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Meeting Chief Lepani

Traveling to foreign lands is about much more than seeing the sights. It’s about meeting the people and today we met some very wonderful people on the island of Nasonisoni which is located in Navatu Bay just off the southwest end of Vanua Levu.

If the Chief is around when you take the sevusevu to shore then there is usually a big ceremony that occurs where one of the villagers will grind the root and mix the drink. It is then served first to the Chief who will approve of the mixture. Once he drinks it his guests will be served. Unfortunately on the day Lutz & Gabi took our sevusevu to shore the Chief was not there so they left it with his first in command, called the Turago ni Koro (Prounounced too-ranga nee koro).

We arrived in Navatu Bay two days ago. Our friends Lutz & Gabi of SV SuAn arrived just a few hours ahead of us. They immediately went to shore and presented a sevusevu on behalf of all of us. What’s a sevusevu? Well, I’ll tell you. This is typically an offering of Kava that is presented to the Chief of the village to ask for his blessing to allow you to visit the village and anchor there. Kava is the root they grind up and mix with water to make a very muddy looking tea. It tastes like I would imagine old socks would taste but they drink it here. It has a mild sedative affect, which I suppose helps keep the villagers from getting too restless.

Today we all decided to take a trip into the village. Lutz & Gabi picked us up in the dink and we headed to shore. We were greeted there by two women who were relaxing near the water. They did not appear to speak much English but we communicated with our limited Fijian. After a few moments we headed up the narrow concrete path into the village.

The homes here are made from corrugated metal and all look pretty much the same. Some have doors and windows and others have only openings. All have curtains made of bright, floral fabrics. These same fabrics are used to adorn the walls. The grounds around them are amazingly well manicured. I say amazingly because when you know how little they have you wonder what tools they actually use to keep things so neat and tidy. There are deep red, muddy trails in the bright green grass that lead off of the concrete walkway to these tiny homes and everywhere you look you’ll see laundry hanging out to dry and dogs running around.

It didn’t take long for our presence to be known throughout this tiny village with women calling out “Bula” from their homes. It’s almost as if they are warning the rest of the village that there are Kepelangi (white people) in the village. Before long we had a complete entourage of young children following us, holding our hands and smiling the most beautiful smiles you’ve ever seen. We get the impression that few cruisers actually stop at this island and we are somewhat of a novelty to them.

Lutz & Gabi brought lollys for all of the children and they were very excited to receive this sweet treat. As we continue to walk through the village taking photos and greeting the villagers our little welcoming committee follows along. Soon we are greeted by a woman named Ma’a. She’s probably in her forties and has a wonderful and engaging smile even though her teeth show a lack of dental care.

Ma’a leads us to the vorlo ,which is their meeting house. In some countries they call it a fale but they look the same and serve the same function wherever we’ve seen them in the islands. As we arrive at the doorway we take off our shoes before entering. There is no furniture, only large woven mats on the ground where we are instructed to sit. Men are to sit with their legs crossed and women with their legs bent and off to one side. We are dressed properly with our shoulders and knees covered and it is expected that our knees are to remain covered. At my age sitting like this and trying to keep my knees covered for a long time is very difficult but somehow I managed.

Within moments the Chief arrives. His name is Chief Lepani. He’s 70 years old and has lived here his entire life. He’s about six foot tall and is wearing a t-shirt that has the sleeves cut off. As he enters the hall he is wrapping his sulu (sarong) around his waist. He greets each of us with a big smile and asks our names and where we are from. He then tells us to take a seat on the floor. The men gather at one side and us women and all of the children are off to the other side.

The children, oh the children. They are so delightful and curious about us. They can’t seem to get close enough as they keep inching their way closer and closer. Ma’a introduces us to another, older woman also named Ma’a. This woman turns out to be the Chief’s wife although we did not know it at the time. She is so sweet and insists on kissing us each on the cheek. She sits down between Gabi and I and the entire time we are there she touches my arm, kisses my cheeks and fans me with her fan.

We learn that there are roughly 160 people who live in this village in 24 small hut-like homes. The small children have school in the vorlo each morning while the older ones are taken by boat across the bay where they pick up a bus which is actually a large truck with an enclosed back much like a military vehicle. The “bus”  takes them to the next village over for school. We’ve seen them as they all wave and yell “Bula” when passing by Dazzler on their way to or from their pick up point.

