Natalei Eco Lodge – a hidden treasure

Images Of Fiji

IMG_2616 Last weekend, we went to Natalei Eco Lodge.  Contact information, maps, activities here . The website seems to indicate that it is in the Yasawas, but it isn’t.  It is on the main island, Viti Levu, not too far from Suva and Nausori (where Suva airport is located).  IMG_2416

It is amazing!  Out of all of the places I have stayed in Fiji, this is one of the best.  Not in terms of luxury, but in terms of being a real Fiji experience.  If you only get to stay one place and want to leave Fiji with a feeling of what Fiji really is about, then you should go to Natalei.  It is only $75 per person per night including all food.

I took so many pictures, I couldn’t decide what to leave out, so I have added a few too many really.

IMG_2436Natalei is one of the only places that…

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Two Cousins

Two Cousins

Two cousins enjoying the wind in their hair. Boat ride from Ovalau Island to Leleuvia Island, Fiji. Whenever I am away from Fiji, I look forward to coming back. I can always tell when I am close to Fiji after flying over open ocean as the first thing you notice is the clouds that go up and up. It looks like another sea, but up in the sky.

Indo-Fijian Wedding guest – I was so blessed

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The bride accepting gifts

On the 14th of September 2013, we were invited guests to a very special celebration – the wedding of the son of our old neighbour from Koronivia Road, the home of my friend Sabita.    I have never been to an Indian wedding before, and it was such a great privilege to be invited.

I will let the photographs speak for themselves, and here are a few of my observations.

IMGP2499 IMGP2494 IMGP2500At the beginning of the evening, as guests are being seated in a temporary structure set up for the occasion, the ladies leave the venue, and walk together to the nearest cross roads.  They carry sweets on their heads, and eat and talk all the way.  At the cross roads, they collect some mud, and say prayers, and take it back to the wedding to be prayed upon and to bless the couple.  This symbolizes the cross roads that the couple have reached, and the decisions that have led them to their decision to marry, and all of their many future decisions and cross roads that they will inevitably face as a couple.  They then return to the venue, where the bride stands beneath a decorated canopy with a basket on her head and dances as the women come and give small cash gifts.  You have to hold the gift over the basket, wave your hand three times, and then place it in.IMGP2468

IMGP2780After that, the mother of the groom (the hostess also) stands in the same canopy, and the other mothers and grandmothers bring bowls of food prepared for the occasion, wrapped in colourful sulus and present them to the mother.  They receive a dance from her in return.  The last to make the presentation is the couple to be married.  The mother each time pours a little blessed oil on each bowl.

There were two long trestle tables set up, and people sit and eat, and then make room for the next guests, so that there is eating almost all night long.  The men and boys are completely responsible for food service.  When you sit down you are given a plate and a cup, and boys come with bowls of food, and serve little bits of curry and roti, and dahl over and over until you are sated.  This is the only time I have seen Indian men involved in food, and was told that they only do it at the wedding.

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The bride and Sham’s daughter

IMGP2571The women all wear saris or salwar kameez (dress with tight pants under and a veil) and the room literally shimmers with the beading and sequins.  The way it lights up the faces of the women is incredible.  Women who I normally see farming or serving in the store are transformed literally into godesses.

There are musicians too.  If you like the song, you also make an offering to the singer of $2 or $5 by waving it over his head three times, then putting it in his bowl.  It is best to give a note rather than a coin.

Recently, Fiji got rid of the $2 note, and replaced it with a coin.  This has caused an enormous problem in the Indo-Fijian community, as now the smallest note is a $5 note, and to give that at a wedding or funeral is a burden on many families who live on $60 a week.

The entertainment is always varied and often multicultural at Indian events.  At the wedding, the girls danced, and they had a female impersonator from the Solomon Islands who did a wonderful dance in hula style.  His half-man-half-lady (as they are called here) friends came to collectIMGP2475 him at the end and were welcomed.

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Sham (centre) and Nilesh’s father (right)

Everyone is catered for, my friends Sham and Nilesh who are both in wheelchairs after a car accident many years ago – Sham is a very successful insurance agent, and Nilesh has just found a career as an artist supported by social workers from USP; Nilesh’s father who has just had two toes amputed from diabetes but always has a joke about it (Fiji has

the number one rate of amputation from diabetes in the world); the transvestites; everyone!  My friend Sivnila who is fifteen years old and does our lawnmowing.  He attends school and works the 8 acre farm with his mother, and makes money selling vegetables and lawnmowing to support the family as his father is bedridden after a heart attack.  Jason and Sonam, whose father has been lying in bed at the back of their house with body weakness for many years, and whose mother, my friend Agnes (a gardener) has now joined him after a severe stroke.  She is now almost immobile as there is

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Sivnila and Nilesh

very little treatment here except for massage and family visits.

There is always a place where the men can be served Kava (yaqona) but there is no alcohol.  Ladies do not drink at all, except for during the meal, and it is only cordial.  Maybe it is so difficult when so many ladies might need to use the bathroom with saris so they just avoid liquid intake.  I am not sure, but I am always struck by the difference in culture.  In my culture, it is always polite to offer a drink of some kind to guests, but not here, so I often am very thirsty at events I attend!

The young men do go and buy beer, but they do not drink it at the wedding, they will drink it outside, and Nishant and Sanila’s shop stayed open til midnight especially.

The atmosphere is electric and calm at the same time.  There is a sense of family that runs right through the community that brings a deep contentment.  I am humbled to be included in that large family, and love dearly my family on Koronivia Road.  IMGP3312 IMGP3308 IMGP3283 IMGP3275 IMGP3268 IMGP3185 IMGP3085 IMGP3087 IMGP2908 IMGP2944 IMGP3023 IMGP2902 IMGP2868 IMGP2850 IMGP2730 IMGP2659 IMGP2656 IMGP2605 IMGP2601 IMGP2576 IMGP2571 IMGP2511 IMGP2509 IMGP2497 IMGP2494 IMGP2489 IMGP2471 IMGP2456

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The groom’s father, my father in law, my husband

How to get from Levuka to Suva – water taxi option

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On the water taxi

A few weeks ago, I went once more to Levuka, the old capital of Fiji.  I had the opportunity to stay in a

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Leleuvia

wonderful home at the top of the hill owned by a colleague.

Traveling back, I got the water taxi from Levuka to Bau Landing, near Nausori with a stop over to visit a friend at Leleuvia Island resort.  From Bau Landing, there is a bus to Nausori which costs $1.60, and from there you can get the bus to Suva.  Otherwise, you can organise a taxi to collect you from Bau Landing, and the trip to Suva will cost about $30.

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The water taxi parked at Leleuvia

Usually, I take the bus/ferry service run by Patterson Brothers Shipping, but the trip from Levuka to Suva means getting to the bus

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The water taxi pick up at Kings Wharf, Levuka

stop at 4am.  This time, I took the water taxi, which was much better, and really fun!  The pick up was at 10am (much more civilised), and the cost is about $90.  If you stay at Leleuvia for lunch, there is an additional cost, but you can also swim, snorkel, and relax on the beach.  The details for the Leleuvia to Suva island transfers are at the Leleuvia resort web site http://www.leleuvia.com/island_transfers.html#.

You can also arrange to get picked up from Levuka, or Moturiki.  Leleuvia is really beautiful with accommodation in traditional thatched bures on the beach.  It is a small island that has only the resort, and is what people would think Fiji is if they had just one picture in their minds.  The lunch was served in a massive traditional bure that has the dining area and bar, and is open to the beach.  The cost to stay at the resort is surprisingly cheap and I am told that all the watersports are free, and that there is a special rate for kids.  Anyway, I can’t believe I didn’t know both about Leleuvia, and also about this excellent way to get home!

