Saturday, June 18, 2011

Kadavu, Fiji


Poorly marked twisting passages through hard-to-see reefs

Kadavu village

Channel through the mangroves

Kadavu village

Penned pig over the mangroves

Kadavu village

Kadavu village

Chief Sami of Kadavu village

Left Dravuni for Ono first, but it looked not too exciting on Ono, so we kept going.   Autopilot not working after the fire, so I’m steering the whole way, very happily.  Cpt showing me all kinds of stuff, so it’s a great day.  Watching whole way across and steering around lots of shoals on the chart, though nothing much visible.  Just a couple coral heads looking dark under the water as we left Dravuni.  Past lil inhabited islands and Ono-- steepish vegetated slopes, not much beach, very little village-clad area.  Skipped anchoring at Ono and headed for Kadavu passage. 
Apparently the chart is off- had us going right over a shoal at one point when there was clear water… lots of marks missing, lots of coral heads not marked.  Enjoyed very much steering and watching dark line on dark blue background on small screen in bright sun and scanning for coral heads and scooting plotter ahead to see winding course ahead of us all at once- a nice challenge.  Hot and low wind from behind us, sweating and drinking lots but no sunburn gotta base tan now.  Perfect conditions for the passage.  Curved around southeast side Kadavu, weaving to avoid coral patches as they appeared as light blue patches ahead.  Couple nice towns with big churches, etc, really sheltered anchorages.  Seemed most towns here are on a river.  Dive resort in behind a little shore reef with a big sheltered section of Astrolabe reef beckoning brilliant blue next to a passage out beyond.  Sections with tons of marks missing, Cpt surmises locals have taken them in spite/trick.  Big waves curving over and pounding onto Astrolabe Reef, Cpt sees good but dangerous surfing- a right hand and a left by a passage.  The outer reef passages are maybe ½ mile wide average, big surf either side.  Our inner passage is maybe 1/3 deep clear water, and the rest narrow channel, places you have to steer around lines of reef or coral-head laden open areas.  Dangers are pretty easy to spot though 
Then a weird narrow passage… chart plotter showed the passage going right over shoal, a critical marker was missing… we headed up towards a pair of small islands with a mark next to them, all you could see was a long line of reef to the south and Astrolabe to the east.  Though maybe we’d have to go back the way we came, but fast running out of room to turn around.  Cpt takes wheel.  Glad he’s here- I’d be shitting myself if I was alone.  Narrow passage shows itself at the last minute - maybe 40’ wide with coral rising up at sides.  It makes a 90 degree turn halfway, then there was a good current running against us.  Watched coral on bottom as we motored slow, seemed like we were standing still for a bit.  Quite an awesome experience through there.
Couple bays later we arrived at Kadavu Village.  Anchored at river mouth, it shoaled up real quick, just time to stop and reverse.  I forgot about dingy and risked wrapping its rope around the prop.  Got the hang of spotting coral and marks pretty quick on passage.  Great fun. 
Tried to take dingy in, but found coral right away in every direction.  Low tide so we gave up til later.  Sound of singing on loudspeaker from church on hill.  Sunday.  Tons of big fish and schools of fish jumping. 

