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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

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All This In 18 Days?

After our visit to Vurevure Village it was time to move on so we set out early in the morning for the southern end of Taveuni Island and a little resort known as Paradise Resort. The trip was pretty uneventful and in the early afternoon we arrived and took a mooring in front of this small dive resort. The water here is the clearest we’ve seen in all of Fiji. It’s literally like having the boat over top of our own private aquarium! Ahhh….how we love to see water like this!

The people at the resort were wonderful, warm and very welcoming and will provide you with more than enough information on what there is to see and do nearby. We, however, were only going to be there for the night because a weather front was headed our way and this is not the place to be in 25-30 knot southerly winds.

We had cocktails at the bar and later had dinner by the pool and ocean under a thatched roof hut. Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to do any snorkeling but we will be back this way next year so this is definitely on our list!

The following day we all headed to Savusavu to seek protection from the coming winds and weather. Forecast was for 25-30 knot winds with lots of rain to accompany them. In Savausavu you can go up into the river to get away from the fetch and it’s very well protected.

Our arrival in Savusavu marked the end of our circumnavigation around Vanua Levu. In all we travelled 360 NM over the course of 18 days. We visited 12 anchorages and toured 7 villages. We took a five mile dinghy ride up a river to the city of Labasa and lived to tell the tale. We met 4 chiefs, gave away 5 bundles of Kava, visited 4 schools, snorkeled beautiful reefs, enjoyed savory meals aboard each other’s yachts and had an amazing and wonderful time with dear friends. We also replaced a windlass motor and diagnosed and repaired a ground wire problem that caused our engine not to start in the middle of nowhere! It was truly an adventure we will never forget.

Click on map to enlarge.

When we arrived in Savusavu the Copra Shed Marina didn’t have even one available mooring. It seems everyone had the same idea…get to a protection anchorage. Add to that the fact that the ARC Rally boats were in the area and this place was packed. No big deal for Dazzler, we just headed a little further up the river and were pleased to find an available mooring at Savusavu Marina and what a wonderful place this turned out to be.

You see, most yachties come in wanting to stay near Copra Shed because the marina and yacht club are there and it’s very centrally located along the strip where the shopping and restaurants are located. Savusavu Marina, on the other hand, is a bit further up the river and not as close to those things. But honestly, it’s still less than a five minute dinghy ride to Copra Shed so I don’t understand the big deal. We LOVED this place. It is away from all the chaos and dinghies running about and we had a wonderful breeze coming across the reef area from the bay on the other side. One afternoon we even watched a couple of whales playing in the adjoining bay at sunset. The sunsets here were absolutely spectacular! And, best of all, NO mosquitoes!!! When we stayed at Copra Shed we were eaten alive and had to keep our screens in the companionway. Here we didn’t have a one! AWESOME SAUCE!

The day after we arrived here more and more of the ARC Rally boats started coming in looking for moorings. For those who don’t know, ARC is a World Cruising Club and they organize rallies for cruisers all over the world. The rally that hit Savusavu that day was the World Rally. They take 15 months to sail around the world. Personally I’ve no interest in racing around the world in less than two years. How are you supposed to immerse yourself into the different cultures and really get to know about the people and places you’re visiting when you are in and out in a matter of days or even a couple of weeks? No, we enjoy taking our time and getting to know the locals, learning about their lives and just enjoying the places we visit.

Of course if you read about the ARC rallies you’ll see all of the “pretty, polished” events they arrange with local dancers and stuff like that.  I guess if that’s what you’re into then fine but we’ve had so many wonderful, one on one experiences with the islanders I just can’t imagine only seeing these places through the eyes of a “tourist”. What these people are seeing in their haste to circumnavigate the globe is not the real thing. It’s the commercialized, tourist experience. Nope….not our can of beer.

The day all of the ARC boats began descending upon Savusavu is also the day that I lost all respect for a vast majority of these people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure many of them are lovely people but I heard some of the most rude and nasty boaters on the radio that day. Captains were calling the marinas on the radio and demanding that they find them a mooring. Seriously, I actually heard one man say to the girl on the radio, “I’m with ARC and I demand that you find me a mooring NOW!”  Many others were rude to the people in the marinas and restaurants as well and not just on the radio but right there in person. There was this horrible entitled attitude that seemed to just permeate the air. I was literally shell shocked by how uppity and truly nasty these people were to the locals. I guess just because they spent a little over €20,000 to join this around the world rally they assume that everyone on earth must bow to them. Well, if I was one of those locals I’d have had a few words to say to those jerks and it wouldn’t have been, “Bula Vinaka” either!

These boats came in for two days, maybe three and everywhere they went they left a wake of chaos behind. They sucked up all of the resources….food, fuel, restaurant space etc.. and then off they went. I’m absolutely certain the locals had to be beyond ecstatic to see them go. Sure, the money they generate is fine but is it really worth it when there are other cruisers who come in, spend time, get to know the people and really try to assimilate into the culture? Later we found out that Savusavu had a supply shortage immediately after ARC left. Hmmmm…. Anyway, as you can see we’re not big fans of the whole ARC Rally thing and we certainly lost a tremendous amount of respect for many of the yachties we saw and heard come through the area.

But, we didn’t let them spoil our time in Savusavu. We spent five days there just enjoying the people and, of course, spending our last few days with Lutz & Gabi. After traveling with them for almost three weeks it was going to be hard to see them leave so we met up for happy hours and had a couple of dinners together. One place in particular had some pretty good Asian cuisine. It was not a fancy restaurant by any means but the food was excellent. It was the Hong Kong Restaurant and we loved it.

Finally the time came to say, “Farewell” to our dear friends Lutz and Gabi. It was time for them to continue moving as their son was flying in and they needed to get to Vitu Levu. We celebrated our circumnavigation of Vanua Levu with a farewell dinner at the Captain’s Table at Copra Shed Marina. It was a bittersweet evening but we left with the knowledge that we’d meet up again in a few weeks.

For the next couple of days we worked on boat projects and just enjoyed our time in the area. We had lunches at Surf & Turf Restaurant and the Savusavu Yacht Club. We filled our fuel tanks and picked up a few veggies at the outdoor market. Dan began planning the next leg of our journey. From here we will move south toward Viti Levu, the largest island in Fiji. Who knows what other wonderful adventures await? That’s what I love most….never knowing what amazing things we will see in our next port. THIS truly is a blessed life out here and I’m so happy to be sharing it with Dan!

The food at Surf & Turf is amazing!

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

P.S. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention a great little store here in SavuSavu. It’s called Sea Lovers Wine, Spirits & Deli. This wonderful little gem has those hard to find items you’ve been missing in your travels. From international wines and spirits to gourmet cheeses and our personal favorite, Mission Tortillas, we found a lot of yummy treats in here. The owners are lovely people and we highly recommend stopping in if you make it to Savusavu. They are located on the main drag down by the Immigration Office. You can’t miss them.