Fiji, from Beqa to Savusavu
Beqa is the island of the fire dancers, which is why we want to go there. The name of the island is pronounced mbenga.
Malumu Bay on the north side of the island is a very sheltered anchorage, but we decide to go to Vaga Bay first. This bay is located on the west side of the island and we can drop our anchor reasonably close to the village. We take the dinghy to go ashore and are welcomed by Matthew and his family. They invite us to join them tomorrow evening to celebrate their son's release from the hospital.
When we arrive the next day, the women are busy cleaning all sorts of vegetables and meat, while the men are making a fire for a lovo. The lovo is the traditional way to cook food in the ground using hot stones. When evening falls, we are invited to enter Matthew's house. It turns out he is the local kava dealer, and while we drink kava with a couple of men from the village, the women finish the last preparations for the meal. Hans is asked again and again to play a couple of songs on his guitar and soon the house is filled with children and adults.
After a couple of rounds of kava, dinner is served. We are given a plate of food, along with the children and grandma and granddad. Apparently, the men and women eat at a different time. It feels a bit uncomfortable, but it's the local custom. After dinner a few more rounds of kava are served and it is clear that everyone is enjoying Hans' music. Content and numb from the kava we paddle back to our boat under a clear starry sky.
We want to see the fire dancing, so the next day we go around the corner with our Mini Monster to a beautiful resort to ask when the next fire dance is. We are lucky: if we wait for another two hours, we can attend a free performance. They are already stirring up the fire, despite the rainy weather. After a group of tourists from another resort has arrived the performance starts with a short explanation of the origin of the fire dance tradition.Then the men dressed in reed clothing walk over the hot stones with a smile on their face. It's not exactly impressive and we will probably never know how hot these stones really are, but it's fun to watch.
According to the weather forecast, there's a strong wind on its way, which is not favourable for Vaga Bay, where we are anchored. The weather forecast is often unreliable, but in case it is right this time we hoist the anchor and sail to the north side of Beqa Island, where we drop the anchor in Malumu Bay, a beautiful deep bay which is reasonably safe, even in a cyclone. The next day a yacht with the name Yanti Parazzi arrives, which carries Sam and Chez. The weather forecast turns out to have been correct, because we have a strong wind for days. Together with Sam and Chez we spend the days playing Puerto Rico, a great board game.
Tormented by the boredom of waiting for better weather without this strong wind we decide to get out of the rut by having dinner in the nearby resort. We make a call to make a reservation and we are expected in two days. On the day the wind is still strong, but we have a tail wind on the way there. We take our hand-held GPS, because we have to sail back in the dark and there are a few shallow areas which we prefer to avoid with our Mini Monster. With the help of the strong wind it takes us about ten minutes to reach the resort and we leave Mini on the beach, firmly tied to a palm tree. The restaurant looks wonderful and we have a reasonably good dinner which costs far too much. It is pitch dark by the time we board Mini again. The wind is a lot stronger now and it is raining, but with a raincoat, a head light and our GPS we feel well prepared for our short trip home.After only ten seconds the first waves crash over us, the wind lashes in our face, the head light has stopped working and after each wave we have to gasp for breath. But as long as Mickey, our reliable outboard motor, keeps on going there won't be a problem. Bangbangbang. What the hell is that? Mickey's tail hits a couple of rocks, we have taken the wrong route. We are too close to the shore. Hans immediately steers towards the middle of the bay and we can continue. In the distance we can see Happy's anchor light and fortunately Mickey continues to hum along. It seemed to take forever and there was at least thirty centimetres of water in Mini. Soaked through but relieved we climb on board. After a few more days of strong wind the weather improves and we leave Beqa Island to sail to Suva.
Suva and Levuka
Just outside Suva is a village called Lami, where we can pick up a mooring ball, away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. A bus takes us right to the centre of Suva in just 15 minutes, so we can stock up on groceries. We take a long shopping list with us and we stop by Gloria Jeans for our favourite cup of cappuccino.
