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Sloggs' Travel Blog A journal of my travels in 2008 & beyond...

Life on Vorovoro...

FIJI | Wednesday, 9 July 2008 | Views [2408] | Comments [1]

Me in Bula shirt with a huge grouper caught for dinner by Marau!

Me in Bula shirt with a huge grouper caught for dinner by Marau!

I woke up early on Saturday the 5th of July after a better nights sleep and met up with a chap I met the night before who was taking the same flight as me to Labasa to share a taxi (a mercedes saloon, which the driver managed to fit Dales surf & wake board inside with us!). Checkin was amusing as the tickets are all hand written for each passenger and Dale had to take the hint from the checkin clerk to 'bribe' him because of the extra weight he was checking in! This was acheived with the spare $8 in his pocket 'for lunch', lol.

Whilst waiting for the flight I had some breakfast and shopped for a few cheapo tshirts to ruin on the island and stuffed them into my already bursting hand luggage pack. When we were called for the flight we walked into the security check point to find their xray machine was not working, so I had to empty my bag for a lady to check the contents on the desk! This took about ten minutes to get done and repack... I was sat near the back of the plane, and we waited on the runway for the last passenger, a certain Mr Ben Keene, the founder of the tribewanted project, who I could see strolling across the tarmac to the waiting plane.

Once safely in Labasa's tiny airport and waiting for our bags to be lifted off of the plane I got chatting to Ben and we met the only other person on the plane today who was going to the island, Emma. Shortly we were off in the taxi with the driver and female staff member who usually greets new arrivals in excited and giggly form as Ben was here after a 5 month absence. We drove to the Grand Eastern Hotel where we met with 8 other girls who were joining the island today having stayed in Labasa for one night. What a terrible day to join a desert island in Fiji!! ;)

The group of newbies went into town with one of the staff members to buy grog to present to the Island chief in the week and to buy Sulu's to wear for ceremonies etc. The market was how I expected it, bright, colourful, busy and smelly, especially near the grog stall we went to, where the lovely open concrete toilet block stood! We received lots of looks from the locals, although I suspect only because they don't usually see such large groups of arrivals at one time. The town was extremely busy, and I later learnt that is because all of the farmers come into town to trade on a saturday, and most shops close at 1pm, hence the rush of people. The paths were teeming and there was a big social thing going on as people that obviously live quite far from each other all meet here on a saturday for some gossip.

After a short wait back at the hotel we lined our bags up along the jetty and some of Vorovoro's 'Team Fiji' loaded the boats up ready to set off. The tide was extremely low because of the new moon, so the trip out to the island was slow as we went through the river mouth and channel between the mainland and the island, but this enabled us to pick the brains of Giles, the island manager about life on the island and some of the landscape we were getting a good look at. The boat was buzzing as we rounded the island and saw the beach in front of the village. Only a few things give away the location of the village, the floating pontoon out in the sea, the roof of the grand bure and a glimpse of colour from one of the buildings in amongst the trees. As we slowed the boat, people began appearing from the trees all the way along the beach, it was quite surreal! We were greeted and given a hand taking our bags up the beach to the grand bure and introduced to the current tribewanted chief on the island, Mariah who took us on a tour of the village.

The village is extremely well established having been here for nearly two years now, and the array and build quality of the buildings is really good. After the tour we went of the claim a bed, and I went for the 'funhouse' which has three beds and backs onto the ocean. So far only Jo was staying here and I didn't fancy sharing with lots of people right at the start, especially after the lack of sleep the last few days! I tried to rattle through everyones names again during a walk around, as I'd forgotten almost everyone's already!

