Tag Archives: kava

My Invitations to Two Traditional Fijian Weddings

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I’m done with drinking drugs in Fiji.

That was hard for me to admit for a while, as not to disrespect the locals who graciously offered me dozens and dozens and dozens of bowls filled with kava to drink throughout my time in here on the island. I chugged and chugged, my tongue and lips grew numb, and I eventually felt like I was high on something funky.

What is kava?

Kava is a popular non-alcoholic drink among Fijian locals. Technically a drug made from the kava ground root plant (Piper methysticum), it contains chemical ingredients that can produce the feeling of drunkenness, caused from the lactones in kava to be quickly absorbed into the blood flow and into the brain.

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It’s ceremonious staple in villages where locals sit and gather around a giant wooden bowl as someone prepares the kava to be passed around for everyone to consume.

From my own experiences with kava, it’s completely social and the only time I’ve ever drank it is in the company of many other locals, while sitting cross-legged on the floor of someone’s home. It’s like how you’re at a party and certain friends run off and go to someone’s room or car to smoke weed with each other. It’s like that here except without the sneaking off part. It’s completely legal in Fiji and is a completely normal thing.

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It’s all fine and dandy. I’ve had tons of kava during the past few weeks. Its something new and I wanted to fit into the community as much as possible. My only gripe with kava is that…

It Tastes. Like. Shit.

To describe the taste to you…just imagine a giant wooden bowl of water you’d get from a garden hose. Then toss in some dirt, mix it up, and add a dash of pepper and bam—you have something that looks and tastes like kava.

The person who makes it, sits in front of a bowl of water and adds the kava root (in powdered form) into what looks like an old knee sock. He proceeds to massage and crumple the sock in the water as if he were washing the socks and in turn washing his hands. Then once it’s been settled, he dips a bowl into the kava water and passes it around. Everyone shares the same bowl and the attention is focused on you while the others clap once or twice in unison. It’s a unique tradition that I appreciated but it didn’t change the fact that I disliked the taste. I’m also ignoring the fact that the person making the drink basically rinsed their hands in the bowl of kava—whatever I’ll live.

(Note: Many people I met loved the kava. Then there were also many who felt the way I did about it. If you are ever in Fiji, definitely give it a try and form your own opinion!)

It was during the second of two weddings that I decided I just about had enough and felt comfortable declining kava every time it was offered to me. And it was offered a lot! Probably because I was a foreign guest who resembled them.


The Weddings

I was invited to the first wedding after befriending locals I met at the Beachouse during my first week in the country. They invited me to my first kava gathering where I chugged about six bowls and during that time, one of them invited me to their son’s wedding which would take place the following week.

“If I can get the day off from teaching then I’m there!” I told him.

I had no problem getting the day off and was able to make the two-hour trip to the village along with two other volunteers I decided to bring with me. This is an experience I wanted to share.

I arrived in my sulu, a button up, and flip-flops, ready for…actually I didn’t know what I was ready for. The weddings I’m used to in the States involve a formal ceremony of the bride and groom and lots of drinking and dancing with family and friends the rest of the day. Here, I was game for whatever they threw at me.

Once we arrived to the village, I met up with a few of the locals and one directed us to sit in the meeting house for kava. Inside were about fifty villagers, all men, sitting on the floor surrounding a gigantic kava bowl. I sat down next to a guy in a red button-up who flagged me to come sit next to him and was immediately handed a bowl of kava to drink. Then another. And another.

What about the rest of these guys in the room? They would probably like some kava?

Although I blended in the crowd I also stuck out a bit. I had a bulky and expensive camera strung around my shoulder to document and I was sitting next to two foreign volunteer girls who obviously weren’t from here. So we were circled with attention.

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“Where is the village chief?” I asked one of the guys across me.

“Right there,” he responded as he nodded his head to the man sitting next to me in the red button-up.

He didn’t look like any chief I had imagined. He blended in with everyone here and sat on the floor next to everyone else just like any ordinary villager.

What makes him the chief? It’s because he’s the eldest.

