The ride to Nadi
It was all arranged before I left the Hotel on Friday morning. I would be taking a cab back to Nadi and spend Friday night at the Capricorn Hotel before flying back home. Apparently there is constant cab traffic between Nadi and Suva and if you know the right people you can get a deadheading cab for next to nothing. In my case it was $70 in Fiji dollars, about $40 US for a five-hour ride.
My class was scheduled to be over at 5:00 P.M. and the cab was called for 6. There are lots and lots of cabs in Suva and most of them are pretty run down. You can go from one side of Suva to the other for $1.60 Fiji, about $1.00 US. I was expecting a beat up clunker of a car for the ride to Nadi. I had 24 hours to get to the Nadi airport and if the car broke down (as I was warned that the busses often do) I could still make it one way or the other. I’m adventuress and nothing in Fiji ever installed any kind of fear in me. When the car arrived, instead of a beat up clunker there was what looked like a brand new Toyota Corolla station wagon. It wasn’t a Corolla but rather an underpowered right hand drive car I suspect Toyota makes for the third world market. The maximum speed limit in Fiji is 80 km/hr, about 50 miles per hour. Cars and trucks don’t have to be able to achieve the speeds common in the US so all the cars and trucks are underpowered. The Fijians would laugh at us if they knew what kind of mileage we get.
My driver was named Aruind. His cab was decked out in what I have to describe as a combination “American Tuner” and “Indian modern.” Occupying the first foot of the back of the station wagon were a set of homebuilt gigantic speakers, the kind that make the ground shake as the car drives by, all base and no treble. On the dashboard was a tasseled red velvet throw that looked to have been tailor made to fit. Hanging from the oversized add-on mirror were more tassels and on the instrument panel was a cutout picture of some unrecognizable Indian god. “You should have ended your class at 4:00 PM,” Aruind said in his Indio-British accent, “You will miss the most beautiful sunset anywhere in Fiji.”
As we drove out of town I leaned out of the car window to take pictures of “typical” Fijian houses. The typical house, at least on the road between Suva and Nadi, is a single floor wooden structure built on stilts about two feet high with corrugated steel for the roof and both interior and exterior walls. This is common even way up on the hills of Suva. I imagine that his improves air circulation and in low-lying areas helps prevent flooding. There is no need for insulation just protection from wind and rain. There was a time when only Indians lived in these tin sheds but the practically and durability of these structures over the wood and thatch construction of the more typical Fijian house has lead to their adoption by the more urban Fijian population.
A mile or so out of town Aruind turned and asked, “Do you smoke?”
“No,” I answered, “I used to but quit, go ahead if you like.”
Aruind then asked, “You’re an American, right? You know Jamaica?”
“Yes,” I answered cautiously. I wasn’t sure where this was going.
“I can tell from your eyes you know what I’m talking about,” he continued, “Mind if I smoke a spliff?”
“Go ahead,” I answered.
From there the ride got more interesting as Aruind became more animated.
The national speed limit in Fiji is 80 kn/hr or about 50 miles per hour and most cars and trucks can only speed on a downhill slope. Aruind wasn’t the only cab heading back to Nadi and we played leapfrog with his friends for nearly an hour before loosing them in the dark. At one point we ran into a police checkpoint. We stopped while the police looked all over the vehicle and checked Aruind’s drivers license. It was a completely perfunctory roadblock. Aruind and the policemen kept up a banal chatter about sports, the weather and who knows what else while they went through their ritual. After we were waived through, Aruind explained, “No one in Fiji has much respect for the Police so they have to show themselves to the public every once in a while.” “Are you impressed now,” he asked with a wink as he pulled out another joint.
“I hear it grows wild here in Fiji,” I said.
“Nah, maybe in the mountains but drive up any road here and you will find it in everyone’s back yard,” Aruind said.
I sat back, enjoying the darkening view and the air rushing past my face. Everyone drives with the windows open even at 50 miles per hour. It’s too hot to drive with the windows up and to cool to turn on the air-conditioner if you have one. I was slowly falling into that mesmerized state we fall into when presented with endless scenery. When my children were young and restless I could easily put them to sleep by getting in the car and going for a “mystery trip.” This was becoming my mystery trip. Aruind suddenly swerved off the road and stopped.