Things has gone completely wrong while I was in Kiribati, and the immediate consequence was, that I only had less than a day in Fiji instead of 9. Even though I could not afford to risk missing the bi-monthly flight to Nauru the next day, I decided that I would still try to visit Navala, one of those places in Fiji I had looked forward to see. Since it was my birthday, I considered it a gift to myself. So, I rented an old Malaysian-made 4WD, and although the lady at the visitor information centre thought I was crazy and would get lost, drove off to Ba. The coastal King Road was easy enough to ride, and although I sometimes had to wait for a slow truck with sugar cane sticking out on both sides, Ba was quicky reached. Helpful Fijians pointed me to the right road to Navala, which in the end proved easy to find. The asphalt of the road soon finished, and I found myself navigating gravel, small and bigger stones, around potholes, but with just a little traffic, the road was quite easy. The views, at the same time, were tremendous. After having spent several weeks on the confined space of flat islets of atolls, it was a delight to see lush green mountains, to get views into valleys the higher I got, to see trees, small rivers, a curving road, and space. When I reached a point from where I saw a sizable village with thatched-roof houses, I knew I was close to Navala.
After installing myself in the extremely good care of a lodge just outside the village, the knowledgeable son and I walked back to Navala. Below us, a good view of the river Ba meandering through the landscape. Once in the village, my guide told me about the history of Navala, how thousands of years ago, in turbulent times of warfare, his ancestors had lived in a cave in a steep cliff we could see on the other side of the valley, in which there was a water source, and protection against invaders. Once times had become more peaceful, people had started to live in houses, and Navala had moved several times until reaching its current, and probably final, location. After seeing modern school buildings and the church, I was of course mostly curious about the thatched-roof houses, or bure, for which Navala is famous. Even though the bure are big, there is always a separate, smaller bure for cooking and eating, and an even smaller one, a bure lailai, as a bathroom. We reached the first bures, and walked around them.
The layout of Navala is spacious, and the bure are built alongside wide avenues of grass. They are an impressive sight: both tall and broad, with a wooden lintel sticking out at the top - birds like to use these to sit on, or build a nest under. Every bure is a completely separate unit, built on a platform protected by stones. Earth is used to level it; on the earth, straw and hand-woven pandanus mats are laid. We entered one of the bure, allowing me to see how the sturdy houses are made. Wooden poles hold the thatched roof in place, while thick tree trunks are at the lower level to anchor the house. Sometimes, a large wooden pole in the middle supports the roof. We cruised the village of Navala, consisting of neat rows of bure, with splendid views of the green mountains in the background. The sun was setting, and cast its warm rays on the bamboo walls; only some houses have thatched walls. The villagers made me feel welcome to their home town, and it felt like a special birthday to me. Dinner was copious, and preceded by a traditional kava session. Instead of leaving early the next day, my host was adamant I climb a hill for a good morning view of Navala, which indeed was worth the short climb. It was only while driving down the road and hearing the stones hit the car on all sides, that I started to wonder if I had done well - one puncture, one problem with the old car, and I would certainly miss my flight. But luck had returned to me, and I even had some time left to buy myself a bag of mangoes on my way to the airport, and to new adventures.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Navala (Fiji). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Navala. Read more about this site.