Friday 16 October 2015

Fiji- Beauty in All Kinds of Weather

Paddle boarding in Qamea

Friday October 16th 2015 

In every life a little rain must fallAs I write this we find ourselves at the end of 4 ( or is it 5 now?)  days of full-on- non stop rain and grey skies, oh, and howling winds too! Not to worry, we are safely anchored at Rabi (pronounced Rambi) island, still in the east side of Fiji. Every morning we wake up expecting to see the return of blue skies, and every morning we are greeting by the same grey dampness, not that I am complaining, I am a ‘rainy day  kind of person” after all, it’s just that the laundry and wet clothes have been accumulating at rather an alarming rate and, we have not been able to do ANY outdoor activities after school. I mean: it is really blowing and raining out there !!!  So we just putter around, trying to keep everyone from going stir crazy in the dark, damp cave which the usually bright and dry Amelie has transformed herself into.

5 days of rain in Rabi

Nevertheless, we are all okay, healthy, generally happy and with still enough food stores to keep us going for some time yet, and we have lots of movies and board games to choose from! 

Meanwhile, here’s what we’ve been up to since we last wrote: For the last two weeks we have been island hoping here in Eastern Fiji, as I said the weather has been on and off, so we are much more appreciative of the sun when it does come out and we get out and explore as much as we can ! 

Qamea Island: A Muddy start. After the last update when we were in Taveuni, we headed to the small nearby Qamea (pronounced Gimea) island where, for a moment, we almost got ourselves hopelessly stuck as we were trying to get to the village- to present our Yangona to the Toragane koro- as visitors have to do at every new village when they first arrive.This is what happened: Once we we had Amelie safely anchored in the bay we (10 of us from three different boats) took our dinghies in as close to shore as we could, and then, when it became obvious that we could go no further, while still 150 feet from shore, we started to walk, Mark pulling the dinghy behind us as we went. We really must have given the locals quite a show as we all trudged , knee deep in the mud flats of the mangroves for what was an awfully long 15 or 20 minute struggle. Each step an effort: pulling our bare feet out from the thick brown muck, each time relieved to hear the loud sucking sound that announced that our feet had emerged into air once more, unstuck this time, each new step, unsure of what you were going to be stepping down onto! On and on we went, dinghy following behind us like a faithful pup , we slowly made our way to the shore. 

Like I said, we were quite the spectacle as we tried to keep our dignity (and our clothe clean!) Finally reaching dry land we were greeted by a very nice young man who had been watching us for some time and who informed us, with a bit of a half-smile, that there actually was an easier way to get there: via the beach, and a short walk on dry land !  (So much for our reliable reference material- 4 years old document) which had informed us that since the most recent cyclone- the muddy entry way, was the ONLY way to get to the village!) Oh well ! It was good for a laugh, as we stood there in our newly acquired knee high sticky brown socks !  Our gracious host then took us  (all 10 of us!) to his home where he let us use his water to wash our legs and feet  before we were ushered to the Sevu Sevu ceremony!

After that muddy start Qamea turned out to be a great anchorage! so peaceful with its many song birds singing in the morning and evening, and the surrounding  deep mangroves provided us with a really magical place to explore by paddle board (or kayak). At night we could hear the hauntingly beautiful voices of the villagers singing , I wish that I’d had a way to record those voices properly to share with everyone. It was pretty terrific to witness such a concert every night, in the peacefulness of the cockpit under a wondrous starry sky. It was also a nice setting to celebrate Mark’s 47th birthday with friends from SV Perry, and there was CAKE and even homemade doughnuts thanks to Matt and Jen !

