Friday, October 30, 2015

One of the reasons we went cruising with our kids, Vuya Village, Fiji!

Hello Everyone,

One of the reasons we decided to go cruising was to get the kids exposed to other cultures, ideas, respect for other people and the way they live.  We wanted to open their minds up to how other people around the world live with or without the material items.  I believe we have been able to do just that with all of our experiences beginning with Mexico all the way through Fiji.  The common theme is that people live many different lifestyles depending on their environment.  The kids have noticed mostly how happy everyone seems.  I know that it is a struggle to live in many of these villages and it takes a lot of hard work and a community effort to just survive on a daily basis, but what the kids are noticing is the sense of family in the community and how close everyone seems to be.  We have been told over and over how it literally takes a village to raise children and survive with the resources they have.  Everyone has their part in helping out from the small children running errands for the elders, to the young teens helping with the chores around the village, cooking, cleaning and helping with the boats, to the young adults working on repairs, building, fishing, or traveling distances to find work to send money back or come back on the weekends.  Then of course the older generation training the younger generation in the profession or skill set that they know about while they are working.  The children all respect the elders and for the most part it seems do as they say and don’t dare to deviate… But with all that said and done you get the sense of how happy they are… They all support and love each other unconditionally (it seems) and extend this warmth and generosity of love to anyone who comes into the village (even us outsiders).

We had one of the most incredibly memorable experiences the other day.  It just so happens we were having a bit of engine trouble as we were traveling from Yadua to Savu Savu.  We had traveled 20 miles and still had 20 to go when we felt like something got wrapped on our prop.  Chris found on the map a tiny little reef protected area off of Coconut Point on the main Island of Vanua Levu.  We anchored there and found that what ever it was had broken free, but now it was getting to late to continue so we decided to anchor there for the night. 

We began some of the schooling lessons with the kids and had some lunch when around 3 we were approached by a load of people in a new ponga style fishing boat.  They where shouting Bula Bula at us and came up to the boat and began asking us a ton of questions about the boat and what we were doing anchored there.  At first I thought this was a little strange and maybe we had done something wrong but then we realized they wanted to come aboard and take a look at our boat.  They had never been on a catamaran before.  So we invited them all on to take a look even though the boat was a disaster and gave them some soda, water and peanut butter pretzels which they had never had before.  They were so fun and curious about our lifestyle and wanted to know if we wanted to come back to the village to see it and for a sieve sieve ceremony.  It was now getting late and we were wondering how this would work when they offered to take us and bring us back.  Well in that case, YES!  They were so excited that we would come and we couldn’t figure out why it was such a big deal until we found out that we were their VERY FIRST CRUISING VISITORS EVER!  It is such a crazy thought with it being 2015 and they had never had a boat stop there and come ashore.  The village is very difficult to get to because the reef extends so far out that you only have a 3 hour window at high tide to come and go otherwise you are there for 6+ hours… 

We all climbing into their boat with them and of course picked up our friends on Shine to go into the village with us and meet everyone.   We were greeted with kids swimming out to the boat, others jumping off the boats moored there yelling BULA BULA and escorting us into the beach.   As we walked up the road to the village all the people were coming out of their houses to shake our hands an greet us with hugs, kisses some completely on the lips others on the cheeks  (or sniffs) and pats on the back.  The kids were all grabbing the hands of our children and clinging to them.  We truly felt like rock stars. 

