Land Notes- Fiji, Savusavu, Vanua Levu (or stuck up sugar creek without a shoddy engine)

The Owl and Cat have decided, with heavy hearts but pragmatic minds, that it is in their best interests to return to the land of the long white cloud. They are saddened as their thirst for adventure at sea has only just been wetted, a saline mouth wash, and their paws and claws still itchy. Jolly Darth Vader needs some more work and the little sojourn between NZ, Tonga and Fiji brought out some issues in the wash (a washing machine of a large scale..or a boat the size of an ant?) No matter how much preparation they made the ocean would always expose the/their weaknesses. So back to Aotearoa to get some more honey, make her (the lady Darth Vader) stronger and build and collect items such as a water maker, a removable dog house (the Owl’s imagined green house), additional clean power generation and a Runcible spoon with a larger handle. The decision is always hard but now they have made it they can look forward with binoculars, always on hand like good maritime folk.

The Owl and Cat had arrived in Savusavu the day before a holiday, Constitutional day and due to this, the weekend and stagnant administration they would have to wait a week for their cruising permit- permission to travel around. Anyway nothing lost as Savusavu proved a happy and buzzing little town with cheap places to eat good curries. Having been saddened at the thought of returning home early their hearts now brimmed with the thought of spending 6 weeks cruising the remote Lau group- a group of islands in the north eastern seas of Fiji. Then… the engine carked it.

Under the curse of Murphy’s law, or Neptunes rage at our previous bunch of bananas, the engine seemed to suddenly stall at Idle. We discovered this at anchor near the entrance to the bay off Jacques Catseau’s resort-The second safe anchorage in Savusavu but the only one to provide clean swimming water, away from the town. The Owl spent two days with his head in the engine spluttering, cursing and getting covered in diesel. The Cat feeling less helpful passed cleanish rags and spanners and sat staring with rigid stance at the hull wandering what in earth they would do. When not doing this she sat on deck, with same stance, staring at the cats having their diving holidays at ‘Catseau’s’. “Silly cats” she thought “with their wheely travel bags, sun loungers, false cultural experience expectations and over proportioned cocktails” but secretly envied their care free holiday and on demand beverages… “but where is the adventure in that” she snapped out of it in pride… “Although it could be nice”. After two days of a very grumpy Owl, who was throughly perplexed by the engine, and a hopefully positive but irritable Cat they decided it would be best to return to town. With no engine they sailed back into the creek and with the help of some other friendly seafarers and a lovely family of German bakers they helped tug and shunt the limping Darth Vader onto a mooring.

One month has passed and the boat is still on said mooring. The one thing that has changed is that one day has passed and now the engine is fixed and humming beautifully. It took five times one more days for the Owl with the help of some other engineer brains, we thank you for your time, to work out what the issue was in the end. The injector pump had broken, a rather integral part of the motor. The pump had to be sent back to New Zealand and once that had been placed in the hands of cheery DHL officer-flower behind ear, extended blue fingernails and a hammer head tattoo on her calf-there was nothing more the couple could do but wait. And why not wait in style, pack their backpacks (luxury travel) and go off exploring the land.

Below are a list of observations, from stuck up a creek and other adventures, plus some extra notes of no particular order, insight or meaning:

-Cat “I am uninspired to write a diary now. We are stuck up a creek without a paddle, although there could be worse places to be hence ‘sugar creek’ not the other word that first came to my mind. This, Savusavu, is the Hotel California ‘we can check out any time we like but we can never leave’.” Owl “Blasting blast face blast. Blooming bloomers engine.”

-Ladies in the market around a trestle table laden with vegetables imitate Da Vinci’s Last supper.

-Park the car and cross to the other side of the river by sodden foot. Lush valley and quiet in the village as we sneak towards the church, Sunday service murmurs from within. Horses tethered to road side eye us intruders up, jaws in slow mastication. A women with a Micky Mouse t-shirt approaches and asks us with friendly wide face what we are up to. We have come to pay the fee to climb the waterfall but the land owner or waterfall caretaker is busy with God. Patiently we wait on a manicured grassy bank lined with Pink leaved flowers in front of the beautiful stone church. The church was built with the hands of the villagers. Each villager, each day, brought a little boulder from the river and that was how it came to be. The altar and sermon stands are spread with green silk which pops from the grey stone surround. Two big throne like chairs also upholstered in the same silk. The girl with the Mouse t-shirt shows me a special feature. A cross built into the wall above a baptising bath which has a switch to turn on the holy water which streams from the top of the cross into the basin. The girl is joined by another girl and they stand like Mary statues either side of the Jesus cross remarking with pride at the trickle of water.

