September 26, 2003

We last wrote to you about our short but sweet stay in Tonga. You probably remember that our house batteries were the cause of our early departure to Fiji. The decision was to head straight for Suva where we were quite sure we would be able to solve that problem. As usual Mother Nature had other ideas in store for us on that crossing. The sea swell was from the south due to quite heavy weather in the south latitudes where it was the dead of winter.

The winds were from the SW. Combining the two forces, Satori was pushed farther and farther to the north. We decided that it would be better to aim for the northern island in the Fiji group, Vanua Levu and a check-in at the port of Savusavu.

In the meantime we had learned that the proper batteries needed to solve our problem would be out of our budget range. There was a chance to purchase locally made batteries as a stopgap until we arrive in New Zealand. We decided on two 12 volt batteries put in series to make our needed 24 volts. Never mind that several people had warned us that these batteries are very marginal – what other choice is there?

We enjoyed our two weeks in Savusavu very much. It was an easy check-in and a nice small town along a creek. The Fijians are a very friendly people – the friendliest we have met since Ecuador. It is a place that we could feel comfortable living in, actually. We attempted to get the locally made batteries shipped in from Suva, but had no luck. Getting quite desperate for a renewal of power, we set sail after two weeks. The same day we arrived in Suva we found, purchased, installed and charged the new batteries. Will they last? We already have indications that one of them registers only 12.10 volts and are quite sure we will have to take that one back to the factory for a replacement…we’ll see.

We are waiting to receive a mail forward shipment from home and decided that the local reef area south of Suva would be a nice place for the meantime. Inside the reef there are several small islands – all controlled (actually owned) by a small village on the island of Dravuni. By Fijian law the village owning the islands also controls the waters surrounding the islands. This means that cruisers must approach and pay tribute to the chief of that village in order to enjoy a stay there. The tribute is called “sevusevu” and consists of offering a present of the dried remains of a plant called kava. These dried roots are pounded into a powder (See photo) and then mixed with water (see photo) to make a drink which is highly favored by the men of Fiji. The favor must be qualified because we have never seen any of the women drinking kava.

The procedure is to present the chief with the kava roots, participate in small talk (in English on our part, in Fijian on his part) and then to participate in a ceremony of drinking the kava. This drink can easily be described as similar to Jane’s wash water just before draining the sink and refilling with clean water – a brown sludgey looking affair.

We had hoped that we could get through our whole visit to Fiji without ever going through the sevusevu ceremony, but here we were in the village hall and sitting cross-legged on a mat on the floor close to the translator. The first thing expected of us was to drink the kava out of a small gourd with the translator encouraging “Bottoms up!” It was just as disgusting in taste – quite bitter – as in looks. The men of the village had been entertaining other men from a nearby island for a meeting at the local Methodist church.

Now was their time to relax, sit against the wall and drink kava. They were sitting against the wall to hold themselves up. This drink had already taken its effect on most of the men and it was hardly lunchtime.

We were accepted as visitors and invited to stay to lunch with them (see photo). It is winter time here and rain has not been seen in three months which tends to severely limit the diet on the islands. We are told that the wet season will bring a papaya, mangoes and bananas; however, the winter fare is fish caught in the lagoon and breadfruit or cassavas. Both of these are a starchy substitute for potatoes. The roots are dug and cooked in a stove and then just eaten bare. Before the meal the people all became very quiet as someone said (what we assumed to be) grace. It must have been grace because at one point everybody (including the smallest child) said a resounding “Amen!”

We were then encouraged to serve ourselves and eat. They had to mention it several times before we got the message that there would be no forks or spoons for this meal…everything is eaten with the fingers. We wish that we had known that ahead of time as we had just finished brushing sand from our feet and playing with the children. No matter - the fish was excellent and we seem to have suffered no ill after effects.

We stayed for several days at a local island with a gorgeous beach that covered nearly the entire western side. The shelling there was fantastic with many new and unique finds. We proceeded to another anchorage, joined by a couple from Colorado. The new anchorage was on a larger island with a very different flavor. The village was grassy and backed by hills with pine trees mixed with coconut palms and huge ancient mango trees. The sevusevu here was a quiet affair with the chief, named Jack, woken up from his morning nap.

After the ceremony (thankfully we did not have to drink any more kava here) we all hiked up the hills for a marvelous view of the surrounding area.

We have now returned to Suva and expect to receive our treasured mail packet on Monday of next week. Late next week we expect to travel around to the western side of the big island, to check-out from the country and then wait at an anchorage called Musket Cove with many other cruisers. We will all be watching for that favorable weather window to make the crossing to New Zealand.

Our thoughts and emotions have been with all our friends in the Chesapeake area who have suffered greatly from Hurricane Isabella. We will hope for their speedy recovery and thank the Lord for our continuing good luck.

Jane and Sander aboard Satori, hoping to hear from you at ****