Saturday, January 9, 2010

12 minute flight = 12 hour adventure

It is not often you get to begin a flight by taking a picture with the pilots! But this if Fiji and pretty much anything goes!
Yesterday Paul and I finished up our training with the Priesthood leaders of the Nausori Stake. The last group for us to meet with live on an outer island called Ovalau in the town of Levuka. We had two options of travel to get there: 1- drive an hour to the departure harbor, get on board a boat and sail the open sea for about an hour and a half or
2- take a 12 minute flight on an 8 passenger plane. As you can see, we choose the quicker option.

This flight carries the daily newspaper so it is a much anticipated arrival for the locals. Once again this is one of those self-esteem crushing experiences where you have to be weighed in and then assigned your seat as to your weight.

There were only we 3 passengers: us and the Nausori Stake President, President Tagidunu so we were seated in the middle of the plane. However, Paul and I boarded from one side of the plane and Pres. Tagidunu boarded on the other side. There were 4 rows of double wide seats accommadating two passengers each and surprisingly they were quite comfortable though very tight quarters!

Here is our view from our row. There was an empty row between us and the pilots. It was fascinating to watch them flipping buttons and turning switches. We have come to really appreciate and highly value skilled and qualified pilots!

One of the best parts of the flight is that the plane does not get too high up in the sky so the view out the window is very entertaining. On the ground we travel along mostly just main roads and wonder where the side roads go. We get to see exactly where those side roads take off too and we are amazed at the beautiful landscape below. We didn't realize there are so many plantations (farms).

I have to tell you, this country looks a lot more organized from the sky than from the ground! Even the homes and the neighborhoods and the villages look a lot nicer than as we drive by in our car. I probably look lots better from a far distance too!

OK, 12 minutes (77 miles) after take off we (and the pilots) spotted the runway and landed faster than a speeding bullet! These little planes don't waste any time getting out of the sky. They just drop down, push on the brakes and switch off the propellers and it's over!

Welcome to Bureta airport. (Coincidentally, we live on Bureta Street in Suva.) This is a very nice airport for such a remote area. There are about 3 flights a day coming and going to and from this island so it actually gets quite a bit of use. See the open gate in the middle of the picture. It has a sign above it that says "Arrival gate" and on the other side of that sign it says "Departure gate"... very helpful! They even have a small kitchen room where they will make you coffee (not us) or hot chocolate (in hot weather?) and today they even had a cake you could enjoy as your refreshment from your long journey.

I typically avoid using "the facilities" in most places but this looked like a decent location. I noticed that down under the sink there was a small water trough in case there was any water overflow from the sinks or the toilets. I happened to notice something out of the corner of my eye and when I took a closer look I realized I wasn't alone in there! Don't worry, I didn't disturb them. They just sat there and waited for me to get out of their territory.

It is always fun for us to see what the Church building looks like in all the various areas we travel to. This is quite a nice building. It is very old and was originally built for the European settlers who came to Levuka around the mid-1800's when Levuka was a thriving and bustling sailing and whaling town. It was the original capital city of Fiji back in those days because of it's convenience to sail into and out of the island. All of Fiji is surrounded with lots of reefs and boating is very tricky especially when it is low tide.

We had a wonderful training session with these dear men. From left to right is, President Tagidunu who traveled with us. Then there is the 1st councelor in the Branch Presidency, Bro. Volau. This dear man lives on the other side of the island and it takes him 5 hours to walk over to the Levuka side for Church or special meetings, like this one. There are transport options that he could take but it would cost him $5 each way and most of the time that is just too much so he will walk. He is also the Seminary teacher but I think he teaches Seminary on Sundays so he doesn't have to come back during the week. The man on the right is the Branch President, Pres. Musuka. He lives only about a 20 minute walk!! Seriously, when was the last time you (or I) walked anywhere? let alone to fulfil our Church callings. They don't get visits from off-islanders very often so they were very appreciative of our coming over.

After our training we were able to walk around town and see some of the original buildings from back in the days when the British came and took over Fiji (at their invitation). The Deed of Cession was signed on Oct. 10, 1874 and lasted until 1970 when Fiji became independent from Great Britian. This convent school was founded in 1862 and is still in use today.

Here is the original public school which was built in 1879 and is still in use today. Though right now it is summertime and school is out of session until Jan. 24th.

This fijian family was at the school property taking pictures for some reason so I decided to snap a shot of them myself. I especially loved the two young boys climbing up on the big mound of rocks. It is just what my grandsons would have done! Kids are kids no matter where you are in the world! So sweet and so full of mischief and energy!

Here is the Catholic church called the Church of the Sacred Heart. It was built back in the Colonial days about 1858 when the first Catholic missionaries arrived. It was built in 2 stages. First the white wooden structure in the back was built from local timber (there are pine forests in this country which so surprises me). Then the Clocktower in front was built some 40 years later and there is a blue light on the top of the tower so it also acts as a light house for sailors. After I got home I read that in a tourist book that there are some beautiful paintings depicting the life of Christ that are housed in this church. I usually always go into Catholic churches but I didn't this time. I will have to remember to do that on our next trip over.