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Joe, the water taxi driver

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Moturiki Island

While in Levuka Town, my driver, Mr Ram took me along Beach Street to the tomb of Tui Levuka, near which is a stake that marks the centre of Fiji.  Levuka is on Ovalau Island, an easy trip from Suva or Nausori which are on the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu.  The island is part of the Lomaiviti group which means “heart of Fiji” so I don’t know why I was so surprised that there is a spot in Levuka which marks the actual centre of Fiji.  I am not a navigator, so I am not sure if this is gospel truth, but many friends from Ovalau assure me that what Mr Ram told me is true!  Mr Ram can also take you on a taxi tour all around the island which is a great day trip.  It is well worth the trip, as Levuka was the old capital of Fiji until the capital was moved to Suva in 1874, and as such was the hub of activity.  It is the site of the first school in Fiji, the first newspaper, bank, the first Town Hall built to celebrate the 50th year of the reign of Queen Victoria, the first masonic lodge, the landing site of the first indentured labourers or “Blackbirded” people, the first electricity in Fiji (which was privately funded by Reg Patterson the founder of Patterson Brothers shipping).  In fact Levuka had electricity three days before Suva.  Levuka is also the site where Fiji was ceded to Britain, marked by the cession stone.  It is the site of the oldest hotel in the South Pacific that is still standing (The Royal Hotel).  The longer I am in Fiji, the more Levuka is a fascination for me.

Levuka is also the site of the first Catholic church service in Fiji, I believe the first Anglican church, and the first Catholic Convent (Loreto), and the first Methodist Mission.  Levuka also had a pigeon post which is marked by a water fountain near the Post Office (also the first Post Office in Fiji) on Kings Wharf (formerly Queens Wharf).  Levuka is one of the three ports of entry for Fiji.

In Levuka, if you get a chance, visit Baba Settlement which is the settlement behind the town where the descendants of the blackbirded people from the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Gilbert Islands, Ellice Islands were brought to work on the cotton and sugar plantations.  Next year is the 150th centennial of the first recruits.  A lot of them were actually stolen from their homes or tricked into boarding the boats as the traders posed as missionaries.  Plus below, I have  included a pic of the rubbish dump at Levuka just out of interest.  Might have to push my recycling efforts to cans!

Baba settlement is one of my favourite places to visit.  To get there, go along Bath St, beside Levuka public school.  Keep walking and you will see some steps.  Go up the steps, then you will see that the path branches out into three different sets of steps.  All steps lead to Baba.  If you take the fork to the right, you will get to “the Baths” or “Bower’s pool” which is a concreted swimming hole with steps at the base of the waterfall.  If you cross the bridge, you can go up the steps to the top of Baba.

When you go there, be aware that you are walking close to, or through people’s front yards, and be respectful and polite.  If you would like to have a look at the waterfall, or have a swim, then make sure you ask to be shown to the Kaivika pool.  The water hole there is easy to negotiate, and lovely, especially after a downpour.  If you ask to go to the waterfall, you will be shown to the source of the waterfall, which is at the top of the extinct volcano core, and it is very slippery and hard to get to.  People in Baba are so friendly, and if you act nicely, they will be happy to show you around.  The gardens are divine, and truly permaculture, with flowers, pineapples, yaqona (kava), cassava, dalo (taro), beans, aloe vera, watercress, lilies and bananas all riotously growing in harmony.

Make sure you take your rubbish with you when you go, as there is no rubbish collection in Baba, and it has to be taken back to town.  If you have plastic bottles or aluminum cans, drop them at the Town Hall for recycling.

Cultural note:  If you walk north of town you will go through Levuka Village.  This is a traditional village, and as such, cultural protocols apply.  A few tips:  as you cross the bridge towards the village, please remove any hats, sunglasses, beanies, and backpacks.  Also, it is polite for ladies to wear a sarong or suli to cover any short pants, and to wear a shirt with sleeves.  If you want to look around the village, you must have permission, and go with a guide from the village.

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Baba settlement, Levuka

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Tin cans as far as the eye can see, rubbish dump, Levuka

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Mr Ram

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Waterfall at Baba settlement, Levuka

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Staying on the Coral Coast, Fiji – Things to Do, Getting to Suva, Finding a Toilet

A lovely lady called Emma contacted me through the Facebook site Clean Up Fiji after listening to the 4BC Australia Radio Interview last month where I was asked about recycling in Fiji and what I am doing personally to combat the issue.  She is going to be staying at the Fiji Hideaway Resort on the Coral Coast, Fiji shortly and has offered to help by taking some photographs and doing a blog post or Facebook post of her experiences.  I recently went to the Hideaway to visit some other friends, so thought I might give Emma my tips.  It seems the tips might be useful to others, so here they are with some extra bits added for clarity.  For more travel tips click here:

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Hare Krishna Temple, Sigatoka

Things are moving along here now. My husband and I are organizing a recycling program at Fiji National University,, Koronivia Campus and also Levuka Town, Ovalau Island and some of the other islands. Community support is growing. I visited Hideaway recently when some other friends were there, and found out that they do recycle there, which is great. My friend said that she asked about the coral planting project and it is no longer going. I believe at Hideaway resort that they used to have a program where you can replant coral http://marineecologyfiji.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Micro-reef-building.pdf . Also, just to let you know, if you plan to swim or dive, take care as there could be nutrients from sewage in the sea which you can’t see as it leaches from the resorts and villages. It can be a  real problem on the Coral Coast. My friend went diving and really enjoyed seeing the fish.  She also went on a reef walk which she enjoyed.  The best time for diving is at high tide so you may have to get up early!

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ecoCafe
Source: Facebook ecoCafe

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Horse riding, outside ecoCafe, near Korolevu

My suggestions to you while you are there – visit Kula Bird Park which is nearby and apparently lovely. My friends went there. Sigatoka Sand dunes is also good – an archaelogical site (ask at the hotel). Sigatoka town is nice to wander around, and you can visit the beautiful Iskcon Hare Krishna Temple there. If you go in the other direction (towards Suva) on the normal bus (just wait by the side of the road – it costs about $1 each) ask to get off at Votua Village near Korolevu village. I have a friend there who might be able to meet you if you like. Anyway, once you get to Votua village, then just walk (ask anyone) about 3 minutes down the road towards Suva and you will find the ecoCafe. It is run by a German lady and a Fijian man. They have a nice deck over the beach where you can eat and have a drink, and you can walk on the beach and your daughter can paddle around. They also cook a Lovo (earth oven feast) there sometimes. They sell some nice handicrafts there at the cafe also (better than the ones I saw at the resort).

There is also a waterfall near Korolevu but I have never been there.  You could ask at the hotel if there is anyone who could take you.

A great site for local activities near Korolevu (which is close to Hideaway) with contact numbers and websites is https://sites.google.com/site/fijibeachcottage/local-activities.

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Dining room, Beach Cocomo

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Sign outside Beach Cocomo

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Marie cooking dinner

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Marie at Beach Cocomo serving breakfast

You should also see if you can go for dinner at Beach Cocomo (contact details and pics here).  It is run by a Korean lady, Marie, who cooks the most delicious Fijian/Korean fusion for about $35 a head for 5 course dinner and you eat in a traditional bure with a sand floor, overlooking the ocean.  It is about 10 minutes drive from the Hideaway by taxi and Marie can order a taxi to take you back after dinner.  Tell her I sent you and give her my regards!  It is really not to be missed.  She may ask for a deposit by credit card so that she knows you will come.  Don’t be concerned by that, as she has to buy the fresh food and if you don’t come it will be wasted!  She also does breakfast which is lovely and you can go for a walk on the beach there.  She makes the best babakau. (Well actually, I think I make the best ones, but hers are second best!)

If you have any room at all in your suitcases to bring over some stuff, my friend at The Gap has been collecting donations of second hand sheets, towels, clothes etc that are much needed here. Maybe you could bring a few as she has too much to bring with her? I can come and meet you, or you can leave it at reception with my husband’s name and he can collect when he passes by for work.

