Day 28, Year 2: Bus Trip to the North Coast of Viti Levu
Date: Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Weather Today: Beautiful Sunny Day
Location: Suva, Fiji

We did the ultimate road trip today. We were up at 5:30 AM, on a bus leaving Suva by 6:45 AM, and we just got back to the boat at 8 PM. When we got to the Yacht Club at 6 AM, Donna and Gerry of Scot Free II were there waiting for us. They told us yesterday that they wouldn’t be going with us, but overnight they changed their minds, so off we went to Suva to catch our bus. An $8.00 bus ticket each transported us to a whole different world. We traveled north on the King’s Highway to places with names like Nausori, Korovou, Dama, Naiserelagi, Nanukuloa, and Rakiraki (old name) or Vaileka (new name). We traveled through parts of the city of Suva we had not seen before, followed the Rewa River, passed through dairy-farming country, bumped our way over unpaved road, wound in and out and up and down hills along the Wainibuka River, climbed into the highlands, and finally came out on the north side of the Nakauvadra Mountain Range and found ourselves in much drier sugar cane country with land that slopes down to the sea. Views of Viti Levu Bay and the Bligh Waters between this island and Vanua Levu to the north were spectacular. The friendliness of the people here is very evident even when riding a bus. Everyone along he way waves and yells out “bula” to welcome those passing through. We are tired tonight, but it was a great day.

Our original destination for the day was Naiserelagi where we wanted to visit the Catholic Mission with special art work. It took a little figuring out to get the bus driver to understand where we wanted to get off, but when we were near, a local sitting next to Mark was very helpful and got us to the right place. We climbed about 500 meters up a winding hill and found ourselves at the Catholic Mission on top of the world. The view of the bay from there was beautiful and the clear, blue skies with puffy white clouds didn’t hurt. When we got to the top, we stopped at a little overlook gazebo that housed the church bell and the drums for the call to worship. As we looked around, a couple of women came to greet us. Adi Reki, the priest’s mother, and Kata, a woman who works for the priest, made us feel welcome and invited us to visit inside the church. Adi Reki went with us. She spoke no English but was able to help us understand that we needed to take off our shoes before entering the church. The mission was built in 1917 and is totally empty inside except for the pandanus mats on the floor, the altar and the art work on the walls. There are three panels high on the wall above the altar painted by Jean Charlot in 1962. In the Lonely Planet guide, it said that there was a black Christ depicted in a masi sula (sarong) with a tanoa (kava bowl) at his feet. We did see the masi sula and the tanoa, but the Christ in the mural looked very white. There were Indigenous Fijians offering mats and tabua (whale’s tooth) and Indo-Fijians presenting flowers and oxen. So that part of what was in the LP guide was correct. There was one other difference in what we found and what was in the guide, and that was the name and location of the mission–thus the difficulty in finding it. The sign on the road says it is the Parish of Saint Francis of Xavier in Navouluabitu, not Naiserelagi. Nevertheless, we found it and it was very interesting. That is the important thing.

After leaving the mission, we started walking down the hill and a man who had been cutting grass when we went up had stopped using his weed eater so he could talk with us. His name was Mika and he was the perfect example of a Fijian who stops whatever they are doing to make you feel welcome. We had a nice talk and then traveled on. We thought we understood that we could walk to the next village and find food for lunch, so that is where we headed. On the way, men working in fields along the road all called out the friendly greeting of “bula.” We then came to a bus stop shelter that was very nicely painted inside with a map of the Fijian islands. There was also pandanus leaves hanging to dry and as I was taking pictures of this, we struck up a conversation with a man there who told us we were just a short distance from the next village. He was very proud of the fact that a young Peace Corp volunteer named Molly that lives in his village had painted the inside of the bus shelter. He wanted us to meet her since she is from the United States, but unfortunately she was in meetings in Suva today. We traveled on and became discouraged as there was no town. There was a fork in the road and what looked like a few buildings to the right, but it didn’t look like the place that had been described to us as a town with a Pizza Hut. Mark had walked ahead to scout things out and met a young man named Pat who was running up the mountain as part of his rugby training. Pat explained that there were no restaurants in Nanukoloa and that we would have to take the bus to Rakiraki to find food. This was not part of our original destination, but we had time and thought seeing the land on the north side of the island sounded like a great idea. Pat waited with us in the basi (bus) shelter, and we waited, and we waited, and we waited. Actually we waited two hours for that bus, but we had a great time talking to Pat in the meantime. He insisted on waiting with us and near the end of the time, Gerry got out some coins and taught us to play a game of throwing the coins to see who could get closest to the wall. Very simple, and very silly, but we had a great time. Everytime I would screw up terribly and get my coin no where near the wall, Pat would laugh heartily. We also got a kick out of his view of us and our ages. He couldn’t believe old people like us could be sailing a boat. When Donna told him we didn’t consider ourselves old, he just laughed. I was using my Fiji Phrase Book and told him how old I was in Fijian. He started walking all bent over and acting feeble and said that is what a sixty-year old looks like. Since Pat is only twenty-six, we explained to him that someday he will think sixty is young!

We reached Rakiraki just in time to catch the bus back to Suva. Unfortunately we had no time to explore the small, but busy little town. The trip back seemed even bumpier than the trip over in the morning and I think it really was. The morning bus driver was very careful, but the evening bus driver seemed like he was in a big hurry and those bumps were not going to slow him down. The whole trip was probably 150 kilometers one way and over 50 of those kilometers were unpaved. That was the bumpy part. The entire unpaved stretch is under construction and there will someday be a paved road there, but it will take sometime. Even the paved part is barely wide enough for two buses to pass, however, so we had some most interesting times today when passing other vehicles. We were coming home at a time when children were walking home from school. They were great fun to watch and they would wave and smile. We got back to Suva after dark and walked through town to Singh’s Curry House for dinner. It is not fancy, but for $6.80 Fijian you can get a great curry dinner. We understand that it is not safe to walk around town at night, so a security officer in front of Singh’s went to the main street and hailed a taxi for us. It is good to be home but we are much richer as a result of our trip today.

070522 Day 28 Viti Levu, Fiji–Suva North to Naiserelagi
070522 Day 28 Viti Levu, Fiji–Naiserelagi to Rakiraki and Back South to Suva