Diving with the sharks and meeting our host family

Oh the exciting life of a sailor, yesterday I washed in a bucket a pair of shorts, underwear, a t-shirt, and my swim rash shirt. That was enough for the day, but this morning I took on the placements (one color for each meal of the day) and our cloth napkins (way past when they should have been washed). It will be nice to have them clean again. Then the exciting event of the day arrived.

Unable to make it out to the rock pinnacle and reefs yesterday, we were committed. Gear piled in we motored out and found a piece of dead coral that formed a fist to tie off the dinghy. The it was time to explore. Right off the bat, the quantity, color, and variety of coral was magnitudes better than any I had previously seen in Fiji. And the visibility was nearly unlimited. Wow. After exploring for ten or so minutes I notice a white tip reef shark nearby. Carl sees it too, and turns to take a picture as it swims towards him. We keep and eye on him and he starts to swim away. Above water, we chat and Carl explains one solo is safe but two means we need to get out of the water. Faces back underwater, the shark swims towards us again. He seemed to be sticking close and possibly getting closer so the decision is made to swim across a deep sandy area to a reef a hundred meters away. As we go, we keep an eye out and it appears we are alone again. Whew. We begin checking out this reef and this one has many more fish and still great looking coral. Another five or so minutes and I spot an even larger white tip (around eight feet long), ugh this is getting more concerning. I struggle to find Carl for a minute and with our heads above water make the call to get out of here.

We swim west for a while, keeping an eye behind us, but thankfully shark number two showed zero interest in us. We continue exploring multiple reefs and coming across a sand patch find a sunken ship. Well, half of one at least. Pretty cool to dive on it and check it out. The tour continues and we find more walls of coral and sea life. On one of the larger ones, I free dove to the bottom and spotted a giant clam. To the surface I point it out to Carl so he can snap a picture. We keep working our way back and a bit over forty-five minutes after slipping into the water we safely return to the dinghy. Wow, this was the diving I was expecting in Fiji.

Our plan was to enter the cut in the atoll at Fulaga at slack low tide, so we pulled up anchor to make that happen and began motoring. It was a few hour trip, as we approached the cut, the waves coming across the open ocean were widely spaced but a solid 2+ meters in height. Looking forward it was hard to tell where the cut was located due to a long wave train with frothy white tops as they broke. Huh. We were arriving at a similar time in the tide from Carl’s previous visits so it must be okay, right? Well it turned our to be more exciting that expected as we had waves the whole way in and for about five minutes we would be stopped, in reference to the reefs on either side of us and then once the waves pushed us we’d get up to 3 knots of progress into the atoll. It was quite a disconcerting view, but the boat was controllable and we didn’t have any risk of sliding down the face of a wave sideways. Later, after talking to villagers the consensus was to leave at high tide or up to an hour after high tide.

Once at anchor we started getting ready to head to the village for sevusevu but before heading out a local fisherman stopped by for a chat. He had been fishing for sea cucumbers which the sell to the Chinese. A boat comes once a month to collect them and take them back to Suva where they are exchanged for money. Once he left we jumped on the paddle boards for the beach that has the path to the village. It was about a mile walk and entering town Tico one of the village wood carvers showed us the way with a stop to see his carvings. Evidently the Reef Endeavors cruise ship (100 people aboard) comes once a month and the tourists aboard buy him out completely. This was the first we heard of a cruise ship visiting these outer islands. Good for the village no doubt but a clear sign that modern life is encroaching on their lifestyle. Another sign, the four Digicell Wifi towers installed in the village. We were shocked to learn Digicell charges $3.75 for two days access ($57 per month which is more than double the cost on the big island for a high speed cell plan). Sadly we heard stories from our hosts (Albert and Bali) of kids wondering around with their heads down looking at their phones…

Tico led us to the Chief’s second man, who took us to the Chief for Sevusevu. It was a shorter ceremony and the Chief apologized as he was not feeling well. Huh, wish we hadn’t shaken hands or that I had brought hand sanitizer. Along with Kava, this village charges $50 to visit (and wants to see boat documentation and fill out a guest book). That finished we headed over to our host family. Since Carl was here four months ago we asked for and were granted to have them as our hosts.

Albert and Bali, were extremely gracious hosts, inviting them into their kitchen which is in the process of being converted to a store. This conversion is due to his brothers return from working in Australia where due to diabetes he lost the lower portion of his right leg. So now he will run the store to make money. Lemon grass tea was offered, I offered my water bottle for the water due to a lack of water in the village due to lack of rain but they explained their water was already heated and they still had 400 liters so they were okay. Along with the tea they offered peanut cookies. We had a great visit and I learned a bit about their lives and how back in the mid-eighties Albert converted to the Jehovah witness religion due to his readings of their books and finding them to be the most truthful of all religions. Soon enough we needed to get back, but not before they gifted us a bunch of bananas. The people of Fiji never stop amazing me with their generosity.

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