Elizabeth the Island Enthusiast

a celebration of unconventional adventures

Tag: Island Life (page 2 of 2)

Labasa: The Other ‘Sugar City’

Yesterday I arrived in Labasa, the biggest township on Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Levu.

Prior to coming here, I’d heard a variety of commentary about Labasa, most of which wasn’t terribly positive…

“Vanua Levu is just too remote. There’s nothing to do, no clubs…”

“Labasa is okay, but Viti Levu is so much more cosmopolitan…”

“The weather is nice and there’s good fishing, but don’t trust anyone!!”

Even according Lonely Planet’s website, Labasa “is a dusty sugar and timber town that doesn’t hold much allure for the average traveller. Sitting about 5km inland on the sweltering banks of the Labasa River and reclaimed mangrove swamps, the top sights in town are a large sugar mill and the seasonal trains that ka-chunk bushels of cane through Labasa’s centre.

That doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?

Whoever wrote the introduction for Lonely Planet’s Labasa, Fiji travel guide evidently didn’t stay too long.

Flying over Vanua Levu's vast sugar cane fields before landing in Labasa

Flying over Vanua Levu’s vast sugar cane fields before landing in Labasa

LabasaAirport

With that somewhat dreary description in mind yesterday afternoon as I drove through the city center for the very first time, I couldn’t help but note yes, Labasa is, in fact, a bit dusty.

It’s considerably rural, and some of the buildings in town did appear a tad run-down, if not shuttered. But, arguably, I could say the exact same things about places in West Virginia, or Greeley, Colorado.

Overall, I found Labasa quite colorful, quirky, and teeming with liveliness, the cars and streets adorned with dazzling lights in every hue after the sun went down (I later learned this may have been temporary because of the local ‘Friendly North’ carnival festivities last night, but hopefully not – guess I’ll find out soon enough!).

Labasa holds plenty of allure – I honestly can’t wait to explore this place over the next couple weeks!

LabasaVanuaLevu

Papaya trees, just growing right outside in the backyard!

Papaya trees, just growing right outside in the backyard!

Having been here for a solid 24 hours now, I’m convinced Labasa has so much more to offer, although I’m certainly intrigued by its enormous sugar mill, which seems to be running around the clock processing the current sugar cane harvest.

The amount of sugar cane in the area is mind-blowing, really – it’s entirely possible Lautoka boasts more sugar cane field acreage (and I think I left right at the start of Lautoka’s sugar harvesting season), but I’ve never observed so many heaps of raw sugar, piled high on open trucks idling in an endless queue by to the mill.

I’ve never smelled air so densely sweet.

VanuaLevuPalmTrees

Time Flies When You’re Getting Sun…

I’ve been in Fiji exactly three weeks now, which feels incredibly bizarre. It won’t be long until I can say this is the most extensive amount of time I’ve ever spent abroad at once. Woohoo!

Even more bizarre, though, was the moderately-fierce storm that appeared to be brewing outside all day yesterday, at first resulting in nothing more than a sweltering, gusty wind ominously increasing momentum throughout the afternoon, accompanied by a noticeably stark increase in humidity.

LautokaWeatherVonuBeerSunset

It was muggy. And brutally hot. Hot enough to transform the most minor hangover from the previous night’s casual ‘talanoa’ into a feverish, plague-like condition, reminiscent of last year’s experience at Beachcomber Island, which will forever be remembered as one of the most harrowing nights in my life.

Rest assured, once I get around to writing that story, it’ll be a fine read…

BeachcomberIslandSept2015CoralCoastVitiLevu

Not even an absurd amount of time spent hanging out by the open freezer door with a pouch of frozen vegetables over my face could possibly emulate the soothing bliss one’d gain from a nice, chilly blast of air conditioning…

Oh, to feel the cold again…

I knew going into this trip there would be moments I’d miss the luxury of air conditioning, but I never realized just how much I’d learn to appreciate temperate weather.

LautokaNeighborhoodViews

Neighborhood views… Always something burning nearby

When I visited Fiji about a year ago, I distinctly remember the temperatures being unexpectedly mild. To my surprise, I found myself wishing I’d packed extra long-sleeve shirts, or even a pair of jeans. At the very least, jeans would have been a preferable attire choice during my lengthy Coral Coast horseback riding adventure…

CoralCoastHorsebackRidingDontMindIfIViewCoralCoastCoralCoastRidingAdventure

This time around, I made a point to bring along a variety of clothing options appropriate for cooler-weather, but I’m pretty sure no jeans or coats will be used anytime soon. I’m also almost entirely certain my fuzzy hooded North Face fleece jacket and Patagonia parka (otherwise known as the “Pata-Gucci”) will remain inside my suitcase for the duration of my stay in Fiji.

BaTownFlowersVitiLevuFijiPond VitiLevuBusTripVitiLevuOrangeFlowers

To my knowledge, no noteworthy precipitation actually occurred in the vicinity yesterday. While a suffocatingly warm, stickiness continually lingers in the air, I awoke this morning to a glorious sound – rain!

Apparently Lautoka hasn’t received a true rain storm like this in several months, which is highly unusual for the region, especially combined with the incessant heat wave.

LautokaSunsetClouds

Others grumbled slightly about the rain, appearing distraught at the absence of sunshine. I adore the sun – don’t get me wrong – but I honestly love an overcast day every now and then. Overcast weather always seems to make bright colors brighter.

Fingers crossed this storm brings a much-needed cool front over to Viti Levu’s Western Division… It is technically winter here, after all!

WailoaloaHammockSunsetFunAtWailoaloaBeach

BULA!

I’m just about finishing up my third full day here in beautiful Fiji, where I’ll be living until mid- September. Currently, I’m on the main island Viti Levu in the western division city of Lautoka, the second-largest city in Fiji (following the capital, Suva). Lautoka is also known as ‘Sugar City,’ and for good reason – it’s tucked away in the heart of Fiji’s major sugar cane growing region, encompassed by fields of sugar cane belts as far as the eye can see…

FijiSchoolView.3 FijiSchoolView.2

Today was also my third day volunteering at a fairly remote Fijian primary school that was severely affected by Cyclone Winston.

I’ve never seen such a picturesque locale for a school, perched atop a mountain with striking, panoramic views of the surrounding hills and sugar cane fields with the glittering blue Pacific Ocean beyond.

FijiSchool1FijiSchool3It’s just one other volunteer and I helping out here, where we’re scheduled to assist for approximately 2 weeks. During our orientation, the headmaster of the school told us about 40% of the kids are behind in terms of literacy, so tasks largely consist of  tutoring small groups of students on basic phonics and letter pronunciation. A lot of the children come from very poor families that only speak either Hindi or Fijian at home, which is very good for maintaining cultural traditions, but not necessarily the most encouraging environment for studying English reading and writing.

As someone with zero pedagogical experience, it’s safe to say the last few days have indeed been a bit of a challenge. It’s rewarding all the same though; even in my first days here, it’s dawned on me just how severely we take certain things for granted, such as literacy or basic educational resources.

FijiSchool4 FijiSchool2
Also, as it turns out, geckos really do make a sound like a cheeky air kiss.

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