So there are some days here that just really stick out in your mind, days I’ll remember forever as being the total “Peace Corps Day” where I actually feel like I’m doing something and get to experience something new and completely amazing. They break up the standard monotony of village life, of listless heat, unfulfilled goals, and endless bilo’s of yaqona. So let me take you through my most recent “Peace Corps Day”, yesterday.
I was called at about 1 in the afternoon by a man named Delai who lives near me saying, come we go. The standard invitation- no idea of where, for how long, or anything, just a “come, we go”. So I went. He was carrying a water strainer for the water source, a metal cylinder with holes in it to prevent leaves and animals from entering the pipes that carry our water across the village so I assumed it was something water related. I grabbed my cane knife and my camera and we went.
We started walking towards the next village, Tokou, where our original water source is from before we constructed our spring source last year. The spring source mainly goes to outdoor taps, Tokou’s water goes into the houses- plumbing, showers, sinks- are all serviced by the Tokou water. Now as many people know we have some water issues here, mainly that it goes out every time it rains… so I was finally going to see the problem and make some solutions how to fix it.
So after the 10 minute walk to the next village, we went on the back road that leads into the bush and to the river. As soon as we got to the back of the village, I took off my sulu and wore my shorts. It had been raining all day so the small pathway was extremely muddy and slippery… the Chaco’s came off in about 10 minutes. Shoes only do you so much good in mud… better to slip on your feet so you can gain some traction with your toes as opposed to the grip shoes which just accumulate mud and cause you to fall on your butt! We walked through a few peoples plantations along the relatively flat trek back to the river. As soon as we reached the river, we jumped in about a meter deep water and walked up the river maybe 20 meters to the place where the pipes from the source cross the river on their way to our village. As soon as I saw it I realized the problems… its mediocre at best. Delai constructed it most of it himself and he has done a good job, but the construction on those river crossing pipes will definitely not hold up against cyclones and severe flooding. The 2″ PVC pipes are held together with rubber strips tied together, held up about a meter above the current river level by “Y” cut bush timbers and tied in place, the base of these bush timber supports are rocks piled up to prevent slippage. The pipes are supported laterally by thin wire attached to surrounding tree branches. We spent about 20 minutes looking at the current situation and talking about ways to improve it. The main problem is that when the river floods, trees and sticks from higher up in the river ram into the pipes and break them. That means every heavy rain episode we get means we have to buy new 2″ PCV pipes, go to the river, and replace them, just to go back and do the same thing again in a few weeks or months. We decided on purchasing cement to raise the pipes on either side of the river and then peaking the pipes in the middle to provide more room for flood waters and trees to pass through in storms. We are also going to encase the system in a larger metal pipe to provide more stability and prevent breakage as easily.
So after doing that we started the real journey… up to the source of the water. As soon as we jumped up the river bank things got a little… well… different. The path turned into something only a tracker or regular farmer could find. The path was basically a mud trail 1-4 inches deep covered by broken leaves and twigs to keep you from falling as easily. The trail was maybe 8 inches wide, just enough to walk single file the whole way up… I saw this a lot, but Ovalau looks quite a lot like what I think Jurassic Park would look like if that really existed. I half expect dinosaurs to jump out around the next corner.
So the “path” continued for a while until we started to climb. Now if you havent gotten the picture yet… its VERY muddy. So climbing up these (easily) 55 degree slopes became a game. Delai kept looking back and just saying “Go slowly Ru” and I couldn’t help but think “Good lord im screwed… im going to be coming back down on my ass!” I just kept looking the next move ahead… grabbing onto some absurdly large leaf growing out of a surrounding rock face and hoping my toes could dig in enough to keep me in place!
We got up to the tank where Tokou village stores there water and all I could think was, “oh my goodness how much more of this is there?” I could hear the river at this point but still didn’t see it. Once we passed the tank, it was all boulders from there. Now this is a tropical environment my friends. It is constantly humid and wet, especially in such proximity to the river! The boulders were covered in moss, twice my height, and the crevices between them ranged from 5-15 feet down, or really just tumbling ass over tea kettle along a slippery path of boulders into the river below. Just as we reach a particularly precarious spot, Delai turns around and tells me, “this is where Vakatawa’s brother fell last year”. Shit. Last year our pastors brother came to visit him and I guess went up this way. In saw his face after the incident and im surprised he didn’t get multiple stitches. I just kind of froze on the mossy rock and said, “well, hopefully I have a lower center of gravity!” the joke was lost in translation… but I’m used to that. So I threw caution to the wind and just went for it. When we reached the end of that stretch, I looked ahead across a 15 foot gap, one side flanked by a sheer cliff face, in front, a rushing waterfall, and behind the pipes just the tumbling abyss of a 25 foot fall onto boulders and rocks. I just looked at Delai like, how on earth are we crossing this? He takes a pipe laying nearby, probably 20 years old, rusted, and places it balancing on the rocks across the abyss and proceeds to walk across on all fours, sidestepping his way across the gap. Okay- here goes nothing! I followed and when I made it to the other side just looked back in awe. It was exhilarating. We had made it to the source!
Delai jumped into the pool where the pipe starts and got to work on changing out the strainer. I walked around exploring the area and then came back to the pool. I sat down on a small chute of water leading from the pool across into a 20 foot freefall . I put my feet in the pool hooked under a large rock, laid back, and let my hair fall over the waterfall… I laid there looking up at the passing clouds, now just slightly reminiscent of the thunderstorm earlier that day, looking at the surrounding cliffs and vines, and just breathed. The cold water was so refreshing, the view so unparalleled. It was amazing. I flipped around and stuck my feet over the edge looking down the waterfall and couldn’t help but let my mind wander.
After about 30 minutes up there jumping around in the pools, climbing the rocks, looking for some fresh water prawns and just enjoying the cool water we started our trek down. And ill just say this, I was right about just sliding down on my butt. Its so much easier than potentially breaking both my legs! The trip down was amazing… I felt so refreshed and excited about life here. It was exactly what I had needed.
As we approached the river Delai got a pineapple from a plantation and we sat there eating slices of a pineapple bigger than my head enjoying the sun. We grabbed some cassava, some english cabbage, and even a land crab that crossed our path. (we werent stealing necessarily… the plantation belonged to Delai’s cousin brother- a joking relationship where you can do things like that). As we made our way back through the village, covered in mud, still damp from the adventure up at the water source in the waterfalls, I couldn’t help but be reminded of what a truly beautiful place Fiji is and how lucky I am to be here. Days like this make everything worthwhile.