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Friday, September 6, 2013

2013, 08-06 Daliconi Village, Vanua Balavu Island, the Lau Group Fiji

Today we left Bavatu and motored to Daliconi Village (pronounced dal i thoni.) The village there "owns" the area that encompasses the Bay of Islands our next designated stop. We needed to make the run to Daliconi to offer the Chief our sevusevu kava gift and hopefully catch a bus ride into the town of Lomaloma for a few groceries. We had been pre-warned that we were not to try and anchor anywhere in the Bay of Island without first making the trip to the village and also were told that the Village is rather pro-active at collecting not only their due kava but also a per person charge. Some cruisers reported having the village call them on VHF instructing them that they needed to come in and offer their sevusevu when they were simply passing the village by.

This would be our second ever sevusevu and we were a little apprehensive. Our only other experience had been at Waya Island in the Yasawa's which had been simple and straightforward. When we arrived in the town of Savusavu we began hearing long tales and dire warning about all the charges and hassles we could expect in the Lau to the point that we were both wondering if a visit there would be worth the trouble. Maybe we should just skip The Lau Group?

Daliconi village made our visit simple and painless. As we entered their bay we were raised on the VHF which we were expecting and since we arrived early enough in the day quickly made arrangements to come ashore as soon as we had settle in. We were met on the beach by Sam the head of the village Tourism Committee. As we walked towards the Chiefs home Sam explained that he would act as our spokesperson and walk us through the entire sevusevu process, all we need do was follow his lead. When arrived at the small beachfront home we waited at the doorway for a moment as we were announced then stepped into the mat floored main room of the small house. The Chief was already seated on a woven mat that covered the floor of the main room in his home. Sam sat cross legged in front of and off to the Chiefs right, Bill next to him in front of the Chief and finally me to Bills right settled with my legs tucked under me.

Holding our kava offering in his hands Sam started things off with a solemn speech and a few of the Fiji signature cupped palm claps. Unfortunately the only words I recognized were: vinaka, kai palagi and yangona -thank you, foreigner and kava respectively. He then slid our wrapped gift of kava root towards the Chief who took it and began his own breathy reverent speech and clapping dialogue. At the end there were lots of thank you's and finally Sam said that the Chief had in fact accepted our gift of kava and the village and its surroundings were ours to explore. The whole thing took maybe ten minutes. Neither the Chief nor Sam indicated it was expected that we sit around and ask questions or make small talk so we took that as our cue and said our good byes.

From there we walked through the village and on to Sam's home to pay our fees and meet his wife Lako. Sam's house sits up on the hill behind the village with a beautiful view across the bay. His wife Lako -the village Tourism Committee's Secretary- was there waiting for us and invited us in and showed us to seats. Their modest home consists of the main 20' x 15' house and an adjacent thatched roof hut with an attached outside kitchen area. The main house with one interior wall contained the living room, a short hall past a stove and sink to the bathroom and a curtained off doorway to area that looks to be separated off in to two or even three small private bedroom areas. There were three doors, several louvered but glassless windows and the typical Fijian hand woven mat on the floor of the main room. There was also a large color TV, family photos on the wall, a framed certificate from The United Nations for service performed in Lebanon, a couple of small wooden shelves that proudly held two large trophies we later learned were with awarded to their youngest son for excellence in math and English and a small table with bits of a weaving project folded neatly away. Outside across from the front door was the main kitchen area with a smoldering fire left over from an earlier meal and an partly enclosed room that is used as a dining area and sitting room -they explained they spend more time there than in the house as it is cooler.

Lako showed us to seats at the love seat and chatted with us as she gathered the paperwork for taking our fees for the Tourism Council. As the Chairman of the Tourism Committee and its Treasurer respectively Sam and Lako are intent on their village jobs. They brought out a book for us to sign and were proud to tell us that we were the 85th yacht of the year. Last year they saw a total of 69 yachts and there are more than two more months of prime cruising season still left. They then showed us two pre-printed pages which explained what the charge would be, what that included, what additional services were available and what the village was doing with the money they collected. Our $30Fj per person helps the village pay for: building a concrete walkway across the village commons to assist their elders in making their way to church, construction and maintenance of a community center, fuel for the village generator that runs the church sound system (families pay $4/week for 2 ½ hours of electricity each night), salaries for the two teachers and one aid who teach at the 27 student village primary school, assistance for families who have students attending the high school boarding school at the neighboring village of Lomaloma and fuel for the village Tourism boat. We paid our money received a written receipt and later watched as Lako gave Sam their bank book and a pile of cash destined for the village account at the Bank in Lomaloma.

We now had the run of the village and the Bay of Islands! We were free to fish, swim, snorkel and dive or to walk the beaches and trails as well as full access to the village. Included in our fee was free garbage collection -a great pro-active way for the village to reduce the amount of trash that could otherwise end up left in the pristine Bay of Islands area. Or for the cost of gas we could have a guided tour of the areas limestone caves. As head of the Tourism Committee Sam was available to answer any questions we had and help us with any problems we might encounter. They offered laundry service and had recently opened a small bakery that offered fresh bread for $1 per loaf -when available- and even offered their new Community Center up or for parties -the village would happily put on a feast complete with lovo meal, kava drinking and meke dancing and singing. Friendly, simple, painless, not aggressive or impolite and for the cost of the kava bundle -$10 US and $30 US in fees we had a village contact and the run of the area for the season!

