Friday 27th September 2013 - New Plans

Jon & Carol Dutton
Fri 27 Sep 2013 09:05

Friday 27th September 2013 – New Plans


Oh dear!  We obviously should have put our life-savings on Oracle to win the America’s Cup.  At least the result saves Larry Ellison having to go to court to contest the fairness of the US being penalised two races before they even started because of a few unearthed ‘Spanish practices’.  Just hope it’s not more of the same next time and we can get back to sailing some boats – thrilling though drag races on foiling cats might be.


Vuda Pont Marina has been interesting.  The berthing arrangements present a few challenges particularly for a fine-bowed boat like Arnamentia.




                                            We never thought we’d have to walk the tightrope at our age


Vuda Point is regarded as a pretty safe place to leave a boat for hurricane season.  If one is imminent, a large wave boom is installed across the entrance to the marina. There are also pits, also known as graves, dug in the hard into which one’s boat is lowered.  Chatting to one owner here, it isn’t a foolproof business – the tyres propping up his boat collapsed causing major damage to the rudder and skeg.




                                    Southern Cross bedded down in good time for the hurricane season


It’s also been fun here.  We’ve caught up with chums and worked out what to do next.  We still have the Lau Group of islands (at the eastern fringe of the Fijian archipelago) to do properly and this is a ‘must’.  We saw a bit of it for 48 hours before having to run away to get various important things fixed in much less remote places and we know that it just has to be ‘done’.  However, we now have too little time left to do it justice before we have to get going for NZ again, in mid November at latest, to avoid the cyclone season.  So, the latest sort-of plan is to spend a couple of weeks more in the west of the Fijian archipelago, see something of the Yasawa group and then sail to Vanuatu and spend a few weeks there before heading back to NZ.  We’ll sort out the Lau Group next season.  This is, of course, how most people’s three year circumnavigations become a bit stretched.  But, once you sail west out of the South Pacific you’ve got to be a pretty dedicated masochist (or, possibly, paid crew) to want to beat back to it against the Trade Winds.


Having hired a car for a few days here, at the pretty reasonable rate of 88FJD or around £30 a day, we spent much of Wednesday driving around various bits of the west and SW of Viti Levu – the principal Fijian island.  The scenery is as stunning as we’d expected.  Something over 90% of all Fijian land is tribally owned and cannot be sold.  Native Fijian villagers tend not to see themselves as businessmen and so such commercial farming as is done, of sugar cane and so on, is undertaken by the Fijian Indians who lease the land from them.  In the flatter areas villagers cultivate fruit and vegetables that find their way to the local markets – which are wonderfully full of colour and life – and to roadside stalls.  Largely, it has to be said, women’s work.  Gainful employment for the men – particularly those remote from the shore – has dried up pretty significantly because killing and eating your enemies is now rather frowned upon.  But the upshot is that the vast majority of the countryside appears wild and uncultivated.  Here and there are sites of particular interest.  Whilst the majority of Viti Levu is volcanic in origin there is a large area of sand dunes near Sigatoka.  When we visited, the sky was overcast, the Trade Winds were blowing lustily and that made the place quite atmospheric – think Wuthering Heights on Sea.




                                                            The dunes reach a pretty impressive height




                                                                    Glad we weren’t out there in Arnamentia!


One of the trails winds through mahogany woodland which was planted fifty years ago to prevent the sand blowing onto the Queens Road – the main highway to and around the south and west of the island.  This has become a thriving habitat for many birds, insects and skinks.  Around the bases of some trees were bundles of branches and leaves, roughly man-sized, with a head and a definite human resemblance – some Fijian traditional form of sculpture we thought.  However, the lady in the visitors’ centre told us they were supposed to represent women tree huggers – very New Age!




                                                                            Let’s hope the relationship lasts


Another worthwhile place of interest is the hill fort at Tavuni, just outside Sigatoka.  This was eventually conquered by the British (more accurately, their native agents) in the late nineteenth century.  Until then, as elsewhere in Fiji for around 2,000 years, those enemy unlucky enough to have been captured were likely to be sexually tormented and mutilated by the women at the ‘killing stone’ and made to eat their own body parts before being consumed, on behalf of the gods, by the tribe.  Nice.  Moreover, one measure of a chief’s greatness was the number of his enemy he had personally consumed.  But, that was all rather before spoilsports had thought up the Geneva Convention.  




                                                            Path through the ruins of the hill top fort




                                                                            Some pretty neatly built walls


Like many an historical attraction here, initial enthusiasm has given way to lack of attention.  It does not alter the fact that it is well worthwhile seeing.  Please bear that in mind as you read on.  But it could just be so much better with very little effort.  It is not well marketed and is poorly maintained.  A sign at the site proclaims that it was established with the aid of EEC funding in 1960.  The original script is still distributed to enable you to understand the various bits of the site and the history behind it.  That’s really quite interesting.  The original gravel-laid and wood shuttering encapsulated paths still exist.  But, only just.  Two men, working at median South Pacific speed, given a hammer, wooden shuttering, galvanised nails, and a dump truck of gravel could restore the site in well under 5 working days.  But, that’d be, say, 80 man hours.  Which would be almost 2 man hours of maintenance for each of the 50+ years since the place was established as an historical site.  So, obviously, that hasn’t happened.  Perhaps that’s just the Fijian way.  Things are made or born.  They wither.  They die.  And the Fijian word for maintenance is, um . . . dunno.


A commanding position – the view north ……



                                                            … and from the same position, the view south


Which brings us onto the enormous privileges that yotties in Fiji (and elsewhere) enjoy in comparison to other visitors.  How else could you get under the skin of this place?  Drive around a bit and wherever you go, as you move through the somewhat ramshackle villages (I am required by Dep Ed to point out that there are often delightful gardens attached to some houses), inhabitants of all ages will wave at you from distances great and small and shout “Bula, bula”, in welcome.  You respond in kind but it’s difficult to interact in any more meaningful way.  The towns are generally tatty and functional and you wouldn’t want to linger there, notwithstanding the tremendous friendliness of absolutely everyone.  So, you wouldn’t choose to base yourself there.  You could pay a zillion dollars a week and go to one of the resorts.  Have your island resort beach (which, incidentally, we yotties will have any time we choose to drop anchor there), the flunkies and the 3 star cuisine and accommodation at 5 star prices.  Presumably you’d take up the offer of several over-priced excursions to snorkel, dive or visit other ‘paradise islands’, there to do a bit of bopping, drink some ‘authentic’ kava and talk to a few ‘authentic’ Fijians being paid by your resort to be authentic.  Hm.  There are also plenty of places you can’t go – including most of the Lau Group.


As a yottie you pick and choose.  Go where you like and when you like.  Stay as long as you like.  See what you like.  Snorkel and dive as you like.  Interact as fully as you like.  Particularly in the remoter islands, get involved.  Lend the islanders your skills.  Learn from them.  Attend their churches – properly dressed obviously.  You won’t actually have much of a choice in this nor understand a word of what is said and the hymn book will be a bit of a mystery.  But, hey, lunch will be good and you’ll probably be excused afternoon church on account of good behaviour.  Get under their skins.  Understand and be understood.  Just feel the goodwill and return it.  Heaven.  We haven’t done enough of this yet but it’s the key to next year’s agenda.