Fiji

Cultural Immersion in Fulaga, Fiji

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Fulaga (pronounced Fulanga) is an island on the very southeast section of Fiji.  It is the most remote inhabited island we’ve been to.  There is no airport, no ferries operate to the mainland, and while there is a supply ship, it’s irregular at best.  Nevertheless, the villagers of Fulaga have one of the most interesting ways to welcome cruisers we have ever encountered.

Passage to Fulaga

Vanua Balavu to Lakeba

The passage down to Fulaga went well. We pulled up our anchor from Susui at about 6:30 am and headed out of the pass. David saw a manta ray out on the deep and yelled at some birds that tried to perch on our mast. We motor sailed most of the way with very light winds but we did get the screecher out for a bit. We dropped anchor in Lakeba (Lakemba) right before sunset. A long boat with three men and a boy stopped by while returning from fishing for tuna and trevally on the reef. We explained that we were just staying the night so we wouldn’t be coming into town.

Lakeba Anchorage

Lakeba is a weird anchorage. You actually anchor outside the reef on a sandy shelf. It’s deep – 60′ and you are surrounded on three sides by reef. Surprisingly it is pretty protected from swell. However, flying ants invaded, even though we were far from shore.

We knew that in Fulaga we would have no cell phone service, so the night was spent scheduling posts and doing a few things on the net.

Lakeba to Fulaga

We woke at 5 am and took off for Fulaga. We got the screecher up early and sailed most of the day.

I had just come up from resting and was sitting and chatting with David and all of a sudden – whiiiiiiiirrrrrrr goes the fishing rod. We jumped down to find the rod going off AND a fish on the handreel. I took the reel, David took the rod, and together we pulled in two gorgeous Big Eye tuna. Each was probably 30 lbs (although mine was slightly bigger!). We hadn’t caught a big eye before but were extremely glad for a break from our Little/Mackeral tuna that we’d caught in Tonga, and were especially excited because our sportfishing guide declares them excellent eating.

I worked for an hour to process the two fish and we put four loins (one fish) in the freezer, one fillet in a bag to bring to town for sevusevu, and two loins into the fridge for dinner that night. But first, we had to make it through the pass.  In the compendium, our friends on Midnight Sun had written that you can take the pass at any time, as the locals do. It is turbulent but Starry Horizons handled it like a champ, coming through just after low tide. The pass is very narrow and the reef was just at the surface on either side of us.

Watch the Video:  A Two Day Sail to Fulaga

Monothaki Village

Fulaga looks stunning. It is a big lagoon, with electric blue water and a sandy bottom.  You could fit probably 100 boats in Fulaga, but a mere 70 have visited this year.  We navigated to the anchorage for the main village and dropped anchor next to our friends on Qi, Gaylyn and Thomas who we met in Savusavu last month.

Clearly, we had too much fish for just two people. We invited Qi and new friends Jess and Daniel from Cytherea over for dinner. I served the tuna sashimi style with sushi rice, Gaylyn brought vegetarian lasagna and roasted kumara while Jess brought some leftovers from a meal in the village. The tuna was the best we’d caught by a long shot! Before our guest left we worked out some trades – I gave up flour, cream, and beers for some soy sauce, powdered sugar, and pumpkin! We even had leftover fish – at least two more servings of sashimi and the small ends of the loin for a poke. We probably made 12 meals out of half of one fish.

Checking in with the Village

We also talked about the locals here. Fulaga has a unique way of dealing with cruisers – each boat is given a host family, and often the cruisers are invited to dine with their hosts. Fulaga does collect a fee from cruisers -$50 FJD which goes to social projects around the village.

Alifreti, a villager who we recognized from a Sail Surf Roam video, stopped by in the afternoon and again Monday morning. He gave us some tips for sevusevu and invited us to a party at his house Monday night. He showed us the big crabs he caught that morning and said he invited our host family (who we have yet to meet) and some of the village ladies for dinner and kava.

The village was having a meeting Monday morning, so we waited until the afternoon to head in to give sevusevu. The head of the bay we are in has a beach covered in clam shells, and then we walked the 20-minutes to the village of Moana-I-Cake (C is pronounced TH). At the edge of the village, we met Tui, a man our age who offered to take us into the chief. Tui speaks excellent English, having spent time in Suva studying hospitality and computers.

Sevusevu with the Chief of Fulaga

As I imagine happens with most meetings in Fiji, the meeting hall had about a dozen men partaking in kava together. The chief – who is 92 years old! – was still eating lunch so his next in line performed sevusevu for us and two other boats – our friends on Anahata and a boat Pilgrim. David and I both accepted a bowl of kava and paid our $50 fee. The chief happily (and carefully) stood up to pose with us for pictures.

Our Host Family

Tui introduced us to Suka, our host for our stay. He took us to the carving house, where men in the village carve wood into kava bowls or other decorative pieces. We don’t very often buy mementos, but I picked out a beautiful bowl for $80 FJD, a reminder of this remote and friendly village.

Next, Suka took us to his home. Tui was there with Suka’s wife, Mary. They provided us with some freshly baked bread and hot lemon-leaf tea. We chatted with our hosts but mostly Tui, as Suka and Mary are either shy or their English is not very conversational. We did present the fillet of tuna to them and asked if they could provide us with some papaya and coconuts. Sure, pick up tomorrow!

We had some time to kill before Alifreti ‘s kava party, so Tui took us down to the beach and the school. At the beach, we met Joe, who had a long “magic stick” picking coconuts. He hacked open two with a machete for David and I. Yum!

David and Tui in a hammock by the beach.

Alifreti’s Party

At four we intercepted the other cruisers (Qi, Amazing Grace, and Cytherea) coming in and walked to Alifreti’s house. We sat on the floor chatting for a bit while Alifreti was setting things up, and the village ladies kept popping in and dropping food off. Each cruising couple had also brought food; we brought cheese and crackers which ended up being very popular with the villagers.

