Posted by: Alicia Phillips | September 23, 2012

Village Tour of the “Friendly North”

So I took a vacation, a work vacation, up to the north island; Vanua Levu, also known as the friendly north.  I validated this trip with my work, saying that I would do “community outreach” in the village giving out educational materials and doing trainings on non-communicable diseases. When in fact I just needed to get out of the city and into the village for my own sanity!

I took the ferry from Suva to Labasa. This ferry is one of the main reasons why I do not visit the north more often. #1- it cost $130 round trip (and when you’re only getting paid $550-that is a BIG chunk of your paycheck) and #2- It takes 11 hours, yeah…..11 hours. A two hour bus ride to the ferry landing, a four hour ferry ride to the second ferry landing, then a 5 ½ hour bus ride on dirt roads to Labasa town. FML.

Vanua Levu is so much different than Viti Levu (the big island I live on) in so many ways. It is more rugged; more untouched, and has much less infrastructure. It seems a little bit wilder, not as many resorts and tourists up this way, and it is so gorgeous. Dense jungles on one side, beach on the other, waterfalls, mountains, rivers, and villages spotted all over the place.

When I finally arrive in Labasa, most of the north volunteers are there already- I find out that they are having a bar-b-q that night! Perfect timing huh? So we treat ourselves to hot dogs, vegetarian kebabs, chips and salsa, and 2 bottles of Jim Beam! Needless to say, we got a little out of control and we all ended up at the local club Pontoon and danced all night long! It was outrageous!

Brian grilling some veggie kabobs for us

Who invited Jim???

The next day everyone headed back to their villages and thus begins the second leg of my journey:

Nanuca

Nanuca is Christine’s village. Out of all the villages I have been to visit I’m going to go ahead and vote this village as the most beautiful. Holy Moly. She lives right on the beach but it is nice and calm and the beach is spotted with huge rocks that you can jump off of into the water and there are natural walking paths and grooves in the rock from people walking on them every day. There are huge gorgeous shells all over the beach, fallen coconuts, perfect climbing trees, and plenty of secluded spots you can go to get some alone time. It blew my mind how ridiculous it is that she actually spends her days here.

Christine and the kids at the sea

It was rainy most of the time I was there but that didn’t stop us from going on a trek through the bush. Christine took me to a lookout way up on the hill where you can turn around and see for miles in every direction. From up there she pointed out her MPA area (Marine Protected Area). This was a project that she has completed since being at site. Making is illegal to fish in certain parts of the beach/reef so that overfishing doesn’t occur and baby fish have a chance to make it to maturity. Kind of a big deal and this MPA is huge! In 3-5 years the amount of fish in that area will increase drastically along with the health of the reef off in the coast. Later that day we went on another 2 trek through the mud and bush to the closest pie stand and enjoyed a huge slice of pink custard pie. So totally worth the hike!

Hiking in search of pie!

We also played a trash pick-up game with the village kids called TomiTomi. In this game there are 2 big bags, one is for trash to burn, and one is for trash to bury. Then we all went to the beach and the kids scattered to go pick up all the trash they could find. The kids in this village were SO adorable and they all LOVE Christine, which in turn made them all love me. I couldn’t go anywhere in her village without a child on each side holding my hands. It was kind of adorable. And now I am tempted to adopt a little Fijian kid and bring them home with me.

Cutest kids in the world picking up trash

Isa! As my time in Nanuca came to an end I was really reluctant to leave. As I got my bags together and Christine walked me to the bus stand all the children ran behind us yelling “Moce Balavu” (which means “goodbye tall”!) The bus I got on made a stop at the same pie stand that we trekked to the day before and the ladies remembered me and I got another piece! Wananavu!! (Awesome!!)

Moce Balavu!!!

Saying good-bye to Christine

My next stop: Dreketi

Dreketi is Milli’s village. To get to Dreketi I had to go to Savusavu town first to catch a bus. I had a few hours to kill so I went to the closest café; right on Savusavu bay, ordered a sweet tea, and spent a few hours with Hemingway until my bus came.

Waiting for my bus to come

Finally, I made it to Dreketi. As soon as I arrived Milli met me at the bus stop and we walked to her bure (her traditional Fijian house). Now this bure may be the most ballin’ Peace Corps house I have EVER been in. It was amazing! It was big, and raised up off the ground, had an amazing kitchen (that Milli built herself), solar lights, warm “solar” shower, and best of all it is right beside the beach so you go to sleep each night listening to the waves crash.  Hello paradise!

Milli by her uh-mazing bure

The women’s group in this village is very active and they wanted to do an aerobics class while I was there. So we all met up and someone’s house and put in a zumba DVD and got to sweating! It was a blast! Aftreward’s we invited all of the children to come by Milli’s bure and we had a tooth brushing/anti-smoking class. The Ministry of Health donated a ton of toothbrushes and toothpaste, and we wrote each kids name on it and talked about when to brush and how often to brush. After that we played a little smoking game where I gave all the kids a straw and they had to plug their nose and breathe through the straw for 30 seconds to mimic the effects of emphysema or asthma that you can get from smoking. It was lots of fun; Milli and I felt like very productive Peace Corps volunteers.

