Fiji and Tonga: EXCURSIONS                                      

Last Updated: May 15, 2002 

"My grandfather came to Lavena from Bouma" (which is just a few kilometers up the dirt road), said Simone, our guide on the coastal walk. "Most of my family lives here, except for my oldest brother, who lives in Suva City."

"Have you ever left Taveuni?" asks Scott.

"Yes. For six years I lived in Suva and Nadi, but everything there needs money, and there are too many people." Simone preferred the village of Lavena (with 250 people) and its few settlements.

As we walked along, Simone greeted the people on the path. His youngest brother was helping to start a fire to roast sea urchins collected on the beach. His friend and his family were walking home from their small plantation with coconuts and taro strung over their shoulders. We had hired Simone as our guide on the Lavena coastal walk to the fresh-water waterfall. The path was well marked, but we thought that it would be interesting to have a local guide to talk with. His village, with advice from New Zealand, had built the walk in 1996 as a way of generating revenue through ecotourism. Although the village was mostly self-sufficient, growing taro, cassava, mango, bananas, and papaya in small plantations, and harvesting what they needed from the sea, they still needed to supplement income from taro and copra sales. Over about a three-month period, three teams of 15 people developed the path already used for accessing their plantations nestled along the rain-forested cliffs. New Zealand helped them to design a bridge over the wide stream and a visitor center, as well as a simple business model.

Our guide Simone  Forests of rocks on pillars on the beach  Roswitha crossing suspension bridge built with support from New Zealand  Scott having some very fresh sprouted coconut  Oh, what a piece of taro root! 

The path parallels the sand and rock beaches, eventually turning inland next to a tidal river. The river eventually turns to fresh water, widening into cold, clear pools with two waterfalls cascading into them. The waterfalls are the first of several, fed by clean water running off of the volcano at the Taveuni's center. Safe to drink, the pools held trout and snails (which we hope do not host liver flukes), and were a refreshing plunge after the hot, humid walk. Stripping to swim suits, we stumbled over slippery rocks, stubbed toes (my feet don't see very well), and finally splashed into a pool too deep to stand. Although the water was cold, it was not too cold. "Swim to the left or walk to the right." The current was swift, but not too strong to swim. The cliff walls narrowed, and then opened up into a rocky pool with a tall waterfall and a short one. Simone climbed up the short one, and, moments later, slid over it with a loud "Whoop!" Roswitha also climbed up part of the way, and had to jump down into the deep pool when it became clear that climbing down was not really an option since the steps were too slippery. We swam for a while, and then went back downstream to dry off and have lunch of the Indian rotis we had brought.

This is as far as we go, the rest of the way we swim, says Simone. No need to tell us twice to get into the refreshing clear water  Two falls come down into a deep basin  Halfway at the falls  Roswitha climbing up the rock  Scott's lunch of pepper and vegetable roti  Simone sweating a little after the pepper  Dead sea snake on our way home. It is huge, see Scott's foot for size reference 

The village spends one Tuesday a month maintaining the path; it seems that Tuesday is community service day. Always on Tuesday, once a month all villagers alternately: tend the common plantations, fish for the group, maintain the village, or keep up the walk. The rest of the time they take care of family plantations, fish, or tend other personal business. It seems that the fecund earth gives them lots of time to relax (and drink kava). It was clear that Simone took pride in this walk that he had helped to build with his village, and he was maintaining it even as we walked and talked. He had a large knife tied to a long handle, and it was used to hack back branches, pierce and throw stray coconuts, and as a lever to straighten stones lining the pathway.

"My favorite food is taro." He showed us their plantations; starchy taro root forms the mainstay of their diet. They use the leaves to make soups and in ways similar to how we use spinach. They also sell it, but have been troubled by the falling prices. As we walked, we saw people in the fields, and also encountered heavy burlap sacks full of the tubers waiting to be carried back to the village, or to one of its settlements. At one point he stopped on the path and started looking around. "I smell ripe bananas," he said, looking to pick us a treat, but we could not find any. But, he did find sprouting coconuts (with a spongy meat), four kinds of chiles, and various plants used for symptoms and cures. We were surprised to see few birds, and encountered almost no animals, except for a dead sea snake on one beach.

On the way back, we walked along the beach, where it started to rain. When we came to the visitors' center, our taxi driver was there drinking instant coffee, along with two women who worked at Coconut Grove. They had come along for the ride; one of them, Teresa, was from Matei, and had never traveled the 15 kilometers down the road to Lavena. We suggested that she try the wonderful coastal walk.

