Friday, December 30, 2016

Yasawa Islands Cruise

So as you may have noticed in a few of the past Monday's Moments, Richard's parents have come to visit us for the holidays. Soon after they booked their tickets here, we suggested doing a cruise through the Yasawa Islands. It would be an easy way to visit a lot of beautiful beaches, experience some awesome snorkeling, and I could check off a few more of the remaining 330 islands of Fiji I am attempting to hit. Ann & Jim have done a number of cruises already, so they were game. We booked through Captain Cook Cruises to do the 4-night Yasawa Island Cruise.

My in-laws arrived the weekend after Thanksgiving, the kids still had one last week of school. We then encouraged a week of boredom (and allowed ample time for Ann & Jim to get over jet lag). We then headed up to Port Denarau to get on the ship. Richard and I had gotten married on a Disney cruise (Mason and my niece and nephew were all in the 3-4 year old age bracket so it was the best option)....so we set the bar high. Clarissa, being the lone family member who hadn't been on a cruise yet, was most excited! Unfortunately, when checking the weather after dropping our luggage we did not have the best forecast.


Maybe they will be wrong....how many times growing up did you go to school decked out in winter clothes or a rain coat for it to be nice and warm or sunny all day...right?!?! Thinking positive....totally ignoring the dark sky and the red blobs on that map! 


We took the ship's glass bottom boat over to the ship, the MV Reef Endeavor, after several smaller boats left with groceries and everyone's luggage. After boarding, we had a light lunch and got our cabin key, as the ship began to head over to our first island! A mere two hours later, we had arrived at Tivua Island, were mostly unpacked, had changed, and were ready to play.


We got shuttled out to Tivua Island, which is Captain Cook's private island. 


They offered snorkeling. Both kids were ready to go, so off we went leaving Nana and Bajoo in our splashes....It was mostly sea grass snorkeling with only a few fish and the current was pretty strong, so Clarissa and I headed in and Mason met up and went off with Bajoo. Clarissa and I went looking for shells/playing in the surf.


Mason found some cool pieces of coral, but I reminded him we can't take coral so I just took a picture so he could remember it and made him leave it on the beach.....note the stink eye....


After returning to the ship, we got showered. The kids headed off to their early dinner and kids club (which given it was a small ship at about half capacity for our cruise with only ~55 guests and of those 14 kids, the kids club was mostly watching movies). We had cocktails and canap├ęs before heading down to our own dinner. 


We ended up passing on the first nights entertainment. Having come from Suva we had left our house early in the morning and were done by 2100! The kids were digging the bunk beds.....though Richard and I were missing the US safety rail on the bunk to protect people from rolling out while sleeping or rough seas. Richard and I had a similar set up on the other side. Ann & Jim had their own room one deck up with just one double bed and no upper bunk to worry about.


Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, we heard the anchor getting pulled up and the ship began to get underway again. By breakfast time the anchor was setting of Naviti Island. Richard and I scheduled a dive that morning and the kids were going snorkeling/to the beach with the grandparents. The ship had a fun elevator lift system that brought the small boats up to the C deck on the back of the ship. 

Loaded in the boat....


and off the go!


Due to a mechanical issue our dive was delayed until all snorkelers were finished. So we snorkeled for a bit, then as they dropped all snorkelers off at Brother's Beach for a few hours we waved at the kids. Clarissa (and Mason) is in the water in the center of the photo. She is less than pleased she couldn't go SCUBA diving with us and was pouting as the boat took us back to the ship to get our dive gear.


There was a lot more hard coral present than the soft coral we are used to seeing down around the big island. Overall the coral look pretty healthy and there were a lot of different species of fishes! It was a bit overcast, but we tried out our new red filter on the GoPro and it really seemed to help brighten up/more true colors to what we saw (max depth was about 35 feet). The biggest highlight was our first giant clam (which we actually saw two different ones)! 




After diving, we headed back to the ship and met everyone for lunch. While eating lunch, the ship repositioned itself onto the other side of Naviti Island, by the Gunu Village. After lunch, Clarissa still bitter about not diving wanted some mommy/daddy time, so we took her to the beach. Mason having snorkeled for about an hour opted to hang with Nana and Bajoo on the boat and take a nap/play on his iPad (something about free Wifi on the boat and us not yelling at him for streaming YouTube may have contributed to that....lol). It was low tide when we got to the beach and we found a ton of sea stars on the beach in tide pools.


 I'm a super star!


She was writing everyone's names in the sand....


Gunu Village


After our afternoon at the beach, we all got showered/cleaned up and headed back over to go into the Gunu Village. Some of us got ready on time and made it onto the first boat.....


