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Date: 18 Sep 2012 21:45:41
Title: Taveuni; Mud, waterfalls and kava

Lat 17:18.12S
Lon 178:12.96E

The weekend in Taveuni turned out to be a LOT of travelling, but what do they say about travelling? 'It's about the journey not the destination'.

As we arrived at the bus stop in Savusavu at 7am after a mini freak out because I had left the bus tickets on the boat, I asked the woman which bus it was. She told me it was the green one. Then her mother said "No, it's the blue one". Great, the day before she'd told me it was the red one! Turns out the sign on the front of the bus didn't lie and the white and orange bus soon had us on our way along Hibiscus highway. We were headed East, towards Buca Bay where we would catch a 1hr ferry across to the 'Garden Island' of Taveuni.

The bus was quite an experience, especially seeing as the paved road only lasted 20km and there were 'roadworks' pretty much the whole rest of the way! They are trying to pave the road the whole way, which involves digging up the land and trees to widen the road, and with the amount of rain this island gets it was always going to be messy! The flat bits were ok but on the hills we were slipping and sliding around all over the place in the mud. At one point on the crest of a hill, we saw an oncoming tractor pulling a bus up the hill. We reversed to make room for them to pass, only to get stuck in the mud ourselves and needing to be towed out by the tractor! It was great to see some of Vanua Levu though, if only on a bus. This is claimed to be the 'real' Fiji, away from the tropical islands that attract millions on their holidays to white sand beaches and turquoise water. We passed lots of villages, small houses made from timber, copra drying sheds, food stands by the side of the road, and even a man on a horse galloping bareback (and overtaking!) the bus! After 3.5hrs we had covered the 71km to Buca Bay, where we boarded a little wooden boat that took us across to Taveuni.

"Caution, slippery road". No shit!

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On the ferry

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A guy in a pickup truck took us to our campground, somehow we managed to get 5 fairly large guys and me into the 4 passenger seats - it's illegal to ride in the back of the truck like we have been doing across the Pacific, but apparently having two in the passenger seat, 3 in the back and one hanging out the window is just fine! You heard me mention a campground, I should qualify that by saying that the other's camped while Archie and I stayed in a dorm room that we had to ourselves. We could have rented a tent on the beach but it was only $3 more for the room! Beverley's campground was a cool little place, with a communal kitchen and decked out eating area, and everything was right on the beach. We hired a guy to take us to a river, known as 'The Waterslide' which sounded fun in the LP. The river has forged it's way through the rocks twisting and turning between pools of deep water. The bottom is so smooth that you can actually ride it like a waterslide! It was great fun swooshing down it and amazingly we came away without any bruises! In the evening Archie, Jesse and Zach played touch rugby with a couple of local kids on the beach. They were pretty good but what would you expect in a country where rugby is a religion!

Archie and Tim at the bottom of the waterslide

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Touch rugby on the beach with the locals - they were kind enough to split the teams!

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The next day we packed up our stuff and walked into nearby Matei where we hopped on another bus around to the eastern side of the island. There are only 2 buses a day so you can't pick and choose your timings! Everyone waved at the bus as we drove past, the kids laughed and then screamed as Brian showed them his earrings, and we travelled with the coast on our left and the lush, tropical interior on our right. The people here don't seem to have much but they are all incredibly happy and don't seem to want for much either. Not forgetting my days working in fashion, I have come up with a new measure of local wealth which is determined by whether the villagers look like they're wearing clothes that they chose, or clothes that they were given. In Tonga, the villagers wore clothes that didn't fit, had inappropriate logo's or just looked like they had been handed down a few times. Here, even in the tiny villages, the kids are wearing newish clothes and the men wear t-shirts with surf brand logo's. Ok, enough about Fijian village fashion...

After an hour on the bus, we arrived at Bouma national park, home to some of Fiji's finest waterfalls. There's a 3 hour hike to see them and it's an easy well kept path to see them, although there are a couple of river crossings thrown in to keep it interesting! Despite being Taveuni's biggest tourist attraction we didn't see another person after leaving the first waterfall! The waterfalls were very impressive. I learnt from a local on the bus that the week before they had experienced a massive flood, with thigh high water up in the coastal villages. The path was wet and muddy but the waterfalls were booming! Huge torrents of water cascaded down from the lush foliage. On the way we saw purple crabs and jungle frogs, and we swam at the first and third waterfall where there was also a cliff jump from half way up the waterfall. We scrambled up the side and across to the platform and after Jesse's lead we took the plunge! Zach , who has had a life long fear of free falling, also managed to make the jump eventually after half an hour of coaxing and cheering!

