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EATING & DRINKING

Clubbing in Lautoka

By thirsty hack Ignatius Rake

Posted March 08, 2012
lautoka
Sugar City: Not known for its sweet nightlife. © Ignatius Rake

The popular image of Fiji is one of white beaches fringed by palm trees. For some reason, it doesn't seem to stretch to clubbing in Lautoka.


With a population of around 50,000, Lautoka, while not quite on a par with Tokyo, Plymouth or Seoul, is nonetheless the second largest 'city' in the South Pacific after the Fijian capital of Suva.

A predominantly Indo-Fijian town1 commonly known as Sugar City, it is home to the FSC Lautoka Mill, arguably the largest sugar refinery in the Southern Hemisphere; a bulk cargo port; Fiji's largest market; and not one single beach.

As such, it's not the sort of place most emmets, with their unfathomable thirst for sand and sea, bother to visit unless they misread a map or need to get a boat somewhere.

They certainly don't hang around for the nightlife, which, as this particular hack soon discovered, less resembles Mixmag than it does Combat & Survival.


LOCAL INT
Despite its relative size, Lautoka is not exactly awash with drinking holes.

Indeed, the bar in my hotel, the Tanoa Waterfront on Marine Drive, accounted for precisely 50% of the town's complement of pubs.

The remaining 50% was to be found on the other side of Shirley Park in the form of the Lautoka Hotel's Seaview Restaurant and Pizza Inn, which while I was there called time at 10pm.

There were, however, four night clubs2 to choose from: Leon, Zone, Ashiqi and Hunters, the latter two, like the Seaview, to be found in the said Lautoka Hotel.

As I had gleaned from a number of very credible sources that these clubs could be a tad unwelcoming to say the least, I thought it prudent to gather some first-hand int before dusting off the medallion.

After all, while I hadn't come all this way just to sit at the bar in my hotel, neither had I flown in to be measured up for a body bag.

Therefore, between swigs of locally brewed Vonu Pure Lager in the Waterfront, I broached the subject of clubbing with Ben the barman.

An incredibly sound Melanesian who was soon to prove himself more than worthy of a mention in despatches, he assured me that I, as a lone honky, or kaivalagi3, would encounter no major problems shaking my booty to The Funky Chicken in one or any of the four local clubs.

"I was told they were quite dangerous," I said, no doubt sounding like a right wee jessie.

"They used to be but those were the old days," he replied. "Now the police are very mobile and can be there very quickly if there's any trouble."

Not thoroughly convinced by his words, I had moved on to the slightly cheaper but equally pleasant Fiji Premium4 when three men walked in and approached the bar.

Two were Swiss of about 50 while the third, in his late thirties, was from a town near Basel "on the French side".

As with nearly all the kaivalagi I was to encounter during my stay in Lautoka, they were in town not for pleasure but for work.

Not what you'd call shrinking violets, all three were "in construction" and had spent years working and drinking in "shitholes around the world" before being sent to do a job in Lautoka.

"The night clubs here are rough," said one of the two Swiss.

"The thing to do is buy a security guard a drink. Then you've got a friend if things get nasty," he continued.

"Just don't go to Hunters."

When it came time for me to put up or shut up, Ben recommended I check out Zone.

"You'll be fine," he said, adding casually: "Don't take anything with you you don't want to lose."

"How do you mean?" I asked.

"Don't take your passport or your wallet. Just take 50 [Fijian] dollars [about £18 at the time] so if you get robbed it's just 50 dollars. The most trouble you'll get is from girls."

"The sort that want money?"

"Yeah, that sort," he laughed. "If people see a white guy [in a night club], they think they're rich."

And in a country where the average adult earns less than £22 a week5, why shouldn't they think that?


zone
So that's where I parked it! Zone by day. © Ignatius Rake


A WALK IN THE PARK
When I had last stood on Marine Drive, I had gazed upon an azure sea stretching out beyond a moored yacht to a palm-covered island, the tropical heat eased by a slight breeze and a few spots of rain.

Now my pockets were empty.

Shirley Park was dark and foreboding, unlit save for a sodium gloom and the twinkling of unfamiliar stars.

Slipping onto Tulsi Street, an ominous pounding filled my ears: the sound of drums rumbling down the rise from Hunters.

A good place for a machine gun post, the club boasted an arc of fire controlling the entrance to Naviti Street and ergo my approach to Zone.

Like a Banksy rat, I kept close to the shadows as I approached the rowdy crowd of Hunters' sentries that had spilled out onto the surrounding pavements.

However, my primarily white Cotton Oxford shirt, while highly adept at soaking up the sweat, quickly proved to be somewhat pants in the camouflage stakes.