I started to feel heavy from the kava and my mouth was almost completely numb, but whenever the kava bowl was passed to me, I made sure to chug it as not to disrespect the chief. He was sitting right next to me observing my every move! But then again he probably wouldn’t care if I denied it since he seemed so laid back and at ease.

The wedding itself took place inside a small church inside the village.

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The bride and groom wore traditional attire. One note about the bride, she looked unhappy as hell throughout most of the ceremony. I did manage to get a single shot of her cracking a smile.

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I noticed that this wedding had everything they needed except for a photographer. I didn’t feel comfortable going around during the wedding snapping photos quite yet but I made sure to take some afterwards, with the intention of emailing them to the community.

I asked one of the men, how come they didn’t have a photographer.

“It’s very expensive,” he said with a humble smile. “We can’t afford one.”

Every wedding needs a photographer. The photos that come about become an everlasting symbol.

“If you have another wedding soon, I can photograph for you guys free of charge.” I offered to him.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon drinking more kava, playing with the kids, and eating the meals served to everyone who attended. The food took forever to come out but I sat in patience, getting drunk off of kava. I didn’t want anymore and began to politely deny whenever the bowls came my way…unless someone absolutely insisted! When the women were finished preparing the food, I was served a plate full of local delicacies including beef, cassava, and lots of steamed veggies. We ate it all with our bare hands too which added to the flare.

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The wedding was low-key and mellow. The second wedding was anything but low-key.

The second wedding was much bigger and attracted a larger crowd of locals from nearby villagers. I brought two different volunteers with me to experience it, expecting it to be much of the same as last time. This was totally different. I was told I’d be shooting one of New Zealand’s Rugby players. It wasn’t the All-Black squad, probably a player from a minor league.

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Since I was the designated camera guy, I made sure to take photos of everything as much as I could. It was a convenient, yet true excuse to avoid anymore kava. Everyone was all over the place and just like before the bride looked pissed off the whole day, which didn’t help with inspiration. I think maybe she was just extremely nervous? She was followed by parades of people taking pictures on their  Samsung phones, sometimes completely in the way of the guy with the professional camera here. As a mater of fact, I don’t thing the wedding party looked at me even once taking photos all around them. They focused on their family members snapping more so, which is understandable. I was a stranger there.

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The ceremony was held in a church just outside of the village in the vicinity of a neighboring school; much larger than the church at the previous wedding a couple weeks prior.

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I went all around snapping photos, trying not to disrespect any culture specific rules that I wasn’t aware of. I was a silent ninja and made sure not to be totally intrusive. I think I did the trick just right.

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As neat as it was to witness another spectacle of a wedding, this wedding dragged on forever. It was mostly just standing and sitting around waiting for food and for the bride and groom to receive their gifts. I couldn’t stay all day, I had to meet the other volunteers later in the afternoon back at the Beachouse for the weekend.

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It was a long day, but I think my favorite part were the puppies I found near the quietest parts of the village.

How come no one was around playing with these guys? They had to be less than two weeks old.

Screw the kava! I could play with these pups instead.

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I said my goodbyes to them and told them I would make an effort to visit the village one more time before I left Fiji for good. 🙂

How I Avoided a Complete Disaster of Traveling With My Non-Traveling Friends

It was bound to happen and I knew it would.

#byefelicia
#byefelicia
I tried my best to prevent it but it was inevitable. A rift formed in my group of New Zealand companions. It was mainly me vs. the other two, with Ryan spectating from the sides.

Traveling with people who travel often is WORLDS different than traveling with people who never or rarely do so. I will always prefer to go about it alone, meeting people along the way. With my intentions to go to New Zealand, I assumed I would once again go solo. It’s been my thing for years and it’s always worked extremely well. Still, I always wished for my friends back home to experience what I experienced, because talking about it and showing them pictures doesn’t express any justice. You just had to be there. The way Chelsey, Ryan, and Mike came about to join me in New Zealand was spur of the moment random and super spontaneous. I’m actually a bit picky about who I will let accompany me because traveling across the world unleashes a never-before-seen side to my American friends that I didn’t want to risk seeing. However, having them join me would test my desire of having my friends getting a taste of the globetrotting life I led. They were joining me on my trip, which they were well aware of. “We are following you Dan,” is what they would tell me, but I knew it wouldn’t turn out that way. This was now our trip. Now that everything is said and done, I can safely say it was an overall success.

