YADUA Island sits on the Fiji map like a blotch of ink on paper. Remotely located off Bua in western Vanua Levu, and quite some distance from Viti Levu and the Yasawa Group, Yadua has made headlines several times over- once in November 2007 when a BBC film crew visited the island to shoot scenes on the world's only crested iguana sanctuary on neighbouring Yadua Taba for the series Castaways, and again in 2009 when Fiji's first satellite-tagged turtle, Marama ni Yadua, was released into the sea.
There are stories of how poachers and illegal fishermen had tried to reach the island to fill their nets with all sorts of seafood, or catch an iguana or two for sale on the black market.
But ever since the official recording of Fiji's unique and endemic iguana species in 1979, the people of Yadua, particularly from the lone village of Denimanu, have been custodians of Yadua Taba for many decades.
This is what they are known for and pride themselves in as custodians of the world's one of a kind iguana sanctuary.
Travelling to Yadua
Getting to the island is another story. Last week, the National Trust of Fiji facilitated a climate change adaptation workshop from June 19-22 at Denimanu, funded by the Global Environment Facility.
This meant taking the issue of climate change and sustainable livelihood and development to a community living an hour and a half away from Bua Lomanikoro in Vanua Levu.
For us in Suva, it meant travelling to Natovi jetty, hopping onto the ferry Spirit of Harmony, getting off at Nabouwalu and onto a carrier for a two-hour ride to the landing at Bua Lomanikoro.
I say two hours because of the stopovers we made sight-seeing idle pine logs by the roadside, degradation and underutilised farmlands, not to mention the dusty and bumpy long stretch of road that led us to the landing.
Two fibreglass boats awaited our arrival at the landing - the Vokai Warrior (owned by the National Trust of Fiji) and Bodyguard. We passed Bua Lomanikoro, home of national rugby sevens rep Ilai Tinai, and several healthy mangrove systems before making our way out to the open sea.
Crossing Bligh Waters on a bright sunny day was quite a thrill. For the next hour and a half, our journey across the Vatu-i-Ra passage was marked by passing jellyfish - some clear and others tainted a bit bluish-purple.
We made a stop halfway with the island in sight to refuel then it was off again, our boat beating rapidly against the shallow but strong current. Crossing over is not a cheap affair, considering the price of fuel and distance, a one-way trip to Yadua would cost $250. Some boat owners charge a little over this amount when transporting tourists or probably when they're having a really tough time getting customers.
We finally reached Yadua a little after 3pm, settled in at senior ranger Pita Biciloa's home before presenting our sevusevu to the Turaga na Tunimata Jone Cakau and assistant Roko (Bua Provincial Office) Ratu Semi Ramatai, the son of the late Buli Raviravi Ratu Alifereti Ramatai.
Pita has been a ranger with the National Trust of Fiji for more than a decade following in his father's footsteps when the sanctuary on nearby Yadua Taba was established in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
We had to say a special chant before entering the house of the Turaga na Tunimata.
"Duo, duo, duo," we all said lining the footpath waiting for a reply from inside.
"Oi duo ... mai, mai," came the response, allowing us to enter and present our traditional sevusevu. It was a solemn yet touching presentation by Pita, and the conversations that followed were in a dialect different from the standard iTaukei language. When the formalities were over, it was back to our billeted homes for the four-night stay.
The saying 'When in Rome, do as the Roman do' applied a great deal on Yadua. Unlike Suva or other urban areas with proper electricity and water supply, the people of Denimanu Village have to make do with a community generator and water supply from a nearby borehole.
A long black pipe runs through the village from the borehole to the bathing stone, and several other houses, providing water supply for 35 families. Also nearby are two freshwater pools where the villagers collect water for cooking and washing.
"There are boreholes uphill and I think it's supplying (water to) the two pools at the village with water. But we've connected the pipes from one of the boreholes to supply water to the houses here," Pita explained.
Some of the houses have special water filters while others boil their drinking water just to be safe. When it's time for a bath, Yadua is not the place to enjoy a luxurious steam bath or shower in private room - unless you're billeted at a civil servants house like the teachers' quarters or the nursing station. At Denimanu, there's a special bathing place behind a bure where the generator is stored. It's at the foot of a grassy hill, cornered off by a few trees. Large pots and plastic drums are constantly filled with water from the pipes. It was a week of sili vokete - a bit uncomfortable at first especially in broad daylight but eventually, you'll get the hang of how the villagers have their daily shower. The villagers of Denimanu are quite resourceful. They mainly tend to their farms or go out to sea in their boats for fresh food. Coconuts are plentiful but rarely are vegetable plants like cabbage or carrots seen. It could have been off-season when we visited.
Mothers and youths help out with chores like cooking and cleaning while the children attend kindergarten and primary school, five minutes from the village. The old women can be seen drying out voivoi leaves on the ground, rolling them up at the end of the day.
Pita's wife, Elesi, runs a small canteen from their home. It's either Elesi's shop or a boatride to Vanua Levu for supplies. Most earn their money through fishing, and at one point during our stay, the village boys had confiscated four big fish from poachers in their iqoliqoli.
Apparently, a group of fishermen from Tailevu were caught fishing in their iqoliqoli without permission and had to give up their catch for the day when the young men arrived to gather food.
Majority of the households have kerosene and battery-operated lanterns that come in handy when power goes off at 10pm. During the day the power is kept off until around 6pm. After 10pm, the lanterns come on and it's dinner by lantern or candlelight.
There is only a flush toilet near the community hall while all other water sealed or pit toilets are located further from the village towards the bushes. The village primary school use water sealed latrines and electricity supply comes from the headteacher's personal generator.
You can hardly find dalo in between the kakadina like cassava, uvi and vudi. The nutritious kakadina on the island are quite tasty eaten alone. There wasn't a frog, mongoose, horse or cow in sight - but wild pigs and goats running around somewhere in the bush.
Another note worth mentioning is the gender composition - yes, you'll find children, mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers but when it comes to the youths, you'll mostly see a lot of young men. So work that you normally see a young woman doing would be done by the young men.
Next week, we'll take a look at the struggles of the past on Yadua and how the people of this island community have fared into the 21st century with a changed attitude.