Kava for Hire

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So, just how does one celebrate the return of a prized possession when floating around in the South Pacific on a boat anchored off shore? Well, apart from doing high jumps off the third deck, there were other options. I could of course drink my face off, but that leaves one feeling a little under the weater, and since I had already decided to do a scuba dive the next morning, that was out of the question. However, a German and Italian fellow each had a great solution. We decided we should try to source some authentic Fijian Kava. For more info on this, I would implore you to do a Google search on it. There is quite a bit of history and lore to Kava, and I had to try it, and the only way is for a Fijian to prepare it for you. Read on for more about this exciting tale of narcotics on the high seas, complete with the stealthy delivery.

We made some quiet inquiries to the cook about whether there was an option to get Kava, as we had noticed a large traditional Kava bowl on a top shelf by the bar. We were later informed that for the low price of 30 FJD, we could get a kilo, which would last easily an evening. That meant roughly 8 CDN dollars out of my pocket to try it out. We were in. Arrangements were made, and as darkness descended, a boat was sent out to a nearby village to acquire the crushed root which is used to prepare it. After supper, we had a table prepared for us, with the large Kava bowl in the center, and a Kava chief installed himself and started preparing the first bowl.

Kava is prepared the following way. Fresh water is poured into the bowl. Probably 2-3 L. Then, the powder is put in a cloth sack, like cheese cloth. This is then kneaded in the water with the hands, turning it a milky color. This is worked for a little while, at which point the liquid is ready. Then, two little bowls are used to measure and pour out helpings. You go around the table, each person drinking a bowl, until everyone has had one. You then relax and socialize for a while before the next bowl. This is repeated until all the kava is gone, which can take many hours. In this time, you are learning about your neighbours and guests, and forming bonds. Before each bowl, you do a single cupped-hand clap, and exclaim Bula! After downing the bowl, you do an additional 3 cupped-hand claps.

So what does this kava do, and what’s the deal? Well, as I mentioned, it’s a narcotic. A little like novacaine maybe. It causes your lips and tongue to tingle, and supposedly, if you drink it in large quantities, your whole face can go a bit numb. Well, in spite of literally drinking it for 3+ hours, yours truly never really did notice any great effects apart from a slight tingle occasionally. And the taste? Well, it looks like dirty dishwater, and the taste is similar. Best comparison is probably just earthy water. After all, it is a root, not thouroughly cleaned, filtered by a cloth, then drank. It was nothing to write home about, yet here is a whole post about it. I’m very glad I got the opportunity, and even though I was worried it wouldn’t be as authentic, my concerns were laid to rest.

We had started the ceremony with most of the group involved, with 13 or 14 of us, but eventually, most people drifted off to either just hang out in the back of the boat, or to watch movies in the air conditioned (!) sleeping cabin. In the end, it was 3 of us, and the entire crew of 7 men drinking it up. Well, everyone except the cook, as the Chief from his village had forbid any villagers from drinking with tourists while working. At one point, a few of them were playing guitar, ukelele, and singing. I brought out my penny whistle and egg, and we had some fun just making some music in the dark night while drinking the kava. Five stars for authenticity yet again.

So that’s the tale of the Kava, and how the little Canadian that could drank down 18+ bowls in 3 hours. One for the memory file for sure.

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