No-one seems to go to Levuka at all, certainly no tourists. It is the old capital, and a bit off the beaten track. We stayed in the Royal Hotel (circa 1861) which is the oldest hotel in Fiji. The place is amazing. A step back in time. The hotel is just as it was, filled with old furniture and paintings of Fiji from another time, painted by guests of long ago.
It is easy and cheap to travel to Levuka from Suva or Nausori. Patterson’s Shipping (contact details for Patterson Brothers Shipping here) has a bus-ferry-bus service for around $35FJD per person where you get on the bus either in Suva or Nausori, pass through Korovou and then after a short wait the bus drives onto the boat (Spirit of Harmony) at Natovi Landing where you get off and can go on deck, and then the bus goes by road from the
landing point on the other side of Ovalau Island to Levuka. The trip is about an hour on the bus, 40 minutes on the ferry, and another hour on the bus, but a beautiful journey.
Levuka is on the sea, surrounded by mist covered mountains, with a series of sea canals snaking through the town.
Most of the buildings are from Colonial times, and some old buildings stand as monuments, burnt out during one coup or another. In the centre of the town stands the shell of the old Masonic Lodge, built in 1913, which was destroyed in a
coup, for fears that the Masons were involved in demonic arts.
In many of the villages they still have some of the traditional bures with walls of woven coconut and thatched roofs.
What is really distressing though is that EVERYWHERE along the beautiful sea shore, and in EVERY stream coming down from the mountains is washed up rubbish.
The trappings of becoming “developed” as a nation.
The place is choked by it. People travelling on the bus from the jetty to the towns and villages have an odd behaviour: when eating or drinking anything, they nicely keep their wrapper or plastic bottle in their laps until they go over a bridge, or near a body of water of any kind such as creek, river, ocean. At that moment, as one, they fling their rubbish out of the bus window.
All I can think is that they truly believe that the water will wash it away and that plastic is biodegradable. I am not talking the odd plastic bottle, I am talking washing machines, tyres, backpacks, bottles, aerosol cans, thongs, clothing, glass, fans, millions of tin cans, Macdonalds cups (from who knows where -I haven’t done a google search, but I would guess that the nearest Macdonalds is in Suva or Laucala Bay, many, many nautical miles from there).
Visitors may wonder at the number of tin cans, roughly opened with jagged tops. The reason behind the number of tinned cans is that many Fijians don’t have a fridge at home so they consume an enormous amount of tinned corned beef, corned mutton, and tinned tuna and mackerel.
While waiting for the boat at Natovi jetty, we started picking up some of the rubbish strewn around the rocks and on the beach. One man joined us, then the small children selling roti to the waiting passengers also helped. All of the other passengers seemed frozen into inactivity, until it was time to leave, whereby one adult watched this young children dispose of the plastic soft drink bottles they were drinking from by tossing them as far as they could into the sea before boarding the boat. The only place to put the collected rubbish was in a massive half burned pile. I am guessing that there is no rubbish collection, and that it is all burned. From the boat, we saw a huge plume of smoke rising from the spot about 15 minutes later.
The jagged tops of the cans is because Fijians don’t have or use can openers, but open every in this method: Take a very large kitchen knife, put the point of the knife on the rim of the can, hold the knife vertically, use one hand to bang down hard on the handle of the knife until the point pierces the can, then slowly work the knife back and forwards to open the lid. Even children do this. It took me more than a month to even attempt this technique as I was so afraid for my safety, but now it is second nature.
Right on the sea shore, at a beautiful point that juts into the sea, underneath the war memorial which stands on the hill is the Levuka Club. It is a non-descript building with a lawn at the back, on the ocean, where you can sit and stare at the sea, and the surrounding islands, including Gau where Roni is from.
The funny thing is that the building is trashed, stripped bare, and open. Rain floods the floor. There are only two items left there which I guess where too heavy to be carried away.
One is an old Chubb safe that looks like it is a left over from colonial days and could be over 100 years old, the other is a pool table. It is the most massive pool table I have ever seen, perhaps also left over from Colonial days, with legs as thick as a Fijian lock forward’s thighs.
