Friday 26 June 2015

24-26 Jun 15 - hiking & feasting in Lomati


I have skipped a couple of nights because our days have been so busy! I could write a book, but I will try to stick to the highlights here :)

The village where we are anchored in Matuku is called Lomati. There are only 7-9 families here (depending on who you ask - I think a couple of families are in Suva right now), and Lomati is one of four villages on this island. All the kids go to school in another village (where they board during the week) so it is quiet ashore with just a handful of (very friendly) grownups.

A highlight of Lomati compared to Fulaga is that Lomati has "plenty water". However, the next time you are blithely throwing laundry in the machine in your kitchen or basement, or using the toilet in your own house, picture a village where all the water is collected in a central tank, and all the washing is done at a central pair of double tubs. That being said, we are really grateful that we have all been able to completely top up our water tanks this week.

The kids and I stayed on the boat on Wednesday morning, while Max & Jesus went spearfishing. Victoria and Johnathan were writing in their journals, and I was catching up on some chores, with an intention of going to the village in the late morning / early afternoon with our accumulated laundry *while the tide was high*. Unfortunately, it took until 3pm to go ashore, so the high tide was a distant memory. Since time and tides wait for no one, we had to lug our laundry and jerry cans quite a distance to the shore (and even further on the way back). The bottom is not sand, so Max and Jesus were slipping and sliding with the extra weight (50+lbs) of the jerry cans. Tidal issue aside, the ladies were fascinated by my wringer (although they were at least as quick wringing everything in their sink by hand), and it was fun to chat with them while I processed our clothing. Another lady's laundry was soaking when I arrived, but they happily moved hers to a bucket to give me both sinks, which was very kind of them. The sun was just setting as we headed home with three big buckets of clean clothing and diapers, and the second lot of five full jerry cans. It took all our clothespins and laundry lines to peg everything, and we had to do the clothes in two lots, there were so many. There is something to be said for doing small loads every couple of days.

As you may know, I love "coincidences" ... the boys from Exodus played Risk & Minecraft with Johnathan and Victoria all afternoon while I did laundry. Of course, our kids wanted their friends to stay for dinner, which we invited them to do. It was only the next day that I found out that their parents were celebrating their anniversary, so they got an unplanned dinner for two. Neat :)

Thursday was quite a day! On Wednesday evening, we were invited to join the other kid boats on the beach at 9am for a hike; the early start was so that we could be back to the village in time for a fund raising feast that evening. It was recommended that we wear our sturdiest shoes and bring a lunch, given that it was going to take about three hours each way, but otherwise we didn't know much about what to expect. We have hiked all over the South Pacific in flip flops, but we dutifully dug lace-up shoes out of our cupboard, packed our lunch, and set our alarm for the morning.

Matuku is a volcanic island, and there are some high peaks all around us, so we expected a beautiful view; we were not disappointed. What we (I) were not necessarily expecting was that parts of the path would go nearly *straight up* (!) Benjamin and I got lots of offers from other people to carry him, but I decided that if anyone was going to carry him, it would be me (and that if anything was going to happen to him, it would be on my person ... a mother's instinct is a powerful thing!) Our guide, Jesse, was doing the hike with a foot that was missing toes and rubber boots, so anytime I got a bit concerned, I reminded myself that if he could do the hike, I could do it as well! We will post pictures eventually, but all I can say is that it was quite an endeavour! Jesse told us that Benjamin was the youngest person to do the hike :)

At one point, we stopped for a rest near an old Banyan tree (these are the ones that send shoots/roots down from above to form new portions of the trunk - the tree looks like a series of narrow poles all rooted into the ground side by side, and it had probably grown to a diameter over 20 ft). All eight big kids (and some of the grownups) scampered up the limbs to the heights of the trees while the rest of us caught our breath (watch for the photos...).

Once again, there was a neat coincidence/happenstance ... Benjamin had been on my back in his carrier for the early part of the hike (about an hour) and he didn't ask to feed during that rest break until we were just leaving the Banyan tree. Realizing quickly that he was not going to quiet down, I moved him from back to front to nurse him while I walked. It turns out that after this point the trail, which had already been constantly climbing, really began to be steep. Thankfully, there were lots of roots/trees/rocks that we could use as handholds & footholds. (Although I wasn't really uncomfortable, I decided that I would be relieved when we were all safely back in the village.) Before long, Benjamin slept (far earlier in the day than he has done in recent memory), and he slept all the way to the top and then all the way back down again to within 100 feet of the Banyan tree. It was at this point that I realized that even though it had seemed inconvenient to move him to the front to feed him on the way up, by being there, he had been protected from all the trees/branches that might otherwise have scratched him, and since he was sleeping, I could concentrate on the movements I needed to make. The remainder of the hike (ie below the Banyan tree) was still steep, but much more open. I couldn't have planned it like that if I had tried!

The hike down made the hike up look really easy. [Note to the Grammies/Grannies reading this - don't worry - our whole group of eight kids, nine grownups and Benjamin got down safely]. After enjoying the spectacular-well-worth-the-hike view of our anchorage and the neighbouring bay, and resting for a while while the others picnicked at the very peak, I decided to start towards the bottom on my own time. Slowly, I began to descend. My approach was to face towards the mountain and keep my weight on hands & feet while I moved one appendage at a time. A few minutes later, our friend Hans came trotting along, a smile on his face and walking stick in his hand, as if he were out for a jaunt on a country lane. He had left the peak to hike down with his family (who were ahead of me), but he stayed with me until we reached the Banyan tree, at times literally guiding each foot into its position for the next step. At that point, I switched handlers, and Max accompanied me for the rest of the hike. It is good to know when to go it alone and when to be grateful for assistance! Of course, both kids were well in front of us. In fact, by the time we arrived in the village, Johnathan had already swum to Exodus with one of their boys.

