The Odd Welcome

A few days ago we moved 9 miles north of Nanuya Lailai Island to this beautiful anchorage on Buasali Bay at Yasawa Island. The village here is Nabukeru (pronounced “Nam bu keru”). What made it perfect was that we were the only boat there…. FINALLY! After almost two months of being where everyone else was it was time to get back to cruising as we like it. Quiet and peaceful!

We came here to this island because of the Sawa-i-Lau Caves. They are on the island of the same name that is on just across the bay from Nabukeru Village. We never made it to shore the day we arrived to do sevusevu with the Chief because it rained. And it was Sunday so we didn’t want to interrupt their Sunday traditions. We just sat on the boat enjoying the phenomenal views and crystal clear water. I made stir fry from some leftover steak and chicken and we relaxed in the quiet and beauty of paradise. Dan was still trying to get back into island mode so he really enjoyed himself. After returning from the states he had several projects to complete with parts he brought back. With those behind him he’s slowly starting to get back into the island groove. Ahhhh!

The following morning after our usual coffee/internet time we got up and got ready to head to shore. Dan put on his nice shorts and a bula shirt and I covered my body from knees to shoulders with a sulu (sarong) and T-shirt. I find it interesting that my entire life I’ve always tried to look young and vibrant but out here I am forced to look like a doughty old lady! Oh yes… I also had to do my hair as well because you can’t wear a hat in front of the Chief. There sure are a lot of rules here but you know the old saying, “When in Rome…”

Once we were ready we made our way to the village to present our kava to the Chief. Upon arriving at the beach we were greeted by a tall man named Abraham. He had Fred Flintstone feet! Really…. I’m totally serious! His feet were as wide as one of my thighs and as flat as a pancake! I was almost as fascinated by his feet as I was with the bus driver with six toes in American Samoa. It turns out Abraham is the Turaga Ni Koro and the Chief. He was very pleasant and even had us stop by their outdoor shower to rinse our feet from the sand. It seemed this would be a truly special village visit.

Abraham led us to the vale ni soqo or vale for short (meeting house) and invited us inside. There was another man and two women sitting on the floor as we entered. Rarely is there is any furniture in these places and if there is, it is usually some sort of table for serving food. We knelt down and introduced ourselves as we were invited to take a seat on the floor. 

Just a side note here… As a woman I have to sit so my knees don’t show and my legs are behind me to one side or the other. Let’s start with the fact that it’s not very comfortable at my advanced age. Add to this that there are these very large ants crawling all over the floor we are sitting on. Every so often one would crawl up my leg and under my sulu and then bite me. There’s nothing like trying to keep your whole body covered and not make a scene while ants are chewing up your inner thighs! I truly am learning the art of restraint in this country. 

Once everyone was seated Dan presented the kava to Chief Abraham and asked for permission to visit the island, anchor here and enjoy their fabulous bay. The Chief began reciting a Fijian prayer, which requires everyone to clap at certain times throughout it. We can’t understand what he is saying but clap when we see the others clap. For all we know he’s saying, “Lord these Ke pelangi are such gullible people who spend money to bring us the kava that we already grow here in our village. We do nothing more than laugh at them and make fun at their expense. Please keep sending these imbeciles tas they provide great humor to us and we sure do love the free kava!” 

Seriously…who knows what they are actually saying? Anyway, after the prayer Chief Abraham gave us permission to explore the village and stay in the anchorage. Here’s where things go a bit sideways. In all of our other village visits the Chief spends time asking questions about who we are and where we come from. We ask questions about the people and the village and it’s a true bonding sort of thing. Not here … not on this day. After the prayer we were most promptly escorted out of the vale. It was actually rather odd and we felt a bit unwelcome but we followed Abraham outside.

One of the larger homes in the village. Likely housing parents, kids and extended family.

He helped a woman carry a large bin filled with cups to a hut nearby as we followed. He then came and told us to tour the village on our own and return to the vale when we were done. On every village visit we’ve been to we were escorted around the village on a tour of sorts. It was definitely odd but we headed out to tour the village on our own as instructed.

Now keep in mind this is not a large place. There are 50 or so people living here. The homes are the typical box like structures. Some have doors and windows…others do not. There weren’t many people out but we did run into a very sweet lady named Kinnie. She was sitting outside of her house shucking nui (coconut). This village processes coconut oil and sells it to support their people. 

Sitting with Kinnie learning about how they harvest nui (coconuts).

Kinnie is sitting on this wood plank about four inches wide. It had a scraping tool screwed into the end of it. The weight of her body holds the plank down and she uses the tool to scrape the flesh from the inside of the coconuts. It’s hard work to be sure! She was surrounded by coconut shells and chickens. Chickens? Yes…chickens. There was a rooster and lots of chicks. They scavenge the discarded coconut shells for food. Kinnie’s daughter who is maybe three years old was running around naked as a J-bird while mama worked the coconut shells. She was so precious and just stared at us and smiled the entire time.

After chatting with Kinnie for ten minutes or so she let me get a picture with her and then we were on our way. Walking through the village was a bit treacherous as there are big holes everywhere from the large land crabs that inhabit the island. Fortunately for the villagers these things are good eating. Of course they come out at night and many of these homes don’t have doors. Just imagine getting up in the middle of the night to make a pee run and hearing these big things scurrying across your floor….or worse yet….grabbing one of your toes! Yikes! (To see one of these things, CLICK HERE…it’s the 3rd photo down.)

Every so often a woman or child would come out of their home to say,“Bula” and chat for a moment or two. We saw a couple of young men “mowing” the grass around the homes. They do this with weed eaters. Considering how well manicured things seem to be this must surely be a full time job.

The church in the village is actually pretty large considering only around 50 people live here. Most likely others from nearby villages attend here as well which would account for the size.

The village seemed a bit smaller than Chief Abraham had said but it’s a Monday so it’s possible many were out fishing or had gone to get provisions from nearby islands. We enjoyed our walk around even if we did feel a bit out of place. About halfway through the village we came upon a very sweet woman named Filipina. She was probably in her fifties and was dressed in mismatched clothing, which is so often the case here in the islands but her smile was bright and welcoming and we could see she had a spirit filled with warmth.

Filipina appeared at her doorway welcoming us with a hearty “Bula” and that wonderful smile. She asked if we wanted any janina (banana). Not wanting to disappoint her we said we’d love some. Of course we knew they would not be free but we never think twice about paying for something these kind people offer as long as it has value and is something we want. 

We left our shoes at the door as Filipina welcomed us into her humble home. It consisted of three rooms. There were two bedrooms and a main living area. The entire place was probably only a couple of hundred square feet. The floor was covered with woven mats and in the doorways and windows hung brightly colored fabric curtains of varying patterns. In the main room on one wall were a couple of faded photos of family members and an official looking certificate regarding a child’s graduation from kindergarten. Above them was a painted tree branch that held small stuffed animals. Believe it or not in one corner there was a 32” flat screen TV and a DVD player with DVDs scattered about in front of it. They obviously don’t have cable but they do have solar power, which we guess would allow them to view a movie now and then. There wasn’t much in the way of furniture. We saw beds in the bedrooms. Actually there were more like mattresses on the floor. There were two very small cabinets in the main room. One held the TV and the other was likely for food as it had some mismatched dishes sitting on the top of it. There were two chairs in the main room as well. Filipina offered for us to sit in the chairs but we opted to sit on the floor with her.

We chatted as another woman (don’t remember her name) harvested the janina and some pawpaw (papaya) for us. The chat with these ladies was much warmer and more welcoming than our time with Chief Abraham to be sure. We spent fifteen or twenty minutes with them. Our fruit cost us $15 Fijian or approximately $7 USD. The time there was worth twice the price but soon it was time to move on and so we bid farewell to these lovely women and moved along.

Our tour through the rest of the village was quiet. We stopped to check out the lali drum that sits beside the church and calls the villagers to service on Sundays. Dan is fascinated with these things. Something tells me someday we will have one of our own. 

We made our way back down the beach and then up to the vale. By this time there were many people inside. We were told that a visiting nurse was there to check the children and the men were preparing for a kava ceremony. We walked into the vale to thank Chief Abraham for allowing us to visit and honestly we thought he’d invite us to take part in the kava ceremony. After all it was our kava they were using. Rather than ask us to participate he seemed eager to say goodbye and urged us to leave. It was very odd but we thanked him and moved on as we could see we were not welcome for the ceremony. As I said earlier…this village visit was a bit odd from what we are used to experiencing. 

Anyway, we took Sparkle back to Dazzler to change and get ready for our next adventure. From there it was off for a dinghy ride through the area. There is so much beauty to behold here. The waters are so clear you can see down a hundred feet. There are amazing limestone rock formations, coral sand beaches and the island of Sawa-i-Lau with its mountain of volcanic rock and lush green foilage. We explored a while then headed to where the Sawa-i-Lau cave is supposed to be. We heard that you can walk into one but the other is one you have to dive down under the rock and come up on the other side. Nope…not doing that! Just the thought makes me claustrophobic and God only knows what sort of creatures are lurking in the dark waters on the other side. No, no, no and heck no. I’m not doing it!

As we arrived at the beach near the cave we were greeted by a nice young man who wanted to charge us to take us to the cave. It was $50 FJD or $25 USD per person. He told us that both caves are snorkel caves and that was not going to work for me so we decided to forgo the cave visit. On this beach there was also a small market. The ladies there are called the shell ladies and they come from a village just south of Nabukeru. These ladies had tables full of bracelets, necklaces, sulus, keychains and carvings. The sad part is we have been here long enough to know that all of the items they were selling are Chinese made junk. Yes, we know the difference between real Fijian carvings and Chinese knockoffs. Even the “shell” jewelry was plastic crap. It’s so sad to see them trying to sell this stuff when they have the resources and skills to create beautiful works of art that we would actually buy.

Disappointed in the cave thing we took off in the dink toward another part of the bay that had a tiny little volcanic island called Yadrava Qele Island. It was on the south side of the pass on our way in and had a small beach I wanted to explore for shells. Fiji is very strict on what shells you can and cannot take and until today I’ve only managed to get two. As we crossed the pass and came near the island we noticed goats grazing on the top of the hill. Now this island is not large by any stretch. You can walk all the way around it in a half hour or less. It’s only about a tenth of a mile square. So what in the world are all these goats doing out here? Well, I’ll tell ya Shoutie. The villagers have put them there so they don’t have to go trekking all over their own island to get a goat for dinner. It’s their way of fencing them in so to speak. Yes it was a little sad watching them knowing they are just waiting there to be eaten but then that’s how it goes. Sometimes you are the hunter and sometimes the hunted. These animals just got the short end of the stick I suppose.

There was a very small patch of sandy beach there where we pulled the dinghy up and tossed out the anchor. I began my shelling where I found several Cowry shells as well as a couple of others. I have been collecting shells since México and one day when we become land dwellers again we will use them in the custom bar and tables Dan will be making. They will make nice reminders of our life at sea. We spent an hour or so exploring this beautiful little island but the clouds were building and so was the surf so we decided we better get back across the bay to Dazzler. One our way out we noted there was a lot of really beautiful, healthy coral around and we talked to some people that were snorkeling. They said it was spectacular. We’re moving on tomorrow but you can count on the fact that we will be making a trip back here next year. 

After our trip to Yadrava Qele Island we went back to Dazzler where we enjoyed a wonderful afternoon sitting in the cockpit sipping a few beers and watching the rain. It was another wonderful day on Dazzler. Yes, it’s good to be retarded…I mean retired.

Until next time…

Jilly & Dan

P.S. We did find out later from some other cruisers that Chief Abraham had just recently been anointed as the village Chief. Apparently his father passed on a month or so prior to our visit so we’re guessing he’s just new to the whole thing and still trying to get himself settled into his new role. Of course there is also the fact that due to the nearby caves lots of cruisers come to this village, which means they probably get a bit tired of having to entertain the ke pelangi too. We certainly can’t fault him on either count. 

Author: Dan & Jilly

Leave a Reply

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