The whole thing open to the weather. It seems that the owner of the club went to Viti Levu (the main island) years ago for a holiday and died in a car accident. He was renting the building, but no-one at all knows from whom. Apparently there are no records of ownership at all, so the building just lays open to the weather, to slowly deteriorate. People in Levuka believe that they will soon be World Heritage listed, and that after the 2014 election tourists will come flocking back. I am not sure that they understand tourists!
Levuka is also the only town in Fiji where I didn’t see a covered fruit and produce market. I wonder why the Town Council or the community doesn’t make a ruling that the Levuka Club be utilised on Saturday mornings for that purpose. It would be the perfect spot! It actually would also be the perfect spot for the Levuka Club where people could gather for a drink, catch up with friends and neighbours, and share a bite to eat.
The town also has a fish cannery which operates 24/7. The cannery is the major source of employment in the town, and the constant noise is also a tourism killer, so I fear that Levuka is destined to fall into disrepair ever so slowly, and never be seen by anyone except the locals, and the odd tourist who is running out of time or money to travel to another island.
There are only a couple of restaurants in town. There is a Chinese restaurant where the owner is very hospitable, and will entertain you with stories about the history of Levuka and its buildings. The food is delicious, and it is upstairs in the old Westpac bank building in what used to be the staff club for bank staff in the colonial days. It has a great view of the sea, and the cannery! The other restaurant serves a Fijian version of western food which to me was completely unappealing. Considering that almost half the population of Fiji is Indo-Fijian, it is surprising that there is no Indian restaurant in town, and disappointing as Fijian Indian food has a flavour that is so unusual and memorable.
Fijians have a view that Westerners will not like Fijian food – I am not sure why. Fijian flavours are so fresh and the ingredients such as cassava, cumquat, chili, fresh lolo (coconut milk), boiled fish, bele (a leafy plant with a thousand uses), dalo, lime, otta (which is like the leaves of a bracken fern), kai (sea mussels), lobster, raw fish, pawpaw, pineapple, plantain bananas, ochra and coconut are so clean in an Asian way, but so different from any other food in the world!
If you go to Levuka for the weekend, and want to see the waterfall, be sure to walk to the waterfall on Saturday as soon as you arrive in the mid-afternoon, as on Sundays you cannot walk through the village which is on the way to the waterfall, as they do not allow anyone to walk through the village on Sunday as that is church day. Apparently the Lord does not want us even to use our legs or marvel at the beauty of the earth which he entrusted to us on a Sunday. No outdoor work is to be done on Sundays, and no children are supposed to play outside. The only thing you can hear all over town on Sunday is the sound of church services and meetings or “Fellowships” which go on for hours and hours, and involve a lot of stereotypical preaching in Fijian interspersed frequently with a loud “Praise the Lord”, and singing of Fijian language Christian music which is reminiscent of the kind of songs sung in Sunday Schools in the western world.
To me, there is a disconnect surrounding Christianity in Fiji – a feeling that the more time you spend at Church, the less likely you will be able to commit sins. The mother of one of my neighbours explained to me that she tells her daughter to fill the children’s minds with the word of God, so that their mind will be so full that the outside world cannot get in. Fijian Christians seem to have two selves – a Monday to Saturday self, and a Sunday self.
These two people are completely different.
On Sunday people get dressed in their Sunday best and
travel mainly by bus or foot to Church. On the way to Church, they throw rubbish. Arriving at the bus stand, they buy snacks or drinks, and walk to church dropping litter everywhere they go. The churches are the only buildings with clean compounds, and are the only buildings that are regularly painted and upkept (this goes for the Hindi and Muslim buildings also). At the end of church there are often “meetings” which involve men sitting around on the floor drinking kava. Then it is off to the market stalls near the bus stand to pick up some fresh fruit or vegetables, and back on the bus to home, dropping rubbish all the way, and then both at church and at home, stinking fires are lit which choke the air with plastic fumes. The acrid smell penetrates to the throat, and is the smell of a Sunday afternoon at home.
The first Catholic church service in Fiji was held in Levuka,
and Levuka is also according to the Archbishop of Polynesia and New Zealand, the birthplace of the Anglican church in Fiji.