Tuesday, 9 June 2015

5-8 Jun - Four days in Paradise

Hello,

Fulaga (sounds like "Foo-long-a") has proven to be everything we could have hoped for, and definitely worth the many days to windward it took to come here (two days enroute from NZ to Savusavu and two days enroute from Savusavu to Fulaga). In addition to several yachts with couples aboard, we are here with four other kid boats (whom we have known at least one year if not two), and the village has welcomed us all with open arms, assigning each boat a host family.

Friday was one of those days that happen rarely, but epitomize what we hoped for when we were thinking of cruising (and I assume that you assume that this is what every day is like...):

Max was awake early in the morning (taking the 0600 Benjamin shift ... the downside of a baby who went to sleep at dusk was one who awoke at dawn) which was just as well, because at 0700, friends radioed for information about entering the pass. Max emailed the waypoints, and offered to go lead them with the dinghy, since the sun would still be low when they came through at slack water [Max Aside: I had told a boat the day before it was straightforward if they had the waypoints and they promptly ran aground in the pass - they did not have the waypoints and the visibility is not as clear as the Tuoamotus]. Guiding the other boat into the pass at 0830 ended up coinciding with the first of two spearfishing trips that he and Jesus took that day with the other dads in the anchorage. Shortly after Max and Jesus left, I got a call from one of the moms to say that she was going drift/pass snorkelling in 25 minutes - did the kids and I want to go? Of course! We were out of practice with loading the dingy for expeditions, so it took a while (and admittedly some grumpy voices) but we managed to load kids, gear, snacks, baby, water, camera, etc and make it over to the pass before the current got out of hand. It is best to time the pass dives to just before slack water so that you can drift with the current one way, then the other, before finishing as the current is picking up.

On our return to the boat, the kids did some school assignments, working side by side in the cockpit (once again, a rare event, but one I love to see happen) and then went with their friends to play ashore on the beach while Benjamin napped and Max & Jesus went fishing again. Very shortly the kids were back, asking if they could camp ashore, and the consensus was that if a parent went to check out their setup, they could stay. My "proud mama" buttons were bursting as I watched Victoria plan with the other girls what they would need (radios, food, water, tents, sleeping bags, cooking pan, bug spray, lights, etc), where they would put their tents (back from the beach, well above the waterline, upwind of the fire), what they would eat (hot dogs, biscuits, hot chocolate, water), etc. Johnathan went ashore "just for the setup" but he ended up staying the night as well; there were three girls in one tent and two boys in the other. It was such fun to hear the radio broadcast the next morning proudly telling the fleet that they had survived their night ashore :)

After lunch, there was a short window between the end of the meal and the afternoon tide for snorkelling. My dear friend Katrien (Nautilus) called and said she was going to the beach - would I like to come? I almost said no (chores, dishes, etc) but I was encouraged to leave the boat (and the baby) and go ashore (what a lovely family I have!) We had a nice chance to reconnect while we walked up and down the beach and listened to the excited play of the children. When we last saw one another in NZ, we had no idea when or how we would visit again, so it was delightful to spend time together.

There are 11 kids in the anchorage. That night, while five were camping, the other six were playing games on one of the boats. I loved that all the kids could have a fun evening without all of them needing to do the same thing.

Just after Max, Jesus, and I had finished a yummy supper of fried Trevally (that our friend Gary (Nirvana) had given us the day before (so tasty that I have put the recipe at the end)) served with Pineapple/Papaya Chutney (all my Savusavu fruit is now ripening at once...), rice, and fried casava (that our host family had sent us home with on Thursday), our friend Hans (Nautilus) came by to say that all the other parents had ended up on his boat for drinks - did we want to come? Off we went :) What a perfect ending to a perfect day to spend some time socializing with our friends. As for Benjamin, he was thrilled to play with their Playmobil. We don't have any on Fluenta, and all he gets is big-kid Lego and power tools! Our friend Deanne (Exodus) summed it up perfectly: "It doesn't get any better than this!"

On Saturday, I found out that I should have sent sunscreen for the overnight camping trip -- the kids didn't appear back on the boat until well after midday! They played for a long time ashore (the others who hadn't camped took them a second round of breakfast at about 0800; the campers had been up cooking Victoria's biscuits shortly after dawn), and then played on various boats throughout the day. We didn't see much of them until late afternoon. As for me, I was able to go snorkelling with Katrien and Julie (Nirvana) after breakfast while Benjamin stayed with Max and Jesus, then we switched and they went spear-fishing while Benjamin and I did some chores.