The Village
The Grand Bure is an amazing sight in the middle of the TW (tribewanted) village, and the focal point of most activities and the tribes gathering place for formal ceremony. There is even space to sleep in there on raised platforms at either end, but since the new sleeping Vale was build they won't see much use and are now mostly home to rats from what I gather. The village is very much an outdoor thing, with none of the buildings having doors. They have been well constructed and have bamboo leaf wall panels and roofing with large tarpoling window covers which are rolled down when it rains to protect the beds. The Chiefs bure is very nice and alone with the funhouse and two sleeping Vales there is a family Vale for the few families that do stay or for groups traveling together to use should it be free. There are changing cubicles behind a washing line drying area, an 'ecotricty' which uses power generated by a solar panel and wind turbine on the hill behind the village to supply power to the hut where you can charge batteries etc. The kitchen is large and mainly open under a tin roof, with one hut where the food is stored and prepared. It has a wood fired oven outside a large (sea) water butt for washing up, a big cupboard for dishes and tools and an ice-fridge. It is a very busy part of the village and central to the daily life of everyone here, especially with five bell rings a day for food and tea breaks. Beyond this is an alfresco eating area which is shared by everyone at eating times and is used for socialing and games around these times. Beach front is a large firepit surrounded by ultra comfy logs (sourced through Ikea I believe) and one huge hammock and nearby is an area with lots of hammocks for relaxing with beach, village and ocean horizon views! The resident 'gaper', Jim, heads the 'Hammock Society', whos ethos is to enjoy Fiji life at a slow relaxed pace, those who exercise will be ejected from the society forthwith! I have joined the society, but only really as a favour to Jim who likes to be able to expel people occassionally, which I should be able to help him out with once I start using the peaks walk for running, although he will have to catch me excercising before he can issue the red card, it'll give him something to do! ;) Also along the beach is the entry point through the trees to the village, which is use to greet people and to sing farwell to those that leave the island. Beyond this into the ocean is the pontoon moored about 100 meters off shore secured by an anchor and rope to the island, along which the TW boats are kept when they are here. The beach has a beautiful resident reef with the first few meters under water (which become exposed when the tide goes out) are rocks and broken coral, which can be uncomfortable to walk on, so I'm glad I invested in some rubber water shoes to wear out there! The beach is coral sand, so again has some rough pieces, but the feet will get used to it fairly quickly hopefully. All the paths around the village have been landscaped in and filled with sand from the beach, and there is a volley ball court and netball basket to play with, plus a 'farm-acy' garden which the Fijians grow useful plants in. Out the back of the kitchen area is a large compost area and huge garden where Benj (the islands sustainability manager) is growing lots of food items to help the island supply. Out here you can find the freshwater shower bays, which employ a bucket with a tap system, there is also a chicken coop and pig sty for the resident animals. Follow the path through the gardens and you will come across Tanoa Park, complete with football goals with nets for recreational use!

During the week there are lots of Fijian staff in the village who cook meals for us all day except for a sunday when the village is just full of TW members, and Team Fiji who continually work around the village on improving facilities and new projects. They also take care of grog sessions and driving the boats and teach tribe members Fijian language and Mekes (the traditional dance/theatre of Fijian culture). Work and projects take place all week, with saturdays slowing down and sundays being called 'naked sundays' as no Fijians are in the village so the TW members can sun bath and swim in front of the village in bikinis rather than covering up like they do the rest of the week. Jim has produced a brilliant map of the village which stands proud on the entrance path from the beach, so if I get lost I can check that out!

The first evening on VorovoroMy first evening was going to be a bit of a blur as it was quite special. Ben Keene arriving had sent all the staff here into an excited frenzy as he's been away for so long and is so popular. When he arrived later in the day after resolving some business in Labasa the place was really buzzing. We had a formal ceremony in the grand bure and ended up drinking grog until the small hours. The first part of the ceremony is used to present the chief with some grog and request permission to stay and be protected by the land, chief and spirits during your stay, and the chief, their wingman, the TW chief & wingman and key guests all drink first, before the rest of the tribe receive any. After the formal part is done the session becomes more relaxed and quite a lot of fun. THe Fijians all play guitar and sing really well and you spend your time getting to know your fellow tribe members and chatting. The rules about the grog bowl and positions on the mat are easy enough to pick up too. The Kava (grog) makes the mouth go numb and after a few bowls makes the brain a bit numb too! It is tricky to explain exactly what it is like really, but I like it and will be bringing some powdered version home for some mates to try for sure! After a few large bowls I was sat putting the world to rights with Giles... lol!

Later on in the evening we played a name game which helped get some names stuck in my head. There were 26 tribe members, 5 TW team members and 8 or 9 Team Fiji members on site tonight! A really cool couple currently on the island, called Dave and Georgie came up with a 'sounds' quiz which we split into teams for and all played in the grand bure for a few hours, it was superb fun! We had a round of spotting sounds from around the island (which we obviously needed mixed teams for as the newbs had only been here for a few hours! The second round was spot the tune (& artist) from snippets of songs and the last round involved creating a meke of our own to dance along with words and music from Disney films... these turned out to be great! My team came joint first which was nice and there was even a chocolate bar as a prize which was shared around the whole tribe. The rest of the night was spent chatting in the bure and drinking grog. I had a great chat with Ben for a while which was nice to get to know him a bit and find out about where this all came from, where its going and some good stories about how it came to be during the early (tough) days. He is running this project in a highly transparent way and really trying to find ways to make people more aware of the ecological impact we have day to day and trying to find ways to better communicate this and come up with solutions to help, quite an inspiration fella and sound as a pound to boot. I have no doubt in my mind that the TW 'brand' will be a success and continue to grow, and that Ben will go on to acheive great things. I finished off the night sat in the dark around the embers of the firepit chatting with Seth and Kirsti before climbing into the mozzy net to sleep for my first night on the island.

