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Is He Trying To Kill Me?

How do you know when your man has finally had enough of you? Well, just maybe he subtly tries to send you to the big dirt nap. Just maybe he has a plan so brilliant that he will make you believe he just wants you to see a beautiful, natural wonder. You know, that it’s all about making you happy. 

But, let me start at the beginning.

Yesterday we arrived here at Vurevure Bay. It’s a wonderful little bay on the east side of Taveuni Island here in Northern Fiji. SV SuAn and SV Dazzler are the only boats here. Of course, as usual we anchored, had our anchor down libations and then headed to shore to do sevusevu with the chief. On shore we were met by a gaggle of young children who were playing on the beach. One young boy probably eight or ten years old took the lead and escorted us to the home of the chief. Chief Isimeli, his wife Elizabeth and his sons John and Sanaila graciously welcomed us into their home. 

We sat on a a woven mat on the large covered porch. The porch even has beautiful, colorful tiled floors. Yes, it’s the first time we’ve seen tile on the floors here. Of course, this is a bit more of a well to do village than most we’ve seen. There are several vehicles and Chief Isimeli has a very nice truck sitting under the carport. We presented our kava and the chief very graciously accepted it. Then we sat about chatting and asking questions. They, wanting to know about us and we them.

We were not there very long but in our time there Chief Isimeli told us he would have his son John drive us to the Tavoro Falls tomorrow and his other son, Sanaila would be our guide to the falls. Elizabeth even invited us back their home for lunch after our hike. We left feeling quite welcomed into their little community.

This morning Lutz and Gabi pick us up with their tender at 0830. We’ve gotten into the habit of only putting one tender in the water at each anchorage and we take turns….it’s their turn. Anyway, we head to shore. As we approach the shore Chief Isimeli’s first-born son, John, is waiting for us in his truck. While the chief arranged for John to drive us there is a fee. It’s one we are happy to pay at just $10 Fijian dollars each way. John is taking us to the world famous Tavoro Waterfalls At Bouma National Heritage Park. It is just 3-4 kilometers from the village where we left the dink but it’s a hilly road and it’s good to have transportation especially when you know there is a long, uphill hike ahead of you.

Tavoro Falls was made famous by its appearance in the 1991 movie Return To The Blue Lagoon. Can’t say I ever remember watching that one but the falls do sound beautiful and we are always up for a little hiking so it seemed perfect. When we arrive at the park Sanaila, the chief’s second to youngest child, greets us. Sanaila was instructed by his father to be our guide for the day. As he said, “I know my place and obey my father”. He’s a good son!

I am a bit on edge about this hike because I know it will be a long and difficult one up the mountain. It’s hot and humid here in the rainforest so my concern is my asthma. I am carrying both of my inhalers, my Epipen and I even took a steroid before leaving Dazzler. Of course the locals have assured me it isn’t too steep or strenuous. In fact the lady at the place where we paid our entrance fee of $9 Fijian per person said the only really steep part is a relatively short hike from waterfall one to waterfall two. I’m thinking it’s just one small section so even I should be able to handle that.

Having paid our fees we are soon on our way. I am pleasantly surprised with the beginning of the hike. It is a wide, grassy path through a beautiful green valley filled with tropical plants and flowers. Along the right side is a fresh water river that is fed by the three waterfalls we are headed to see. There is even a narrow concrete sidewalk for part of the way. Yes, this is my kind of hiking! No problem here….let’s rock this thing!

It’s just a short 10 or 15 minute hike to the first waterfall (seen in the movie) which is absolutely amazing! It is 24 meters high and falls into a beautiful clear pool over black sand. This is the first island in Fiji where we’ve encountered black sand. It’s actually very pretty. This spot is so beautiful I could stay here all day. In fact, I probably should stay here to wait for the rest of our party but Dan won’t have it so off we go on an adventure through the jungle.

Sanaila, Lutz and Gabi take the lead knowing that I will be much slower. Dan, always the gentleman, stays behind me to make sure I am okay. Just after we cross the tiny bridge at the first waterfall the path starts going up! When I say up, I mean it goes almost straight up. There’s even a sign…”Steep climb. Take Your Time Ascending The Hill” that warns of the treacherous trail to come. This should have been my first clue that I truly should have stayed back at the first waterfall and waited on everyone else. After all, it is a magical place and I could have relaxed on the rocks and gone swimming in the beautiful water but no, Dan insists that I make this trek with him.

What about this sign made me think it was going to be an easy hike?

