Some travel guides advise against visiting Suva, Fiji’s capital, because it’s a big city with some crime, but I think we both found downtown Nadi to be more threatening due to the aggressive shopkeepers and opportunistic “guides” that will follow you down the street spouting unsolicited directions and advice in hopes of coin. More on Nadi later…

In a minibus, it cost FJ$15 each and two hours for us to traverse the two-lane Queen’s Highway from the Coral Coast to Suva. Our silent driver drove at break-neck speeds, barreling down the bumpy coastal road. There were times when sharp curves made it impossible to see on-coming traffic, but our driver liked to test his luck — and ours — by swerving across the solid lane divider to pass more leisurely paced passenger buses, private cars and taxis. He slowed only for speed bumps in the villages and to collect and deposit locals en route to jobs at the gated beach resorts. We were the only tourist passengers and so our traveling companions constantly changed.

Once past the tourist zone, the manicured vegetation gave way to wild undergrowth and enormous trees so burdened by untrimmed boughs they looked like small, shaggy green hills from a distance. The village homes we passed were modest, flat-roofed rectangles consisting of wood or bare cement block. At least one village appeared intermixed with both these more modern homes and traditional thatched Fijian huts. Skinny horses on short leads stared off into space while their bovine counterparts roamed freely (and blocked traffic) as suited them.

Fiji Museum

Fiji Museum

We knew we were near Suva when stately, multi-storied homes with picture windows replaced the humble village homes and industrial compounds and stacks of inbound and outbound freight containers lined the road. And, of course, there was the cruise ship. In the southeast U.S., we take mini-holidays on cruise ships destined for the Caribbean — particularly the Bahamas. On the opposite side of the world, the Aussies and Kiwis get their tropical island fix by cruising to Fiji. The only difference is that in the Caribbean, both the natives and tourists dress like beach bums. From personal observation and from what I gathered at the National Museum,  the Fijian wardrobe has transformed over the past 100 years or so from loincloths and bare chests to ties and long “skirts” for both the men and women (on men, they are called “sulus“). I don’t recall spotting a single bare arm or woman in pants in Sigatoka. Many of the cruise ship tourists, however, dress like slobs.

Our minibus driver deposited us at the city bus depot, and after some aimless wandering, we eventually found our way to the South Seas Private Hotel, a Trip Advisor-recommended hostel located in a suburban neighborhood behind the cricket fields of Albert Park. Our second-floor room, No. 33, consisted of a remarkably firm queen-sized bed and a bench. That was it. But it seemed clean and there was a ceiling fan and a small window to keep the air circulating. We spotted a few ants, but it is quite possible they were Coral Coast ants that hitch hiked in our bags.

We tucked our things away and then hoofed it into town to eat lunch at Ashiyana (at an excellent hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant on Victoria Parade) to make it to the National Museum before it closed at 4 p.m. The museum is located across from Albert Park (named for Queen Victoria’s hubby) and within the gates of the beautiful Thurston Gardens (named for some guy named Thurston). While home to some impressive double-hulled canoes, the rudder from The Bounty (yes, that Bounty), ancient Lupita pottery and artifacts from the first English, Indian and Chinese settlers, the show-stopping display, in my mind, is an entire case devoted to the 1867 cannibalism of Rev. Thomas Baker. The unfortunate Methodist missionary and six student teachers were hacked to death and then eaten at Nabutautau in Central Viti Levu merely because a Fijian chief felt slighted that Rev. Baker held a meeting at Lomanikoro instead of the chief’s village, Navuso. In addition to Baker’s Bible, the case contains the remains of Baker’s boots and the bowl and “cannibal fork” used to consume parts of him. Next to these grisly artifacts is a decades-old photo of Baker’s ancestors posing in front of a Fijian hunt and accepting a whale’s tooth as atonement for his death. I had to get myself one of those cannibal forks!

After perusing the extensive local market (vegetables! fruit! flowers! smelly fish!), Him and I returned to the South Seas where, I regret to inform you, we fell asleep at 6:30 p.m. We awoke around 10:30 p.m., discussed leaving to check out Suva’s lively club and bar scene and then promptly fell back asleep.