Matthew starts to get the hang of paddling on his own in Rabi

Rain soaked Rabi

Taveuni (again);  Natural Water Slides and Falls.After a few days we sailed back to Taveuni to stock up on a few things at the small town’s grocery store in the North end, we were only meant to go there for one day, but as the weather turned nasty (big winds, lots of rain) we ended up staying three nights, three rocky- roll-y nights!  We did take the opportunity to find our way to some really FUN natural WATER SLIDES one day though. When we first arrived, as we were the only ones there (The four of us and the four from SV Perry), we weren’t quite sure how safe these “water slides” were. I mean, we are talking: natural water falls that have carved out a smooth path on the rock bottom but as we assessed the various potential “entry points” (read: the least steep and the most smooth bedrock)and once Mark had done a safety “Test Run”, we set the kids loose to have themselves a bit ‘o wet and wild fun, and I think it is safe to say that ALL the kids, the young and the less young, had a blast zipping down the cool fresh water !  By lunch time there were a few teeth chattering, but lots of smiles !  On another day Matthew and Mark joined Perry’s crew to go and see the Tavolo waterfalls which Meg and MC (and Nat) had seen a few weeks before, on another rainy day. They had a good hike, climbing up to the three different levels of the falls. 

The natural waterslides in Taveuni

Matthew getting ready to slide down

Mark and Matthew have a go !

Meg's turn

Conrad, Mark (Perry) and Meg at the top of the slide

Budd Reef. Once the wind and rain abated enough to venture out again, we were off to Budd Reef, and Island we were excited to go and visit. We arrived on Friday and made our way to do the Sevu Sevu. This time it was easy coming to shore ( no muddy mangroves to tackle) and from our landing it was a beautiful 20 minute hike to get to the village.A sandy path, winding its way along the coast, through small plantations of coconut trees, through a small, but lovingly decorated, cemetery, and at every turn we were delighted by  beautiful scenery of sandy beaches, blue water and greenery all around.

When we arrived at the village ( a small village of perhaps 15-20 houses) we were warmly welcomed by the chief’s wife, the chief and his family and after the short Sevu Sevu  (we are getting used to these now) we had a chance to meet many of the villagers and the children (who were out of school for the weekend!) I can’t tell you how lovely and charming they all were to us !  They told us that the next day was FIJI DAY (Their national day) and that there would be plenty of activities and games for us to join in !  

The cemetery in Bed Reef
The kids greet us near the village on Bud Reef
Mark drinking the Kava from the Billo

Stunning Bud Reef

Bud Reef

Walking around Bud Reef

FIJI DAY!  (Saturday, October 10th 2015). We arrived back at the village the next morning to find everyone in an even more festive mood than the day before !  Everyone was well dressed (in the Fiji National Colours) and many of the children had painted their faces. After the official raising of the flag (which we missed by a few minutes because we were late getting in) we took part in their morning Kava drinking ceremony. I am glad that we had had a chance to practice drinking kava at Paradise a few weeks before, because that way we all knew what to expect and, actually, we didn’t mind the taste at all !  Some people say that it tastes like muddy water and I guess it sort of does, it certainly has the look of muddy water, but it is a light texture, and leave the tongue a bit numb, but no other effects were felt by us, and we were honoured to be invited to join them in their celebration in this traditional way. 

Afterwards the kids took part in all sorts of fun games. One such game was a relay race where bread (buns) were hung up by strings and the first team to get the bread down (and eaten)-without using their hands- would win (we have played a similar game with apples in Canada) !  Meghan, and SV Perry’s Conrad and Mark (ie : “Little Mark” not “Big Mark”)  formed one team and they did pretty well, although I think they were surprised at how difficult it actually was !  The entire crowd roared with appreciative laughter at watching the children attempt this challenge.

The next challenge was another race...spoon and egg type of race, except they used a small bead instead of an egg. Then a large rope was produced and it was time for the tug o’ war !  The kids went off and played ball games (Meg had fun playing volleyball) with each other while the grown ups pulled out a few guitars and played festive music while we were served tea and sweets !  A really delightful day with a great group of people ! As a gesture of appreciation we presented to chief with clothe and other reusable gifts from our boats as well as candies (and toothbrushes!) 

Later that afternoon we came back to partake in their afternoon Kava (Lots of Kava drinking on that day!) and traditional dancing. After the first dance, we were all invited to join in. Thankfully  (for me who rarely dances in public) the dance steps were very easy to learn, at one point we were all joined together by the hips just like back home at weddings, when you get pulled in to the “Locomotion” train dance !  Yeah ! It was fun !  

Village on Bud Reef

Kids on Fiji Day, Bud Reef !

Fiji Day celebrations and games. Meg has a go !