Naked sundayLuckily I didn't run into camp naked, as this is obviously not meant literally (it just means the girls can show more skin when they swim etc)! The day was very lazy and spent relaxing in hammocks, snorkeling (three times today!) and a few of us took a walk around the perimeter of the island at the lowest tide to check it out, which was fun and involved a bit of wading around the back of the island! There are plenty of interesting looking caves around the other side which I will have to take a better look at when I get the chance. The island also has long sections of mangrove growing around it and lots of weird rock formations around the outside.

On a sunday the tribe fends for itself in the kitchen with the staff all off the island (and mostly attending their church on the mainland or nearby island of Mali), so for breakfast some of the tribe cooked up eggy bread and beans which was nice with a big mug of tea. 'Little' Ben (too many Bens here at the moment!), Jim and myself had some fun coordinating a sea cucumber attack on the girls on the pontoon this morning which was quite amusing. Jim and Ben took us down to the Fijian village along the island a bit in the afternoon to check out the sperm whale skeleton they have put back together in their village and to have afternoon tea with Tui Mali's brother, where he told us some interesting stories about the family and the history of the island. In the evening after snorkeling with Emma we all enjoyed a meal courtsey of the Paradox family (the parents changed their name before they had the kids!) and then lit the fire and sat chatting and watching shooting stars amongst the millions of other stars you can see from here, it really is an amazing place to be!

Around midnight a group of us went for a swim to experience the phosphorescence in the ocean. It is quite a sight! If you distrub the water on a clear night, tiny little creature living on the alge and plankton glow a bright blue/white, so swimming out on mass to the pontoon was stunning, especially under a black sky full of stars, it was like swimming in a 3d world of stars, and the water was really warm too... amazing! I pulled myself in on the anchor rope which glowed blue as I slid my hands along it...! We dried off by the fire before all retiring for the night.

Weekdays on VorovoroAs soon as my head hit my pillow lastnight I was asleep, only to awaken when it was very light and seconds before the breakfast bell was rung! After breakfast we all gathered on the beach to say farewell to those that were leaving the island today. We sing a traditional Fijian farewell song (Isa Lei) and everybody lines up to say goodbye, which is a really nice touch. As the boat turns to leave we lined up and did a big mexican wave and shouted a Fijian goodbye to them. Shortly after this I introduced myself to the Team Fiji members I hadn't met yet and we all gathered in the bure for the morning meeting. This is where the TW chief tells us what is going on today, recruits helpers and where Jim adds people's names to the 'Karmic Duties' board which gets lots of the little tasks around camp done on a daily basis, such as cleaning the fire pit, collecting fire wood, cleaning the sleeping vales and bure floor, feeding chickens & pigs, etc etc. I took the fire pit and tidying the toolshed duties from the karmic duties.

After midmorning tea I sat in on a Fijian language lesson with lots of the new girls. It was good fun and we learnt some useful phrases and words, including how to thank the kitchen staff for a tasty meal! In the afternoon we started to learn the six Meke's that the TW tribe do, which was pretty tricky considering the different moves for each! They are a lot of fun to do though, and some really cool moves will definitely transfer to the dancefloor back home, lol! Giles and Ben are amazing at the meke, as they've had so long to learn them off by heart, they can add their own personal style to them. I am going to make it my mission to get that good at them while I'm here! Today I tried a hammock out for the first time, and I could certainly get used to lying in one of those bad boys, swaying in the breeze on the beach... brill! Lying there I began to notice much more detail as I gazed at the village, like the beautifully landscaped gardens all along side the paths which I didn't really notice immediately. They guys that have been working here have done an amazing job in the two years. I also found my favourite place to wash this afternoon, the pontoon out in the sea is perfect to swim out to, lather up on and then dive in... I prefer it to the bucket shower. The evening was spent where I'm sure many will be, around the fire chatting and laughing with the tribe and team Fiji.

