I have found that taking the bus has become one of my favorite pastimes these days. This wasn’t always the case; I remember when I first came to Fiji, taking the bus was the dreaded start to my work day. Most of the time I would be crammed into a seat beside someone who had no concept of personal space, smelled like they hadn’t showered in days, and deodorant….what is that? On top of all that the music they play is BLARED on the speakers and the driver stops every 50 feet to pick someone up or drop someone off. Honestly, there is a bus stop for a reason, right?! A trip that should have taken 10 minutes would take 30.
Now it seems as though these last 20 months in Fiji has mellowed me out. I now go out of my way to take the bus. I LOVE it. Sometimes, when I’m bored, I’ll go to the bus stand and take any random bus just to see where it will take me. I love sitting in the back and people watching, or striking up a conversation with the stranger beside me. It’s a great way to see the city and drink in the scenery, sometimes it’s the beach and the sea wall we drive by and sometimes it’s the slums in the poorest part of Suva. I know the words to all the songs and there is ALWAYS room to fit one or two more people who need to be picked up. What’s the rush, really? My office will still be there 30-45 minutes from now.
Open air buses are my favorite. These buses are probably outlawed in America because some idiot fell out while the bus was moving and liability became too great. Not so here in Fiji, there are no windows, it’s just open, and a plastic flap comes down when it rains. You get the breeze in your hair and you can smell the salt from the sea, the smoke from firewood in the kitchens, the fishy smell from the wharf…..or the exhaust from the bus in front of you.
There are also greyhound-like buses here. These are the buses that take you from one side of the island to the other. They are big, seat something like 60 people, windows don’t open, it’s air-conditioned, and sometimes they play a movie or WWF RAW. It only makes stops at designated places and its ALWAYS on time.
Another favorite type of transport here is the minivan. This is just a van that seats up to 15 people (crammed in there). The interior is straight out the 70’s. Seats are covered in plastic and there is shag carpeting on the walls and ceiling. It is faster than taking the bus, but it is also much more dangerous.They tend to catch on fire alot. They don’t run on a schedule, you just find a van that is going where you are, and wait around for it to fill up. I have waited up to 45 minutes for a van to fill up. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it’s not.
The other day I made an observation during one of my people watching expeditions. The kai vulagi (white skinned people) who take the bus always need to be entertained. They always have ear phones in, are texting on their phones, or reading a book or magazine, always wearing sunglasses and look completely unapproachable. Whereas, Fijians are perfectly content with sitting back and staring out the window, or talking to their neighbors. I used to be guilty of needing to be constantly entertained on the bus. On 5-6 hours bus rides to the other side of the island I would make sure my ipod was fully charged, had a magazine or two, and a book to read……just so, heaven forbid I wouldn’t get bored. I don’t know what’s changed, but now I can sit down and get completely lost in my own thoughts for 5 hours, no problem. No earphones, no book, nothing to do but look out the window and reflect on life. Most of the time, once I reach my destination I feel a little bit of regret that the trip is over.
Funny how attitude and patience levels can change in 20 months.