Exploring Fiji was challenging both mentally, physically and emotionally. I was processing a lot of new amazing experiences, overcoming my fear of water while snorkelling, dealing with emotional issues from New Zealand, feeling increasingly uncomfortable with Mark, seeing poverty and true resilience. It was starting to get to me.
If you haven’t read it yet, you should probably start with the first part of my exploration of the Fiji islands!
Sometimes (usually), when I’m learning new skills I’m quite impatient. I want to know everything before I even start learning.
Sailing is no different.
We sailed from Matei to Somosomo, a very short sail of just under 10 nautical miles. I struggled to understand how little or how much to adjust the heading and I got a little bit frustrated. I tend to find it hard not to take things personally when I’m being told I’m not doing something right, especially when I am fully aware and already trying to fix it. And like a lot of people, I spend a lot more energy and time thinking about the stuff that’s not okay and putting very little emphasis on the things that work. Like the fact that I had managed to do my bowline knots perfectly for a few days, all on the first try. In that short sailing though, my focus was on not being able to keep a perfectly straight heading.
Since we were now in Somosomo and we had heard about the rugby tournament, we were quite curious to see how it would be. We started walking and got picked up by someone working in a hotel nearby. He dropped us off not too far from the church, pointing out at the same time the start of the trail to go up to Des Voeux peak.
The rugby tournament was very interesting to see. There was a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of supporters. I’m not a big fan of rugby so I wasn’t too interested in the games themselves but I enjoyed the energy and seeing all the different school uniforms. We had a look at the church next to the field and made our way back to the boat slowly.
As we were coming back on the dingy, I was thinking that maybe I could jump in the water as I was really warm. Since we only had a short distance to go, we decided to paddle and not use the engine. That’s when Mark noticed a fin. Close to the river mouth.
I thought it was my pod of dolphins at first but it quickly became clear it was only one animal and it wasn’t behaving like a dolphin at all! It looks like it was a bull shark. We watched it from a distance and eventually it came swimming towards us. That’s when we felt something odd on the dinghy and then we saw a very odd wave pattern. I kept looking for the shark but couldn’t see it again.
I wasn’t feeling very brave anymore being in the dingy, very close to water level! At this point, we were pretty much by the boat so I climbed on, keeping a lookout for our new buddy and decided I didn’t want to go for a swim anymore!
Hiking Des Voeux peak
When I woke up early in the morning, the Des Voeux peak was hidden in the clouds. It had been like that the day before and cleared up nicely, so even though it didn’t look too promising, we decided to give it a shot anyway. At 1195m, it’s the second-highest peak of Taveuni and a rather steep hill.
We got the dinghy ashore and took a cab to the beginning of the hike. Being a Sunday, everybody was milling around in their fancy church outfits. We started heading up and passed a village. A pickup truck bringing a lot of people back from church passed us, clearly joining other family members for Sunday brunch. The taxi driver on the way there had told us that we might have to pay $5 each in the village, but only if they asked. I think it’s slowly starting to replace sevusevu (which became super expensive since cyclone Winston.) and is not being enforced yet, or it’s simply because they pitied us, crazy tourists going up a hill stuck in the clouds, on a Sunday!
It started raining as we went up and didn’t stop almost until we came back. At times it rained heavily and I couldn’t tell if it was sweat or rain! Three hours of steady climbed later we reached the tower. The view is supposed to be stunning from the top, but by then it was pouring and we couldn’t see anything.
It was very cold so we ate our snacks quickly and came back down.
Even though we ended up soaking wet on our second attempt at a hike in Fiji, it was still very much enjoyable to see part of the view before the rain, and to exercise my legs for more than just a few steps!
After our quick passage to the Paradise Resort we went for dinner. It felt very luxurious to have people make drinks and food, even putting the serviette on my lap for me. It’s definitely a honeymoon destination which I understand, after all, we are in Fiji, but it made me uncomfortable.
The next day, I went out snorkelling again. It was very nice. I was very nervous for the first little bit because I kept thinking of the shark but I managed to focus on the many fish and relax. All while keeping a constant lookout just in case!
I saw a big school of fish coming towards me, and moving beautifully but rather quickly around the coral. And that’s when I realized that maybe I should check if they were being followed! Thankfully they weren’t! I kept reminding myself that if something bigger was coming, the fish would see it and disappear. So as long as they were calm and minding their own business, I could stay calm too!
Passage to the main island
After a few days on Taveuni, it was time to sail towards the main island, as I was flying out and Mark was picking up friends. Because of the distance and the few days left we decided to do an overnight passage and then stop in Beqa Lagoon.
Being back at sea, away from everything and everyone felt amazing. We had waves that were between 1 and 2 m, but since they were very close to each other it was rocking the boat a lot. We were also leaning on starboard a lot which turned out to be a good wash for that side of the deck.
There’s nothing like the vastness of the sea; seeing only water and sky for miles around us. There was the odd outline of an island but for most of it, it was a lot of water. Perfect blue sky with some white fluffy clouds on the horizon.
