Sunday, October 2, 2016

Yanuca island. Budd reef, Fiji.

After another calm night in Viani bay we took advantage of the continued light winds forecast to head east under motor with the destination being Yanuca, some 45 miles away. We had to motor but that is the price we were prepared to pay to be able to visit this tiny group of islands and its small village.
School anchorage. Yanuca. Budd reef

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Yanuca island is one of six small islands that sits inside a lagoon and is surrounded by Budd reef and it is the only island that is inhabited. We anchored in School bay in crystal clear waters with an uncluttered sandy bottom where we could easily see our anchor in 40 feet of water. It's nice to know that the anchor is set well and that if we swing around we will not get caught up on a coral bombie. Looking around us we say the school, set just off the white sandy beach and could hear the children playing and singing. This has to be one of the prettiest anchorages we have been to on the trip and we had the place to ourselves, something we have not had since we were in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico back in November of last year. Quite perfect. 

Sarita anchored in School Bay, Yanuca, Budd reef

Fijian custom dictates that we have to present ourselves to the chief of the island and seek permission to anchor and explore the islands. The ceremony is called servuservu. The girls put on long skirts and I put on a pair of shorts that covered my knees. We boarded the dinghy with our bundle of kava root and set off to shore but we were defeated as the tide was low and the fringing reef prevented our landing. We would have to wait until tomorrow morning. As we got back on the boat the VHF radio crackled to life with a request for the boat in School bay to reply. It was the chief hailing us as he wanted to know when we would be coming in to meet him. We explained about our landing issue and he agreed that it was not possible and we arranged to meet the following morning at 9am. 

The following morning, after a very pleasant night at anchor, we managed to land the dinghy on the beach in front of the school and we found the path that leads to the village, a walk of about 1/2 a mile. We walked along the beautiful sandy beach thinking how lucky these children were to have such a wonderful school set on the shores of this island. The track ran along the shore then up a steep hill and then down into the village where we passed the pig pens with dozens of piglets rummaging around the piles of coconuts for food. We continued on until we met the local parson who told us where to find the Chiefs house. This is the first time we have had to do servuservu and we were not quite sure of what to do but we had the basic information. As we approached the Chiefs house we were greeted by a woman who told she was his daughter. We took off our shoes and entered the Chiefs house and sat cross-legged on a mat on the veranda. I placed the kava root package in front of him so he could choose to accepts it or not. 
The village children walking back home from school
We introduced ourselves and explained where we come from and where we were going and what we would like to do while we were in these islands. We asked questions about their island and village and inquired about the chief's son, Willie, also known as free Willie, who reportedly takes yachties to the island of Corbia (pronounced Thorbia) which is a caldera island. They explained that Willie was away in Suva as his wife was getting some hospital treatment. The package of kava was still sitting on the mat but eventually the chief picked it up and confirmed that we could explore the islands, fish, swim, snorkel and anchor. In some ceremonies the kava root is then pounded down into a powder and mixed to make a mildly narcotic drink. Some other time perhaps.

The chief then kindly took us back to our dinghy in school bay in his boat, gently gliding across the shallow reef that separates Yanuca and Maqewa islands and dropping us back on the beach.  The chief had kindly offered to take us to Corbia island the following day and we agreed that he would pick us up at 9am. 

Now free to roam Jude and I took off in the dinghy to explore some pristine beaches and reefs and other islands, Katya meanwhile stayed back on the boat doing her schoolwork:  multiplication of fractions.

Jude and I walked up and down a few perfect sandy beaches and swam in the clear warm water before returning to Sarita for some lunch. We were not feeling that well and both had rising temperatures. As the afternoon and evening progressed our temperatures increased to just under 39c. It looked like we would have to cancel our trip but we could not contact the chief to let him know. 

In the morning I felt OK and my temperature was back to normal but Jude was still running a fever so I took the dinghy over to the village along with a bag of goodies for some of the children and explained that Jude was not feeling well and could we postpone it until Monday which was fine with them. 