The Kava man 

The strong women of Fiji are its strength

Meghan presenting the chief with a gift of toothbrushes.

Fiji Day participant 

Willie, Our friend and guide, doing the dance on Fiji Day
Meg plays volleyball wit the kids on Fiji Day

Another Thanksgiving on board Amelie and a Scenic Crater Hike !

It’s hard to believe that last year at Thanksgiving we were “locked in” at X-Marine in Grenada, hoping that the work on the deck was not going to take “too long” and wondering how all this delay and expense would affect our future travel plans, and now, 365 days later, here we are half way across the world ! We celebrated our (Canadian) Thanksgiving on Sunday with a small chicken, some homemade stuffing, cranberries , mashed potatoes, gravy , buns (canned) corn and my first ever home made pumpkin pie ! I had hoarded most of the ingredients needed for this feast early on the months before in anticipation !  We watched an episode or two of Peanuts-Snoopy (to make it all feel a little bit more ‘authentic’) and thought of our loved ones back home. We had plenty to feel grateful for that night! 

On Thanksgiving Monday, we went with Wonderful Willie (the chief’s son and our host and guide) to hike the nearby island: an extinct volcano crater. Even if the day was dreary grey and it was threatening to rain it was a fantastic and scenic walk! All along the crater edge we went. We were surprised to see how large the trees grew along there, and the view of the water filled crater below us (with its colourful reef below the surface) was beautiful from every view point. On our way back to the dinghy we spotted a sea snake, trying to warm up on the rocks out of the water! These reptiles are pretty cool, but you have to be quite respectful of them, as they are 20 times more venemous than the most venemous snakes on land!!! But since they have very small mouthes, it is  rare that a person actually gets bitten by one. It was a thrill to see one out of the water ! (We had seen plenty in the water, in  Niue, Tonga and in Fiji) 

The only regret that day was that we were all too cold and wet after the hike to go snorkeling in the crater reef, so instead Willie took us back home where we enjoyed our picnic lunch under shelter on board SV Perry. Later that day we invited Willie on board Amelie. He really loved Mark’s travel electric guitar and he borrowed it to show all the boys back at the village (they RAVED about it!) and then that evening Willie did us the great honour of joining us again this time for dinner on Amelie. He is a wonderful guy whom we all enjoyed getting to know. We hope to meet him again one day, and next time maybe we will bring him an electric guitar for him to keep ! (They have a gazoline generator at the village and Willie already has an AMP, just no guitar, yet...)

Another Thanksgiving on board Amelie. 

Rain, rain, go away ! The Rain and the wind still kept on coming but we left the next morning for Rabi, were, as I said at the beginning of this update: we have been bunkering down for the last 4 days, we hope that the rain stops enough for us to safely make it out of the reef (we need adequate sunlight) to get back to Savu Savu in the next day or so, there are a few parts that Mark had to order from Amel to get the steering fixed on Amelie to get her ready for the big crossing to New Zealand next month and these parts will be delivered to Savu Savu.

Mark examines a large termite mound

A highly poisonous sea snake comes to shore

Coming up: We should be back in “Civilization” (Savu Savu has good internet, great grocery stores and restaurants ! Yay!)  in the next few days, and from there we will try to get ourselves on a day trip to the Rainbow Reef which we have not been able to sail to since the weather has not been good enough yet, but its international reputation for being one of the great dives/snorkel areas is too good for us to miss, so we will try to get there, somehow, before we have to leave this part of Fiji after this we will head West, towards the main island and perhaps (?) a stop at the Astrolab Reef if time permits ! 

Our hike on the extinct volcano crater near Bud Reef
 View from the crater- looking out into the ocean

The crater

Another view of the beautiful crater

A very scenic hike on an extinct volcano crater


Meghan On Amelie (written in November 2015)

Qamea (ka-may-ah) 

Another one of those paddle boarder's paradise destinations.  Inside the mangroves is another world.  The path of still water lined with trees and the sound of all types of birds (including the giant pigeon who sounds just like a howler monkey back in Panama!).  The mangroves are also the best parking lot for your boat in case of a cyclone because of their mighty strong roots that dig deep into the mud.  Boats have been known to survive cyclones in this bay! There is a village as well where we got to do Sevu Sevu and meet some very nice people!  The only problem was, our guidebook was too old and told us that there was only one way into the village and that way involved us walking for 15 minutes in almost knee deep, wet mud as the villagers just watched us, probably shaking their heads saying something cheesy like, "Pff, tourists!".  We get to the village dripping with mud and the man, who later led us around, told us that we actually could have just gone around to the beach and walk from there.  We had made it so far that we weren't going to trudge back into the mud to get back to the dinghy to get to the beach.  The man was kind enough to let us use the water spigot to rinse our feet off and then gave us a tour of the three lovely villages. 

