Leaving Matuku... I hope to return someday!
After two wild weeks aboard S/V Shannon I have returned home to S/V Rutea. Yes, Kevin and my expeditious exploration of the Lau group has come to an end, but what a glorious end it was.
I left off at our dinner party with Koli, Luciana and three kids from the village. Since then we spent more time in the village, went on a gnarly spearfishing trip with James, made the two night passage back to Tavarua and Namotu where our buddies on Twister were waiting for us, scored more freaking amazing waves, and made it back to Musket Cove just in time to celebrate Mother's Day with my momma.
Now that I am back in civilization, Matuku feels like a very long time ago, even though it has only been a few days since we left. By Wednesday of last week Kevin and I had totally run out of clean clothes, and even the remotely clean clothes were salty and smelly. Time to do laundry - except with little fresh water on the boat one either has to wash with salt water (not very effective) or go into the village. Kevin and I packed up the dirty clothes, a few new kids t-shirts and some fiberglass to repair Koli's leaking boat. As it would have been deemed outrageous for Kevin to even help with the laundry, I took the clothes to Luciana's house while Kevin went to help Koli with the repair (seriously defined gender roles here).
When I arrived at Luciana's house to ask for some water to do laundry she said, "Laundry? Ok, I will do it." "No, no, I will do it, I just need some fresh water if you can spare any," I told her. "Ok, then I make lunch," she replied. I was confident there was enough water as there was a torrential downpour the previous night. As for lunch, you can't really decline to eat a meal with these people, so I smiled and said "vinaka."
Luciana showed me to a faucet in the "backyard" (jungle) and I did the laundry in a bucket while chickens pecked at my ankles and mosquitos buzzed in my ears. After hanging the laundry on the line I went back inside and pulled out a pack of guitar strings that I just so happened to have in my guitar bag. Koli's guitar was missing one string and the rest were badly corroded, so I replaced all of them, making the guitar look and sound (almost) new. They seemed to be pleased but probably thought it was wasteful to replace strings that were not broken, but hey, it is my gift to them.
Around lunch time Koli and Kevin showed up along with a few other kids who, knowing Luciana was cooking, stayed for lunch. Kevin, Koli and I were served first - another ramen noodle and fish dish with a side of yams and taro. It made me uncomfortable to have a hungry kid watching me eat, but there was nothing I could do about it. After we finished eating Luciana ate, and after she was finished she made plates for the kids.
Sipping lemon leaf tea we talked about the afternoon plans. James, one of the guys Kevin and I liked most in the village, offered to go spear fishing with us. We managed to slip out of Koli's house without being encouraged (too much) to take an afternoon nap and headed back to the boat. The three of us took Kevin's little dinghy with its 2.5 horsepower engine out to the reef pass, set the anchor and jumped in.
Although I love eating fish I am a bit squeamish about killing them, so I just snorkeled and free dived while the boys went out killing things with their spear guns. I followed James for a while and saw him shoot a puffer fish right through the eye. It puffed up like a spiny basketball and floated to the surface, where James threw it on a coral head out of the water and proceeded to stab it a bunch of times to deflate it. Then he stabbed it through the brain to kill it. "Umm, do you actually eat those things?" Kevin asked James. "Oh yes, they are delicious. They are my father's favorite." James replied. "Um, yea, but what about the poison sack? Don't chefs train for years to be able to filet and cook a puffer fish?" Kevin asked. James had no idea what we were talking about, but I guess nobody in the village has died from eating one yet so it is still fair game.
After a few hours in the water James had collected a rainbow of exotic fish on a string he was trailing behind him, while white and black tipped reef sharks eyed his catch with a certain look in their eye that made me swim a good ways away from him. In some places in the Pacific a shark would attack the string of fish without hesitation, but James told me the sharks here are "like girls" and are too scared to take from a human - unless it is night. Ok, but I still would not want to carry a string of bleeding and dead fish around.
Kevin and James with their catch after a killing spree.
We headed back to the village with the night's dinner. As we walked through the village James placed a fish or two on the doorsteps of a few houses. "I like to give the fresh fish to the families with small children; it makes them healthy and strong," he told us. What a nice guy.
You can understand why we were sad to leave the next day. The hospitality of the villagers was overwhelming, the beauty of the reef was mind blowing, and to be completely honest I was really dreading the passage back to Viti Levu. But we had to leave - I promised my mom I would be back for Mother's Day and Kevin was headed back to Hawaii for work. Thus, after a few more pictures and saying goodbye to the entire village, we pulled up the anchor and headed out.
Although the passage back was not super easy, it was much nicer than the way there. It only took us two days to get back, and whereas I really wanted to stop at Kadavu for a night or two - it is almost criminal to sail past a place like that and not stop - Kevin wanted to try and get in another few surf sessions at Namotu before heading back to Hawaii. I couldn't complain.