Given that the entire fleet was headed to the village for church on Sunday morning, we all moved from the pass anchorage to be a little closer. None of this area is charted accurately, so we had to go carefully and cautiously, totally reliant on our depth sounder, our friends' local knowledge (gained 1/2 hour earlier!), and our visual assessment of the depth (beige is bad, turquoise is OK, and dark blue is good). The lagoon is reasonably free of underwater bombies, but it is dotted with the most amazing free-standing little islands, most of which have had their undersides eroded away over the years leaving tiny beaches with over-hanging rocks. We saw some photos of them on Google Earth before we left Savusavu, but nothing prepared us for the landscape we have entered. We are now anchored beside the most extraordinarily beautiful sand spit. As we approached, it looked like the catamarans were floating on the sand; it was absolutely surreal. At low tide, the sandspit seems to stretch endlessly towards the sunset, and the kids have loads of space to set up their tents in the trees (and the fire can be on the beach far from the tents!)

Dinner on Saturday was more fried fish (as a starter) with pasta and roasted eggplant sauce. Everyone loved the dinner. Only Jesus and I knew what was in the sauce :) The trick was to roast the eggplants whole (after cutting slits down their sides), then peel them and whizz them with some oil and roasted garlic in our magic bullet blender before adding them to regular spaghetti sauce.

Sunday morning saw us leaving the anchorage in convoy (in fact Johnathan rode with our friend on Exodus) to the village. Everyone was dressed in their "bula clothes" as we have nicknamed them - sulus and dresses - and carrying some kind of baked goodie to share with our host family at lunchtime. We were directed towards our host family's house as we walked through the village. We were a bit out of breath after the 20-min walk from the beach (I had estimated 10) and feeling a bit "behind schedule" since it was 0940 and we had wanted to be in town/at church by 0930. What a feeling to have Salote (Fijian for Charlotte) say to us, "rest a little, then we will go to church." ("Be still and know that I am God" comes to mind). She wasn't worried at all! She opened some drinking coconuts for us to share, then, refreshed, we walked the 2 min to the service just before it started. Much easier than sitting an extra half-hour with Benjamin in a pew! On that note, the service was all in Fijian, with lots of singing in parts (including a hymn by a mixed children/women's choir) and it lasted about an hour. At one point, a member of the congregation stood to welcome us and thank us for being with them in their village, and asked us to bear with them as they had their service all in their own language. It was a nice gesture from a welcoming village. As was typical last year in Polynesia (reminder that we are now in Melanesia), the boys & girls sat in the front left of the church, the women sat in the front right, the men sat in the back right, and the visitors sat behind the children on the back left and behind the men (in this case there were about five rows of visitors). There were open louvered windows on all four sides of the simple concrete-block church, so the ocean breeze made welcome visits throughout the service. It was fun to make smiling eye contact with the boys sitting in front of us (we were in the front row of visitors), but I felt a bit badly when one of the men walked up and down the aisles with a thin flexible stick and tapped the boys on the head and told them to turn to face forwards. The wrath of God is nothing compared to the wrath of your village elders! Other than worrying that we might also get the stick if Benjamin made too much noise, it was a lovely, relaxing service. Thankfully, he stayed quiet (but not still) for the hour, and we made it through unscathed :)

