I’ve been really looking forward to writing part 2 of this because some funny stuff happened in Suva. Here we go.
In part 1, you learned our hotel didn’t have bedbugs. The real downside was it was up a hill (pun intended). At the end of the day spent walking up and down the hills of Suva, facing this last stretch was daunting.
We spent full days roaming about the capital city. Cindy put together some tourist sites and mapped them out in a logical order so as not to waste our energy. We often stray from the route “Oh look, there’s something shiny” but always tend to somehow get back on track. You heard me use the phrase before to describe our travel on trips: We walk until our feet hurt and then drink wine until the pain goes away.
One of the very cool things about Suva is the old colonial-style building mixed in with new designs. It somehow works and provides an interesting perspective as we meander the sidewalks. We stick out here. We are light-complected, light-haired, wearing backpacks, have cameras, and are seniors. People know we are tourists.
A shoe-shine guy greeted us. He asks where we are from. I give my usual smartass answer, “from that way”, pointing back to the direction we have just walked. He laughs hard. We pass him and walk into the arcade entrance where he has positioned himself outside. I snap a couple of pictures and then turn around to go back to the street. He still has a huge grin.
We wind up talking to him for a few minutes and he gives us some tips about being in Suva. Mostly tips to help keep us safe. He says not to hug people or let them hug you. Not a problem! Don’t accept any gifts from people. Apparently, this might cause an international incident. Be careful at night. The last one is a non-issue. We’ll be sipping wine at the hotel trying to not feel our feet. This brings me to the first funny thing.
We visit the Fiji Museum in Thurston Gardens. I’ve always enjoyed museums. However, in the USA we got very tired of maritime museums. Just about every port had one and was normally not worth the entry fee. We’ve found in the countries we’ve visited it is a great way to learn more about the culture and see some archaeological artifacts. Most tourists might skip a museum since it can be a little time-consuming and people tend to rush through a vacation. We used to be this way, but now we have time.
After we enter the museum, we look at the prices. Since we are now both over 60 we qualify for the senior discount. I forget the exact fee but, it is less than US$3 for both of us. I would have paid this amount just to be in an air-conditioned building for an hour, or so.
As we enter, the place is dead quiet. I think we might be the only people visiting. We sat in a booth watching a video of a Fijian lady describing her life growing up on farmland owned by her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. It was very interesting. Then, there was commotion.
About 10 buses (I’m not kidding – perhaps more) of schoolchildren arrived at the museum and they swarmed the place. At this point, I need to point something out. Schoolchildren here are not afraid of adults. They don’t have any reason to be. Nobody has had the need to fill their heads about stranger danger or encourage them to avoid grownups. The kids are extremely polite and well-mannered. This has been our experience while riding public buses packed with kids or even just talking to them at bus stops. We are often greeted by kids with a bula and a smile as we pass on the street.
Remember what I said about us sticking out here? Well, the kids became more interested in us than anything in the museum. A couple of young girls held onto Cindy’s arm and started to ask her all sorts of questions. Of course, the first one being about where we are from. We are the first people they’ve met who arrived in Fiji by private boat and travel globally. A couple of the children go and get their friends and pretty soon we are so surrounded, we can’t move.
We are not the only people in the museum the children have become interested in. There is an elderly Japanese lady who has also been swarmed and is now surrounded. Our eyes meet and we smile at each other. I’m not sure how her English was but, she had a translator/tour-guide with her and seemed to be having a good time.
Questions come from all different directions. Then, one of the students decides we should all have our picture taken. I see one of the teachers watching the goings on from the corner of her eye. I can tell she doesn’t approve of interest in tourists rather than the museum’s artifacts. After all, this was the purpose of their trip. One of the kids calls her over and asked to have a picture taken. Before we know it, we are all in a group pose and even more kids seem to show up for the snapshot.