“Brush, brush, brush your teeth!”

Anti-smoking game

Later that day two boys from the village, Inoke and Seru, and Milli and I went for a walk on the beach. We ended up walking past another village and we were invited inside to drink grog.  This is a prime example as to why the north is called the “Friendly North”. The Fijian people are naturally a nice generous people, but the people up north are for real the friendliest! Everybody you see says hello, invites you for dinner, offeres you grog. When we got back to Millis bure, the 4 of us had a mini grog session and they taught me how lose tu na yaqona (mix the grog).

Inoke showing me how to mix the grog

Milli and I

Dreketi was a such lovely village and I was so sad to leave it but alas, I had to move along with my tour. Next village on the agenda: Qelemumumu.

Qelemumumu is Colin’s village. I was running short on days so I opted to only stay one night in this village. This village was much different from the other villages I have stayed in. It was in the interior, so not close to the ocean, it was only about an hour outside of Labasa town, and it was surrounded by Indian settlements.  This village was surrounded by beautiful mountains and had a river flowing right beside it.

Colin by his house

Unfortunately while I was there the village was without running water; which was kind of hard. Colin had to haul up water from the river to water his garden, take a shower with, and boil and filter for drinking water. The problem was a busted pipe way up in the mountains and all it needed to get fixed was $50 worth of materials to patch the pipe. Seems like it would be a quick easy fix, right? Wrong! This is one of the issues Colin deals in his village. How dependent a lot of people have become on outside aid. Instead of coming up with the money themselves and fixing it themselves they were just waiting for some outside group to come in and fix it for them.  They had gone 3 MONTHS without running water! How frustrating. However, Colin texted me a week later saying that he convinced his village they could fix it themselves, collected the money, bought the materials and they got it fixed in 2 hours! GREAT JOB COLIN!

There was also a student nursing group staying in the village doing a community home stay. They were having a workshop the next day and I gave them some of the materials I brought up with me to give out during the workshop. The workshop concentrated on NCD’s and adopting healthy lifestyles. It was really great. After the workshop we had a HUGE lunch of river mussels, cabbage curry, pulusami, poki, fresh fruit, and roasted eggplant. It was……..delicious! Hands down the best village food I have had in Fiji. Colin is a lucky man to be able to eat like that every day!

What a feast!!!

Colin and I

The next afternoon I left Qelemumumu to spend a day in Labasa town with Tim. Tim lives and works in Labasa town with the Ministry of Fisheries.  I got there and we made an awesome homemade spaghetti sauce and drank yummy wine and had a nice relaxing night.

Homemade spaghetti sauce and wine! Yum!

The next morning I took the 6 hour bus ride down to the last village I was visiting: Vuya. Now Christine had the best beach, Milli had the best house, and Colin had the best food, Brooke in Vuya had the nicest people! In the first 30 minutes I was there I had 2 people tell me I was pretty and someone else tell me how fit I was all while they carried my bags and offered to bring me food. Hello! Can I move to Vuya please? Haha

My welcoming committee

The next morning we took a hike up to the top of the hill above her village and we got to see the ocean, and her MPA, and the surrounding villages. It was so gorgeous. Then we walked down to the beach and they showed me a small cave where there is a legend about causing the weather patterns to change. On our way back to the village we got some bu (unripe coconut) and took it back to Brookes place and drank some delicious coconut water. Later that day, for lunch, we taught the boys how to make chop suey! These boys had never in their life cooked a meal for themselves! Brooke and I took care of that nonsense and we made them chop the veggies, make the rice, and sauté everything together. Then Brooke got a brilliant idea and we decided to teach them how to eat with chopsticks. Hilarity ensued.

Brooke and I on the hike

“No, your doing it wrong”

After lunch we took a trip to the nearest beach and went and played in the waves for hours! Then on our way back we ate coconut meat and listened to music. Later that night everyone came over to Brookes house and we drank grog until 3am! During grog I had a chance to talk a little bit about NCD’s, America, and I explained the “Happy wife, happy life” philosophy to the guys who were there drinking with us. Some Fijian lady owes me BIG time one of these days! Haha! It was an AMAZING day!

Isimeli and I and all the coconut in the background

Drinking grog on the last night in the village

The next morning I was due to catch the ferry back to Suva. ISA LEI!!!! I was so sad to leave the friendly north, everyone I met showed me such an amazing time and when I was leaving everyone kept asking me to hurry and come back! Literally…the nicest people ever. Some of the boys from Vuya village came and sat with me at the ferry landing waiting on my ferry to come and wouldn’t leave until I was safely on the ferry. The trip back to Suva took me 5 hours and during those hours I had to literally get back in the Suva mindset of going to work every day, Monday morning meetings, emails to respond to, bills to pay, the hustle and bustle of the big city, and the forever overcast skies of Suva. Gah! Send me back to the village!!

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Responses

  1. Doing so good Alicia. Happy Equinox!

  2. Talk about paradise! Sounds like you found it! And you look so happy n healthy! Judging from your photos, they are an easy people to love! Bless you ! I know you’ve made a wonderful impression among them. Hope you make all these writings/photos into a book. You write so beautifully! Hang in and keep us posted!

  3. wow…..


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