I need to side note here… it was the first time that when we were greeted by some of the women they would put their face next to your cheek like they were going to kiss your cheek but instead they would give a big sniff, like they are really trying to smell you… It was so strange and we couldn’t figure out who was sniffing and who would be kissing so we didn’t know whether we were suppose to sniff or kiss… Hmmm a dilemma we never figured out but by the end ended up doing both… Awkward moment.. Hee Hee

When we got up to the main part of the village we were taken to the chiefs house to present the Kava.  It is the first time I saw a female chief.  We were welcomed into her house and we all sat in the ceremonial circle.  While she was blessing the kava and giving us permission to walk around the village we looked up at the windows and all we could see where all these eyes of children peering in through the slats… they were crawling over the tops of themselves to peek in through the door.  I felt like the house was going to cave in with all the kids pushing against the walls from the outside.  I had never seen so many and before she could finish the kids all rushed in and began going in a line shaking our hands and saying Bula and welcome and nice to meet you… I couldn’t finish shaking one child’s hand before another and another were trying to grab at my hand to shake it… there were 11 of us between Shine and Family Circus and each one of us had at least 5-8 kids in front of us trying to meet us… The adults were finally able to get most of the kids out for a minute, so we took a picture with the chief and then some of the kids jumped back in for a picture as well.

The Chief is the older woman in front of Amaia

Amaia practicing her rock star pose...

We then were escorted (mobbed, pulled, in a good way) back down the hill to another house to do the Sevu Sevu ceremony.  Typically for a sieve sieve ceremony it is only the visitors and the adults that are in the house for the ceremony.  The Sevu Sevu started out that way, we all sat in a circle and began to pass the Kava around but before we knew it the kids were creeping in one at a time and filling every nook and cranny of the house.  At one time I was wondering if the beams and plywood that the house was built on would be able to support the weight of all the people inside.  The kids were repeatedly shooed out for about an hour and then the adults gave up and all the kids ran inside and were playing this dancing game that is called Taki Taki.  It was so cute because the small children started it… all the kids sing and while they sing, one child dances a routine to the chants, at the end the child spins in a circle and then picks the next child to dance and it starts over.  By the end of the game the kids were calling on the older village adults and they were participating and everyone was giggling up a storm to see their parents and grandparents shaking their booties and dancing to this children song… It was really a lot of fun to see everyone of all ages laughing and smiling and singing all together.  We were there for about 2 hours talking, singing and dancing and having a wonderful time, but then it was time to get back because the tide was getting low and we would have been stuck there.  

Our plans were to leave the next day for Namena Island.  They kept asking us to stay and come back and see the village during the day… We had such a fantastic time that of course we couldn’t refuse.  We really did want to see them again and all the kids.   We also found out that they were having a sustainable farm workshop in the village for the surrounding villages.  George, one of the men in the village, is trying to teach the other villages how to compost, reforestation, sustainable farming and he is also trying to turn the reef in front of their village into a marine reservation.  We wanted to learn more about what they were doing and to show the kids how they are trying to change things and use their resources more wisely.  So we decided to stay another day, how could we miss this opportunity to spend more time with these lovely people and learn more about them.  The funny thing was, before we were interrupted that afternoon by them coming onto the boat, Alexia was suppose to take a test on Culture… We decided to skip the test (for now).  There couldn’t be a better way to study culture than to close the book and actually go live it for a day.

Another funny thing is that when ever someone introduced themselves and we told them we were from the states they asked us if we knew Brooke…Hmmmm.. don’t think so.  As it turns out Brooke was from Alaska and was a green peace worker that lived in the village and helped them to set up their sustainable farming… She ended up marrying one of the local men and they will be returning in a few years.  They didn't know Brooke's last name but we are going to email them and see if we can find out.  We thought it would be fun to reach out to her and let her know we stopped by the village.

