Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – Day 250-252 – Fiji – Maqai Beach – Part 1

As far as the majority of this entry goes I could probably just write ‘I relaxed’ and have done with it. If I got into the Fijian lifestyle anywhere it was here.

In much the same way as in the Yasawas the place was full board – your only responsibility was to be in the right place at the right time and you’d be fed. Alcohol wasn’t available to purchase – you simply had to bring your own or arrange for it to be purchased on your behalf and brought over on one of the infrequent runs to the mainland. Indeed outside of main meals and Coca Cola you couldn’t really buy anything. There was a freshwater supply you could refill bottles from at will and that was about it. All this simply means you had very little to worry about.

On our first full day I did very little other than practice on the guitar and relax. A new chef arrived – Charlie – much to our delight as the first evening’s meal had been a bit ropey. In the evening after Charlie threw together a delicious hot buffet feast we all sat around the Kava bowl and chilled out until the early hours.

A little on Kava. Kava should not be confused with Cava – the sparkling white you can pick up in Sainsbury’s. This frequently comes as a disappointment to ladies arriving in Fiji expecting unlimited fizz. Kava is a traditional Fijian drink made by soaking a concoction of roots and herbs for a while in water to create something that looks like you’ve just washed your footy boots after playing on a particularly rainy day on a grass / mud pitch. The great thing is it tastes almost exactly like that – no, not really…well not entirely, it’s a similar consistency and texture but it leaves your mouth tingling like cloves. Word on the street is that it’s a mild narcotic. It apparently builds up in your system in some way over time to have a greater effect. If you knock a lot back over the course of an afternoon / evening it makes you feel sleepy and apparently gives you crazy dreams; I can vouch for the sleepy part though I may well have just been sleepy anyway. It’s a ceremonial drink that’s a massive part of Fijian culture consumed with gusto and in vast quantities on a daily basis.

The basic approach involves the large Kava bowl – around which everyone sits – being filled with water before the Kava master sits for a while soaking a cloth bag filled with the herb and root concoction mentioned earlier while everyone chats, drinks and smokes amongst each other. When the mix is ready the Kava master will ask the person to their left if they want a small, regular or dragon bowl and whether they want it low-tide, high-tide or tsunami (in practice the Fijians are generally just passed a high-tide Dragon bowl – only guests are offered a choice). You choose and you clap once before receiving, yell “Bula!”, knock it back in one, pass the bowl back and clap three times before saying “Mathe!”. The Kava master then moves around each person in the circle in turn. He / she drinks last and then a seemingly arbitrary period elapses before it all starts again. Whenever the Kava bowl looks like it’s starting to get empty someone nips off for more water and it’s refilled and re-dosed. The ceremony lasts for hours and hours – in my time in Fiji I rarely outlasted one.

Beyond necking muddy water the environment that’s created makes for a wonderful way to spend an evening and get to know people. Seemingly every Fijian can play the guitar so there is usually a song being banged out (usually one of about twenty songs that every Fijian knows we were eventually to discover) and the circle is so big you can drop into and out of conversations as you wish. It’s a major part of an infectious lifestyle and one which leads to many people staying for far longer at Maqai than they originally set out to.

On our third day in Maqai we were offered a trip to see village life on the other side of the island covering Naiviivi and Rafa’s village as well. Fi, Mariliis, Susan, Stella and I all decided to go along and after gearing up we took the 30 minute boat ride over to Naiviivi. We arrived as the school kids were out on break and by the time we’d disembarked they were heading in for their late morning classes. We were taken to meet the teacher briefly before they started lessons and see the kids all laughing and pulling faces at our cameras. With typical Fijian hospitality we were engaged with and made to feel welcome.

Have a think about that for a second; hospitality that’s so common I can refer to it as typical. This isn’t an overstatement. The day-to-day in the village is interesting in that from an outsider’s perspective it seems relatively easy going. We were informed at one point that if you woke up and wanted to work, you worked but if you woke up and wanted to drink Kava all day, you could do just that and the village would pick up the slack. While I think there was a degree of leg pulling going on there our experience during our visit to Rafa’s village did nothing to counter the claim.

We arrived after a short walk from Naiviivi and took a wander to meet the chief and Rafa’s family. He was given a gift of some Kava from our group during a short ceremony after which we were welcomed no longer as guests but as family.

The way this seems to be coming across as I read back through is like some lost tribal ritual but in truth it’s more of an adherence to formal traditions. After our welcome we took a wander around the village and watched Cyclone, a tiny child (nickname I believe / hope), tumble about all over. We then made our way to a modest building and sat in a Kava circle. We had some lunch that we’d brought along, drank Kava and listened to some local musicians for a fair few hours. By all appearances at least this wasn’t some show put on for tourists – villagers came and went (well very few left once they’d arrived) and all drank Kava and enjoyed each other’s company. One chap arrived and introduced himself as a Rugby player who played professionally in New Zealand and was home after 9 years to rehabilitate after a nasty shoulder injury. He was very talkative and really keen to discuss the Fijian lifestyle compared with ours and the lifestyle he experienced in New Zealand as a sportsman. It was a nice afternoon and we were all fairly full of Kava by the time we set off back to Maqai.

We arrived back and apparently our return signalled the perfect excuse for Kava. Thus we were back in and around the circle again for the rest of the day and night.

The day after our village visit was so relaxed I can’t even remember what it involved, suffice to say there will likely have been hammock, guitar, food, beer, Kava and sleep in and amongst.