While we are visiting our new friends more and more villagers begin to come into the hall to meet us. It’s almost as if we are some sort of celebrities here. Before we knew it there were probably thirty people, adults and children, all milling about and asking us questions. Chief Lepani sent one young boy to his home to get his world map. It’s a laminated map of the world that is filled with little cartoons and icons for the different countries. He unrolls this large map and asks Dan & Lutz to show him where we all are from. The children hover around the map watching and listening as the men speak. We asked the Chief if it would be okay for us to take some photos and he agrees so Lutz, Dan and I all snap some pictures to memorialize our visit. The younger Ma’a asks me if we can bring back some printouts of the photos to which I told her I would try as our printer ink seems to dry up rather quickly out here.

We stayed there for about forty-five minutes or so but because the tide was going out we decided we needed to leave so that we don’t have to carry the dingy out to deeper water. We graciously said our goodbyes and thanked everyone for their hospitality. Of course our entourage of children accompanied us back through the village to the bay. Several of these delightful children even insisted on helping us push the dinghy out. We actually had to tell them to stop because they kept walking as the water continued to get deeper. These little darlings waved and waved while calling out “moce” (Pronounced mothay which means goodbye) as we pulled away.

On the way back to Dazzler Dan decided that since Chief Lepani loves maps so much he would bring back an old chart we have of Fiji and the surrounding countries and islands. Lutz & Gabi dropped us off and Dan went about searching for the chart while I got the printer out and created several collages of the photos we took and printed them to take back. With our gifts in hand we headed back to shore.

Of course the moment the children heard we were back they were right there to escort us with their beautiful smiling faces. Ma’a (the younger one) showed us where the Chief lived and he came out to greet us. He asked us into his home. His home, of course, is a bit bigger than the rest of them. I counted four rooms. A kitchen with a wood-burning stove that was more like a raised pit with large wooden pieces that crisscrossed the fire. There were three very old metal pots sitting on top. In the next room which I guess would be considered the living area, there was no furniture, just large woven mats to sit on. The walls were adorned with various, colorful fabrics that were hemmed using a stapler. Through one curtain I could see the bedroom. I guess since he’s the Chief he gets the good stuff and the bed in there was raised off of the floor on a wooden frame. There looked to be a nice mattress on it and it had a navy blue blanket covering it. This is the home of the island Chief. No, it’s nothing much but it is a step up from the rest of the homes there.

Dan presented him with the chart and he seemed very pleased. As Dan was showing him the different places on the chart his wife, the older Ma’a, sat beside me kissing my cheek and putting her arm around me. She was so sweet and kind that I wanted to give her a small gift so I took the flower from my hair and put it in hers. It’s a silk flower I had added a wire to so I can wear it in my hair. She absolutely loved this very tiny token of my affection and smiled brightly while again kissing me on the cheek.

Since our visit was unannounced we stayed only for a few minutes before saying goodbye to our new friends. Ma’a walked us out and allowed Dan to take a photo of use before we left. As we turned to walk away I saw her walk to the other Ma’a’s home showing her the flower and telling her it was from her Jilly. I couldn’t help smile thinking that my little gesture made this woman’s whole day.

The children accompanied us back to the bay. Along the way they were yelling out “moce” to their families as if they were leaving with us. It was absolutely adorable! Again they insisted on helping us to push the dinghy into deeper water. Of course that was after they all took turns climbing in and on it. Dan allowed them their fun for a few minutes and then told them we must leave. As we drove away they all waved until we were almost out to the boat.

Today was a very wonderful and humbling experience. When you meet people who literally have nothing and you see how happy and friendly they are to complete strangers, it brings a wonderful, warm feeling to your heart. I’ve not doubt we will never forget these lovely souls or our time there.

Many thanks to Chief Lepani and the people of his wonderful village who welcomed us so warmly.

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan 

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And We Have Arrived

Ni sa yadra (Good Morning) from Fiji!

