Monday, October 22, 2007
The bus from Savusavu to Labasa
Wave2Angela wrote in Thorntree (Lonely Planet) about a bus trip from Savusavu to Labasa. Thorntree is an internet site with comments by readers and responses. One section is Australia and the South Pacific and there are always questions by intending travellers about advice on getting around Fiji and other South Pacific islands, good resorts, etc. This time the writer described her trip by bus from Savusavu to Labasa. The map above refers to the route to Palmlea Lodge west of Labasa.
Still awaiting replacement parts that will let us continue cruising, we take the early bus from Savusavu across to the north-west side of Vanua Levu to Labasa, its largest town. The windowless bus leaves at 7.30 a.m. and makes a slow start as we drop school kids at various destinations, geranium pink or deepest turquoise uniforms suit the surroundings but who on earth decided to outfit the boys at one school in WHITE sulu (tailored wrap-over ‘skirt’ with pockets) and shirt….?
Long passed its use-by date, the bus continues even more slowly, climbing the range at walking speed, you could almost dismount, take a few photos and get back on!! Up into the rain clouds that cause an on-board scurry for something warm to put on, canvas covers the windows if necessary. The land looks so fertile but most of the vegetation is covered with some kind of invasive creeper which obviously has the same intent as the dratted mynah birds, Total Take Over.
Picking up local people and assorted produce (including enormous ceremonially tied bunches of yaqona aka kava or simply ‘grog’) at small villages en route, we pass a variety of churches with interesting names we also see several mosques, these provoke some discussion on how current world events cause the Muslim religion to be viewed; traveling slowly, cruisers are frequently out-of-touch with the latest developments.
It takes over 3 hours to cover about 35 miles as the crow flies, and the crow would surely beat us there! Dust-covered and aching we lash out on breakfast, $3.20 ($1.80 US) feeds us both; as my Skipper says – you can perhaps get a cup of coffee for that in the States!
Pay Check day at the local sugar cane mill (every third week) means Labasa is crowded, cutting cane is HARD work and most of the super-fit Fijian workers look like star rugby players to me! Waiting in a queue I’m told that this week everyone has plenty money, next week some people still got some money and the following week…..
With a more mixed population, many of the stores are Indian-run with sari and shalwar kameez on sale with interesting jewelry and henna products and in the market big piles of spices. We wander to the muddy river front, 5km inland Labasa has good water access and there is a great selection of fish for sale, including a ‘mixed bunch’ to please every palate. I admire the piles of fresh vegetable and fruit but I can get these in Savusavu so I just grab a double heap of HUGE passion fruit, 20c each and kana malaka (delicious food). Waiting on a dust-lashed corner for the Skipper (off buying small bunches of yaqona), I am invited by the straight-faced Meli to sit at a fresh juice stand, told the prices and nudged to make sales……..then told to turn up for work at 8 a.m. the next day!!
We retreat from the dust to flop for a while in an air con internet café; one of us promptly falls asleep! I party on, buying fabric to make slip covers for the boat’s lounge area, appropriately decorated with honu , for in Hawai’i turtles are considered the guides of the sea. Then back to the riverside park to catch some breeze and wait for the return bus (groan, next day we are more bone-weary than after the passage from New Zealand).
Groups of locals drink ‘grog’ under the Council permitted picnic-type shelters, we sit under a tree and are beckoned in by an elderly gentleman who explains in basic but charming ‘English’ that he is ex-stall holder Mohammed, a Muslim, old but happy. Having been ill and given up on Western medicine, he has to laugh every day thus we are invited to be part of his daily medicine.
We meet his grandson and nephew and various friends, conversation is wide-ranging, we laugh and chat the afternoon away. Skipper becomes an instant expert on choosing and preparing yaqona; our two bunches are examined and pronounced good enough to make sevusevu. An obligatory ceremony when entering most villages, it announces your presence (although any boat is spotted miles away) and you are given permission to stay, areas of tabu are explained and protection granted during your visit. Mohammed explains his take on sevusevu: ‘Ask for everything, tell the Chief that you don’t want any broken legs or to get sick….that you want to end up happy, like me’
Running for the bus, Mohammed asks me to pray for him. Indeed I will.