Budd Reef

Anchored in waters almost as clear as Bora Bora (and that is saying a lot) and Budd Reef is now one of my favourite spots in Fiji.  But, the water was just a minor addition in the beauty of this place, the island and the people of Yanuca village were the most special parts.  Our friends SV Seabbatical told us that this was the island we had to come to and I am glad we did.

 First of all, it's a lovely walk into the town.  I almost felt like "Dora The Explorer" with the "First, we cross the rocks and coral. Then, we cross the long, pretty beach. Lastly, we climb up the hill and then we get to the village".  The people informed us that on the weekend, it was going to be Fiji Day and that we could come and join them for the activities. 

They told us that the flag raising was at 8:00 am and having been to the Caribbean where events always happen at least 15 minutes later than they say, we arrived at around 8:20.  It turns out that these people were very prompt because we got there and they had already raised the flag and were almost ready for the kava ceremony.  Everyone was beautifully dressed as you would on Canada Day in red or white but of course, they were dressed in blue like the Fijian flag.  Everyone was sitting down on a tapa mat under a tarp listening to the chief who said some prayers in Fijian.  The chief was all dressed in black and had some festive ribbons hanging off his shoulders. Later, I went up to him and offered him some toothbrushes to give away to the children of the village.  I was thinking about Canada Day when I did this: thousands of people on the hill dressed in red and white, stands all over the city selling light up maple leafs and hats, beaver mascots walking by taking pictures with everyone, the prime minister coming out of his car to make a speech on the big stage, and police officers on every street corner making sure everyone is safe.  And then, there's Fiji Day on a little island where: some thirty people, who all know each other's names, are cherishing their country all together while the kids are running and playing in the field right outside (there aren't even any cars on this island).  It's just so, simple.

They had a few activities planned for the kids later which turned out to be hysterically fun!  The first one was that classical "Apple on a string" game where you can't use your hands but you have to eat the apple hanging from a string (except it was a bread bun instead of an apple).  I couldn't believe how much fun I had!  All the kids and adults were laughing so hard and I could even hear some Fijians cheering, "Go Chicago!," , apparently our team's name, since Mark and Conrad (from SV Perry) had told the Fijians they were from Chicago!  There was also an egg and spoon race and a tug of war after this.  

We came back later that afternoon for the dance show.  It was nothing spectacular compared to what we saw in French Polynesia but it was a nice mellow dance (which they invited us to join into) and it was fun.  After the dancing, some of the kids were playing volleyball and so I joined them.  They spoke very little English (about as much as I spoke Fijian) but every time the ball would accidentally hit someone in the head (not hard), we would all laugh so I felt a connection to these kids when we shared that moment.  Laughter is the universal language. 

The day after Thanksgiving, Willie, the island health director who offered us a tour, took us to the volcanic island (the small island way in the distance in the picture).  The island forms a "U" around the middle which used to be a caldera (just like the Sierra Negra we went to see in Galapagos).  Anyways, it was a pleasant walk around the island.  At the end, we saw a sea snake actually on shore!  Sea snakes are just what they sound like: snakes that swim.  If they bite you though, they are 20 times more venomous than any land snake but their mouths are so small, they wouldn't even be able to bite your pinky finger probably.  They are very swift in water but thankfully, quite sluggish on land.

Later, because of the rain, Willie ended up staying at our boat for dinner.  He was very interested in my dad's mini electric guitar and played very well too.  He told us many stories about his life and pointed out some places on our world map which he wishes to go to.

