(Here is an excerpt from an email Tica is sending to her friends about last week's overnight excursion to Labasa -- pronounced "Lambasa" -- which is located to the north and east of us on the dry side of Vanua Levu. Our trusty photo journalist Ben took the pictures.)
Today we just got back from Labasa, a city on the other side of the island. You would call it the smallest town that you have ever been to but I have been living in Savusavu, which is TINY, so it seemed like the biggest city ever on the face of the earth.
In the morning, we woke up at about 6:00 o'clock and took a taxi to Savusavu where we got on a bus that left at 7:30. On the two and a half hour bus ride, we we went through a bunch of jungle and rain. It was SO awesome! It looked like some show that they might show on Discovery Channel about tropical rain forests. Then we went over a few mountains and saw a bunch of waterfalls, which were really, really pretty. I almost froze to death as we went over the mountains because I was wearing shorts and a tank top with a really light sweater and the bus had no windows.
The scenery changed when we got over the mountains and reached the dry side of Vanua Levu. We saw a bunch of sugar cane and rice fields. We saw at least one mosque. When we arrived in town, we went to our hotel and got checked in. Ian and I had a brief argument over who got the bed by the window but it got resolved (eventually.)
Labasa was not what I expected. It was hot and dusty and busy with the hustle and bustle of a big city. There were also lots and lots of Indian people. We were the only white people there. (Here, white people are called "Europeans" or "kaivalagi" in Fijian.) It was really weird.
We had lunch and walked around town a bit where I got small patchwork rug at the farmers market. The market is much bigger than the one in Savusavu and has seeds, mats, brooms and other household items in addition to every kind of fruit or vegetable that you can imagine.
We then hopped into a cab and drove to the Naag Mandir Temple, where there is a growing rock that looks like a cobra. The stone has grown so much over the years that they have had to raise the roof of the temple four times since the 1950s! People go there to worship the Hindu gods. Many believe that the rock can cure the sick and infertile. It was really cool because there were all of these offerings -- food, flowers, candles, and the like -- to the gods like Ganesha.
When we returned to town, we looked for an Indian costume. They were all sewed by hand and had many beads and sequins on them. I didn't get one because I couldn't find one that didn't have sequins, which I don't like.
We were going back to the hotel to rest because Ian was so so tired when we met this guy, Vikram, that we had met with his family when we were picnicking at the beach last week. When we told them we were coming to Labasa, they offered to show us around and invited us to their house for dinner. We promised to check in with them once we arrived in Labasa but had decided to look around on our own a bit first. Vikram and his family had apparently spent the entire day looking for us, asking the bus drivers from Savusavu if any "Europeans" had ridden on the bus. He appeared disappointed that we had waited so long to get in touch with him. Although we were really tired, we couldn't really say no to the invitation and went along for another adventure.
Vikram got a taxi for us which was built to fit six people. We crammed in up to nine people over the course of the evening, including the four of us, the driver, Vikram, his daughter and a nephew and the driver's employee!! That was really uncomfortable. We went past the sugar mill and a huge line of trucks full of sugar cane waiting to be unloaded. I counted at least 65. The mill made SOOOOOOOO much pollution that I might never eat sugar again. (Just kidding.)
We also went to the fish market where on the ground in the parking lot there was a chicken claw that had been run over by a car. EWWWWWWWWWW!
After that, the driver, who is Vikram's neighbor and brother-in-law, drove us to Malau where there was a really nice view of the sea. We saw a really big holding tank full of molasses, which was 20 feet tall! It smelled so good it and for some reason made me think of home. Then we went down a bunch of bumpy roads to this place where there was another nice view where we could see a big cargo ship that took the sugar from the mill to other parts of the world. The place was a bible school that teaches missionaries from around the world. We watched the sunset from their beach.
By that time it was dark so we went back to Vikram's house and had a dinner of goat curry and fish in "lolo" also known as coconut milk. We figured that these people had probably killed a goat to make dinner for us. They also spent a lot of money on the fish. Even though I didn't want to, I tried the food. The fish was good but it was "too fishy". The curry was really spicy so I didn't really get to taste the goat. (That's okay!) We also had red rice, which is more purple than red. We ate our dinner with our hands. That was interesting! At home I would die to eat with my hands but after doing it I found that isn't all that exciting. If anything it was disgusting. There was a dog there named Blackie who was really nice and was a lot like Nala.
We got home really late and Vikram called us at 6:30 the next morning to talk with Dad. I said "Enough with the Friendliness, already!" Vikram and his family were certainly nice to us and good hosts. Although they are from an entirely different culture than we are used to, we found many similarities. After such a long day and such a long visit with them, we were ready to go home.
Going to Labasa, we experienced what it is like to be in a big city again. We also experienced what it is like to be a minority in a new place. I'm glad that we went. I'm even more glad that we are home again!