We continued on to Nadi and my room at the Capricorn Hotel. Aruind had offered me his spare bedroom and I wish I had taken it but I wanted to see Nadi the next morning. We parted with a promise that I’d call him in the morning and that we would tour more of this part of Fiji.
Nadi is on the western part of the island along with the nice weather, the tourist resorts and the Internal airport. If Suva is cheap, Nadi is expensive. Anywhere in Suva costs $1.60 for a cab ride but in Nadi the minimum is $5.00. Nadi itself is not a destination. It’s a small town compared with Suva. If you are a rich tourist then you head by boat, airplane, helicopter, seaplane or cab to the resort of your choice. Nicole Kidman was said to be in Fiji when I was there but in a totally different milieu. I am sure that wherever she stayed the food was excellent and the creature comforts identical to those of New York City, London or Paris.
I took the $5.00 (Fiji) cab to Nadi center from my hotel, passed the second McDonalds in Fiji, and walked the length of the town. Nadi is not a very big town and end-to-end is about a ten-minute walk. Since tourists pass through Nadi the pressure to sell and sell quickly is far greater in Nadi than in Suva. I walked down the main street and allowed myself to be drawn into a store selling reproductions of Fijian battle instruments and carved toys. My intension was to buy a $20 souvenir. I am pretty good about sticking to my intensions so I was not afraid of a full sales broadside. I always assume that I might learn something from these exchanges.
My “personal” salesman introduced himself as Steve. Fijians adopt English names but often pronounce them differently enough to become unrecognizable. In this case my salesman spoke perfect British English and knew enough Americanisms to be almost annoying. I want local authenticity not an imitation of where I’m escaping from. Nadi is full of these Americanisms. There is a pizza restaurant run by an expat Australian woman.
There is a McDonald’s and then there is the “Texas” clothing store, which sells blue jeans and other western gear, made in Indonesia.
The store I was in was named “Bula,” which means something like welcome or ciao or just hello. Everyone says bula, even people on the street whose eyes you catch by accident. Every other store in Fiji has “bula” as part of its name. This particular store sold handicrafts and I was determined to buy a trinket. In most stores around the world you explore the merchandise, with or without the help of a store clerk or personal salesman and I began to explore the shop on my own. Steve, my personal salesman, said, “No before we shop we must have kava.” He asked me if I had ever had kava and indeed I never had. Kava is one of those drinks that make you wonder if there is a hidden drug in it. I was suspicious but willing to suspend judgment.
The ceremony begins with everyone sitting cross-legged on the floor. The kava powder is mixed in a large wooden bowl with some kind of ornament pointed at the guest of honor. Since I had the credit cards I was the guest of honor. Kava is a made from the root of a plant closely related to the black pepper plant. According to the Wikipedia:
Kavalactones are the main psychoactive components of the roots of kava, a shrub. … The rhizome and roots of the shrub are ground, grated and steeped in water to produce a non-alcoholic drink which is said to promote sociability, mental clarity, and reduction of anxiety). The quantity and ratio of kavalactones present vary dramatically and are highest when roots are extracted with solvents rather than by conventional tea. … Effects of kavalactones include mild sedation, a slight numbing of the gums and mouth, and vivid dreams. Kava has been reported to improve cognitive performance and promote a cheerful mood. Muscle relaxant, anaesthetic, anticonvulsive and anxiolytic effects are thought to result from direct interactions of kavalactones with voltage-dependent ion channelsYikes! What was I about to drink? After mixing the powder with water, stirring it for a minute or so the master of ceremony handed me a small half coconut shell filled with a white milky fluid. I was told I had to chug the drink after everyone clapped three times. So clap, clap, clap, and I emptied the coconut bowl. Kava tastes roughly like watered down un-flavored Kaopectate, that chalk filled drink that stops diarrhea. We clapped three times and everyone chugged a cup of kava until the bowel was emptied. Besides the slight numbing of my lips Kava was not a memorable experience.
Steve then proceeded to try to sell me everything in the store. I ended up buying a small, carved sea turtle for $50 that I should have paid about $20, the power of kava. I might have done the same if I had been offered an espresso.
Towns are a place where commerce takes place. Even if the primary occupation in a town like Nadi is to sell things and services to tourists there is always a component that services the local population. Off in the back of the town there is a large market. Part of the market is in the open air and part in an enormous shed. The most colorful part of this outdoor market was the spice and vegetable market.
I walked through the market wishing I could buy everything in sight if only for the color feast.
I walked though the market, passed the piles of kava root, pineapples and fish and emerged in a large square surrounded by shops and restaurants. In Boston we have Faneuil Hall; Nadi has this square. I get the same feeling of hurried commerce in both places.
At the far end of the square was “Bula Bargains”, a charming local equivalent of a K-Mart having their pre-Christmas sale. They had small plastic electrically lit Christmas trees, made in India and laughing Santa’s made in China. It’s a world wide economy.
Nadi is a small town and I had seen most of what I wanted to see so I paid $5.00 and went back the Capricorn Hotel and checked out.
I had promised to call Aruind in the morning for some more guided sightseeing. I thought I could call from the hotel but they had a 10 A.M. checkout policy and I was out of the room and all paid up so why should anyone let me use a phone. Public phone, what is a public phone? The Hotel didn’t have one … but there was one half a mile down the street. So I went looking and found a public phone. It didn’t take coins or standard credit cards, just a TelcomFiji prepaid phone card. I didn’t have one and I didn’t see any stores nearby that looked like they might have one so I went back to the hotel thinking I might have to take a cab back to Nadi just to call Aruind. Fortunately every hotel catering to tourists has a store that sells everything you need and lots you don’t. I bought a “telecard” for $3.00 Fiji and headed back out to call Aruind. Aruind was at the store but he would come get me as soon as he got back, assured his wife. I went back to the hotel and fell asleep by the pool. I’m not sure how long I was asleep but Aruind came over to me and woke me up, with a start. “Lets go,” he almost screamed, “We have things to see.”