Kava Bender in Fiji
May 15th 2008 10:14
Surimi despite its exotic name, is just fake crabmeat, and fake crabmeat, even with all the glamour, is simply processed hoki heads. Still, it is a delightful and nutritious snack, and currently on special at New World for 58 cents per 100 grams.
Asked to throw a critical eye over Orgy Island and Nadi for the weekend, at first I was sceptical. My weekend was already planned. There was rugby on and I waited with baited breath for the developments in Average Joe: Hawaii. In between I intended to read Catch 22 and eat a kilogram of surimi. An entire weekend mapped out for just $5.80.
But when the editor told me that to get to Fiji I would be required to take a short train ride and engage in seven hours of thumb twiddling in Palmerston North, I decided I had the chance to simulate my own little Catch 22, as profoundly relevant as Hellerís WWII dilemma, and so I accepted, martyring myself for the cause.
The right engine gave a little cough on the shiny morning shower varnished Palmerston North runway. A concern. How alert could aircraft maintenance workers be to albatross nesting in the engines or missing wings at 5.30 in the morning? Personally, it takes me several hours to wake up at work. But I apologise for my doubts here and now. They did a wonderful job. The surly bonds of Manawatu gravity were successfully thrown off and through the magic of aeronautics and jet engines we were on our way.
After an engrossing three hour conversation with Al and Mary from Boston we were in the lovo pit temperatures of Nadi. Al and Mary, by the way, used to have a beach house on the Caribbean island of Anguilla and Iím sure they wonít mind me giving to you this morsel of gossip. Their neighbour was Chuck Norris, a lovely man by all accounts and now evidently heartbroken. Al and Mary tell me that a while back Chuckís young and beautiful wife became so besotted with a young Anguillan boy that she ran off with him. Scandalous. Chuck, the Texas Ranger himself, a victim of adultery.
My first stop was the town of Nadi. I decided the markets of Nadi would be the best way to peek under the lavalava of tourism which Iíd assumed from the literature would cover the islandís private parts. I found no lavalava present at all when I got to the town, it was all hanging out there. You may think an area so consciously cultivated for tourism would be a pristine hunk of western civilisation. Not at all. Nadi is third world. It has the third world sewers, the laid back third world demeanour, the third world filthy streets filled with third world battered Toyota Hi-Luxes, and those curiously ubiquitous emaciated third world dogs.
A local, stopping at every stall for a customary bowl of Kava with the vendors, hauled me through the markets. Kava or Yaqona is a bunch of aís: anaesthetic, analgesic, anti-convulsive spasmolytic, antimycotic, antifungal, and barbitumte narcosis intensilcation. Short hand for it fucks you up big time.
The kava root is ground into a beige powder and washed through a muslin sac. Custom dictates that you take from your host either a full tide, a half coconut shell the size of a fat manís head, or a half tide, more diminutive, and skull. The mirky water has a herbal taste that instantly numbs your throat and, with a concerted drinking effort, the rest of your body too.
To emulate this sensation at home, mix three parts cold English breakfast tea with one part difflam and one part vodka. Then pop it in any spare coconut you have around the house, stand next to an open oven on 200 degrees (gas mark 6), clap once, say bula, down in one go, and then clap three times with a bula bula to finish. To experience large scale consumption, dip your face in a vat of dry ice, tape your cheeks to your ears, and fall asleep on the floor naked cuddling a shoe.
Nadi has the pungent stench of tropical life and the smug disregard for hygiene and social norms which comes from living in a patch of paradise. What is does not have in abundance, bey virtue of its position on a grubby mangrove bay, is the white sand beaches of travel brochures. For that, I needed to go to Orgy Island. Known to the civilised as Beachcomber. The civilised have no business of even mentioning the place.
A half hour boat ride from the Nadi coast, Beachcomber is rougly the size of a football field. It had over a hundred dorm beds and focuses on the more carnal aspects of holidaying.
I was met by the Resort Manager off the boat who immediately and mercilessly began to ply me with Fiji Bitter. It fell indignantly down my senseless chin in one of those post-dentist dribbles as he orientated me.
Even in my hallucinogenic state, I perceived a gap between expectations and reality. Not an orgy to speak of. I did see hairy Latino looking males in aviators and speedos which Iíd imagine would be an important prerequisite for such activities but that was all. This doesnít mean itís not a worthwhile holiday spot. If you want to pay $77 a day for a dorm bed, a variety of aqua sports, all your meals, drinking at night with with ďtypical young English geezers - shaved head, earing, tattoo, bellicose, chanting with their scouser birdsĒ and moaning about hangovers all day, this is your place. A South Pacific Ibiza.
If not, try the inner Mamanuca or the outer Yasawa islands, most accommodating idyllic resorts, superb scuba and bountiful fishing.
Or try the mainland. I found my little piece of paradise there just 4 kilometres from Nadi on the only white sandy beach at the southern end of Nadi Bay: Club Fiji Resort. Waterfront bures under hammock strung palms. The perfect place to watch the ear-wax yellow sun sink over the horizon. A phoneless, televisionless vacuum of bliss.
No such luxury for me though. I had given myself a mission.
The Fijian hospitality had been talked up to the point of suspicion. I was convinced it was more a touristy faÁade and so I set out to piss them off.
I tried my best. I drank their beer and I drank their kava. I cast aspersions on the work rate of Rupeni Caucaunibuka, questioned the patriotism of Vilamaina Davu, and I drank their kava. I suggested the great council of chiefs ran the country like a dictatorship, I drank their kava, I played devilís advocate over whether the Melanesians or Indians had come to Viti Levu first, I drank their kava and, in a triumphant climax, I vomited on the floor. Nothing. No animosity whatsoever.
You may want to spend more than 24 hours in the place, itís not really long enough and it will draw you copious quantities of ridicule from every taxi driver you meet, but it is the place for the young and cheap who want to dunk their faces into the barrel of a unique culture and pluck out the juicy apples of tropical experiences as much as it is for the sanitised family resort or golfing holiday. And itís hot. Itís really hot.
Iím going back to Fiji soon. I have to. I left my stomach at the end of the Nadi Airport runway and I need it back soon before the surimi special ends. But if I donít get it back in time I regret it not. The assignment saved me $5.80 I wouldíve just blown on processed hoki heads anyway.
First Published Lucid Magazine September 2004
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