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Moody's of Namena Article by Paddy Ryan

Joan Moody woke up with a feeling of foreboding. As she came to she heard her husband’s name being called, “Mr. Moody, wake up”. Joan slipped her glasses on and reached for her flashlight. Two feet away from her was a Cuna tribesman. “What do you want?” Joan asked the face at the window. “Gasoline,” came the mumbled reply.

Joan groggily headed out the door towards the office where her husband Tom was sleeping. But the barking of the dog had already woken him. By the time the group reached him, he was at the door and asking what they wanted. “Gasoline,” Joan replied. Tom queried the men in Spanish “How many gallons do you need?” Suddenly his voice changed “Oh my God, NO ….” Joan spun around to look behind her. What she saw is forever etched in her mind. So many men … so many guns being pointed at them. Tom’s voice asking, “What is this? You come like banditos in the night, hiding behind your masks and guns.”

Time stood still. Joan thought of their shotgun but couldn’t remember where it was. There was a flash of light and an earth-shattering bang. Tom reeled four feet backwards; his flesh and blood spattered all over the office. Joan tried to reach him as he writhed in agony on the floor but three or four men grabbed her and pulled her outside. More tribesmen took hold of Tom Moody’s mangled leg, dragged him out of the office and proceeded to club him with their gun butts.

Joan and her sister were dragged to the beach where they were tied up with their own clothesline. Tom was less fortunate. While some tribesmen ran through the resort setting buildings on fire, others doused him with gasoline and tried to set fire to him. Finally, perhaps in desperation because this man just wouldn’t die, they put a rope around his gutted leg, tied it to his neck and hung him from a coconut tree.

In the meantime, Joan and her sister Peggy managed to free themselves. They found Tom on the path. Staff relatives had cut him down. “Joan, come here. I’m fading fast and I want to tell you some things” came Tom’s faltering voice. She threw herself onto him, crying and gently caressing his bloody face. “How badly are you hurt?” she asked. “They shot me in the leg.” “Not here?” Joan asked, indicating his abdomen. “Only the leg,” he replied. Joan ran to her office and her radios. “Goddammit you are going to LIVE … no one dies of a bullet wound in the leg!”

Some seventeen years later Tom celebrates his seventieth birthday. Joan has been woken up by the morning chorus of the polynesian starlings and the hoarse cries of the red footed boobies as they go about their business for the day. A ruddy sun peeps above the distant horizon and the glass smooth sea turns from deep indigo to pink. The bloody events of their resort on Pidertupo in Panama’s San Blas Islands are behind them. Today is another day in a tranquil paradise.

After an emergency airlift by helicopter to Panama City saved Tom’s life and a series of painful operations saved his leg, the Moodys looked at their options. The resort they had so painstakingly built up over the years was evacuated. They took anything that was moveable and left the rest behind. On October 17, 1981 Joan wrote to their friends. “Once Tom is mended, we will begin our search for an island once again as we know we cannot live anywhere else and be satisfied. Somehow … some day … we’ll meet again on an island. Until then …. All our love.” Their search took them to the tropical South Pacific nation of Fiji. Freehold land is scarce in Fiji so Tom talked to the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB) and the Fiji Visitor’s Bureau about leasing. Everywhere he looked he drew a blank. As he left the Visitor’s Bureau for what was meant to be the last time, he walked into Robin Mercer a well known Fijian ornithologist. “Have you considered Namenalala?” Robin asked. “It doesn’t have any free water but it’s a beautiful place.”

Namenalala looks like the Luck Dragon from the movie “The Never Ending Story”. It lies in the Koro Sea about 17 miles south of the small town of Savusavu on Fiji’s second biggest island, Vanualevu. Namenalala has not been inhabited by Fijians for many years. In the distant past though it was a place that the Lapita people called home. Shards of Lapita pottery litter the island; so much of it that one has to believe it was a throwaway society. The absence of free water and the mongoose (introduced elsewhere into Fiji with devastating results) has shaped the ecology of the island. Banded rails are common and forage around the main dining area at breakfast time. Polynesian starlings are also abundant and entertain with their raucous calls throughout the day.

When Tom signed the lease for Namenalala there was immediate concern amongst the fledgling conservation movement in Fiji. The expectation was of a Sheraton type development, bankrolled from overseas. It didn't happen. At Tom's insistence, a clause was inserted into the lease, which limits the number of accommodation units (bures) to 10.

My wife Kathy and I were lucky enough to visit Moodys in August for our honeymoon. At the time of our visit there were still only six bures. When I asked about this, Tom's laconic comment was "I may get round to building a few more before I die". There was certainly no state of urgency implied or intended. The island was sere and brown, a far cry from the lush green it presented on my first visit in 1995. El Nino left the island without rain for nine months. There were advantages. You could see the birds more easily and the sea was crystal clear.

The lack of water led the pundits to say that the resort would never survive. "It's too far off the beaten track,” they said. "There's no free water,” they said. Even Joan had her doubts at first. "It's too rocky, you have to climb too high to reach the place." Moody’s has demonstrated that visitors will put up with all of these things. Not only that, they keep coming back for more.

The six visitor units are hexagonal pole houses. Each is 120 - 150 feet above sea level and situated to pick up the maximum breeze. A hardwood balcony sweeps through 270 degrees and allows panoramic views of the Koro Sea. There is no mains electricity; romantic gaslights provide the source of illumination and gas also powers the coffee making facilities, the water conserving shower units, the freezers and the refrigerators. Recently Tom has installed solar panels and storage batteries in the units. These allow operation of bedside reading lamps and a personal fan for those rare days when the trade winds fail. The office area has power during the day, which is all provided by solar panels and a wind turbine. Deep cycle batteries store the energy needed to keep the phone, radio, and fax machine going. Tom turns on the diesel generator whenever the laundry is operating or power tools need to be used.

Water is a problem and the resort must store enough rainwater during rainy days to cater for the long dry spells the island experiences. This year the El Nino nearly caused them to run out of water but timely rain in September replenished their supply. Guests are urged to conserve water but there is enough for normal bathing purposes. The twin toilets in all units except one are flushed using seawater. The exception is in the most recently built. Bure six has the latest in environmentally sound bathroom technology … a composting low water use toilet.

Pride of place goes to the hundreds of red footed boobies which nest and roost in the nature reserve in the western portion of the island. Watching the boobies return from fishing trips at dusk is a magical experience, made even more so by the frigate birds. The frigates mass around the island and harry the boobies as they return to their nests. As the boobies out number the frigates about twenty to one, most boobies make it home safely. A small percentage however is not so lucky. The superlative flying skills of the frigates enable them to tweak the tail or wing of a booby. Often this is enough to cause the booby to regurgitate its fish. The frigate releases the booby and usually catches this offering before it hits the water. On occasion the booby is a little braver than usual and puts up more of a fight. Anthropomorphic though it may be, it seems that the frigates enjoy such a challenge. I never saw a booby escape without making this sacrificial offering.

If you are lucky, as we were, you can watch turtles from the main dining area. But if you choose the right time of year, namely January and February you may be able to observe turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs and watch the youngsters dig their way out of the nest and head for the water.

Offshore, the diving is some of the best in Fiji and therefore the world. The waters are free from freshwater run off and it’s accompanying silt. Our first dive was on a site called “The Tetons”. These are twin coral bommies separated by 50 yards. They start 70 feet down and climb vertically to the surface. Every face is festooned with seafans and soft corals. Thousands of brilliant purple and orange fairy basslets swarm over and through every available surface while schools of barracuda lurk in the depths. We couldn’t get enough of this place. Two dives weren’t enough to satiate our enthusiasm. Despite this there was even better to come. Our final dive started at “The Grand Canyon” (another reminder that the Moodys are American) and finished at “the Arch”. The Grand Canyon was truly grand with a Grey reef shark thrown in for good measure. The Arch was festooned with soft corals and looked like a piece of transposed Utah slick rock. When we came up from that last dive, well cared for by our dive guides Cecil and Minute, Kathy turned to me, her eyes sparkling and said “I’m a big person’s diver now”. She truly came of age as a diver in this superb environment.

If you are not into SCUBA diving then snorkeling off the main harbor area is rewarding. Giant clams litter the bottom, their bright mantles visible from the wharf. Crayfish roost under the concrete blocks and a school of bream hovers just outside. Several stately lionfish reside in the blocks. During our all too brief stay one of our fellow guests snorkeled the whole way around the island. He was a seasoned international traveler who had been there and done that. Nonetheless he came back raving about what he had seen.

We got fat at Namena. This was due both to the excellence of the meals and the complimentary wine served at dinner. The communal style dining lent itself to long leisurely meals served by the friendly Fijian staff. The Moodys join their guests at meal times. It makes you feel like part of a warm friendly family. Tom is a born raconteur and some of his stories deserve to be recorded for posterity. One of his tales involved a visitor who demanded to be flown off the island (by seaplane) the day after he arrived. “There are not enough people here!” the guest lamented. “I need people!”. We relished our solitude as well as the chance to meet up with interesting folk.

I suspect that Moody’s of Namena is Tom and Joan's hobby. The place is just so beautiful that the resort is simply a good excuse to live there. It also is a shining example of how an environmentally dedicated operation can make a go of it against all the odds. Tom and Joan have found their island far away from the terror of Panama. For the nature oriented tourist or someone who just values solitude, Moody’s has to be high on anyone's itinerary.

You can fly to Fiji from LA by Air Pacific or Air New Zealand. To get to Namena you can fly by floatplane from Nadi Bay or fly to Savusavu and hire a boat to Namena. To contact Moody’s see your travel Agent or phone 011-679-813-764 or fax 011-679-812-366.

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