November 16, 2013

Suva - the smelly capital

I’ll admit Suva is only the second capital city I have been to so I don’t have much to compare it to but I found it to be hot, smelly and noisy.

As you approach Suva by Queens’ Road the first thing you see is the cemetery. Fijians decorate newly filled graves with bright material and painted rocks which give a feeling of the depth of love and respect they have for the deceased. Older graves are mostly concrete cairns.

The first building of significance is the Suva prison which looks like a prison straight out of the movies, complete with high concrete fence, barbed wire and old dilapidated concrete buildings with watch towers. Ironically Vodafone is advertised at each end of the high concrete fence; maybe prisoners get special phone deals?

As you approach the centre of the city the noise and smell amplify. There is the port on the right, a hive of activity, industry and pungent with the odour of fish. The city centre has many shops and markets most of which are dark and dank but there are a few streets with chain stores and bright window displays. You can buy all the cheap Asian goods that are proliferating in NZ, they add their own toxic plastic odour which seeps out onto the street. There are security guards at most shops, permeating a feeling of distrust and ill ease.

We went down to the waterfront in search of souvenirs and located the market which consists of a building with cage like stalls that sell the same wares, each one replete with a very persuasive salesman inside. I always have trouble getting what I want from those sorts of places without feeling hustled.

We walked on to the ‘Peaceful Garden’ which has some lovely old trees, a non functioning water fountain and ramshackle unkempt garden areas. It looks like the British have been and gone (which is more or less true). Inside the garden is the Suva museum which is absolutely tragic. I have never seen a more pathetic museum. There are a few exhibits spread throughout several rooms in a dilapidated building. The only room that’s air conditioned is the museum store. At a cost of $7 per person I had hoped for something a bit more up-to-date and informative. I guess it’s not high on Mr Bainimarama’s to-do list.

Next to the Museum is the President’s residence (which can only be seen from a distance). It looks to be in far better repair than the museum and has two guards at its gate; one lucky fellow gets to stand out in the sun in full uniform including gloves; expressionless much like a beefeater.

Part of the noise and smell issue is the fact that there is only one main road so all the industrial traffic goes straight through the city centre. There are a couple of nice walkways that have been recently upgraded, giving a glimpse of what the city could look like with a bit of a face lift.

In contrast to the friendliness of the Fijian villages, the people of Suva seem indifferent at best and often quite surly. It is understandable; Suva is an assault on all the senses.

My advice to anyone planning a trip to Fiji, avoid Suva if you can!

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