By Doreen Kerby
I heartily recommend a Captain Cook Cruise through the Yasawa Islands. Our ship, the MV Reef Endeavour is a 75-cabin vessel, not luxurious but comfortable. I especially appreciated the lectures given by the Captain teaching us about Fijian culture.

We boarded the Endeavour at Port Denarau Marina on the west coast of Viti Levu. We were welcomed by a chorus of crewmembers and presented with leis made of beautiful fresh flowers.

There were 170 passengers on board, mostly from Australia and New Zealand. Friendships happened easily especially in the cozy Yasawa Lounge on C-Deck where coffee and cookies were available around the clock.

The Yasawa Islands are a chain of twenty volcanic islands that stretch 80 kilometres along the north west coast of Viti Levu. Some are so small that it would take less than an hour to walk around them and others would take days to explore.

The ocean around the islands is abundant in marine life with turtles, manta rays, and a thousand species of colourful fish. A paradise for beach lovers, the islands offer miles and miles of white sandy beaches protected by reefs that form tranquil lagoons, as pristine as can be found anywhere in the world.

Suppers on board ship were excellent with local fresh seafood, Australian beef, New Zealand lamb, and tropical fruits. Every night, entertainment followed with members of the crew dancing and singing songs called “meke” telling stories of the past.

Days 2, 3 and 4 were for relaxing. Every morning and afternoon we had the option of going snorkeling or scuba diving with all equipment provided. Each group was taken to their perspective sites in glass bottom boats. Eventually, both groups would meet for a beach party to enjoy sun, sand, and beverages. For those who stayed on the ship there was a library, bar, gift shop and spa.

Day 5 was Sunday and we were invited to the Methodist Church on Waya Sewa Island. The service was entirely in Fijian. The temperature was 130º C. and it was hot in the church. A kind old lady sitting beside me had a large fan and did her best to keep me cool. We had been forewarned that both men and women had to have knees and shoulders covered.

As I looked around the church there were no signs of prosperity. The adults brought their own Bible and Hymn Book and many were tattered and worn. Plastic table covering was used to carpet the main aisle separating simple wooden benches and a lace cloth covered the communion table. Shoes were left at the entrance.

I marveled at the way the people dressed. In that heat the men wore white shirts, ties and jackets with sulus (a tailored skirt with pockets). The women wore long, loose fitting dresses and those in the choir wore white dresses with blue sashes.

The school children, ranging in age from six to 18, were well behaved and attentive throughout the service. I was also impressed with the singing. Fijians love to sing in harmony and a cappella.

Late afternoon was spent on Waya Island walking through the village and visiting the school and dormitories. Each grade performed for us and the children were thrilled to have strangers in their midst. They were so eager to show us where they ate, slept and went to school. I have never seen such poorly equipped classrooms and dormitories; they are a far cry from our standards. Yet the children were so happy it was a joy to be with them.

Supper was delicious. We enjoyed roast pork and vegetables cooked in ovens deep in the ground. Then the villagers entertained us with dances and songs. As darkness descended the only light was from a full moon, beaming down on the still water of the lagoon. Far too soon the choir sang that famous Fijian
Song of Farewell and waved goodbye when the last verse was sung. I wished it would never end. Knowing that we would soon be leaving not only the Endeavour, but Fiji as well, made me very sad. Fortunately, the memories will last a lifetime.

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Good-bye from glorious Fiji!