Bula Bula!

Sun 16 Aug 2015 00:29
Passing Kadavu Island on our way in.

Our lasting memory of Fiji will be the sound of “Bula Bula!” called out to us. Almost everyone you pass will greet you with a smile and a “Bula!” and the further from town that you get the more people will cross the road to greet you, they’ll even hang out of their windows to sing out to you. Clearly not many foreigners take walks out amongst the villages on the main land, so we were a curiosity, but its the friendly, open Fijian nature that is the cause. They are genuinely affectionate, welcoming and interested. The waitress in a cafe will touch you on the arm or place a hand on your shoulder to get your attention, the lady in the supermarket will hold onto your hand whilst asking where you come from. These are wonderful people to get to meet and spend time with.

Street traders in Suva.

The Bay is an interesting place to be anchored for a few days. The South Eastern corner is where all the big shipping is moored, always intriguing to watch their comings and goings, and the Northern end is where the yachts and small craft hang out, along with the Chinese, Korean and Japanese fishing boats, big rafts of them on a single mooring, all waiting for re-fitting. There are dry docks in the port and the turn around is astounding: it seems that a day or so after the fishing boats are in the dock they’re painted, anti-fouled and out again. The Royal Suva Yacht Club is a short dinghy ride away from the anchorage, we are now proud Cruising Members. There you can get fuel (in jerry cans: it’s too small and shallow for us to get alongside the fuel jetty), showers, drinks and good value meals. 

Fishing boats rafted up, waiting for some care and attention. 

Caminante was there on anchor when we arrived; it was so good to see Tina, Gustaf and their two girls. We’d met them back in Graciosa three years ago, seeing them again in Trinidad, San Blas, Marquesas and New Zealand. They welcomed us with fresh fruit, veg and bread and we were able to spend some time with them over the next few days catching up and sharing plans. We went into the Yacht Club for beer and supper, listening to the little ‘Qi Qi' birds (pronounced ‘Gni Gni’) settling in the port warehouses (they are like the New Zealand Welcome Swallows) along with the Indian Myna birds fidgeting in the mango trees. Soon the huge fruit bats were wheeling above us, with the rugged hills silhouetted behind them they brought to mind Transylvania. The girls entertained themselves by catching toads whilst we sampled the Fiji Bitter and compared cruising plans and experiences with the Caminantes and other cruisers.

Next day we headed into Suva City. It is so easy to get around in Fiji: the local buses are just a couple of dollars each (60p) to get into town and there are inexpensive taxis everywhere, about £3 for all of us to get back.  Suva is wonderfully bustling: Fiji and Indian faces, mixed with the occasional Chinese, smile and greet you. The Indian influence is everywhere: bright Saris in the shops, curry houses all around, Indian snacks sold on the streets. The Indians were shipped in as indentured labourers originally and live alongside the Fijians whilst retaining their culture. Cruisers we knew had sung the praises of the market, but I had been underwhelmed by other markets in the Pacific so wasn’t too hopeful. Most often there are lots of stalls but each has exactly the same range of the four items that are currently in season. It wasn’t like that here - so much, so good and so cheap!  Downstairs was fruit and veg whilst upstairs you could get beans and pulses and spices, along with the essential kava we would need to offer as gifts to the village chiefs when we started to visit the islands. Outside was the fish market - every imaginable type of seafood: heaps of clams and oysters; squelchy pink octopus sitting on broad forest leaves; parrot fish and sweetlips strung together like colourful bouquets and huge tuna and mahi mahi being macheted into chunks on tables dripping their thick, dark sticky blood. Walking along the lane, with bright sunlight flickering between the stalls, the air was thick with the smells and sights whilst our ears were filled with the calls from the vendors.

The delights of Suva undercover fruit and veg market.

We lunched in the cool, shady contrast of a Chinese restaurant, breezes flowing through the grills on the high windows, fans slowly turning above us, cats purring around the chairs hoping for a handout. As we walked further South from the town centre the buses and cars fell away and the wide streets were flanked by government buildings and parks. On the water front the Grand Pacific Hotel, built by the Union Steamship company in 1914, replicates the quiet luxury of an Ocean Liner, and the smart guard stands at ease outside the President’s residence, complete with polished sandals.

The Grand Pacific Hotel and some government buildings.

We wondered through the gardens to the Museum and spent a delightful couple of hours finding out about the gruesome cannibal past of the islands, whilst we admired the war canoes and wonderful woven armour that the inhabitants used to wear. One fascinating fact was the hair styles that used to be sported by the men. They were huge constructions, one reputed to be 3m in circumference, decorated by feathers and carved combs, whilst the women’s hair was worn plain and short. The men had to use carved wooden neck rests when they slept, to avoid crushing their coiffure. There happened to be a girl’s school trip on at the same time as we visited; we were charmed by their giggles and by the unerringly respectful responses to all the adults we saw them interact with.  

Military uniform, now and then.. I particularly like the puffer fish helmet!

War canoe

School field trip arrives.

Coming back through town we stopped at the post office and found the place full, not with customers, but with men crowding in to watch the rugby, a national obsession. I got a local Fijian phone sim, to use the 3G to send this blog post, get charts etc, and was surprised to get two daily texts from Vodafone, one to send me an ‘inspirational message’, exhorting me to aim high and apply myself diligently, the other to update me with the rugby results!