It is often hard to hear the word Labasa without the ‘town’ following it. I had always thought
this a little curious until we arrived Sunday for a four day workshop. But before describing this unique nook of Fiji it is perhaps more appropriate to describe what it took to get here.
We left the island shores about 9 am and enjoyed an amazingly calm boat ride to Buca Bay. From there we waited about an hour for the ferry bus to arrive which takes people from the Taveuni ferry through Savusavu and on into Labasa. I was looking forward to this trip because the bus is a ‘fancy’ Fijian bus with real windows and enough headroom to not worry about concussions from overhanging dalo bags. I was also hopeful of enjoying the technological improvements of bus suspension systems since the 1960’s for this bus is much newer model compared to the old school open sided variety seen throughout most of the greater Fijian metropolis.
As we approached the shiny chariot my expectations dampened a little when I noticed the words “Black Virus” painted across the front windshields. Seriously, what the hell does this mean and why would anyone in their right mind paint this on front of a perfectly good bus? I just don’t get it.
We waited for the ferry passengers to load as they had first dibs since they had already endured a 2 hour ferry ride on a wooden boat from Taveuni that Peace Corps says is much safer than a fibre boat even though it looks like it was built from Noah’s scrap lumber pile and has absolutely no cargo/passenger loading standards or requirements.
Since we were the last group to load the large bags went below deck, which actually had cargo doors that closed compared to the open variety of the old buses and we found a spot way in the back. The bus wasn’t too terribly crowded and some unscrupulous passengers took advantage and gobbled up three person seats making it look like they where waiting for someone with their bags spread out. Once we were on the move they laid down for a nap while others where scrunched in like sardines in the very small two person seats.
The ride improvement was sadly nominal. Although I was glad to see this driver was more courteous than most and didn’t try to run people off the road with his ‘black virus’.
We found that being stuck in the back of the bus is bad for two reasons. One, you get the full impact of every bump in the road, and two, the dust pours in from the windows. Up front is much smoother but if you are on the isle you get a nice pounding from passing butts and dangling cargo as it passes on and off at each stop. I don’t know which is worse.
After 2.5 hours we arrived in Savusavu for a quick pit stop. We then ventured on to Lambasa for another 2.5 hours. I had heard the scenery on this trip is astounding and was looking forward to the change in scenery as the trip from Buca Bay isn’t much to write home about. Unfortunately a thick fog and slow drizzle immediately engulfed us as we left Savusavu and didn’t depart until we had crested the ridge well past the views across deep valleys.
It is quite startling the contrast between southern Vanua Levu and northern. The lush virgin vegetation is quickly replaced with pine forest and clear cut cane fields almost immediately as we crossed the ridge. Smoke fills the air from farmers clearing plots and the dryness of the air gave me more of a feeling I was in West Texas or New Mexico.