Wow, what a day. Probably the most memorable we've had so far. We began the day early (of course) at around 6am with an outstanding breakfast. Russell had a pile of pancakes complete with fresh coconut shavings and bananas. The bananas here are like nothing we've ever tasted, probably because they go pull them off of the tree in the morning and they're ripe. Perfectly ripe without the help of chemicals and normal sized without the help of hormones.
After breakfast we were briefed on our day (as if we would forget the wonderfulness planned) by Teila and met by John, our snorkeling guide for the morning excursion we had planned. Jonny (no relation to John), a South African transplant, greeted us at the base of our villa in his boat and took us out to some small islands for snorkeling.
Our first go was short. We had to get back in the boat because of strong tides. After coming up and noticing our surroundings, we were nowhere close to where we should have been. Russell and I were thankful to have a guide and a driver so we weren't swept out to sea while we were preoccupied with the beauty beneath the water.
Our second dive was much better. We went further inland and sheltered ourselves between a few small islands. This is where John, our guide, really showed us how to snorkel! John can hold his breath forever and dive very deep without even using diving equipment! We were in awe as he shot down to depths of at least 40 feet, swam under and through coral and into small caves and then popped up through a break in the coral unexpectedly. Please let me add that Russell and I attempted only shallow dives to find that our ears were on the verge of bursting. I could barely get my body underwater at all...I'm a little more buoyant than I used to be!
John pointed out all the different types of coral and fish (which he lured in towards us with what looked to be green peas that he'd crush in his hand), and we had a simply marvelous time. By the end, we were both a little chilly and ready to get back to the villa and begin a cooking lesson we had scheduled with Teila, one of our morning cooks as well as the staff manager.
When we arrived at the villa, Teila greeted us with all of the supplies we would need for our lesson. Spices, freshly caught fish, flour, mango chutney (which was already prepared), and a few cooking tools. Before we started the cooking process, our two maintenance workers joined us to demonstrate how to climb a 50ft palm tree with no shoes! One of them scaled the tree, ably tore off a couple of green coconuts and tossed them down to the other fellow on the ground. And then of course he posed for a few pictures before descending :)
The green coconuts' milk is actually very sweet and a delicious drink right out of the shell, and one of the guys chopped off the ends of the ones he'd just taken from the tree, stuck straws in them, and handed them over for us to enjoy! Then Teila produced from the kitchen an older, brown coconut, which she chopped in half, and which I was promptly assigned to scrape the insides from using a traditional Fijian scraper (it's basically a piece of wood that you sit on that has a metal claw that sticks out the front between your legs; you then scrape the inside of the coconut against it to make FRESH COCONUT SHAVINGS!).
Katie and Teila meanwhile were in the kitchen seasoning the fish with traditional Fijian curry spices and making Roti tortillas from the provided flour and water. When I came back to join them, we then tossed the Roti on a skillet to make the most delicious tortillas you've ever tasted (they're sort of a mix between Indian Naan bread and Mexican tortillas), and started cooking the fish. Before long we sat down to another fabulous Taveuni Palms meal, except this time we were the cooks!
The next event that we scheduled for the day was simply a walk through the neighboring town (which includes both village dwellings as well as smaller tourist resorts and a few restaurants and shops). After a mile along the main highway, which follows the coastline, Katie and I stopped at Audrey's.
Audrey's is actually a woman's home whose name would be none other than, Audrey. Audrey is an eccentric woman in her 70s who moved to the island from California in the 1980s with her husband. It's unclear whether he is deceased or just does not live on the island anymore.
Audrey bakes. She also makes homemade Kahlua, tea and coffee drinks. Depending on who you are, she offers you different things. For example. We sat down and were offered three different cake options and iced coffee or hot coffee. She also offered Australian iced coffee indirectly which she actually does not make :) We chose chocolate cake and iced coffee. Neither Russell nor I drink coffee so we thought iced coffee would mask the taste.
Another man arrived on the front porch (you're not actually invited any further) and he was offered three different types of tea and some juice in addition to coffee. Oh well, I guess she didn't want us to have anything other than coffee!
While waiting for our cake, we were offered shots of Kahlua. This woman can make some Kahlua! It was the strongest I have ever tasted. We poured it into our iced coffee to hide the taste of the coffee and dilute the taste of the Kahlua. The cake was good (we hear the best on the island), but it did not compare to the cake my grandmothers make.