The next day our plan was to head out at low tide and walk what we thought was a short distance across the reef and then along the road to the village where we thought either they could give us a ride back or we could call George (Shine’s oldest son on the boat) and he could come at pick us up at high tide.  Well what we thought was going to be a short walk ended up being a quite an adventure walking across this coral reef.  It ended up being about a half mile walk across and in some parts it was deep and others was so thick with mud you lost your flip flops… 

but we all made it and started walking down the road when we came to a small settlement on the side.  As we were walking by a few of the women were hanging out of their windows emphatically waving their hands at us and yelling BULA BULA BULA BULA and giggling as they often do.  We came around a corner and this older lady from the settlement grabbed one of the kids and led them into the yard telling us all to come come come and sit… She led us next to 3 older women and had us all sit down to talk and then the other women that were waving ran over and started to give the biggest bear hugs and kisses like we had just come back from a long trip and they hadn’t seen us in a long time… The whole time they were giggling and laughing and hugging… it was so sweet.  We really wanted to spend more time but had to get back on the road so that we would be in the village in time to meet the bus of kids returning from school.  We had made small garbage bags full of popcorn for them and wanted to be there when they got off the bus.  

Alina hiding behind the bag of popcorn

As we were walking to the village the bus passed us and they waited for us at the bottom of the hill to walk up with us… Anna, from Shine, started to give them popcorn and before she knew it, it was like a feeding frenzy with all the kids rushing her bag and almost ripping it out of their hands… Hee Hee, I guess they like popcorn.  One of the women came running out of the house scolding them and took the popcorn and then started eating it herself and giving it to the other adults.  I now had the remaining bag of popcorn and felt like a fish dropped into a shark tank… I really wanted all the kids to have some so I went farther up into the village to give some to the kids that were to young to go to school and some of the adults there.  Phew… I ended up giving the bag to one of the adults because I just couldn’t handle the pressure and I didn’t want to leave one out… there were so many kids and I couldn’t tell who got some or not.  

Marianne and Moses from the boat the day before began to give us a tour of the village and showed us how they were farming their kava plantation, planting pine trees for lumber, raising chickens and composting their organics, where they have a small pool for laundry, swimming and other non drinkable uses… They were in the process of building a house for someone and we learned that they took the lumber to another town and then it was treated and they brought it back to use to build with.  While we were watching them build the house the kids all started to play a game of duck, duck goose on the hillside.  As you can imagine this became quite aggressive and slippery with the kids rolling down the hill, so they led all of us to an area where the kids could really play and run around.  Plenty more games began, simon says, tag, dancing, ring around the rosy… on and on until our kids started to get exhausted.  The kids were constantly hanging onto or pulling or jumping on the backs of our kids… it was really sweet to see them all playing and having fun with the simplest of games and just to be kids again playing freely and acting silly with all ages of kids.

All the kids love getting their pictures taken and then seeing themselves in the viewer... 

We thought it was time to start heading back down to the boat but they ended up leading us back to the house we had Sevu Sevu in the night before for an afternoon tea… It was lovely and nice to sit for a little while.  Of course it is never just tea… we were beginning to leave when the grandma who owns the house said… Okay, now it is Kava time!  Of course we have to obey and we all sat in the ceremonial circle and began the evening affairs again with Kava, talking and singing again… This time it was a little less formal since now we were no longer considered visitors but now a part of the village community.  At the end of the night all the kids gathered together and sang us the Fairwell Bula song… I am not sure what it is officially called but it was the most endearing music to my ears and I even got a little teary…

Again, we were escorted down to the beach with all the kids and adults coming out of their houses along the way giving us goodbye hugs and kisses (sniffs).  Moses and George and family took us back to our boats and we gave a final Moce (pronounced mothay, their word for goodbye) and hugs (sniffs) and they left.  As I watched them leave they were waving and shining their spot light on us shouting “Moce, love you and miss you already”… and then they would do it again every 50 yards until their shouts got to faint to hear and all I could see was their light flashing in the dark.

 This is truly one of the most personal, impressionable, and memorable day of our journey and maybe my life so far.  I will never forget the feeling of warmth and welcome we got as strangers coming into this village and leaving as family.

Hugs and Love to all,


Friday, October 23, 2015

Last week with Kava in the Yasawa Islands, Fiji

We left the sanctuary of the Blue Lagoon early to get up to snorkel the caves at lunch when the big cruise ship takes their customers back for lunch.  There was a large front moving in... since we were only 7 miles from the caves we had to scoot up there and then get back down to Soma Soma for a protected anchorage... We are so close that there is no way we were missing this.  This was one thing I knew they would really like to do.