-dead dark brown centipede lies at the side of the path. It is the length of my elbow to paw finger even curled up. What a waste of many legs.

-Chinese, Hong Kong restaurant serves ‘Dump stick’ on it’s menu. Dimly lit enclosed restaurant with bright plastic furniture, plastic table cloths and a dirty facade is called ‘Hidden Paradise’. We think it may be well hidden. There is an engineering shop called ‘Carpenters Engineers’. I imagine a wooden steam punk driven engine or old fashioned toy makers, like Geppetto, with wooden mallets furiously beating on metal.

-Saturday in Savusavu. Supermarkets are rammed and elbows are swinging. People fight for queue positions in the isles. Huge bags of flour, split peas, sugar-Everything in bulk. Candy floss is coiled on a machine and cakes are sold in stands as a band is playing in a marquee at the waters edge. All the happening is by the water. Female Fijian dancers in traditional dress pose coquettishly for photos with the local boys. Everyone is buzzing, talking fast, gesturing, moving on sugar highs.

-The creek running the length of the town and beyond is littered with a few cyclone wreaked boats. Sights of lost dreams they hang limply on moorings or tethered in hope by many lines to the shore making homes for the noisy Myna birds. On the other side of the creek is a small island where a gigantic development is taking place in secret behind the mangroves. If you walk up the hill behind the town you can see the eyesore of land being pulled up from out of the water and a huge stadium sized mud pitch being toiled by dump trucks and tractors. An American timeshare resort it being built there. The locals are not so pleased.

-Clam shells line the simple properties frontages or stand on palm wood stakes. The air is humid and clouds come often bringing rain over the hills. The rainforest is dense and lush with layers of vines making sculptures of trees and we are drowned in green.

-Dense palm trees line an endless golden shore around the corner, in the backwaters, from the resort. The beach is a commute route for the resort workers. We pass them on a walk to their village. Villagers in families carry fire wood, coconuts in baskets and swing machetes from long arms. A man stands in the lagoon and we see his dismay as his spear misses a fish, arms smack out at the water. Parties with nets stand further out, up to their wastes and their voices are carried off by the breeze giving the view a surreal quality. Hermit crabs wearing green army helmets advance in tiny battle grounds around our feet. Someone has graffitied TOSH in a palm tree.

-Gregorio has invited us for tea. I asked to take his photo but he said no. He had incredibly bad teeth which gave him a wonderful character. I knew I would take it later. His house was full of gold framed photos of family and wallpapered with faded Pacific patterned cloth. His wife made us bread fruit and fried cassava which we ate on the floor with black tea. The stove, kept in the tropics as far out of the house as possible, smoked and we submitted to it’s soporific quality. His son sat outside on the porch glued to his phone. Gregorio picked us Papaya and invited us back for lunch on Saturday. We never were invited for lunch as his son stalled us on our route and prepared some coconuts for us instead. He asked for some headphones for his telephone.

-Family friends have arrived in Savusavu. They have been sailing for two years and are on their way to return home to New Zealand. We visit them onboard their boat and they tell us stories of their adventures. They are an odd looking couple, he being a Pig and she being a Salmon, but they are very much in love. We talk to the pig about rings as we had once taken a ring off a Pig. He said when he had proposed to the Salmon, after many years of being together, he had tripped and dropped the ring in the sea. The Salmon was devastated and as they sailed along they spoke no more and sat in gloom. However, as Pigs have a habit of witty trickery, the Pig had made a big joke and ten minutes later pulled the real ring out of his pocket. The Salmon had collected a lot of interesting specimens and treasures and laid them out for us to look at. Glass fishing floats of varying shapes found amongst rubbish in the Northern Marshall Islands, huge thick Sea Urchin spines and varnished tiger patterned shells as well as a collection of World War 2 bullets. The most odd thing they had found, although had not brought back with them, was a prosthetic human leg.

-A man tries to sell us a painting of a turtle, a heart and a rainbow with the writing ‘I love Turtley’.

-Small Hindu shrines on shelving or in special built cupboards, burning incense and lighting up the many armed china gods are found in some shops. Tractor drivers compartment windows are lined with tinsel.

-A hand is on the railing in front and it is tattooed like a chequerboard

-There are three decks on the ferry to the island of Taveuni. The middle deck has a wooden varnished floor of which you must take your shoes off. There are plastic weaved flower decorations on the wooden walls. This is the place where mats are put down and everyone goes to sleep or lies and eats cream buns or drinks tea from the cafe. We join them on the way home and I sleep soundly. 4 prisoners are on the ferry and are handcuffed in pairs. A disgruntled police man watches them and as it is a Sunday is working alone but has brought a friend with him, who looks in worse shape then the guilty, to help. The prisoners seem to be in high spirits and one pair are falling over with laughter as they try to use the bathroom together.