Next day we headed into village for sevuseve. High tide and easy to go up river.  Found the village school- tied up dingy to log.  Felt like going upriver in Apocalypse Now.  Mangrove channels, litl tin and wooden houses, mountains and mist in background.  Bula from a couple people at school, little shy kid or two, but otherwise entire village almost deserted.  Slippery muddy logs to walk on, a concrete path or two.  In east section, high ground, all houses wood and painted the same light blue.  Aid Project? 
Crossed rickety bridge of random gappy boards to muddy path.  Soil red and clay, luxuriant foliage.  First house around bend was the minister's   Dark faces, flattened noses, eyes sorta hooded and sleepy looking, look friendly when talking but sometimes sorta sullen when just sitting thinking.. Smaller than Tongans, sorta European sized, variation of skin darkness, some quite dark mocha.  Melanesian features look better on men than woman, though some younger girls are very pleasant looking in a cute way and with good figures. 
Chiefs house was, again, one of the more modest in the village - steel roof and plywood walls coming apart at bottoms.  Leave shoes outside, if you still have them after the shoe-sucking mud walk across the yard.  More concrete paths in a ring along the village, very popular with the dogs, especially the second day when we stepped over one every 50’ or so taking afternoon naps on the cool concrete.  Lots of multicolored chickens with little ID ribbons tied to their feathers.  Few people around, minister took us to chief after we had talked to him awhile. 
Sat on mat floor, chief friendly right off, laughed a lot.  We showed our boat papers and he offered to drink kava with us. 
This house had family pics up high on the walls.  It consisted of a dirtfloor kitchen full of wandering chickens and a large room- ¾ for gathering and ¼ for a two-bed sleeping area.  There were plain floor mattresses for sleeping, a saw and kava bowl on wall, some hanging cloths to sep sleep area, few books and magazines, big wooden china cabinet thing with legs in tuna cans held some plastic ware, lots tea cups, cassava-coconut cake for breakfast/guests… hurricane lanterns, no electric there, kava roots…The village has flowing water from several handpumps… The was a hydroelectric put in by an aid group, above the falls, in ‘96, but now it's just broken pipe and seized motor.  Diesel generator came from an aid group in 06 but it broke and no one knew how to fix it, now batteries gone too.  Church and ministers house have private generators.  Seemed like everyone was in a meeting today.  Chief was gong to go work in garden, just caught him and drank kava all morning and part of afternoon instead. 
Asked them lots of questions, made lots of jokes - laughed at our 2nd-rate Suva kava, told them about Antarctica- they were astounded that there was a place with no sun half the year.  The chief very solemnly showed us a faded pic of a guy from Alaskan he'd met in 1986 and asked us to tell him 'hi' when we got back to the US... Talked about his family - one petulant teenage daughter at home, a second in school at the mainland.  The spend most of their time farming, and sell kava- they said Kadavu is main kava source, best stuff, with a different taste than other places.  Joked about the minister being a girl for not drinking much kava.  He had a couple bowls, asked if I wanted some, I had 3 of 4 half bowls and felt a lil invigorated and relaxed.  Very nice tradition.  Chief said a long formulated greeting when he officially accepted us, then some more over the kava, some speak-and-response stuff, and lots of clapping - finish kava, clap once or more, said something in Fiji, minister tipped over the last drops onto the ground.  We were a lil lost during the ceremonies but it seemed fine.  Cpt offered to look at generator, but we couldn't do anything about the lack of batteries. My knees were stiff at the end from sitting crosslegged for hours.
One little shop in village, with food.  Cheap durable goods at Chinese shop.  This was isolated way over to the side of the village- not sure if for convenience of landing goods or cause of racial stuff.  Owner friendly, seemed really eager to talk to someone.
There's a little dive resort north of the village - very nice place, thatch and wood neat buildings, beaut open common area with hardwood shining floors.   Friendly bonded looking group of maybe a dozen there, mostly middle aged couples, a couple young couples and a young guy or two.  Nice mix budget and upper market accomodation.  Lots bird calls and grunts and hoots in forest. 
The next morning we went for a great kayak through the mangroves.  Rained heavy in night and morning and brown currents of runoff swirled at every paddle stroke at the river mouth.  The main river channel about 100’ wide with bar across the mouth.  Hardly any current.  Cloudy. 
We took a righthand side channel paddled through trees.  Glad we don't have to worry about crocs yet.    Real beaut and evocative in there, greens, hanging vines, giant pea pods, bats, screeching blue birds.  I’d like to see a Kadavu musk parrot.  Pigs in cages on stilts over river.  Freerange pigs on islands at low tide foraging amongst mangrove roots.  Paddled into 20’-40’ wide channels winding amongst mangroves.  Eventually a channel opened out into the village.  Tied up at ministers house and walked in, today tons of people around, everyone saying hi, working in smokehouse, drying roots, many sitting in homes, kids running around.  When is school?  Lots of pre school ones, one calls come eat!  Beaut plantings around - all the flowers, 7’ tall orchids.  Men here wear western clothes, women nice two-piece dresses with tops that come down over hips, or  shirt and sarong.  Sandals, or rubber  boots when wet. 
We brought snacks today to the chief and the teenage daughter was super excited about it.
Walked around village with the chief, sat and talked for a lil while, wife was folding laundry she did yesterday.  We visited the waterfall.  The chief has chronic back pain - coconut fell on him and broke his back when he was young.  He picked some leaves for pain relief on the way back - alternate oval serrated fuzzy leaves with round qtip like white flowers in a bunch, sorta like toothache plant flowers?  Waterfall was really beaut- three levels, volcanic rock with layers oxidation running down and coloring the stone with warm colors. Cpt and I both swam around in spite its flooded state.
Over to Lion Rock to snorkel in afternoon, tricky trip over reef in dingy, had to paddle some.  Nice to use arms again.  Cloudy and rain for snorkel.  Sea snake black and white, 3’, moved with beaut grace, hanging form surface then oozing down to bottom into coral and up again.   Lots juvi fish, angels bright, wrasses, Moorish idols, one new kind tunicate.  Some sponges and brain coral.  Drop off into channel sandy with dead rolled down coral.  Oar lock froze up on way back to boat and we almost ended up no the reef.  Cold trip in through rain- time for hot coffee!  Had some coffee fudge that stayed in fridge all the way across f NZ.  Frozen chic for dinner.  Not much at Chinese store for food - crackers, canned meat, cookies, 2 chips, oil, oats,…
I write in the evening after Cpt's asleep, one cabin light on, sitting at table legs bent up, feet on seat, typing.  Sound of dingy splashing off stern, anchor chain rubbing, water in drains shifting back and forth.  Slight cool breeze flowing through boat.  Plantains gift from minister on table next to me, money and camera drying from waterfall.  Will I miss this life as I think someday?  Better appreciate it now…