Rounding the corner onto Naviti Street, I roused the interest of a handful of loiterers cut adrift from the main pack.

With nothing better to do, they eyed my every move like wolves leering at a limping lamb until I'd crossed Nede Street, whereupon Zone's two-storey edifice lurched into view.

By day it had been just an inconsequential nothing.

Now it imbued all the Gothic horror of Castle Dracula itself.

Apprehension rose to a crescendo.

What lay behind that rapidly approaching door?

What insults, what beatings, what life-threatening injuries awaited me inside?

None.

It was shut.

"Bollocks," I cursed, rattling the padlock as the power of the night shrivelled before me.

After all that build-up I needed a pint.

So I turned on my toes and strode off back to the Waterfront, the loiterers now looking very much like people waiting for a taxi.

"Hey, didn't you go to Zone?" Ben asked when I pushed open the door of the otherwise empty bar.

"I did," I said. "It was closed."

"Closed? But it's Wednesday. It should be open."

He placed a glistening bottle of Vonu before me and summoned his colleague Misi.

A conversation in Fijian ensued.

Then Ben turned back to me.

"We'll close up here and then we'll all go to Leon," he said.

The guy was a dude.


the dress code at hunters
Hunters: No shoes, no booze. © Ignatius Rake


HIERONYMUS BOSCH MEETS R'N'B
A few minutes later I was again heading up Naviti Street but this time in the back of a taxi bound for Leon, a first-floor Hindi music joint on the corner with Yasawa Street.

However, much to Ben and Misi's further disbelief, Leon too was locked and lifeless, so we piled back into the cab and hung a couple of rights onto Vitogo Parade.

Here we followed the narrow-gauge cane track past Churchill Park until after another right it was once more time to alight.

In this sham era of meaningless celebrity, many a would-be fool dreams of turning heads outside a nightclub.

It's actually overrated.

Hunters was heaving.

During the day, I'd been spontaneously greeted with "Bula", the Fijian for 'hello'6, by passing Melanesians and Indo-Fijians alike.

Now all I got were growls, glares and stares, the punters (about 99.9% Melanesian) all stopping to size up the fresh meat as we snaked through their ranks to the bar.

From behind a metal grill frantic bar staff passed out Fiji Bitter 10 bottles at a time through a hole the size of a cat flap, but still the baying crowd clamoured for more.

On the dance floor, women in skin-tight threads writhed before behemoths with biceps bigger than my head.

Menace loomed large from every corner, the air a fug of booze, smoke and latent aggression.

It was a hellscape from the mind of Hieronymus Bosch set to a dirge of R'n'B sludge.

Other than that, it was fine.

Every now and then a huge great bruiser or a scrawny hooker would demand to know who the kaivalagi was but at no point did I dodd.

That said, Hunters was no picnic, with the hassle factor upping a major notch when the lights came on at 1am.

Certainly, this was no place to go ballooning about.

Quite clearly it could have all turned sour at the drop of a queef, yet still I willingly returned the following night.

This time I was accompanied by a Dutch doctor, his girlfriend and a gigantic Cook Islander who, in addition to being a former body guard, was also an incredibly nice chap, especially for a convicted murderer.

"I killed my brother-in-law," he explained matter-of-factly.

"Why?" I asked.

"He was pissing me off."

I couldn't really argue with that so I bought him a beer and made a mental note not to follow suit.

After all, while I don't advocate murder, when you're clubbing in Lautoka it can be handy to have a mate who does.


Footnotes

1) While about 30% of its inhabitants are indigenous Melanesians, the remainder are Indo-Fijians, descendants of Indian contract labourers shipped in on the back of spurious promises to work the surrounding sugar fields during the height of the British Empire.

2) Discos, not brothels or strip clubs as is the meaning of 'night club' in Poland and some other countries.

3) Literally the word means 'people from far away lands' but typically it refers to whites.

4) There were four locally brewed beers at the time, all with an alcohol content of 4.6%. In descending order of price but in ascending order of age on the market, they were: Vonu; Fiji Premium; Fiji Gold; and Fiji Bitter, "the Sportsman's Beer". While Vonu was produced by the independent Island Brewing Company, the others were all produced locally by Carlton United Brewers (CUB), Australia’s largest brewer and part of the now SABMiller-owned Foster's Group. All were pretty decent lagers.

5) The official figure is FJD 59.51, according to Fiji Facts and Figures as at 1st July 2010 published by the Fiji Islands Bureau of Statistics and available as a PDF here.

6) As well as 'cheers', 'good', 'life' and gesundheit.




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