The rest of us made it on the next boat over. In the mean time, a visiting 'village' (i.e. us boat people) chief was selected.....and Jim was chosen to be the chief. When we first arrived, we had the opportunity to do so some shopping for handicrafts and goods the villagers had. Clarissa got a shell necklace, Mason got a miniature Tanoa bowl (kava bowl), we found some masi fabric angel ornaments for our Christmas tree, and I got some chamber nautilus shells (my alma mater's symbol was a chamber nautilus). We were warned about the 3 species of illegal shells (spider conch, giant clam and the gorgeous giant triton) would be sold but that if we bought any the boat would not let us take them off and if we some how snuck them off we would be later caught by customs agents.....so we aren't sure why the villagers still try and sell them.   


Mason shopping before the Sevusevu ceremony (kava ceremony) was moved inside due to some rain sprinkles. Jim being chief sat up close on the mat during the ceremony and was the first of the visiting tribe to drink the kava. 



After the ceremony, we moved outside for the Lovo feast. Clarissa fell asleep during the ceremony. When we stepped outside, the kids club lady insisted on taking sleeping Clarissa out of my arms. We had a little bit of time to walk around the village. It was real neat to see a number of the homes had solar power panels, which makes a ton of sense! Being so remote it, it would be the easiest way to get electric power.


We met a couple on the boat that were from Poland....super small world (and I told Richard I have a couple great aunts that the woman reminded me of!). About mid-way walking through the village, a very angry Clarissa found me. She had apparently awoken and was not happy to be in a semi-stranger's arms with mommy no where to be found....lol. After dinner, the villagers performed the "Meke" songs and dances. Though we don't understand the words, it is very pretty to watch and the music is very upbeat and happy (and the warrior dances are fun when they get in attack mode).



At the end, they sang "Isa Lei", the Fijian farewell song. They brought up a few people from the cruise when they sang it. The lady that brought Mason up, got a big smile of surprise on her face when he started to sing along too (since he had learned the words from school). 


At some point, the visiting chief (aka Jim/Bajoo) went up there and so did Clarissa....and they all waved good bye as the song ended....then we all headed back to the ship....there was some rain from that TD04 starting to come down and some chop on the water and we all got a bit soaked on the ride back.


Again in the wee hours of the morning, we heard the anchor getting pulled up and the ship began to get underway again. This time though there was a little more rocking and rolling and pitching and hurling....by about 0630 I'd say half the passengers were on the back deck of the boat with their trashcans making fish food. When we first started moving and I felt the motion, I got up and put a motion sickness wristband on Mason, but an hour or so later per Mason's request Richard took him up for fresh air. Clarissa was still fine...till about the above mentioned 6:30. Then she said her tummy didn't feel good. So, we go up to the back deck, she crawls into Richard's lap, and gave him a badge of fatherhood...so sweet! Needless to say, 4 out of 6 got sea sick....Alaska trained me well and this was child's play so I was fine.....and you can guess which other adult had a stomach of steel. At some point, the Captain came on and made an announcement that in about 30 minutes the boat would be turning and the seas would be calming down. Sure enough it did, that morning at breakfast toast was a very popular item!! 

The boat anchored in Buasali Bay. After our light breakfast, even though it was overcast and looked like rain we had made it to Blue Lagoon....or as I lovingly call it.....Grey Lagoon.....and I figured getting on some solid land would be good for everyone's tummy....so off we went.


I think Jim was joking about me not posting this on FaceBook...okay...it's not on FaceBook....heehee.


Having fun...


I don't know....


It's really trying to be beautiful, breathtakingly, blue


Kayaking with Daddy.


Finding shells.


I dub thee chicken rock....or shall I call thee Gamecock rock?


The rocky formations were really interesting, with lots of little hideaways.


Momentarily it has stopped raining, the snorkelers have gone....a beautiful secluded beach,


a nice blue lagoon....someone should make a movie here.....oh wait....


The sun was trying to come out, then on the boat ride back to the ship it started pouring rain....we got pelted with cold rain. Let's just say Clarissa was thrilled about that, not!! At lunch, the Captain announced that he talked to the head offices at Captain Cook and given the current projections for our good friend TD04 to turn into a Tropical Cyclone and the rough seas we had experienced that morning, the safest thing for the ship and most comfortable for the passengers would be for the ship to remain anchored in this Bay for an extra day, allowing the storm to pass. Given the weather, most departing flights out of Nadi, would likely be canceled so even if we made it back into port everyone would be stuck still. So we were a little bummed to be missing out on visiting two more islands, we could at least avoid some more sea sickness fun. After lunch, Richard went on another dive and I got a massage. The kids hung out in the Yasawa lounge on the ship (aka free wifi area of the ship). We had the option to go on the trip to the cave of Sawa-I-Lau...something that is real breathtaking when the light streams in from above....with it raining we opted to wait and we will come back another time....

So for some words I never thought I'd mutter....I have a tailor and before the cruise he custom made some clothes for the family....yeah! One of a kind outfits for all of us!! When a group or family wears a matching pattern it is called kalavata. The men got perfectly fitting Bula shirts and the ladies got Fijian Sulu Jaba (pronounced more like 'jamba'). The Sulu Jaba is a traditional woman's two piece outfit with a fitted shirt/tunic with a long ankle length wrap skirt. A friend of mine wrote about them here. So my In-Laws got part of the Christmas gift early so that we could take some photos in our outfits on the cruise! Given it was windy and rainy...we took photos inside instead of on a pretty beach somewhere....sigh. Here's some of the best shots in our kalavata...


