Amazing Grace in Yalobi, Waya Island – Fiji Newsletter 1

Bula !

June 6, 2022. Since my last newsletter, I welcomed Amaranth II to Fiji, having flown with their more intelligent partners, while the crew hand steered for 10 and a half days in what was the equivalent of three back to back Hobarts in 30 plus knot winds and 4-6 metre waves. After celebrating a great sail with them in Denarau, Paul and I set out to explore the Yasawa Islands, till our covid impacted replacement autohelm arrived, all going well, in a month.

There have been so many adventures, it has been hard to keep up. But firstly, I must mention the food. We provisioned the boat with local produce and remembered that lettuce has flavour (yes, I know, very strange…). The fruit, full of sweet sunshine, spinach that tastes like volcanos and honey that tastes like pineapple. You forget, don’t you …that food can taste…


You can trace our journey as we sail here, where I am also posting little ‘poem bites’ of our experiences via satellite as I go. I am constantly reminded of my early years spent in the tropics, where my father was stationed to manage the Atlantic and Pacific missile ranges in Barbados, the Bahamas and Hawaii. These first poems reflect those memories, and are dedicated to my father, who is ageing and not so well right now.

After a few days, we did our first sevusevu at Yalobi Village on the volcanic island of Waya. It was hard to know whether we did it correctly, we were so nervous. Most of Fiji is owned, and often owned by the local village. Each new spot you anchor in must be requested. And a gift must be proffered, in the form of a bunch of cava root bought previously in the markets. There are endless debates on this custom, whether cava is a problem and we shouldn’t contribute, or whether it is a critical part of their cultural heritage and endless variations of these two extremes. Our attitude is you don’t question whether a bottle of wine is good for your host, and we trust, at least for now, we are respecting local custom with our offer.

And I must say that after several more experiences we are less nervous. It seems to be more about giving from the heart, and respect, and generosity. But with our first offering we were nervous about doing it ‘right’. Waisea, however, was not, and bid us sit down while he chanted over the cava root and clapped three times. We were then able to ask all of our permissions, most importantly for me, could I draw your beautiful island??? Happily, all permissions were formally granted.

The children then showed us around their school. They were so proud of it! And especially proud they knew all the covid protocols, plastered across every building. (This generation will be able to say ‘mask’ at ten paces, and will forever keep their 2m distance!) Their school sat snugly in the bay, which I now could paint, while Waisea tried to fish from the village canoe.


We were also keen to do some climbing and could Waisea point out a track? Even better, he would be our guide. At eight the next morning, as we climbed straight up the lava pour (children scampering on bare feet), we got to know more about the island, and Waisea and the children (Naomi, Dopi and Cekeli) got to know us. The village has 250 people and 100 plus children go to the local school. During its early missionary life, this island was spared the measles plague in 1918 and still celebrates this miracle every year. There is no refrigeration, rainwater is used to clean, and no electricity except for what the diesel generator generates every evening for two hours. (This is when the villagers charge their phones, for everyone loves to be on Facebook! It makes sense – all of Waisea’s 10 brothers have left the island for ten different places.)

We climbed through the lemony grasses which the old men drink as tea. The children caught fresh water prawns in the ravines, and as Waisea berated them for being lazy and not catching enough, we rested at the summit and purveyed the entire Yasawa island chain – for we were on the third highest peak in Fiji.

Down at the bottom, with one or two blows and some skilful hacks, Waisea provided fresh coconuts and we gorged on the water, perhaps too greedily, because Waisea then offered us an invitation to dinner. (My wife will make some nice prawns in coconut.) Yes please!! that would be lovely. OK, but first, do you have enough petrol in your dinghy – can you take me out fishing?

So Paul and Waisea set out, Paul with his elaborate rod and lures and Waisea with a line, hooks and raw chicken. You can guess who caught the fish, despite who is holding it!


At six in the evening we arrived, with flour, rice, homemade chocolate cake (with whole wheat and rye flour!)  and tools in hand, for our dinner under a solar lamp. We were overwhelmed when laid before us, made by Amelia that afternoon, was a ten course meal on a mat woven by her mother, with hand woven fans to keep us cool: ravine caught prawns in coconut milk and onion, roi roi (taro leaves wrapped around fish and rice), wahoo cooked in coconut milk with a rich coconut onion sauce, pan fried wahoo, steamed breadfruit, curried potatoes, steamed taro root (cassava), steamed rice, and steamed yams.

Paul and I were quite moved and I am sure we both had tears in our eyes.

I have NEVER eaten so beautiful a meal.

We could not eat everything, and what we didn’t eat, they shared with their neighbours that night, because they couldn’t keep it (no refrigeration), but mostly, as Amelia said, because it is their custom. After dinner we gave them our gifts… Amelia had never had a peeler before and she could finally read through the eyeglasses we gave her. Waisea liked the screw drivers…thank you but could I have pliers instead for my diesel generator?


We went to church the next day. Not with Amelia and Waisea but with Naomi, because, although there were only 250 people on the island, there were five different churches and Amelia and Waisea went to different ones! But …they are all the same God, Amelia reminded us.

After church, they were very keen to visit our boat (the first ‘big boat’ the children had ever been on), so we brought them out on our dinghy and I made lunch. As I went through the motions, I was acutely aware that everything I prepared was refrigerated and everything we ate with them the evening before was fresh.

Their garden was their refrigerator. Their bay was their refrigerator. The coconut tree was their refrigerator. No wonder we need to ask permission. We were anchored in their refrigerator! What an art in living, right on the edge, so full of vitality.


Through our conversations in church and with those we met, we were struck with how very aware of climate change the villagers were… how it has already changed the shape of their beach… how hot the sea is – it is autumn and 29.5 degrees!

What will another 1.5 degrees do to this village? This whole way of living?

It has given much more meaning to the work I am doing with Greenhouse (a connected ecosystem and Australia’s first co-working space dedicated to a net zero future – opening soon!) and the great team there.

I thought about the grace Amelia said when we sat down to eat with her the night before. It was a long grace, an amazing grace, for we had much to be grateful for : this food, new friends, being safe, being there, the church singing and the blessing of the childrenPainting their village and doing art with the children, For my father still being alive to share this journey with him.

And mostly, for getting Fiji jelly belly AFTER I ate this meal (two days later – it was NOT Amelia’s cooking!!!), otherwise I never would have eaten the most amazing meal I have ever had in my life. It even tops the foie gras I ate at Le Jules Verne in the Eifel tower when we were entertaining one of Alcatel’s top clients.

Many good wishes till the next instalment, and please tread with a low carbon footprint if you can!

x Liz

PS Next instalment of the journey is here.

PPS If you wanted to see more photos during our journey, please feel free to follow me on my IG feed.

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