Verfasst von: rbontour | September 29, 2010

Fiji – Off The Beaten Track (Part II)

Drinking Kava & “Gigantic” Insects
Full of curiosity, and again as the only tourists in a place, we walked up to our hosts’ kitchen/guest room, where we had tea with Bulou. The evening was more than interesting. She and her son told us stories about Fiji life and they taught us we would have to use Fiji time from now on, which means “move slowly, don’t rush and relax”. We also found out that Bulou has only been on two out of the remaining 331 islands during her lifetime. She will celebrate her 70th birthday next year! Although she has never visited any other place in the world, we truly felt her interest in other cultures and how much she enjoyed having visitors.

After a while, Tui invited us to sit with him on some straw mats on the floor. He wanted to welcome us with a traditional kava ceremony. Kava is the local ceremonial drink and although we briefly read about it in our Lonely Planet, we still had no idea what was about to come. It’s a muddy-looking and narcotic drink made out of kava roots (which are pounded) – a plant that mainly grows in the Western Pacific. It only took us a few days to find out that kava is an absolute essential part of the culture here and life without it is unimaginable. We witnessed kava sessions and socializing ceremonies on every Fijian island we have been to so far. People gather on the floor, play guitar and sing beautiful Fijian songs together – we have heard so many excellent voices around here… the harmony in the people’s singing is just very enchanting!

Back to our kava session up in the mountains: Once we all sat comfortably on the floor, Tui set up the kava utensils: the pounded kava, a simple wooden bowl, a mug with water, coconut-shell cups (we remembered the bush beer in Atiu at this point!) and a strange thingy that looked like a table broom. He added the pulverized kava into the bowl and poured in water. After he mixed it up with his hands, he used this table broom-like tool (some dried leaves from another plant probably) to filter the water, as the grinded stuff still had some larger pieces in it. Then he wrung it next to the bowl like a soaked t-shirt.  This procedure was repeated several times and after around 15 minutes the drink was ready – a murky brown liquid… Is this really consumable? Yummy, let’s hope it tastes better as it looks. Well, but it really feels like drinking mud or soil, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do! Kava is also narcotic while it has a relaxing and calming influence to the drinker; we immediately felt a numbing effect on our lips and on our tongues. Did we just take drugs? The more cups they gave us, the more we had to yawn and the speed of storytelling around the wooden bole slightly decreased. In the meantime, Bulou slowly prepared dinner while we discovered some mice crossing the room from one side to the other (aaaah, let’s just hope we won’t have a grilled mouse for dinner… good that we knocked back some kava and felt relaxed). After a while, we asked Tui directly if kava is considered as a drug in some countries, but he assured us that it isn’t. It’s absolutely legal. We understood that the ritual was about hospitality and we couldn’t say “no”.  (Of course, we checked Wikipedia a couple days later and “NO” it’s not a drug although it remains a controversial topic in some countries).

And finally, around 10:30 PM, dinner was ready. Oh gosh, it was so much food and as far as we can tell, no mice on our plates! It was yummy Fijian food, instead, but difficult to describe: lots of cassava (another root plant and similar to potatoes), grilled chicken and fish as well as different tropical vegetables rounded off with a gentle touch of creamy coconut sauces. We were sleepy already, but our hosts continuously said “eat more, eat more”. After a while we understood that it would be rude if we didn’t try all the different dishes. Another few “eat more’s” and an hour later we were so stuffed hoping not to be confronted with food for at least a day! Now we received a kerosene lamp and we went back to our bure. As it was a lot lighter with the lamp, Brigitte instantly spotted this huge insect, a spider (and Robert agrees to this one – it was huge!!). After some minor hysterical moments, Robert set up our mosquito net (one of the most important things in our backpacks since we started our trip) and promised it would prevent the spider from attacking us :-).

In short, although we didn’t sleep deeply that night, we were happy as we met real Fijian hospitality and wonderful people in an incredible location…

The Next Morning – Navala Village
We woke up early and we were excited to discover the catholic village with Tui, who would be our personal tour guide for the day. As we stepped out of our bure in the morning Tui and Bulou were already awake and as soon as they saw us we heard them shouting: “Breakfast! Come, come and eat more!” Oh no, not again… but we were their personal guests, so politely we had some tasty pancakes and fresh papaya. Then we started our walk up the hill and passed the river to reach the heart of the village. It was such marvelous scenery – but also bloody hard work (steep roads uphill, boiling heat, extremely filled stomachs).

One more time it was as if we were suddenly thrown back in time. There was hardly any electricity in Navala – only 6 or 7 homes (bures) out of 200 had a generator. Each family owns two thatched bures. A simple one with a few mattresses, an altar and some clothes stacks in it, where they slept, lived and ate and another smaller bure that served as their kitchen. The toilets were located in a tiny hut outside – an interesting construction served as the toilet seat: a big tree trunk with a hole and an aluminum-like basin fitted into it. At this point we were 100% sure that Navala was not an artificial set-up for tourists – this was real, although it appeared surreal to us!

The only means of transportation are horses. The villagers pretty much survive with their own chicken, cows or pigs; mangoes, tamarind, cotton, papayas, bananas, coconut, bread fruits, cabbage and many other edible plants grow wild! They also produce their own crops (cassava, curry, dalo/taro etc.) and sell some of it on the weekly market in the coastal city of Ba. According to Tui, some families have to walk over 2 hours each day to get to their fields in the hills, but they don’t mind – it’s their life and they feel free. He said: “If they had too much kava the night before, they just don’t go farming the next day… they are their own boss – their own business, ha.” (We very much loved his statement!)

The only non-bure building is the village’s Catholic Church and the school. We were so lucky… Tui brought us to the school, where we could watch some classes silently through the open windows. The classrooms, the chairs and tables, everything was so simple and we remembered our grandparents’ stories when they talked about their school years 60 or 70 years ago. During a short break, we could also talk to some kids and the government-paid teachers. Some of the students curiously walked around us, very shy and not certain if they should talk to us or not. Nevertheless, all of them were smiling friendly. They monitored us and we probably monitored them – we felt like being the “attraction” of the day/week or month. Finally, our stay in Navala was an amazing experience and we wouldn’t want to miss it. Traveling off the beaten path certainly brings unexpected adventures and eventually some surprising challenges, which you are not used to or which don’t feel pleasant at first. However, it makes traveling much more thrilling, exciting and definitely unforgettable.


  1. super ihr zwei – danke 🙂

  2. Hi Brigitte & Robert,
    it’s just amazing what you are able to see and feel nature and warm slowly moving people like it would be normal in life, maybe it is :-)).
    After my China trip and the long way back to Stuttgart via Moscow and Düsseldorf I took time and read your blog and watched the picture slide show with Bulou.
    Its almost speechless what we could see and read and how life can be, we feel great for both of you.
    Now safe travels, no grilled mouse and lots of harmony with singing people!
    Dad & Mom/Bulou

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