A benefit of hiking at the back of the pack was that Jesse, machete in hand, hiked with us. At one point he gave me a walking stick into which he had quickly carved a handle; at another point, he asked if we would like some coconuts, and when we said yes, he scrambled to the top of a nearby tree and proceeded to shake/twist/kick about a dozen coconuts down to the half-dozen of us. He showed us how to test for drinkability by tapping on their outer surface, and then opened them for us with a few slashes of the machete. They provided welcome refreshment after several hours on the trail!

The hike itself would have been enough to fill the day, but after a much-needed rest aboard Fluenta, we went ashore for the evening's feasting, a fund-raiser for their local Methodist church, that was held in the village hall where we had been so warmly welcomed the first day. Each family had cooked a dish, and all the food was laid out on a crowded buffet table - land crabs, sea crabs, several kinds of fish (curried, fried, cooked in coconut milk), clams, taro, casava, yams, green papaya salad, ripe papaya slices, and bread & butter - there was something for every taste. All the men sat in a circle around the kava bowl, the children formed their own circle in the middle of the room, and the women seemed to form two circles, one of the ones who were serving, and one of the ones who weren't. Benjamin was again in his element, running all over the room and towards the open doors. There was always someone to catch him and bring him back. There were forks & knives on the table for our benefit, but Fijian food is really best eaten with the hands as the Fijians do. We had brought Benjamin's booster chair, but I think he sat in it for a total of five minutes! He was most fascinated by a small cat, lying on his tummy to see it face to face and trying to pet it. I found out later that the ladies had offered it to Victoria as a pet, but she wisely declined. His newest word (as of yesterday) is "doggie" so he was equally thrilled by the canines running around outside. After the meal was finished, the kids (cruisers and villagers both) went outside to play hide & seek (lots of happy sounds carried into the hall, so it would seem that they had fun), the men enjoyed the kava bowl, and the ladies chatted. It was fun to get to know some of them. Jesse has three children, one of whom is a baby of 8-9 months, so I really enjoyed speaking with his wife.

I was about to write that today was a quiet day, but in fact, it was another busy day! All the kids gathered on Exodus in the afternoon to do short presentations in front of each other on something they have been studying. Victoria and Johnathan (and I) have just finished reading "Underground to Canada", so Victoria talked about the Underground Railroad. Johnathan loves to pore over the "SAS Survival Guide" (which we have as an app on the iPad) so he talked about how to make a snare for a rabbit. The other kids talked about orca whales, the lifecycle of stars, the chemical properties of carbon, and the study of volcanoes. Deanne rewarded them with chocolate and they played cards afterwards, while the moms chatted and tried to figure out where our little fleet is going from here (various directions, but all within about 100 nm for the next few weeks; the dispersion started this evening with Exodus and Nautilus departing for Kadavu).

Meanwhile, Max dug one of our old watermaker feed pumps out from a deep cubby this morning, and went spearfishing with Tim & Hans in the afternoon. I returned to Fluenta with two boys (having left two girls to bake on Nirvana) to find Max visiting with Gary, and a big "Job fish" on the back deck (I will leave it to him to tell you all about spearing it, but I understand that he was hanging out at 40 feet below the surface when he shot the fish). Gary had been surfing, and both were chilled to the bone (we thought we were in the tropics, but sometimes we wonder...). When they warmed up, Gary (a former commercial fisherman) gave Johnathan (and Max, Jesus, and me) a lesson in gutting & filleting the fish. This is the same Gary who so patiently taught Victoria about boat building a week or so ago. Soon we had jobfish in the fridge, Friday night pizza in the oven, all the kids down below playing Minecraft, and all the grownups chatting in the cockpit. Now the boys are sleeping aboard Fluenta while the girls are on Nirvana. We'll trade them back in the morning.

It is quite a sheltered anchorage here, but the winds have been a little crazy - every so often, it seems like a gust comes out of nowhere (whipping down from the heights of the mountain, I think) and we go from 0-20 kts in the space of a minute or so. This hasn't meant much sleep for Max, but after the first evening when the whole fleet re-anchored, we have all been pretty solid. Because the bay is so small and protected, there is no fetch here, so at least the boat is really calm.

We are not entirely sure of our plans from here - we will check the weather in the morning, with an intention of looking for a weather window to go to Suva (new destination, again an overnight passage) to reprovision, possibly as early as tomorrow night or the following day (although I am hoping that we can stay here a few more days, as it is so lovely). Suva is on the same island as Nadi (ie Vuda Point - water maker service center) so it may be that Max will take our Clark Pump on the bus (several hours) to bring it to the shop while I do the provisioning. Once we have our logistics taken care of, we will look at the chart and the weather to decide on our next stop.

As ever, we love you and we miss you, and we are looking forward to returning to the land of internet, phone calls, and photos.

In the meantime, we send lots of love your way,

At 6/25/2015 4:39 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 19°09.55'S 179°45.12'E
At 6/25/2015 4:39 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 19°09.55'S 179°45.12'E

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