Once all our shopping is done, we leave for Levuka. Since we don't want to sail during the night, we plan a stop at Nukulau, a small island halfway to Levuka. When we approach Nukulau, we see an enormous dark cloud with a grey curtain underneath. We are going to have to pass through it and soon we can't see a thing. The heavens have opened up. We are surrounded by reefs and we are glad we always prepare our trips to the anchorage with plenty of waypoints. It's no use standing on the bow, because you don't see the reef until you're on top of it, so for the first time we have to completely rely on our GPS. Thanks to Google Earth the waypoints are very accurate and we feel like we are sailing to our anchorage blindfolded.As soon as we drop the anchor, it stops raining and the sun breaks through. While filling in our logbook and drinking a beer, we look back contentedly on our trip without damage.
When we continue the next day the weather is fabulous. We now see what we missed yesterday because of the rain: a beautiful view of a couple of islands surrounded by dangerous reefs. We have planned another stop and two days later in the afternoon we arrive in Levuka, the former capital of Fiji. There is one other sailing boat, and when we get closer we discover it's a Dutch boat. What a coincidence! It's an even greater coincidence that we are joined by another Dutch boat the next day. Three boats at Levuka and they are all Dutch. That night we have dinner together at a Chinese restaurant and the other two boats leave the next day. We stay for a couple of days and enjoy exploring this beautiful town with its old colonial buildings. We walk to a waterfall and meet a couple of very friendly Fijians, with whom we drink kava and eat chicken that has been prepared in a lovo. We have a wonderful time until our departure for Makogai.
Makogai and Savusavu
Makogai is a beautiful island which we visited three years ago. Since the weather was bad back then, we only visited the ruins of the leprosy colony. Now the sun is shining abundantly and we snorkel in the crystal clear water. We see giant clams, a type of oyster which can grow to fifty centimetres or more. In the clam farm we see baby clams growing in large concrete basins. We walk to the village a bit further down. It's about an hour's walk and we brought an inflatable globe with us for the local school. The head teacher receives us and tells us proudly how they chopped down the forest in front of the school to make room for a large lawn. Unfortunately we don't get to meet the schoolkids so we can't tell them about our travels, but we give the globe to the head teacher who immediately puts it away. We walk away slightly disappointed. Everywhere we see remains of the leprosy colony, old deserted buildings overgrown with shrubs and trees.When we want to rest near one of these buildings, we are eaten alive by mosquitoes. We'd better continue on our way.
Our visa is only valid for four months, so we need to renew it. A good reason to visit Savusavu again.
Arriving in Savusavu is always a bit like coming home: the whole bay is dotted with boats anchored to mooring balls and we see dozens of familiar faces. Azeri from the Waitui Marina helps us with a cheerful smile, as always, to find a mooring. And with all these sailing boats surrounding us, we enjoy socializing with fellow sailors. Hans plays a lot of guitar and we regularly eat in restaurants because here this is hardly more expensive than cooking your own dinner. We do a couple of odd jobs on the boat and meet Suzanne and Dietmar on the Carinthia, on which we will sail to New Zealand as crew mid-November. But before then we'd like to spend a week on Koro, a beautiful island about thirty miles south of Suvasuva. Here our lives will take an unexpected turn.
Koro, Dere Bay
Just before we leave for Koro we meet Matthew. He lives on Koro and advises us to pick up a mooring ball in Dere Bay, a beautiful bay not far from his home. It's a quiet trip, there is not much wind and we arrive late in the afternoon. We use our VHE to ask where we can find this mooring ball. The voice on the other side tells us there are no mooring balls available. We have to drop the anchor. With the low sun we can't see the bottom of the sea very well and we blindly drop our anchor in shallow water. All night long we hear the anchor chain grate on the rocks. The next day we put on our fins and snorkels to inspect the anchor and find that we have anchored right in the middle of the coral.Everywhere we look we see beautiful coral, and the number of tropical fish in all colours of the rainbow is overwhelming. We need to remove our anchor from the coral as soon as possible. We go ashore and meet Joe. There is a small resort and there they give us instructions on how to pick up a mooring ball, which we manage to do later that day. But not after Hans spends almost a whole scuba tank to remove the anchor from the coral without damaging it too much. We are invited for a party that evening at the home of one of the expats who live here, foreigners who bought a piece of land in Fiji and built a house on it. Here we meet Joe again. He works for the Taveuni Development Company owned by the Miller family and he thinks we should look into buying a piece of land. Land? What do we need land for? We have a boat which we love living and sailing on.
To be continued. See Koro, New Zealand, Savusavu and back to Koro
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)