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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Funeral in Fiji

Yesterday I got the sad news that the brother of a friend took his own life and his body was found in the river.  Today I am preparing to go down to the house and help with the funeral preparations.  I have been emailing another friend about this, and remembered how differently death is treated here from in my home in a developed country.

I wanted to share this with anyone who is interested, as it means a lot to me, and I will post updates out of respect for my friend, and for his loss.  I have taken out names for the sake of the family.

I have just copied some of my email text below:

Me: In any case, you can all get a bit of a rest from me today, as sadly I have to go and help a friend prepare their home for a funeral.  His younger brother took his life after having an affair and his body was found yesterday in the XXXX River so I had better get showered and get moving.

My friend:Oh my goodness, how awful. Good luck xx

Me:Weird that people can actually set out to commit suicide by drowning themselves, but here so many people can’t actually swim.  Fiji has one of the highest drowning rates per capita in the world

My friend: Yes, I remember reading some on your blog about swimming. Seems so strange as I thought it was all about the beaches! That was until you told me otherwise. Suicide is a terrible thing. Can’t understand it. So hard on the people left behind. To be so sad is tragic. So is the funeral today after only finding him yesterday? Much quicker than here. No autopsy or investigation?

Hope you’re ok today, and all the family involved.

Me: No, the funeral will be some time next week I guess when the wife and the mum return from xxxx (overseas).  They have just been told that he is sick in hospital and wants to see them so that they are not too distressed to travel.   The man lived in xxxx(overseas) with his wife and the mum just travelled there last few weeks to visit for 2 years (also how it is done here).  He came back to Fiji to check on the farm, do some planting and then go back.  The cassava and dalo crops are planted and then harvested after a year, so many people do that.  Just plant and forget, maybe get a caretaker to do some weeding and look after the house. 

Anyway, he took up with another woman for a month while he was here and it has somehow all gone pear shaped! 

His brother is my taxi driver, Mr XXXX, who is one of my two real friends here in Fiji.

I am going to help the ladies (cousins, aunties etc) to clean the house, clean the compound, start cutting firewood, digging up cassava and dalo for the funeral.  Here, death is very real, and burial is very down to earth.  You really know that the person is dead when you stand beside the grave which is dug in 6 feet of clay mud, and watch people actually pat down the earth by hand and with shovels.  It sounds horrific, but actually it is quite calming, and there really is a sense of closure for people. 

Often the inmates from the prison do the grave digging and filling as part of their community service, so there are also prison guards sitting on nearby graves with guard dogs.  The inmates wear their orange jumpsuits, and the ones I have witnessed are really kind and sensitive in their treatment of the gravesite and the relatives, and do it really “nicely” as they say here.  People always say, “do it nicely” for anything important which translates to “put your whole heart into it, as if it really matters, and go over and above what you are expected to do”.

After the funeral they all get together and have a big feast to remember the passing and as they say here “cover the person’s footsteps”.  A bit like a wake, but more a feeling like a huge casual Sunday BBQ at home, as all of the relatives from all over come and it is often the biggest celebration the person has in their whole life, even though they have passed.

Anyway, I am actually off to shower and prepare as my friend is collecting me soon in his taxi to take me down to the house.  This is a sombre topic, and my thoughts and apologies go out to anyone who is reading this and currently dealing with loss of their own.

 

Learn to Weave Fijian Voivoi Mats – private classes

Do you want to learn how to weave mats in a Fijian home, rather than at a resort?  Eat real Fijian food? Enjoy a real Fijian home atmosphere and relax?

To find out more, click here and I will be able to contact you.IMGP1938

Fijian Pancakes – Babakau – light and delightful

IMGP7331These little pancakes are a favourite for breakfast here, and sometimes for any other meal where I need bread, the only resort, as a trip to the nearest bread shop is a half hour walk down the dirt road, then a bus to town, then return which all takes about 2 hours.  By the time I get back, my “need” for bread has often passed, so I make these instead while I am pottering around.

This recipe is for a half batch as it is enough for us, and if you eat the pancakes the next day, while still nice, a lot of the “air” goes out of them, so they are best eaten fresh.  Plus, it makes a lot!IMGP7333

Method and ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • half cup flour for kneading
  • one and a half cups water
  • one big spoon sugar
  • 5 grams yeast
  • pinch salt
  • oil for cooking
  • sugar, lemon, lime, butter or jam for serving

First, make yourself a coffee the old fashioned way, using a small pot of water on the stove.  Keep some of the hot water.  Drink coffee and enjoy.

IMGP7306In a mixing bowl, put 2 cups of normal or plain flour, a pinch of salt, a tablespoon of sugar, and half a sachet of yeast.  I use DCL yeast here in the 11g sachet, so this recipe only requires about 5 grams.  If you are making the full 4 cup recipe for a party, use the whole 11g sachet. DCL seems never to fail me.  Not sure what brand you can access where you are.

