It’s my first full day in Taveuni and I’m eager to see this island I’ve been dreaming about!
Today, being Sunday, is generally a quiet day in Fiji. Most shops are closed, some tour companies don’t run. Many people head to church. The Catholic church on the island is in the village of Waikiri. I’d read and been told that even though the service would be in Fijian so I’d have no idea what was being said, it would be a great experience to go - the singing is incredible. So I went to church this morning.
Many of Makaira’s staff (where I’m staying) are Catholic but don’t often get the chance to go to Waikiri for services because of the time and expense. So since I was already going to be paying for a van to take me there, they were welcome to join. Four people came along - Lucy (who works at Makaira), Matheo (a teenage boy who lives near Makaira), Pela (who’s been visiting his cousin who works at Makaira) and “Mama” (who works nearby). I met them at the van and Lucy had a fresh flower for me to put in my hair. Off we
went. We drove along the island’s West Coast, which is the main road and the only one that is paved - but it was only paved about ten years ago. On the left were mountains covered in lush green jungle. On the right was the ocean, sparkling bright blue; across the water was the neighbouring island of Vanua Levu. We passed through Somosomo, the biggest town on the island. In Somosomo is the house for the great chiefs, for when they meet. I saw one of the main secondary schools, a few churches and the commercial centre, though most of the shops were boarded up and closed for Sunday. We passed the main water jetty, where two large ships were unloading cargo. Those ships make daily trips to Suva, the capital city, to move cargo and also passengers on the ferry decks.
Then out on the water, just beyond the water jetty, was the cruise ship again. It had been in the water right in front of Makaira yesterday. Figures, even when I arrive in Taveuni, on the other side of the world from home, I was greeted by the view of a cruise ship - I can’t escape
them! The ship sailed on from Matei Point this morning, but then it found me again in down the coast.
Then we reached the village of Waikiri and drove up the hill to the church. The Waikiri Catholic Church is the oldest building on the island. People were steadily streaming out of the surrounding village and heading into the church. The church was empty, with people seated cross-legged on the floor. Lucy said that there were chairs stacked that I could have one of them and sit at the back or far side if I wanted to, but I said I was fine. I wanted to sit with them. So Lucy, Mama, Matheo, Pela and I joined the crowd on the floor. We still had about 15 minutes before the service was to begin but already the congregation was singing. It was beautiful!
The service began a little bit late, which I didn’t think much about - I’d heard lots already about “Fijian Time”. The church was quite packed, all the locals seated on the ground and at the back a group of about 20-30 tourists, mostly on plastic chairs. The service was mostly in Fijian, so I
had no idea what was being said. But I just liked being there, with all the people and looking out the side doors to the surrounding village and mountains. The priest did the sermon in English, because there were so many guests with them today. I had mixed feelings about that, I mean, it was nice to understand what he was saying, but should he really be catering to the foreigners? But that was only 10 minutes of the service which lasted a little more than an hour. Every time the congregation sang, it was so beautiful. They just naturally belt out in three-part harmony. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much work myself and the other music directors at camp put into getting our groups to sing and how these people just do it naturally every week.
After the service, I took a few pictures and then headed outside. The view from the mountain out to sea really is gorgeous. Then our group hopped into the van to leave. As we were pulling away, we saw the group of tourists all climbing into a bus. I’d assumed they were from one of the couple resorts on the island,
but then Lucy explained that they were from the cruise ship - and that they were why the service had started late, we were waiting for them to arrive. Seriously? A cruise ship excursion to a Sunday church service? I know I make most of my money from the cruise industry, but nonetheless, I don’t like so much of what they do.
Since we were already halfway down the island, I’d elected to make today’s trip out a bit more of a tour. So we made a couple more stops after church. We went to a little shop so I could grab some groceries. I’m really splurging on my accommodations here on Taveuni, so I’m cutting costs by making my meals.
Then we headed to the International Date Line. The 180 Meridian passes right through Taveuni - one of the few land masses in the world where it does. To make things easier, all of Fiji is on one time (16 hours ahead of home), but technically half of the island is in one day while half is in the other. I took a picture there at the line, lost somewhere between days.
The final destination of
the day’s trip was the Waitavala Natural Water Slide. It is exactly that - a waterslide naturally formed by the water coursing quickly over (mostly) smooth rocks. I had read about this spot in a few books and was eager, but nervous to check it out. I’d heard it could be dangerous, depending on the water levels. But with some locals who know it well, I was put at ease. Pela and Matheo went right up with me, took me to a quite smooth but still very vast section. Lucy held onto my camera to snap photos of us going down. Pela went first, then waited for me at the bottom to stop me from continuing right on down the stream. Then it was my turn. It was so much fun! I couldn’t believe how quickly the water swept me down along the rocks. It was smooth and pretty straight for the first half, then I swung a quick left, it was a little bumpy, then a sharp right and splash down into a fairly deep pool. But wow, was it awesome. And the forest surrounding it was beautiful too, so lush. The sun managed to find us sometimes as
it peeked between the tree tops. I went down a total of 4 times. Then I swam a little bit in the deeper pool where Mama and Paul (our driver) was hanging out.
As I stood at the top of the slide, about to go down the last time, I looked around me. This is it. Moments like that are why I travel, why I love to travel. And that moment was one of I hope more to come, for why I’ve been dreaming of Taveuni.
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