Now more on Audrey- She reminds me of a cartoon. Wrinkled and beginning to stoop, but does not cease to fix her hair and cake on the make up. The 80's must have been a good decade for her because her eyeshadow is blue and her blush very pink. She's a very forward woman. She doesn't look for the "polite" way to say things and does not seem to meet a stranger. She has a cat named "RPA" short for "royal pain in the ass". She claims he's part Siamese. He's orange and white and looks like a former stray. We watched him scare a puppy, tail tucked, right away from the porch.
While on the porch, we meet a guy who looks older than us, but it seems he is not. He was a former Marketing agent in California who is now working for the Peace Corp. in a small villiage in Taveuni. His job is to help with tourism growth and teaching technology. He seemed tired, but grateful to be away from his American career. We also met an Australian backpacker who looked like a prophet. Old (I'm sure not as old as he looked), skinny, with long hair and a long beard. He wore a sari and a button down shirt. He told us of the troubles of using the ATMs in Fiji, which apparently is a major problem around the area.
Overall, Audrey's was a worthwhile stop.
On we went to the grocery store. I love experiencing grocery stores of other cultures. I think that you really learn about culture by walking through their markets. This market was packed! I guess it was like taking Wal-Mart and putting it in a shrinky-dink machine then taking all of the sanitation away. You could find everything from batteries to eggs to rolling pins to fabric bolts. You could do your laundry in a building behind the store and you could get gas in the front (but not on Sundays). A favorite aspect of this store, it was owned by an Indian family. They seem to dominate the market worldwide :)
Our last stop in town was at Babbu's house, which we'd been invited to the night before. We were a little embarrassed because we were running late thanks to Audrey, whom I affectionately refer to as the "cat lady", delaying our outing by a bit. Babbu was quite gracious though, and he and his wife, Suji, welcomed us in--we removed our shoes before entering as is customary--and sat and chatted with us for a while (Babbu is much chattier than the wife!). Also, Babbu is the proud father of a new three month-old son, his first child, and Katie was able to hold him during our pow-wow. As a side note, instead of a crib or motorized swing, etc., Babbu's baby boy had been sleeping in what I can only describe as being like a Baby Bjorn that hangs from the ceiling. Sort of a sling. It was homemade from some green fabric, and it had a bunch of blankets and pillows on the inside for the newborn to sleep on.
After we'd chatted a bit, Babbu then introduced us to what I'd anxiously been awaiting: Kava. Kava is a traditional Fijian ceremonial drink that historically was reserved for village chiefs, but is now enjoyed by everyone. It's supposed to have a number of beneficial medicinal properties, but it's more commonly associated with a numbing sensation of the tongue and a relaxing/sleepy feeling. Also, there has been some loose correlation with liver problems and skin rashes, although these issues typically seem to only afflict non-natives. Anyway, more than anything, the main obstacle we were expecting was a challenging taste.
Kava is made from crushed up roots and water, and doesn't taste particularly good. But we had been wanting to partake in this cultural custom and had no intention of backing down now. So, Babbu prepared a large serving of the muddy-looking stuff in a blue plastic tub, and we all sat down on a hand-woven mat in cross-legged positions waiting to taste the concoction. I was the first to try. Babbu poured some Kava into a smaller coconut bowl and passed it over. First, everyone clapped once in preparation for my drinking, and then I struggled to consume the dirt-like mixture. After a minute or so, and after a decent amount of wincing and squirming, I had downed the Kava, we all clapped three times, and it was Katie's turn. She reacted similarly, and it was up to Babbu to show us how it was done. Interestingly, after he guzzled his drink he winced as well, remarking he'd made it a bit too strong! :)
We continued to take turns, drinking small cups of Kava, until Katie and I felt we could endure no more. Then, the festivities moved outside to a little hut with a sign adorning it: "Babbu's Billiards and Grog" (I have no idea what "grog" means). Here we played a round of 8-ball pool, with Katie and I teamed up against Babbu. The collaborative effort sadly made no difference, however, and Babbu beat us handily.
The sun had already set by this point, and Babbu offered to drive us back to our villa; we appreciatively accepted. There, we found the decks outside the villa decorated with a large number of lanterns, beautifully contrasting with the night sky. We immediately informed Teila we were ready for dinner to be served out on the Bula deck so we could enjoy the decoration. The meal consisted of "samosas", crab, and some sort of delicious coconut-based dessert. A wonderful way to spend our last evening on Taveuni, and we can't wait to return one day!