Since leaving Suva we’ve been island hopping on our way to the Lau group making short 20-30 mile days. It’s not the most direct route but we’re exploring and in no hurry. Our first leg from Suva to the island of Beqa (pronounced Benga) was 22 miles. We felt our way through the protecting reef using water color, the charts, and our depth sounder. The reef markers were destroyed in 1992 and never replaced.
We inched our way through the breakers and into the calm waters of the inner lagoon and made our way to the back of a winding inlet which turned out to be the breached crater of a long extinct volcano. The sides of the crater were draped with green canopy. There wasn’t an inch of unoccupied soil. Everything was draped in impenetrable jungle from the lagoon edge to the top of the peak.
The anchorage was calm and the holding good except for the occasional wind gust the ripped through the crater. We had our first swim in Fiji and enjoyed the 81F temperature. Unfortunately there was no beach to land the dinghy and the water was a little murky for our liking so we moved on the next day and sailed to Ono Island, about a 40 mile sail. Ono island is right next to Kadavu and the Great Astrolabe Reef, named for the ship Astrolabe captained by Dumont d’Urville. He ran aground here in 1827 and nearly lost his ship. Strangely enough the captain that told us where to look for the Lau permit also ran his sailboat aground and sunk it on the Astrolabe Reef. It took him 8 hours overnight to swim to the nearest island which happened to be Ono. This area is littered with the skeletons of hapless ships so we are not taking any chances. Having three sets of eyes forward looking for reef and slight variations in water color is the way to go.
We sailed into Ono Island racing the sunset and set our hook in an indent labeled Madre on the chart. The anchorage was calm and pleasant and we all went for a dip. Finally we’re back someplace where you can see the bottom in 60 feet of water! During the night a few squalls rolled through and the breeze switched to Northerly which brought a rolling swell into the bay. Nothing dangerous, just enough to relentlessly roll Delos side to side as she lay at anchor. After a quick snorkel on the reef we decided to move on and find another anchorage. There’s nothing worse than a rolly anchorage!
We set sail in the light breeze and slowly made our way to Kadavu, about 6 miles away. The path was totally within the reef of both islands so we kept a sharp watch with Paul and Brady on the bow looking for coral heads. The coral heads here can come up from depths of 90 feet rather suddenly and cause you real trouble. They are easily spotted with the sun overhead and a pair of polarized glasses.
We intended to sail to the East side of Kadavu and anchor close to a pass in Astrolabe reef that was supposed to have amazing diving. Along the way we spotted an interesting looking village on the shore so we sheeted in our sails and headed to starboard. 30 minutes later we dropped our hook in the calm waters of Kavala Bay, just off the village. We jumped in the dinghy, grabbed our Yaqona root (Kava) and made our way to the beach to ask the village chief permission to anchor.
We were met on the beach by a friendly villager wearing a Fijian Health Ministries rugby jersey. He conversed with another man who quickly ran off into the village to summon the chief. 15 minutes later we were led into the community hall to await the chief. Our guide told us that the community hall was built by the USA in 1984 as part of an international aid program. Sure enough there was a beaming picture of Ronald Reagan in the corner to commemorate the hall.
The chief entered and introduced himself in Fijian, our guide translating as he spoke. We sat in a circle and presented our Sevusevu (ceremonial kava bundle). The kava was carefully unwrapped and passed back and forth between the chief and 2 others. Each looked at us and spoke a blessing for us and the kava we were about to consume. The chief then looked at us and smiled. We were now guests of his village, and under his protection. We were allowed to anchor in their bay, fish for food, get water, and explore their island. The people here are so friendly it’s hard to describe the feeling of genuine welcome you receive. They are Melanesian here, with much darker skin and broader features than the Polynesians to the East.
The kava roots were placed in a large metal urn and bashed into a powder with a heavy metal rod. Less than 5 minutes of bashing turned our roots into a fine powder suitable for straining into kava. These guys don’t mess around with their kava making gallons of the muddy brown liquid at a time. A huge kava bowl about 3 feet in diameter was brought out. The kava bowls here are incredible examples of wood carving and are relics of the village. They are passed from generation to generation and nobody really knows how old they are. We guessed a minimum of 150 years for 3 generations of use. In fact nobody really knew how old the village was either. They all just shrugged their shoulders and said “Very old.”
Water from a 5 gallon container was poured into the bowl and over the fine sack containing the kava powder while another man massaged the sack until the water was the appropriate color of brown. The Chief drank first, followed by the village elders, then us. Finally the other men in the village were allowed to drink.
