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Navatu Island

2nd February - I can't believe I've been away a month already! I'd better fill you in on what I've been up to since Suva. Fiji has two main islands: Viti Levu, upon which Suva is situated, and Vanua Levu, off which the island of Navatu and our camp is situated. The overnight ferry we took from Suva to Savusavu was aboard a slightly rusty boat that looked like it was built in Soviet Russia, complete with Russian signs to direct you around the ship and the odd boarded off broken staircase. Arriving in the early morning at Savusavu, the difference to the cosmopolitan, almost Western Suva was noticeable. A single road along the edge of the shore was lined with shops, many of which seemed to be out of an old Spaghetti Western, made of wood with a little verandah in front. We were only there a day but made good use of our time: in the morning we did some real last-minute (alcohol) shopping, then in the afternoon we all piled into the back of a truck (literally) and drove off to the middle of nowhere. Plunging into the bush at the side of the road on a small unmarked path, this widened out into a good path through dense rainforest and eventually reached a river running through the trees and our destination: a waterfall. We spent the next hour or so jumping off the top of it into the pool below and generally having fun in the water.

The next day (22 Jan) we set out early along a rough bumpy road in driving rain to finally reach our camp. A short boat ride was needed to take us across the 100m channel that qualifies Navatu as an island and we went straight to the village (also named Navatu) to be officially greeted by the spokesman for the village in a sevusevu ceremony - just some short speeches while we sat cross-legged on the floor. And then, finally, we got back on the boats for a quick trip from the east to the south of the island where our camp, Nakubalovu, lies nestled in palm trees. The narrowest strip of sand separates the sea from our camp, which during spring tides is covered completely. An open-sided thatched shelter serves as the communal eating/living area next to the wooden kitchen, which looks like an old fashioned corner shop with shelves lined with tinned food covering the walls (at least after our fortnightly restock). Two gas hobs and an open fire allow for a surprisingly wide range of food to be cooked, especially given the limited ingredients available, The dishes I've cooked have gone down particularly well - my meatballs and fried potatoes with tomato sauce was widely acclaimed (it's amazing what you can do with corned beef!) and my spicy chicken risotto had people scraping the bottom of the pan for more.

The large communal bure is nearby, inside of which all 18 of us volunteers squash in to form a web of mosquito nets. Sandy paths lined with coconut shells connect all the buildings and lead up the hill behind us to the showers (which I helped rebuild on our first day here - they are simply bamboo covered pits with walls woven from the leaves of a coconut palm tree; to shower a bucket is filled from the tap below, carried off and tipped on your head) and toilets (similarly open air and requiring squatting). On the other side of the kitchen, the dive shack houses all our dive gear, the compressor and the generator, and beyond this the five staff bures house our expedition leader (Marc), our chief scientist (Chris - a cool Belgian; who'd have thought it?), our assistant scientist (Heidi - also our chief village liaison officer; she knows the several hundred inhabitants so well she could probably draw their family tree), our dive instructor (Elina - she's Greek) and the trainee (Mondy, short for Andrew - he was a volunteer on the previous phase, a bit crazy but good fun).

I had originally planned to do all my dive training again from scratch but Elina put me in the refresher group for those that were already qualified. After a quick revision of theory and a refresher dive where we practised our basic skills, I felt I was OK and could remember what to do. Since then, I've been on a further 8 dives (we dive every day except Sunday) and I feel fully confident. I have decided to do the advanced training again, mainly because you get to do some fun dives like deep and night dives. Of the 10 weeks with Greenforce, only 3-4 weeks are spent on doing the actual surveys. This is because, due to the need for accuracy, we first have to learn over 200 fishes as well as corals and invertebrates and need to be able to accurately estimate the size of the fish we see. I've begun learning some of the fish and can identify most Angelfish and Butterfly fish but there's still a long way to go!

On Sundays we all don our smart(ish) clothes - sulu, shirt and tie for the boys; bright colourful misshapen Bula dress for the girls and go over to our local village (or on alternate Sundays another village in the local area) for church and lunch. My adopted family in Navatu is Laponi and his wife Mere - two very friendly people who live in a simple one-room house with a nice woven-reed floor for sitting and socialising on. Church was slightly weird as much of it was conducted in Fijian and we had to sit (uncomfortably) on the floor for longish periods. The singing was good though - unaccompanied and in close harmony. I joined in as best I could from my Fijian hymn book, despite the strange notation and foreign language.

Being the rainy season and given that we're in the wettest part of Fiji, we've seen a fair bit of rain. The last few days however have been quite fine and hopefully this will continue, as it makes camp life much more pleasant!