On Wednesday we had a talk held by Ben the sustainability manager about the project from an ecological stand point. I've spent much of my life ignoring these issues, but now I can see what these guys are doing here and learn from it, I think things will change!

Sevusevu for Tui MaliToday Tui Mali was coming to the island. He is the Fijian chief of this island and another 3 villages, 2 on Mali our neighbouring island and one on the mainland (Malau I think it's called). This is where we (the new tribe members) must present Tui Mali with some Kava and request to stay under his protection for our stay. As there were so many new arrivals, and some people on the island who had not yet been here for a tuesday ceremony, there was only going to be a few people who got to do this. I was desperate to have a go and luckily plenty of people really did not fancy it. We did some training this morning, on where to sit and how the ceremony works and then on how to approach Tui Mali and what sort of thing to say whilst presenting the Kava to him.

After lunch everybody put on their bright 'Bula shirts' and sulu's, and the girls were all wearing Sulu chumbas, which are bright flowery dresses. Jim loaned me a bright pink/purple Bula shirt which was cool, lol! When Tui Mali comes on to the island, the Lali drum is banged to signal his prescence, and then again when he is entering the village. On the second beating we all gathered into position in the grand bure and sat near to the front, with the chiefs door to my immediate right, listening to the drum and anticipating his arrival, I started feeling quite nervous! I ran over the words in my head again and Emma sat next to me, set to go first, was doing the same! Myself, Emma, Lauren and fourteen year old Reece were going to make the presentation. When Tui Mali came in, him and his wingman took their seats and the ceremony started. It began with six drinks mixed with the roots rather than the powdered form, which went to the chief and his wingman, the TW chief and her wingman (Dan) and the first two guests, myself and Emma. Then Emma crawled over and made her presentation, fluffing the ending by clapping be fore saying her last line, which she quickly redeemed! Then it was my turn. I crawled over, placed the kava root bundle on the edge of the mat infront of Tui Mali's wingman, pointing the end at Tui Mali and clapped three times. Then (touching the kava to emphasise the gift) I said "Tui Mali, I present my sevusevu to you on behalf of myself and my friends. Thank you very much for allowing us to stay on the beautiful Vorovoro and thank you for sharing your culture and wisdom with us. So so Ratu" and then clapped three times. He was smiling at me and thanked me as I crawled back to my space. Phew... no messing it up! Once we had all been up, Tui Mali went along the line of all the new tribe members to thank them and meet and shake everybodies hands. After this the formalities were done and the room became a bit louder and the grog began to flow! A bit later we did the Meke for Tui Mali and his guests, which I managed to balls up every one of, lol! At least the sevusevu went ok! The chief had a good chuckle at our meke, the Fijians love it that we try to do it, but love it even more when we get it wrong, lol. After a few hours Tui Mali made his exit and we broke for dinner. After dinner most of the tribe were sat outside around the fire and table, but I decided to go and sit in the bure where only the Fijians were. They were still necking grog and singing songs. Johny welcomed me in and sat my in the chiefs spot and we sat chatting about Fijian tribal culture, which was a great insight. After a few bowls a few of the tribe came and joined us thank goodness, as these guys were firing it down! I sat at the top as Mariah's wingman for a while and the hours rolled past singing and laughing, another great night on the island! Later still a few of us sat around the fire and I had another good chat with Ben and bored him to tears with my tale of why I'm here... yawn! I'm seriously tempted to stay here for a while to get to know the team better and really soak up the culture.

Vorovoro Landmarks...Not only had I already been lucky enough to meet Ben Keene during my visit here on Vorovoro, but his returning full of ideas and drive had prompted a lot of activity and energy amongst his TW team and the Fijians that work here and Tuesday the 10th July became a rather special day in the history of Vorovoro and the Tribewanted.com project.

After the customary breakfast, where everybody starts the day with a smile and an entertaining recap on the previous nights activities, a group of us donned our shoes (yes, enclosed shoes), applied some sunblock and boarded the boat for a landmark trip out to the mainland to go and help Leavi (one of the valuable and long standing members of Team Fiji) on his own farm. This had never happened before, and may not again, so it was great to be a part of it.