The teacher said something after taking the picture with her phone and all the kids say goodbye and how lovely it was to meet us. To be honest, we are a little stunned. Stunned in a good way. I think I know how a rock star feels when being met by a group of fans. We both agree it is awesome these kids felt perfectly comfortable approaching a stranger and making new friends. I only wish I had thought to give the teacher my phone or email so I could get a copy.
The teachers are now trying to round up the kids which is a little bit like herding cats. Outside of the museum’s exhibit area is a deck and they are getting into their class groups. Soon to be back on the bus for their next adventure. As we exit, we decide to use the toilet since we’re not sure when we might find another. There is a long line of kids at each so we find a pew in the corner and wait for them to leave. I see the Japanese lady who has also survived the invasion doing the same. We smile again.
As the kids form a line and are told to make their way back to the bus, many break rank and come over again to say goodbye. Huge smiles all around. Wow! We had no idea our day was going to include being the main attraction at the Fiji Museum. And, we both have a new bounce in our step after being a part of their energy. We use this energy to go uphill.
Up the hill from the museum is the government complex that houses the office of the president. This was an attraction mentioned in a brochure Cindy had read. Cindy added it to our walking tour. I’m not sure what I expected but what we came across just didn’t seem right. The whole time, I’m asking Cindy if she’s sure we’re heading the right way. Then, we see the home of the British High Commissioner and Cindy is convinced we are close. We make a right turn onto Berkley Cres and find ourselves surrounded by all sorts of buildings with signs indicating it is the Ministry of Something-or-another. Google says the big man’s place is at the end of the road. This is when we learn how bad tourist brochures suck.
Contrary to what the brochure says, there is no tourist attraction here. The president’s office and residence are completely off-limits. We can only see a corner of a building from behind some trees as we reach the end of the road. We are greeted with a smile from a lone soldier (with a big gun). I would like to point out here, we have roamed into a government complex with a lot of important people in the buildings surrounding us. We are the only people on the street and there is no traffic, except for one taxi. Until this point we haven’t seen any security or signs telling us we shouldn’t be here. The soldier very politely tells us we can’t go any further. We are still abuzz with the energy transferred to us from the kids. Cindy says with a big smile, ‘but we walked all the way up the big hill’.
The soldier is awesome. We stand and chat for a little bit. Cindy says,’Are you sure the president isn’t available for a cup of tea?’ He responds with a big laugh and says, ‘I think he might be busy today’. I am hoping at this point he already realizes we’re not a threat and we are having a bit of fun with him. I can’t help but think in the USA we already would’ve received the threat of an arrest by now. Cindy not being one to give up early says, ‘But he is missing out on meeting two very adorable people’. This actually gets a bigger laugh from the guy who is so built he looks like he could snap us in two.
We chat with the soldier for a short time as he enquires about from where we have traveled. It always takes us a little while to answer this question. He asks how we are enjoying Fiji and we tell him how we find the people extraordinarily friendly and we’ve been made to feel very welcomed. We bump fists and wish him a great rest of the day. As we turn to walk away, Cindy over her shoulder says, ‘please be sure to pass our best regards to His Excellency Wiliame Katonivere’. Still smiling at the crazy tourist who walked up the big hill on a hot day, he responds with,’Oh, I most certainly will’ (I think he might be kidding us).
Another funny thing that happened was when we were walking along the main street of Suva, Victoria Parade. Coming in the opposite direction were three policemen. As we near, they ask us if we are off the boat. Well, you can see how this might be confusing to us. Yes, we are off the boat. The boat is in Denarau and we’re in Suva staying at the newly renovated Capricorn Hotel that doesn’t have bedbugs. This is where we go to nurse our aching feet at night. So, no doubt my puzzled look and weird response made them wonder if we had escaped the mental institution. I’m hoping they hadn’t received a call from the presidential residence warning them about two crazy tourists on the loose. Then, it dawned on me. They meant are we off the cruise ship.
Is there a ship in town today? I ask. Ah! This clears things up and we tell them we are not from the ship. Apparently, they were wondering if the ship was early since here are two tourists roaming the streets of Suva. Remember when I told you we stand out here.
