Vulaga Part 1
VULAGA 2015 – Part 1
Veitau waqa ! – “the boat lives”
We had been waiting in Suva for nearly 2 weeks before the weather forecast indicated a little more south in the seemingly constant SE trades we were experiencing this season. Just enough south to let us sail to Vulaga. Ideally a NW / N wind would have been a lot better but we were keen to get to Vulaga and even keener to depart Suva! Navara’s decks were going green with the constant rain and drizzle and both of us were well and truly “samosaed out” on Indian food.
The 180nm overnight passage to wind was bouncy in the 2-3m seas – some may have said “boisterous”, some “sporty” and other just plan sh_it! – it all depends on your attitude and frame of mind at the time :-) We found it “challenging” as they say “no pain – no gain”. It’s hard to describe how the motion is and how it affects you even for a short period of time. It’s difficult to move around the boat – you really just need to wedge yourself sitting in a corner or lie down in a lee cloth bunk where you can’t get tossed out. Every muscle in your body is constantly braced for the next sudden movement. We were pleased that the evening meal was already prepared before we left and we were just able to hold it onto the stove long enough to heat it up – I don’t know how some people manage to cook on passage in such conditions.
All was quickly forgotten when we lowered the sails and entered Vulaga’s pass in near perfect conditions. What a beautiful sight it was…..
Soon after dropping anchor a fibre boat cruised past calling out “Bula Bula Navara” – it appeared that the village was expecting us through our contact with another cruiser via SSB radio that Navara was on her way. We were on our return trip with sails on board for our departed friend Meli’s new canoe. Meli was a friend, sailor, fisherman and provider with a great sense of humour and loads of mana. Sadly he has “gone celestial” (passed away) in October 2014 before completing his dream of building a new camacau / sailing canoe. Meli had found his vesi tree, felled it, hollowed it out (by adze) and had it hauled out of the bush – no easy task as it was 7.5 m long and weighed plenty!
A number of cruisers who had met Meli over the past 2 seasons had returned to assist his brothers Alifereti (Lutu) and Alminio complete the dream. We had the sails on board from NZ that we had promised Meli we would return with (thanks to Ray at Tutukaka) - so naturally there was a lot of emotion in our hearts and tears in our eyes when we landed on the beach to see Meli’s finished canoe pulled up on the beach with its outriggers fitted and looking just great – even if a few non-traditional items were visible – stainless steel screws / fittings, quality ropes and sikaflex sealant visible in a few joins.
The walk into Mauniacake village is always pleasant as you stroll through the coconut groves towards this immensely tidy little village. You might wonder what people do all day in these isolated little villages, but the longer we stay the more the structures and routines become apparent. Eg on certain days of the week the “youth’ (AKA teenagers) are called together (notified by a particular drum beat) to do a general tidy up and assist the elders of the village with any cores / jobs that they need done. Another day the men all head inland to fell trees and chainsaw into planks which are steadily carried back to the village for any house repairs needed. Each evening they even have a “town crier” dude who walks around the houses calling out the programme for the next day so everyone knows what’s going on. They really do have a great community spirit here – imagine asking the average NZ teenager to go clean the old guy next doors toilet and do his garden and clean his house – yep – I’m sure you can all hear the response…..
The people of Vulaga are special and very generous considering they have so little and yet give so much. With so much limestone the soil composition makes it very hard to grow crops and yet they will always offer some food and drink when you visit. Their lemon tea made from fresh moli (lemon tree) leaves is delicious. The open warm and generous reception we have experienced from these people is always humbling.
Mauniacake isn’t a large village at all with about 70-80 people. The other two villages are similar in size but Mauniacake is the “chiefly” village and see’s the majority of cruising yachts people. So first we had to do so sevu-sevu with Chief Besi. Sevu-sevu is the act of presenting yangona (kava) to the chief and basically asking if it’s cool to anchor in their garden for a while. A polite thing and an ancient tradition of Fijians. It wasn’t long after sevu-sevu that we managed to catch up and say Bula Vinaka (Gidday) to our old friends from 2013. Again with some emotion and lots of handshakes and hugs we were back amongst our Vulaga Vuvale (family).
Sadly, after Meli’s passing his wife and soul mate Jiko had moved back to her family’s village a 45 minute or so walk away. We planned to walk over the next day to catch up and deliver some framed photos and small memorial album we had put together of Meli for her. These two had been inseparable – every day they were out together – sailing out to fish or going to Meli’s family island to tend the gardens of cassava, wild cabbage and pumpkins.
We knew the next day was going to be a “big one”. The 45 minute walk turned out more like 1 ½ hours over some fairly rough terrain. Our Teva sandals had already been glued up a number of times this season (tight arse cruisers making them last as long as possible) and by the time we arrived at Jiko’s village they were flapping like ducks. All three of us hugged and cried like babies for the first 15 minutes or so. Darn life can be so hard for some people – and so random. Meli was strong, fit but felt unwell last August / September and just went to bed. Luckily in some ways nurse Sera had returned to the island and realised he needed further tests and better medical assistance asap. Meli and Jiko where shipped out on the next monthly ferry to Suva Hospital. Meli passed away on 28 October 2014 from cancer that had quickly spread through his body. Jiko told the story in excruciating detail re-living every day and was able to recount every aspect, time and date of the whole ordeal. Sadly Meli passed away in Suva and was therefore buried a long way from his island, his family and wife. We could see this huge ordeal of having no grave to mourn had affected Jiko greatly. No help lines or counsellors here – just the family and the village community and time will hopefully heal her sad heart. It was a very sobering experience for us and a stark reminder for all of us that our number could be up any time. Best make the most of it and do the things you want to do we say.
In true Fijian fashion Jiko had prepared food for us – some rice with marinated octopus she had caught the day before when she heard we were coming over to see her. She apologised for having so little to offer us. Others in the village had seen us arrive and sit down for lunch and soon some more plates of food were delivered by children to share with us. Linda had baked a spiced apple cake which we had carried over and for every extra plate of food delivered another was sent back to the sender with 2 slices of cake on it. Before long there was too much for us to eat – now that’s caring and sharing - village style.
Day 3 in Vulaga was spent on board trying to recover from the first 2 days and the passage across. Of the month spent in Vulaga the majority of our time was spent in / with the village despite the spectacular magic scenery that is Vulaga lagoon. A top priority was to cut, sew and fit sails to Meli’s canoe.
Once the work was completed we were rewarded by sailing with Meli’s brothers and marvelling at the sailing performance of something that looks pretty darn basic from the outside. We watched others use his canoe daily to go fishing and gathering. Permission had to be asked but it was shared with all.
Part 2 to follow .......