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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Today's News - Cyclone Devastates Vanuatu - Where the Heck is Vanuatu?

Vanuatu – Skip the Kava, I’ll have a beer!

I’m staying at the Beachfront Resort here in Vanuatu. It doesn’t appear as opulent as my digs in Fiji—and there were no musicians or dancers to greet me—but the nightly rate is reasonable, similar to what I paid in Guam and Saipan.

  Vanuatu is located between Fiji and Papua New Guinea, and it isn’t a destination for many tourists other than scuba divers—although it’s a major stopover for sailboats from all over the world. During my morning walk through Vila I can see that it’s a sleepy little harbor village. A few tramp steamers are tied up to the wharves and I feel like I’ve stepped into a Jack London novel. And—in fact—Jack London did visit here.

  In the late afternoon there’s a knock on my door. It’s Wayne, the owner of the resort. He wants to know if I’d like to join him for a cup or two of kava. Kava is sort of a national drink here in the Pacific—sometimes described as mildly intoxicating and sometimes described as medicinal. I’m anxious to try it, and as it turns out, it’s a good thing I tried it before I found out how it’s made.  

  I thought Wayne would take me to a kava establishment—sort of like a bar or pub—but he explains that people make it and drink it at home. Our destination is somebody’s back yard.

  There’s a small crowd of people milling around when we arrive. A few chairs are spread out in no particular order around a make-shift table. On top of the table there’s a huge aluminum tub along with some cracked coffee cups and coconut shells. Wayne pays the guy behind the table a few vatus (the national currency), and he ladles some kava from the tub into two coconut shells and hands them to us. I’m about to have an authentic South Pacific experience.

  My first impression is that kava looks like mud and smells like feet. I take a sip and discover it also tastes like mud. After a few more sips my lips and tongue begin to tingle.
It’s an interesting sensation, similar to how it feels when the freezing comes out after you’ve had dental work done. I’m now starting to feel a little ‘buzz’.

  “So,” I ask Wayne. “How is this stuff made?”

  “Generally, people buy the kava root at the local market.” He tells me. “Then they peel it and grind it by hand on a block of dead coral. The moisture it releases is added to cold water. And you have to drink it right away or it loses its punch.”

  “Interesting,” I comment, taking another sip. By this time my lips are so numb some of the kava dribbles down my chin.

  “I use the more traditional way of preparing it.” Wayne offers. “Because it’s much more potent.”

  “What’s the traditional way?”  I ask.

  “The young women chew the root for about ten minutes to soften it up and mix it with saliva. When it’s good and juicy they spit it into a bowl. Then you mix it with water and serve it immediately.”

  “You’re kidding!”

  “Nope. Look over there.” Wayne points to a bunch of women sitting on chairs in the corner of the yard.  While I’m looking one of them spits into a bowl.

  “Care for another cup?” he asks.

  “Thanks—I’ll pass.” I reply.

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