Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dravuni Island

After more than a week in Suva, we sailed from our anchorage near Lami at 5 am yesterday. Getting out of the anchorage was a little tricky in the dark, but we followed a series of GPS waypoints from when we arrived that took us between two small islands and the fringing reefs. The wreck of a fishing boat on the reef to our starboard was visible in the light of my headlamp - a reminder that careful navigation is required in these waters.

Rani walks up the hill on Dravuni. Ladybug is anchored halfway between Rani and the small island.

We had waited an extra day for the winds to swing more into the east because the course to the Great Astrolabe Reef is just slightly east of south. The prevailing SE trades would have made this almost dead to windward. We had to motor to clear the wind shadow and rain squalls that seem to prevail off Suva, but about 6 miles out we started to feel a wind, which filled in and came from well to the east of south. We were able to lay a course for the Herald Pass, close reaching into 8 to 10 knots of wind.

An interesting variegated leaf - red at the base.

The big island of Kadavu and numerous smaller islands including Ono and our destination of Dravuni are protected by one of the world's largest barrier reefs. The Great Astrolabe Reef (not to be confused with the Astrolabe Reef in New Zealand) was named by the French explorer Dumont dUrville for his vessel Astrolabe. This is an area famous for clear water and good diving and snorkeling.

On Dravuni there is a path just inside the jungle that runs between the beach and a series of plantations.
We plan to spend a couple of weeks here, working our way south, visiting Ono and Kadavu, and snorkeling some passes and reefs.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hindu Fire Walking in Suva

Indians have been in Fiji since the mid-nineteenth century when they were brought over as indentured workers for the sugarcane plantations owned by the British settlers. With them came the centuries old Hindu religion and associated rituals.

Classic Indian dancing and music preceded the fire walking

We were privileged to attend one of the most interesting and unique festivals here in Suva, dedicated to the Goddess Durga. We watched about a dozen men with multiple body piercings march across a hot bed of charcoal at the Raj Maha Mariamman Temple.

While much of the Mariamman temple is of simple design, this dome stood out for its remarkable decorations.

Purified women await the entry of the fire walkers and priests

The Goddess Durga represents the active side of the energy ("shakti") of Lord Shiva and is usually portrayed carrying weapons in her many arms. She is the protector of the righteous and destroyer of the evil.

Priest making an offering to the goddess.

Musicians lead in the fire walkers

Kali, or the dark goddess, is the fearful and ferocious form of the mother goddess Durga.
In southern India, the celebration usually takes place in the pre-monsoon season and poojadaris (worshipers) pray for rain.  In Fiji, where there is plenty of rain, the celebrants give thanks to the mother Goddess for blessings received and as a vow pledged for some special request. They eat only vegetarian food in the preceding ten days, pray morning and night, and fast for 24 hours.

The fire walkers arrive

On Sunday morning, the celebrants had their bodies skewered with foot long sharp metal tridents, commonly through the ears, lips, arms, chest and back, bathed in the sea, and walked/danced two miles to the temple on Howell Road.

The fire walkers pass across the pit of coals several times.

Some walk a well-trodden center path, but others stride through the ashes

After the priests blessed them at the gates, they walked clockwise around the temple and crossed the fire pit. This was repeated at least three times. The musicians played a haunting melody beside the pit and some of the participants seemed to be in a trance.

Piercings and markings

A particularly fine set of piercings. These tridents are removed immediately after the circuits of the temple.

During the circuits of the temple, the purified anointed themselves with sindoor, which is supposed to ward off evil 
How do these men suffer body piercing and walk across fire? The devotees say they feel no pain as they are totally focused on their devotions to the Goddess and have achieved a state of "grace" through the purification process.

Durga is carried around the temple behind the fire walkers

Close-up of  mother Goddess Durga

Kali  carries a bloody trident - an instrument of war.