We headed for an anchorage on the south side of Kadavu in the morning.  Wind and cloud and low sun made for a very different picture from last time we went through the passage - Cpt spotting some reefs I had trouble seeing.  Out through reef break, following local powerboat going fast.  Surf looked big and scary from inside and I kept thinking about KonTiki's landing on a breaking reef, since I'd just read the book.  It looked even worse from the outside, the back of big blue breakers rearing up onto the unseen reef and throwing a pall of mist up into the air along the long miles of Astrolabe reef.  The sea got pretty steep and rough at the passages entrance- a violence of motion I normally would have delighted in, but was content today to merely weather it without getting nauseous.  Damaged by inner ears in Antarctica, and now I get seasick.  I got down from the lazarette cover and stood in front of the wheel, braced against B’s wheel loop and steered.  I’ll get over seasickness by merit of sheer stubborness. 
Seas calmed a lot and we sailed along on a reach a few miles outside the reef - actually a lil too close for me!  I wasn’t very with it for some reason today and did a shitty job of steering - trouble keeping eye on compass and shifting viewpoints and correctly gauging my corrections on the pitching, shifting boat.  Got a bit frustrated. 
Through passage into Vunisea area and Galoa Harbor, where we anchored.  Channel marks missing and chart off.  Muddy water in Galao made it hard to see shoals.  Surrounded by mangrove swamp. 
Took dingy to try and get into town.  Found a pier and trucks and people, but waves washing against pier too hard.  Considered trying to anchor out… Locals were on/ beside the pier, of tied up to sticks stuck into the mud just off to the side.  We picked a tree on the opposite side of the inlet and tied up to it, with the anchor set off the bow.  Wonder if the dingy will ever be stolen in one of these places, or the kayaks.  Big 40’ raft of pumice and trash at shore.  Eruption lately?  Worst stuff for dingy.
Walked through some narrow muddy trails through gardens.  Tried to cross the river, but it was deep and only a slippery log and 10’ 4” bamboo across it, with no rope.  Went back and came up through a piggery and walked up hill into town.  Police station with two laughing female deputies and a sullen male yelling into a cell phone out back.
Road up the steep hill was made of aluminum fencing buried under dirt and what looked like some old irregular concrete.  Big secondary school where the students didn’t wave. Found market at bottom of hill as sign promised- baker was kiosk with a plate of orange glazed breads and a plate of unglazed breads, that's all.  Chinese shop smaller than the Kadavu village one, even though this place is much bigger - weird.  Got some coconuts and walked back.  Three drunk guys on road back.
First place with no sevu sevu or checking in.

 Next day, up early in AM for very awesome kayak paddle.  Went upsun to pink cliffs - porous basalt with caves.  Sand/mud bottom, not much life other than barnacle rocks with birds perched on top.  Nice island with interesting basalt layering and an irregular cap of limestone.   Tree with mystery fruit.
B worked on wiring and I cleaned tools.

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