Remember how naive and stupid you were when you first began traveling, Daniel. I always kept that in the back of my head.

Here is how I avoided a complete blunder of traveling with my non-traveling friends:

1. Create A Plan So Everyone Is On The Same Page

To avoid most disputes, I was pretty darn careful about our plan for our New Zealand/Fiji trip. The first issue was the actual plan. Those who really know me, know that I don’t really plan ahead for my backpacking trips, I just go with the flow. Take a look at my recent backpacking trip I like to call The Unplanned Plan. I had no idea where the heck I was going! However, I know many people are uncomfortable with the idea of the unknown and so with my non-traveling comrades, I formulated with them a rough draft to keep everyone on the same page which worked well. The only issue I had was that for the most part, my comrades have given little input to the plan I suggested and were basically game for anything. I was happy about this but also worried at the same time that I would fall into the chaperone role. I knew that once we got to New Zealand is when they would begin suggesting things they would want to do.

2. Discuss How Money Will Be Dealt With BEFORE Departure

Money is one of the the biggest issues that cause disagreements while traveling with friends. I’ve had to separate from fellow backpackers because our budgets were just too different. Thankfully with this group, money wasn’t a huge deal. I trusted them enough to offer to put the majority of our group expenses on my foreign transaction-free credit card and then have everyone PayPal what they owed me at the end. This worked very well but it took a lot of effort on my part. I had to retain every receipt we acquired on our trip (food, lodging, splitting gas, etc) in a neat folder to sort out at the end. Then, I created an excel spreadsheet of what everyone owed me once we arrived in Fiji. PayPal made it simple and easy via the apps on our phones. The problem lies in the trust issue. Thankfully, I had the fortune of being able to fully trust my comrades as far as money was concerned and everything worked out great at the end. They all paid me back promptly too!

This is part of the spreadsheet I created to keep tabs on everyone's individual expenses. This worked out so good!
This is part of the spreadsheet I created to keep tabs on everyone’s individual expenses. This worked out so good!

3. Never Make a Decision Without the Approval of Everyone Else in the Group

I was particularly careful about this one. Of course everyone is gonna want to do something different. Like how everyone wished to visit Hobbiton and I didn’t want to at all. There will be times when majority of the group wants to do something the other wants to do and in those cases, majority rules. I was perfectly fine sitting out and catching up on writing. Same goes for food. We all had different appetites, but still I always let them decide what we ate if we couldn’t help it. We couldn’t really separate because we were in the middle of nowhere with one car. No big deal though. Thankfully everything I suggested we do, the others were down with. Same goes for Chelsey suggesting Paihia and Mike suggesting Tongariro. We didn’t really have an issue in this matter. So far so good!

4. Make Time to Separate and Do Your Own Thing

By the time we reached Wellington, my group began to feel suffocated from being around each other 24/7. We’ve been bound at the hip since Auckland and now that we had a few days in Wellington with no plan, we found time to explore at our own accord. Mike was able to get a couple CrossFit sessions in, Chelsey explored the local zoo and museums at her leisure, while Ryan and I practically won a beer pong tournament (it came down to rock-paper-scissors in which we lost) at a local bar. Wellington was very much needed. Wellington was also where I addressed an underlying issue within the group.