Kali also carried a whip
Studies as early as the 1930's have shown that ordinary people can walk across coals. This is possible because wood in general and charcoal in particular are poor thermal conductors and a layer of ash further insulates the feet from the heat. Furthermore, the feet are only in contact with the hot coals for a second or so over a typical fire-walking bed (24 feet). As long as people walk reasonably quickly but not run, there will not be enough time for their feet to heat up to the point where they will suffer burns (although some walkers may suffer blistering in the arches of their feet or between their toes). We did see one young boy grimace in pain and abort his attempt after taking two or three steps, but the remainder of the fire walkers were not visibly harmed.

This man with his remarkable piercings walked serenely across the coals and appeared to be in a trance.

Fire walkers dancing as they approach the pit.

At this temple, women are not permitted to walk across the fire, but many take part in the purification and make circuits of the temple.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hibiscus Festival

A few pictures from the Hibiscus Festival carnival grounds and parade. Chris worked on beefing up the backing behind one of our stanchions with some glass, wood, and epoxy, while I spent the day in town to see the parade. It was not up to the standard of the Mexican parades, except for the bands, which I preferred due to their melodious playing and slick dance moves.

There were 8 Ferris wheels at the carnival grounds. This one is run through an old truck trans-axle.

Marching band 

We think these guys guard the government buildings

Some great performers.

Parade float

And another parade float

Suva and the Fiji Museum

It rains almost every day in Suva. On the plus side - our water tanks are full and we have been enjoying luxurious (for us) bucket showers in the cockpit.

A rainy day in the anchorage off the Novotel hotel. There are 5 free moorings here owned by Tony Philip, who also owns the Vuda Point marina and the Copra Shed in Savusavu.

Catholic cathedral on a dramatic day

We are anchored near the town of Lami about 4 kms outside of Suva. Each day we take the Shore Bus into Suva. The town spreads up a hill and out into surrounding lowlands. The streets are winding and it is quite easy to get disoriented. The buildings are a hodge-podge with a few interesting ones left over from the colonial era. The bay is packed with foreign trawlers and cargo vessels. We were told that some vessels were here because they had been impounded for illegal fishing. There is a huge vegetable and fruit market each day beside the bus station and a regular fish market along a canal. Indian restaurants are plentiful and cheap. You can get a nice filling meal for under $4 Canadian ($6 Fijian) and street food (e.g., fish and cassava) for less than $3 Fijian.

Foreign fishing vessels - mostly from China and Taiwan

The highlights of our visit (apart from my new crown) have been the Hibiscus festival - a yearly event, with which our visit just happened to coincide, a visit to the Fiji Museum, and yesterday, a Hindu fire walking ceremony.

The Fiji  Museum ($7 entry) is a low-key but fascinating place. The main entrance hall houses a number of sailing canoes including a double hulled canoe (drua) built in 1913 and a gigantic bamboo raft. These rafts are still used for trading on the rivers of Viti Levu.

100 year old drua. The white decorations are shells. A massive steering oar was used to direct the vessel and required three men in a strong wind. 

Story of  Rev Thomas Baker

The museum also houses historical exhibits of the peoples who came to Fiji,  including Tongans, Solomon Islanders, Indo-Fijians, Polynesian Islanders, missionaries, and European traders. We had heard of the exhibit about the unfortunate Rev. Thomas Baker from reading "Getting Stoned with Savages". The exhibit explained the true story of Baker, a Methodist minister who was killed and eaten by natives after he slighted a 'Christian' chief by holding a meeting at a rival village. The display includes parts of Baker's boot, a bible, and a fork and bowl supposedly used in his consumption.

Reverend Baker's effects

Fork and bowl used to eat parts of Baker

As an aside, I have been reading a fascinating book written by a woman named Wallis who accompanied her husband on a lengthy trading trip through Fiji in the 1840's. The book called "Life in Feejee - Five Years among the Cannibals" describes the state of almost perpetual warfare and cannibalism at this period when the islands were still independent of Britain and the missionaries and traders were making their first forays. It is no surprise that the occasional white man or ship of sailors ended up as dinner when cannibalism was a daily occurrence. Powerful chiefs had almost unlimited power and deceit and trickery were common tools used to defeat an enemy. You can download this book as an e-book from the library of congress archive.

Whale tooth Tabua offered to the Methodist Church (many years later) by way of apology

The museum has a small exhibit on local flora and fauna including the 2nd largest beetle in the world.

