Monday, February 04, 2002

Part 2 - Fiji!

Bula from Fiji!

With it's famous surf breaks and Kava ceremonies Fuji was always on my list of places to see next. While not enchanted by her first visit, Sarah is always eager to explore a little more and completely supported my surf quest. Unfortunately, this was hampered a bit by the lack of swell and it didn't help that I had removed a nice portion of my left side while placing a scooter in the sand. We knew enough to get out of Nadi, the airport town, due to all the touts(for those who don't know: these are individuals who stalk the EXIT gates of various terminals, who can be somewhat helpful with local information, but usually spend more time trying to convince you that what you want to do is absolutely foolish because his cousin has a way better deal). We headed for Lautoka, which has the reputation for being much more easygoing, and from there made our plans to visit the outer islands. We arrived in Tavewa, a beautiful, rugged destination after a miserable 4 hour boat ride - the water was extremely choppy - thank god for Dramamine. There were about 25 people staying at Coral View Resort, a rustic cropping of bures (small thatched huts, with beds and mosquito nets). Most people do a lot of nothing - trying to sleep through the midday heat, dipping into the bath water ocean, and occasionally getting together the energy to go out for some fantastic snorkeling with tons of soft coral. Our first night was a party night, with half of the travelers departing for their next stop in the morning. I wasn't ready for much of a blow-out, and was in bed by 1030PM. Dan stumbled into the bure at about 230AM, after drinking a few Fijians under the table.

Here is a quick lowdown on the national drink of Fiji:

Yakona, commonly just referred to as Kava, is a muddy libation used throughout Fiji for it's relaxing qualities and sleep enhancements. Originally reserved for high priests and the village Chiefs this chalky drink was produced by having the village virgins chew the root and collected it's prized juice. Yakona is now prepared in a slightly more hygienic fashion by first drying and then grinding the Kava(Waka in Fijian) root into a fine powder, then placed into a cloth which is bathed with water and rung out over a large wooden bowl. Having a burly Fijian wring out our Yonoka would have to suffice. A Bilo is used, usually a half coconut shell however human skulls have been used in the old days when cannibalism was routinely practiced throughout the island chain, to fill and pass to each drinker on the left. Each drinker after presented with the Bilo says "Bula" claps once,swigs the drink while the others clap three times followed by a solo three claps from the drinker. The bilo is filled again and is passed to the next sipper - BULA! and clapping continues all around until the bowl is empty. This continues until the drinkers can't get up, can't talk, or the Waka runs out. Shortly before our visit, a German study reported a supposed link between herbal Kava pills used worldwide and liver disease (including hepatitis among other maladies). Germany and subsequently, France, Finland and Switzerland followed suit in removing the Kava derivatives from the shelf. We never heard the U.S. reaction. The repercussions were evident in the local media. It seems Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu all export large amounts of Kava. This is a major industry. With the ceasing of exports, a surplus of Kava, will surely result in the devaluation of roots sold by local farmers. There have been several editorials denouncing the German study and demanding the Fijian government to get involved with a counter study to test the claim. One man had written his own personal refute explaining his own use of kava over 40 years had never effected his health.

Dan has done a great job of explaining the history of Kava (amongst other things). That is because he eagerly joined a kava drinking night with a crew of half Fijians / half tourists, our first night on Tavewa island in the Yasawa chain. These great big burly Fiji men are great with kava, but give them a little vodka and you're asking for trouble. I missed witnessing the horror, but apparently our 'chef' indulged in almost an entire bottle of vodka, after drinking a LOT of kava, and was stumbling all around, falling on things. He cracked his nose on the bar, and proceeded to bleed all over his shirt and the men who were trying to cart him to his bure. (see photos) This job of dragging a 200 pound drunk man to his home was an impossibility. Needless to say, our chef was unable to cook us breakfast or dinner, and his wife was not a happy woman. From my own personal experience, I can tell you that sleeping next to a hot man who is trying to sweat the kava out of his system is not too sweet, either.

