Thursday, 24 October 2013

Fiji - Nadi 25/10/13

We hadn't been in the city of Nadi for more than 15 seconds before we were swept up and carried away by a friendly looking man standing on the corner. He was lying in wait like a spider who had just finished weaving his net, and like unsuspecting flies we wandered within his grasp and were pounced upon.

"Bula!" he said. "Come with me. I will take you to the village markets, where everything is made by locals. All the shops in town, they are owned by big companies. Don't support big business, help our village!" He flashed us a grin as he led us away.

We followed him, all cautionary tales about talking to strangers forgotten. We had been charmed by the friendly Fijians in Lautoka and were walking around in a trusting daze.

He led us into a souvenir shop lined with carvings and bracelets and other trinkets. Not a market, but worth a look around nonetheless. Then a young man led us over to a grass mat and was very insistent that we partake in a welcoming ceremony. We were hungry, and just wanted to buy something small and escape. But he had a sweet face and he so wanted us to sit down, so we took off our shoes and were led onto the mat for his ceremony. 

It quickly became obvious that they were just trying to be as nice as possible and spend enough time being friendly to us that we would be obligated to buy something. Fair enough. Not a new sales tactic by any means, and we didn't have a souvenir yet. So we sat there listening to him talk about his village and how they had to drive two hours into town each day to run their shop. Everything in the store was hand made by one of the 375 people in his village, and even the younger villagers painted beautiful pictures to sell to help out. Their school only goes up to the 6th grade and our ceremony leader was the first person from their village to ever make it to University. All the money they make goes to their chief, who puts it into the schools and looking after the villagers so maybe one day more of them will become educated as well.

I desperately wanted to believe him. But I was too busy watching him mix up a drink for our ceremony, wondering how long it would take the poison to kick in and whereabouts they would dump our bodies after they had taken our wallets. I noticed the spider had abandoned his web to stand in the doorway - his mother had obviously told him to finish one meal before starting another.

We were told the drink was kava. Obviously not a rare thing in these parts, and I knew what it looked like, but who was to say it hadn't been mixed with anything. We were trapped. We hadn't had a chance to try any kava yet, so we didn't know what it tasted like. And quite frankly we were curious - we had both been looking for somewhere to buy it but the markets only sell it in root and powder form and we had no idea how to make it into a drink.

The friendly student opened up a bag and had Garth put two spoonfuls of powder into it before quickly closing it shut. Then he poured liquid, probably water, into a bowl and swirled the kava bag around, rubbing it along the sides. The water turned a light brown colour as he continued to talk and I continued to hope that the bag didn't contain anything nasty.

When it was ready, he said some words, we all clapped three times and Garth chugged down his bowl under the instruction of our guide. "Down the hatch, like tequila!"
Then it was my turn, and after the clapping I downed my shot and said 'Vanaka' as per his instructions - the Fijian word for thank you.

Then, thank goodness, he drank from the same bowl. So unless he has spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder, we were probably all safe. The kava didn't taste bad, just a bit starchy. It left my mouth feeling a bit numb, but other than that it didn't really do much. It's supposed to be good for anxiety, so perhaps I was more chilled out and didn't notice. Who knows.

The rest of the ceremony was actually interesting, and consisted solely of clapping and drinking kava. Then we wandered around and looked at everything - they really wanted us to buy a statue or something that they could carve our name into, but there's nowhere to put it on the boat. There were no prices on anything and they kept saying they would discuss it with us when we decided what we wanted. Alarm bells started ringing. Nevertheless, I picked out a pretty wooden turtle and Garth fell in love with a hand painted map of Fiji made out of the bark from a tree in their village. Probably. I can at least confirm it was hand painted on bark, I just hope it wasn't from China. The price they gave us for both was nearly $200, which almost made us walk out, but in the end we negotiated them down on the turtle and put the painting back. It would have gotten moldy anyway.

The guy we drank kava with seemed to be genuinely nice, and kind of told the guy at the till to shut up when he kept nagging us about how much we would pay for the painting. He wrapped our turtle up and shooed us out and away from the clutches of the older men. So that was an experience - we left with a bit of a sour taste in our mouths, unsure if we had been ripped off or not. But we would have given him something for the kava anyway, the ceremony was a unique experience and the turtle is nice. It was also cheaper than it would have been from a souvenir store. The spider was right about those stores in town though - they are all massive and flashy.

Before we left, our ceremony leader warned us about wandering off with strangers - he said not to go up any stairs or down any back streets. So we left, and focused all our energy on trying to find the vegetable markets. Almost immediately, a guy who was walking beside us said hi and struck up a conversation about the All Blacks. "Have you been to the markets yet?" He said. No, we were on our way there now. Of course he escorted us, down a back street and towards some stairs to another souvenir shop. And that was when we decided we didn't like Nadi.

The whole city is just full of people trying to take our money. And we obviously don't have much - we're young, we're scraggly and we don't look like the kind of snooty tourists who you could sell a $120 map to. But they all want to try anyway. I spent the rest of the day being justifiably annoyed when people said 'bula!' because only a few of them were actually being friendly. I very much dislike when people pretend they're being nice in order to get your attention to sell you something. 

The marina was interesting though, in a surreal and twisted kind of way. Denerau Point is a bustling hub for tourists, with all the activities leaving from the one place and all the cruise ship passengers coming in. The marina is just kind of bundled in amongst it all. As we were pulling up our mooring I nearly dropped it again as a huge cruise ship took off amidst a lot of very loud horn blaring, people waving and a full marching band playing for them from the dock. The noise was astronomical - I couldn't scream over the horn, no matter how hard I tried. 

The dock was just full of fancy shops and people trying to draw you inside, tourists and ritzy cafes. We eventually discovered that people bug you less when you're not wearing shoes. A cruise ship came in while we were there, with 1000s of passengers all piled in amongst the shops. The locals put on a show for them - the buildings were dressed up in palm fronds, a band played all day, there were Fijians doing traditional dances in full costumes, and there were stalls with local crafts lined up everywhere. It amazed me that these people could get off their boat, stand around in amongst all this showy fakeness for a day surrounded by jewelry stalls and coffee shops, then go home satisfied that they've seen Fiji. And the ones we spoke to genuinely loved it. That's what Nadi was like - tourists and locals trying to sell stuff to tourists.

Lautoka is the opposite of Nadi. I love Lautoka. Almost 100% of people who walk past us in Lautoka smile and greet us with a happy 'bulla!' People often ask where we're from as they're walking, not even stopping to chat. Just being nice. They often shout 'Kia Ora!' back over their shoulders after we've replied. The city just has so much charm about it. I love that the kids wave and smile at us. I love that the entire town shuts down for an hour or two for lunch every day, and there's often no set time.

A shopkeeper from the store next to the locked up shop I wanted to go into said to me "It's lunch time, they'll be back later on."
"What time do you think that will be?"
He stared at me blankly. "After lunch?"

I love that the buses drive past with kids leaning out the window banging on the sides, smiling and waving. The markets are bustling and slow moving at the same time, filled with interesting colours and smells. Everybody is on Fiji time, nobody runs anywhere and the streets are full of trees. There's a constant trickle of leaves falling in the parks which look like flurries of snow and make you feel like you're in a magical wonderland. I love Lautoka, and we're going to miss it here. 

Xxx Monique

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