It's a lesson we've learn over and over again: Listen to everyone's experience, read everything we can get our hands on and file the information away but stay open to our own experience. It has never, I repeat never been as dire as the warnings predicted. From our first crossing of the straights of Juan de Fuca to crossing the Pacific it has always turned out to be simpler and easier than what we were lead to believe.

The next morning we met on the beach for our trip into town and apparently Sam had decided to come with us. By 8:30 we were loading into the Tourism boat -the typical Fiji open long boat- with eight villagers headed for Lomaloma. This is not a tourist trip. No wharf, no dock. You take off your shoes and hike up your dress and walk out into the sea to an open boat where you haul yourself up and over the side and settle in with your derriere resting on the gunnel of the 20 foot open and shade-less boat, then off across the bay. The regulars know just where to settle to stay high and dry but they were free with their advice for me which was lovely. The trip to the neighboring village took just a few minutes and soon we were reversing the process and wading in towards a small group of buildings surrounded by 12 foot fencing. To our right stood the Minister of Fisheries office and home and to our left was the local ice house. Between the two was a dirt road that headed inland to the village of Malaka. Like neighboring Dalaconi this village was neat and clean and just now coming awake. Everyone seems to know everyone else and there were lots of hellos and waves as we walked towards the waiting bus.

It is not actually a bus at all but a very large truck with an open but covered flat bed with long benches running down each side and a couple of old tires on the floor between the benches. The truck makes its run on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:00 am for $2 each way. But it is not quite like any bus route I've experienced before. The driver doesn't pull off the road at a stop in Malaka but instead he sits waiting as we walked up the rutted dirt road. The Malaka locals get their prompt from seeing Dalaconi villagers as they walk up from the beach. Everyone does try for the 9:00 am time but if the skiffs from the outer village happen to break down or are delayed everyone waits patiently -Fiji time at its best. It was a surprisingly smooth twenty minute trip over the only road on the island. We snaked up and over and through pine trees and then along the far coast. When we arrived in Lomaloma at 9:20 the truck pulled to the side of the road, shut off his engine and parked waiting for our 11:00am departure.

There were two small groceries in town both carrying basic staples and little more. Luckily for us the boat had been in recently and we were able to buy a 30 count flat of eggs, two cans of mutton, onions, five kilo of flour and toilet paper. By 9:38 our shopping was essentially completed. The only stop left to make was The Hot Bread Store. Present in every town of size in Fiji the Hot Bread store sells several sized loaves of fluffy Wonder type white bread, cream buns which are the same fluffy white bread with a gob of Twinkie like filling gobbed into a split top and butter by the half kilo block, stick and glob. It was our lucky day, three rows of barely cooling loaves of whole meal bread -pseudo whole wheat- sat waiting on the small set of store shelve. Too hot to slice yet we made plans to return and pick them up -sliced- right before our bus was scheduled to leave for its return trip across the island.

Besides the two grocery shops and the bread store the center of town seemed to be the raised cement porch running along the front of a small building. One half of the building was home to a small pool hall consisting of one pool table and two short benches and next door was a sometimes there women's clothing store. The clothing store consisted of perhaps 100 pieces of used women's clothing neatly hung along the walls and a half a dozen women busy catching up on life. One of the women graciously offered to watch our shopping for us freeing us to take a town tour with Sam. Following the one street through town we walked back past our bus ride home passed the two grocery stores and on to the Hospital. One of only two hospitals in the Lau group this is where you come for medical care unless you travel all the way back to Savusavu or on to Suva. Sam took us inside to the lobby and showed us the administration wing (one end of the small building) and the patient wing (the other end of the building) which he pointed out has a separate section for men, women and children. From there we walked to the end of town to look at the High School. Two blocks from "downtown" the boarding school here is where areas children come for instruction past the village primary school. From there we turned back and passed the bank/post office -sorry no ATM- where they handle only local banking. As we again passed the Hot Bread Store Sam explained we were about to enter the Tongan side of the Village.

In the Lau group every village and town has a Tongan roots. Years ago the islands of the Lau were owned and ruled by the King of Tonga. In fact some of the island we'd been visiting in the Lau lie closer to Tonga than to Fiji. In recognition of and by some negotiated show of respect to the Tongan King even the smallest village in the Lau has one Tongan building. Lomaloma town has one entire end of town that is Tongan. The difference by contrast is stark. Divided by a single dirt crossroad that T's at the ocean and the islands main road one end of town is owned by the Tongan King. Suddenly it was as if we were walking a road in Pangai Tonga: the architecture is distinctly Tongan with open Fale's, rounded domed roof lines and picket fencing. We were even introduced to the Tongan headman who wearing cargo shorts t-shirt and flip flops was walking down the road pushing a wheelbarrow. Here just a few feet from a good sized Lau suddenly everyone speaks Tongan. According to Sam every Fijian has at least some Tongan blood. Back in Dalaconi I looked for and found the one Tongan building in the village.

Our trip back across the island was simple and quick and we arrived in Malaka in time to find our long boat high and dry on a low tide. One of the women we were traveling with laughed and told me it's the Fiji way. So in typical easygoing Fijian fashion we all settled our store bought goods in the grass near the ice house and found a place on a shoreline rock to sit and waited for the tide to come back in. Then with a slightly longer walk through the sea across the low tide water we all climbed back in for the ride home.

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