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Volavola at home with our Tanoa

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My husband and his father and
our nephew cook the lovo at home

The big bus stand is also right next to the big vegetable market which is interesting and there is a women’s section inside where you can buy some nice patchwork bags in Fijian fabrics. I bought one a year ago and use it every day for shopping and it still looks great. Also, go upstairs, as that is where they sell the Kava (Yaqona pronounced “Yangona”) If you want to visit the museum, then get a taxi from outside the flea market or vegetable market. It will cost about $3.50. The museum costs about $7 each to go in. It is surrounded by a botanical garden and is next to the Presidential Palace where you can see

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Suva Museum, Thurston Gardens

the guard who is there 24/7 in his white sulu with the zig zag bottom. It is also next to Albert Park. If you want to eat, across the road from the museum, on the sea wall is the Bowls Club. They are members only, but will most likely let you in and serve you if you say that you are new in town and it was recommended. Just ask if a member can sign you in. If you are a member of any club in Australia such as a football club, bring your membership and ask to be signed in as an affiliated club member. It is a nice walk back from that area past the Art Deco government buildings towards town. Once you get to the

Suva City Libarary (also a nice building to go inside) and Olympic Pool, turn towards the sea wall which goes behind MacDonalds and IMGP7389you can walk all the way back to the big bus stand over the bridge past the fish market. Once you go over the little bridge, you can see the vegetable market. Cut straight through the vegetable market and it takes you out to the bus stand where you can get the Sunbeam bus back to the Hotel. The trip to Suva is about 2 and a bit hours by bus, so leave early in the day and come back in the afternoon about 3pm to avoid the rush hour. It is a lovely bus ride and you will get to see a bit of Fiji. A few tips regarding

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Mats and Masi at Suva Flea Market

finding toilets: Make sure that you take some toilet paper and wet wipes with you as most of the toilets will not have toilet paper or soap as you are expected to bring your own. If you want to go to the toilet when you get to town then you have to be strategic. There are some pay toilets (50cents each) which are very clean, and you can find toilets most of the way along the route to the museum if you know how. I will put the details and a toilet map in my next message as I have to go and do some gardening now before it gets too hot!

This is Fiji – my day off from blogging!

Yesterday, I took a day off from blogging, and researching the effects of beverage plastic PET bottles and other plastics on the environment here in Fiji.  I have a wonderful friend who sent some stuff from home with her friends to Fiji.  My friend collected up some old footy jerseys, footy socks, some solar lights (thanks, and if anyone else is coming to Fiji, please ask your friends to pack a couple of sets of solar fairy lights in their luggage and I will collect from wherever they are!).  Solar fairy lights give enough light to eat, do evening stuff as a family and stay on all night until dawn.  They seem to stay lit a lot longer than the other types of solar bulbs for some reason.

Anyway, so I arranged to meet Katie and Tony Hiller who run the Mount Glorious Butterflies near Brisbane, Australia (www.mountgloriousbutterflies.com)

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Village near Korolevu, Coral Coast, Fiji

They arrived a week ago and leave today so yesterday was my last chance.  With one thing and another (got my wallet stolen, no cash, no cards, no transport) I kept putting off our meeting.  Yesterday, thinking I had money in the bank, I got a bus to Nakasi.  I tried my ATM, but no joy.  On to Suva.  I was lucky enough to get in a return cab for $1.50 (same price as the bus) and met a fellow passenger who is the team manager for the Davuilevu Knights Rugby Under 16s League Club.  Now my son can finally go to footy training!  The club is affiliated with the Newcastle Knights in Australia, but they are still waiting on training jerseys, balls and other equipment.  Apparently the old contact has now left, and things seem to have broken down.  If you have any spare football jerseys, boots of any size, shorts, socks, balls, pumps, or spikes, let me know and I can arrange to get them here.  There are very few clubs outside of schools, unlike in Australia, and this is the first one I have found.  I gave the guy my number, he said he would call.  I got to Suva and they guy (Andrew) offered to walk me to the minivan stand, but I told him that I was ok, as am used to finding my way around in Suva.

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The ubiquitous Coke truck – Coca Cola has basically branded Fiji – it is everywhere!

The cab dropped us off outside the Flea Market. From there I had planned to go to the ATM, get out some cash, buy them a gift as a momento of Fiji, and then travel to the Fiji Hideway Resort on the Coral Coast by minibus to meet my friends.  Well, I had made a boo boo on my internet banking, so when I got to Suva, no cash.  I only had $25 in my wallet and the return fare to meet them and get home was $23.  I decided to make the trip.

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Katie in the traditonal Bure (hut) that is on display at the Fiji Hideaway

I got in the Suva to Sigatoka minibus for $10 and enjoyed the ride.  As always, I was constantly thinking about the mangrove reclamation (a euphamism they use here for the destruction of the mangroves where they cut, then burn, then cover in hessian or similar, then cover with dirt, then build industrial areas) outside of Lami, the Coca Cola, Fiji Water and their other brands and the thousands of bottles on the side of the road, in the creeks and river mouths etc, but decided to give my mind a rest and let some thoughts collect.

For Katie and Tony, on their first overseas trip in nine years, they were literally forced to relax.  Tony did so much at home before they left that he gave himself acute sciatica and could not go anywhere at all.  They did make one trip to the Kula Bird Park which they really enjoyed as Tony breeds and studies birds and Katie is an insect lover who breeds butterflies.   Luckily, they were in the perfect place to relax – a resort in Fiji!  Katie joked about the need for a wheelchair, but in Fiji, I know that any of the Fijian lads who work at the hotel would have happily carried Tony where ever he wanted to go – life is just like that here.  We want every one to be happy – really and truly.

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View from the truck on the ride home

I had the nicest day with Katie and Tony, who are on their way to Nadi airport right now.  By the time they get home, they will be on the internet – as promised!  What an interesting couple.  Katie was born in Aruba, and when she was growing up, she remembers there being only one hotel which the locals called “The New Hotel”.  Now apparently, Aruba is a tourist mecca.  Katie then moved to the mainland USA and then went traveling.  Forty years ago almost to the day she sailed on a yacht to Fiji and landed near Suva.  She loves diving, and still had a hankering to see and dive the Great Barrier Reef, so she traveled to Australia.  Tony, who used to work at a Zoo in the UK (the name escapes me but here is a list of UK Zoos, and Tony might fill in.  He says that the Zoo he used to work at has really come ahead since he has left – I pointed out that that might not be a coincidence!  Anyway, Tony, forty years ago had gone to Heron Island to collect samples of insects or birds, and as he tells it, he collected an extra specimen, Katie.

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Katie, me and Tony

They are a young and vibrant couple, Tony is 71 and Katie is 62.  We talked and talked about rubbish in Fiji, rubbish in the ocean, country life, travel plans for the future, their butterfly and bird park, and my obsession with plastic trash. I even stopped and asked the hotel garbage collector staff what happens with their waste.  They tell me that at the Fiji Hideaway, all rubbish is taken to the back area and sorted into plastic bottles, glass wine bottles, cans and paper, then the rest, and the recyclables collected by a company called

Waste Recyclers(Fiji) Ltd
Phone: 336 1055/992 1056 (Lot 26 Wailada Subdivision, Lami),
Email: wasterec@connect.com.fj

This has to be a good thing!  Suva City Council states that

A total of 1,954,120 kg of rubbish(house garbage, green waste, general refuse) were disposed of at Naboro Landfill. Source: http://suvacity.org/home-composting/

It is not clear whether this is a yearly for 2012, or a total figure since the landfill was established.

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Bele flower – the first time I have seen one, at the Fiji Hideaway display food garden. We normally eat the leaves too fast and the flowers never get to form. Bele is in the hibiscus family and really delicious

I finally tore myself away at about 5pm, to give Katie and Tony some time to enjoy their last night in Fiji, and went across the road to wait for a minivan.  I met a taxi driver who hailed a truckdriver friend.  The driver was not going to Suva, but was going all the way to 9miles, which is a $2 taxi fare from my house!  What a great trip.  Along the way, other passengers got in and out, and we all talked.  In Fiji, everyone is happy to talk.  Everyone wants to know about you, and wants to share information about themselves.

