December 06, 2018 – Suva, Fiji
Suva (soo-va) is the heart of Fiji, home to half of the country’s urban population and the largest city in the South Pacific. It’s a lush green city on a hilly peninsula, that gets more than its fair share of rain, and has a vibrant cultural scene.
Downtown is as diverse architecturally as the populace is culturally. A jigsaw of colonial buildings, modern shopping plazas, abundant eateries and a breezy esplanade all form the compact central business district. Small passages are lined with curry houses, sari shops and bric-a-brac traders. Bollywood and Hollywood square off at the local cinema and within the same hour you’re likely to see businessmen in traditional sulu (sarong) and students from across the Pacific region rocking the latest styles.
Today we are on a private tour and on a bus with 22 of us. Our first stop is at Bilo Battery, a WWII historical site. The Bilo Battery was a key part of the defense of Fiji, being one of only four gun positions protecting Suva. Frankly, there is not much left to see but if it were not for the rain, it would provide an excellent view of the Suva harbor.
Our next stop was the Fiji Museum. This museum offers a great journey into Fiji’s historical and cultural and evolution. The centre piece is the massive Ratu Finau (1913), Fiji’s last waqa tabus(double-hulled canoe), over 13m long and with an enclosed deck for rough weather.
Other attractions in the main hall include war clubs, a gruesome display about cannibalism and the rudder from The Bounty (of Mutiny fame).
The growing influence of other South Pacific and European cultures is documented in a hall on the other side of the museum shop. It is here that you’ll find the well-chewed, but ultimately inedible, shoe of Thomas Baker, a Christian missionary eaten for his indiscretions in 1867.
Upstairs, a small Indo-Fijian hall chronicles some of the contributions made by the Indian workers and their descendants who were brought to Fiji in the 1870s as indentured labourers.
Adjacent to the museum are the Thurston Gardens. After visiting the museum, the plan was to wander through these compact but beautiful gardens. However, again, the weather played havoc with our plans.
After a scenic drive through the city (not much to see really), we went to the very interesting Municipal Market. It’s the beating heart of Suva and a great place to spend an hour or so poking around. The boys with wheelbarrows own the lanes and they don’t seem afraid to mow down a few tourists to deliver their cassava on time. Besides the recognizable tomatoes, cabbages and chilies, there are bitter gourds, mangos, papayas, jackfruit, dalo (taro), yams and so much more. Produce is cheaper than in supermarkets and there’s no need to haggle – prices are clearly marked. They measure their produce by handful, heap or bundle.
Our lunch was at the Holiday Inn and so I was not expecting much from a hotel restaurant. I was mistaken! The quality and quantity of food showcasing their local cuisine was excellent. There were also several desserts and I asked them to also serve the mangoes (a heap for $3 Fijian or $1.85CAD) and papaya (large for $2 Fijian or 1.25Cad) that I bought at the market. Delicious!
The balance of the afternoon was free time which we spent by walking around the downtown and retreating back to the ship to immerse ourselves in the books we are enjoying. Next stop is Apia, Somoa!