From the Crowd: On the road again

Students use their subsidised e-Transport bus cards. Picture FT FILE/ELIKI NUKUTABU

There is little more likely to rouse general excitement down in our niche in darkest Flagstaff than the rattle of car keys.

Or even the jingle of change for a bus fare (or perhaps the clack of etransport cards?).

Travel is in our blood, it seems.

In a number of cultures there are folk tales that have djinns, little people and good fairies who traditionally bless newborn princesses (and I suppose princes) with good wishes and special talents.

In my time, they must have waved their starry wands to give new babes in our family the urge for and enjoyment of travel.

Most of us got a face-full of fairy dust, it seems, which has kept us on the move for generations.

Except during the initial COVID outbreak, which we found particularly trying with our wings clipped, although grateful for regulations and restrictions that kept us alive.

Small island countries don’t have a huge range of travel destination options unless you have a luxury yacht.

But we still happily settle for the ferry to Savusavu or a boat that gets you as far as Beqa.

It’s going somewhere different that is the thrill.

So we were all quite prepared to rise at an early hour to hit the road to the west last Saturday.

We knew that no matter how often we travel the route, there was always something new and different to see.

We made our traditional stop to get breakfast curry and roti parcels at the service station on the way out of the city and were soon bumping happily over the traffic humps past Lami.

Motorists are used to such hazards from when we had more potholes than road and other obstructions.

As is our experience, the weeks preceding an election are always excellent for getting roads and bridges mended.

All I can say is that last week the work was in full force.

Every few kilometres there would be yet another gang of road menders sticking up their red stop signs just two cars in front.

We would wait graciously, except for the silly in the back of the queue who beeped his horn.

Did he think we were taking in the view of the roadmenders tent and the truck that brings the tar?

Finally we would have eaten through our roti snacks and started to move again.

Time to move on to the bag of apples and sliced oranges.

Through Deuba where we would point out to the children the lovely beaches we went to during the past 45 years, when their parents were little children like they are now.

They couldn’t actually see so much of the beach anymore because of all those walls and blocked access.

We still told them the stories about how we got the car stuck in the tide and got a local football team training on the beach to help us out.

On we went, past the usual police watch spots, more roadworks and some new developments for selling quick meals and snacks and cold drinks and even new supermarkets. Many of these were Grace Road businesses.

The organisation began life in Fiji as a Korean church whose leader was later sentenced to prison.

The outfit apparently draws on Korean resources.

Some other little fast food operations, between COVID restrictions and effects on business, have given up and shut up shop.

I miss the boiled eggs and sausages we used to get on the way out of Sigatoka.

I have to say the Grace Road operations are hygienic — good for the urgently necessary pit stops for the senior traveller’s bladder — and serve good food, even if there is a lot of other baggage that is hard to swallow.

Another stop that has become a tradition for our merry band of travellers is run by a large Fiji company, but has a lovely local vibe to it.

It is a souvenir stop that now has an outdoor café that serves good local fruit drinks, a decent cup of coffee and quite reasonable food – and a wellloved, elderly and now refurbished pretend shark’s head for kids’ photos.

We and I suspect many other families have stopped there over many years, particularly with small children, to make use of the clean toilet facilities (a clear theme here).

Plus they are super friendly and cheerfully put up with a lot from our mob.

During the corn season at the roadside pots produce hot sila, take your pick from the many vendors along that strip.

If you’re feeling adventurous, then hold out for Pranil’s Hot & Spicy Corn, doing innovative things with the humble cob, along the Sigatoka-Nadi stretch of road.

The road gangs were becoming fewer, with the roads already in good repair, when we came to the turn-off to Natadola, our destination.

The glass room at the top of the mandir on the corner still had its Hanuman, the warrior monkey god with his tail curled up bravely.

During an earlier era, those of us who struggled for democracy and threw our all into the process of free and fair elections, were travelling parts of the countryside to support political candidates.

This one night many decades ago we were perched on bags of peanuts on a farmhouse porch.

Hanuman became the topic of a heated debate about the length of his tail, which he had used to set fire to the palace of the wicked king of what is now Sri Lanka.

The disputing factions, unable to meet in the middle, turned to a quiet but authoritative figure in the corner.

“Ha,” said the elderly wise man amongst us.

“It was not short. It was quite long.

But not as long as many people thought it was.”

Murmurs of general agreement and satisfaction rumbled around all factions in the crowd.

If only political debate and electioneering could be as intelligent and satisfying this time round.

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