we were treated to our very first kava ceremony. This is typically a part of the sevusevu but we’ve found at many of the villages they they don’t seem to want to share the kava we bring to them. Here it was much different. They invited us to sit on a large woven mat in the grass. Here one man had a large bowl sitting on the ground, he poured water out of a bucket into the bowl. Then he had a muslin bag about 5” x 10” that had the ground kava inside. He soaked the bag in the water then squeezed it. Similar to what happens when you squeeze a tea bag, the muddy colored water would ooze out of the bag. It looked like muddy water from a dirty river. He did this for quite some time as we chatted. Then it was time to drink. He filled a half of a coconut shell with the liquid and handed it to Dan. Dan was told to to clap once, say “Bula” then drink the entire contents of the shell in one gulp. Then he was told to clap three times, as do we all, and he handed the cup back to the guy mixing the kava. Next it was served to the Taraga Ni Koro with the same things occurring. Then it came to me. Each time everyone clapped and followed the ceremonial tradition.

The kava looks awful and doesn’t really taste great but it’s not that bad either. It makes your tongue and lips feel numb. We had many cups of kava with them over the course of an hour and a half or so. Eventually we started to feel uber relaxed and kind of jelly like. That’s when we decided it was time to return to Dazzler. Of course before standing it’s tradition to ask permission. With permission granted we knelt before the men, shook their hands and said our goodbyes. All in all it was a very cool afternoon with some amazing people. They treated us just like family and just until you hear about our next trip ashore with these fabulous people!

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.