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In the spring of 2016, Henderson Productions took a big self-directed trip to New Zealand.   Our research told us to check out the Fiji Air flight offering an overnight in Fiji to breakup the travel time from the west coast.    This is a description of our stopover in this lovely island country.    We recommend it.

“Introducing the world’s first calming, soothing shot for a stressed-out life – Tiki Mai, kava in four delicious new flavors” said the sign.   Love, love, love the concept but …..well…it’s mud.   Literally peppery-aftertaste mud.   Tried it last night in a ‘ritual ceremony.’   Ground kava root – only grown in special places in Fiji – are spooned into any old piece of cotton.   Then lukewarm water is poured over it.   Looked like 2 Tbsp of kava powder to about 2 cups of water.   Turns to strained mud kind of like cold British tea – opaque and pale brown.   Must be served, and only effective if it is, in a betel nut or coconut shell cup.   One must indicate interest in a serving by clapping your hands once.   The cup is presented, and you are expected to down the entire contents before clapping three times indicating success and return the cup back for the next guy.

Meh    It’s ok.   Cool, milky, peppery mud.  Thin.   Leaves your mouth tingling.   Can’t describe the after taste – the closest I come to is the way Italian grappa lingers in the mouth. Did it leave me relaxed and destressed? As compared to what? Did it make me lethargic and sleepy? Maybe 2 cups wasn’t enough.

There is no age limit for kava and it is the “only tropic” (long O) drink allowed in a village.   Alcohol is forbidden in villages because “Fijians are not good for alcohol”.   We found the entire discussion plus our earlier visit to the Sanasana village with Charles for dinner extremely reminiscent of life on native American reservations.  

At the appointed 6 PM hour, Charles met us in our backyard cabana and we walked the 10 minutes just as the sun was setting up the path of the old narrow gauge sugar cane railroad.   It’s out of operation since 2005 as it would get too top heavy when fully loaded w cane and with the new hotels in the area the improved roads made it smarter to switch to trucks to get the country cane to markets.

Sanasana village has been here for centuries although they moved from the island across the lagoon to have better soil for planting.  “It is very hard to plant and grow in coral”.   The village has about 400 residents in 100 homes with an Adventist church, a central hall (bigger space) and a newly finished traditional-style meeting house.   Church is held every day at 4 with a brief service to thank the Lord for the day and then a special service on Sundays.

Electricity first arrived in Sanasana in 1995 when the Intercontinental was built.   Before that it was lanterns and fire pits.    They have a village well from which they tote water back and forth and several privies in the village.  Charles’s home looked to be 4 rooms + an outdoor kitchen to “keep us safe from fires”.   It was clean and a mishmash of bright colors.  Woven plastic mats covered the floor with cushions to sit upon.   One room had an inexpensive pair of bunk beds like we would see available at Walmart.  

First, as we approached his house, Charles pointed out the pit our dinner had been cooked in still holding the glowing embers under a pile of large leaves.   We were then escorted inside and asked to remove our shoes to sit on the floor for dinner.

Five plates – chicken, fish, boiled potatoes, cassava and taupo leaves stuffed with ground meats and potato.  All as bland as you could possibly imagine with no seasonings.   No tomatoes or fruits to add zing or texture.  Eaten on our own plates with our fingers and a communal clean rag to wipe our fingers after dipping in a bowl of water.  The dinner included a small glass of juice – I’m guessing papaya.

Charles played with Eli, his 7-month-old son, and chatted while we ate.    Then his wife sat with the baby while he ate – after us.    Presumably she ate after we left.   They’ve been married 5 years but grew up in the village together.   Before the baby she was a nanny/babysitter at the Intercontinental.

Charles works the hotel trade off the beach 3 days a week, farms for 3 days a week and Sunday is a special day…. no work and time for family.   He spent last evening fishing for our dinner, tried to get a lobster but “it squiggled away”.

Everywhere we went we were greeted with “Bula” from all ages.   As we were leaving, well after dark and by flashlight, we walked through the central hall where 3 guys were lying around a kava bowl.   They had a ukelele and a guitar with them but I couldn’t determine if it was too early or too late for the muses to strike! 

Our whole visit to Sanasana and back lasted two hours.   The dinner and tour for two was $30 including “a tip for the village”.    For reference, the hotels sell a daytime tour of Sanasana for $25 each with no meal.  We were back in time to stroll up to reception for the kava ceremony. 

What’s your experience in Fiji or the South Pacific?   We’d love to hear your

thoughts and suggestions on Facebook at “suehendersonphotography”