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5. Be Open About an Issue Before it Grows into Something Bigger

I always had the mindset to have a group discussion if I noticed things getting sour between the four of us. Well things were getting sour, and so once I had the others attention, I revealed the elephant in the room. I can tell what the issue was without even asking, Mike and Chelsey believe I am too controlling. Why would they think that? Well for one, I wouldn never let them drive and secondly, I would rush them a bit when they were lallygagging. Why wouldn’t I let them drive? There’s good reason. When I rented this car, I picked it up with full coverage added on just in case anything happened to the vehicle, we’re completely covered. However, that full coverage would have been void if anyone else drove besides the driver who signed and picked up the car (me). Mike and Chelsey never drove on the left side of the road before and really wanted to try it which was understandable, after all they did each pay for a quarter of the costs. But I couldn’t risk paying hard earned money for something completely avoidable just because they wanted to try it out. At the end of the day, I let both of them drive when we were on long stretches of road with barely any traffic. Honestly, it was like appeasing the little kid who wanted to ride the big kid ride.

As for being rushy, at times I had to be. We only had two full weeks to explore New Zealand which is nowhere near enough time. I originally wanted to do a month or two but had to cut it down to two weeks once they tagged along. With that in mind, I know there will be plenty of opportunity for me to return on my own and do my own thing, but for them not so much. It was my effort to have them see as much as they could in the most efficient way as possible to get the most out of their trip. During instances when they were loafing or suggesting something that I knew was unfavorable for timing standards, I had to shut them down no question. When I explained it to them, they understood. At the end of the day, we were never late for anything.

I made it clear to them what my intentions were. My intended trip of backpacking New Zealand solo turned into a trip for me to make sure they had an action packed two weeks for as cost effective as possible. I think I succeeded on that note too with everyone remaining under their budgets. I’ve done trips like these a zillion times, so I just needed them to trust me more. Once we were done with our pow wow and everyone said their peace, we all were on great terms for the remainder of the trip.

Crisis averted!

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Onward to Fiji!

In addition to the two week trip in New Zealand, the four of us also planned about four days in Fiji before they go back home to Michigan and I continue on my own. I reserved us dorm beds at the Fiji Beachouse, one of the most highly rated budget accommodations on the main island. Instead of the backpacker infested hostels in Nadi, I thought the Fiji Beachouse, located about three hours away from the hustle and bustle, would fit the vibe more…and it certainly did. This place was amazing!

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As soon as I walked through the premises, I truly felt like my solo trip has begun. I didn’t have to drive anywhere, I didn’t have to split costs with anyone, I didn’t have to do a damn thing but relax my butt off before I move deeper into the country…solo! (Never quite solo, I’m always with people I meet along the way.) The Fiji Beachouse did have its share of backpackers though. A few of them we befriended and ending up on a few small excursions close by the Beachouse.

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I met some locals when my New Zealand crew were on one of those excursions, who invited me over for Kava. The experience was so unique and authentic, that I brought over my crew and a few backpackers the next day to experience it as well.

Would I Travel With Non-Travelers Again?

The day has come for Chelsey, Mike, and Ryan to finally head back to the USA. We’ve been together for nearly three weeks all over the North Island of New Zealand and the Fiji Beachouse with memories that will stick with us forever. Thankfully, I had a solid group with me because I’ve met other travelers on the road who haven’t been so lucky.

When they packed and waited near the bus stand to go to the airport, I actually missed their departure because I was in the middle of eating lunch and the bus came a lot earlier than I expected. When I ran to the bus station to say my goodbyes to them, they were already gone.

Alright, here's a better photo.
Alright, here’s a better photo.
So would I travel with friends from home again? Specifically the Non-Traveling ones? Ummmm, perhaps but maybe one at a time, not three at once. Surprisingly, if I could travel with Chelsey, Mike, and Ryan again, I would do it individually, not as a group. I’ve learned their separate styles and am able to adapt better when one on one. Mike is an adventurer and is super keen on taken the unbeaten path. Chelsey is a wanderlust, which means she is very fond of meeting other travelers and taking their advice to find the next best thing. Ryan is a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. If he’s part of a group, he’s just happy to be along for the ride.  Regardless, I learned a whole lot from the experience. If anything, I found that I would make a fantastic tour guide (something I never want to do as a profession).

With the three away, it was time to begin the rest of my journey on my own accord. And let me tell you, within a couple of days of being in Fiji, I already found myself at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean surrounded by sixteen massive bull sharks. Literally.

Let me explain…