Bouma falls - the first waterfall with Archie and Jesse on a rock ledge behind it to give an idea of scale!

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The third falls - incredibly beautiful and no-one else there!

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Promo shot

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After the falls, we walked back through the village of Bouma and onto the next village. We were planning on camping in Waitambo and a guy I had met on the bus in the morning had said we could cut through his village and walk along the beach, which was significantly shorter than taking the road. The woman in the information hut at Bouma had given me a note to give to her cousin who worked at the campground. She had tried to let them know we were coming but her phone was broken, so she had written a note for us to take with us, and said we should present it to the first person we saw in the village. Fijian villages are not like those at home. You cannot simply walk through the village amongst their houses, you must ask permission first from the right person. As we approached the first village, some old guys that were mulling life over by the side of the track approached us, shook our hands and asked us what our business was. I told them that Bella had said we could cut through their village to get to Waitambo, and the elder guy provided his son as a guide who took us all the way to the next village! The people here are all so friendly, but you do have to be respectful and do things the right way.

A house by the river in the village of Bouma

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We arrived at Waitambo, to a certain amount of staring from the villagers across the playing field that we had emerged onto from the beach. We saw the campground and I gave the woman the note from her cousin, which explained who we were and what we wanted. She spoke perfect English, as most people here do, but we needed the letter as an introduction - another Fijian custom. She dropped her guard immediately and showed us where to pitch our tents, and provided Archie and I with camping things which we could borrow. She also invited us to drink some Kava with some of the villagers that evening. It was Saturday night, but I don't think that made a difference, they drink Kava here every night of the week! We were pretty tired from our walking but it would have been rude not to go, and we did want to experience it. Arieta also provided me with a sula (sarong) as it is disrespectful to wear shorts above the knee unless you are on a beach. We entered a neighbours house into what was essentially a large room, with about 15 men all sitting around on the floor. The kava bowl was in the middle and we shook hands with everyone and presented them the kava which Tim had cleverly remembered to bring with him on the trip! They accepted the kava and mixed it with water in a plastic bowl, and then passed around a half coconut shell filled with the liquid. As I suspected, the taste we had had in Tonga at the feast had been watered down, and this was significantly more potent. It still tasted like muddy water with a bit of spice though, but it did give me a killer headache the next day! We had to clap 3 times after each person finished their drink (you down it in one from the coconut shell). Then a few of the guys started playing guitars, a few women arrived to join in, they asked us about ourselves, and they even forced us to dance (apparently I will "be better next time!'") It was fun for a couple of hours, but essentially for a lot of the time you just sit there, chilled out, and the men hardly talk to each other. I think we were the source of entertainment! We made our getaway and escaped back to our tent, which was fairly uncomfortable and cold as we were facing the wind and the inflatable mattress I had been given had lost it's inflatable quality, so I was sleeping on cold sand.

Arieta's daughter, Leile, helping us put up our tents

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Drinking kava with the villagers of Waitambo

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Forced to dance

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The next morning we were up at 6 and said our goodbyes to Arieta and made our way up to the road to catch the bus back to the ferry wharf. We had been hoping to stay another day and do a coastal walk out of the next village down, Lavena, but due to the floods the previous week, the road was out and we couldn't get down there. The bus on the way back was jam packed, as there was a boat leaving for Suva so the locals were all heading in the same direction as us. We made the ferry by the skin of our teeth, and then got the connecting bus back to Savusavu, to find our boats safe and sound. The road had dried out a lot over the weekend and the bus was much quicker without having to be towed out the mud! It was a great weekend, and Taveuni has certainly given us an insight into real Fijian life, that we probably won't see again as we head off to the islands.

We are now in Nananu-i-Ra which is a kiting hotspot and we are meeting up with my Mum today! So excited to be seeing her after a whole year! Then it's off to the Yasawa's for more island hopping.



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