Trying Kava in Fiji
As always, I came to Fiji without knowing anything about it. That means, it’s “ask the locals” type of trip! And whenever I asked, everyone told me that I haven’t really visited Fiji if I didn’t try Kava.
“Kava comes from the root of the yaqona (piper methysticum) bush, a relative of the pepper plant. The root is ground up and then strained with water into a large wooden communal bowl (or sometimes a plastic bucket, depending on what you have on hand). Simple preparation for a simple drink. Yaqona is one of fiji’s biggest crops and exports.” ~ Why Wait to See the World?
A local guide told me that it relaxes all your muscles and makes you sleepy. Many of the islanders take it daily. It is one of the big reasons for “Fiji Time” - the super relaxed, laid-back culture of the island. They even use Kava in some sleeping pills in Australia. Why not? It’s all natural with no side-effects (except possible addiction and laziness the next day).
I wasn’t really planning to try it. But on my last night before leaving Fiji for Tuvalu, I got a pedicure in the evening, and once again the local pedicurist told me to try Kava. I was in the Denarau Island Port, a touristy port near all the popular hotels. There was a show of local dancers there. The pedicurist told me that tourists get complimentary kava - I just had to ask the emcee where to get it!
The sketchiness of it was more exciting than my logical self telling me that it’s a bad idea to try a drug I’ve never been exposed to in a foreign country on my own the night before a 6:00am flight. I wasn’t even on the safe premises of my hotel!
Throwing away the logic to the wind - YOLO! I sketchily asked the emcee where I can score some Kava. Note that Kava is legal in Fiji. Nevertheless, I’ve never asked a random person for drugs before!
Sadly, he told me that tonight was not the Kava night. I need to come back tomorrow, which I wouldn’t be able to do. Thinking it was for the best, I went to my favorite restaurant in the port - Nadina! - for dinner.
I tried to order a coconut at dinner, but the waitress informed me that the restaurant ran out… Side note: I get very upset when restaurants in tropical locations that are filled with coconut trees run out of coconuts… That happened at the Hilton the day before!
The waitress asked me if I would like anything else to drink, and I jokingly said “Kava!” expecting it to be as unfulfilled a wish as a fresh coconut. To my surprise, she told me that the street musicians in the back are giving out Kava! And she would go with me to get it!
The musicians work on tip, so you don’t really “pay” for the Kava. I took some money out of the ATM, and headed over to the musicians. They gave me Kava! I don’t really remember the taste. I think it just tasted like water. I just drank it all in one go.
Right away, it made my tongue numb. I remember a local telling me about this. He said that Fijians always keep lollypops with them to recover their tastebuds after drinking Kava. I forgot that part - probably should have tried it after dinner… But it wasn’t that bad / didn’t last long, and I was able to enjoy my dinner, watching people at the port.
The Kava didn’t seem to do much else… I might have been more relaxed, but it might have been just me enjoying the atmosphere in general. I had the most magical relaxing time at this same restaurant earlier in the week!
At the end of my meal, the waitress convinced me to get another cup of Kava “for the road”! She was so nice, I couldn’t refuse! I also think I tipped the musicians too much… They sang me a local Fijian island goodbye song and gave me one more cup of Kava.
A while later, in the hotel, I had a weird experience where my mind was super clear and alert, but my body was super slow (I had to pack for my flight). The next day, during my flights, I felt super super relaxed! I think it was a latent effect of the Kava and it was great! I highly recommend Kava before a flight! But not so much that you’ll fall asleep and miss your flight… haha.