When we walked back to our host family's home after church, the main area had been transformed. The room is divided up by curtains that hang from the ceiling, and these had been drawn back to maximize the space, the wooden bed frames had been moved towards the edge, and the table cloth had been spread on the floor. Although there are a few chairs in the room, they are rarely used, and most sitting is done on the floor. Max and I were beckoned to the end of the table, and Salote, who had left the service right after she sang with the choir, laid a variety of dishes in front of us. We had brought cinnamon buns to share, and these were also distributed on serving plates, along with fried fish (that she had caught on Saturday), some kind of greens (spinach?) cooked in coconut milk with onions, delicious rotis (6" Fijian flat bread wrapped around yummy curry filling), noodles with corned beef on top, and steamed bread. Most of the food had been cooked in the lovo (underground oven). Salote and her daughter Lisa had been up since early in the morning to prepare the feast for us. The protocol was that we started eating, then Salote's husband and daughter began to eat, then she ate. As we all started, she began opening more drinking coconuts and pouring the thirst-quenching liquid into glasses for us. I find it funny that North America is just beginning to understand the scientific benefits of coconut water (tetra-packing it and marketing it accordingly), while traditional peoples have been drinking it for years. We were all well-fed when we left. Salote's plastic container, which I had brought from her house on Thursday, and which I tried to return to her on Sunday, was sent back with us filled with all the remaining roties. So good :) We will put some thing else in her container and try to bring it back to her when we return to the village the next time ... but I suspect it will continue making each round trip while we are here :)

Sunday is a quiet day in this village, although the rules are not quite as strict as they were in Penrhyn. We were told that we could swim and snorkel, but we were requested not to spear-fish. The kids decided amongst themselves that they would not camp on Sunday evening, although they spent some time ashore working on shelters and getting organized during the afternoon. We adopted the village siesta approach on Fluenta, and it was lovely to have a quiet day. I thought about using that time to write this email, but I decided to read a novel and doze with Benjamin instead:) Everything in good time!

Max and Jesus had a long session of spear-fishing today (ie several hours). The conditions here are much more challenging than in Mexico - the water is deep, the current is strong, and the sharks are happy to have the boys spear them some lunch - so it makes for engaging stories every day when they return. Today was particularly interesting, as they saw several hammerhead sharks (the first we have seen) and a couple of turtles. Max and a white-tip (thankfully they are generally benign) startled each other by coming around a corner of the reef from different sides and meeting very close face to face (no issues, thankfully). Needless to say, Max was at the water's surface pretty quickly after that!

Victoria, Johnathan and I elected to stay back on Fluenta rather than going snorkelling with the moms/kids, partly because they had schoolwork to do and partly because it was actually grey and rainy today. We are working towards a 13 Jun end-of-term deadline for work to be submitted (my focus will shift tomorrow towards writing up some of the non-assignment learning I have noticed this year...) This afternoon, the kids finalized their packing list after their previous camping experience, and headed ashore to erect tents (Victoria and most of the kids) and palm-leaf shelters (Johnathan). As for me, I finally went ashore with my yoga mat to share a short practice with three others just before sunset. It was an exquisite location ... we walked towards the end of the sandspit to where the sand was firm and flat, and finished with meditation and final relaxation in complete stillness as the stars were coming out.

Of course, it is not all sunset yoga and spearfishing ... our 30+ year old boat continues to seem intent on making sure that Max gets his daily lesson in systems engineering and plumbing, so in between all these beautiful moments were hours spent chasing leaks, changing filters, and rejigging parts of the outboard, not to mention washing diapers and soothing a baby who has just cut four new teeth. Such is life :)

Anyway, after four days, that finally brings us up to date!

Love,
Elizabeth

PS - Here are the recipes we enjoyed this week --

Spicy Suva Fried Fish (from "Sam Choy's Polynesian Kitchen" p 53)
2 lb White fish cut in long pieces
1 can coconut milk
1 c flour
1 T curry powder
2 t garlic salt
1/2 oil for frying (I used a mix of coconut, olive, and canola, which happened to be what I had in the cupboard)
Lemon wedges for garnish

Marinate the fish in coconut milk for 1 hour. Combine dry ingredients. Drain fish and dredge with flour mixture. Fry til golden, crispy, and cooked through. Serve with chutney, sweet chili sauce, and/or lemon wedges. Yummy!

Pineapple/Papaya Chutney (from "Sam Choy's Polynesian Kitchen" p 135)
1 pineapple peeled, cored, and chopped
1 papaya seeded, peeled, and chopped
1 T minced fresh ginger (I used less)
6 T sugar (I used brown)
1 T hot chili paste (we didn't have this, so I used some red pepper flakes, then I added some sweet chili sauce to the final product)
Cook all but chili paste on medium for 1 hour (til syrupy) then fold in chili paste.
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At 6/6/2015 4:29 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 19°07.93'S 178°32.52'W
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At 6/8/2015 7:52 PM (utc) SV Fluenta was 19°09.03'S 178°32.48'W

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