Who doesn't love a photo bomber?


The fabric we picked out was little bit tribal and had sea turtles on it.


The crew loved our outfits. At dinner, they were inspired by our clothes and declared the next nights dinner attire to be 'Bula wear'....so we recycled the outfits for another night....oh well.


In case you are curious....Sula Jaba will not hamper your ability to compete in Twister!


After dinner, the staff put on a native fashion show. While we are wearing traditional fashion (post missionary fashion), they modeled what was worn prior to missionaries arriving and will still be worn for some ceremonies (such as weddings). The Chief is standing in the middle and warriors to the side.


They also posed with guests....I think this one turned out great....Ann and I are next to the bride and Jim is next to the groom.


The next morning, I insisted on a mandatory fun activity. We did the glass bottom boat tour....like snorkeling but without the sea lice (aka stinging jellyfish larva) and rain. It was surprisingly fun and Nana spotted her first blue sea star!! That afternoon a movie was played on the ship and Mason got to do a Free Pool Dive session! I think that afternoon alone made the trip for him! He was the first one in and the last one up. The instructor did a very good job going over theory, explaining hand signals, and safety before getting in the water. (Clarissa even got in on the lesson).


Getting on his weight belt and his BCD.


First breath underwater.


He first swam a lap around the pool to get used to breathing 'canned' air.


Then he went down and it was thumbs up from there. Once everyone trying out the pool session was submerged they practiced some skills (removing masks, sharing regulators, etc) and then played with a toy dive torpedo. He had a blast.


Clarissa on the other hand, was working on racking up the bar tab. She befriend Joe, the bartender, and when we were checking out on disembarkment she had order 9 hot chocolates, 2 sprites, and 1 ginger ale while on ship....


Joe even started writing her messages in her hot chocolate like Bula and Enjoy.....lol.


The crew also decorated a bit while we were floating about on this gloomy day. A little holiday cheer (note the beautiful giant triton shells on the table....now you see why people want to buy them....).


Our bonus day on the ship was grey, rainy, gloomy, and a bit rocky from time to time but not too bad.....the ship played another movie in the morning and had hoped to do a beach trip in the afternoon but the wind really picked up (TD04 was moving really slow) in the afternoon and that trip was cancelled. 


Cabin fever set in a bit, especially with Clarissa. She wanted to do some crafts. We worked with what was available on the ship....and her Littlest Pet Shop Animals had some homemade bures to stay in at our napkin resort....


 She then moved the weather/excursion info podium and lectured us.


In the late afternoon the sun tried to peek out for a bit, before it started raining sideways. At that point we were a bit thankful our cabin's door opened to an interior hallway and not a scenic open air balcony...


We got cleaned up for our last dinner on the ship. While sufficient, we weren't totally blown away by the food. Being a vegetarian is always tricky. Breakfast was fine. Dinner typically had 3 options, 2 meat and 1 vegetarian. So while I didn't have a choice on what I got to eat, I did have something non-meaty. Lunch was toughest though. Nearly everyday, all the entrees were meat based, so I had the lovely salad or coleslaw, bread, and fruit lunch....while not bad, it's not exactly what you picture when you think of cruise dining. The kids had a tougher time at lunch....though they are fans of raw fruits and veggies they don't like it mixed....those crazy purest. Also, being a small boat there were set dining hours at the lone ship dining saloon and no other food available (hence the above mentioned 9 hot chocolates consumed by Clarissa....for midday subsistence....lol). 


At dinner the last night, the Captain warned us that around midnight the anchor would be pulled and the ship would get underway back to Nadi. He suggested everyone take their sea sickness medicine (which was available in the ship shop if you needed any). I went and bought the kids some. We did have a little bit of rocking and rolling on the way home, but nothing too bad that we couldn't all sleep through. When we awoke the next morning, we went out to the back deck to see the sunrise on a flat harbor in Nadi....of course!


Before disembarkment, the crew sang a Fijian song and then 'Isa Lei' to us. We then walked past them all to say goodbye on our way to the stairs down to the tender to get back to shore. About half the crew gave us hugs good bye. It was nice being on such a small ship, you did get to personally know the crew and you did start to feel like family.


While not the best cruising experience we could have wished for (and we probably muttered "Oh Fiji" a few times), in looking at a rainfall map....we would have still had some cabin fever had we stayed at home (the Yasawas Islands are the little chain of islands to the left of the big island at the bottom that got about 186 mm of rain (or 7 inches) vs the 379 mm (15 inches) in Suva). 


Current island tally: 3 Yasawa Islands visited, 327 Fijian Islands remaining.