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A Tale of Three Treks

2008 December 20
by rob

November 24, 2008

Barbara and I were awake early. It was time to climb Des Voux Peak, the second highest peak on Taveuni, at around 1200 m. Technically, it was a simple climb since there was a road that lead all the way to the top. There were telecommunications towers at the top of the peak, so it was possible to catch a ride to the top with the workers who drove up there… but that wouldn’t be fun for us. We decided to walk the whole way.

It was a four hour walk all the way up, and a two hour walk back down. The road was rough and not really paved. Most of it was composed of piles of craggy black volcanic rocks. It’s a good thing we were wearing proper walking shoes, otherwise we would have wrecked our feet. We were astonished to see several groups of local people walking up and down the road in just flip flops or even bare feet. We didn’t know how they did it.

There is apparently a flower that is endemic to Des Voux Peak (i.e.: it is a species unique to that place). We were fortunate enough to be there at the time of year where it was in bloom. Although we didn’t see the plants themselves, several groups of local kids had climbed the mountain that day to pick big bunches of the pretty red and white flowers.

We were treated with gorgeous views on the way up the mountain, but as we got close to the summit, we were assaulted with rain showers. Any possible breathtaking vistas at the top of the mountain were obscured by thick layers of rain clouds and fog. Oh well.

On the way up the mountain, we saw some parrots and heard a strange barking sound emanating from the surrounding jungle. It really sounded like dogs to me. Barbara speculated that it could be some kind of monkey, but I didn’t think any monkeys lived on Taveuni. The sound would remain a mystery until we learned its true source two days later.

That afternoon, we took a bus from our inn in Waiyovo village to Lavena village on the other side of the island. It was a two hour bus ride and we were the only two foreigners on the bus. It cost only FJ$4 (CA$3) Taking a bus with the locals is always fun (of course, I can say that now since the terrors of my ordeals on the buses in Laos are somewhat dulled in my memory).

Part way down the road, it started to rain viciously. By the time we reached Vidawa village, the last village before our destination, a flash flood had overrun the banks of one of the rivers and blocked the passage of the bus. It was dark outside, so it took some time before I could figure out why our forward progress had been blocked. The bus driver edged the bus up to the edge of the rushing torrents of water. There was no proper bridge (Taveuni is too poor to afford many of such luxuries), just a paved ford across the river. I looked out the window and saw the flood waters. It seemed to me like the bus driver was going to attempt to drive across it! Oh god, I thought… I didn’t want to die here! I felt pretty nervous.

Thankfully, the bus driver decided he wouldn’t be able to make it and backed away for a while. Apparently flash floods like this happen fairly often here, and the bus driver has a good sense of which ones he can drive across safely. After about twenty minutes, the deluge had abated somewhat and the bus driver successfully made his attempt to cross it. We reached Lavena village without incident. Whew.

Lavena village was a tiny village, and it felt like the end of the world to me, for many reasons. It was located on a peninsula at the end of a rough road in a remote part of an island in a remote part of the world. It was hard to get to, given the distance required to fly here, and given that I felt like I almost died getting here! It was located on an island with the 180th line of longitude, making it symbolically far from the centres of civilization. Here in Lavena village, I was very very far from the world at large. It was a quiet place, populated with a handful of friendly villagers, and punctuated only the sounds of breaking waves and playing children.

Why would I come here? There were a number of beautiful treks you could do here, and a tiny, basic lodge to sleep in. The rate was FJ$30 (CA$20) for the first night and FJ$20 (CA$14) for each subsequent night. We were the only two people staying there.

November 25, 2008

The first trek we did from Lavena was the Lavena Coastal Walk, a spectacular walk along the coast and up a small river to a gorgeous rock pool with waterfalls. The trail started just outside the lodge itself.

The first part was along the beach itself and the adjoining lush stands of trees. At several places, we had to cross shallow creeks discharging into the sea. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen (until the next day…) Occasionally, we see toads, small lizards, or tiny crabs scamper across the path.

Partway down the beach we found amazing rock pedestals that had been eroded by centuries of crashing waves. The tide was low and we were able to find lots of starfish and crabs in the tide pools surrounding the pedestals.

After crossing a little swinging suspension bridge, the path left the coast and went inland up a rock-filed river. The path was lined with cultivated crop lands (mostly bananas and taro) and types of exotic flowers I had never seen before (including some orchids).

The path ended about fifty metres short of the rock pool. It took about two or three hours to reach this point (stopping to take many photos and climb some trees!) We had to swim the rest of the way through the fish filled clear bubbling water, passed sheer rock walls to reach a turbulent pool of water with two beautiful waterfalls plunging into it. The walls of rock were lined with tiny snails and prawns. The lady in the lodge had said that we could slide down one of the two waterfalls, but we didn’t try it since we didn’t want to break our necks.

