May 05 2011

Justin brings the 2-step to Australia

We are currently at Airlie Beach, a super popular backpacker stop, on the mainland across from one of the most popular sailing grounds in Australia, the Whit Sundays. Justin and I went out on a Tuesday night and didn’t make it back to the boat until 2:30 am. Fun times were had. Lots of beer, super-sized Jenga, dancing in the streets. Huge hangover on my part.

And in homage to Greg Sutera, Justin brought the 2-step to Australia.

Nov 25 2010

Boys will be Boys

Tag: fun activity,humorous,interacting with the localsmattholmes @ 4:44 am

I would like to extend a thoroughly vigorous thank-you to Richard Switlick, Chris Reardon, Kevin Tompsett, and Philippe Boujon, who provided the drink-link funds for Jon and myself to enjoy a correspondingly vigorous evening of refreshing alcoholic beverages.  Additionally, Karen expresses her appreciation for the quiet evening of solitude that she enjoyed while we were on the town. Thank you friends!  I regret that we do not have any pictures of the event, but I have included a great shot that Jon took of the city as it appears from our ferry stop–exactly as it appeared as we entered downtown in search of some fine Belgian beers.

Upon hearing of our male-beer-evening, a female cruising friend living down the dock from us commented that the sole topics of conversation among single men when lacking female company seem to be 1) women and 2) alcohol. Given that we are no longer single (I am married; Jon is in a relationship), she was curious about exactly what we might discuss.  A ready defense of the quality of our conversation jumped to the tip of my tongue, because I recalled that on the evening in question we had an unusually philosophical back and forth for at least two hours.  I paused before answering, however, when I realized that we had started the event at 4 and continued until 1–a duration of 7 hours–minor mental calculation says that 2 out of 7 hours is not a significant portion.  Upon further reflection, I recalled a spirited debate regarding the top three brands of each and every type of liquor present on the shelves of the bar.  And what else did we talk about? Oh, right.

I was forced to admit that the primary topics of mature non-single male conversation remain 1) women and 2) alcohol. At the same time, I regret nothing and make no apologies.

For another exhibit of male arcana, I present the preferred method for one dude to cut another dude’s hair.  I think you will agree with me that it is a paragon of efficiency: note in particular the minimal amount of male-male contact and the utter lack of escaping stray hair.

Oct 23 2010

Mt. Yasur

Tag: fun activity,interacting with the locals,VanuatuJonathon Haradon @ 10:09 pm

Our sail from Fiji to Tanna Island, a southern island in Vanuatu, lasted for four days.  The passage was not unpleasant, but it took me a couple of days to get over a lethargic feeling of seasickness.  The last two days, however, I felt fantastic, and I remember thinking ‘I’d forgotten that passage making was enjoyable!’

I have to remind myself of that feeling repeatedly so as to give it more prominence in my memory, because most of the time, passage making is not enjoyable.  Like our three day bash into confused seas and high winds from Tanna to New Caldonia where all I felt like cooking or eating was Ramon and a general malaise infused my entire being.

The last stretch of sailing to Tanna happened at night.  We were forty miles away when I took over the watch at midnight.  Two hours later we were thirty miles away and I noticed a glow on the horizon.  The mysterious glow seemed to hover over the island, like the lights of a metropolis from a distance in the evening, though a metropolis we certainly were not approaching.  The mysterious glow was why we were here.  The mysterious glow was from the boiling molten magma in the crater of an active volcano.  Our plan was to stand on the rim of this rumbling, lava- spewing, debris-belching beast.  Mt. Yasur.

Us and, as it turns out, 40 of our not-so-closest tourist friends.

We traveled by pick-up truck which somehow managed to transport thirteen people there, winding through a veritable four wheel drive jungle road.  Tiny villages occasionally dotted the sides of the road, and we passed clearings were Vanuatians were playing soccer.  There were many tree-houses, full-fledged houses not like little kid versions,  the banyan trees being enormously large; I saw one that had a spiral staircase ascending around the 20 foot diameter trunk system.  Other banyans had a multitude of tree limbs that jutted for 100 feet away from the center.  Once the road began it’s climb up the sides of the volcano however, the jungle quickly gave way to drier and drier conditions, until we were in a veritable wasteland.  It was about 5 pm, the sun was casting a terrific eerie light and the smoke and ash billowing from the volcano added a layer of depth to the color of the skyline.

We made the final climb to the rim of Mt. Yasur and peered over.  The edge sloped away at 45 degrees and then a few hundred feet away, cut down steeper, hiding the actual bottom.  Smoke puffed out at random intervals.  Sulfur filled the nostrils with an acrid stench.  Booming sounds of explosions and rumblings echoed up.  And the ground.  The ground shook when a large explosion would deafen the air sending a shock-wave of sound and air streaming past.  Projectiles shot up above the level of the rim.

Someone asked our guide if you could see the actual magma pit from any vantage point on the rim, and he replied they wouldn’t take tourists to those places.  If you can see the magma pit, the guide said, that means it could shoot something directly at you and you were vastly more likely to be in the path of flying debris.

Our guide held us where we initially gained the rim for a few moments as he stared into the pit of the volcano.

“Can we hike higher along the rim?” he was asked.