Rabi (rambi)

Rabi is supposedly a very beautiful snorkelling stop but sadly, from the day we arrived there until four days later when we left, it rained and rained and..... rained again.  I think over that course of four days, the longest gap between showers was two hours maybe.  Anyways, when we got back to Savu Savu four days later, we found out that that had actually been the edge of a tropical depression (sometimes the start of a cyclone but not in this case) and everyone all over Fiji had been really worried about it for days. Maybe ignorance did help us in this case... oh well!  Other than rain and a bit more wind than usual, we didn't notice anything very surprising. 



  1. I have to read this from my phone and comment from my laptop because as I read I find myself having far too many exclamations of awe or questions to scroll back and forth between blog and comments on the same device. You are just a FABULOUS travel writer (and writer in general)

    Here we have been in the midst of renovations for 4 1/2 months, living in about 450 square feet of living space while the remaining space is covered in dust, paint and equipment. We haven't been complaining but we are nearing the end of it and finally allowing ourselves to admit how relieved we are and how much of a challenge it has been. And then I read this post and imagine living inside Amelie for 4 or 5 days with 2 teenagers and grey skies above. I smile and think, "OK, maybe renovations aren't so bad after all" (incidentally, throughout this entire 4.5 month process, I keep smiling and thinking back to your "camping inside the house" adventure during your own renovations a couple years back in your kitchen) I love the line "generally happy". Ha!

    I know you've been tracking the nautical miles you've been traveling but I'm awfully curious how many foot miles you've covered as well. The kids are crazy healthy, I'm sure! I love it!

    Your description of the mud sucking mangroves and your "knee high brown sticky socks"... absolutely delightful!!!!

    Ah mannnnn, we forgot to wish Mark a happy birthday a month ago ... or did we? I think we forgot. Sorry mates, been a bit of a show over here. Happy belated my dear! You have some wonderful friends to have made doughnuts! AND Cake! AND unintentionally serenaded! How are you ever going to top that next year?

    Just as when you described the star filled skies in the middle of the ocean on your longest previous crossing, just as you described the sight of the dolphins in the middle of the darkest nights, your description of the villagers voices lulling you off to sleep was simply magical. These moments you describe are what movies are made of, absolute, sheer, peaceful beauty of heart, mind and soul.

    Those water slides look crazy fun!!!! I meant to mention that in my reply to Meg. How could you ever come back to Canada? Seriously! I mean ... we're a beautiful country but I don't think we have natural smooth rock water slides! ; ) ... "less young" and all

    The little houses in the village on Budd Reef are exquisite! Their brightly coloured images remind me of coastal fishing towns here in Canada as well as ones we saw in England.

    When I was younger and Kava Kava was still allowed in Canadian "natural" health products, I used to take a PMS pill with Kava Kava in it. The Canadian government eventually banned it due to the effects of Kava Kava on the liver. They company continued to make the pill, just with the Kava. Let me just say that they simply weren't the same magical little happy pill after that. So muddy water tasting/looking or not, I think I might have been right on that cup and holding it out for seconds shortly thereafter ; )

    Mark, you looked great in the sarong! I'm not even kidding! It's so wonderful to see you fully participating in the traditions of the locals. Having said that, however, it DOES need to be said that I think that photo of you in the sarong may look quite good beside the high school photo of you in that pink tux.

  2. The photo of Willie enamours me, much like previous photos of natives that you've posted. The sculpted muscle that many natives on these islands have must well represent the true level of physical and nutritional health the islanders practice? Certainly not the North American life of fast foot, television and 24 hour days.

    Don't feel bad about dancing in public. I tried a cardio dance class yesterday and realized it required a coordination gene that I am obviously lacking.

    The first tree photo (right after you talk about your delicious sounding Thanksgiving meal) is BEAUTIFUL!!!! When you get home and have service to send a full image quality version of that one by email, it would look impeccable framed and on our wall)

    The termite mound gave me the heebie jeebies, as did the photos of the bats in Meg's blog. I have some personal fear issues I see still need worked out, lol.

    I'm off to catch up on your other October blog. I've fallen behind again but am enjoying the evening read catching up. Lorne is away working right now on his new project job that prevented him from joining you but when he has a moment I am sure he'll be reading with great admiration and envy