Getting Stoned With The Savages!
25 June 2011 | Viani Bay, Fiji
It has been a while since I blogged last. I must have fallen into a sun-induced coma under a shady palm tree somewhere along the way. Sorry to all that follow the blog. We arrived in the main port of Suva on the south island of Viti Levu since my last blog, and after a short stop there, we headed out to the Great Astrolabe Reef, then we started sailing up the east coast of the Fijian island chain. With over 300 islands it is easy to get sidetracked. We eventually sailed into a little port town called Savusavu, which is a popular area for sailors to moor for a few days and just relax, get provisions and hit a few restaurants. The clocks run slow here and it is nice to be back on island time. Everything runs slower and the Fijians are pretty laid back...well, most of them. The Customs officers in Savusavu unfortunately run a bit tighter. When we arrived in Savusavu, we knew we had to check in with Customs and let them know that we had arrived from a different area in Fiji, but what we didn't know was that we had to get an outbound clearance from our last port of Suva before arriving. Oops! Yah, big oops. When I arrived in the Customs office, I was asked for our clearance papers. I said, "what clearance papers?" It reminded me of a scene out of Blazing Saddles, "badges, we don't need no stinking badges", but if I said I didn't need no stinking clearance papers, I'm sure I would have been in it even deeper.
And so it began. In the end I was sat down in a small room off to the side of the processing area and told I would have to pay a fine of $1250.00 Fijian dollars (approx. $750.00 Canadian). I was blown away. I explained that it was an honest mistake and that I simply didn't know. Ignorance is no excuse sometimes. Even in the laid back islands. I was told that if I didn't pay, then it would become a criminal matter and it would go to court, where I could be jailed. Ok, this isn't so much fun now, buddy! Things were started to spiral out of control a bit. I finally left and said that I would let them know in twenty-four hours what was going to be my choice. Although I knew jail was not at the top of my list. Part of me was thinking about making a run for the country of Wallis and Fortuna. It is a few day sail and they don't require arrival papers from your last country of departure, but that was just asking for it. Doors one and two didn't seem great, so I started looking for door number three. In the end I found a Fijian who used to work within the old regime of Fiji before the coup, and he knew the chief officer at Customs. They were old friends from the island of Koro and he said he would speak to him and try to work things out for me. In the end, I was told not to do that again and that was all. Just shut up, keep my mouth closed, follow the rules and I wouldn't have to pay. Terrific! I thanked my new Fijian friend, bought him a case of beer to show my gratitude and made sure I got outward clearance when I left Savusavu. Whew, close call! Time to get the hell out of Savusavu.
We eventually sailed into Viani Bay, which is right near the Rainbow Reef. The Rainbow Reef has reached near-mythical status among drivers around the world. In addition to the amazing dive sites, it has incredible snorkeling as well, just inside the reef. Tara and I enjoyed many dinghy rides out to the reef for a nice swim and snorkeling, plus it gave me a chance to try out my new underwater camera. The next morning we met an old Fijian named Jack. Generations of his family have lived around Viani Bay and he knew all the top dive spots and was happy to show them to us. We would take Pursuit out to the reef, anchor and then dive some of the most beautiful reef walls I have seen. Jack would follow our bubbles in our dinghy and then pick us up when we eventually surfaced from our dive. We would then head back to Pursuit, have a few beers and something to eat while filling the scuba tanks. It was a great time. We became good friends with Jack and learned a lot about the Fijian culture. We were invited to the school and his granddaughter took us on a nice walk to other villages where we were warmly greeted and enjoyed spending time with the villagers. There is so much fruit here. Every time Jack would come out the boat, he would bring bunches of bananas, oranges and papayas as gifts. We would do what we could to use it up (snacks, banana bread, muffins, pancakes, cookies, etc) but eventually we had so much fruit we had to tell him no more fruit. We couldn't eat it fast enough.
Before we left Suva, we bought a large quantity of kava root. This is for our sevusevu, which we would make along the way, as we arrive in different villages. Sevusevu is basically requesting permission to visit the village from the turaga-ni-koro (hereditary chief) and, in effect, the ancestral gods. He will then welcome us in a small ceremony, where we would all sit around the kava bowl and drink kava. Kava is a nasty little drink. Kava derives from Piper methysticum, a pepper shrub that thrives high in the hills. Traditionally, the kava was prepared by having prepubescent boys chew the root until it becomes a mush of pulp and saliva, then it is squeezed through a coconut fiber, mixed with water, and swallowed all in one go from a coconut shell. It sounds really weird reading it back now, but it makes you wonder, who in the hell thought this up way back when? But it is amazing what an enterprising person will do to get a buzz. Traveling allows one to discover that there is a whole new world of intoxicants out there, and I like intoxicants. Thankfully, people will now grind up kava for you, or you can even buy it in a powdered form, so there is need for some little kid's gob in your kava now. One evening Tara and I were invited to Jacks for a kava ceremony. I had bought a kava bowl and coconut cups from Tonga last year, so I was all ready to go. Kava is a mildly intoxicating drink that has an effect on the mouth similar to a shot of Novocain. So after "woo wuch wava, woo walk wunny". It was a fun night and we had great conversations about everything from politics to cannibalism. Jack's (sixth) wife is named Sophie and she claimed that her grandmother used to "eat the man". The last reported incident of cannibalism was in the late 1940's.
Fijians began feasting upon each other as far back as 2500 years ago. In traditional Fijian society, dining on the enemy was considered the ultimate revenge, as a disrespected death was a lasting insult to the enemy's family and the departed spirit. When missionaries brought cannibalism to an end in the late 19th century, it had become a ritualized part of everyday life. Bodies were either consumed on the battlefield or brought back to the village spirit house, where they were butchered, baked and eaten on the local war god's behalf. In celebration of the event, men performed the cibi (death dance) and women the dele- a dance in which they sexually humiliated corpses. Captives were often forced to watch their own body parts being consumed or even to eat some themselves! For cannibalistic feasts, men fed themselves with special long-pronged wooden forks. Considered special relics, these forks were kept in the spirit house away from women and children. So when Jack had invited us to his house, saying that he and Sophie would love to have us for dinner, we had to ask what was on the menu first. Thankfully it was a traditional feast of fish curry, taro, sweet potatoes and roti, and not Gary and Tara in a big, boiling pot.