There are steps cut into the side of the mountain that help but there is no doubt in my mind this will be one seriously long hike for someone with asthma. At first I am all about it and determined to meet the challenge but about halfway up I am ready to turn back. Dan still won’t hear of it so like cattle being gently prodded I slowly take one step at a time stopping often to catch my breath or drink a bit of water. It’s hot and very steamy in the jungle here but Dan is ever so patient with the time it takes me to make my way up this steep path.

We finally round one corner and see a clearing at a shelf on the mountain. Just twenty or thirty steps away we see Sanaila, Lutz and Gabi enjoying a bit of shade under a beautiful shelter lined with wooden benches. The view from here is spectacular as we look over the lush, green jungle and out to the ice blue ocean. They have stopped to wait for us and, of course, take in the view.

Jungle Jilly…CHAMPION!

I feel like a champion as I reach the shelter. After all, I’ve been told I have already conquered the steepest part of the trail. I hold my arms up in victory as we approach our friends. Then I collapse on a bench, gather my breath, suck on my inhaler and try to recoup from this exhausting experience knowing all the while there is a lot more ground to cover as we have yet to even reach the second waterfall. 

Everyone is so kind to me. Gabi keeps telling me she is so proud that I made it. Me? I am just glad the sun isn’t out today and that I am still alive! Silently I am praying I will make it to the next waterfall and hoping I can talk Dan into letting me wait there as they continue toward the summit and waterfall number three. The third one is supposed to be the most beautiful of them all so I’m not holding my breath. Of course I’m having a hard time even catching it anyway.

Here Dan is surely saying, “Just keep walking and stop whining!”

After a short break at the shelter we head out again. I have been assured the walk to the next waterfall isn’t as bad so I am in high spirits. Of course that lasts about five minutes. All of the sudden we are doing all of this up and down, switchback hiking. All I keep thinking is that for every step I take down there will be a step up going back. Again, I try to be a trooper but by this time…over an hour into this hike I am starting to lose faith in my ability to continue on. Several times I literally beg Dan to let me just stop and wait for everyone. He refuses! He says either we go together or not at all. It’s at this point I start to wonder if maybe he has a more sinister motive….you know, kill off the ol’ gal in a way that looks like an accident? “Gee, officer I don’t know. Guess it was just too strenuous for her. One second she was hiking and the next she just keeled over.”Hmmm…

Ordinarily I would kick his butt for taking a picture of my back side but this shows how steep this was.

Of course I’m pretty sure or at least I hope that isn’t the case so I start to focus on a book I read several years ago. It was written by Stephen Olsen and is called The Slight Edge. The whole premise of the book is that to effect any real change in your life you have to take tiny steps in the direction you want to go. For me, today, that means one small step up, down or sideways to reach this waterfall and so I just keep going. Of course that doesn’t happen without a lot of stress, complaining and moments when I think I will literally pass out from not being able to catch my breath; but Dan stays by my side encouraging me the entire way.

It seems like the endless hike from hell but soon we hear and then see the waterfall at the top of the mountain. We bypassed waterfall #2 to get to the top first and plan to hit the second one on the way back down. This one at the top of the mountain is stunningly spectacular and very much worth the pain to get here but there is one problem. To actually reach the base of the falls I have to trek down a steep and muddy path that has a rope on one side to keep you from falling down. The moment I see this I plant my feet firmly in the mud and say, “No more!” I have done all I am willing to do and as enticing as that cool water looks I am not, under any circumstances, traversing this steep trail only to have to try to come up it again. Nope, no way I’m doing it and I don’t care what you say!” After all, sometimes a girl has to stand her ground and this is one of those times.

So, it is here that I encourage, whine, beg and even demand that Dan continue on and enjoy the pool. After all, he shouldn’t pay for my bad lungs by missing out on this experience. He’s already had to endure enough on the way up here. Of course he fights me tooth and nail saying that you never leave your partner behind but I can be pretty tough and I tell him he can see me from the pool so he needs to go. Eventually I win this battle. I watch as he carefully makes his way down the path and I stand aloft taking photos of the falls, our friends, and Dan.

As I watch them all enjoying themselves in the cool water I suddenly find myself inching my way further down the path. After all, I earned a moment of enjoyment in the clear, fresh water and honestly, after everything I endured to get here, how hard can it really be to get out? I have Dan and three other people, including a strapping young 21 year old who can help if needed so why not finish the mission? So yes, despite my determination to quit, I find myself moving toward the finish line. I slowly and cautiously make my way to the base of the falls. Once there I don’t waste a second as I strip down to my bathing suit and begin to work my way across the slippery rocks to the ice-cold water at the base of this most magnificent waterfall. I step in gently at first but then decide I just have to go for it and I push off from the shore and duck my head under the water. Ahhhhhhh! It feels so refreshing after the long, hot, sweaty hike a hundred miles up into the sky. Oh wait…it was more like a mile but it sure felt like I was climbing Mount Everest!

