2009-12-02: Taveuni


Courtney, her mom Nancy, and Rachel Z. came for a visit last week.
They arrived on Tuesday and left on Thursday morning. It was quite an
eventful visit as Wednesday was Vaitupu Day. This is the day they
celebrate their homeland, Vaitupu, and reflect on where they
originated. In Tuvalu, Vaitupu day is a celebration of paying off a
debt owed to foreign countries. The celebration follows the same
pattern as other festivities such as Sunset Day, Kioa Day, etc. The
chiefs and elders sit at the poles, eat quickly while the ladies sing
three songs, and then give random speeches about how everyone is going
to burn in hell unless they repent from their evil ways. There was a
competition fatele at the morning service but since only the elders
where in attendance it petered out rather quickly. The elder
drummer’s stamina isn’t quite at the same level as the youngsters.
Overall, it was a good experience for our visitors as they had the
chance to see the raw culture of the island and experience the joy of
their dance and song and the pain of their painfully long speeches and
processes.

The day following Vaitupu day we left early to Nakia Resort on
Taveuni. We dove Rainbow’s End and The Fish Factory and the
experience was phenomenal. The equipment was immaculately maintained
and most of it brand new. The boat was pristine with professional
service and constant attention to safety. In the 12 dives we had been
on prior to this one, never did we feel more confident in the
instructors and equipment.

The resort and it’s owners where even more impressive. Robin and Jim
Kelly have lived in Fiji for seven years and have operated Nakia for
two of those years. Jim is a lawyer from Northern California and has
since turned into quite the expert on alternative energies. His
self-taught study of these technologies has produced a complex system
of hydro, solar, and wind that powers their entire resort. He was
very hospitable with his time in walking me through how he set it all
up and the way in which the technologies harmonize to power the
facility. He even went so far as to print out about 30 pages of
research he had done to share with the islanders and help us in
starting our hydropower project.

The other rare thing about the resort was the way in which it blended
in with the environment. Even though the facilities where world class
and extremely comfortable, the natural beauty of Fiji still permeated
through the man made structures. Such a balance is indeed rare.

We had planned to leave that afternoon to the Matai area to stay at
budget backbacker’s lodge but Nancy was kind enough to let us to stay
in their bure. To make things even better, Robin also invited us for
a huge Thanksgiving feast that evening. This was an amazing
unexpected blessing and the food was better than most of the
Thanksgiving dinner’s I’ve had back home. We had ribs, turkey,
dressing, gravy, biscuits, fresh salad, beans, mashed potatoes, and
upside down passion fruit cake with ice cream. I would have never
thought such a combination of foods in Fiji was remotely possible. A
couple from Texas on their honeymoon, a Catholic priest from a nearby
church, and a couple from New Zealand also joined us for dinner. The
fellowship was hearty and warm and we will never forget the
hospitality offered us that day.

The next day we headed up to Lavena Lodge. This is a small four-room
lodge at the end of the road on the windward side of Taveuni. Since
this side of the island receives the blunt force of the trade winds
and thus rain, it is a lush tropical landscape complete with bountiful
rainforest, amazing beaches, and gushing waterfalls. There is a 5km
coastal walk from the lodge that follows the coastal line and then
turns up a large river to a cozy grouping of two large waterfalls.
Since it had rained heavily the night before we where unable to forge
the current up the channel to the waterfalls but could still gaze at
their beauty from afar. We will most definitely make a return trip in
the dry season to see their beauty up close. The story goes that
Return to the Blue Lagoon was filmed just around the point from the
lodge. We watched the movie just before leaving for Fiji and the
backdrop does resemble several of the scenes.

The next day we snorkeled at Waitabu Marine Park, and were blown away
by the amount and variety of fish we saw. Lonely Planet’s description
of this park does not do it justice. This is by far the best
snorkeling we’ve experienced, and the water clarity is well over 70
feet if not 100. The local guide was very friendly and informative
and helped point out the major features of the park. We were amazed
that just 11 years ago the fish and coral where decimated from the
1998 El Nino, and now the area was a lush haven for fish and coral
alike. Seeing the ability of Mother Nature to recover from a natural
disaster first hand was humbling and inspiring.

That night we walked the beach and enjoyed a spectacular sunset. Our
village is situated where we miss both the sunrise and sunset so these
where special treats. A group of children must have thought we looked
lonely and decided it would be fun to tag along. I was kind of mad at
first that they spoiled our moment alone, but it is hard to stay mad
at Fijian kids too long. They really are a lot of fun and when they
flash their pearly whites at you the heart has no chance but to melt.
We enjoyed the sunset over the blue lagoon bay while perched on a few
rocks at the point. As we were about to leave one of the kids pointed
at the cracks between the rocks and yelled. I looked down, and
between the rocks at my feet was coiled a rather large sea snake.
These are the most poisonous snakes in the world. Thankfully they are
pretty timid and their mouths are very small so their threat to humans
is relatively small, so I’ve heard. I’ve also heard that several
other snakes are ‘the most poisonous in the world’ but haven’t taken
the time to actually verify any of the claims. Anyway, it was quite
unnerving to see any snake below my feet regardless of their poison
content so I quickly skedaddled outta there!

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