I truly enjoyed myself during our night passage, watching the endless ocean. Knowing that there was more water under me than the mountains I had just climbed (1500m to 2000m deep) was seriously impressive. We are tiny little insignificant specks of dust in this big universe. We exist for such a short time and are so tiny, it made me wonder why am I stressing myself out with all the things I can’t control…
Having time to think without distractions always brings this type of reflections and ideas. And puts everything in perspective. A tough thing to do when we are constantly overstimulated.
After sailing through the night we arrived in Beqa at around 1:30 pm. We were having lunch when Tom, from the local village, came in to strongly suggest that we should go ashore for sevusevu. He said people from the resort next door were coming in at 3:30 pm for kava and dancing. We were going to go snorkelling and nap but we showered and went ashore instead.
Tom took us to the women who asked if we wanted to buy some souvenirs. Then he took us to the chief’s house. The chief was playing guitar. We could hear him as the windows did not have any glass. He sounded pretty good, especially given that his guitar was missing at least one string. The main room of the house was empty except for a few drawings and photos on the wall. We had a bit of small talk and he took the sevusevu and permitted us to explore the island. Once again we narrowly escaped having to drink the kava!
We sat on a bench with some of the villagers, watching other locals just walking past. There seems to be a lot of idle time in the villages, just sitting around doing nothing. A little girl and a little boy played with us. Tom asked if we had any alcohol on board and we said we didn’t drink. We watched the kids play on their big playground donated by the resort and I had the little girl in my arms for most of it. She was adorable, and Tom suggested that I take her on the boat with me. In that moment I thought he meant just for a visit, but I’m not sure anymore.
I did wonder if Fijians thought about having a different life or if it was too far out of reach. Some work in the resorts and I wonder if they feel abused. They work very long hours, far from their village, and don’t get to have a lot of free time like our societies. They rarely leave their islands, only to go to the mainland on special occasions. It seems like a very tough life. I would love the opportunity to discuss this with someone and ask them all of those questions but it’s not usually the stuff for first visits!
Before we left Beqa we went snorkelling in the reef. It was rather shallow and once again very different scenery and fish. I didn’t stay in the water very long as I was feeling sick. I had a headache and felt like I was going to puke. Which is not ideal when snorkelling!
I was also very nervous since the day before the guys from the village had said a Chinese tourist had been attacked by a shark recently. When they mentioned that, I couldn’t help but make a joke, which fell flat. I asked if they thought that the shark wanted some Chinese take away… not my finest joke of course, and as soon as I said it, I realized that unless they had left their village and island, they might not even know about take away, and the prevalence of Chinese take away in the Western world.
Time was going by really quickly and as much as I felt like exploring more of certain islands, we had to go back to the mainland.
I had a lovely sail along the coast of the main island towards Nadi. The sunset was incredibly beautiful, and I finally felt at peace for a bit.
Then, Mark gave me a very long hug and I wasn’t comfortable at all. He did say he was stealing a hug and I get that it was a pretty magical and beautiful setting but I wasn’t comfortable with that invasion of my personal space at all. Especially since I had already mentioned multiple times that I was not comfortable with this kind of contact.
The passage through the main shipping lane to get to Vuda Marina felt busy but not because of cargo ships but all the speedboats ferrying people from Denarau to the Yasavas islands.
Coming back to a marina after a few weeks almost alone felt overwhelming. Hearing people talk from just outside the boat felt odd.
The next day I went to the recently renovated Nadi airport, joining the crowds of loud holidayers. I was returning to New Zealand for a few weeks, to catch up with friends and pick up all my stuff before coming back on the boat. That quick visit to New Zealand was both fun and very difficult as I was dealing with some emotional issues.
Being back on the boat felt like I never actually left, as if the previous three weeks in New Zealand had been a dream or something. My brain struggled to adjust and understand. It almost felt like I was living parallel lives for a while. Alternating between normal western life and tropical less developed countries was adding to my difficulties.
Before leaving the marina we needed to stock up. We either had the choice to go to Nadi, or to Lautoka to find larger grocery stores. Lautoka sounded interesting so we woke up early to catch the 7:40 am bus from just outside the Marina. It usually takes about 45 minutes but for some reason, we were stuck in traffic (either constructions or accident it wasn’t clear) and it took 1.5 hours instead.
I instantly liked Lautoka. There’s not much for tourists and that’s probably why I liked it so much. It was a bit chaotic and busy and I felt right at home. When we arrived, Mark went to the Mall to buy a phone and we agreed to meet about 1.5hr later. I headed straight for the Hare Krishna temple. When I got there a man was praying so I waited until he looked done to go in to have a closer look at the icons. I had seen on the map that there was also a Sikh temple, another Krishna temple and a Mosque so I had a look at all of them. It was almost like I was doing a faith tour.
Believing in something bigger than us would probably help me at times. Most people seem to find comfort in religions. Having some boundaries and some code of conduct, clear instructions on what is good and what one should do seems reassuring. And if God has a plan for everybody, then there’s no need to worry about making the right choice. Or if our lives are traced in advance, we are not responsible for anything. As usual, I am questioning myself and my beliefs a lot. I guess the fact that they believe they are supported by a higher being gives hope and a sense of belonging somewhere.
