We had to collectively make dinner as a group the other day, and I was responsible for not just collecting wood for the fire, but for mixing the kava prior to dinner. I’ve already written about how much I enjoy kava and the cultural aspects of it, but being an active part of the ceremony was something completely different. I had to memorize lines in Fijian and mix the kava for everybody, while Maggie told us about the customs and legends of Kadavu. After dinner, I rejoined Maggie, Kevin, Esau, and the others after dinner to drink more kava, and we sat around exchanging stories and cultural traditions. I showed all of the Fijians what snow looks like back in upstate New York, as they had never seen it before. I also told them about life in New York City and discussed politics and social norms.
The kava bowl.
Although I have been spending the last few days in paradise; the exhaustion from all of our previous dives has finally caught up to me. The other day I only participated in our first dive and headed back early; today I stayed back entirely to rest up so I can enjoy our final week in Fiji to its fullest.
Last night our class helped to prepare a Fijian dinner for the resort and in the process collected a large amount of coconuts. I have been working on cleaning up the coconut enough to use as a cup or bowl once back home by scraping off the outter fuzz and shaving out the inner white part of the coconut.
Current progress on my coconut bowl.
Now to rest up and relax for the rest of the day as I wait for the rest of the class to return.
We get back from our last scuba dive of the day and look to see the jobs we have to prepare dinner. I look down the list and spot my name under “collect firewood”. Ok, this is probably just carrying already cut wood to the cooking place. It will be great, just a little manual labor. One of the staff members leads my group away from the main bure down this little path around some other buildings. He is carrying two axes in his hands. This is where my mind shifted from slight manual labor to extreme manual labor (at least for me, someone who has never cut wood before). He leads us up a path, or a slight opening in the brush since there was no real path. It rained that morning so the dirt was a little slippery. Maybe more than ‘a little slippery’ considering it took Ashley, Joe and I a while to climb that hill. I think we can all say we gained a little more flexibility after sliding into splits a few times during this climb. About five minutes later, 5 physically exhausted people finally made it up the hill, but that is when the “fun” started.
We started swinging those axes. “Collect firewood” should have been changed to “chopping firewood”. The person who led us to the site showed us where to cut and we all took turns, chopping away. Once we thought had good footing, we fell. Then the rain started. Here we are, in the middle of the forest with axes in hand, and the rain drenches us. Finally, we have all the wood we need and we climb higher up the mountain until we reach a path. So, with a log on our shoulders, axe and flip flops in our grasps, we descend down the path, hopefully towards the resort. At this point, we thought anything could really happen.
I am first in the line going down the hill. At first I thought this was an advantage because I would be down the hill first, but I could not have been more wrong. I was the first to test the soil and, well, the first to see how slippery it was. I guess I could say it was extremely slippery considering my position shifted from my feet to my butt a couple times. I think Brad was glad I was before him because he knew where all the soft spots were. We reach the bottom of the hill, and see everyone else. I would also like to add here that they were under a roof, dry as can be. We stroll in, dirt everywhere, out of breath, and it was extremely rewarding. This is what people do every day to eat and it was a great experience to be able to partake in this. In the moment, I definitely did not think this, but now I am very glad I got to do this.
The quite slippery downhill path.
A couple days ago we had a Lovo which is basically a Fijian barbeque. We were all assigned different tasks and I had the pleasure of husking and scraping coconuts. I thought. “Oh, that doesn’t seem to bad” but I was super wrong. In order to husk a coconut, one must use a handy stick that is shoved into the ground.
The husking stick in the ground.
The coconut is then shoved into the stick and then pushed down to peel off some of the husk. Then you use the stick as a fulcrum to peel the rest of the husk off like a banana. As you peel you are fighting a hundred strands from the husk. Those steps are repeated until the entire husk is removed.
Removed coconut husks.
We had to husk about forty coconuts! After husking we had to open them by hitting the veins of the coconut with a blunt blade. When done right the coconut would open within a few strikes.
Flynn cutting open a coconut.
After the process of just opening the coconut we still had to shave and squeeze the coconut meat to get the coconut cream or cut the coconut from the husk to make coconut chips. I hope you appreciate all things coconut a little bit more because I sure do.
My day started off with me being woken up by the sounds of the rainforest, loud rain and rattling trees. I then had breakfast and prepared for my three dives of the day. Scuba diving is very tiring but I’m glad we went on three rather than our usual two. I saw a lot of cool and interesting things along the way. I saw some Titan Trigger fish chasing down their food, a bunch of colorful nudibranch and even three sharks! During one of our surface intervals, I was snorkeling looking for cool fish to identify. I saw something purple floating just below the surface out of the corner of my eye and swam to it. Not to my surprise, I saw a Jellyfish. It stood out to me because I’ve never seen a purple and orange medusa jellyfish in person and i thought it was really pretty. Every dive I go on I discover more and more things that excite me and make me curious of what my next dive in Fiji will hold.