We all entered into the first cave and swam around in the dark with our flashlights... then Chris led the expedition to go to the far cave.  I took the girls back out to the main chamber with Arielle and we waited for them all to come back out safely.  I was so proud because this time Tristan, Alexia and kava all made way back into the last cave.  This isn't an easy pass and you have to be comfortable holding your breath for at least 30 seconds, swimming under water in the dark making turns through the caves.  Chris and Alexia found large salt crystals hanging from the ceiling and brought a few out to show the girls.  Science... check!

small girls waiting for the rest to go under to the far back cave

After the caves we boogied on down the coast.  There was a large front heading our way and the more northern you are in the chain the stronger the winds are because they get funneled through the two main islands of Fiji... So we headed south looking for a good anchorage for the projected 30+ knot winds that were predicted to hit that evening.  We decided to go back to Soma Soma and anchor for the night there and possibly do a night snorkel on the reef that we like so much.  Unfortunately the winds did hit and it made it a bit dodgy to tackle a night snorkel... Phew.... I am not sure I am up for that yet... I was going to try but I must admit I was scared.

First Fish caught... skip jack.. we were going to release it but it drowned on the way in because it some how got its tail tangled in the fish line and we had to pull it in backwards.. weird!
We decided to leave Soma Soma Bay for a more protected anchorage for the next 2 nights... We headed around the corner to Natuvalo Bay and hunker down for the winds.  It was quite a bumpy ride over the bay is protected by a highish mountain that really protects the anchorage.  It was so nice to be tucked in there.  You could see the winds were hitting the water 400 yards away from us and outside of the bay you could see the white caps... where we were anchored it was like glass and there was no swell... The bay has 2 backpacker resorts on it and the people there were so welcoming.  We explored the beach and George in one of the resorts invited us in for Tea Time at 3 and we had a lovely cup of tea sheltered from the rain overlooking the bay.  

Rainy day games on Shine (George and Tristan playing table tennis)

The weather cleared enough for us to make our way south.  We left early so that we could stop at the Manta Pass to try one last time to see the mantas... as we went past we quickly realized how challenging it would be to actually snorkel the pass with the wind and waves ripping through the channel so we moved on... Then we wanted to go into Navandra and stay the night but again once we got there we soon found out the anchorage was way to rolly and we had to head out.  Then we wanted to take him to Castaway Island but that was also not really possible to enjoy, so we went another 6 miles south and ended up at Mana Island.  Our friends on Javalot were there and told us it was just a beautiful spot to be in... Mana Island is a very protected anchorage.  It has a well marked channel going through the reef that surrounds the anchorage with crystal clear waters... We ended up staying there for 2 nights to enjoy Alina's 7th Birthday.  The weather had cleared up and the sun was blazing and there was a slight tropical breeze... it was heaven..

We got the sailing dinghy down and Kava claimed ownership and sailed everywhere with Arielle and the kids... It was really fun to see it being used again and in such a beautiful spot.

Amaia and Alina on recess break from school

The girls were really cute.  After seeing Kava sail they wanted to jump in and go too.  It was fun at first and then Alina wanted to come back, she was getting grumpy because Amaia was having a hard time finding the right wind angle to get back to the boat.  After about 30 minutes... she finally made it.  Now Amaia understands you can't sail directly into the wind and why we have to tack back and forth to go upwind.