Each round was initiated by someone clapping 5 times. Three claps in quick succession followed by a slightly delayed clap. The fifth clap seemed to be a random amount of seconds later and was the sharpest and loudest. We never could figure out the rhythm to the claps as they always changed. We were told that only in Kadavu were 5 claps used for the ceremony. Half coconut shells were filled with the murky brown water and passed to one person at a time. The idea is to drink the kava, or grog as it’s known here, in one large gulp. Random clapping ensues while you are drinking. After your coconut shell is empty it’s passed back, refilled, and passed on to the next person in the circle.
The kava here is stronger than the stuff in Tonga, but not as strong as in Vanuatu even further to the west. After 5 straight hours of sitting around the bowl and drinking countless shells we had a slight numbing sensation throughout our whole bodies. We felt very calm and peaceful and didn’t really want to get up and move around too much. You could definitely tell the villagers were drunk by looking at the expressions of their faces and look in their eyes. It’s not an alcohol drunk like we’re used to though. More of a soothing, relaxing, numbing sensation that takes over your whole body. Nobody gets violent or loud on grog. People get very quiet with a distant look in their eyes. Apparently the more kava you drink the more it effects you and these guys drink every day for their entire lives. Maybe we’ll feel the effects more in the future but for now we mostly pee a lot.
Each hour we sat around the bowl brought in more villagers as they came down the mountain from tending their crops. At one point there were close to 20 men around the bowl and one women. Although the women are allowed to participate in the ceremony they typically do not. Nobody really explained why to us, that’s just how it is.
We also found out in traditional Fijian custom a man is not allowed to speak to, acknowledge, walk on the same path, or even touch a dirty dish of the uncle on his father’s side. We asked about this because the man serving our kava was the nephew of one of the elders and he always used a separate kava bowl for him and never directly addressed him. Imagine not being able to talk to or look at your uncle for your entire life. Especially tough since you live in the same village and work together day in and day out.
At some point the sun set and the grog drinking was put on hold. It’s against custom to drink grog in the dark and since the one generator in the village had run out of oil there were no lights. Nobody worried about not having electricity. No radios, no refrigerators, barely any lights so what was to worry about? Shortly a boy returned with a kerosene lantern and we continued with the flickering light casting dancing shadows on the community hall walls. We called it a night at about 8PM, not being able to stuff another shell of kava into our bodies. We headed back to Delos for a deep sleep filled with kava enhanced dreams. After a night of drinking kava not only did we sleep exceptionally well but the dreams are the most vivid and colorful you could possibly imagine.
Early the next day we headed back to the village for a tour of their fields. Apparently the ONLY source of income for the village is selling kava root to the people in Suva. Everything here (bricks for houses, cooking oil, lamps, petrol, etc.) is purchased with kava money. Of all the islands to land on we picked the kava capitol of Fiji! Sure enough, the kava we purchased in Suva had a Kadavu stamp on it.
The village was clean and orderly and all the houses (huts really) were in pretty good shape, all thanks to kava money. There were no chairs or tables, just a few cushions spread over the woven mats that served as a floor. A concrete foot path would it’s way through the center of the village keeping everything clean even when mud filled their yards.[8.jpg][center pic text]Moses the 94 year old village elder. He served in the Solomon Islands driving for the Kiwi’s during WWII.
Their fields were well tended and divided by clans. Apparently multiple clans lived in the village, each having their tract of land passed down from generation to generation. There were no fences or noticeable traces of land division, however it was blatantly obvious as our guides explained that their land extended from “The coconut tree on that ridge to the edge of the creek.” In addition to Kava they grew cultivated Taro and Casava for food while wild hot peppers, breadfruit, mango, papaya, vanilla, limes, and of course coconut grew in abundance.
We enjoyed Kavala’s hospitality for 4 days, always with our two trusty guides Navi and Kali showing us around. We were treated to another Kava ceremony at a village across the bay where we were the guests of honor and taken on a tour of the only store in the area.
We had a great beach day snorkeling, lounging, and playing a bit of beach rugby with the guys. Boy are they nuts for their rugby here! Somehow they keep up on all the international rugby news. On the way to the beach the guys caught a Wahoo and prepared it for us in a very unique way. A Fiji water bottle was cut up to make a bowl. The fish was chopped into chunks and mixed in the bowl with hot peppers and limes picked from the trees. Add a little saltwater and you have the Fijian version of ceviche. Absolutely delicious!
Our last day in the village we attended the church service. They are Methodist in Kadavu. The singing was beautiful but the sermon was in Fijian so we had no idea what was going on. We just followed everybody else’s lead for standing and sitting. Towards the end of the ceremony they asked us to write down our names. The entire church then said a blessing and prayer for us to have safe travels.