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!

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