Fiji – day 2

Lautoka, Fiji                                                                Feb 9, 2016 5pm local time

Today is a day that justifies a trip half way round the globe – it has been beautiful, informative and interesting, and eye-opening. We have seen how old and different parts of the world and cultures co-exist with new and familiar ones, all on one island.

Dawn at 6:01 local time was rosy-fingered and pretty; now that we are at the time zone closest east to the international date line, we saw Feb 9 start at the earliest time that it could be seen anywhere in the world.   A fine start to a full day.

We are in Lautoka today, which is the 2nd largest city in Fiji, and sits on the biggest of Fiji’s 300+ islands (Viti Levu, which is the home of golfer Vijay Singh). This island gets a lot of rain on one side and is drier on the other. On the rainy side, the jungle is often used by non-Fijian governments to train combat troops because there are no snakes, no poisonous spiders and no malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Sugar cane grows on the island and is a major export; because of its purity, processing is simpler and less expensive than in other locations, so Lautoka is a major regional hub for sugar export. Over the years many Indian immigrants have come to Fiji to work in the sugar processing industry, and the population of Lautoka is a mix of many immigrant and native people. Railroad tracks run around the island to transport the sugar cane to the processing plant in Lautoka. Dense forests on the island produce another big export – wood pellets, which are exported to Japan and elsewhere to produce furniture and other products.

On the other hand, fuel for driving, cooking and other purposes, as well as wheat and other foodstuffs, must all be imported. Hence Lautoka has a major port, not only for tourist ships but also for necessities. Near to the port is the commercial center of Lautoka, which reminds us of a very large district similar to NYC Chinatown – lots of stores, restaurants, etc. crowded together (but well organized and clean). The islands use hydroelectric power, and you can see cell phones and satellite dishes everywhere. The type of government buildings and services you would see in developed areas (hospitals, schools, government offices) are all present and seem very modern. Government programs to ensure free education, health care and other services are in place. Fiji is largely a Christian country, with a large Hindu population and a smaller percentage of Muslims and those of other faiths.

We left the port and commercial center to make 2 visits today, and each was very interesting. First stop was Garden of the Sleeping Giant, which is a large tropical area showcasing orchids and other flowering plants, lily ponds that are just as beautiful as Giverny, palms, trees of all types and beautiful gardens. This is the garden created by Raymond Burr and then turned over to the public. Joe took a lot of pictures and he’ll post whatever he can upload (given the bandwidth restrictions with our WIFI connections on the ship).

After the visit to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, we went to the largest village in Fiji, where about 900 people live. Fiji’s history is one of clans and tribes, and despite many years of British rule (Fiji is now independent), this clan/tribe culture still exists and governs local life. Each village has a chief and a council of elders who make decisions for the village. In the village we visited, as in most, the church is the central and largest structure, as Fiji natives credit the Christian missionaries with ending cannibalism and promoting the true love of neighbor that allows for peaceful coexistence in the nation. A village green is near the church, together with communal meeting buildings. Houses radiate out from this central church/green area, and the housing stock is a mix of wood structures with thatch roofs, tin houses, and more sturdy stone and cement structures. The village chief’s house has the highest foundation, and no one else’s house is permitted to have a higher foundation. Flowers and gardens abound, very neatly organized.

Most of the residents of the village we visited work in the local tourism industries (there are several hotels and guest houses on the island). Several of the clan/tribe leaders have made deals with hotel developers; the tribes sell the land for development and make arrangements to supply local labor to the developers. A strict record of tribal land ownership is maintained, and there is a system to settle ownership disputes.

Notably, Mutiny on the Bounty (the real occurrence with Captain Bligh) occurred near Fiji in the late 1700s.

I know – this is way more info than anyone needs. It was just so impressive to see old cultures and primitive land at the same time as modern and sophisticated practices and approaches.

A fascinating place, this Fiji.