Any of you readers that know me very well know that I am an avid quilter. I even gave in to my "wants and desires" last weekend and bought me a sewing machine! I came across this fabric shop in Levuka this weekend and enjoyed spending quite a while here just admiring all the bright, colorful, tropical patterned fabrics. Unfortuneatly, I didn't have enough time to make any purchases. Trying to decide which fabrics to purchase with 4 men waiting outside (impatiently) just wasn't the right environment for getting very creative. But it was a rejuvinating few minutes regardless.

Across the street from the fabric store was the only shade tree along main street and it was being well used. Lots of visiting and relaxing; even a small produce market had been set up.

Here seems to be the community swimming site which is actually a river that runs through the town and out to the sea which is just past the bridge. I could hear lots of laughing and squeals of delight coming from across the street so I went over to investigate and this is what I found. These kids were just having the best time. And as usual, when they see someone is taking their picture, it just ramps up the excitment another level. They all began to wave at me. This picture just doesn't do this event enough justice.

Now this group of young men were just hanging out for the afternoon and they noticed me walking around taking pictures and they didn't want to be left out of the fun so I asked if I could take a picture of them and they immediately sat up and "posed" in a very laidback way. After I snapped the picture, they all wanted to see what they looked like on my camera. You'll have to click on the picture to see their faces up closer. All the Fijian people are so kind and friendly. That is one of the biggest pluses of this country is how welcome and safe we feel anywhere we travel. Everyone you pass greets you with a friendly "bula" and a large smile. They have the most beautiful white teeth smiles shining out from their beautiful dark skin.

So here is Main Street, Levuka. It is actually named Beach Front Street which is quite ironic since there is no beach along this street. The sea is just off to the right but there is a 2-foot seawall that protects the street from the surf. All of these buildings are the original buildings from the 1800s and this area is considered a heritage site. If anyone wants to upgrade their building, it must go through the government and follow certain requirements to keep the feel and flavor of their history alive. So life hasn't changed much around here since the mid-1800s except that most of the Europeans have left the country and sailing and whaling is not much of a thriving industry anymore. But it is authentic and scenic.

See those guys in the white shirts, those are my chaperones... you know, my shopping buddies. The ones that stand outside the shops and "patiently" check their watches as they wait for me. Most of my shopping is just window shopping but that is very entertaining nevertheless!

There is a national company here in Fiji that is everywhere. It is called MH and it sells everything. They are kind of like Target or Walmart (only REALLY toned down -- think on a much more humble level). They do have a big mall in downtown Suva. Anyway, this is the original store. Now it is a museum and a library. It was closed on Saturday afternoon. Shot!

Here is a picture of the beach front on Beach Front Street. Not much beach but the water is clear and absolutely beautiful! You do NOT see water like this in Suva unfortunately so this was a delight and a treat.

This is what most of the "beach" areas look like when the tide goes out. Not very enticing but the locals don't seem to mind it.

Lots of people go out when the tide is low and find clams. The ocean is a staple of their lives. No one goes hungry here in Fiji especially if they live near the ocean. Anyone can go out anywhere and fish for prawns or fish or clams and feed themselves or sell them along the highway. The soil is wonderfully rich and things grow well and fast so most people here have small gardens and fruit trees nearby that they can provide for their own needs. And it seems like everything just grows non stop all year long. Some things have a season but most of the subsistance crops are year round.

We were very happy to finally have this view from the aircraft on our flight back to Suva! One thing we have learned to live with over here is that just because something is scheduled doesn't mean it will happen. This applies to everything from our training meetings to air travel flights.
We were scheduled to return to Suva on the 3:45 pm flight but when we got to the airport we were informed that there was a delay. The flight would not leave until 5:30pm. There is not much to do at the airport since it is a good 45 minute drive from town (yes, it takes longer to drive from the airport to Levuka than it does to fly from Suva to Levuka!), We just had to sit around and be patient. There were 5 passengers waiting for the departing flight and we were the only ones that didn't have connecting, International flights that were in jeopardy. I laid down on a hard wooden bench and took a much needed (very uncomfortable) 45 minute nap while Paul watched movies on his palm pilot and 2 french men played chess and the other canadian guy just sat there bored to death. At 5:30 we were informed it would be another hour before the plane would show up but they would guarantee us that we'd be able to leave before the final flight allowance time of 7pm. We were beginning to wonder if we should have brought our toothbrushes because it seemed like there was a good possibility that we could be spending the night but just before we all lost hope, here came an airplane to the rescue! It was from another airline but who cares! I guess our airline had some issues (not too much information was shared) so they just called their competitor airline and asked them to come and back us up! It was fine by us... whoever could get us home! So after waiting at the airport for 3 hours, we finally got back to Suva in 12 minutes!
We loved this adventure!