I would not want  to find one of these in my bed!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Crowned in a Day

We called on Monday, the day we arrived in Suva, and were fortunate to get an appointment at the office of Dr. Vikash Singh, an Australian trained dentist first thing the next morning. By 5pm I had a new crown on the molar that I had broken several weeks earlier. The procedure was nearly painless and the crown fits perfectly.

Dr. Singh has a computer controlled crown milling machine (CEREC), which allows him to create the crown in his office rather than sending the casts made from my mouth off to Hong Kong or Australia to have the crown made (with a 4 week delay). This dentist also has the most amazing camera built into the dental inspection lamp, which allows you to see gory close-ups of the inside of your mouth from various angles and lighting conditions. These are shown on a flat screen TV just like you see in sports bars these days.

Total cost including a full mouth X-Ray and 3 visits (all in the same day) was about $600 Canadian - expensive in Fijian terms (more than a month's wages for a manual labourer) but reasonable when you compare this to similar work done in the UK or Canada. His other fees are much lower (I picked the most expensive regular procedure he does). E.g., 40 to 70 Canadian dollars for a filling.

So to any cruiser considering dental work in Fijj, I cannot recommend this fellow highly enough. He is on Stewart street in Suva and can be reached at 330-8882 or email at drsingh at

Sailing to Suva

We decided to break up the passage from Levuka to Suva with a stop over in Leleuvia. We sailed off the hook in Levuka, getting away on the wrong tack, headed straight for the shore a few hundred meters off. As I hurriedly winched in the rest of the chain, Rani rolled out part of the jib (the main already being up) and put us about quickly and neatly. We had a few tense moments avoiding uncharted coral heads as we beat out through the pass in the reef.

Once outside, we had a nice 8-10 knot ESE wind. I laid a course close-hauled to the NE for a few miles and we then tacked and were able to point south for pass into the Moturiki channel, skirting the reef as we went. There was a light chop but the consistent breeze kept Ladybug moving along well, heeled over at about 10 degrees. I was very glad we had waited for the much stronger SE winds of the previous day to die down. It is so much more pleasant when beating to do so in lighter winds and moderate seas!

The scenery on the passage was very lovely with the long thing shores of Moturiki island providing a green foreground to Ovalau's mountainous contours. As we reacehd up the channel to our anchorage, we saw a resort boat running tourists out to a nearby motu and Fijian longboats (outboard skiffs) running back and forth between the resort on Leleuvia and the nearby islands.

We anchored twice off the coral reef to the NE of Leleuvia, but were not happy to be so close to the corals. So we upped anchor and tied off to a mooring ball off the resort. We stayed only one night but managed to get in two delightful snorkeling trips at the reef.

Suva is about 45 or 50 miles from Leleuvia. This is just a bit too far to sail in daylight, so we opted for an overnight crossing. We left in the middle of the afternoon from Leleuvia so that we would have good visibility when tacking out of the pass. Once again, we sailed on a long board out to the NE before tacking at dusk and heading south. The wind held until early in the morning and we close-reached under 2-reefed main and partial jib with the wind vane steering. Around 3 am the wind went fluky and light in squalls and drizzle about 10 miles out from the approaches to Suva harbour. Perhpas due to effects from the island of Viti Levu, the wind clocked around 180 degrees, blowing out of the NW. We beat our way towards the glow of Suva, following the lights from one of the ships that had passed us earlier.

Suva harbour is crowded with commercial fishing fleets from various Asian countries. The yacht club anchorage is surrounded by these larger boats and we had read that holding can be poor and the conditions here unpleasant in a stronger wind. So we decided to anchor off a hotel near Lami in what is reputed to be a good hurricane hole. We will be here a few days while I attend to a broken tooth.

Off to The Peak!

Chris, keen to depart on Friday, woke up early to make some fudge we had promised to our young friends who lived near the landing beach. It looked like a sunny day and the wind was not as fierce as the day before, all boding well for our beat southward. However, I was of two minds. The hike up to The Peak, which we had aborted a couple of days earlier due to torrential rain, was calling me.

