Christchurch, Cannibalism and Kava
or…Fine Young Cannibals – Not just an 80’s pop band!
October 11th, 2002
“HelloandwelcometothehostelhowareyoudoingcanIseesomeI.D.please …um, Mr. Seen Lighthouse, is it?”
We should have known long before meeting the harried combination concierge/bartender of our hostel in Christchurch, New Zealand that something wasn’t quite right about the place. Just a few minutes earlier when we were pulling into the parking lot we noted a heavily made-up woman in knee-high platform boots and a tiny red dress that laced up both sides of her body satisfactorily shoving a wad of money into her cleavage as she quickly departed from one of the rooms.
At the front desk minutes later our road-weary selves were required to provide credit cards, passports, cash deposits, fill out several forms, perform the secret handshake of the local gang and be subjected to a full body cavity search before we were allowed to check in. Needless to say, we left early the next morning. Thankfully, the place we checked into the next day (and remained at for the rest of the week), New Excelsior, was a wonderful family-run hostel that boasted a roof deck and BBQ-ing facilities as well as an absolutely amazing staff of friendly, helpful folks.
Our time in Christchurch was spent perusing antique shops and making friends with the locals. Sean and Aubie were pleasantly surprised when one of their new-found Kiwi friends revealed himself as the owner of an exclusive below-ground discotheque. Yes, a few evenings were spent down there, sometimes on nights when the place wasn’t even open, laughing and telling jokes into the wee hours of the morning. We all made our dream of seeing real, endangered kiwi birds come true at a local wildlife preserve that has the most successful kiwi bird breeding program in the country. The boys went jet boating on the river, the girls shopped the entirety of Christchurch, and then it was time to go.
Our connecting flight in Auckland left us with about 10 hours to kill, so we wandered downtown where we discovered the city in the midst of celebrating the beginning of the America’s Cup qualifying races. We spent the time wandering the waterfront and even got to see the keel of Dennis Connor’s boat, the Stars and Stripes, being attached to its hull. Then it was time for Fiji.
We were sure that Fiji, as the primary tourist destination in the Pacific islands, was probably a lot more advanced than our guidebook led us to believe. Our guidebook would have us believe that Fiji was a place where the natives had only recently abandoned cannibalism and maintained a very primitive, tribal way of life even today. Upon arrival we found that, actually, Fijian culture was one that had only recently abandoned cannibalism and still maintained a very primitive, tribal way of life even today. For example, visitors to a village must find the chief of the village and pay their respects (often about $5 does it) before they are allowed to enter; most islands have at least a few villages. If you don’t meet the chief and pay your respects, you may end up as his dinner.
Just kidding. Fijians don’t eat people anymore.
The first impression one gets of Fijian people is their size. The Fijian people are a big people. A REALLY big people. The locals tower over most tourists, as the average Fijian seems to be at least six feet tall and with proportions to match. Huge hands, huge feet and powerful limbs supply these people with their diet of mostly fish, meat, vegetables and fruit. Our hostess in Nadi recommended we stay at Coconut Bay, a bay hosting a small collection of beachside huts on the island of Naviti. Surprisingly, our Lonely Planet guidebook had not even a single sentence about this particular place, the largest island in the Yasawa group. The four of us looked at each other and said, “Hey, it’s an adventure!” and soon were enjoying the sunshine and seaspray on a boat out to Naviti.
We passed some islands-turned-resorts that were about 10 car-lengths in diameter and saw soaring mountainous examples of Fijian geography with golden beaches and waving palm trees before arriving in Coconut Bay where a group of guitar-strumming, singing natives with giant red flowers tucked behind their ears welcomed us with coconuts and wide, hopefully-not-flesh-eating smiles.
Oh, once we convinced them not to eat our Aubie it was a wonderful week of beaches, hammocks, palm trees, bonfires, sunshine and snorkeling. The water and coral reefs of Coconut Bay made the beach we stayed at in Thailand look like a mud puddle. Crystal, cirulean waters shimmered in perfect transparency down to the ocean floor. Trees of coral grew in unearthly shades of luminescent orange, pink and blue while fish in an unbelievable variety of shapes, sizes and colors swam through them. In addition to the staggering variety of fish, giant clams, scuttling crabs, sea snails, eels, octopi and, yes, even sharks all call the fascinating underwater world of Fji’s reefs their home. Evenings often hosted a sunset beach volleyball game, bonfire and kava drinking.
“Kava,” is the national drink of Fiji. It’s made from the roots of the paper plant which are pounded into powder, placed in a cloth sack and then kneaded underwater in the kava bowl. It looks and tastes very much like muddy water, and is served to one person at a time from a halved coconut shell. Being asked to join the kava circle is an honor and refusing a drink of kava is a great insult. Usually only men (foreign women are often considered “honorary men”) sit for kava and the ritual is carried out on a woven mat placed on the floor. The first drink almost instantly makes your tongue go numb. Consecutive drinks may cause your lips and fingertips to tingle, lending a lazy euphoria to everything, depending on how potently the kava is mixed. Eventually, the evening devolves completely into singing traditional folk songs, the floor rumbling with the giant, resonant bass voices of Fijian men singing in 3 and 4-part harmony.
Just five lazy, sun-drenched days later we were packing our bags of colorful seashells and stepping into the motorboat that would take us out to our inter-island ferry and back to Nadi for our flight to California. What a lovely, blissful end to our long trip.
So, you’re thinking, “Is that it? Is this the end of the honeymoon travelogue?” Well, yes and no. We’ll be pretty busy for our two weeks here in the States, but we promise to send one LAST chapter out to all of you in the next two weeks to tie it all together…just a short epilogue to our long journey and a goodbye to all of you who have been here with us for the ride.
Well, for the above stated reasons and because we’ve decided fifteen is a better number than than fourteen.