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Manta Ray Bay

In the Yasawa Islands there is a place called Manta Ray Bay. It’s considered “THE” place to go in Fiji if you want to swim with the Manta rays. The bay is bordered on the north by Naviti Island and on the south by Nanuya Balavu Island. In the middle is a small island called Drawaqu. We anchored just to the west of Drawaqu in about 50 feet of crystal clear water. It’s a beautiful spot that enjoys a really nice tropical breeze. That said, it is also a place where you need to make absolutely certain you have a solid hold on your anchor. When the tide comes in or goes out there is a pretty good current that flows between Drawaqu & Nanuya Balavu islands. It’s pretty cool to watch as there will be some whirlpools caused by the upwellings and the anchored boats swing in various directions. There’s also some wrap around current that comes through Manta Ray Pass that adds to the confused sea here but we didn’t find it to be anything to really worry about. We just kept a good eye on our position and made sure our anchor alarm was set.

Our first day here we took the dink out on an exploratory mission to get a feel for where we would need to be to see the rays. We cruised all over in the two bays and even stopped on the south end of Drawaqu Island to explore the beach. I found a few cool shells there. One was my first ever cone shell that was animal free. The animals that live in these shells are highly poisonous so when you find one you have to be extra careful not to touch the ends in case the animal is still inside. They have a harpoon like stinger that comes out and while the sting may be only as bad as a bee sting, some of them are large enough and have enough venom to make the sting fatal to humans. For obvious reasons we are extremely careful when picking them up. Today, however, I found one that was animal free and in perfect condition! BONUS! Dan also found me a truly beautiful Cowry shell as well. Our walk on the beach was quite successful and, of course, beautiful!

After exploring the bays and beaches we decided to head to shore for happy hour. The Mantaray Resort has a cute little outdoor bar on the beach and does a pretty nice happy hour. The also serve up stone grilled pizzas during happy hour but you better get there early. They sell out rather quickly so we never did get to try one although they looked pretty tasty. We did meet a lovely Kiwi couple there and shared a few beers while we got to know each other. Andrew and Mich had lived in Belgium for many years (where she’s from) and recently moved to New Zealand. That’s where he’s from. They had their two adorable daughters, Hannah and Sarah along as well. During our stay here we had cocktails with them a couple of times and really enjoyed their company.

The day after we arrived we had arranged with one of the boats from Mantaray Resort to take us out to snorkel with the Mantas. We figured it would be easier that way as we wouldn’t have to tie off to the dinghy while drifting or have someone in the dink following along. We went to the beach that morning as instructed and waited. They always send a boat out to look for the Mantas and then radio back to the charter boat as to where to go. We waited at the bar for an hour or so and they told us we could go back to the boat. They told us to listen for the lali drum that indicated Mantas had been found and then they would pick us up on the boat. Unfortunately the call of the drums never came. They didn’t find any rays that morning. Bummer!

So, what do a couple of ragtag sailors do when there are no Manta rays to chase? Well, we decided to find a spot and do some “regular” snorkeling. The spot we picked was directly in front of the Manta Ray Resort and oh my…what a spectacular spot it was to explore. We saw so many incredible fish and corals there and the water was just pristine! We snorkeled so long we actually ran out of batter power on our Go Pro and had to run back to the boat to get another battery so we could keep snorkeling. It was one of the best snorkels we’ve had here in Fiji. Of course I paid for not wearing a rash suit with a bit of a sunburn but fortunately I only had one evening of feeling like I was on fire and by the next day it was gone. I guess one sunburn all season isn’t bad considering how much we are in the sun and how close we are to the equator. As they say, “Live and learn”.

The following morning we decided we’d go out to the pass on our own to see what we could find. There were lots of people wandering about the pass in their dinghies. We even saw a couple of charter boats drifting as well. There were tons of people in the water snorkeling, people in the boats standing up and looking around and everyone was just waiting for that one person to indicate they had seen a Manta.

The Mantas usually come into the pass between Naviti and Drawaqu Islands during the changing from high to low tide. This is a big thing for all of the tourists and cruisers to see. After all, who wouldn’t want to swim with some of the most majestic creatures on earth? Charter boats come out from the mainland as well as from all of the local resorts to see this awesome sight. When the high tide has reached its peak and begins to go out the rays come in to feed and be cleaned by the Wrasse. The Wrasse are tiny fish who feed on parasites and mucus as well as dead and damaged scales of the rays and other sea life such as turtle, sharks etc… The Wrasse congregate in certain areas called “cleaning stations” and if you find one you will surely find the Mantas. To look for Mantas you go to the east end of the pass and then drift back to the west. When the tide is changing the water moves pretty quickly through the pass and it’s so clear you can see well over 75’ down so spotting them should be relatively easy if they are there.

Deb Dye if you see this…note the hot pink Zinc Oxide on my lips. I think of you every single time I put it on! LOVE IT!

