I am writing this post as I feel compelled to describe the unique experience of riding the Fijian bus service. It is quirky and symptomatic of the relaxed culture you find in the South Pacific. ‘Fiji time’ is an expression bandied around a great deal to describe the laid back islander attitude that things will be done in their own sweet time.
Surprisingly enough, considering the laid back attitude of the Fijian people who never seem in a great hurry or hassled by time constraints, the bus service actually runs pretty much to a timetable.
There appear to be bus pick up locations, not that you would know it, as there are no luxuries like we have in Australia- either bus shelters providing protection against the glaring sun or pouring rain, or seats to wait on, or even a bus stop marker, but you often see a few people who have gathered under the shade of a nearby tree.
As the bus rattles into view along the dusty road, there is none of that checking whether this is the right number bus for your destination- there is generally only one bus heading in the one direction that you anticipate will drop you near where you want to go.
I say anticipate, as I have taken the same bus at the same time and traveled several alternate routes!
The other day, we headed off in the opposite direction to our destination of the township of Lautoka and whilst I was not especially deterred by this, we then passed by the dirt side road we had taken on a previous occasion that wends it way past a local village and school before joining the main route back to Lautoka. This time, we continued up the coast road a few kilometers, through a village and turned onto a dirt track leading to a private home on the hillside, where the bus driver came to a halt and waited.
For what? Frank & I looked around the full bus and most of the Fijian and Indian passengers were gazing happily out the window or chatting animatedly between themselves. I caught the eye of a nearby lady and my face obviously expressed my confusion. She merely shrugged her shoulders and smiled, so I smiled back and told Frank that we were probably ahead of schedule so the driver was killing time!
A few minutes later, we reversed down the track and headed back the way we had come and then rejoined the dirt side road I mentioned before. Who knows what that was all about, but the occupants of the bus seemed content to sit patiently and be driven to their destination, no matter how long it took!
But that was nothing compared to the two rowdy Fijian girls who boarded the bus and then asked the driver to pull up by the side of the road a short while later where upon one of the girls ran across to a home on the other side of the road. Whilst we all sat there, a shouting match began between the indignant young girl and a male who appeared from inside the house. We couldn’t understand what she was saying but hurling some last insults and abuse, she fled from the home and ran back to the bus, laughing with satisfaction at having obviously said her piece, boarded the bus and we continued along our route.
Another male friend boarded the bus at the next stop, and the two girls shrieked with delight & made room for him between them on the seat, so they could excitedly tell him all about the incident he had just missed. One being rather a buxom girl, this meant cramming three people onto the narrow bench so the gap between the 2 seats on either side of the bus was reduced to a few inches, but all the ensuing passengers didn’t seem to mind squeezing and pushing past. Their mate got off the bus a few stops later and within a few minutes the two girls started to nod off to sleep, leaning over in precarious positions, till their heads were drooped in their laps. It had obviously been a long sleepless night!
As the bus bounced along the pot holed road towards town, it appears to me that bus drivers must develop a refined skill ascertaining which of the groups standing by the roadside are simply chatting and which are waiting for the bus.
Sometimes, a family gathered on the opposite side of the road must have sent an obscure signal (‘cos I sure as hell didn’t see anything), as the driver would draw to a stop and flick a hand out to the waiting group. They would continue chatting, and I felt sure he had made a mistake and stopped unnecessarily. However, after a good minute or two, the group would finish their conversation, pick up their bundles and slowly stroll across to board the bus in their own sweet time.
Having waited whilst the bus picked up this raggle taggle group, the driver will jerk through the old gears to build up speed, only to pull to a stop less than 100 meters further along the road where another group are assembled. For the life of me, I can’t understand why they don’t merge into one group to save this continuous stopping. They don’t and everyone seems quite happy with this arrangement, so who am I to criticize?
The front seats appear to be the most popular- often, a new passenger will plonk themselves into a barely discernible space besides someone else and then bundle in a gaggle of tiny children beside them. They inevitably turn around to stare at us ‘ ‘ (White people) and my blue hair is always a guaranteed topic for whispering among themselves and shy smiles as they stare.
I almost got rid of the blue streak last year as it requires regular re blue-ing every few weeks, but I am so glad my friends all encouraged me to keep my distinguishing trademark for the past 10 years or so. There is not one day that goes past that I don’t receive several positive comments made by passers by, and when Frank and I arrive at a new island or in a village it is always a topic of discussion and a sure fire ice breaker.
With such fascinating observations to be made on the Fiji bus service, who would want the boredom and expense of taking an air conditioned taxi for 10 times the price. I love observing the customs and culture of a place first hand and it is experiences like these that make our time here so special.