Gotta love Facebook: it keeps me in touch with my nearest and dearest where ever they are in the world. And this week it took me down memory lane with a sweet reminder that it’s three years since I visited Fiji: the main island, Viti Levu, to be precise. It was my first ever trip to the Pacific Islands, hopefully it won’t be my last.
Some people sail around Fiji for weeks or months on end. It’s easy to see why.
Others spend their entire time in a resort. That’s not the way I like to travel although, based on my two nights in a resort during our trip to Viti Levu, I can see the attraction.
John and I did it differently. Yep, we circumnavigated this beautiful island, not by sea, but by bus. Local bus.
The Queens Road, around the Coral Coast is a famous scenic drive. But the highlight for us was the Kings Road, from Lautoka to Suva. Some might say this road is infamous. But that’s undeserved. It’s a spectacular drive, along the coastline to the small towns of Ba and Raki Raki and then on through the jungle of the interior, to Suva.
There’d been severe flooding six months earlier and much of the road was badly potholed. In places bridges had been washed away. At one ravine, in particular, the approach to the bridge was steep and muddy. Somehow, the driver lined the bus up to, what seemed to me, little more than large planks of wood. I must have been feeling brave that day—I remember looking out the window, okay maybe it was more of a glance followed by resolute staring at my hands, while I told myself that if we toppled into the ravine, which at that moment seemed perfectly probable, I’d die happy. It was that kind of journey.
A few seconds later we were inching our way out of the ravine and I’d forgotten my fears.
The bus was a bone shaker, the seats were hard, the only air-conditioning, and really all that was needed, was the breeze coming through the open windows. The radio was tuned to a local station and the music added a jaunty atmosphere.
It’s a long trip, seven hours from Lautoka to Suva, with a brief stop at the small town of Ba and a lunch stop at RakiRaki where we followed everyone else and queued at the shop for a snack.
When we were on the road again, John and I both kept a careful eye out. We were looking for Naiyala. The small community, a school, in Northern Viti Levu was the subject of a lot of talk in our family that year. Our niece was volunteering there. Before that none of us had ever been to Fiji, or any of the Pacific islands.
Now, as we approached Naiyala, time slowed. I thought perhaps we had missed the school. I asked the conductor, who spent most of the trip sitting over the bulkhead, or occasionally wandering along the aisle, collecting tickets, if he knew Naiyala. Yes, he said, and he wanted to know more. So I told him about our niece. He was impressed. Naiyala is isolated and, as is the case in much of rural Fiji, life in the community has real hardships.
I’ll tell you, he said.
I waited and I waited. Eventually, I was sure he had forgotten. Then he pointed to our left and called out: “Naiyala”. There it was, at last, a large clearing surrounded by coconut palms, banana trees, a cluster of small houses and, in the front of the school buildings, a rugby field. And there, I was certain, was our niece, L, in one of the classrooms, standing in front of students seated at their desks.
The bus slowed, the driver tooted, John and I, each with an arm out a window, waved like crazy. L told us later she’d glanced out to the road and seen the bus filled with the usual Fijian faces and two white arms flapping wildly! Us.
Our destination that night was Suva but two days later we returned to Naiyala. It was an eventful trip. The police were out in force, searching for escaped prisoners. Our trip was delayed by multiple road blocks.
At last we were on our way, but then the engine began to over-heat. The driver was determined to continue. While the bus trundled along the road, the conductor leaned precariously from the footboard and topped up the radiator with bottled water. As long as he did this at regular intervals the motor kept running.
This time the driver was primed to stop at Naiyala but, making some progress at last and jiving along to the radio, he forgot. All was not lost. He pulled up within 500metres, at the bottom of a hill. Walking distance, I assumed, grabbing my belongings but, with a sudden lurch and much to the amusement of our fellow travellers, we reversed up the hill and around the blind corner.
At last we had arrived.
Tell me about your most memorable bus trip.
As for Facebook, has it taken you down memory lane recently?