Katie was mentioning that at the resort, everyone says “Bula” which is kind of loosely translated as “Hello” but in a happy way, sort of “Happy Hello”.  I think she wondered whether it was just a tourist thing, but it really is genuine.  Fijians as a nation (including all Fijians, whether iTaukei, Indo-Fijians, or the quaintly named “Others”) are to me at least, very genuine.

Sitting up in the cabin of the truck, I had a great view, a seat to myself, with my big bag of stuff from home stored comfortably at the back!

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Deo, the truck driver

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Deo’s boss who found me a taxi

On arriving back in 9miles, the driver, Deo, gave me his number and invited me to visit at home with his wife.  His supervisor, Suresh, immediately got my bag, helped me jump out of the truck (I literally did have to jump), and insisted on hailing me a taxi to make sure I got home safe.

When I told the driver where I wanted to go, he headed to my old house, remembering me and where I used to live before we moved a couple of weeks ago.  I got home, and still had $5 left in my purse.  I came home happy.  Half an hour after I got home, guess who called – Andrew from the footy club, as promised!

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Katie outside the Fiji Hideaway, saying our good byes

So nice to see and hear from people from home, and so nice to meet new people here.  I know that Tony and Katie will be back to Fiji – they have to come – my husband wants to cook them a lovo!  One week in Fiji is really not enough – if you come, please come for at least 10 days.  We would have been so honoured to have Katie and Tony as guests in our home for a night or two, and show them some of our little part of Fiji, and hope that next time, as they only have to save for the air fare, and not the accommodation, that they will take us up on it, and that it is not nine years from now!

Rural Fiji – labour of love

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Sunrise over Koronivia

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Sunrise Koronivia

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Harvesting rice

Sometimes I know that I may sound negative with some of the posts I put up, complaining about or documenting rubbish and PET bottles, burning plastic fires and so on.

Part of the reason I am so saddened by it all, is that I love Fiji so much.  I have really come to love rural life – I never thought I would.  I am a beach girl by nature – the thought of not being able to access the ocean normally terrifies me – really.  I remember years ago, I had the opportunity to move to Botswana.  I am ashamed to admit that the reason that I held in my

“secret heart” and not one of the many reasons I ever voiced, was that I could not do it, as after looking on the map, I realized that Botswana was landlocked!

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Rice harvesting, Fiji

Fiji is a nation of islands,

hundreds and hundreds of islands – and I live on the largest one.  I am not that far from the sea really, and see it every time I take the bus to Suva but no one really swims in the sea here.  If they do, they often swim fully clothed for modesty and cultural reasons, and there are no surf beaches on this side of the island at all (or in fact any place in Fiji that I have been to).  Note to self – must visit surf side sometime.  Even though we live on an island (a big one), we live in a rural setting.  I have once seen some people swimming in Suva near the bowling club, which was wierd.  The water is so filthy that the sand is black and the water is often blackish grey also.  There were rusty cans and

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Rice paddy, Fiji

plastic bottles everywhere, but a mother watched as her two young kids had a ball in the water.  The water in Suva Harbour is so contaminated, and it is widely documented and known, but many people here don’t read the paper, so I guess how are they to know.  I have also seen people daily catching fish in Nubukalou Creek in Suva and in the Harbour.  Maybe they are not aware?

toxic creek

 

Of particular concern is Nubukalou Creek which drains a major area of the city that is without sewerage. The National State of the Environment Report states that “with faecal coliform levels thousands of times above an acceptable level it should be regarded as a sewer. The continued sale of fish along the creek bank, with the consequent use of its water for washing them, is a serious health hazard.” Source: http://www.unescap.org/drpad/publication/integra/volume2/fiji/2fj02c03.htm

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Cattle, Fiji

Anyway, enough about Suva…..What has made me love it here in Rural Fiji so much I often ask myself?  Is it the sunrise over the coconut trees – some days red, some days golden?  Is it the sight of a hawk flying low (a sign that bad weather is coming)?  To me, when I think of Fiji, I don’t think about beaches at all, I think of the country side.  I think of the beautiful rural places and people.  Most of Fiji is rural and people live off the land.

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Mother and son take a walk in the morning mist

Is it the peace and quiet? Is it that every where you look it is green and whatever you put in the ground grows like wildfire?

It is all of those things, but mainly it is the people.  Life here has a different pace.  A friend of a friend is here in Fiji for a week at the moment and she has kindly brought some donations from home.  I am so looking forward to meeting her, and will travel by bus tomorrow to the Coral Coast to collect the donations, and have a conversation.  A week goes so fast here, not because you fit a million things in, like in the developed world, but because you don’t!  I started wondering how I would ever find the time meet with them, and that if I don’t do it tomorrow, soon the week will be gone, and so will they.

The pace of life is often determined by the task at hand, and the tools available.  My task right now is to write this blog – I have a working computer in my home – not many people

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Farm Road Fiji

here have that.  I have a working internet connection – also not common.  Once I hit publish, the job is done, and all my typos and immature thoughts will be out there for the world to see.

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Grey herons stalk the rice paddies waiting for fingerlings

Here, much is done by hand.  Many hands, over long hours.  Yesterday, I needed some milk powder, so I took a walk down the farm road about a kilometer to my friend Sanila who owns a small shop in Koronivia.  I could have gone by bus to the nearest supermarket which would have taken about 10 minutes, but I felt like a chat and seeing a friendly face.  So, I got my cloth shopping bag (also an oddity here as this is still plastic world where service means double bagging!) and my camera and took a walk.  On the way, in the field, some men were harvesting rice from a research paddock.  They were doing it all by hand.  Cutting each bundle, walking it over to a pile, and then the piles would eventually be put into a tiny threshing machine and then the rice bagged into 50kg bags.  After that, the rice straw will then be carried to a big pile.  Sometimes we use the rice straw on the garden and it is a great weed mat.

I stopped for a chat and asked if I could take their photo for my website.  They happily agreed, posed, and then went on with their work – all day. Each of the men probably earned between $10 and $20 for the day’s work.  That is not much, but bread is 75 cents a loaf so the money they made (less their bus fare) will pay for the family meal.

A lot of work here is manual, and people still have time for a chat.  Even though I sometimes get lonely, I am never really alone as everyone I meet is keen to talk, and share and find out about each other.

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Working bullocks, Fiji

Ploughing is often done by a team or working bullocks, or a horse.  Cassava, dalo, corn, ochra (bindi), bele, bananas, coconuts, limes, everything seems to be harvested by hand.  Milking is often also still done by hand.  And all these tasks are seemingly, to my western eyes, done with pride, love, laughter and happiness, and always in groups.

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Teenagers enjoy juice after working together clearing our yard

It is the love, laughter, togetherness and conversation that has made me love rural Fiji.  Everyone asks us to come to the village for holidays, and they mean it.

There is a calmness to Fiji rural life that I find comforting.

Levuka Town – Fiji’s First World Heritage Site

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Levuka, the old Capital of Fiji, on Ovalau Island, is now Fiji’s first UNESCO World Heritage Listed site.  Going to Levuka is a step back in time, in the most charming way.  It is wonderful that the town is now going to be preserved.

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1399

If you love Levuka, and want to find out more about how to recycle PET bottles and aluminum cans, then please contact me.  I visited Levuka a few months ago, and will be returning soon.  For photos of Levuka see my previous post at

The sitting room of the Royal Hotel, Levuka, built in the 1860's.

The sitting room of the Royal Hotel, Levuka, built in the 1860’s.

https://alicevstokes.wordpress.com/2013/02/23/levuka-the-old-capital-of-fiji/

I hear that many initiatives are in train, and now, perhaps, lots of people will visit Levuka.  When they do come, it will be imperative that recycling is in place.