Dan smiles at me as he sees me in the water. I sense he’s a bit proud of me for going the full distance. In actuality, I’m grateful he pushed me to get here. It would have been something I’d have hated to miss. Of course he knew that the entire time which is why he kept pushing me.

We all enjoy a wonderful swim in this clear, cold water. Sanaila works his way up the waterfall on the steep rocks and before long he is perched there preparing to take a plunge into the pool below. We all watch from the pool and I know at least I am holding my breath and praying he doesn’t get hurt. Of course I’m certain this isn’t his first rodeo so I’m pretty confident it will turn out okay. After a few moments of preparation Sanaila jumps from the rocky cliff and splashes into the pool below. We all applaud as he comes popping up in the frothing, whitewater at the base of the falls.

We spend about forty-five minutes here at this enchanting spot before we decide it’s time to get back on the trail. While I’m feeling much better there is still the thought of the incredibly long and arduous hike out of this place but there’s no time to dwell on that. I just have to focus on one step at a time. And, of course everyone is telling me that it’s going to be much easier getting out so off we go.

Once again we send Sanaila, Lutz and Gabi ahead and Dan follows me up, over and around the slippery, muddy trail. About ten minutes into the return hike I misstep and go sliding through the muck. I’ve got one leg flying up and out to the right and the other to the left as I land on a log that crosses the trail. Fortunately I don’t go too deep into the muck so I’m only partially covered with this goopy, wet and very sticky mud. Even more fortunately I do not appear to be injured. Dan rushes to help me up because I’m spread out like a deer that’s been strung up for slaughter and if I move to either side I’m going to sink into the mud. Back on my feet I do a quick physical assessment and find I am indeed, uninjured. Thank you Lord! I can’t imagine how I would have gotten off this mountain with a broken ankle or something like that.

As you can imagine, It’s about now that I’m ready for this entire adventure to be over. I mean really, I’m a pretty adventurous gal and I love to hike but I’m feeling like I’m in a bit over my head. Of course Dan continues to prod me along and I do my best to keep moving forward with as little complaining as possible. (He’ll probably tell you a different story on that part though.)

Pretty soon we come to the fork in the trail that leads down to the second waterfall. We don’t see our compadres so we can only assume they are already down there. I take one look down the steep trail and decide I have definitely had enough. Nope, I’ll stay right here and this time I mean it! 

As Dan walks a short way down the path to see how steep it really is our friends come walking toward him. They have already visited the falls and are on their way out. YES! I have been saved from additional torture! There truly is a God! At this point we all continue heading down the mountain. The hike still has about forty minutes to go but knowing that it will soon be over keeps me moving. 

We do stop again at the shelter on the mountain shelf and take a breather. This time, however, we stop a little too long. The lactic acid in our muscles begins to build and by the time we start the very steep downward hike my thighs are trembling with each step. All I can think of is reaching the bottom and finally, after what seems like forever, we do! Can I get an Amen or more importantly, a beer?

The hike up to Tavolo Falls, while it tested my lungs and my will, is one of the highlights of this circumnavigation around Vanua Levu. Sanaila has been an incredible guide and we thoroughly enjoyed all of the knowledge he shared with us about his country, his village and his people. He is a wonderful new friend and we are grateful he took his time to accompany us on this journey.

This is just the first part of today’s adventure and while I’d love nothing more than to get back to Dazzler, shower and sit in the cockpit tipping a few cold ones to celebrate the fact that Dan’s prodding and pushing me up the mountain didn’t result in my demise, we have more plans for the day. There’s a tour of the village and lunch at the Chief’s home to look forward to so be sure to check back to find out what else happens to this motley crew of sailors. 

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

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We’re Celebrities!

SV SuAn leaving Navatu Bay

After meeting the people of the village in Navatu Bay we were excited to visit more of these island villages here in Fiji. This is, after all, why we travel in the first place. So, this morning we hauled our anchors and set off to Nadi Bay which is just a short 20 miles or so away. We motored the entire way because there wasn’t even a whisper of wind. In fact it was so calm that it was hard to tell where the ocean stopped and the sky began but still it was a beautiful trip as we snaked our way through the treacherous reefs. I must be getting used to this whole reef business because the sphincter factor remained a cheery yellow the entire time. Either I’m getting used to it or I was so calm because SV SuAn was leading the charge and I knew that as long as we followed them they would hit the reef first. HA HA HA

We arrived in the bay shortly after noon and dropped our anchors in about 8 meters of very good holding sand and mud. There is a large reef that extends out from the shore so we had to anchor further out than normal which will make the ride in to the village take a bit. The good news is that it should keep the mosquitoes away from the boat. Most mornings and evenings we’ve had to put our screens in the companionway to prevent those nasty pests from attacking. We’ve been warned of Dengue Fever. Apparently in Savusavu they currently have 28 cases. For those who are asking, yes, you can get vaccinated against it but when we were in México and inquired about it we where told the shot would cost something like $1500 USD per person so we decided to take our chances.