On my return I went to explore a couple of the other islands and as the winds were light it was very pleasant to be able to take the dinghy between the islands.

Yanuca has about 70 people living on the island and we were told that there were about 30 children at school with another 10 still too young to go to school, that is quite a high percentage of children especially given that there were no high school children on the island as they go to Tavenui where they board.  There are no cars or even roads on the island and all of the houses are in the village with the exception of the teacher's and caretakers houses next to the school. There is no electricity on the island and water is limited to that collected from the rain. There don't appear to be any crops grown but do harvest coconuts to make milk for cooking and to feed pigs. Their main diet seems to be fish and the younger men free dive for sea cucumbers that are then sold on to China. 

Heading back to Yanuca with Christana

Jude and I discussed what if anything can we give them without it seeming to be charity so we went through the boat to see what we have onboard and came up with some food items that might seem like a luxury and I found some solar lights. Who knows what they thought when we gave them the gifts. It reminded me of the time I went to communist Poland in the late 1980's. We were told to take tinned meat to give to locals, in particular spam. We stayed with a lovely family in their home in Krakov and as we departed we proudly presented the Spam to our hosts who turned the tin over in his hands looking intently at it then handed the tins back to me and said: " We don't eat this shit in Poland"   Fair comment. 

Chief Isoa collecting us from Crater lake Corbia.
Monday morning came around and the VHF radio crackled into life " Mr Richard, Mr Richard" I responded to the chief's calling and we arranged to be collected at 9 am for our visit to the island of Corbia. When The chief, and his daughter Christina, arrived in their panga ( I don't know their name for the long boats) I handed the chief our outboard fuel tank so they could use our supplies rather than their precious fuel, we all boarded and headed across the lagoon about 2 miles and we were dropped off on the beach for the hike up the hill and around the rim of the crater. 

The climb was easy enough with thick dry roots providing great footholds for our ascent. Once up the top we followed goat trails along the rim and surveyed the crater lagoon on one side and the Budd reef lagoon on the other side. Christina, the Chiefs daughter, telling us about their clans history and customs as we went. We descended down the rim where we watched the fish on the reef going about their daily chores, hunting and being hunted, and waited to be collected by the chief.  We were taken on a tour of the crater lagoon and stopped off at a cave where small bats lived. Most of the bats fluttered silently about us, but some still hung to the wall watching us from their inverted sleeping positions. 
Chief Isoa.

We stopped off at a couple of the islands beaches, Isora giving us thirst quenching coconuts straight from the tree and Christina collecting shells for Jude and Katya before heading back to Sarita where we provided them with team and biscuits and chatted further. The heat has picked up and it's 34c in the cabin, the wind has also increased to about 10 knots and is now coming from the NE, uninterrupted across the lagoon. Will we have to move to a more sheltered spot?

The following morning we moved Sarita around to the village anchorage as the north winds were predicted to continue and strengthen. We motored the short distance and dropped the hook in a quiet spot in 30 feet with a sand bottom. 

Yanuca Village
In the afternoon the three of us took the dinghy into the village. We sat on the Chiefs verandah with his daughter Christina showing us how to weave fish and birds out of dried pandanus leaves to make mobiles. We talked about what daily life was like in the village as we made successive attempts to weave the leaves. Jude donated some of her jewelry making items to Christina and I gave a bag of fishing lures to Isora ( the chief). Other members of the village came to join us and the children laughed at our weaving efforts. 

Village anchorage

The Chiefs wife asked if we would like to try some kava and we gladly accepted the invitation. I went back to the boat to get some more kava root and the Chiefs wife pounded the root into a powder and then we watched as she expertly mixed the powder with water in a cloth used as a strainer and a grey liquid came out into a bowl. Johnny, another villager joined us with his guitar and we sat around playing and singing while we all drank kava. This is the first time we had tried the drink and it did have a mild effect on us but contrary to comments we had heard it actually tasted quite pleasant, a bit earthy perhaps, as you would expect from a pounded root. It was a great afternoon and we will be sorry to leave so soon as it would be nice to spend more time with the wonderful people.