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Journey to Vanua Levu on the Uto

Matilda Simmons
Saturday, January 13, 2018

When the assignment to be part of the guest crew on the Uto ni Yalo for two weeks was offered, I was a bit apprehensive.

First of all, I've never sailed on a double-hulled canoe (well, only once when I went on a scenic tour off the coast of Suva on another drua). But to be out on the open seas with nothing in sight kind of set my nerves on end.

Secondly, because I'm not a very good swimmer and the thought of being on a small space with several others out at sea gave rise to a claustrophobic feeling.

In the end, I drew in a deep breath and muttered "heck it, I'll just do it".

Being in the journalism field is fascinating. In the six years I've spent doing this work, I've been thrown in the deep end covering all sorts of issues I had absolutely no idea about.

How you overcome it, will depend on your resilience and your thirst to learn something new every day and learning how to convey it to your readers.

I've covered subjects from science, health, technology, politics and even sports. But getting out here in a double-hulled canoe and learning how to sail is like a baptism of fire.

It's either sink or swim, literally.

On the day before the trip, the crew had to go through a swimming test from the vessel to the shores of Leleuvia Island which was quite a distance.


If there's anything I have learnt from my personal experience, it's the fact that it doesn't hurt to try something new.

I did that day.

I never knew that I could jump from a plank on the Uto ni Yalo into the deep despite my aversion to open water.

But it was a great experience and a lesson for some of us land-loving people.

Knowing how to swim is the most important life skill anyone should have.

I've hiked the highest mountain in Fiji and travelled to some of the most isolated villages on the mainland. But to be out here in the open seas and totally out of my element is something I will have to take in my stride.

By the time you'll be reading this we will be on our way to the chiefly village of Naduri in Macuata to hold a traditional presentation to the Tui Macuata before we start exploring communities and islands there.

I will be providing updates on the trip as we go.

This voyage is about advocating environmental awareness in Macuata.

The objective is to focus on spreading Uto ni Yalo's Environmental Stewardship Program in the form of talks to schoolchildren and communities.

It is also special because of the launch of the International Year of the Coral Reefs and because it is the third time our reefs is an international focus for 2018.

This launch will have the UN special envoy for oceans and Fiji's ambassador Peter Thomson presiding over a dive event at the Great Sea Reef.

The owners of the qoliqoli cokavata, custodians of a collective of the traditional fishing grounds of the Macuata end of the Great Sea Reef, are also expected to be present.

The two-week trip ends on January 23.

Here's hoping I get through this!

* Continued tomorrow.

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