After Hawaii, we were keen to book some diving in Fiji, so armed with a brochure from Tubakula, we set off in search of a dive shop in Korulevu, about 30 minutes drive down the coast. As we waited for the scheduled coach, a minibus pulled up, and the driver offered us a lift. Although the minibus was already fairly full, we accepted. It was only after one of the other passengers got off, that we realised that this was some sort of taxi service, and we would be expected to pay. We got off at Korulevu ‘Airport’. (Korulevu Airport was a bit of a mystery to us. There was no sign whatsoever of it ever having catered for air traffic, other than a dilapidated control tower amongst the group of shops on the side of the road. The ‘runway’ was clearly overgrown with bananas and other thick ground cover. But the airport had originally been built to service a five-star resort on the coast. It transpired that it had, in fact, only seen two aircraft. The first conveyed the proud owner to his new resort, and the second carried him away some months later … with a suitcase full of cash … after a typhoon devastated the coast, and wrecked his enterprise – he was never seen again, and the airport, together with the resort, went back to nature!) There did not seem to be any dive shop, or indeed much else, in Korulevu. So, after a drink in the bar of the sumptuous Warwick Resort, we caught the bus into Suva, Fiji’s capital city. At this point we realised that the taxi driver had charged us at least double the going rate for our trip to Korulevu.
The bus ride to Suva took a couple of hours. The bus was at least as antiquated as the one that brought us to Tubakula … and the seats were harder!
Fiji’s capital was a bit of a disappointment. We had been warned about the aggressive peddlers selling carved wood masks, but didn’t really expect to be targeted as soon as we stepped off the bus. But, sure enough, no sooner had we hit the streets than John was approached by a large, and rather over friendly, man carrying a tell-tale canvas bag. (These people get you talking, ask your name, and then hastily carve it on a hideous mask, which, of course, you are expected to buy. Tourists are warned that the peddlers can turn nasty if you refuse.)
We asked at the Tourist Office for a recommendation for lunch. The assistant looked at us and said, “For you, Macdonnalds.” Then she explained, “it’s clean”! Well, we hadn’t come all the way to Fiji to eat a Big Mac, so, against her advice, we found a Chinese restaurant that had obviously once been quite grand, but was now a little yellow at the edges…! The meal was good, but it was spoilt by a little drama that was taking place on the next door table. To cut a long story short, another tourist was being accused of having passed a dud F$100 (which was being ‘retained’ by the restaurant), and was being asked to pay again …
It was nearly 4pm, and we had to be back on the Pacific Express bus. But picking our bus from the hundreds of other wrecks in the bus depot was going to be quite a feat. Luckily, our friendly conductor spotted us, and escorted us to our seats.
On the way back to Tubakula, we were treated to an appalling tape of Fijian music. The lyrics of one song stick in the mind. “… and the Hibiscus is always in bloom … and the Gardenia, my favourite one … and the new hotels on the beach blend with the scenery … take your glass of wine, and relax in beautiful Fiji …”
After dinner, we wandered up the beach to the Outrigger Reef hotel (whose architects had determined that Fiji’s natural scenery should be invisible from within its secure and landscaped grounds).