Crab racing

Trip Start Sep 23, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Monday, September 25, 2006

On our second day at Octopus, we braved putting on shoes to climb the hill to the other side of the island. We were visiting the village nearby, where a lot of the staff at Octopus lived. We were shown around the village; a mixture of concrete houses and traditionally built bures. It had electricity, a satellite dish and street lights; and was hoping to soon be able to build a kindergarten for the younger children. Currently the older kids attend a school elsewhere on the island; children of secondary school age have to go to boarding school on the main island of Viti Levu.

We were taken into the church, a plain building decorated inside with displays of vibrant tropical flowers. After being shown around, we were asked to wait inside whilst the welcoming ceremony was prepared. The children displayed their awareness of customs and rituals; when one woman moved to the door to get some air they bared the way with their arms to make sure we were not going anywhere near the ceremonial preparations. Soon they were distracted when one young boy arrived with a coconut; despite having no common language, the local children were soon challenging the tourist children to a game of touch rugby, with the coconut as an impromptu ball. Rugby is taken very seriously here- we saw what we presumed to be a throwaround turn into a hardcore training session for the young men of the island! Fiji carried off the last rugby sevens world championships, with a team largely from the Yasawas. No wonder New Zealanders love it here.

Soon we were asked to come for the kava ceremony. The elder men of the village had prepared a drink from kava rots we had brought and presented to them. We knelt on a tarpaulin, men in front and women behind. We were presented in turn with a wooden bowl of kava; etiquette demands that you drain the bowl, which will then be refilled and presented to the next person. The elders took their drinks first and then it was our turn. I had heard terrible things about the taste, but in the end it reminded me of slightly spicy cold washing up water. Not delicious, but not too bad. I took a second bowl, then it was up to the men to finish the bucket of kava in front of us, whilst the women continued exploring the village. We were called back when it was time for the meke- men, women and children welcomed us with songs and dances, and then we were invited to join in. Some of the younger children decided to participate, and soon two 18 month olds were leading us in a circular dance, with the older members of the community occasionally stepping in to make sure they did it right! It was all good fun, although I think that the little ones were more coordinated than lots of us visitors!

Later that evening it was time for high adrenaline sports. I'm talking gripping, edge of your seat, white knuckle excitement. It was time for... Hermit crab racing! You may laugh, but this had to be one of the most thrilling events I have attended. We made our way down the beach to collect our hermit crabs (which had mysteriously congregated in a small patch of sand). Once caught, we had to carry the crab back to the bar, preferably without being nipped, where it would have a number applied to its shell with tipp-ex. The crabs were then placed in a bucket which was inverted in the middle of a circle drawn out in the perfectly raked sand. When the bucket was lifted, the race was on! My crab was number 32, a feisty fellow who was almost climbing out of his shell entirely in the run up to the race (miraculously I survived unnipped). He did us proud, speeding his way to the outer circle to make it through to the semi finals, then seeing off all competition to secure his lace in the final before seizing a triumphant third place, and winning a $10 bar tab for me and a free trip back to the sea for himself. The Grand National and the Melbourne Cup cannot possibly compete with the excitement of crab racing.

The Fijian people were incredibly friendly, the beach was stunningly beautiful, the hammocks were comfortable, the sea and reef were glorious, the food was both healthy and delicious and we achieved a perfect balance of finding things to do whilst making time to take it easy. Just in case we weren't relaxed enough (the adrenaline rush of crab racing does take it out of you), we booked massages with Mere. She had an open sided bure looking out to sea, and beautifully relaxing hands. I stretched out on the massage table for an hour, listening to the sound of the sea and Fijian music on the radio. It was absolutely wonderful, and afterwards the only option was to lie on a lounger, watching the sun set and enjoying a Waya Iced Tea. Four nights at Octopus just was not enough; we were very reluctant to continue with our travels, and when I go back it
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