– Let’s fire up the engine, lift the anchor and find a better place.
– How about diving?
– We’ll be back another time.
We had dropped the anchor the previous afternoon in a beautiful bay in Northern Mamanuca. We were consumed after a day sailing north from Musket Cove, zigzagging between reefs with repeated unsuccessful attempts to find a well protected anchorage. There is a myriad of islands and bays where one could potentially drop the hook, but the ocean swell somehow sneaks in, despite the outer barrier reef, making life at anchor uncomfortable, at times unbearable. We had quickly realised that cruising Fiji is not what we imagined.
The waters are partially charted and the available charts significantly off. Therefore, a careful watch at all times is essential. We would take turns being on the helm whilst the other would do the navigation with full vigilance, dodging reefs right and left. When passing close to a reef at the right time of the day, eyeballing helps. Ultimately, keeping an eye on the actual depth at all times is essential. Cruising Fiji can be an exhausting endeavour.
Therefore, after a few failed attempts to find a suitable anchorage, we had to settle for any anchorage. We were going to put up with the conditions for a night, dive the following morning and sail away.
The break of dawn found us so exhausted after a sleepless rolly night that all we wanted was to sail away to a more protected anchorage. But was there one?
There was indeed. Only a couple of hours north, a deep curving on the south side of Waya island opened to our bow like a big whale’s mouth waiting to swallow us. Only after dropping the hook here, we felt we could finally relax.
We learned that when anchoring in Fiji, we had three options:-deserted bay on an uninhabited island likely to offer inhospitable conditions, in a bay by a resort or in a bay by a village. The resorts are usually cruiser friendly and we are welcome to use their facilities as if we were guests at the hotel. Another advantage when being anchored by a resort is internet availability via tower antennas. The Fijian villages are cruiser friendly too, but here T&Cs apply. If we drop the anchor in a bay by a village and want to go onshore we have to know and conform to the local customs.
Women will have the knees and shoulders covered at all times. No sunglasses or hats will be worn in a Fijian village by either men or women.
Half a kilo of waka (dried roots of yagona plant) is the appropriate offering to the village chief in order to seek acceptance in the village. After a short acceptance ceremony on a woven mat at the village chief’s residence, we received the chief’s blessing to wonder around the village.
The waka (yagona plant’s roots) are used for the kava ceremony, an ancient custom, central component to any Fijian village life cycle ritual and social gatherings. The roots are pounded and the powder is mixed with water resulting in an opaque muddy liquid that is served ritually from a coconut shell. The resulting feeling is a numbness around the mouth that spreads over the entire body if you keep taking rounds.
Once our acceptance was granted we wondered around, getting acquainted with the simple Fijian village life at every step. Tuesday church going. A wooden bat is smacked on a wooden trough to call the villagers to the weekly prayer. As a local explains, church going is not optional, but a weekly obligation of every family in the village. Women taking cover from the heat by lying on the floor inside very basic abodes with an opening (sort of window) inches above ground level. Clothes hand washing. Loitering in the shade. Children school going. But most importantly weaving. This seems to be the one and only village’s trade.
Feeling further enriched in our sailing around the world journey, we wrapped up our Fijian village experience with a kava ceremony and a simple Fijian dinner hosted by one of the locals, in the presence of several onlookers, which felt slightly odd. Later, we came to know that it is customary in Fiji for the guests to eat first.
Although overall Fiji cruising conditions are more challenging than expected, we feel blessed every minute to be back in this corner of paradise where material possessions are replaced by abundant natural and spiritual beauty and a welcoming smile and heartfelt “bula” at every corner.