As Dan mentioned, I was not 'enchanted' by my first visit to Fiji, but I can tell you that we had an incredible time. I found the people to be extremely friendly and hospitable, and we were able to get away from the thick of the tourist route, and experience a truer Fiji. This brings me to the best part of our nine day stay. We ended up splurging ($50 round trip!) on a flight to Kadavu island (off the South of the main Viti Levu). We boarded an 8 seater plane, with another couple and 2 pilots, with white knuckles - I have never been on such a small passenger plane! We flew for about 45 minutes until we arrived at our destination, where we caught a small speedboat to a more remote part of the island, for another 45 minutes. We arrived at an ecotourists' delight called Matava. This place was established by 5 young Australians, who were surfing and diving enthusiasts, who knew when they had discovered a good thing. We were treated to the sweetest hospitality, with the entire Fijian staff calling us by our names in no time, and welcoming us like family. I thought the snorkeling was great in the cook Islands, well, This slice of tropical ecstasy surpassed it. I can honestly say we were spoiled with some of the best snorkeling ever. The coral reefs of the Astrolabe are rich and vibrant, a virtual underwater garden of exotic plants. We were swimming in an aquarium of wonder - fish everywhere, moray eels, sea stars, anemones, and coral heads as big as Dan's VW bus. For those divers out there - this is a must-see. I'm also told that this slice of reef is home to eagle mantarays, some with a 15 foot wingspan. We read the guestbook to hear about the mystical ballet these creatures perform in the water. Unfortunately, we are mere snorkelers and didn't get to see these wonders, who were also in hiding, on their own holiday. At Matava, we ate the best food. The staff used all of the traditional Fiji ingredients, like Taro leaves and sweet Kumara (similar to spinach and sweet potato, respectively), with a gourmet combination of western sides (eggplant Parmesan and scalloped potatoes). As a foody, I was in heaven.

All the people we met made the experience even more enjoyable. Dan felt like he was hanging out with friends back home. The dive instructor, Matt and Maggie kept us in stitches. Maggie is a flamboyant Fiji man with a sarcastic witty tongue, who always had a flower behind his ear, a necklace of seashells around his neck, and a brightly colored floral shirt and sulu on. They took us on a trek to visit the local village. We walked through a mangrove of mud and jungle to meet these friendly locals, and be invited into a single room hut to meet our neighbors. We entered a turquoise room with floral curtains and lace canopies over the two beds against one wall, and a pandanu mat spread on the floor. It seemed like the entire female population of the village was sitting cross legged, waiting for our arrival. They were dressed in their best - lots of polo neck, loose t-shirts, bearing spotting team names, and sulus (sarongs), with the names of various Fiji resorts - The Outrigger Resort, Fiji Club, The Sheraton, etc. Afros were big and round, smiles ear to ear, and flower leis and leaf garlands were wrapped around necks and wrists. The children were proudly pushed forward, with parents anxious to have their kids photos taken. After introductions and a round of Kava drinking, the women performed a Meke (a song and dance). This went for about an hour. We'd have a round of kava, then another performance, a round of Kava, then another dance. The women and children were laughing and enjoying themselves, as this was their social event, perhaps more than ours. Even though this presentation was specifically catered to us tourists, I felt we had come the closest to glimpsing true village life. After our warm reception and a round of more photos, with the promise to send back pictures, we were taken to the waterfall, where we enjoyed respite from the heat. The water was brown, from the silt, but soft, cool and clean from the mountains.

Overall, I must say I enjoyed our days of laziness. Dan and I got a lot of sun, swimming in the blue-green waters, and making puka shell necklaces in the sand. We didn't see any tube-topped island princesses, as most of the beaches we had all to ourselves...Not too bad.

We're in Auckland now, loving the hot (but dry) weather. Tomorrow, we pick up a campervan, our home and coach for the next week. We'll be sure to send you a missive when we are through with our camping adventure in the Northland. We miss and love you all, often wishing you could see and share the beauties of this world with us. Thank you to all of you who wrote back to us. We really appreciate it - Keep writing!

Sarah and Dan
We miss you all

Best of news! We have our photos from both the Cooks and Fiji posted at the following site:


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