Alifreti rounded up the men to go pound the kava, while the ladies stayed behind and danced and played with kids. Alifreti played Fijian popular music that carried on through the night.  We all partook in the kava, but some more than others. One person is designated the “head” and calls out “TAKI!” to start another round. Each person can call “low tide” or “high tide”, indicating how much kava you want in the bowl. I enjoy the cultural experience but kava tastes like muddy water. Suffice it to say I had one “low tide”.

Our hostess Mary making kava drink.
Only water in this bowl….

Several times through the night everyone got up and danced. Lelani from Amazing Grace is Hawaiian and taught Alfredi some hula moves (she’s incredibly graceful, and with her Asian descent I couldn’t help but think of the festival we watched in Waiheke).

Alifreti served dinner at 7:30 and for some reason, the villagers didn’t eat with us. Lack of plates? I’m not sure. But the food was amazing! The favorite dish for me was the two kinds of crab, one was simply cooked and mixed with seasonings and veg, the other was made into a stuffing for crab shells. So very delicious! There was also fluffy, savory roti (like naan), colored pancakes in blue and red, some type of spaghetti dish, and two dishes that were heavily laden with vegetables but also had instant ramen noodles in them. Basically most of the time I only had a vague idea of what I was eating but it was all delicious.

Shortly after dinner the cruisers packed up and left. It was definitely a late night for us!

Back to Town

The next morning I went into town myself to pick up our produce. During my walk into town, I met three men about my age who were poking around the path. They asked if I wanted coconuts – YES! One man climbed up a tree and cut down four coconuts, which they swiftly chopped open. One of them asked if I wanted a straw…and he made one out of a papaya stem!

Cutie pigs in the pen.
The kids run to say hi.

I drank my coconut as I walked, arriving at our hosts’ house to find Tui, Suka, and Mary waiting for me. They had gathered 7 papayas for us and husked four coconuts! I asked what I owe, $20. Then Suka threw in a small whole pumpkin. It’d been over three weeks since our last provisioning run and we were down to one last carrot and cucumber. It’s good to have fresh food again.

Suka, me, Rolff, and Mary.

Wifi in Fulaga

The day before Tui had mentioned that the school has wifi. I enquired and was able to pay $10 to use the internet, which is satellite based. I was impressed with the speed.

Women Weaving

Tui offered to help me carry my goods back, and we walked and talked the whole way back. He stopped to show me the women weaving floor mats with skillful and quick fingers. The men were building a base for a new water tank, hauling stones and logs around. Tui told me that one of the village women married an American and they have funded a public works project in Fulaga to get every household a flushing toilet. They only have two houses left to go.

Weaving the dried fronds.

We also talked about the nature around Fulaga. Tui showed me a path that takes you up to the highest point of Fulaga. He showed me an edible wild cabbage plant and explained how they do controlled burns of the vegetation and the first plants that grow back are the edible ones – papaya trees and wild cabbage.

North Sand Spit

It had been a cloudy day, so we stayed put for another night. The next morning, Qi called to ask if we wanted to go snorkel the pass with them – a BIG yes. We moved our boats over to the north side of the sand spit, joining Pilgrim and Anahata. The four of us loaded into Little Dipper and took off for one of the best snorkels we’ve ever done. The water clarity and the amount of coral and fish were amazing, even though it was pretty cloudy out.

The clouds came and went throughout the day, and the wind picked up. I did brave the wind and paddled to shore to walk around. Nothing too terribly exciting to report. I wanted to paddle more but was worried that the wind would blow me away.  Thursday was sunny but still had high winds. We stayed put, enjoying the view from inside and listening to the wind whip around us.

Friday was much of the same but we got some variety in our day by heading over to Qi to say goodbye. Gaylyn gave us both a tarot card reading and we did another trade: we gave them half a bottle of rum that’s been sitting on Starry Horizons for a year in exchange for kumala (local sweet potatoes) and a copy of Gaylyn’s book.

Saturday the wind finally dropped and we took off for a small island across the way to have a beach picnic. We flew Phoenix and walked along the beach looking for shells. The view is so beautiful.

Amazing color in the water.
Starry Horizons in North Sand Spit.

Shells I picked up. Look at the little starfish!
David at the beach.

Saying Goodbye to Fulaga

That afternoon we headed back to the village to say our goodbyes. Our hosts were expecting us and gave us a real treat. They served us a late lunch of dahl and roti, fried eggplant and steamed breadfruit. Suka and Mary also presented us with goodbye gifts. They gave us a simple carved bowl, a carved traditional Fijian drum, plus more papaya and coconut. They even packed us up some of the fried eggplants to go!

Our Fijian cultural immersion continued with some special guests on our passage west.

Watch the Video:  Our Fijian Cultural Immersion in Fulaga

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8 Comments

  1. Thanks for interesting story.
    What is the depth in pass and lagoon? Is it possible for mono with 3.1 m draught to get in?

    1. Hi! Have you looked in the Soggy Paws Compendium for that information? Unfortunately I didn’t write down the depth and don’t remember it.

  2. Thanks for sharing this fantastic blog. I read your blog from the first to the end. I liked this very much. You have created a great blog. That helps to know about culture. Hope you share more blogs in the future.

  3. What a GREAT Blog, Amy!! And what a fabulous cultural immersion you’ve had!! How wonderful to know such amazing and generous people are so friendly to complete strangers!! And your pictures are amazing! The birds in motion overhead, the blue of the seas and distance shots by Phoenix. Thanks for sharing all the details in your blog–it was fun joining you in experiencing your amazing adventures.
    Love and hugs to you both, Grandma

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