2009-08-14: The Bus Ride

On Wednesday we made our first trip to Savusavu via bus. It started
with a quick ride to Tukavesi (not spelled correct but I’m too lazy to
look it up) around 6:15 am. The boat captain Meletoni was right on
time and ready to go. We landed and waited for the bus near the
Public Works depot in Tukavesi. There we met a Fijian named Joe who
is responsible for 100 km of roads north of Savusavu. He was a nice
gentleman and offered to let us stay at his house anytime we are
waiting for the bus.

The bus was very full when we started but thankfully we had a seat to
ourselves. It collected quite a few passengers along the way and a
load of school children. It was 99% full the entire trip. The prime
minister for the public works department is coming to the northern
area of Vanua Levu next week so the road crews where out repairing the
monster potholes. Therefore the trip wasn’t as brutal as expected but
still a rather bumpy ride in a 1960’s bus. Thankfully the busses have
large openings running the length of each side, which makes for good
ventilation when squeezed in the seats. Three sit on one side and two
sit on the other. I don’t think the seat was designed for a Fijian
booty, as it is very tight.

The trip went rather quickly as I was busy studying the scenery and
small villages along the way. There is a nice roadside stand that
sells cakes and random sweets. The bus driver gets free tea and
sweets for stopping and all the goods were sold rather quickly. Most
of the passengers disembarked to buy goods or use the restroom in the

We continued along dropping off the school children and picking people
up and dropping others off. The trip takes about ¾ of the time in a
lorry without the stops. But it is fun people watching and seeing the
exchange between bus driver and villagers. There is obviously some
sort of delivery system set up as often people would hand over or
receive goods to people outside the bus as the traveled. The captain
of this system seemed to be the bus driver as he interchanged often
with people on the roadside either delivering goods or receiving.
Most of the other lorry drivers would stop and talk a bit with the
driver and then continue on.

We encountered a bit of a problem on one of the steep hills leading
into Savusavu. We where still on the dirt section and stalled out
halfway up an incline. After several restarts and lunges forward it
was no go for the bus and it’s hapless passengers. A sharp Fijian man
quickly evaluated the problem, hopped out, and shoved a rock under one
of the bus tires. This did the trick and off we went as he ran up
along to jump back on the bus.

The problem with going to Savusavu via bus is we only have about three
hours to shop and eat lunch. Normally this isn’t a problem but when
only going once a month it really isn’t that much time. This is
compounded if I have any other errands as most visits to the post
office, bank, etc take twice as long as I think they will.

We rushed through our to do list, helped Samalu get some hardware
quotes for projects around the island, had a short conversation with
Peace Corps volunteers Dana and Becky and then re-boarded the bus.
Getting back to the bus at least 30 minutes early is essential. Not
only can you pick a good seat but you can store all the stuff
purchased in the available cargo holds prior to them filling up.

We had a more adventurous bus driver on the return trip and although
we traveled much more quickly his network of deliveries and
friendships with other drivers where more extensive than the prior
driver’s. Thus we often stopped and spoke with dump truck drivers,
random people walking on the road, roadside food stands, etc. He also
liked to swerve towards pedestrians on the road. At first I though
this was an effort to avoid potholes but soon realized it was
intentional. This seems to be a popular hobby among the Fijian
drivers as many of them participated in similar activity on the Bau
Road outside of Nausori as we jogged in the morning. I thought it was
because we where Kavalangi but the drivers are do not discriminate to
whom they choose to chase off into the bush. The wise pedestrians
know this game well and stay a good 1-2 meters from the roadside edge
much to the chagrin of the twisted drivers.

We arrived safely at our port and Melatoni captained our quick boat
ride home. We arrived just as the 5:00 pm bell for Wednesday church
was ringing which meant we had 30 minutes to off load our goods,
shower, change, and hurry back to the church. We made it to church
just before the second bell sounded.

The evening’s activities had just begun, though, as after church the
Tui Tai tourist ship was visiting. They come every Wednesday at 7:00
for Fatele, dancing, in the Falekaupule, community hall. We attended
the session two weeks ago and learned the rules of dress and
etiquette. The locals wear read sulus with white tops. A fou, flower
head band, is required and a few of the dancers dress up in full
uniform complete with grass skirt and wristbands. The event starts
with Loto’s, the tourism councilman, introduction of the village and
Polynesian customs. The first song quickly begins and everyone sings
at the top of his or her lungs. It is hard to follow along, as they
aren’t written down. If you’re from the island you just know them.
Each song is led by a group of 5-6 elder men beating a large wooden
drum. It is actually large wooden box with short sides turned upside
down and covered with embe mats. Behind the large drum is a small
drum made from tin attended by two drummers. The beat here is much
faster and they drummers exchange turns. About 30-40 villagers gather
around the drummers sitting cross-legged in the center of the
Falekaupule. Behind them are standing the uniformed dancers with men
in the middle and women on the side. The men where only grass skirts,
grass arm bands, and fous. The women have shirts and grass skirts
over red sulus. They also have decorative fous and armbands.

Each song progresses with a medium beat and progresses in rhythm speed
and volume as the verses progress. It is culminated with a final beat
of the large drum and complete silence. Then the next song starts in
similar fashion. I typically just clap and move with the music. I
have to watch the drummers intently to know when to stop clapping, as
it would be very embarrassing to miss the climatic end and break the
dramatic silence. Hopefully when I learn the words it will get

In between songs Loto explains more of the history of the island and
the dancing and then asks each couple on the ship to introduce
themselves. At first I thought this was weird but now find it very
informative and reflective into the vastness of cultures in the world.
On this trip couples where there from England, Belgium, America,
Australia, Vietnam, and Italy. The villagers really enjoy hearing how
far people have traveled to their little island in the South Pacific.

We ended the day weary from our travels but with joy in our hearts
from the celebration in the Falekaupule. It is hard to stay down in
this island, as each day is a festival of life and community.

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