Volunteer to Dive Fiji

Want to volunteer to dive Fiji Islands and help collect marine data?  Vinaka Fiji can help!  Click here for more information. Located in the beautiful Yasawas, they say:

“Comprising over 300 islands, 4,000 square miles of reefs and 1,500 species of sea life, there are plenty of reasons to volunteer on Marine Research and Conservation programs in Fiji!

Take the opportunity to learn to scuba dive, or extend your skills in this incredible marine environment of the Yasawa Islands. Then take your new skills and begin conducting underwater surveys in the warm, turquoise waters of the Pacific. Visit traditional villages and get to know the community, meet the headmen and children, and support their learning about environmental marine conservation and fishing practices.” Source Vinaka Fiji

Cleaning baby clams, who need a helping hand

Source: Vinaka Fiji

Coming to Fiji and making a difference – radio interview and what you can do

Last Friday, I had the wonderful opportunity to be interviewed on Australian Radio 4BC Brisbane by Catherine McGeorge and Chris Adams.  Catherine spent time yachting around the Pacific, and witnessed some of the pollution that is also threatening Fiji in the next 20 years if we don’t think about what to do with our plastics.  We can all help to reverse the trend.  The mp3 file of the interview is available at

What, you may ask, can I do if I don’t live in Fiji?  There are so many things we can do if we have a spare day.

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Boys on the ferry from Suva to Savusavu

When you fly in to Fiji – ask your airline what they do with the plastic bottles they use in-flight, and let me know.

When you stay at a hotel or resort, ask them for some garbage bags for when you go walk-about, so that you can collect some plastic bottles and take them back to the hotel for recycling.

When you come to Fiji, you can spend a day replanting coral on the reef (coral planting material available, or I can hook you up if you are not sure where to start).

Spend half a day replanting mangrove seedlings (again, readily available and I can hook you up, as many of the resorts have their own marine biologists).

Volunteer a day or so to go to the local primary school and do a bit of a spruce up or some gardening – you will be welcomed with open arms  – or…. I can hook you up.

Let me know when you are coming to Fiji and do a village stay and volunteer a bit while you are here and having fun – you can stay in the village or just go for a visit, and your only costs will be your air travel.  Ask me and I can arrange it all – pitch in a bit like in a normal family, and bring a few pairs of thongs or flip flops, some fishing line and hooks and some rugby balls and ball pumps and your stay is covered!  maybe some solar garden lights and you will be remembered for ever!

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Dom and Savenaca scrape coconuts to make fresh coconut milk (lolo)

You will learn to fish, cook Fijian food, drink yaqona (Kava), make fresh coconut milk, cook a lovo (like a hungi), weave coconut baskets, and voivoi mats, and become part of a new family.

Do you wanna dance, and hold my hand? Problems and issues facing ordinary Fijians

Including new travel tips!!!!

Yesterday, I got an email from a producer of a BBC Television show asking for some comments as she is looking at making a show about crazy places to drive a taxi.  In doing a response for her, I have included information that gives a picture (through my eyes as an Australian married to a Fijian, living here in Fiji) of what life in Fiji is like – really like!  So, if you wanna dance, and hold my hand and take a trip through Fijian life as I observe it, read on.  I have not mentioned the upcoming election in 2014, or any political views, but I can tell you that living in Fiji to me feels safe, secure.  Like the current government or not, most Fijians I speak to feel that at least the current Prime Minister is a man who gets around to local communities and gets things done.  Anyway, no more on politics.  My response to the enquiries below:

Thanks so much for your email.  I know heaps of taxi drivers as apart from the bus, it is my only mode of transport.  As far as I am aware, there are no “water taxis” as such.  When people need to travel over water, apart from the big barges and ferries operated by Patterson Brothers Shipping, Bligh Shipping and Groundar, they travel mostly by fibreglass boat such as in this story.  Often the boats are bought using microfinance or loans for thousands, and the fare is about $5, so I don’t know how they actually pay off the loans. http://www.fijisun.com.fj/2013/05/03/a-boat-for-yanuca-islanders/

For a list of shipping contacts see here: http://myfijiguide.com/general-info/boatsmarineshipping/shipping-companies-and-agents.aspx

Even from one point to another on the same island, it is easier and faster to get the boat.

Many people die each year in the small “fibres” as they are called.  http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=238916 including the late Tui (chief) Macuata.  There is a post in my blog about it.

Even government travel is by these small boats sometimes, such as teaching staff going between the islands.  http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=235708

If you wanted to put your man on the water, I would suggest that you do it in the Lomaiviti Group, that is the group of islands including Ovalau(where Levuka is, the old capital), Gau, Kadauv etc .  Actually here is a list of the islands.

There is plenty of boat travel between all of the islands in the group.  Including sea-road travel. for example, a truck wanting to take goods to Koro Island from Suva would have to travel by road to Natovi Landing near Nausori (Rewa Delta), then the truck goes on the boat to the island, then travels overland to destination.

Re normal taxi drivers, the cars are often old, the fare is usually about $3 for short trips, and they have to go on all kinds of roads.  Some travel regularly on the road from Suva to Nadi for $100 FJD.  The scary way to travel is by minibus.  There are minibus routes all over Fiji and the drivers drive non stop in all conditions, with vans jam packed full.

IMGP6677Later that night, further into the conversation, on being thanked for my prompt response (excuse my generalisation, not all Fijians drink Kava, and not all the time, but it is as expected at work here as late night Karaoke and drinking are in Japan.  If the boss says drink, you drink.  If you don’t you are seen as not loyal.  Also, due to the nature of family and clan ties, often there is a traditional relationship involved and to not drink would be considered socially unacceptable, disrespectful and frankly UnFijian:

Ahh, see I am married to a Fijian.  They all drink Kava, all the time.  It is midnight here and I am waiting for him to get home from the “meeting”.  By the way, I also should have mentioned that all the taxi drivers drink kava all the time also, even between jobs, or while waiting at their taxi base.  Especially if they have to go on a long job and take someone to the interior, they will be given Kava when they arrive.  It is not just a quick “one for the road” affair either! 

I do know someone here in Rewa who would be a great person.  His name is Jerry, and he is Fijian and owns traditional land, and drives the other kind of taxi which is a huge truck converted into a carrier with bench seats.  He does daily runs from Nausori to Logani and the other villages towards Bau Landing, which has probably some of the worst roads in Fiji.  Drivers here are very skillful, and he and his family are real characters.  His son is a great friend of mine.  They will take your man in like he is one of the family, and after work he will get to tend to cattle, plant dalo and ride horses in the sea.

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Our sleeping arrangements on the inter island ferry

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Just one small part of our family

Earlier today:

Hi, I am going to try and answer your questions below, I hope this helps you:

Oh by the way… Even if these boats you mention below are not ‘water taxis’ as such – do locals pay a fare? I love the suggestion about the trucks. As a local what do you think are the main ‘current affairs’ affecting Fijians and people like Jerry?

Yes, the locals pay a fare.  They also often pay with their lives.  A fibreglass is an open small boat as pictured in  https://alicevstokes.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/suva-harbour/.  They take officially 7 to 9 passengers across the reef, or if travelling from island to island, over open water.  The weather here is very changeable and the sea often treacherous.  Very few wear life jackets.  The inter-island fare is normally the cost of a weeks’ earnings for some people.  For example, from Levuka on Ovalau to Gau island, the fare is about $70.  Many Fijians earn $10/day.  However, if you “gotta go” then there is little option.  Because of strong traditional relationships, if there is a family event such as funeral etc, then you must travel.  Fijians (even Indo-Fijians) are very much tied to 3 places in this order: their mother’s village, their father’s village, their birth place.  Where they actually live or “stay” as they call it (for example if they have moved to Suva for work) is of little or no consequence.  I think that is one of the reasons there is so much litter here.  It is not your concern as it is not your village. 