We chatted with the policeman and told them what we’d been doing that morning purposely leaving out the part about crashing the gatehouse of His Excellency Wiliame Katonivere. They tell us not to hug people. Okay, this is really starting to make us wonder. They ask how our holiday is going and if we like Fiji. How can we not like Fiji? It is home to some of the friendliest people we’ve met on the planet, to date. When we relay this, we are told not to accept gifts from people. They confirm this will in fact start an international incident. Seriously, there is a con on the streets and people will gift a person and then scream they haven’t been paid. We thank them and part ways making them feel good about how much we are loving our time in Fiji.
I think my only pet peeve about Suva was the lack of good restaurants. Yes, the Moments Café was awesome. However, at lunchtime we had a little difficulty finding somewhere. Even ranking restaurants near us on Google Maps by their ratings didn’t yield many choices. I’m a little embarrassed to say on one of the days we ate at Burger King.
A part of our walking tour put together by Cindy included a stroll along the waterfront. This was before the cruise ship arrived and we were pretty much the only people around. We noticed a building with a sign indicating it is the Municipal Handicraft Centre. This might be a good time to look at souvenirs since it’ll probably be quite busy when the ship comes to port. I tend to hate shopping and look for a seat while Cindy looks over the wares. This was my plan. But, my plan changed.
I took a couple of pictures and saw a chair at the end of the hall. My no-longer laser-like vision honed in on the place to rest my feet without wine. I parked my hiney and was content looking at some of the pictures snapped on the camera earlier that day. Cindy was way behind me taking her time in each of the individual stores. She knows I don’t mind waiting. It is a chance to sit and watch the world go by.
The gentleman manning the shop and whose chair I think I commandeered came out to talk to me. We are the only customers in the entire building and I think he might be bored out of his mind. He starts to tell me about his shop. I just point to Cindy who is walking from one stall to another and at this point has become visible while changing shops. In true Fijian fashion, the conversation quickly turns to something other than business and we talk about life in Suva.
The store is stocked with items made from the island he is from. It is truly all local crafts. I ask about the location of the island and he wonders if we visited it on our boat. He has family on the island and suggests we go see them. I can’t help but wonder how that conversation would go; showing up on a small island, looking for his parents, and then telling them we’ve come to visit. At this point, I think we’d be welcomed and fed. This seems to be the Fijian way. I ask how often he makes it home to visit. The answer is another lesson in island life in Fiji.
Going home is a monumental task. There is the option of flying but it is expensive. Some island visits can involve a seaplane if there is no airport. His island has a small airport but the flight is not affordable. There is also no direct ferry service. This means he has to island-hop using local ferries or cargo boats. A trip will often involve having to stay over on an island for a couple of days while awaiting a boat for the next leg. A trip home can take anywhere from 7 to 10 days, one way. Cindy heard a similar story from her hairdresser about interisland travel for locals.
Speaking of Cindy, she has completed her saunter of the stores and is now looking at his shop. Until this point, she is still empty-handed. I am pleased when she asked me what I think of a wooden bowl with turtles etched. I like it. I’m informed it comes in a natural wood color or black. The shopkeeper (whose name I have forgotten – sorry), uses a basic selling technique. I smile, since as a person who once held a position as a Sales Trainer, I appreciate a subtle and precisely used skill to gain a customer commitment. He asked me, which bowl I would prefer. This is assuming I am going to be forced to pick one or the other meaning he makes a sale.
We make his day when we buy both bowls. Before we part ways, he asked where we are going and offers some advice regarding things and places to see. Most are already on Cindy’s list. He tells us not to hug people or accept gifts. I note he doesn’t mention the Presidential Palace.
One of the things seen in European cities or cities with a continental influence are arcades. These aren’t nearly as common in the Americas. In the USA, the term arcade conjures up images of gaming arcades. The word originates from the Italian word, Arcata. Italy has some unbelievably ornate arcades. The ones in Suva obviously weren’t on the same scale but nonetheless, I still love to roam an arcade.
