Published: October 27th 2011October 28th 2011
Well hello all from Ovalau Fiji!!
I am in my last week here in Fiji, so I’m thinking of bombarding you with blogs to make up for lost time, like when children behave only at Christmas and then are tyrants the rest of the year.
So I finished my last day of work at OCHA, worked my butt off right till the minute I walked out the door. My last two days at work consisted wrapping up reports from the big Pacific Humanitarian Team forum the week previous, as well as attending and reporting on a coordination meeting for the drought that is occurring in Tuvalu right now. I know, nobody knows where Tuvalu is, and isn’t it ironic that there is a drought on a little tiny island in the middle of the ocean? Indeed. Interestingly when I woke up in the middle of the night after that coordination meeting to the rain that was torrentially pounding on my roof I thought in my sleepy haze “well, there’s definitely no drought in Suva…”
So, onto my current vacay! I took the bus/boat/bus trip to Levuka, the original capital of Fiji, which is situated on the island of
Ovalau. This kind of phased travel is bound to excite unforeseen events, but alas the transition between the on time bus leaving Suva, getting to the ferry, the ferry leaving 4 minutes later, and then the bus getting off the ferry immediately to drive around the island of Ovalau, dropping people off in villages until Levuka, was amazingly seamless. BC ferries could learn a few things. The ferry itself was interesting for two reasons: 1) to go inside, you were requested to take off your shoes. Really? You want me to walk barefoot in a public transportation vehicle? In Fiji!?!?...My thought went quickly from non-belief to questionable disgust. And I’m not at all a germophobe. But the floors seemed clean, really they were probably cleaner than more of the floors of my past apartments. I did insist on putting my flips back on when I went to the bathroom though, my second location of interest. Bathrooms on boats are rarely classy places. Now, as a site note, it was fairly obvious that this boat had been purchased second hand from a Japanese company, obviously having been deemed not fit to cart Japanese people around anymore. This friendly transaction was shown
by the still posted Japanese signs and characters pointing the way. None of these showed the vessel’s Japanese roots more than the laminated signs that were still taped onto the bathroom doors instructing the user, through diagram, how to use the Western style toilet: One does not stand on the seat and squat, one sits on it. I have heard of these signs before in places with Western toilets are frequented by those of cultures who are not used to our types of toilets, and they totally make sense, but it’s just so Fijian for them to not have even bothered to take them off the damn doors.
Once getting off the ferry the bus carried on around the island of Ovalau, which has a lush, jungley landscape with huge rock faces and structures in the interior, skirted by little to no beaches, dropping off into the ocean. We passed many a village, many very well kept up, some with broken down backhoes rusting into the surrounding flora. Maybe this is where the Government of Fiji should look if they are missing any large pieces of machinery. Reminded me of how Dad still complains that Aaron and I would
take his tools and leave them in the back bush to rust. And all along, it was really only Aaron who did that.
When the ferry landed on Ovalau there was a sign saying “Welcome to Crime Free Ovalau”…then as the bus got just outside of Levuka, there was a sign for the Ovalau Corrections Centre…then less than 200 meters from that sign, there is a sign that says “Welcome to Crime Free Levuka”. …?? Either that corrections centre is empty or…..
So we pulled into the town of Levuka, which is the old capital city of Fiji and it’s very colonial in that, no longer a colony and no longer a city kind of way. All of the store fronts are late 19th/early 20th century styles, and I am staying at the Royal Hotel, the oldest hotel in Fiji. And old it is. Or is it charming? My room has a window out of the enclosed veranda (which I have recently learned is an extra room with a window) that looks out over the ocean. It really is a lovely spot and does have that kind of charm that makes you feel you just got off a
vessel of some kind. The original floors, old timey furniture, and the probably untouched dining room and billiard room add to the effect. It very much conjures up visions of white men in white suits and elegant ladies in frilly dresses that are not at all sensible given the climate.
Walking around Levuka you definitely get the colonial flair feeling. The town has been applying for UNESCO World Heritage status for years, and apparently a UNESCO dude came through not too long ago for an inspection and hinted that things looked promising for finally approving Levuka. Must be a pretty good job, travelling the world, decided which remote and historic places are heritage’y enough to be UNESCO and which are just really old.