This one is for John and Janet who collect washing line pics!

Chris returned from the fudge delivery while I was chatting on the radio net and started getting the  the dinghy ready to hoist. He came inside for a few minutes and we discussed the pros and cons of departure again. Something made him look outside while we were chatting and he saw the dinghy drifting away towards the wharf. He had tied the painter to a stanchion using a couple of half hitches but left a short end which came undone as the chop bounced the dinghy around. What to do? What to do? The oars were disassembled and put away already and we could not pull up our anchor quickly enough to motor over to rescue her. So there was only one thing left. He quickly took off his shirt, put on flippers, mask and snorkel and jumped into the water. It did not take him too long to catch up with the runaway and tow her back to Ladybug.

After the rescue, a bucket shower, and a hot tea, I told him it was a "sign" that we were meant to stay another day in Levuka. "We can hike The Peak and visit Maraia for tea!" This time I packed a lunch in case we got distracted en route. Sure enough, just as we landed on the shore, the Fijian National Youth Band was tuning up for a march. They were in Levuka for the Annual Youth Achievements Conference. Chris was reminded of his marching days as a trumpet player in the Canadian bands but they were quite conservative compared to these Fijian players. The band stopped periodically in front of a crowd and put on a hip swaying show that was quite sensual. It was very entertaining but we eventually headed up the hill to the trail head.

Fiji National Youth Band from Suva
These guys have all the right moves!

The start of the trek by the city's water supply was clear enough and we confirmed it with one of the Levukans who lived nearby. After the last house, the trail was supposed to split and we were to take the left turn. We did not see the branching off in the trail so we kept going. Intuition told Chris that we were heading into the wrong valley but it was a nice trail with good views of the town. Eventually we met someone tending to his plantation and he advised us to turn back for the Peak. Chris spotted an overgrown steep grassy path leading up beside a taro patch, so we zig-zagged up, huffing and puffing. Shortly afterwards we reached a slippery rock face with some tenuous handholds and footholds. I tried an alternate route to skirt this scary section but it came to a blind end. There was naught for it but grit one's teeth and carry on. Then we saw a definite trail through the forest and felt more confident in our decision.

Chris enjoying the view from the top of the Peak

It was really worth it when we came out on top. There was a panorama of peaks and valleys, the town of Levuka at our feet and the offshore islands beckoning us from a distance. The drop off was dizzyingly steep. It would be a quick death a hundred feet below if one fell from the edge.

Panorama from the hillside above Levuka, showing the peak we climbed.
Pandanus in bloom
When we returned from the trek, a man called us over to drink some water from a continuously running tap beside his house." It is good spring water!" We did not need to be asked twice. I cupped my hands and greedily swallowed enough to fill my belly while Chris fished for a bottle to fill.

Then we enjoyed a very pleasant visit with Maraia, whom we had met a few days earlier. Her husband, Eminoni, was a soldier in the Fijian army when the coup took place in 1987. He guarded the wharf and met the yachties when they arrived in Ovalau. One of the people he befriended was John Neal on s/v Mahina Tiare, whom we had recently  met at Makogai. Small world, eh? Eminoni went on to serve in the Gulf War as part of the U.N. Peace Keeping Forces and passed away a few months ago.

We continued on to explore the other side of the river from Maraia and discovered more trails weaving up the hillside towards the next valley north of town center. If only we could stay another day..

Tea with Maraia

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sloths go Slogging on Ovalau!

Wednesday was a wet and windy day with squalls passing over us all day. We took advantage of it by gathering water for laundry and showers. It was also a "Dexter" marathon day - five episodes of the grisly serial killer television show. Gluttony accompanied our slothfulness, of course!

But, we made up for it by two full days of hiking in the back woods of Ovalau and burning those bad calories! On Thursday we set out to the village of Tokou to get a close look at the Devil's Thumb, a volcanic plug that sticks up in the air like a hitchhiker's digit. This was supposed to be a six kilometer return trip on the road, so we packed light with only a litre of water. But, along the way, we came upon another trail which led up from Draiba and decided to explore it instead.