Two Germans at Coconut Grove told us about the wonderful experience they had listening to a Sunday mass on the Cook Islands. So Roswitha set out with them and some other guests to attend the Sunday Services at Waiyevo, while Scott went to dive. Unfortunately, we arrived about 15 minutes late, since the hard surface road ended shortly after the airport. We found the church completely filled with people sitting in well-defined rows on the floor. Many people even were sitting outside the open church doors on all sides. As we walked up, a traditionally and formally dressed man (that means colorful skirt and shirt) walked up and led us around the building into one of the doors and pointed at an area that was empty. We were already instructed to keep our shoes with us at all times. So we took our shoes off and sat down. The service was Catholic and it was pretty simple to follow despite not understanding a single word (although Roswitha thinks she could spot the Fijian word for Jesus after a while). It seems the sequence of actions in a mass are very similar around the world, and one can almost synchronize "our father" line by line and syllable by syllable in two different languages. The singing supposedly was not as impressive as on Cook Islands, but it still was very moving. The leader seemed to sit in the front left of the church and was surrounded by an informal choir. There was no visual clue, the only way we could determine this was that we first heard a single voice quietly sing a tune, and then a larger group joined and carried the tune, before the entire church joined. The acoustics were very good, and the voices were loud and clear. Most likely there was almost no formal training, but it was obvious that Fijians like to sing. It turned out that we must have misunderstood our guide, when we found ourselves in the main staging area of the Host distribution. By that time we sat on the floor for a good hour, and our legs really hurt. So we left as discreetly as we could. Shortly after we left the service was over and several teenage girls came to talk to us. English is taught from the first grades in school, so the more adventurous of the children typically like to practice with foreigners. This way we learned that the church was the center of a school complex run by catholic brothers. The girls and boys lived in separate dorms, and it seemed many of the parents lived in buildings nearby.

Waiyevo church during mass  People leaving after mass. Most men wear traditional garb. Women often wear western dresses over traditional skirt 

After church we went to visit a local arts and crafts store and the international date line. Roswitha learned about some of the intricacies of cannibal forks, and the various weapons used in the old days. One piece she really liked the shape of was like a big shepherd's hook with a pointed end and a large carved ball just before the point. This was originally used to split the opponent's skull and extract the brain quickly. The different sides of the carved ball would be carved with the faces of the slain enemies. Most of the carvings were made from ironwood, which is now mostly imported and extremely heavy. Another type of traditional craft was highly geometric paintings on thick paper or wood. On our way to the dateline we passed a large coffee field, which had been given up to the forces of nature since the profits were not sufficient. It was a shame that we had to stick to Nescafe while there potentially were real beans on the same island that were now just for the birds. Taveuni is one of only three places where the International dateline (and 180 degree meridian) crosses land. The date line marker has been moved further up the hill next to a large rugby field from the narrow place on the main road next to the sea for the Year 2000 celebration to safely accommodate more people for the party. Fiji featured prominently for the Y2K parties around the world, since it was the first island to cross into the new millennium, and to receive the first light. We made some pictures at the marker where one can embrace two days at the same time. In the early days of Fiji some inventive business men actually found a great way to improve their profitability by creative use of the date line. Sunday was declared a rest day when all businesses had to be closed, and all employees were to have a day off. One businessman was able to do business through his back door on Sundays, since there it was already Monday. A plantation owner was able to work his crew for years 7 days a week, since some of the fields were on the other side of the date line. Eventually Fiji decided to have the entire nation on the same date, which seemed to have resolved the issue. Today the marker and the movie theater named "180 degree Meridian" are the key reminders of the fact that the date line goes through the island.

Embracing the date line 
Scott relaxing at the verandah of the Taveuni Garden Resort on our way to find the diving schools in Fiji  Scott relaxing (again) under the tree at Sandy Beach Resort in Tonga 

Once we left Tonga, the infrequent flights between countries (sometimes only once or twice per week) required that we spend a day in Nadi before flying on to Sydney. So, we booked a day trip to Castaway island (which has nothing whatsoever to do with the Tom Hanks movie). The large, fast catamaran is basically a floating bus, stopping off at several of the islands in the huge lagoon and sheltered islands known as the Mamanucas. These range from tiny (30 meters across) and uninhabited to large and developed. Many of the islands are brochure perfect, with grass huts sitting on white sand beaches under swaying coconut palms, surrounded by clear emerald waters. Disgorging day or overnight passengers at each stop, the bus/boat made its way to the outer islands. We jumped onto a small shuttle boat to disembark at Castaway island to the sound of the Fijian staff singing the traditional song, "Welcome to Fiji," or something like that. We had vouchers for snorkeling equipment and lunch, so we jumped right into it: we found the bar, got bloody marys, and settled down into lounge chairs on the beach. After a while, we noticed that most everyone had disappeared, and determined that it must be time for lunch. So, we wandered to the restaurant designated for riff-raff like us (the day trippers, as opposed to the overnighters), and chose from one of the limited selections. Actually, it was pretty good, and we got to be entertained by the wild mynah birds that were stealing french fries. "Naughty birds!" said one of the waitresses as she chased them away yet again. She saw our underwater housing for the camera (basically an empty plastic box), and, giggling, borrowed it to play a joke on her co-workers. Naughty waitress.

We had a bit of a snorkel out to the nearby reef, but the visibility was poor. Still, we saw lots of life, including anemones (and the required clown fish), giant clams, goatfish circuses, a flounder, pipefish (relatives of seahorses), and so on. After a quick rinse, it was time to re-board the "bus" and head back in. Along the way, a large group of Fijian students boarded from one of the islands. They were in training to become primary school teachers, returning from a weekend retreat. They were a pretty rowdy group as they crowded onto the top deck where we had camped out, with many of the guys slapping each other, and the women egging them on. After a bit, some of them started to sing, and the whole lot eventually got into it. Most of the songs seemed to be Christian songs or campfire tunes (with even a few of them being recognizable), and soon the whole boat was singing along. As the sun set over a wonderful day, we pulled into the harbor with soul.

On our way to Cast Away island  Lunch time at Cast Away  Scott snorkeling on the reef at Cast Away  'Confetti' on the beach at Cast Away (it looked like thin shavings of corals)  On our way back to Nadi, students sang most of the way, and sometimes we joined in English or German 


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