At breakfast on the first morning I met a woman, Michelle, who owns a resort in Nadi who is travelling around to see other resorts that she refers people to. Well she was getting picked up by a Canadian guy, Mike, who was going to show her a few places. So I tagged along. We ended up climbing up a hill to the currently be remodeled home of the once richest family on Ovalau. I
guess after the matriarch of the Patterson family left this world at the age of 92, the house bounced around, falling into disrepair. Its now being redone by an Aussie lady who has a whole slew of workers there making the colonial treasure a treasure again. The place has an amazing view out over the water, and wouldn’t you know, it was sunny!!!
After a tour of the house, and of course a cup of tea on the veranda, we kept walking. I went off wandering, taking photos, seeing the sites of churches and other colonial treasures (also in various states of upkeep/disrepair). Wandering this town really does take some time, even though it is so small, and not at all spaced out, because you just have to walk so slow. Why do you HAVE to walk so slow? Well, you don’t HAVE to, but it’s hot, and everybody else walks slow so if you don’t, you look crazy. Who knows, maybe they would even throw you in the Corrections Centre. Sites included Gun Rock, a huge boulder rock face that was pelted with canon balls by some an American Commodore to show his might and impress the chief
of Levuka. Such an American thing to do! Even in the 1800’s... I also checked out a school made of coral rock, and the birthplace of Chief Cakobau, the local chief that basically sold all of the rest of Fiji to Britain, even though none of it was technically his to sell. There was also the ruins of the old Masonic Lodge, which was burnt out during the 2000 coup by a bunch of Methodists who were spurned into a Stanley Cup loss 2011 like frenzy by a seemingly very convincing pastor. My Lonely Planet says that the Methodists had long believed the Masons to be in cahoots with the Devil, and also that they believed there to be a tunnel from the lodge through the centre of the world to the Masonic headquarters in Scotland. I can only imagine their disappointment come arson day.
The Royal Hotel also comes furnished with quite a lovely pool area, shaded by tall trees and bamboo. The pool itself is nice and chilly, as it is seawater that has been chlorinated. I don’t think I’ve ever swum in a seawater pool. It was very refreshing. So I hung out by the pool
with Michelle for a couple of hours in the afternoon before going off to scout my way off this island.
Randomness from Levuka!
I have finally finished Moby Dick. Holy heck, that book is one whale of a time. I am thrilled to announce while waiting for my food my first night in Levuka I scoured the restaurants bookshelf only to find “The Trapp Family Singers”, in other words Maria Von Trapp’s autobiography!!!! You know, the one from the Sound of Music? Climb Every Mountain? How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? Ok, if you don’t what I’m talking about by now, you never will.
It was Diwali the first day I arrived in Levuka. Diwali is the Hindu Festival of Lights. I think. Alifa could maybe tell you more, her family celebrates all holidays thoroughly. Given that it is the Festival of Lights, it seems like the thing to do in Fiji is to celebrate by lighting firecrackers. I’ve always been a huge fireworks fan, but firecrackers freak me out, probably since seeing pictures when I was little of children’s hands that had been seared off, undoubtedly yet another scare tactic from my elementary
school principal… Though I do concur with the message, I just can’t see a group of Fijian children dancing around fire spouting explosives barefoot to be safe. Happy Diwali!!!
Speaking of barefoot, I have been wearing the same flip-flops since I got here. That’s 3 months. Everyday. I wish I knew where I got them, they held up their end of the deal, though I am due for a new pair! As a precaution, I just purchased a new pair for $3 for when these ones break. I’m hoping this new pair need not be used, because so often the first few days of a new pair of flips lead to ouchiness.
I noticed a hand painted sign for a store, advertising what it sold. It said this: “Timber, H/ware, DVDs”. Ok, somewhat odd mix. Then in small writing off to the side it also said “We also supply coffin boxes”. Good to know.
Some of you may remember when I hiked Joske’s Thumb, Suva’s nearby phallic-like geological feature. Well, on the bus ride from the ferry to town we passed Ovalau’s response to Joske, and shall we say that their response is not just the thumb.
So that’s all from EKydd in Levuka. I’m now heading to a small island south of Ovalau called Caqalai. Apparently it has white sandy beaches and you can walk around the whole thing in 15 minutes. I would put money on myself not actually walking around the whole thing, despite it’s small size. That sounds like an unnecessary activity when there is a white sand beach available. So off on the boat I shall go this morning. Pretty sure Elke and another friend Dhakshy, and who knows who else, is going to meet me on the island for the weekend. I’ll stay for a few days, depending on the weather, oh to be a backpacker and let the sun guide your travels, sigh!!
PS, sorry no photos, but my internet connection here sucks and I can’t imagine how long that would take!
There are more photos below