Published: November 8th 2008November 8th 2008
Old capitol of Fiji
I have been unable to get online so haven’t been able to send any of my blogs for over one week so what follows is the backlog! Before that, however, I have a message for my cousin, Veronica in the USA: I was SO delighted to get your email through the travel blog and hear all of your news after so many years. Unfortunately, my replies to you keep getting sent back so if you have another email address please can you send another message. I would love to get in touch. Now for the journal…
Levuka, Ovalau Island, Fiji Tuesday 28th October 2008
The journey from Leleuvia to Levuka on the small open boat was quite rough. Close to the islands and within the coral reefs the water was calm, clear and smooth but as soon as we ventured outside the waves were a lot bigger and it was decidedly bumpy. There were six passengers sat on the two thin boards across the boat, John and myself and four of the Japanese girls who screamed frequently which made it even more nerve-racking! We just hung on tight, tried to enjoy the views and pretended to forget that between
Levuka's main street
the two big reefs was a ‘shark alley‘, favoured by intrepid divers who enjoy swimming with sharks but not a place for us to fall overboard! The approach to Levuka harbour, however, was smooth and we climbed out on to the old wharf, hoisted the rucksacks on to our backs and set off in the midday sun (mad dogs and Englishmen) looking for our hotel. We walked twice as far as needed, all around the town in fact because it is exceedingly tiny, having taken a wrong turning, but eventually we reached the Royal Hotel, an old colonial building (1886), no longer the haunt of the wealthy traveller but still retaining traces of it’s grander past. Straight to the shower for a long luxurious scrub down in hot water (which we hadn’t enjoyed for a while). Bliss!
Levuka was once the capital of Fiji and is recognised as being the physical centre of the island group. It has a rich wild past, full of tales of drunkenness and fighting in the old whale trading days. Being squashed as it is between mountain and sea it couldn’t expand as needed so the government moved to Suva, the present capital city in
the late 19th century, leaving Levuka to slow sleepy decay; it is a “time warp” town, full of lovely old colonial buildings, dusty streets and Fijian languor. It has had quite an effect on us because we have been busy doing nothing since we arrived two days ago!
Today is Diwali, (pronounced here with a ’w’ whereas in Europe we call it Divali) so it is a public holiday. A lot of the Indian-Fijian shops are decorated outside with flowers and coconut palms are woven around doors and pillars. Mostly everything is shut, there are few people about and the children have a day off school. Levuka is sleeping. The gardener was working today, however, and cut down a nice coconut with his machete for our breakfast. Tomorrow we are hoping to visit the village of Lovoni, up in the rainforest nestled in an extinct volcanic crater. However, one can only go with a guide so we are waiting to see if anyone else wants to join us (there needs to be more than two customers for this hiking tour). If not, maybe Thursday. It will be hugely disappointing if we don’t get to visit Lovoni. Our son, Nick, did
Palms and Flowers
so eleven years ago and loved the experience; the “Lonely Planet’ rates it as a ‘must do’ highlight on a trip to Ovalau. The problem, as we mentioned in a previous blog, is that there are so few tourists around. The Japanese girls have already left and gone back to Suva. Anyway, we’ll see what happens tomorrow. We plan to leave here on Friday or Saturday to make the boat journey back over to the mainland and then travel by bus across the Viti Levu Highlands to Rakiraki in the North. Well, that is the plan at the moment! In the meantime we’ll just continue to chill here on ’Fiji Time”, hope for some more ‘takers’ for the Lovoni trip and see what happens!
Lovoni village, Ovalau Thursday 30th October 2008
Tuesday evening was great fun in Levuka. All the kids were letting off fireworks in the street for Divali. Rockets and Roman Candles, hand-held even although not designed to be, were being thrown all over the street. The parents, being Fijian with their amazing sense of humour, were just ignoring the danger, shrieking with laughter and dodging the missiles. Mad!
We woke up yesterday morning to be told
Our bungalow at the Royal Hotel
that there were two more takers for the Lovoni trip. This was really good news, so John and I, together with Terry a South African lawyer who now lives in Brisbane and Hannas, a German student from Berlin, joined Epi our guide for the Lovoni village visit. Lovoni is stunningly picturesque, set in the old volcanic crater in the middle of the island in lush forest. A lovo is a pit for cooking, so Lovoni is so named because it resembles a huge giant’s cooking pit. It is also the very centre of the Fijian islands and a stone marks the spot. Most of the food the villagers eat is collected from the bush and the vegetarian meal we had there was all collected fresh that morning and cooked for us; the meal included aubergine, mandarins, breadfruit, limes, coconut, spinach and several other roots and leaves mixed with coconut milk, onion and tomato. It was really delicious and was served with a refreshing lime tea, simply made from fresh lime leaves boiled in water. This village is more affluent than the one we visited last Saturday on the island of Moturiki, thanks in part to the limited tourism (hiking tours)
The very centre of Fiji
but mainly to the abundance of kava plants. The kava root is dried in the sun then pounded down to make the kava. The villagers sell the powdered kava in the Levuka market, where it is bought to make the famous semi-narcotic drink, which is drunk ceremoniously by locals and tourists (when invited to a Kava ceremony). It tastes like mud and I was rather relieved that we were served lime tea with our meal. It is exceedingly rude to refuse a bowl of kava!
When visiting a Fijian village, especially an inland village where conservative traditions are strictly adhered to, women have to wear long skirts and have covered shoulders. Due to the fact that hiking around Lovoni is not only strenuous (narrow and steep muddy up and downhill tracks) hiking boots are also essential, so I struggled through the day in strange attire, boots and a long Marks and Sparks skirt which got snagged on bushes and soaked crossing the river. I felt rather like an Edwardian female pioneer! I should have worn shorts or trousers and put my sarong around my waist before entering the village; having said that, although not particularly practical, it was very comfortable
Hiking near Lovoni
Forest in the crater
hiking in a long loose flowing skirt, especially in the high heat and humidity.
We got back to Levuka after yet another memorable day, thoroughly exhausted and today have done very little. This morning, however, sauntering down the street, we felt so at home. It is market day today and we met people from Leleuvia and Lovoni. Every few metres we saw somebody we knew to say “Bula’ and have a chat. That is the great thing about Fiji, after one meeting people regard you as a firm friend.
We have changed our minds about going back to the mainland tomorrow. Instead, we are getting a ride on a truck tomorrow morning to go to the north western part of the island to a place called “Bobo’s Farm” near the village of Rukuruku. We are told that Bobo makes guests really welcome and it is dirt cheap accommodation. We are staying there three nights and have booked the ferry for early on Monday morning. So this is our last night of comparative luxury in the old colonial Royal Hotel, tomorrow night we’ll be back to the very basics, up a creek from Rukuruku beach, by a waterfall on a farm.
Epi our guide
Teaching us the medicinal value of the bush
So farewell Lovely Levuka!
There are more photos below