Leavi is a crucial part of the team and an infectious character to have around, always happy and smiling and he always has something to say to everybody, a great guy. So it was nice to go and see his home and his farm and lend a hand. We landed at the port in Malau on the mainland after about a twenty minute boat trip and went to the local store where a few food items were picked up for lunch. We then got on the Malau bus for a five minute ride up to Leavis village. I was quite surprised to see Tui Mali sat on the front row of the bus! Leavi's home is built on the site of the old mainlands' hospital, so he has a few nice features from that legacy like concrete water containers and nice foundations for his own buildings. He owns a huge amount of land here from his family ties, which is basically shared by everyone in the community to farm on, and then they all share the yield too. Fiji has such an incredible community spirit, they all pull together to survive.

We were going to help plant some yam today and after our welcome and meeting his family we went up to the fields which had been recently cleared of trees to dig holes. We split into digging and soil preparing/planting teams and got stuck in. It was quite nice to do some manual labour! We worked alongside the guys that work his farm on a daily basis, so it was good to meet those guys and learn a bit more from them. The yam is normally cut into small pieces and then planted, which produces a decent sized yam in a few months, but I got to plant a full grown yam this afternoon after digging a BIG hole for it, which in 6-7 months will produce a whopper (not a burger!). We sat and had a sevusevu and a huge lunch after a couple of hours of work, using some of his last yield of yam as the basis of the meal. The offering of sevusevu to Leavi from Ben reduced him to tears as he was so touched to have people from so far across the world here on his farm in Fiji helping him dig! It was a great moment and we all shared some afternoon grog. After catching the bus back to the port Adam and Philipa bought us some ice lollies from the little shop which was a nice treat and we climbed back aboard to speed back to Vorovoro...

Meanwhile back in the village, the rest of the tribe had been preparing the bure and lots of food as Vorovoro was set to hold a big dinner with everyone together, and then later in the evening the Mali choir was coming over to perform for us as part of Vorovoro's first ever music gig, which was going to be recorded for an album! By the time we got back from the farm, most things were ready and we got cleaned up and dressed up ready for a huge night. All the girls were in their bright chumbas and the guys in sulus and bula shirts and the bure was lined with two long eating mats, laid out with plates and dishes and lots of fairy lights were in place ready for the gig later.

The meal was beautiful, and plentiful! Lots of fresh fish and soups with veg and the obligatory yams and rice. It was nice sitting down to eat with so many TW tribe members and the Fijian gang too, although a few of the kitchen girls did stay out to wash up the cooking utensils and then join us later... tut tut!

After the meal the stage was readied with decorative plants, shells and lighting and we waited for the choir to walk down from the Fijian village along the beach where they'd landed earlier. We made a pathway through the crowd and lined it with our head torches for them to walk along, a bit the emergency lighting in a plane hey Cathy?! ;) A few of the team from our village were members of the chior so it was nice to hear them sing. Dave had them sing a bit to set his levels for the recording and they blew us away with just the warm up!! They were so powerful and the melodies were fantastic, everyone was left impressed. After those guys left Georgie organised members of the tribe on stage to record us singing 'Vorovoro' in different keys for the song that her and Dave are composing about the island. She did so well getting a crowd of people that don't sing much to get the sound they wanted, but it was a lot of fun to be involved in, especially in the boys section where we secretly masterminded to sing a silly Fijian phrase used by one of the team here for the first run though... it made us laugh the most, but Georgie had a good giggle too! Once we'd vacated the stage, Sustainability Ben was next up with his ukelele and four of his own songs which are really cool and if you stay on the island while he is here, you WILL be walking around during the day whistling or singing them, lol! He performed them very well and the atmosphere in the bure was growing nicely which should come through on the recordings. Georgie performed after Ben, with a small guitar and her own song about peace and stopping the violence in the world. The room fell stoney silent as she started, she plays the guitar sooooo well, and her voice is beautiful. She certainly took my breath away with a superbly written song, and judging by talking to the others later, the same was true for them! After this we'd reached the 'headliners' for the gig, Team Fiji and a handful of the songs they rattle off on a daily basis. The atmosphere really picked up here, with Leavi singing and acting up for the camera being wielded expertly by Jim and getting the crowd going with some clapping and I could hear singing from the back of the bure, lol.

The night was a total success and Dave and Georgie got all the recordings they needed too. Look out for news of the music being put together! It might take a little while to get mastered, but it will be worth waiting for along with Dave and Georgie's song about the island... I can't wait to hear it!!

As usual with a good night on Vorovoro, the grog kept being stired until the small hours, to cap of a spectacular day out here for Tribewanted.

Vinaka Vaka Levu
Sloggs :)

Tags: beaches & sunshine, life!, the great outdoors



Sounds like an amazing place mate, awesome experience

  steve Jul 17, 2008 10:26 AM

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