IMGP7307Add about a cup and a half of tap water or other room temperature water and mix roughly with a butter knife or spoon until it seems to start coming together (only takes about 30 IMGP7310seconds).

Bring it together with your hands until it comes into one large piece.  If it is too sticky, sprinkle on a bit more flour and cut through with the knife again.

IMGP7313Cover with a tea towel and place on a plate or saucepan lid on the top of the pot you used to make your coffee.  The water will be a bit hotter than lukewarm by this stage.

Go about your Saturday morning activities – take the kids to sports, read the paper, clean the house, practice yoga, spend quality time with your spouse, or whatever.

Just when you have just about forgotten that you are making pancakes (about an hour or two, it really doesn’t matter),IMGP7314 the dough will have risen to about 3 or 4 times the original size of the dry ingredients.

Use a large mixing spoon and turn it out onto a large board that is liberally dusted in flour (about another half cup).

Using a floured hand, pick up one side of the dough and kind of fold it in half lightly.  Do that a couple of times until the dough has been dropped onto itself maybe four times, and tIMGP7316he surface is all covered in flour.  The dough will be very light, and easy to manipulate.  If you touch the dough without flour on your hand, or if it touches the board on a part that is not floured, it will be sticky.  I normally irritate my husband by doing this in the kitchen and making a little cloud of flour that drifts to the floor, but you could do it outside.

Kneed the dough now that you can manage it, and as you do, fold it in half, turn, turn over, fold in half etc.  Just a IMGP7318minute or so.

IMGP7319Use a rolling pin and roll out the dough so that it covers the surface of your large board.

Then fold the dough into thirds, press, turn clockwise, fold, press, turn over, fold press, for a few times (about another minute).  This is just to get some air embedded into the dough.IMGP7320

Roll again to cover the surface of your large board.  Go right to the edge and the dough will be quite thin (less than 1cm thick).

IMGP7321Put a 1cm layer of oil into a heavy frypan to heat on high.

Cut dough with a knife into triangles.

Work quickly now (maybe drink the coffee you made for yourself before but forgot about!)IMGP7322

IMGP7327Place 5 or 6 of the pieces into the hot oil.  They will puff up immediately.  Turn over.  They will be golden brown and puffed up to about 3 or 4 times the size they were when they went in.

Don’t worry if the oil starts to go a bit dark as it is just the excess flour, and doesn’t affect the taste of the pancakes.IMGP7328

Take out of pan and put into serving dish.

IMGP7331Serve with fresh lemon or lime wedges and a dusting of sugar, butter and home made jam (here I have grapefruit marmalade that I made a

few weeks ago), and enjoy!

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My guests, Vuli and Koto

Aubergine or Eggplant Jam (Fools’ Raspberry) – Beaigani in Fijian

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The old MH Supermarket in Levuka, Ovalau Island, Fiji.

Here in Fiji, the home made jams are truly amazing.  There is such an abundance of fruit IMGP2410here.  Store bought jams are very, very sweet, and not really fruity.  You can buy home made jams at most open air daily markets.  Recently, I tried a jam made and sold by a friend, and it took me so many guesses as to the fruit!  I never guessed, and had to be told, as it is a bit of a game with this jam as it looks and tastes exactly like home made raspberry jam, but is much cheaper to make.

It also provides a bit of fun when you serve it to guests, or give a jar away, as you can play the guessing game yourself.  I have not had one person guess correctly yet, and they are amazed when the answer is revealed.

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Eggplant on sale at Nausori market yesterday, along with live birds

I don’t have any photos of the process, and will add them when I make it next time, but it is not rocket science, and there are no tricks!

Method and Ingredients

  • Chop about 10 Chinese eggplants into about 2cm cubes, leaving the seeds in, and put into a large, heavy based pot
  • Add 3 cups of sugar
  • Add juice of any kind of citrus to taste (2 large lemons, or 3 limes, or 3 organges)
  • Add the zest of the citrus (I normally just zest one but it is up to you)
  • star aniseSource picture: http://www.food.com/library/star-anise-345
  • Add water to cover
  • Optional – I add just one spur of the star anise,just because it makes the guessing game a bit more fun, and it gives a mellow undertone)
  • Bring to the boil and stir once in a while
  • When the jam begins to turn red, and you can see all the seeds have come out of the eggplants, then turn the heat down to a simmer and simmer until the jam becomes glossy
  • To test, drop a tiny drop from a spoon into a glass of water.  If the jam kind of sticks together and remains visible without immediately dispersing, it is done!

Bottle and enjoy the fun!

It will be a tiny bit more maroon, and less red than raspberry, but I defy any cook to give it the “guess test”, and let me know if anyone catches on.

Recipe – Fijian Roro and corn balls with tamarind sauce

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Roro balls served with braised bele and cucumber, and fresh corn in our back yard

Fijian food is delicious!

If you come to Fiji, whether your hosts are iTaukei (indigenous) or Indo-Fijian, make sure that you ask them if it is ok if they serve you the normal food that they eat, as so many Fijians really do believe that you won’t like the food at all, and are really not sure what you will eat at all, as they believe that there is nothing in the cuisine that you will like.

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dinner at our place on a school night – mashed dalo, braised beans, and other goodies

Here is a little recipe which can be easily adapted if you want to try it.  These balls are really light and delicious and are the perfect quick fix if you are having friends over for drinks at the last minute, or have to take something to a party.  It is my husband’s only concession to Kava (yaqona – pronounce yangona) drinking and our mix of cultures.  Traditionally, food is not eaten at all until all of the Kava is finished and the guests are gone.  In fact, it is traditional that the male guests do not eat no matter what kind of feast is prepared, but you must pack a meal for them to take home.  It is a real panic if you have inadvertently run out of yoghurt containers for the purpose!  Anyway, I digress: if my husband invites people home, he asks if I can cook this quick snack, and serve it while the kava ceremony is in progress, which is normally several hours.

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Dom with his dinner

This snack is served at roadside food vendors all over Fiji (here, they are called Bean Carts).  Roro is actually the name for the green dalo leaf which looks like an elephant ear, but the balls are not made with roro.  If you do try and use roro, you will find that the balls make your throat itch, as roro needs to be cooked for a long time to take away that side effect.  Indo-Fijians use mothe which is kind of like English Spinach, but I use bele as a substitute.  Bele has a bigger leaf, and is related to the hibiscus plant, and for me at least is much easier to grow.

The only thing you have to do is make sure that you have some pea flour (besan flour), normal flour or plain flour, and oil in the cupboard just in case.  The rest you can wing it.

This recipe is courtesy of Mrs Kumar of Shane Cafe in Nausori, Fiji, but I have adapted it slightly as I like to use the coconut scrapes (or fresh grated coconut) as many families simply throw it out.

All of the fresh ingredients normally come from our garden, and you can use your common sense and substitute for other stuff you have lying around.

Ingredients

  • 1 cob fresh corn – cut kernels off the cob (or a small tin of corn)

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    Roni with some corn from our yard

  • 1 cup very finely chopped bele, mothe, or spinach/silverbeet (bele and mothe are soft leafy vegetables freely available in Fiji)
  • 1/2 cup pea or besan flour
  • 1 and 1/2 cups plain or normal flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • juice of one lime OR half a lemon, OR teaspoon of any type of vinegar just to get the baking powder going
  • 2 small hot chilies or to taste
  • 1 small onion, very finely diced (or chopped to within an inch of its life without blood loss if you are in a hurry)
  • a couple of cloves of garlic chopped as above
  • salt, pepper
  • a pinch of any type of curry or masala powder if you like
  • corriander (dhania/cilentro) if you like
  • cooking oil
  • newspaper or paper towel to drain
  • 1/2 cup fresh coconut scrapes, or 1/4 cup dessicated coconut
  • 2 cups water

How to do it: Don’t labour over it, as it is really very quick

  • take the skin of the onion and garlic, and chop roughly on a big board
  • chop the spinach, chili, mothe, or bele roughly (and corriander if you like)
  • then with them all on the same board, chop them up some more until they are a fine dice but not mushy
  • put into medium mixing bowl

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    Dom and Save Jnr as little chiefs at the Palm Sunday lunch, which included the roro balls

  • throw in the pea flour, normal flour, salt and pepper, and the baking powder, and curry powder if you like
  • throw in the coconut and corn
  • pour in the water
  • mix quickly and not too much
  • it should be a bit sloppy, so that you can pick some up with a spoon, and use another spoon to drop it into the oil.  If it is not sloppy enough, they won’t cook through
  • put enough oil in a saucepan to deep fry (but you don’t need a huge amount, as you can turn the balls over)
  • heat the oil on medium high heat until it is hot enough that when you drop in a tiny bit of the mix it starts to bubble, turn golden and float
  • then start spooning in about
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    mixture should be sloppy but not too sloppy – just so that you can put some on a spoon, and use another spoon to drop into the oil

    half a desert spoon of the mixture at a time into the hot oil

  • depending on the size of your pot, you can take up about half the surface area.  I normally put in about 6 at a time.
  • they cook quite quickly so make sure you are organised with a tray and some paper towel or newspaper to drain them
  • once they float and turn golden, you can turn them over a bit in the oil to make sure that they are cooked
  • test one to see if it is cooked inside.  If not quite, then add a tiny bit more water, and a bit more baking powder to the mix
  • cook all and drain on the newspaper, paper towel
  • serve hot or cold and they last even outside the fridge for a good day or two, however, they are so yummy that it is hard toIMGP1689
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    the oil will bubble briskly and they cook in about 30 seconds each side

    test that theory as they normally disappear by the handful!!!!

  • serve with tamarind sauce (recipe next time), or tomato sauce, or barbeque sauce.  You can add some chopped chili to the tomato or barbeque sauce if it is for lovers of hot food young or old
  • here, we serve on a banana leaf, and it looks and tastes great