We arrived in Savusavu at 0630 this morning. We were unable to enter the anchorage until 0800 as we had to wait for the marina to open and provide instructions. It was overcast so we didn’t get the amazing sunny pics we hoped for but we’re sure they will come. Of course it’s even gorgeous here in the rain!

At 0800 we contacted the Copra Shed Marina via the radio. They had us take a mooring and wait for a call from them to pick up the officials. We dropped Sparkle into the water to prepare to pick them up and when the call came around 0930 Dan headed to shore. The first group on the boat was three agents from Health. Unlike the drones who work public jobs in the states, these agents were a lot of fun. We laughed a lot while they were on board and they even let me take pics of them.

Health check completed without issue and Dan was off to take them back to the marina and pick up more officials. Next up, Biosecurity and Customs & Immigration. Three more wonderful Fijian officials boarded us and completed a mountain of paperwork. Again, they all had wonderful personalities and a great sense of humor. All of the officials made this process very easy and painless. It was a nice change from some of the other countries we’ve visited. Thank you to each of you!

All in, the process on board took about an hour and a half. Next we proceeded to phase two. We had to go into town and pay everyone because we didn’t have exact change and they don’t carry change. For any cruisers coming to Fiji, try to have exact change for the officials. It will save you some steps. Either way it was still pretty easy. All fees combined totaled $248.50 Fijian or about $115 USD. Not too bad really. Every place is within walking distance and after four days at sea it’s good to get walking again.

Once the boarding was complete Dan and I headed to town to get some provisions and make the proper payments to the authorities. We also had to work on getting our cruising permit. That required paperwork to be given to the marina who then faxes it to the appropriate authorities to get the permit. Once they receive it back you have to take it back to the Customs & Immigration Office where they will officially sign off on it. As we travel around Fiji we are required to submit movement reports each week saying where we’ve been and where we are going. They can be done via email or radio.

Savusavu is a very busy little place with people milling about everywhere. It was almost sensory overload at first. But, everyone is smiling and it is rare that you pass someone without them giving you a giant smile and saying, “Bula, Bula”! These people could possibly be the friendliest people we’ve met in all our travels. I also have noted that it’s a rather clean place. We saw lots of people working to clean up garbage and you don’t see much of it on the streets.

Once our business was complete we stopped at the Surf & Turf Restaurant for a couple of beers and a light lunch. We’ve been told their food is excellent and it surely did not disappoint. The owners are lovely Indo Fijians and we enjoyed talking with them while we were there. They even offered to allow us to use their dinghy dock whenever we come into town. That’s nice because its at the north end of town saving us a longer walk to get beer and groceries.

Off now to the Copra Shed Marina to check on our cruising permit. Prity, the lovely young gal in the office put a rush on it and she had it waiting for us when we arrived because it’s Friday and we want to take off for other anchorages on Monday morning with our friends, Lutz & Gabi of SV SuAn. Permit in hand we head to Customs where we are again greeted by smiling and very helpful agents. It takes just a few moments to get our clearance and we are headed back to the marina. Of course we’re here so we might as well have a beer.

As we are sitting enjoying our cold beverages we see our dear friend, Ernie of SV Patience. His boat is docked right out in front of the restaurant. We met Ernie in México and have seen him all along our travels. The last place we saw him was in New Zealand. It really is nice how cruisers seem to meet up in ports all over the world. We invited Ernie to come sit and have a beer with us while we caught up on each other’s adventures. When cruisers first get together the main topic of conversation is what has gone wrong since you last saw each other. We talked of our gooseneck issue and he told us of engine troubles and sail problems. I guess we all like to hear the other person’s woes as it makes ours seem okay.

From here it was time to start getting ready for an evening aboard SV SuAn. Lutz & Gabi made a point to come back here to meet us so we can do some cruising together and to celebrate our arrival they invited us to sundowners and dinner. And what a wonderful evening it was for all of us! They cooked us a fabulous dinner of steak, salad, grilled veggies and homemade bread. We shared rum drinks and had an evening full of laughs and great conversation. It sure is good to see our dear friends again. Looking forward to our weeks of traveling together.

So far, we love Fiji and can’t wait to see more. Keep checking back to see what adventures lie ahead for the crew of Dazzler.

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan