Fiji - low on birds but big on crabs
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Bula, as they say in Fiji. (Welcome/hello)
Sorry I keep changing from present to past tense in the blog but I passed time when it was raining by writing in situ so was describing what was happening around me.
We flew into the capital Nadi (pronounced Nandy) and were collected at the airport by a Bamboo Hostel staff member who put us in a taxi to the hostel with another guest, as a few people had arrived on the same flight, so the journey was quick and easy. Bamboo provided a twin room but only shared bathrooms
It was lovo night, a traditional meal cooked in the ground so we put our names down. I did not go round the back to view the meal being put in the pit as I was hungry and wanted to be able to eat it. What you don't see doesn't worry you. It was delicious – chicken, kokoda, (fish marinaded in spicy sauce), and 4 veg. I could identify taro and something similar to spinach, (which I later found out was rou-rou, the leaves of the taro plant). The other 2 I had eaten before I thought to ask the name.
Next morning we started our complicated sounding journey north and east to our “resort” of Nananu-i-ra. First step, the 8.30 ish (which actually arrived on the dot much to everyones surprise), bus into the town bus station, there to change to another bus to Lautoka, for a 90 minutes journey
The plan was to do some food shopping in Rakiraki before taking a taxi to Ellington Wharf and then telephoning to Macdonalds (our accommodation) to ask them to send a boat across to take us to the island. As our phone probably wouldn't work this might have proved tricky. We had to call before 5.30pm or the boat would not come as it would be getting too dark. However as soon as we stepped off the bus a taxi driver spotted us, asked where we were going, said he knew Maxine Macdonald and would call and ask her to send the boat when we were ready. He pointed out the New World supermarket and even offered to collect us with the shopping at the door. We declined as it was easier to leave Jim sitting with the luggage whilst I shopped. That proved a brief exercise as there was little in the shop but I gathered up a few items, then the taxi driver suggested collecting fruit and veg from the market (including a hand of 15 small bananas for 50 pence), and a few minutes later we were being driven to the wharf – a grand sounding place but consisting of a hut and a tiny jetty
How can I describe the island? It is beautiful with the mandatory beaches, palms etc., but it is also quirky. In fact I often feel that I have dropped down the rabbit hole like Alice. (There are lots of holes in the lawn but they are home to crabs rather than rabbits). Macdonalds is a collection of insubstantial looking structures, either detached 'cottages' or semi-detached studios, about 8 in all, to the left of the jetty. Adjacent and to the right is an almost mirror image of Macdonalds, called Bethams. Same size, same layout. It is owned by a relative of Maxine's as the land has been subdivided from the plot first owned by her great grandmother. Electricity is provided by a generator which operates from 9am – 3pm and 5-10pm, approximately. Half an hour difference here or there doesn't matter much. There is something very soothing about retiring to bed and a few minutes later the lights go out. If it sounds early I should say we wake up before 6.30am with the sun, if it is not raining.
Water comes from a butt attached to each cottage, where rainwater is collected from the roof
We had booked a studio but because a severe weather low was expected to produce heavy rain Maxine 'upgraded' us to a cottage. She knew what was coming – 4 days of torrential (and for 2 days non-stop) rain. It was wonderful – I love tropical rain. The large windows are all glass louvres covered on the outside by insect screens so to help manage the heat the windows can be open all the time. Because of this all the external sounds are heard inside. It is like sleeping outside. The disadvantage is that, when it isn't raining, it is possible to hear rustles, snuffles, squeaks and squawks as the wildlife goes about its nightly business of hunting and survival. When the rain squall comes it starts like a gentle sigh, increases to a whisper, suddenly it sounds as if thousands of people are whispering and it continues to get louder until it is deafening and the noise of the drumming on the roof blocks out everything else
The reason we wanted to bring food from Rakiraki is that although Macdonalds provide full board or individual meals, their accommodation is also self catering and they suggest that you cook for yourself. So, when we feel like a tea/coffee, I make it and we take it and sit in the restaurant/bar area. None of this, 'You can only eat/drink what you buy on the premises' nonsense here!
In fact, the bar only sells beer and then only if you are quick and manage to catch Mary or Liva between 5 and 6pm. It is a challenge to acquire 2 drinks in one night. They close up when we have had one. And if Jim does catch Mary in time to ask for a second drink she giggles conspiratorially as if he is doing something truly outrageous.
Maxine (about our age) has a bungalow towards the back of the plot with a little private path edged with shells and coconut husks
When our food ran out we had a evening meal in the restaurant. This has to be ordered by noon on the day to ensure it is prepared. After noon you are dependant upon your own culinary skills until the next day. We had fish and chips! Well, more specifically, Walu (Spanish mackerel) steak and tapioca chips with rou-rou. It was superb, especially the tapioca chips. My only previous experience of tapioca was that disgusting pudding that they made us eat at school. How they made delicious chips from that is a miracle – just wished they had shared the secret with our dinner ladies
2 days after our evening meal supplies ran out (still had Weet-bix for breakfast and cheese/tuna, fruit and crisp breads for lunch) Maxine said she was sending someone to Rakiraki for supplies and to make a list. I did and the food was duly delivered, including milk, yoghourt, meat etc. Seemed weird that they would do this – I don't think they like cooking much! The only problem was that the food had been collected and ferried across (2 hours in the heat) and then 'sorted' into different orders which took another 2 hours so by the time we received fresh milk for tea, - it wasn't!
We have spotted a couple of mongooses wandering around. They are common here but not indigenous. The bird and wildlife is limited but there is an abundance of insects, and most seem to bite. Insect repellent is essential at all times – in fact in the shower it is necessary to do a sort of rain dance to keep them away
So far, a maximum of 6 people have eaten dinner at one time, 2 of these are neighbours. They come every night, an elderly American couple (he is 87, she 85) who own some land, bought from Maxine's brother and spend 6 months of the year here
He tells the same stories to new visitors every night and his wife loyally sits beside him uncomplaining. Interestingly, he is also involved with a company of rain makers. They seed clouds to produce rain for governments and large organisations. I was disappointed to hear his scientific explanation of the process as I had already imagined him with divining rod in hand, chanting secret spells, in full magician's outfit. After that, seeding clouds from an aeroplane with silver iodide sounds mundane but he did claim that in China (not sure over how big an area) they increased the rainfall by 16%. He also gave evidence (during the Reagan administration) to a Senate Committee about the action being taken by the then Soviet Union (distribution of carbon over huge areas of land ) supposedly to move the Jet Stream and change the weather pattern over the States
Very few 'tourists' came to MacDonalds while we were there although it is the wet season. We had a visit from Maxine's parent's old parish priest, Father Malone, accompanied by a couple of young female missionaries, friends and family of Maxine, a group from the Peace Corps based in Suva (who were noisy and upset the tranquility of the island but thankfully only stayed 2 nights), and a young woman from a charity dealing with Conflict Resolution in troubled areas. She was taking a couple of days out before starting work.
Eventually we were the only ones left and as our food supplies had run out again we placed our evening meal order with Mary who came back a little later to say there was no lasagne (our order) as we were to eat with Maxine that night. So for 2 nights by royal command we ate at 'high table', just the 3 of us. The food was good and even better was Maxine's personal supply of really good wine
Eventually it was time to move on and we chose to aim for Levuka, the old capital, on the island of Overlau. Again, the journey seemed complex. The boat took us back to the wharf, then a taxi driver briefed by Maxine collected us, took us to Rakiraki to a shop where the owner is an agent for the Ferry company, Pattersons. He booked our ferry tickets, and then the taxi took us to the bus station for a bus to a town about 15 k from the ferry, Korovou. We arrived in Korovou, had some lunch and then waited for the ferry bus to collect us. The ticket said 1.30pm but did not say what time the ferry left. By 2pm we were beginning to fidget. Then a bus with the correct name raced right past us and headed down the road. A young man who knew we were waiting for that bus told us to run and he helped by carrying one of the bags. We reached the bus and the driver told us to put our bags on board, then locked up and went off for his lunch. Unfortunately we could not understand what he was saying. Anyway, after much confusion, at 3pm he returned, after 2 other identical buses had gathered at the same spot
Once on the bus the driver (through the intermediary of someone we could understand) asked when we were due to return on the ferry. We explained that we had not booked yet. Then he told us that the ferry was going in for repair/inspection tomorrow and would not be running for a week. Ok, we said, we will stay a week! One poor guy on the ferry had to return on the same boat as it left at midnight before going out of service and as his onward flight was in a couple of days he could not risk being stranded. There is a small plane which flies out of the other side of the island but that seems rather random too.
Also, when we landed it wasn't where we had been told. Our ticket (and instructions from Maxine and the agent) said we would land on the east of the island and then be driven across the island to Levuka
Levuka 16th March - 22nd March (If there is a ferry!)
We are staying at the Royal Hotel, the oldest hotel in Fiji and oldest operational hotel in the Pacific. It doesn't just have character, it is like stepping back in time. Apart from being in the wrong ocean Long John Silver would not look out of place here. It is a wooden structure with private enclosed wrap around verandahs, original furniture, and such sloping floors that it feels like being on a boat in a rough sea. It is very run-down and worn but worth it for the ambiance and at £21 per night including breakfast, a bargain.
Levuka, despite its notorious past, (52 hotels along the sea front at its heyday, a refuge for criminals, people who jumped ship etc) it is now a peaceful and friendly place where everyone acknowledges us. It is roughly the size of Alfriston. We have eaten in all 3 of the restaurants here and the food so far has been excellent
The original Morris Hedstrom shop is now a community centre housing a small museum, the library (7,000 + books and 587 members) and kindergarten. Almost every building is a church or school and on Sunday the sound of church music (sometimes very lively) echoed around us the whole day. The nearest church a couple of buildings away is a Pentecostal church and the preacher there is of the fire and brimstone variety. We could hear him loudly castigating his flock for a couple of hours at least and then exhorting them on to better things. He must have been exhausted by his efforts, I know we were!
One day we were wandering along the road by the sea, near the hospital when a helicopter suddenly appeared
Our last 2 days were very exciting as the regional school sports contest was held in the field by our room and as we were upstairs we had grand stand views from our verandah. The opening ceremony included a march with school band and banners, an hour of speeches and the welcoming of a Minister responsible for Sport. The second day was busier as many families arrived with picnics to sit and watch the activities. Someone told us proudly that it was like the Olympics, the winners go forward to the Fiji National Championships. People waved to us as they passed our corner verandah.
One day we went up into Lovoni, a village built in an extinct volcanic crater in the hills behind Levuka
When it was time to move on we learned that we could leave the island by a route other than the ferry. We had asked to go snorkelling to an island called Caqalie (pronounced Thangalie) and were told we could then carry on in the same boat to the mainland and pick up a bus to our next stop, Raintree Lodge near Suva. At one time we had thought of staying a few days in Caqalie but thank goodness we didn't, it was too basic even for us, a few thatched shacks on the beach, hardly any water and no electricity at all. But the snorkelling was good and I did see my first Crown of Thorns which is amazing to look at but very destructive to the reef.
After a very simple lunch on Caqalie we travelled for about 90 minutes in the very small boat (about 4 metres) across the ocean past more deserted islands and then up into a river
Raintree is in the hills adjacent to a forestry park so a good place to see birds. The Lodge was quiet and peaceful until the next day when a cruise ship docked in Suva. There was a constant flow of people delivered by taxi, and greeted by 'warriors' in plastic grass skirts, (the only time we saw such attire in our month of travelling). The visitors were quite intrusive as the Lodge is small and they milled around taking photographs, flowing through the restaurant to view the lake like sea eddies of an incoming tide. It was a relief when the tide went out and they disappeared.
Our final stay was in Tambua Sands on the Coral Coast
So we came to the end of our Fiji experience
Despite visiting during the rainy season we really enjoyed our stay and would be very happy to return, assuming the political situation does not deteriorate.