Alina getting grumpy
Alina really grumpy

We had a great time snorkeling at Honeymoon Island before going to Cloud 9 Restaurant.  Honeymoon is a small island and only a day stop to snorkel the reef around it... it is incredibly beautiful with lots of varieties of coral and fish life... last time we were here a sea snake swam 2 feet away from Tristan...  My friend Kathi had asked if we had seen any evidence of the coral bleaching that they are talking about in the news lately... I hate to admit my ignorance but I wasn't familiar with it... so after a few google attempts I am sadden to say that I now see it everywhere we go... it seems that here in the Yasawa Island chain there are many good snorkel spots left but you definitely see the evidence of decay... We have found at every snorkel spot up and down the Island chain many Crown of Thorns Starfish that are wiping out the coral reefs by eating all the coral... and then also the Bleaching... it is really sad to see it happening before your eyes and there isn't much we can do about it.  

Evidence of "Coral Bleaching" and if you look close there is a Crown of Thorns starfish underneath eating the coral.. Both are killing the reefs down here.
Crown-of-thorns starfish prey on nearly all corals, and their feeding preferences and behavior patterns vary with population density, water motion, and species composition. ref COTS typically prefer to feed on branching and table corals (e.g., Acropora). However, when branching coral cover is low due to overabundance of COTS or environmental conditions, COTS may eat other corals such as Porites or foliose corals (e.g. Montipora). In addition to hard corals, COTS may also eat sponges, soft corals, algae and encrusting organisms.

This is what happens when Chris and I both have cameras...  hee hee

Photo bomb... 

 Not much more to say about all the fun the kids have eating pizza and jumping off the top rail at Cloud 9.  We got there just in time because many of the large tour boats had gathered their crowds and were departing so there was just a handful of people at the restaurant.  Jump after jump... Kava started to do backflips off and then of course Chris and then last but not least Tristan.  I couldn't believe he did it.  Kava taught him how to and after that there was no stopping him.  Tristan was addicted.

Kava started to do backflips off and then of course Chris and then last but not least Tristan.  I couldn't believe he did it.  Kava taught him how to and after that there was no stopping him.  Tristan was addicted.  

There was a little light left so the kids decided to go wake boarding.  It was Kava's first time and he nailed it... it isn't that easy getting up being pulled by the dinghy for an adult.  

Kava Wake boarding for the first time and Ariel took this picture of him in the sunset..

With the night being windless we were able to launch a few of the floating lanterns successfully.  Only once did we have one drop down close to the dinghy and Kava had to lunge to grab the flaming lantern and toss it into the water... Thanks Kav!

Woke up in the morning and it was like a swimming pool.  The waters were so still that the sun was being reflected off the bottom.
Kava and Ariel morning snorkel/swim at Cloud 9
Amaia Day Dreaming

Of course we couldn't leave without going by the famous surf spot Cloud break and stayed there for a bit for some surfing and lunch.  

They say 3 times a charm.... After 2 caught fish... first a skip jack and the second a barracuda, Kava caught our first edible fish on the way the way to Cloud Break and we had it for dinner that night.

After 2 caught fish... first a skip jack and the second a barracuda, Kava caught our first edible fish on the way the way to Cloud Break and we had it for dinner that night. 

On our way to Musket Cove we came across a large pod of dolphins (around 30) and they were very playful.  We ended up going around and around and they kept swimming to our boat to play in the wake the hulls make.  It was so fun to see them.  We haven't seen a large group like this since Mexico.

Finally... Dolphins and not just one.. but a bunch and playful with us!

On our way to Denaurau to drop Kava and Arielle off we stopped in the middle of passage to go swimming in the deep waters.  We shut off the motors and drifted for a little bit while we all jumped in and swam around the boat.... Kava was a little hesitant because you never really know what you will be swimming with or what may pass by you.  After seeing Alina and Amaia go running to the front of the boat and jump in and then Tristan do a back flip, Kava jumped right in.  It is still an eerie feeling to be 300 feet of water, but how can you pass up the beauty of the clarity.  It is truly just blue!

 Ugh... water up my nose.....

We are so sad to see Kava and Arielle leave us... It was so much fun having them with us and share some really special moments... We miss and love you guys tons and are looking forward to seeing you at christmas.