At day break on Saturday morning we arrived at Wilkes Pass, the same pass we left out of some two weeks earlier. As we pulled around Namotu, there was none other than my good friend Lars on his 28 foot boat, Twister. Our mutual friend Gaz sailed up from New Zealand with him, and they have been cruising around together for a bit. We yelled our hellos, invited them over for breakfast, and set the anchor - extremely happy to be back inside the reef at our favorite surf spot.
I whipped up a quick breakfast and then the four of us piled into Kevin's dinghy (with 4 surfboards too) and headed out to Namotu Lefts. Unfortunately we timed the tide wrong and the current was ebbing so hard it was impossible to get to the waves. We had tied up to a mooring and jumped in to paddle to the waves some 200 meters away, but could not make it. I paddled for 30 minutes before I gave up and drifted back to the dinghy. The boys gave in soon after and we headed back to the boats, barely making headway against the current. However, we did make it and decided to try again later.
Kevin and I took long naps, ate a bunch of food, rallied for more energy and in the late afternoon went back to Twister and got Gaz and Lars for a second attempt at surfing. This time the current was slack. The waves were chest to head high; all lefts peeling across the reef. There were a few people out, but as the sun set they went in and the four of us were left with all the fun waves we could catch. Finally it got so dark that we couldn't really see the waves anymore and headed back to the dinghy.
By this time the tide had changed and was running out the pass, so once again we barely motored faster than the current. It was also pretty much dark and we were guided by the lights of the resort on Namotu. Just then, the motor died. Shit. I could see Kevin's eyes go wide eve in the dark. We all stopped for a moment and then Kevin, who is probably the most calm person I have ever met, tweaked the engine a bit and started her up. She coughed a bit but did not die again, getting us safely to our boats. That night we had a potluck dinner, jam session and tried to put a dent in the bottle of Bounty rum, but I couldn't get anybody to drink it. They preferred warm beer over Bounty. If that is not a blunt statement I don’t know what is.
The next morning we awoke to bright blue sky and absolutely no wind. We had a nice morning with a cup of tea and leftover pizza and fried plantains, then loaded up the dinghy once again and headed out to Namotu Lefts. Actually, we headed for Wilkes Pass, which is a pretty heavy/gnarly right that I was not keen to surf, but the other three are regular footers and wanted a right. Unfortunately (and really too bad) there are no moorings out there and we didn't want to anchor in deep water, so we headed back to Namotu Lefts where we proceeded to surf our brains out for the next 3 hours.
Kevin, Gaz, Lars and me on our way to Namotu Lefts with Namotu island in the background. STOKED!
The waves were amazing. Head high to overhead, lined up and fast but not super heavy; clear blue turquoise water with light offshore winds... ohhh man. Don't get me wrong - I took many waves on the head and ditched my board twice, got caught inside heaps and duck dived so much white water my arms were throbbing, but it was SO good. I have never felt so comfortable surfing a coral reef pass. Everybody out - which was not many people - was so stoked to be out there, so stoked on the conditions we were all cheering for each other. Everybody was grinning from ear to ear.
After three hours I had to force myself to get out of the water. My face was burnt to a crisp, my arms dead. Fortunately the current was not too strong so I was able to get back to the dinghy, where Kevin, Lars, Gaz and I all gave each other high fives on scoring such good waves.
This was Sunday morning, also known as Mother's Day. As hard as it was to leave my beloved Namotu, I also wanted to spend the day - or what was left of it - with my mom. Kevin and I got the boat ready, pulled up anchor and headed back to Musket Cove, where all these shenanigans started in the first place. After doing a quick clean up and packing all my crap - ukulele, guitar, dive gear, clothes, surfboard, etc. - I returned to Rutea and the happy faces of my parents.
How nice to be home! After being on Shannon for two weeks Rutea seems like a palace. And she is, really, but it is all relative. When I got back to the boat Mom gave me a big hug and said, "Corie! You are back! Kevin didn't take you and sell you into slavery or something awful like that!" I could see her concern - I mean, I hardly knew Kevin before we took off and she knew him even less - but it was all good. "I realized I didn't even know his last name! But I guess not many cruisers are axe murderers..." Mom went on. Actually, I had been horrible about emailing, but Kevin had emailed my parents every night we were on passage letting them know we were alive. If that isn't a good guy I don't know who is.
We all went out for a nice dinner - a restaurant! bright lights! no taro! tile floors! cold beer! - Kevin and I were a bit stunned with the whole scene. After being in the outback for a few weeks coming back to modern (I use the term "modern" loosely) civilization is always a bit of a shock. Regardless, it was a very nice night and all the more special that I got to spend it with my mom. After dinner I gathered my last few things off Shannon, said goodbye to Kevin: "see you again someday, I hope!", and went back to Rutea to a blissful sleep in my own bed.