They warned me about the drink. Locals say it helps to clear your mind before you say things you might regret and that it is mostly used during ceremonies. Indulgence can cause euphoria, but this legal root has been used in traditional ceremonies for thousands of years. Incredibly ripped men whose faces are painted black in symmetrical patterns sit with me in the circle, legs crossed. My mind is as clear as day from the peppery drink but my mouth feels numb. I forget how to say halo and that I am supposed to clap only once when the elder passes the communal cup to me. The worn out coconut cup is touching my anesthetized lips for the third time around and the main pot that holds the rest of the ground up watery pulp still looks pretty full. It is only when I notice the man walking on coals that I start questioning myself for coming here. Is my mind playing tricks on me or have I been hit by the Kava?
The Yaqona (Kava) plant has an important place in ceremonies and is used widely as a token of goodwill and respect amongst the South Pacific people
There are some three hundred islands dotted like jewels in the Fiji chain, but only about a hundred are inhabited. We only get to visit the island of Viti Levu, and Suva is our first port of call. It is hot, incredibly humid and the town is bustling with activities. For a moment it seemed as though we might have arrived in Mumbai, as the majority of the faces I see are Indian. From what I can remember, the first proper Fijian welcome I receive comes from a beautifully dressed big mama with an Afro the size of the Jackson fives’ combined. “Bula!” I like the sound of the word and how she spontaneously shouts it at me, I say it back to her and she smiles a wide white one. I start noticing more and more Fijians and unlike the Indian folk who are more interested in selling ‘authentic’ Fijian artifacts, the Fijians happily greet anyone by means of saying Bula. There are bands of old men playing on guitars and Ukuleles, singing in rustic harmonizing voices and the music from open -air buses passing by add to the sounds of the busy town in their own unique way.
To see the places you see on postcards you have to make missions. It annoys me when people give a place a bad reputation when all they have experienced was a busy shop full of tourists. Get in a cab or take a bus and go explore! I take an open-air bus ride and go through the villages of Na Vasi and Navua on the way to the Pacific Harbor region. Locals wave and say Bula all the way. Although there are some of the best beaches close-by, I choose to watch a traditional Fire Walking ceremony in a village. According to myth, a young warrior was given the exceptional power to withstand fire when he caught the Eel Spirit, and so to prove his power to his chief he walked on fire heated river stones. I enjoy how an elderly man narrates the happenings and some more myths come up. In those days a chief could have anything up to forty wives, but only one of them was his queen. When he died, she had the choice to be buried alive with him or to be clubbed to death and then buried with him. Cannibalism was rife and the practicing of polygamy seemed to have caused many inter-tribal wars.
In Port Denarau on the East coast of Viti Levu, I jump on a catamaran and lay back on the deck as the wind blow us toward an island called Savala. With white beach islands scattered all around me in water alive with all shades of blue, I feel like a sea gypsy hopping from one reality into another. The catamaran anchors just off the beach. I swim past some black tipped reef sharks and parrot fish and before I even set foot on this island I know that it is going to be a sad moment when I have to leave again. I grab a cold Fiji Bitter from the rustic beach bar and find a spot to sit at the far side of the island looking out into nothing but absolute serene tropical Nirvana. The local brew along with the view is the catalyst that starts my questioning of things. Why do I have to leave? Why cant I just stay? The local guys also only have their guitars to keep them company and I don’t care about handheld devices other than my one with six strings. I would be happy spending the rest of my life here in this ramshackle hut under its palm roof. Who came up with the saying anyways that some novelties will eventually wear off?
One is enough to get you thinking who is really living the dream
I snap out of the fantasy and get back onto the catamaran, saying goodbye to an island that I will never forget. There are new memories to be made in places just as intriguing and beautiful. I find enough comfort in that.
I notice so many reflections here in Fiji. Some come from the shiny smiles of the people and others come from the beautiful landscape.
Along Queens road on the southern coast of Viti Levu
Fire walking ceremony
If views like this cant make you want to stay then I don’t know what will
Palms above and below
It is red yellow green everywhere when I walk past the minibus taxis in Port Vila on the Island of Efate in Vanuatu. There is a heavy police presence and this is the first place, after Puntarenas in Costa Rica, where it seems that things might turn volatile if there were no cops around. For a moment it feels like I have walked into a taxi rank in Khayalitsha. It turns out the police is only there to make sure that no one gets ripped off with taxi fares.
Music is everywhere
I jump in a taxi with two elderly locals and they ask the smiling, giggling most happy go lucky cabdriver to get dropped off on the way to town. I wanted to get off further down so when they get out the clearly stoned cab driver asks if I mind him going past his house first to fetch a friend. I feel no need to be scared since cannibalism does not exist here anymore. We drive through nooks and crannies and side streets and dirt roads dodging dogs and chicken while he puffs on the spliff he just rolled while driving. Red yellow green. On this occasion I do not partake in the use of the herb except for inhaling the sweet fumes filling the cab. We fetch his friend who must have been growing his dreadlocks since the 1960’s and when we leave his shack he turns on the tinny boombox he carries on his shoulder. It is a one-way dialogue between the Irie and I. I’d say something and he just smiles. I get dropped off where I want to be and exchange some $ for Vatu.
We meet up with some mates and take a different taxi this time to a stunning beach. There is a boy playing with a broken surfboard on the beach and looking at the reef to the right I can see the potential.
Port Vila beach, Efate Island – Vanuatu
I knew it with an inexplicable certainty the second I stepped onto the white sand. To say it is white sand is not correct either. If it is any finer, it will evaporate. The sand is unbelievable, but the water has got me talking to myself in gibberish, trying to fathom the beauty and serenity of it. With not a ripple on the water as the dreamy indigo bay lay before me, I conclude that this place is going to be my new favourite spot in the world. On a beach on the Isle of Pines, just south of New Caledonia, I have myself the second best day of my life – second only to the day I got married. For the entire day I was on a pure natural high from the gift our senses give us. I swam in the perfect miniature waves as if I am a fish, getting images with my fisheye camera. I rolled around in the soft white sand like nobody is watching. I sang and whistled out loud like nobody is listening. I jumped and danced on the deserted beach like a golly wok. Not that I wouldn’t usually do things like that though. I have what I’d like to refer to as a no strings attached affair with this beautiful beach. The fact that it is a French island makes the affair even sexier. On this occasion I am truly the only person on the beach- for the entire day.
Even the drops of water out of place looks in place
I wish I could spend a year in this place, waiting for the day it is big enough to surf
While I float in the turquoise ocean I feel completely disconnected from the world and I feel at peace with everything in my life. I feel so alive and connected to the beautiful surroundings that I almost start crying when I have to walk away from my beach at the end of the day. I soon realize that the strings from this day will tug at my heart for as long as I am alive for there is no such thing as a no strings attached affair to start out with. I don’t know when, but I will find my way back to this piece of paradise in the future. It wont be hard to find for I have mapped the way there into the back of my mind and sealed the secret by sacrificially drinking a sip of the blue seawater while I carry some of the sand in my bag wherever I go. Some people carry medic- alert bracelets that can help save their lives in emergencies. From this day onward I have mine too. It simply reads “ Take me to the Isle of Pines”.
I can’t find the name of this beach anywhere, so will refer to it as My Beach
My beach smiling for the camera
Ile des Pins
The reef around the sacred rock teems with life and is also a breeding ground for coral snakes
Ile des Pins local
The next time I went back to My beach I had some new friends, still with no one in sight.
A perfect place to jump for joy
New Caledonia sunset