-I lose my shoe in the river and the Owl hops down stream in the fast flow to collect it before it disappears out to sea. There is a moment of panic as it could be a very long walk home in bare feet.

-A blanket with a large tiger head pattern floats in the breeze at the waters edge of a remote settlement. A lady with wide smile hangs washing and retreats into the gloom of her house.

-The host who runs our guest house-mosquito ridden, cold water, amazing view-tells us he didn’t like living in NZ. He didn’t like mowing his lawn and not speaking to the other neighbour mowing his lawn. He came back to Fiji where doors of houses are left open and people come and go fluidly. Everything edible or material is shared.

-Young blonde siblings whittle wood spears with sharp knives in the fading light. Fire smoke makes eyes water as the dampener bread, twisted around spear heads, cooks. Butter is scooped from a jar and adults and children crouch closely on the beach in a primordial manner to eat.

-Mongoose dart across tracks, roads, in and out of bushes. They were brought to Fiji to keep the snakes out of the sugar cane fields. A sea snake with black and white stripes, a warning of poison, comes ashore and then another one. Apparently sea snakes come to shore when the weather is to turn. The following forecast is unstable.

-40 missionary dentists from America swim in the waterfall pool and talk about pulling teeth.

-Lumpy mattress on a bed propped up by coral chunks. Net curtains blow in and the sea roars and makes patterns on the lime green walls. A boy walks around in the morning singing, with a voice that is breaching puberty, outside the window. Small children play Lord of the Flies on the beach. The leader has a spear and a number of shorter sticks stuck down the back of his shorts. He cries at us in warrior stance. Some smaller toddlers pick at shells on the ground and keep their heads down. A stick sticks through a hole in the back of his shorts and gives him a comic tail. We swim and they rush into the surf and attack us. I am glad we are big, for small people (children) they are fiercely strong.

-Children swim in the sea at break time at school. They build trenches in the sand pulling each other by their feet to carve out the groove. They are alive, wild and happy it seems. All the children in the west with their iPhones, safe brick houses and social security are diagnosed depressed.

-In a remote spot by a pounding waterfall and green pool a tourist arrives and breaks the silence, flies his drone and doesn’t look with his eyes.

-Friday night dance at Levena village hall. We bring Sevusevu, a gift, of Kava root so are allowed to come. In fact the group we bring Sevusevu to are ecstatic. They love Kava here. The night is spent sitting in groups and the muddy water being passed and downed in one gulp from a coconut shell. Loud pacific pop music plays and men and women roll long cigarettes with newspaper the length of themselves. The music is too loud to talk so all in sleepy kava haze smile at each other or stare out in contemplative space. The music stops in periods for moments of village administration. When the administration is not happening, a village leader collecting money for the church or other village politics, people get up and dance. The Cat has to dance with a man in front of the whole village and is bright red in face, but at least it is dark and smoky in here. Later on she becomes more comfortable but her Sulu, long skirt, nearly falls off and she has to run out.

-A 72 year old skinny eccentric women with pale turquoise cats eyes runs the road side tea stop. She tells us she still climbs coconut trees and does not smoke or drink tea. She does eat two biscuits a day but not much else. She tells us she prays with her animals and takes any children in need into her home.

-The bus with no windows drives too fast and we are caked in dust. The drivers eyes are reflected in the rear view mirror and he appears to be nearly dropping off. I think he notices my concern and when we stop for tea he tells me he has been up since three. I watch him carefully making sure he finishes his cup.

The Owl and Cat now prepare to go to sea with a waypoint of Vanua Balavu, about 100nm away. The weather is currently a constant downpour with squally winds but tomorrow it should change and they plan to set sail. Water has been collected, a provisioning list half written, half crossed off. They will be 2 weeks away from supplies so need to be well stocked. The hotel Savusavu is slowly opening it’s doors and the feathered and furred pair hope to meet the dark desert highway again.

3 Comments

  1. SJ you paint a fabulous, intriguing and colourful picture in both word and paint of your frustrations, the damp weather and the interesting people and wildlife.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I so appreciate and enjoy your fascinating and descriptive renditions of your adventures. Safe and happy travels to you both.

    Like

  3. Loving sharing the adventure with the images that you convey – pity about the interruption, but the adventure will continue. Love from France/UK/Ireland

    Like

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