Kava!

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
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87
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Trip End Oct 01, 2006


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Flag of Fiji  ,
Thursday, September 28, 2006

Well, it has been a while, I am back to the exact same home that I left, so I will have to retell fiji from memory. .
Fiji is a bit like a low-budget Tahiti. . After making the short hop from Aukland, One lands to a band playing traditional music, or at least the airline's collective vision of what "traditional" music should be. I'm quite sure that the musicians play the same song for every arrival, a job that would drive most crazy, but still somehow they manage to smile and shout Bula! at you everywhere. .
"Bula" is sort of an all-purpose greeting, I suppose, akin to the south Indian "head wobble." From what I can discern, the closest thing we would have is the english habit of saying "cheers" in place of "hello," "goodbye,' "thank you," and of course "cheers." The only thing we have to cheers is. . .well, cheers itself. Bula.
Finding an ATM to check whether I was to sleep on the beach that night was easy enough, yet one needs to be wary, there are ladies on the prowl, agents from the dark underworld of travel agency intrigue, swarming and circling to try to book you into a hostel that is more expensive than it is worth. No-one seems to want to tell you how to catch the city bus to Nadi (pronounced Nandi, for some inapparent reason), and after a few minutes of grilling the tout ladies and a quick smoke outside, I actually walked into one of the numerous offices upstairs to try my luck.
Of course she showed me brochures for the more expensive places, but I told her firmly: "just give me the cheapest you have, I don't care about bedbugs. . "
For about 8 bucks a night I was in a free taxi on my way to the "Travelers cove beach resort." In my case this should have been called "travelers last resort. ."
Checking into my reasonably clean 4 bed dorm, I inadvertently awakened an Irish fellow, sleeping off his hangover from the night before on the bed diagonally across, a half-drank bottle of smirnoff by the bed. Striking up a conversation, it was decided that we would go out and take care of priority one, beer, after a short nap. It being about 2 in the afternoon I was a bit tired with the dull exhaustion that seems to lurk around the edges of one's psyche after even a short flight. Besides, the man knew a couple of girls in another room who were game for a few drinks, and perhaps some guitar playing in the night.
Fiji's geto beer is fiji bitter, cheap and good, but hard to keep cold in the humidity of the island. The labels are so crude they look as if someone who has been pilfering a little too much of the product painted them. There is also Fiji gold, slightly more expensive, and, in my humble opinion, none the better, or perhaps I should say, none the "bitter." The beers being 4 fiji dollars at the traveler's cove restaurant, about 85 cents looked good to two men on a budget.
Of course the restaurant and adjoining shop feels as though they have you over a barrel, Nadi being some couple of miles away and most of the guests fresh off the plane and having no idea of what actual cost is. Such is true also of taxi drivers. Our little foursome headed out towards town and the taxis stopped offering rides for 10 dollars and more. Eventually we found one for 4, and off we went as it began to piss a little rain from the ever-darkening sky. .
By the time we reached town, it became a full-fledged downpour, and we were obliged to stand under the dubious shelter of an overhang, hawkers from the adjacent shops urging us to "come in, just look." We did not do so, as the pressure to buy comes in the form of semi-superficial friendliness and kava, the local drink, rumored to have narcotic qualities.
The fijiian shopkeepers are so nice to you, it is hard to turn them down, but just watch all the amiability fade from their faces as you head toward the door without buying.
Being the only one with enough foresight to bring an umbrella, albeit a small one, I found myself hunched under it with three others as we sloshed through ankle-deep puddles to the supermarket, where vodka, beer, and some food supplies were purchased. Coming out of the market one finds out the hard way that when it is raining, the ride back to the little backpacker enclave on the back side of the airport is twice as much, and that is only after a little bargaining. On arrival back at the Travelers last resort the girls were tired, and so my irish friend and I laid into the bottles, promising to meet with them for dinner in the outdoor bar later.
Had I not bought my own food from the overpriced supermarket, I would have been broke after a night in that place. The food was passable at best, and I satisfied myself with a small inexpensive appetizer as the others spent 15 bucks for their meager portioned "entrees. . " The bartender, a sour-faced Indian fellow (there is a large population of "fijian indians" here, third- and fourth-generation, brought by the English to work and speaking a strange dialect of Hindi), looked on at us with disapproval as our drinks kept seeming to magically refill. From hidden bottles we skirted the costly bar. .
Eventually our waitress, a sweet fijian native, figured out what we were up to and quietly (so as not to attract the attention of the perpetually scowling bartender) urged us to bring our little party to the "beach."
The "beach," if it deserves the title is a stretch of dirty sand-like material, slightly littered with rubbish, bounding the algal stew that is Nadi Bay. The kind of place you expect to see the creature from the black lagoon poking his head up to see who is drinking their own beer at the bar. .
The guitar came out, and I must have been having an off night, for, as my scratchy voice sounded well enough, and everyone knew the lyrics, the girls dropped off one and one, citing tiredness. .
A bottle of vodka and numerous beers later we two men found ourselves in a full-fledged Kava session with a huge fijian man, the bouncer (is such is ever needed there) of the Last resort, and his friend, a fijian indian man of somewhat more pleasant disposition than our bartender, who had by now closed up for the night.
Kava comes ground into a fine powder, and the infusion process consists of pouring the powder into a cloth bag, soaking it in a large bowl of cold water, and gently squeezing it in such a way as not to get too much of the raw material into the "tea." Not having one of the expensive traditional kava bowls to imbibe the bitter brew from, we settled for a large plastic article, though we did manage to scrounge up a coconut shell as a communal vessel.
As for the drinking of the stuff, there is a tradition in which all present clap with cupped palms three times, say a few words pronouncable only in a highly intoxicated state, the drinker exclaiming "Bula!" and tossing back the cup of kava, the rest clapping again three times to indicate that the cup must be filled and passed on. This goes on until all who are sitting around the bowl have had a drink, and, tradition has it that before another goes around, there must be a story, some conversation, a song, or a joke.
Being a bit of a jokester myself, this was no problem. In fact, amazingly enough, my three companions actually got the jokes and guffawed with laughter, perhaps as a result of the imperceptible and legendary narcotic effect of the kava.
One apparently needs to drink about 5 gallons of kava to get said effect, but though we finished off about 8 gallons apiece, I felt tired more than anything else, and drifted off to bed about 4 in the morning. Nodding off at the table might be considered impolite, and besides, that is the realm of senior citizens who have had too much wine and turkey at thanksgiving dinner.
Something must have worked with the kava, though, as in the morning I awoke with no hangover whatsoever, having experienced a wonderful and rare deep and satisfying sleep. .
Such is a day in the life of the Solo Traveler, on an island that is not home to cannibals--anymore, that is. . .
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