Cemetery in Draiba - recent grave draped in tapa cloth and flowers
We had read of an old path that connects Levuka with the village of Lovoni in the heart of the island and guessed that we had stumbled upon it. So we carried on, scrambling and sliding on muddy trails up and down two valleys, through dense grass and canopied forests. Some parts of the hike cut through taro plantations and here it was a little more confusing and three times we took wrong turns. But, we were wise enough to realise it early and turned around to explore alternate routes which were more heavily trodden. We forded streams many times which allowed us a momentary rest and a chance to wash the mud off our legs and feet. The temptation to stop and pick a ripe papaya was hard to resist but we did not want to do so without permission and there was no-one to ask. Not knowing the time, Chris was getting really worried that we may not reach Lovoni before the last bus departed for Levuka. So we ramped up the pace and it was a huge relief when we sighted the village from a hilly shoulder and skidded down another steep slope.

Nicer part of the trail through taro plantation
Not so easy to find the trail here!
Chris, stop and see the flowers!
Lovoni sits in an old volcanic crater, an idyllic green valley crowned by saw-toothed peaks. To complete it's perfect setting, there is a river flowing around it. We washed our dirty limbs for the last time and were sorely tempted by the crystal clear knee-deep water to go for a skinny dip. But being in Fiji we chose to be socially conscious and tramped up the narrow cement walkway instead towards the houses. The first man we saw was Matei, sitting with his family in their home, and we asked him where we could find the chief. All we had in our backpack was a box of loose tea and sugar in case we ran into someone but we had no kava for sevusevu and were feeling somewhat nervous about this meeting. Luckily the chief was away, phew! Matei walked with us through the rest of the village, pointing out the school on the hill, the methodist church and the chief's large green-roofed house.

Finally the village is sighted!
Tempted to take a swim
We were introduced to several people along the way and everyone was amazed that we had walked all the way from Levuka, by ourselves no less! Few people use this ancient path other than people working in their plantations or tourists guided by Epi. We met Kenny, the catechist from the methodist church, returning from his plantation. He looked as sweaty and tired as we did, but kindly invited us to share a bowl of kava with him. We thanked him but stated that we needed to catch the three p.m. bus back to Levuka. He told us it was just after one p.m., there was no bus but there might be a truck which was bringing people over for a wedding. In the meantime, would we like a cup of tea? I almost hugged him! We were hungry, so we asked if there was a shop where we could buy something to eat with the tea. The shop was closed but Matei roused the owner who sold us some chocolate chip cookies. Kenny's wife Grace poured us large mugs of hot tea and served sweet pancakes which she had cooked for wedding guests she was expecting later. What a godsend!

While draining my second cup of sweet tea, I heard a vehicle engine and Kenny ran outside to make enquiries. We were fortunate that Malakae was indeed planning to drive to Levuka in another hour, but first he had to pick up some school children in the village of Bureta. So we got in the truck and he drove us to his home village where he intended to take an hour long break. Here we saw a couple of traditional Fijian bures, beautiful thatched houses made of bamboo cane and palm leaves. Malakae explained that they were built to teach the old ways to the young men of the village. We continued our walk to Bureta, stopping to chat with Siteri, who was standing at her gate waiting for the same truck to Levuka. She gave us a tour of her lovely garden.

Traditional thatched Fijian bure
Swing-out shutters under a heavily thatched roof
beams and supports in the ceiling

Then we walked around the village of Bureta and waited at the bus shelter with three little girls from the primary school. They laughed and giggled, whispered their names and asked us ours and where we were from. One of the younger ones went to sit in Chris's lap, not the least bit shy or scared that we might carry them away to a foreign land!

It was a long ride in the back of the truck, bumping over the gravel road with the cool wind rushing through its open front . It was so chilly that I felt goose bumps rising on my legs and one of the passengers put on his sweater.  We passed a number of villages at the southeast part of the island and got a great view of the Devil's Thumb that we had originally set off to see.

muddied rugby players running home after school

Temcy corrects my spelling of their names - Mere, Temcy and Taufa left to right

Girls in their pink school uniform sit close to Chris in the truck

They are not always angelic!