After departing from the waterfalls, we had our lunch and sunned ourselves a bit before the heavens unleashed a torrent of rain onto us. We got completely drenched. It didn’t matter! The rain was warm. I was in high spirits. Thankfully, I had a waterproof cover for my backpack, so my stuff didn’t get wet… just me! It was fun to splash back in in the puddles in my flip flops on the way back with all the toads hopping through ahead of me. I felt like a little kid.

November 26, 2008

This was our last full day on Taveuni and our last trek. Three treks, three days-in-a-row! Taveuni was fantastic, and truly one of the highlights in all of my travels. I had originally come here to try my hand at scuba diving, but didn’t get to try it at all. It was no problem… I love trekking even more.

Barbara and I had to wake up at 5 AM in order to catch a bus back to Vidawa village, 7 km up the road, where our trek was based. Even though we woke up at sunrise, it seemed everyone else in the village was awake, too. The first bus left at 5:45 AM and it seemed life in the village revolved around this departure time. The bus was filled with people going to work in other parts of the island, and school kids on the way to Bouma village (5 km up the road) to attend classes.

This trek, the Vidawa Rainforest Hike, was originally recommended to me by Catie and Erikas Napjus, from my camp at Burning Man, even though the Lonely Planet guidebook highly recommended it, too. It was fun to look in the guestbook at the Vidawa village visitor’s centre and find their names and comments. It felt like a link reaching out from the first phase of my big travels to this second phase.

We met our guide, Rusi, and began our trek. The first segment of the trek lead through cultivated farmlands, past the remains of the two last locations of Vidawa Village, up into the rainforest, and back. We stopped several times as Rusi found wild pineapples for us to eat. What a treat!

We passed by some weathered stone chairs that the warriors of the old village would sit and watch over the sea, waiting to sound the alarm if war canoes filled with enemies threatened. Here’s a picture of me in one of the warrior’s seats. Yes, I’m very sweaty… but the weather was very hot and humid, and it was hard work climbing up the hills.

We also walked past some ditches that the past villages had dug to defend themselves from attack. It was a very real reminder of the violent lives the ancestors of the current villagers had lived before Christian missionaries converted all the villagers and basically forced them to pacify.

Finally, we reached the rainforest itself, and the trail grew very steep. It was a good thing that we were supplied with walking sticks before embarking on our treks. In the heart of the rainforest was the remains of the first site of Vidawa village. In the centre of the tree-enchoked ruins was a standing stone where people used to be sacrificed before being eaten or buried in the supporting of houses.

In the rainforest, we heard the same barking sound that we had heard before on Des Voux Peak. Rusi told us that it was a pigeon! It was a barking pigeon! I was astonished. How could a small bird be so loud? We also heard and saw the elusive orange dove, which made a quiet noise like fingers snapping. We heard, but didn’t see, wild roosters. Just like the evil roosters of Southeast Asia, they endeavoured to disturb the peace at any hour of the day!

Rusi also showed us how the villagers of the past would hit the hollow roots of the big trees if they were lost in the rainforest. The roots sounded like big drums that echoed through the jungle.

On our way down from the rainforest, we stopped for lunch and some fresh coconut juice on a hill overlooking Vidawa village itself. What a view!

The final stop for the tour was the waterfalls at Tovoro, a few kilometers down the road back towards Lavena. Along the way we saw lots of local kids jumping from a bridge into a river. As soon as I started taking photos of them, they started doing stunts and showing off.

The path to the Tavoro waterfalls was stunning. Apparently it was cleared and then replanted by a movie company that used the waterfall as a film set. I think the movie was “The Blue Lagoon”, or something like that. Again, I felt like I was in one of the most beautiful places I had even seen…

There are actually three waterfalls at Tavoro. We visited the first two. Of course, we were required to swim in the pools. It was a hot day, after all… we needed to cool off!

From Tavoro, we walked back to Lavena village. It was about seven kilometers, and it started raining on us on the way back. Did I mention that it was the rainy season in Fiji? As a result, there were far fewer tourists around, especially on a remote place like Taveuni.

November 27, 2008

Again, we had to wake at 5 AM in order to catch the early bus in order to get to the airport. I was scheduled for a flight around noon and Barbara was scheduled later in the afternoon. Since we got to the airport so early, we were able to get ourselves rescheduled onto earlier flights. Barbara was flying out of Fiji today, onto New York City to visit friends for a few days before heading home to Vienna. We said goodbye and went out separate ways. Thankfully, there were no mechanical problems with the plane this day and I reached Nadi airport without incident.

I got a taxi to take me back to Bluewater Lodge to pick up my sunglasses, then onwards to the bus station in Nadi itself. The taxi cost me FJ$25 (CA$17). I needed to take a bus to my chosen resort on the southern coast of the main island of Fiji, The Beachouse. The taxi driver tried to convince me to let him drive me all the way to The Beachouse for a mere FJ$100 (CA$67). Too expensive for me! I took the bus for FJ$7 (CA$5) instead.

I’ll tell you about The Beachouse in a separate post though.

To be continued…

Rob Szumlakowski
Surfer’s Paradise, Australia

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