For all Fijians that I know and have met, the family and family ties are the most important thing.  That is one of the most wonderful things about living in Fiji.  No matter the problems, family time (even with husband and wife, kids etc) is the number one priority.  Respect for your parents, and elders is paramount.  For example, my niece just had a baby.  Instead of being called the baby’s aunt, I am called the . grandmother or “Bubu” as I am in that generation (even though of course I am still wildly attractive and only 48) and all of my counterparts are considered as important to the baby, and a source of advice for the new mother.  The baby is named after its great grandfather (my husband’s father), my son – no blood relation, and the biological grandmother’s late father.  This is a huge honour to have a “yaca” (yatha).  Even as I write this, I feel an obligation to further explain the family relationships, as it matters so much (for example, that the baby’s mother is the first daughter of my husband’s eldest brother, and that the father of that eldest brother is the first namesake), but I won’t…. but you get the idea. 

The reason I am going into all this, is that for any taxi driver, boat driver, carrier driver, bus driver or whatever, family is the real driver.

Religion is the second driver.  God is real here, and your parents are viewed as God’s representative on earth. 

Even though wages and fares are low, the sense of community here is very strong.  If you ring a driver or get a driver and explain that you don’t have any money but your need to travel to a place for reasons of family, getting home or a commitment that is important (again, only family or religion), then they will take you on a promise.  Often I get home having not paid anything at all, not because I don’t have any money, just because one of my neighbours (anyone living within a 5km radius) or relatives (anyone from Gau or the Lomaiviti group, or Vanua Levu) has seen me and picked me up.

Taxi drivers here are the people you go to if you want or need to find anything.  They take a real sense of responsibility for making sure you get what you need.  They will go  into the shop with you and explain what you need, and negotiate.  They are friends with every one.  They are a very trusted group in the community and often have regular customers and jobs.  When I say customers, actually your taxi driver becomes part of the family.  They pick your kids up and take them to school, they tell people where you live, they help you move house, they make enquiries if you are searching for a house to rent or a car to buy.  They do everything for you.  I published some taxi driver phone numbers on my blog as these people I really trust.  They invite you to their daughters’ weddings, they are a blessing.

·         Who are Jerry’s (Or someone like him) customers – how reliant are people on taxis?

Jerry and the other drivers rely on their regular customers as much as their customers rely on them.  They do deliveries, make sure that all the kids are picked up, run rain, flood, hail or shine, as it is the only way for people to get home.  I came to Fiji in December the day after a cyclone and our road was flooded. Our driver somehow found a way through the flooded back roads, and got us home from the airport.  They will not leave their neighbours stranded. 

·         What is life like for a taxi driver – do they own a decent wage – how are they viewed by society in Fiji?

Many do not earn what we by Western standards would call a decent wage, but that is not important here.  Most people grow at least a decent proportion of their own food (except possibly in Suva City).  See above re society views. 

·         You say the roads are bad   – what are they like? Is there a bad accident rate?

The roads are appalling!  I can’t say much more.  It is really a “see to believe” type of thing.  The accident rate is also appalling.  Buses catch on fire regularly http://www.fijisun.com.fj/2013/07/05/another-bus-burned/ , minibuses crash regularly http://www.fijisun.com.fj/2009/09/16/bus-passengers-escape-death/

 and buses crash .  It is not so much the death rate, but that the accidents are always so shocking.  The shock coming from the cause, and also that we know that when someone dies or is seriously injured here, the financial toll on the family will force them into poverty.  (around 40% of Fijians live in what we call poverty, many in “informal settlements”. 

·         What are the main ‘social’ issues that are worth exploring in Fiji?

Poverty in housing – see “informal settlements” which we would call slums or shanty towns, or squatter settlements http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=227553

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=238556 with an estimated 300,000 people in Fiji living in squatter settlements (total population just over 900,000 in Fiji) this is a pressing issue for so many.

tamavua i waiSquatter settlement at Tamavua i wai (near Suva).  Source: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=238556

Another source says that it is only 100,000 in squatter settlements, but I would go with the 300,000 having lived here.  http://news.ccf.org.fj/students-teachers-viewing-the-documentary-struggling-for-a-better-living-squatters-in-fiji/ also notes importantly that “Besides having no proper legal title to their homes, the vast majority of these people lack basic amenities such as piped water, sewerage and electricity”.

Poverty in education (school fees for one child are about $280 per year, but this is a struggle for many families, and children are disallowed from school regularly if their fees are overdue). It is a daily story in both major newspapers at the start of each school year.  http://www.fijisun.com.fj/2013/01/23/children-turned-away-for-not-paying-fees/

A better life for their children (just like all parents).  This involves spending a large proportion of the family income on education, and the hope of immigrating to the developed world.

·         What is Jerry and his family like – when you say ‘characters’ what would we find    compelling about them?

They are an amazing family.  Fijians often live in extended family groups.  Jerry and his family live in a village in Tailevu, and live on land owned under traditional title, that is passed through clans in traditional ways too long to go into here.  Jerry is head of the family.  The family is originally from Bau Island which means that they are highly regarded as Bau was the old seat of power in Fiji.  Also, too long an explanation re their compelling nature.  You will find most Fijian families compelling I think, but as Jerry and his family both operate a business and travel to and from town for work and schooling via boat, bus, carrier, taxi, minibus, and live a rural traditional lifestyle by the ocean, they are a good example of the best of Fiji.  Jerry’s son Eddie is 21, and a real thinker.  He knows everything there is to know about pig farming and takes responsibility for the schooling and school fees of his younger siblings.  He is a very attractive person both inside and out and a dear friend.

·         How real is the risk of flooding in the Delta – does this affect the roads? What season is worse for this?  http://www.pacificdisaster.net/pdnadmin/data/original/FJI_2012_FL_NEOC_Sitrep14.pdf

Gives a true picture of what happens to roads and transport in Fiji during the yearly (sometimes 3 times a year) floods.  Road closures, bus services suspended, bridges washed out.  But still the taxi drivers and carrier drivers manage to get people around.  That is when boat travel comes into its own.  You take a fibre from one point to another and bypass the flooded roads.  Flood season from December to April.  Floods here are devastating due to the quality of housing. Most houses made from corrugated iron roughly put together.  To get a picture of what it is like see http://poleshift.ning.com/profiles/blogs/7-of-10-sinking-fiji-this-current-flood-is-worse-than-the-floods

Some awesome pictures of the Nadi flooding that has many people calling for the whole town to be relocated. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.365058533519909.106465.112621892096909&type=3

Children brave river dangerous river crossing to catch a ride to school since damage to crossing 7 months ago in Cyclone Evan http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=238801

·         Even though there aren’t ‘water taxis’ as such do the boats that people take out loans for carry other passengers.

fibre fdb

Source: Fiji Times Online

Yes, they get loans from FDB (Fiji Development Bank).  This is a real life story and a typical one: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=190741

It’s been such fun reading about life in Fiji from you mails – from Kava to riding horses in the sea – I feel like I have almost transported myself there from London for the day!

Fiji Roads Corporate Plan 2013 – see 1.3.3 and tables.  You will get an idea from the “horses mouth” about road conditions, and also the number of unsealed roads (where the term “road” is used loosely). http://www.fijiroads.org/sites/default/files/fra-corporate-plan-2013-final.pdf

“Irish Crossings”  http://www.fijisun.com.fj/2012/01/27/students-cross-flooded-creek/

are regularly washed out, bridges closed etc.  I can’t find a good example online as most of the info on Fiji is really quite lame, but Air Pacific (now Fiji Airways) has a great map in it’s inflight magazine showing the sealed and unsealed roads on each island.  Maybe you can pick one up from the local travel agent.  That will really give you a good picture.  Unsealed roads literally are little more than dirt tracks. I live on one, and it is very close to Suva.  Anyway, if you hit the google map http://goo.gl/maps/EmR99 and zoom in, you might get a bit more of an idea.  Drivers here are very skilful.  Many of the roads on the islands literally brush the ocean, with cliffs on one side, water on the other, and mud in between.  The road to Levuka from the ferry stop is harrowing, especially in the dark, and if it is raining.  If two vehicles meet, one has to back up.  Often that is a big, full bus or truck.  If one car or bus breaks down, then everyone waits.  That of course is a great opportunity for any taxi or carrier driver on the “lee” side of the breakdown as they come somehow, as if by magic, and ferry people from the traffic jam to the boats.

Getting around Fiji – part two – taxi driver phone contacts -Suva City, Nadi airport and Suva airport/Nausori

Getting a taxi in Fiji is normally easy, unless of course you are in a hurry and really need one.  Then, Murphy’s law applies.

To phone a taxi, you normally need the driver’s number.  In the Suva/Nausori area, most drivers will come anywhere you need, and travel freely along the corridor (Kings Road and Princess Road).  You can book a taxi in advance, or call as you need.  It is a good idea to have a few numbers stored as if you are in Nausori at the Suva airport, and the driver is stuck in Suva, you will wait about half an hour or more.

If you know another reputable driver in another area and want to add their details, please respond below.  See also, Getting around Part One – tips, mobile phones, ATMs.

Suva Airport area (Nausori area) reputable licensed taxis

Atish +679 9216093

Soni +679 9212511

Deo +679 9953568

Satea +679 9724312

Saleim (modern 5 seater van with luggage space) +679 9425271

Forum Taxis (very quick service) +679 9337818  /+679 8400402/ +679 7192710 forum.taxis@gmail.com

Suva City areaIMGP0198

Bau Taxis (Vinesh) +679 9953521

Saleim (modern 5 seater van with luggage space) +679 9425271

Ali +679 9667994

Forum Taxis (very quick service) +679 9337818  /+679 8400402/ +679 7192710 forum.taxis@gmail.com

Nadi Airport to Suva City/ Suva City door to door pick up to Nadi Airport

Safe Shuttle Service – modern sedans $25 per person, will pick up and drop off door to door +679 8777047 (Tiko)

Getting around Fiji Part One – Transport tips Nadi to Suva, ATMs, Mobile Phones

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Buses lined up at Suva Bus Stand

If you are planning to travel in Fiji – here are some tips to help you in your travels.  There is so much to tell, so this is Part One.  For additional info see also Part Two with taxi driver numbers and contacts.

IMGP2413Nadi (pronounced Nandi) to Suva by plane

Flying into Fiji is so memorable, and I always love it.  You know when you are approaching Fiji as after flying over open ocean for hours, suddenly you see billowing clouds that go up and up into the heavens.  They seem so solid, and are in layers, one on top of the other.  If you are travelling to Nadi International airport, as you arrive there will be a little troupe of singers to welcome you, and also see you off.  Many tourists do not know what to make of this, but it is really a welcome sight and sound for homecomers to Fiji.  The group normally has a wooden box on a stand for tips/gratuities.  I encourage you to support them as wages here in Fiji are very low, and every dollar counts.IMGP3269

If you are getting a connecting flight, after you go through customs, go out the door and turn right, and walk over to Domestic check in.  Don’t delay, as there is often a long line.  Once you check in, you can go outside for some fresh air, or get a drink or whatever.  If you have been told that your bags will be checked right through to Suva, and you don’t get your bags through customs at International, you will have to run back for them, and risk missing your connection.  I have done this once.

As Nadi International is the first port of call, you must get your bags through customs.  Coming back however, if you check your bags at Suva and then are going through Nadi to your overseas destination, you will not have to collect your bags, they will be sent straight through to your connection.  There are toilets once you get down the escalator at the baggage claim.

IMGP0198Mobile Phones -There is also a vodafone shop as at the airport where you can get your Fiji Vodoafone sim or internet wireless device (dongle/flashnet etc).  Note:  you must have a handset that its unlocked, and not locked to any network as if you try and use an Australian Vodafone prepay phone, it is locked to Vodafone Australia, and the Fijian sim card won’t work!  Otherwise a dual sim phone is handy.

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Elliot, Dom and Roni at Suva/Nausori airport

The overhead lockers in the Nadi to Suva flight are very small, so make sure that your carry on baggage is within the limits for your own sake and the comfort of all.

The trip from Nadi to Suva by plane takes 23 minutes.  Suva airport is not really in Suva, it is in Nausori.

Nadi to Suva by Road : Taxi, Bus, Minibus, Safe Shuttle, Hire Car?

To get from Nausori airport to Suva City, you have to get a taxi, bus or minibus.  Taxi costs around $25FJD.  Make sure that you confirm the fare with the driver first.  If he says he is going to put you on the meter, that is fine, as the meter will show about $25. Sometimes, you can negotiate a bit of a lower rate, depending on the driver and time of day.  If you are on a budget, get a taxi to Nausori Bus stand.  At the bus stand, there are the local buses to Suva (fare $1.60FJD).  Also, there are minibuses just next to the bus stand near the Mobil service station.  You just get on – sometimes they are very crowded, so if you have baggage, you need to pay for the seat for your bags.  Fare to Suva is $1.50FJD.  There are also express coaches such as the Sunbeam, Intercities, and Pacific.  They are comfortable, and you can put your luggage underneath the bus.  The fare to Suva is still only around the $2 mark.  It is not my favourite way to travel though as it gets very hot inside sometimes.  I prefer the buses with the open windows.

The trip to Suva by taxi takes about 25 minutes if there is not too much traffic, by local bus about 45 minutes, and by coach about 30 minutes.

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Local bus

There is also a smaller bus (about a 30 seater) that goes from the Nausori bus stand about every 20 minutes.  Just ask anyone to show you the Princess Road Bus, or as the “Back road Bus”.  This is by far my favourite way to travel to Suva if you get a chance.  Rather than going on Kings Road, it goes the back way through the mountains, past Colo-i-Suva which is in the rainforrest, through Tacirua (pronounced Tathirua) and Tamavua, and then down Edinborough Drive to Suva Bus stand.  The fare is $2 and it takes about the same time as the local bus.  The trip is so beautiful though, and it really gives you a feeling of being in Fiji.

Tips

  • There are some services which operate outside of Nadi Airport.
  • Hire car – I know you can hire a car, but I have never done it, and if you are not experienced on driving the Queens Road Highway, it may be best to think twice, especially in bad weather.
  • Express Bus – the Sunbeam stops outside Nadi Domestic terminal.
  • Taxi – all airport taxis are painted yellow, and the standard fare to town is $15.

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    Licenced Minivan

  • To get to town cheaper, walk outside the airport, and cross over the road.  Wait on the side of the road for a minibus to Nadi.  Just hail any van that has the initials LM for licenced minivan on the numberplate.  The fare is $1.50. Once you get to town if you are going by taxi, ask them to drop you at the minivan stand at the bus stand in Nadi.  If you are going by minibus, they will normally drop you off outside Jacks Department Store.

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    The road from Nausori/Suva airport on the way to Suva

  • It is a 5 minute walk to the bus stand, or minivan stand which is behind the market.  If you are worried about asking where the bus stand is, just ask where the market is, and you will see it.  All of the Fijian people I have met are very keen to help you and show you where to go, often accompanying you.  They love to find out where you are from.  Don’t be put off by this, as your place of origin is very important here in Fiji.  Fijians are very attached to their birthplace, and mothers and fathers villages, so they will often ask two questions: Where are you from (where were you born), and where do you stay (where do you live now away from your birthplace).  For example, Fijians who live in Suva but were not born there will make the distinction that they “stay” in Suva, but are “from” Gau.

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    Suva to Nadi plane

  • The minivan stand is where you can find a “return” taxi to Suva, or a minivan.  The cost of return taxi or minivan to Suva is about $20 to $25 per person.  If you hire a whole taxi, you can travel to Suva in comfort for about $100 negotiated.
  • If you are traveling by minibus, and have luggage, you have to pay for 2 or 3 seats so a taxi is just as cheap.  Minivans are notoriously dangerous, so many Fijians out of concern for you will advise you not to travel that way, even though they do so themselves due to financial constraints.
  • There is also a service called the “Safe Shuttle Service”.  This service takes passengers from Nadi airport to Suva or any place in between.  They have clean, modern cars, and you book in advance.  It is $25 per person, or $100 if you want to hire the whole car.  Returning, they will pick you up from your door.  Best to phone in advance and talk to Tiko phone +679 8777047. Their base is near the sea wall outside the Olympic Pool in Suva.

IMGP0720Tips General once you get settled

  • Taxis are recognisable by the numberplate which starts with LT (for licenced taxi).
  • Minibuses have numberplates that start with LM (licenced minibus).
  • Some taxis do not have the little taxi sign on the top, but if they have the numberplate, they are licenced.
  • To tell where a minibus is going, their route is written on the side of the bus – for example Nausori/Suva/Nausori.
  • You can hail a minibus anywhere along the road, and if it is going in the right direction, it will stop.
  • You pay the minibus driver when you get out of the minibus.

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    Elliot, Dom, Roni at Nausori Bus stand

  • You don’t have to tip taxi drivers, and if you do, they will be very happy if you just round it up to the nearest dollar, and will STILL try and give you back the 10 cents!  Taxi drivers in Fiji are a really nice bunch.  Often students earning extra money, or retirees.  They are a great source of information.
  • Taxi drivers will often try and give you their number – TAKE IT, as there is no central number to call if you want a taxi.  You call the drivers you know and see if they are free.  Also, you can book them in advance for a negotiated fare back to the airport, or if you want to go on a longer trip.
  • All taxis have a little red sticker on the top of their numberplate on the bumper bar.  It says where they are based.  For example, you will see “Suva City”, “Nadi Town”, “Suva Rural” which is near Colo-i-Suva rainforest park and Tamavua, “Nausori Town” etc.  Why does this matter? See next tip…
  • If you see a taxi driver or minibus driver flashing their lights at you while you are waiting at a bus stop or by the side of the road, that means they want to know if you want to get it.  Flashing lights from a taxi often means that they are returning to base and want a return fare.  This is very handy, as if you are on the way from Nausori or another town, heading back to Suva, and you can get a return cab, the fare is between 70 cents and $2 depending on the distance.  You would be safe if you gave $2 for any of these trips.  Make sure before you get in that you ask the driver if he is a “return”.  If he says no, he will put you on the meter.  The meter fare from Nausori to Suva is about $20 to $25.

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    Tom on the bus

  • If you see a minibus flashing their headlights, it means that they have a spare seat if you want it.
  • To hail a bus, minibus or taxi, you put your arm out at about 45 degrees, and make a downward motion with your handIMGP8167
  • If a fellow passenger taps you on the leg, it doesn’t mean that they are keen on you, it means that they want you to ring the bell for them
  • If you have a lot of shopping, you can put it behind the driver on the bus, or on the gearbox cover.
  • If you have vegetables with dirt on them such as a bundle of root crops which you should take if you are visiting someone, you put them under the bus in the open section, and when you get off, tell the driver you are getting your things.  When you have them out of the compartment, slap on the side of the bus to let the driver know that you are OK for him to go.
  • If you hear people making a kissing sound with their lips, it also doesn’t mean that they are keen on you or another passenger.  You often hear it on the minibus.  That is the noise people make to alert the driver that they want him to stop at the next bus stop.  Many ladies simply say loudly “bus stop driver”, but men make the kissing sound.  The kissing sound is also how you can hail a taxi.

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    Suva bus stand

  • If you hear a car beeping its horn behind you as you are walking, it is a taxi driver asking if you need a ride.  They will do this often, as most Fijians do not have cars, and taxis are so cheap, it is a very popular mode of transport especially after shopping.  Normally just a couple of dollars if you are going from the market to home.IMGP6619
  • A quick note on shopping – if you are in Suva or Nausori market, or other large markets, there are wheelbarrow boys.  They will carry your shopping to the bus or taxi stand for you for $1 or $2.

ATMs

There are so many ANZ ATMs in Fiji, and also many Westpac ATMs.  You can get out up to $900 FJD at one time, and the cost at transaction is around $9FJD.  Both my Australian cards work at the ANZ, but only one of them works at Westpac and BSP (Bank of South Pacific).  There are ANZ ATMs at both Nadi and Suva airports, and at many supermarkets.

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Levuka, the Old Capital of Fiji

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Dominic outside the old Wise family home, abandoned many years ago. Home of Vaseva Marama Wise (nee Tamani) of Gau, and Thomas Wise.

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Main street looking towards the sea wall

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.

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Painting in the Royal Hotel, Levuka, painted by a guest long gone.

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

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War memorial, with Levuka town in the background

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

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The shell of the Masonic Lodge Levuka (c. 1913), destroyed in a previous coup

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.

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Tapa design drawn on the canal bridge, Levuka

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.

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Approaching Ovalau Island

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.

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Rubbish on the sea wall at Natovi Landing

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.

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Inside the old Levuka Club, looking towards the sea.

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.

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The old Chubb safe in the Levuka Club – one of the only things that couldn’t be carried away

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.

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The old pool table left to decay in the Levuka Club

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Chubb safe in the Levuka Club

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!

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Family sitting on the sea wall, Levuka

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Jumping off the bridge into the sea

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.

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Typical home on the way to Levuka

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.

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View of the Old Capital cannery and the sea from the Chinese restaurant, Levuka.

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.

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Levuka Town

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Whole fish with cassava

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!

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Old fountain near the Catholic church, Levuka

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Children swimming, rubbish collection

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Waterfall at Levuka (photo: Elliot Stokes)

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.

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The Royal Hotel, Levuka, with the sea canal on the right

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.

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Volcanic rocks near the site of the first Catholic mass in Fiji more than 150 years ago. Levuka

On Sunday people get dressed in their Sunday best and

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Catholic church, Levuka

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.

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Catholic church, Levuka

The first Catholic church service in Fiji was held in Levuka,

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Oustide the Methodist Church, Levuka

and Levuka is also according to the Archbishop of Polynesia and New Zealand, the birthplace of the Anglican church in Fiji.

Suva Harbour – solace and septic – a paradox

rainbow suva harb 1IMGP1271Rainbow on Suva Harbour.

What is below the surface on closer inspection?

Photos of the myriad of moods of Suva Harbour – a place I never tire of.

I seek it out, and find solace in its company.

Rainbows in the mornings, fishing boats tied together in a line.

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High tide, low tide.

The sea wall. IMGP5449

Small boats buzzing in and out from fishing, or to tie boats to their moorings.

The drunken sailors at night, gambling in the Chinese restaurant.

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Tugboats in Suva Harbour

Tugboats in Suva Harbour

Lovers.  Travellers, waiting for time to pass until they continue on to their next destination, squeezed like tinned fish into decrepit mini-buses. IMGP2478

Cruise ships, tourists – what do they see?  Do they see the Harbour in all it’s glory, the morning mist on the mountains, revealed one by one?

boy sulu 1Do they see the drink cans, alcohol bottles, cigarette packets, rubble and rubbish.

Do they see a vibrant and alive doorway to a city of yesteryear, or a developing nation full of hope and promise of the future, or do they like me see the discarded waste of a populace unaware of the slow choking of turtles ingesting plastic bags in the belief that they are jellyfish?

One morning while photographing a rainbow, I saw a cigarette packet fly into the ocean from the sea wall.

I asked some men if they knew who threw it so carelessly.

One man proudly proclaiming it was he.IMGP1346

When I asked him why, his reply: “Oh, it doesn’t matter, I am from Vanuatu”.IMG_7883

I hope he wrote his name on the packet so that he can find it when he gets home, or will he just pick up all the packets that are red and gold from the beach and hope that one of them is his?