Bus trip to Labasa
Thursday 18th June 2015
On Sunday we attended Curly’s seminar on sailing in Fiji. Curly is a well-known figure in the cruising community in this part of the world and as a long-time yachtie who has made his home here, has much invaluable local knowledge to share. It was well worth the three-hour session, and we came away with a lot of food for thought about our cruising plans for the next couple of months.
Curly has much local knowledge to share.
On Monday we were up bright and early and at the bus station by 0700 to be sure of seats on the 0730 bus to Labasa, the main town of Vanua Levu. It is a two and a half hour ride across the centre of the island to the north shore. The fare is FJ$6.25, about £2. Labasa is not a tourist town at all; it used to be the centre of sugar production for the island, and there is a large sugar mill on its outskirts and a disused railway line that runs through the centre of town on which the sugar used to be transported to the port, 5km away, for export. The majority of the people in the town are Indo-Fijian, descendants of the Girmitiyas – indentured labourers brought over from India to work on the sugar plantations, and there is a definite Indian feel to the bustling main street where Bollywood music can be heard coming from shop doorways.
Our cheerful and friendly – and careful – bus driver. Fortunately the Labasa bus is one of the more modern ones!
Though not luxurious inside! The view as we slowly climbed one of the several big hills on the way.
The main street of Labasa is much busier than Savusavu... and much, much noisier!
We arrived soon after 10 a.m. and didn’t have to walk far from the bus station to find a cafe for a cup of tea and a bite to eat. Then we wandered along the main street, looking at, and sometimes in, the shops along the way. Although it was more crowded and busy than Savusavu, we were still greeted with smiles and “Bula” or “Bula Vinaka” all along the way. When we eventually came to the end of the shops, we took a side road and started walking in search of an ancient ceremonial site with stone monoliths. We walked for some way and eventually after asking for directions were taken to a cluster of houses at the side of the road. It turned out that a village had grown up around the site and we were introduced to a young lady who showed us around and told us about the site.
A long hot walk home from school for these little ones. The stone monoliths and the ceremonial site were in a village.
The stone where the sacrifice’s head would be severed. The rounded stone to the left is where the head was then placed.
It was not until we were leaving that our guide gently admonished us for not bringing a gift of kava with which to do sevusevu with the chief. This is a ceremony performed on arrival at a village in which a gift is offered to the chief and permission sought from him to enter the village. We knew of this tradition but had not realised the stones were actually within a village, so had not come prepared, and did not even realise that the small collection of houses on the roadside was considered a village. We apologised profusely and thanked her for her time and trouble, and left with a flea in our ear!
By the time we had walked back to town it was lunchtime and the men were gagging for a cold beer, so we found the only restaurant in town that served alcohol and had a leisurely lunch. With an hour to spare before getting on the bus for the return trip, we wandered through the market and out of the end of the town across the bridge over the river Labasa.
The market in Labasa. View of the market building from the bridge over the Labasa river.
Back at the bus station things were about to get extremely hectic as bus after bus arrived crammed full of schoolchildren, disgorged them wherever they found a spot to stop, and then waited with their engines running and pumping out their diesel exhaust fumes as they refilled with passengers going to their various destinations. We thought it wise to stay on the pavement as we waited for our bus, but even there one needed one’s wits about them as buses would swing in and almost swipe people off the kerb!
Eventually, however, our bus arrived and we risked life and limb to leave the relative safety of the kerb and go around to the opposite side of the bus to board. Once on board, we heaved big sighs of relief and settled back for the journey home. We had not, however, taken into account the fact that our careful, considerate driver of the morning was not on this bus, and instead we had a wannabe Lewis Hamilton who was also into loud music. Add to that the heavens opening less than halfway through the journey around the same time that the sun went down...well, suffice to say we were very glad to arrive safely back at Savusavu bus station.
It was still chucking it down with rain, so the only thing for it was to stop at the yacht club for a drink or two while we waited for it to ease off. It never did, and we all got absolutely drenched getting back to the boats. But hey, we’d had a great day and seen a lot of the island. It was interesting to see the landscape change from lush green verdant foliage on the southern side to drier, yellower and barer after we had crossed the hills in the middle of the island. Interesting too, to see the small villages the bus passed through on the way. A long but very satisfying day, and well worth the trip.