We leave Fulaga tomorrow morning – high tide and slack water in the reef pass will be at about 9.30am and we'll do the 170 mile overnight passage back to Taveuni where the delights of a supermarket and off license await! We've done pretty well to survive nearly 5 weeks without a shop; we've done lots of bread, biscuit and cake baking, had some excellent fresh fish and cooked plenty of pasta and tinned food. We've also eaten some interesting and, mostly, very tasty food in the village, though starchy cassava isn't our favourite. However we are really sad to be leaving Fulaga.
Our last formal day in the village was on Wednesday and was pretty memorable. It started with Graham joining a few other yachties to help drag Meli's new dugout canoe out of the forest. This was the first new canoe to be built here for 6 years and is the largest (about 22ft) to be built for many years. It's taken Meli about a month of solid work, spread out over the last five months, and it was just amazing to walk the 3/4 mile, roughly-hacked path through the dense hardwood forest and suddenly to come upon the absolutely beautiful hull lying where the tree was felled. These days a chainsaw is used for the felling whereas the old method was to hack away at the base of the trunk with an axe then light a fire at the tree base and return the following day to find the tree down.
Meli had carved the outside of the canoe, with just an axe and an adze, so that it was beautifully faired. He'd done most of the digging out of the hull but left more wood still to be removed; there's a balance to be had between making it light enough to move but strong enough to withstand the knocks of the challenging journey to the sea. It transpired that we were the first foreigners to witness the process and indeed we all joined in as much needed manpower. A supple 1" thick vine was the pulling rope and 5ft length of 4" thick tree trunks were laid at around 8ft intervals across the often rocky path. The smooth hull of the canoe slid remarkably easily over the green bark of the logs and, in between 40-50 yard pulls, we went back to retrieve the logs and move them in front of the canoe. About 15 men from the village were there and the journey was hard and, at times, dangerous when the 500kg canoe slid down the steeper sections, threatening to run down the pullers. Eventually, after about 3 hours we emerged, hot and sweaty, at the water's edge and the canoe floated to a great cheer. Meli looked properly pleased; he told us that he'll rig this canoe as an outrigger initially but really wants to find another tree to make an identical hull to make a drua – a sailing catamaran that would be a scaled-down version of the ancient voyaging canoes. He also said he will call the boat Maunie II and we really don't think he'd joking; his wife Jiko says he will carve the name on the hull. Wow. We have lots of video and plenty of photos of the day so will post them very soon.
After all that excitement there was just time for a quick shower and a bite of lunch on Maunie before we headed in to the village for our formal goodbyes. First we went to the chief where Meli acted as our spokesperson but Dau, the wonderful headmistress, translated our speech of thanks. The 86 year old chief was lovely and wanted to know what we'd seen and done; he obviously wanted to chat (via Dau as translator) so we swapped a few stories until Dau winked at us and said in English 'he wants to talk but he's old – we should go!'. We returned to Jiko and Meli's house to find the furniture-less room already filled with people and the party began with many rounds of kava and brilliant singing. We just felt that we were in a room of good friends and one of our thank-you gifts to the family, a photo album of prints of our time here, was passed around with much laughter and enjoyment.
Meli and Jiko gave us beautiful farewell gifts. Jiko had made a traditional pandanus mat and woven bags whilst Meli proudly presented his carving that we'd seen in its early stages (seeing all the work and skill that he'd put into it made it all the more special). He'd learned that Dianne loves penguins so had gone to the school library to find pictures (and had even watch the DVD of Happy Feet on the school computer!) and he's carved the most perfect 18" tall penguin for us! Unbelievable.
The party got into full swing with about 30 people there and Graham showed them videos of sailing on Meli's canoe (Meli looked particularly happy at that) before Graham did a farewell speech and the villagers sang the Farewell Song (in Fijian but translated by Dau, starting the tears flowing). We shook hands with everyone in the room, with lots of hugs and further tears all round. What a night.
Though we'd formally 'checked out' we had decided that we'd give ourselves a couple of quiet days to relax and get ready for sea so we moved Maunie to a more remote anchorage, away from the village. Before we weighed anchor, though, we saw a couple of familiar figures on the beach so dinghied across to find Jiko and little Jima sitting watching for us and waving madly; it was good to have a final personal goodbye to someone who's been such a wonderful host and friend. Jiko said she doesn't want to host another yacht as she can't bear saying goodbye. After final hugs we returned to Maunie and weighed anchor, with Jiko waving from the shore until we were out of sight but this was not to be our last farewell. As we crossed the lagoon we saw a familiar, ragged blue sail coming towards us and there was Meli on his old canoe, out fishing. We motored alongside taking final photos and shouting farewells; as we changed course and motored away we saw this lovely, talented, tough man wiping tears from his eyes.