As I was walking in Lautoka pondering these questions, I stumbled upon a military show on the high school grounds. A lot of people were there, sitting in the shaded areas and it seemed like a rather official thing. It was very interesting to see all the different groups wearing their family colours. Fijians are proud people and it shows in their clothing. The families will often wear the same patterns but declined in various styles for all the members. It makes all the different groups look amazing.
After leaving Vuda marina we went to Waye island. I felt unwell because of a migraine. After what felt like a long time, I was feeling a bit better so we left our anchorage and moved to an anchorage just off Drawaqa island. The vibe was much better. A lot more relaxed, quiet water, not much wind, and my headache was mostly gone.
After anchoring as a seaplane was landing in front of us, we had lunch and then went for a snorkel. I swam from the boat to the reef and I have to say I was proud of myself.
Mark went first while I was sending the video of the seaplane and when I was ready I put my snorkel on, lowered myself in the water, put the flippers on and got in. I was expecting to be quite nervous but I felt oddly quite comfortable.
So I started swimming towards the reef. We were anchored in about 18m and the reef was about 80m from the boat (about the length of three swimming pools). I didn’t panic at all. When I arrived at the reef I saw a really big fish. It startled me a bit but I stayed calm and even followed him or attempted to for a bit. There were so many fish, I didn’t even know where to look anymore! I was so relaxed that I wasn’t thinking about my breathing and I even realized I didn’t need to put pressure on the mouthpiece at all. Simply resting my lips on it was enough to hold it. Revelation.
Mark had come to Manta Resort with his friends and got to snorkel with the manta rays so since I was doing so well with my snorkelling abilities, we decided to go. The manta rays come in to feed in the water in front of the Manta Resort, usually around the change of tides. We got in the dinghy and joined the group. When we arrived everyone was looking up and around, so clearly the mantas weren’t there yet!
Eventually, we got in the water and swam towards the group. And there they were, three majestic creatures, gliding underwater. They move in a very elegant way. They also move pretty fast as they eat and quickly they were gone. I kept looking in the water for a while, seeing big schools of fish, even being right in the middle of them all. The current changed as we were just watching the fish and we decided to go back to the dingy as we were quite far at that point. I looked down and saw a white-tip reef shark. Knowing that they don’t attack humans unless they are spearfishing I wasn’t worried at all and stopped swimming to watch it.
The current was so strong I was using a lot of energy to stay in one place. Mark moved towards the shore and I followed him. I then waited for him to go and get the dinghy. New groups from the resort arrived and he offered for me to stay on the dinghy so I could go back in the water, let myself drag and he would pick me up further away. I got back in the water, not even using the ladder and swam where the guide was waiting. The guides gestured to each other, people started to get back in the water, I saw my sharky friend again and all of a sudden the rays were back. They swam right under me, one of them even had a bright yellow fish in its mouth. The other tourists arrived at that point and were all around me, one even kicked me with her fins. I left them to it, and swam back, using the speed of the water to my advantage.
The next day I wanted to return to see if we would be as lucky. We left a bit early and waited in the dingy until some of the guys would spot the mantas. I was getting bored so I got in the water to have a look. I tried using the camera but quickly realized how difficult is it to swim holding a camera steady!
I saw the manta ray, only one this time, and since the high tide was at the same time as the inter-island ferry, there were fewer people than the first day. I also managed to get a much better view. I swam in big schools of fish. It was truly amazing.
I had issues with my snorkel, the mouthpiece filling up with water but I didn’t even panic, I simply took it out, spat all the saltwater and went back at it. I’ve come a long way from not even being able to go in deep waters!
In the afternoon we took the dingy to Manta resort and did the walk up the tower. The views of the different islands and the beaches and reefs around were great. I kept looking for the wild goats I had heard from the boat but I couldn’t see them.
Leaving Macushla and Fiji
As time passed, there were moments with Mark that made me feel uncomfortable, and while I do love sailing, I was no longer sure about sailing on this boat. Since my return, I had been dealing with an emotional situation in New Zealand and adding to that having no personal space or time to think, and a few awkward moments, I found myself crying a lot.
That’s when I knew I had to leave. I felt like I was getting cabin fever. 24H a day in a small confined space with someone I was not always comfortable with was a lot. We had made plans for me to stay for a while on the boat and explore Vanuatu but by then I knew I couldn’t.
I took an Airbnb in Nadi to decide on my next move. I had a weird dream of a friend of mine from New Zealand finding a job in my hometown. I woke up so confused. Wondering what the hell my brain was up to. I looked at my phone and I had a message from my dad (who rarely messages) telling me about a job opening in my hometown. The job sounded like a nice challenge. Since I needed a break from my travels and to reconnect to my roots, it was decided: I was flying back to Canada. And since I felt like I had seen a good amount of Fiji already and the interview was coming up, I booked my flight, and before I knew it I was back and having dinner with my mom in Québec City!