Love at first sight
As soon as we passed Southern tip of Waya Island, we took in the tall and majestic cliffs of Yalobi, often described as one of the most iconic Fiji villages for that very reason, and fell in admiration with the black barren rocks, contrasted by the gold of dry grass growing on the exposed sides of the hills, the fifty shades of green of the lush forest of mango trees, cassava patches, and all varieties of palms, the translucent water and the white sandy beach.
Sound of music
The first memorable sound was the claps of half a dozen men gathered in the village hall receiving us for our sevusevu, interrupting their kava meeting amongst village chiefs and high up officials from the mainland.
Second came the soundscape of a solitary hike* up the hill rhythmed by the ruffling of tall grass split to clear the path, dead leaves cracking under my steps, and squirming blue-tail lizards furtively escaping before me, followed by a scream, mine, when a villager appeared from nowhere, coming back from work the other side of the island, surprised my shooting the stunning view over the bay, and the sound of his machete chopping cassava branches to harvest the roots, in a sort of local pit-stop to the supermarket on his way home.
Third, after dark, were the whistling of the wind making the boat roll at times in the otherwise very sheltered bay, the muffled vibration of our topping lift sounding like the muffled sound of a distant helicopter, and the early crow of the roosters, well before dawn, denying me and anyone else any perspective of a Sunday sleep-in.
Finally came the sound bathing while attending the Methodist Church service, where the choir of merely ten sounded like fifty, in westernised pacific polyphonies they put their heart and souls into, with the vibrato of a Soprano calling everyone in, and tapping the beat with her typical Fijian flax woven fan.
And did I mention the two calls at 10 and 10:30 with the sound of bell (an aluminium gas bottle hanging from a tree branch), then the big drum being played from under its mini bure shelter?
Taste buds festival
Invited to get a taste of local Fijian food by Ben, who explained to me how he had lost his job at the renowned Musket Cove resort due to tourism being halted by Covid in 2020, and how visiting yachties represented the main source of income for the village, we reported for duty the next day at his wife’s auntie’s house. We had to ask a fellow boat to exchange some of our NZD for FJD to afford the evening out and were wondering what to expect but determined to accept his invitation and do our bit to help. When I arrived, Thomas and the kids already knew the way as I had to do a second trip to the boat to get changed, having tripped and fallen in the water bum first on my first arrival by dinghy.
They had transformed their patio in a single-customer restaurant, and set the table for four with a bright orange sula fabric covering it. The plates displayed a colourful array of exclusively vegan and local Fijian dishes including rice, roti, cassava chips (a hit with the kids), curried pumpkin, curried pawpaw, taro leaves and coconut cream fritters, and fresh pawpaw slice. A feast for our tastebuds between the tangy and slightly bitter taro leaves and the spicy pumpkin cooked with garlic onions and curry leaves, the sweetness of the pawpaw in its two forms. I regretted having had a muesli bar for afternoon tea as I wish I could fit more in my delighted stomach, but had to share some of my roti with Thomas who wouldn’t waste any scrape of food.
Before dinner, we also tasted a fruit as yet unknown, green and prickly, the size of a small rugby ball, with white flesh which we scooped out with our fingers to suck on it, spitting out its black smooth seeds. Known by different names depending on the villages, Ben called it sour soup. Azur said it tasted like pear, Zephyr like apricot, and Thomas like feijoa. I reckon its name does it justice as it reminded me of a sour lolly.
I smell fire
Dinner was followed by a bonfire on the beach where kids (locals and ours) couldn’t stop gathering banana leaves to excitedly watch them take fire in one go burning with huge flames, when not grilling marshmallows on a stick or watching Thomas do his popular fire juggling act, in an unusual cocktail of burnt candy and petrol smells.
Mixed feeling of mistreated skin with scratches of cutting grass on my legs and arms during the hike, worsened by the stinging of salty water and mini-jellyfish attacks during each swim. But at least, it was given a rest by the absence of mosquitoes, yeah!
* I later understood that tourists were not meant to go tramping on their own and were expected to ask for a guide for two reasons: to not get lost in the forest, and for the village to earn some additional income from their visiting “guests”.