Driving the Danger Zone. The Authors Collection.
February 12, 2014
A couple of years ago, my wife and I visited Fiji. It is a beautiful place, and the people are truly special. Fiji was once under the control of England (ending in 1970), so the official language is English. But naturally, the Fijian people had their own language long before the English arrived, a very musical one. It almost sounds like they are singing when they are speaking.
We flew into Viti Levu, the largest island in the Fiji archipelago. Lying about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand, is it a bit smaller than Connecticut, perhaps 85 miles long and 60 miles wide. It has rainforests, coconut plantations and a mountain over 4,000 feet high.
We immediately headed for the non-tourist part of the island. We found large sugar cane fields and tiny, narrow-gauge trains which carried the canes to a processing plant. The flat-bed cars on which the canes were stacked were about one foot off the ground. The engine was perhaps five feet high.
Most of the people in this area live in small villages. Visitors are not welcome without an invitation by a member of the village. We managed an invitation. As we entered, we remembered we had not brought any Kava (an intoxicating drink made from pepper plant root) for the Chief. That was a breach of etiquette. But the woman who had invited us assured us it would be okay. “The Chief died yesterday. He won’t care.” We were welcomed into her home, visited with her family, and were given some of the food they ate.
We learned that the King’s Highway which traversed the north side of the island was under construction. Even buses, which provided most of the transportation (there were few private cars in this area), were not running because of the poor condition of the roads. But a call to a government office assured us that the road was passable.
The next morning we set off. To call the road a highway seemed ludicrous. At times, we had to wait for a backhoe to fill a hole or smooth out a place for us to drive. We crossed a wooden bridge high over a river. Consisting of little more than a few planks on a supporting structure, the ten foot wide bridge was under construction, and as we drove slowly across it, workers stood on the very edge, and reached in to shake our hands.
We had seen no public restrooms since leaving the hotel some hours ago. A small school nestled up to the road and we stopped and used its facilities. While there, we were treated to a display of native dancing by the students.
All along, people would come out onto the porches of their homes, sometimes far up the hillside, and call to us and wave. At one point, we had stopped to take some pictures and saw a woman waiting at a bus stop. We knew no busses would be coming, so we offered her a ride. She quickly accepted and we drove her to Suva, the capital of Fiji.
We had parked in town to have dinner when a man came up to us and asked where we had been. He said he had never seen a car so muddy. We told him where we had driven that day. “Oh my. That is a very dangerous area. I would never go there.” We found out he had been an ambassador to Fiji from New Zealand.
We thought about our delightful two days, the beautiful, unspoiled land, and the friendly Fijians. The man had missed a lot by avoiding the north side of the island. And we were glad we had not met him before we visited that beautiful part of the world.
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