We drifted east to west multiple times and after an hour or so we decided we probably wouldn’t see any of these magnificent creatures. We were pretty bummed but that’s how it goes. Dan told me to get in the water where I could allow the current to pull me through the coral reef as I snorkeled. After all, if we couldn’t swim with the Mantas one of us might as well drop in to see what else lies beneath the surface. This was my first drift snorkel and it was really cool. I was moving at close to 3 knots without having to do a thing. Dan stayed about ten feet away in the dink following me. It was very interesting to watch what happens to all of the fish in a pass like this during the tide change. Many drift along with the current. Some of the larger ones are fighting it and others are scooping up all the krill and food that passes by. The soft corals sway back and forth in a whimsical underwater dance that is simply mesmerizing. It was stunning, just stunning! I could have done that over and over but alas…the tide was going out and it was getting pretty shallow so one pass was all I got.

Later that day we decided to move north to an anchorage on the north end of Naviti Island because some winds were expected that were going to make this anchorage a bit too nautical for our taste. The anchorage we chose was the northern most out of the three available. There’s a large, well protected bay that cuts into the northern coast there. It was a quiet anchorage with no village to visit so no sevusevu was required. Sometimes that’s a bonus. The water was clear and we planned to snorkel there but the weather turned ugly. It rained for two straight days so we stayed on the boat and never even put the motor on the dinghy. We did get to see a vonu (turtle) there. I named him Viti Vonu. He came by the boat several times a day and was a pretty big one too. Unfortunately it’s hard to get pics of them because they surface and dive so quickly but it’s still always fun to see them.

Yesterday we headed back to Manta Ray Bay. We were hoping the clouds would clear and we could get some snorkeling in but they didn’t. It rained on and off so we spent most of the day on Dazzler. We did go to shore to the resort there for happy hour. It’s sort of a cruiser tradition you know.

We met a lovely young Fijian lady named Luse at the bar. She and her husband, Moses, live in the village on the South end of Naviti Island. They were at the resort to pick up a couple from New Zealand who were going to stay in their village. We watched as the New Zealand couple and their young children sat at the bar chatting away with no real regard for the couple who had come to escort them to the village. They did have their son go over to Luse and Moses and give them each a soda but then they moved to the bar and all but ignored this couple. I was flabbergasted. Here you are in their world and you are going to be staying in their village, no doubt on some sort to kindness mission, and you ignore the very people you are here to visit. I watched as Luse sat on the ground and Moses stood nearby leaning up against a tree while the Kiwis sat at the bar laughing and chatting with a couple of other people or a good hour.

Finally I struck up a conversation with Moses as he came by to check out the score of the rugby match that was playing not the TV behind me. As we talked he reminded me that he had stopped by the boat when we were here earlier in the week. He was trying to sell some fish. We wanted lobster but he never found any that night. As I spoke with Moses Luse came over and we all began to chat. They are both truly lovely people and we enjoyed the hour or so we spent with them. All the while the Kiwi couple is looking at us all bewildered because we are actually having a conversation, laughing and enjoying the locals. Honestly I was so disgusted by the actions of these people it was everything I could do not to say something.

Anyway, when the Kiwis had finished their pizza and beer and were ready to leave they instructed Moses to grab their things and they all started to head toward the long boat to go back to the village. We could see that Luse really wanted to stay and chat and we felt deeply for her. She was hugging us and doing everything she could to drag out the goodbyes. Before she left she went over and talked to one of the guys sitting nearby and then stopped to tell us she had arranged for us to get some lobster. What? Really? We’ve been dying to have some of that wonderful shellfish for a few weeks now. It was so kind of her to do this for us but it was not why we befriended her. We just love interacting with the locals because they are such awesome people.

After Luse & Moses left a man stops by and asks Dan to come with him. Dan follows him out of the bar and down the path. About ten minutes later they come back and Dan says he needs to go get some change. He goes to the bar then walks around the corner again. The next thing I know he comes back with a large package wrapped in black plastic. He places it on the bar and tells me we are having lobster for dinner. OH YEAH! We finished our beers and left.

Back on Dazzler I open the bag to find three beautiful lobsters. One was really big and the others a bit small but it that was okay. For approximately $30 USD we had fresh lobster!!! Dan steamed them then cut them in half and grilled them for a couple of minutes. I made mashed potatoes and drawn butter. We enjoyed our tasty treat and spent the balance of the evening sitting in the cockpit delighting in the warmth and the sweet scent of the sea. While we didn’t get to see any Manta rays, we did have a wonderful time at Manta Ray Bay. Looking forward to coming back next year!

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

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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. 

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Fire Walking & Fijian Dancing

This will be a pretty short post because we’re just not that good at writing to be able to describe the amazing show we saw here at Robinson Crusoe Island. These Fijian entertainers are absolutely fabulous! Hope you enjoy this short video as much as we enjoyed the entire evening.

If you ever make it to the islands make sure you spend the money to see one of the island shows. They aren’t cheap but they are definitely worth it!

Cheers,

Jilly & Dan

For more information about Robinson Crusoe Island, their tours and their dinner shows go to: https://www.robinsoncrusoeislandfiji.com/tours.html

To watch more great videos of our travels check out our YouTube channel. Click on the photo below.