Anyway, here we are in this most beautiful anchorage with a large village set on the northern shore of the bay. After enjoying a couple of anchor down beverages we set off to shore. As we approached the village there were several men in the water. One was riding a horse in the water and others were attending to a small fishing boat that was moored there. Everyone smiled and waved as we made our way to the beach.

Once on the beach we were greeted in a most grand fashion. There must have been fifteen young men in their twenties all waiting to greet us. Each shook our hands and told us their names and they all gave us such warm and welcoming smiles. One young man barely let us get on the beach before he was asking to have his picture taken with us. Yes, believe it or not, he had a smartphone and couldn’t wait to take a selfie with the Kepelangis. Of course we happily obliged.

One dear young man took the lead and led us up the narrow, muddy path to the village. This village looked much like the one in Navatu. The houses are made of corrugated metal and are small with openings for windows and doors but few actual windows. There were lines and lines of drying clothes and people milling about as well as the obligatory dogs. Each person we passed stopped to shake our hands and welcome us to their village. They all told us their names but of course we met so many people we can hardly remember them.

The young man led us to the home of the Chief. We are greeted by a very pretty woman dressed in blue floral clothing. Her skirt is navy and pale blue flowers and her top is white with royal blue flowers. It’s very common here in the islands for them to mix up the prints. She was very well put together with a pretty matching necklace and earrings and she asked us to come into their home. Another woman in her late twenties or so with two small children was also inside. We can only assume she is their daughter. She was so excited to see us that she was literally beaming and jumping about giddy with happiness.

We were instructed to sit on the floor as usual and Lutz was told to place our Kava offering in front of the woman in blue. Suddenly I thought we may be in one of the rare villages where the Chief is a woman but we were then told she is the Chief’s wife and that the Chief is out working in the farm but would be home later.  After some Fijian banter back and forth between the Chief’s wife and the young man who brought us there she tells us he will take us through the village to meet the Taraga Ni Koro. He’s the Chief’s first in command who will give us a tour of the village.

We were offered a Mango flavored juice. This put each of us on edge a bit as we were told by the Health Officials when we checked into the country that we should always drink bottled water. I watched as the young woman put a powdered mix into a used plastic coke bottle and then filled it with water from their sink. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to say no to these people and quite frankly it would appear rude so we all drank the orange colored drink and prayed no one would get sick. 

We learned that the village has around 260 people in 48 homes. There’s a school here that has 130 students of which many come from nearby villages. There are eight teachers at the school and from what we saw, they are mostly men. They have solar power as usual but they are only allowed to have power from 1900 to 2200 hours each evening unless a family can afford to pay for power. Most cannot afford it.

And while we asked many questions there were two that we asked that revealed rather shocking answers. We asked how many boats come into their bay and how many of the boaters actually come into the village. Shockingly we found that so far this season fifteen boats have anchored in the bay yet we were the first cruisers to actually come ashore to the village.

As I discussed in the last article, there is a custom that should be adhered to here in the islands. That custom dictates that as visitors we are to go ashore with a gift and ask permission from the Chief to anchor in their bays. The gift is typically Kava root but could be just about anything from sugar, flour, tea and rice to books or school supplies. The point is that you don’t just come here with this entitlement attitude. This is their country and their rules and customs should be followed. Furthermore, what is the point of cruising and visiting other lands if you don’t actually take time to get to know the people there?

The fact that so many cruisers come here expecting to take and do whatever suits them is not one that sits well with any of us. It, in fact, makes us all look like rude, selfish tourists. We’ve already seen in Tonga how this has made many of the Tongans not like the cruisers at all. Our request from any cruisers making their way through the islands is to please take the time to do what’s right and customary for the locals. They are kind and welcoming and you owe it to them to respond in kind and follow their customs.

After spending fifteen or twenty minutes with the Chief’s family we were led back out through the village with the young man who had led us up from the beach. As we walk through the village we eventually meet up with the Taraga Ni Koro. He welcomes us with a big smile and handshake. He tells us he will take us up to the school. Along the way each and every villager stops what they are doing and comes out to greet us. It’s hard not to feel like some sort of celebrity as we walk along.

Just before we reached the fence at the edge of the schoolyard we stop and they show us a small greenhouse filled with saplings from a tree of which, I apologize, I can’t remember the name. They grow these trees for the seeds they produce. These reddish purple colored seeds, when crushed, produce an oil that is used in perfumes. This, along with fishing is what supports this village.

The next stop is the school. It sits on the top of the hill and is rather large compared to those we’ve seen in other villages. Of course with 130 students it has to be large. As we enter through the gate the first thing we see is a large field used for athletics. To the east end is a very torn and ragged volleyball net and it’s just near that edge of the field where there is a small building that houses the kindergarten. This is where we are led first.

The teacher here has twelve students who come to school from 0800 to 1200 each day. It’s a very small building but she has it nicely decorated for the children and just as you’d see in any school anywhere, there is artwork on the walls that was created by her students. There are three children there who are excited by our presence and begin coloring for us.

Top Left is the kindergarten teacher with three of her students. To the right the men sit outside of the kindergarten discussing the village. Bottom left is Lutz, Gabi & Dan with some of our wonderful hosts. The man in blue is the Taraga Ni Koro.

The children from the big school are let out for recess as we are at the kindergarten. Before we know it there are children covering the field. The boys are playing rugby and the girls are playing volleyball. All of them are constantly stopping to stare at the four white people at the edge of the field. Along the way up to the school Dan stops to play a little volleyball with the girls. They all giggle as he and the Taraga Ni Koro join in their game.

Further up the hill is the main school. Here we are greeted by two very nice gentlemen. One is named Mac and again, sorry, but I don’t remember the other’s name. By this point we’d met well over fifty people. We spend a half hour or so talking with them about the village, schooling and the challenges they face. One of their biggest needs is books for the children. These could be any sort of books, dictionaries or textbooks or even books meant for casual reading. They asked if we have anything like that on board which unfortunately we do not. We did tell them, however, that we will be coming back this way next year and will do what we can to bring supplies and books to their village. After all, they have all been so kind to us. If we can bring some supplies to help them, we would be honored to do so.

After our school visit we head back down through the village. Once again the villagers stop what they are doing to come out and talk with us. They are really too kind. Just as we are about to the end the of the village tour we come across their vorlo (meeting house). It is brimming with activity. Women are scurrying about like ants and it’s obvious something big is taking place. One woman asks me to come inside and take some photos and wow, what a treat! As I walk through the door of this long building there are women sitting on the floor on either side of the doorway. In front of them are several very large pots. Each is filled with some type of food I’ve never seen before. The only thing I recognize is fish and it’s small fish approximately six inches long. It looks just as it did when it was fished out from the ocean. It is whole and their glassy eyes are looking a bit frosted over.

The women at the pots are scooping the food onto plates and passing them to others who are then placing the plates on the long mats. It’s a well-oiled machine even though it appears a bit chaotic to an outsider. Around the edges of the room there are men sitting and even sleeping on the floor as they await the feast that is about to be served to them.

Back outside a mob of school children have found us and are all clamoring for our attention. They all want to have their photos taken. Once you take photos they immediately want to see them. I’m not sure if it is the feast about to be served or the spectacle of us but more and more villagers begin to arrive. We met one particularly well-spoken man, Benjimi, who has been in the village for several days. He and his group are evangelists there to preach to the villagers. He asks us to join them in their feast, however, the tide is dropping quickly and we need to get back to the dinghy and get out before we have to carry it across the huge reef so we thank him but politely decline.

The young lady in blue is Gracie….my helper!

It’s time now to leave these wonderful people so we are led back down the hill to the shore. When we reach the muddy, somewhat slippery part of the path I comment to Dan that I hope I won’t fall. Before I know it a lovely young lady, Gracie, about eight or ten years old, grabs my left hand and begins to escort me down the path. She looks up at me with her beautiful brown eyes and infectious smile and says, “Don’t worry, I won’t let you fall.” It’s at this moment that I realize I have reached the age where children actually think of me as elderly.  Thankfully I’m too happy to dwell on that fact now. I’m sure there will be plenty of time for that later.

By the time we reach the shore there are probably twenty-five children and a half a dozen men there to see us off. They help us to push the dinghy out and we say our goodbyes and thank them all for the wonderful visit to their village. As we pull away the entire crowd is yelling, “moce”and waving. It is a scene I don’t think we will ever forget and I wonder as we are leaving if the cruisers who just anchor in these bays and refuse to visit the villagers really know what they are missing. 

How could you not want to come ashore and visit these amazing people?

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan