Where do you start when you have 322 islands over 18,376 square kilometers of Pacific Ocean from which to choose? That is the challenge now that we are safely moored in Fiji after the 11 day passage from New Zealand. We are currently moored off the second largest island in Fiji, Vanua Levu in Savusavu Bay. The town of Savusavu is charming and has just about everything you could want with regards to food, supplies, restaurants, banks, hardware stores (though finding a coat hook is impossible!), and fuel. Everyone is very, very friendly and welcoming. The main street is lined with shop after shop plus a lovely six day a week fresh fruit and vegetable market. The market is loaded with new, interesting and exotic looking vegetables and piles and piles of fragrant leaves and spices. We will do a major shopping trip to the market on Saturday as we hear that is THE day to go.
Since arriving and clearing in, we have explored the town a bit and Barbara has two outfits being handmade by local tailors. All the women in Fiji wear skirts that cover the knees – something that is a bit of a shortage on Astarte. The price of making a skirt is $8 plus the fabric cost. That is $8 Fijian dollars (about $4.75 US). Fabric is about $5 Fijian a meter. The outfits are being made, custom fit, in less than three days!
Besides wearing shorts, other "no-no's" here are wearing sunglasses or hats, carrying anything over your shoulder like a backpack or purse, and not having your shoulders covered. However, these rules are more for the smaller villages than the larger towns. Getting the longer skirts is in preparation for when we get to the outlying islands. In fact, on the agenda, is getting Michael a "sulu."
We also purchased the yaqona (kava) for the required sevusevu at the outlying islands. That's a tease – we'll tell you more about that when we have to perform this ceremony. Suffice it to say that the kava look like sticks but are packaged in ribbon and newspaper for presentation. It is between $30 and $40 a kilo (Fijian $) and the appropriate "gift" is about a half kilo. We found Maria in the market to make up the packets for us at about $30 a kilo (though they are "light" kilos). She has become our lovely friend giving us extra passion fruit and "deals."
We have dined out as well while in town. We went to the Chinese Restaurant and had a great dinner and then had curry at an Indian Restaurant – both were great and inexpensive. The curry feast was about $4 US each! We can't cook on board for less.
Fiji has an interesting history and you can see it in the rich mix of cultures on the island. The native Fijians, the Indo-Fijians (many of whom have been in Fiji for generations having been indentured servants in sugar plantations in colonial times), ex-pat British, Chinese traders and many other Pacific Islanders. The most obvious mix is of Fijian and Indian cultures – you can see this in every store with the variety of food for sale, spices in the markets, clothing available for sale from sulus (the traditional Fijian men's skirts) to saris.
The country has been independent of British commonwealth rule since 1970 with a parliamentary democracy. But it has had some civil strife including at least three non-violent
coups since 1987. A new election is scheduled for 2014. Most of the main political tension is between the indigenous Fijians and the Indo-Fijians relating to land rights. Only indigenous Fijians are allowed to own land and the Indo - Fijians who run most of the farms and shops, must lease it. But walking down the street in Savusavu you certainly don't get a sense of any of this internal strife. Everyone is open and friendly. Simply say "bula" and you'll have an instant friend.
More "lessons" to follow!
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