Saturday, June 29, 2013

BIG Fish and Birthday Party

We continue to travel around the Lau Group of Fiji and every spot seems to be a place where we could stay for a long time. But the weather here is changing and soon the "trades" will kick in full time and traveling to various locations will become more difficult. So when we have a "weather window" we have taken advantage and moved on. We spent a few days in Batavu Harbour – the privately owned area and took advantage of a great hike one morning. It was a steep and slippery incline but we were rewarded with unbelievable views of the Bay of Islands on the other side. It was a great vantage point to see all the lovely colored water and rock strewn bays.

That evening we enjoyed use of the Royal Exploring Island Squadron clubhouse to do a potluck / barbecue with the other boats in the bay including "Victory", "Superted", "Gaku", "StreetCar", and "Miss Goodnight." It was quite the international gathering with Holland, Britain (2 boats), Germany, Japan and the US represented.

The next day "Victory" and "Superted" left for Komo island at 1500 and we decided to wait one more day. The seas still seemed too big and the wind was also predicted to be big and gusty. It was a good move for us as we had a less boisterous trip the next day when we actually left. We sailed the entire 90 or so miles from reef to reef. At times we drifted slowly at 2.5 knots – but at least we didn't burn any fossil fuel.

On the first day of our trip to Komo, going only 3.5 knots under sail (and after Michael just went below for a nap), FISH ON and it was taking the line off the reel very fast! Then it flew out of the water dancing on its tail. It was a giant bill fish of some type and it was just about pulling the boat backwards! We were able to stop the reel every so often to keep some line on it and then slowly started to get some line back as we fought him in. He continued to leap out of the water but we slowly got him to the side of the boat. He was easily 7 feet long and we wanted to release him as he was a beauty! We believe he was a sailfish. We did manage to get him close enough to the boat to cut him free and low enough that hopefully the lure and weight would slide off the leader to free the fish of the burden. He would have a hook as a memento for awhile. But we do think he was still strong enough to make it. But it was exciting and we never got anything that big that close to the boat. So to all those fishermen friends out there – we didn't even have to back down to get him to the boat!

About 1.5 miles off the reef entrance to Komo island, FISH ON! We landed another good sized mahi (not as big as the 57 inch one) but a good one. We were close to the island and the day was wearing on so we just got it aboard and continued our way through the reef entrance and to anchor. "Victory" and "Superted" arrived the day before and had already done their "sevusevu" that morning. The island's "headman" (not the chief) invited them to a big birthday party that evening. His son was turning 21 and the entire village was invited. Our friends mentioned to the host that we would be arriving as well, so we also got invited.

We decided we would take the freshly caught mahi into the village and the islanders seem to like the whole fish so instead of filleting it, Michael simply gutted it and we brought it along. We also brought our kava gift along to do our sevusevu. The entire insland's population (and people from surrounding islands) were gathered under a canopy with lots of hand made mats on the ground. The men to one side, the women and children on the other and one area rather empty. The six of us were seated in a place of honor in the "empty" area in front of Jone (the birthday boy). Our sevusevu was done rather quickly and then the celebration started.

A minister in a white suit was seated at the front next to Jone and there was a beautiful hand made tapas cloth behind them. This is cloth that is made from the bark of a tree and pounded until it is soft then hand dyed. It is an incredible amount of hard work and very traditional art. Then there was a song or hymn that was very moving sung by many of the people sitting around us – but with bass, alto and soprano parts and it brought goosebumps to the skin. Then the minister spoke some more and then spoke in english for us – welcoming the foreign guests. He then invited Matt to stand up and say something for "our" group and Matt did us proud. He thanked our hosts and said we were all honored to be invited and said something about some higher being must have guided us here to be here at this time to be able to participate in this special occasion. After that, the minister said some more words and then Jone knelt and the minister put a bible on his shoulder. Then the father knelt before his son and gave what was obviously a very emotional talk to his son and handed him a wrapped bible. Both the father and son were very moved and though we couldn't understand the language – it was a powerful moment. A birthday cake was lit and the "2-1" candles blown out. The group then sang (not sure if it was for our benefit or not) "Happy Birthday" but with several additional verses. We could at least participate in that song though our voices weren't as exacting and pure as their singing.

It seems when a boy, actually a man, turns 21 it is a very special time in their life. It is something of a manhood ritual. The family had invited the entire village and even folks from some of the surrounding islands to the event. The family then hosted breakfast lunch and dinner for all the guests. This is not always the case, as some families have smaller functions.

Jone, the 21st birthday "boy" is also the school's pre-school teacher. All his students were seated around the mat as well, dressed in their colorful outfits and each presented him with a gift and kiss. We (the foreigners) also had brought some small wrapped gifts which we presented to Jone. After all the gift giving, the kava drinking and dinner started. Then men who planned on drinking "grog" (as kava is called) sat facing the "tanoa." This is the traditional hand carved bowl which the kava is served from. It is made from a single piece of local hardwood and many of them are hundreds of years old. The smaller bowl, bilo, is passed out to the participants who drink from it and return it when empty. At this occasion, men were invited to sit in the area and drink kava, so Matt, JanBart and Michael joined the men's mat area. Michael said it tasted a bit "earthy" and much like the smell the "yaqona" gives off. (We still have two more bundles on board). It also makes your tongue numb. If he had had more than one bowl, we are not sure how long the numbing effect would last. Luckily, with just one bowl, he was able to enjoy the feast.

Monique, Jean and Barbara were directed to the food mat where a display of prepared food had been uncovered. Bowls and bowls and bowls of local food had been beautifully prepared and laid out along a colorful cloth. It went at least 30 feet and could seat at least 15 people per side. Everyone got a plate and a few serving spoons were provided. The meat (whole roasted chickens and large chunks of roasted pork) you just tore into and grabbed off hunks with your hands. There were whole fish, a beef chow mein type dish, potatoes in a curry sauce, taro leaves boiled with some spices and corned beef, roasted casava and baked taro, pork dishes and chicken dishes, a goat stew, a carrot and chicken dish, breadfruit and so many more items. All were tasty and plentiful. People sat around cross- legged on the mats and chowed down. A woman did bring us "foreigners" a few forks to use as we weren't quite used to eating with our hands the way the locals did. Much of the food we had learned had to be brought in from the bigger islands as some of he items are not raised or grown on Komo. The women commented that the carrots for example were a treat!

After the dinner, the band started. Someone walked in with about four guitars and a ukelele. The men sat in a circle and played and sang with wonderful voices. It filled the night air with a great sound and the pounding of the yaqona kept in time. They pounded the "sticks" the entire time we were there and kept making more and more kava.

Ice cream was being served in one area – another huge treat for these folks – but you needed to bring your own bowl and we were without. Though if you even seemed interested, the folks would gladly give you their own bowl and forsake their share of ice cream – that is how generous and warm they are. We ultimately declined and let them have the very special treat (but it was admittedly quite hard!).

We decided as it got darker to head back over the trail and hill back to the boats. One of the local teachers offered to walk us across but we were confident that we had brought enough flashlights and headlamps to make our own way. That and no one drank too much kava! He did lead us past the village and to the trail head. Under moonlight and brilliant stars, we made our way back commenting that this is why we do what we do!
It was one of those memorable and magical nights in cruising. Though we were tired from an all-night passage, we were grateful to get here in time for Jone's 21st celebration.

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