Some of the arcades in Suva are a simple covering between two buildings. Perhaps once an alleyway now turned into small shops and kiosks. Some of these wrapped around the rear of the buildings and came out on different streets. We find many house small local eateries and I feel a little bit guilty we opted to eat at Burger King and not try some local food. Many food stalls have a line and the tables are full.
On the bus trip back, I made a big mistake. We arrived at the bus depot about 45 minutes early. This time we had the exact change and were better prepared than a couple of days ago. We walked toward the Pacific Bus ticket booth and noticed another bus with Lautoka Express on the destination display. This is where we need to go, getting off in Nadi.
They are just about ready to close the cargo doors and we are asked where we are going. I say, Nadi. The guy with the ticket machine says we can hop on and the bus is just about ready to leave. I pay the fare and give him our bag to place below. Cindy is a little bewildered since I did this without telling her. I just say, let’s get on this bus and we won’t have to wait.
I climb the steps onto the bus and immediately see I made a mistake. The bus is packed! Normally this is not an issue, just so long as we have a seat. But, it is the seating arrangement that is the problem. The Pacific Bus company offers seats with two pair in a row of four. This is comfortable. This bus company is one that has no issue jamming people into smaller seats. They care more about profits than passenger comfort. The seating arrangement is a row of five (two on one side of the aisle and three on the other). The bus is not wider. The seats are narrower. Each seat is 20% narrower than the Pacific Bus Company’s buses.
I see one seat toward the front. Turning to Cindy, who has a frown on her face, I indicate she should take this one. I continue to move to the back. I find a seat next to a lady on the 2-seat side. Neither of us are small people and I spend the next 4 hours pressed up against her with my butt hanging into the aisle and something metal jabbing me in the right cheek.
Sometimes in other countries, I see people do things that astound me. Such a thing happened on the bus. We came into Sigatoka. This is a fast bathroom or grab-some-food break on the route. About half of the passengers get off. The procedure to save your set on the bus is to leave something on it. Most people leave a jacket or bag. The lady next to me left her purse.
Yes! Can you believe we are in a place where a person feels perfectly comfortable leaving their purse unattended on a bus. I love this about some of the islands we’ve visited. In Tahiti, Cindy was grabbing a cold bottle of water at McDonalds. A lady came in and went to the adjacent table. She left all of her bags there including her purse and disappeared into the bathroom for a few minutes. We once accidentally left Cindy’s purse in a McDonalds in Guadalupe. It was on the floor. When we returned about 30 minutes later, the manager had it. We often see people leave items of value left on tables when people go to the bathroom or to order at the counter. I want to live like this, again.
We wound up sitting apart the entire trip. After the first stop, about an hour into the journey, I saw Cindy was able to move to a more comfortable seat as people got off. When we got off in Nadi, I think her first words to me were, ‘what were you thinking getting on a Sunbeam bus?’ She had read about their cramped quarters when we were looking into how to get to Suva. My bad!
Cindy told me from her vantage point directly behind the driver she could see a couple of things that made her wonder if the Sunbeam bus was going to make it. The “hot breaks” light came on every time the driver went downhill as he was riding the breaks. The bus was packed. With the added people due to the seating arrangement, it struggled to get up the hills. She joked with the guy sitting next to her that perhaps some people should hop off and push. This prompted a roar from him and in true Fiji fashion, a friend is made. The driver wasn’t amused.
My chastising didn’t last long since we noticed a yellow bus, that would take us to Denarau, in its assigned spot. This means it’ll leave in the next few minutes. We quickly make our way toward the other end of the depot to catch it. I wonder if it is the same bus we caught a few days ago that broke down. It looks familiar. Luckily, we make it back to the Puffster without incident.
So there you have it. This concludes our exciting trip to Suva where I score points with the hotel only to give them back on the bus.