On the 10th night of January, we enjoyed a feast of delicious Fijian cuisine that was prepared with farm-fresh ingredients from the village of Kadavu. We were separated into groups which were each assigned a task in preparation of the feast. One group chopped onions, garlic, and grated ginger root. One group went out into the jungle and gathered firewood, machete in hand. One group split coconuts and shaved out their insides. The coconut meat was used to make fresh coconut cream, and the shells were used as extra firewood. Another group peeled and chopped taro & breadfruit. My group was in charge of peeling the leaves of ota, or bush fern.
All of these ingredients were turned into out delicious feast later on. This feast involved the chopped tomato soup with coconut cream and chopped garlic and onions. The main course involved the taro, breadfruit, salad with papaya, spinach, ota, and eggplant in coconut cream, pumpkin in coconut cream, chicken (which had been wrapped in coconut leaves), and fish. The food was absolute delicious, and it was a rewarding experience as we all worked together to make it.
Kurt cutting open a coconut.
There’s nothing quite so humbling as being on a tiny island during a storm. You feel all its power with none of the buffers of city or suburban life to mitigate it. The howling winds rattle the windows and drive rain into the walls and ceiling of your room. It’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same time, a strange cocktail of stress hormones sitting in the pit of your stomach.
The view outside the main bure as the first rainstorm hit in the morning, before breakfast.
We felt the storm out at sea before it hit the island of Kadavu. The very first dive I and the other former divers-in-training undertook with the rest of the group was outside the protection of the fringing reef. Waves tossed our boat from side to side, making entering and exiting a harrowing experience. Beneath the waves was little better; strong surge rocked us back and forth, threatening to slam us into the delicate coral with every sway. A few of us declined to go on the second dive.
It’s easy to forget that the gently lapping waves at Matava’s dock have been neutered by the reef far off the island’s shores. But once you remember, it becomes a source of amazement. Our second dive took place within the safety of the lagoon, and it felt like an entirely different ocean. How wonderful, that a collection of invertebrates building an external skeleton over thousands and thousands of years can make an entire island so much safer.
Standing approximately 14 feet by 14 feet, the Bure, is similar to the style of a chalet. After taking the long hike up the hill (depending on which bure that one lives in), one encounters a beautiful, wooden balcony that overlooks the still ocean.
This balcony is located in the middle of the hill.
Morning views from the glass window panes is incredible. The sun rises so perfectly over the little island, known as “two trees”, for its two palm trees (when you get closer you will see that there are many more than just two trees). Even when it is not sunrise, these rooms house the finest views.
View from the River Bure.
Inside the Bure, there is one decent sized room, containing chairs, a night table, beds and something similar to a closet, except without doors. Also, there is a bathroom. Mine and Leora’s bathroom has a large spider, at first, he was a little scary, but after his second day with us, we have come to consider him our friend. The sea breeze comes in through windows and it feels lovely. We don’t spend too much time in our Bure’s. However, they do provide for an excellent place to rest our tired heads.
Outside of the Bure.
On Tuesday before the second Kava Ceremony, we all teamed up in pairs and had a drum competition on the drums they use to announce when meals are. Maggie [ed: our primary host at Matava] told us that the judges are a mermaid, a jungle warrior and someone in between, and that the winner would get a prize. Not much planning had been put into everyone’s performance but we all still went up none the less. After everyone performed for about 10 seconds each, Maggie asked one member from each group to stand up and get in a straight line. After we did he told us to spin around in a circle and start waving then said, “we are out of meat for the barbeque, say goodbye to your friends”. After we all sat down again he unrolled a blank place of tweed looking material for dramatic effect and announced that Alex and Tess were the competition winners, and they each got what we called a “tsunami tide” (extra large) cup of Kava as a prize, then we started the actual ceremony.
Alex and Tess receiving their “tsunami tide” cup of Kava.
One of the best parts about our stay in Fiji is easily the food. Every day, the meals prepared for us are fresh and flavorful. One of biggest treats though is getting to have fresh coconuts. When we first arrived to Matava we were greeted and given a coconut each. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of coconut water, but the coconut water back home is nothing like that of a freshly opened coconut here. The juice is so refreshing, and has a subtle sour kick to it, perfect after a long day of traveling or scuba diving.
Yesterday we got the extra treat of watching some coconuts get picked in person. I got down from my bure and heard a loud thud, a common sound we’ve all come to recognize as a coconut falling. I paid no mind to the first one but after a few more loud thuds and a crowd gathering with their phone cameras pointed up, I realized what was going on. A staff member had climbed to the top of a coconut tree and was kicking coconuts down to the ground. It was an impressive sight, especially considering how tall and smooth the tree was, and how effortlessly he did it. All us visitors collected a coconut, and went off to a husking station, where a couple of staff members used machetes to cut open the coconuts for drinking, and even cutting some in half to scoop out the meat. Delicious. It doesn’t get much fresher than that!
Climbing the coconut tree.
The coconut husking station.