“We must wait for a moment.”  he replied.

“For what?”

“I must see which which way the volcano is shooting debris today.”

And shoot it did.  A few minutes later it exploded, and the senses were assaulted with the acrid smells, booming sounds, sights of billowing smoke and projectiles, and feel of a shuddering ground and shockwave of air.  One got the feeling that nature was very much in charge here.

Our guide then led us higher on the rim of Mt. Yasur.  The random and intermittent explosions continued, but now with a better angle to see, we were witness to lava exploding forth, sending showers of molten rock high into the air and spreading red hot glowing debris over a vast area of the inner slopes.  As the sun set behind us, the scene became even more impressive as the glowing became more brilliant.  Glowing debris from even the smallest explosions could now be seen more easily.  And when the largest explosion yet erupted, it was simply awesome.

Oct 23 2010

Vanuatu Kava

Tag: fun activity,interacting with the locals,routeJonathon Haradon @ 9:05 pm

Vanuatu kava is stronger than Fiji kava.  20 shells of Fiji kava and mostly what I felt was bloated.  2 shells of Vanuatu kava…. mmmm mellow.  mmmm numb mouth.  mmmm slurred speech.  mmmm difficulty in concentrating on anything other than mindless action movies, like Daniel Craig as James Bond in Casino Royale.

As Matt, Karen and I were waiting for the small pickup truck that would take us and eleven other people up to the active volcano on Tanna Island in Vanuatu, Matt inquired of Stanley about kava.  Stanley, a native Vanuatu-ian, (he must have another, non-English, Vanuatu name) was responsible for setting up the transportation and seemed to be well connected in the village.  Stanley said he could get us some kava.  This was perfect as we didn’t think we would have time to visit a nakamal, a place where they serve kava in Vanuatu, after seeing the volcano.  And we would be leaving for New Caldonia the next day.

Stanley asked Matt how much kava we would like.

“Well how much would a liter cost?” Matt replied.

“100 vatu.”  Stanley replied.  This was about one dollar.

“We’ll take four liters,”  I told Stanley.  I was tempted to ask for three times that amount.  We’d have enough kava to last us a year or more!

When we returned from the volcano, Stanley had our kava.  Unfortunately it was only half a liter of kava.  Somewhere in the verbal communication something got lost or mistranslated.  Resigned to our meager amount of kava and unwilling to try and figure out why it was so much less than we expected, we took our kava back to the boat.  Whereupon, at the boat, we began to drink it.

The guidebook we have says you should drink kava on an empty stomach to heighten its effects.  My forays into alcoholic consumption have confirmed this is a good technique for enhancing effects of mind altering substances, so I believe it and Matt and I abstained from eating dinner for two hours while we drank some kava.

To drink it right, we broke out the shells I had purchased in Fiji.  We poured the kava into them; the kava looked more thick than Fijian kava.  In Fiji after pounding dried brown roots and adding water, they strain the liquid through cheesecloth.  In Vanuatu, they grind green roots and do not strain it.  I hope they grind it and don’t mash it in their mouths.  The different texture did not change the taste, it still was dirty bath water, but now with a little more viscus thickness to it.  Texture-wise, think whole milk versus water.

We drank one shell, and Matt started in immediately on another.  “Why not go for the full effect?” he reasoned.  I followed a little behind.  After two shells, I felt mellow, a numb mouth, slurred speech and difficulty concentrating.  If I focused hard, I could force myself to talk normal, or at least what I presumed sounded more normal.  But if I just let aimless ramblings come forth, I felt like I was slurring my words and my mouth wasn’t functioning the way it normally would.  It was fun.

Matt lapped me in kava consumed, and I handed off my last 1/2 of a shell to him to boot, as he was saying there didn’t seem to be much effect.  I wonder if he was simply focusing harder on what might be happening, his more analytic nature trying to quantify and categorize the effect, but consequently forcing out or marginalizing those effects by the act of analyzing them.  Analogous to quantum mechanics, perhaps you can’t analyze the effect without changing the effect.  The physicist in Matt defeated by the physics of it.

In the end, Matt lopped on a couple of shots of prime fine Scotch, and this he paid for dearly over the next 24 hours as we began our sail to new Caldonia.  Kava and alcohol apparently don’t mix.

Oct 10 2010


Tag: fun activity,humorous,interacting with the locals,routeJonathon Haradon @ 11:41 pm

(This post refers to events that happened throughout our stay in Fiji, though primarily Sept. 14th, 16th,  and Oct. 3rd)

Kava is a narcotic.  That it is a narcotic with only the slightest tiniest itsy-bitsy of narcotic effects to make one think ‘why bother?’ doesn’t deter the Fijians from passing time downing gallons of it, one coconut shell at a time.  That it tastes like dirty bath water is also not a deterrent.  For some reason neither is the fact that, in Fiji, the traditional preparation is for young boys to thoroughly chew on the pepper root, fully masticating it, spit it out, mix with luke warm water in the tanoa (the traditional container, an artistically carved wooden bowl on four legs) and serve via coconut shell.  Thankfully, the traditional preparation is no longer practiced except perhaps in the remotest of villages.  Every time I drink kava I make it a point to convince myself of this last bit.

I felt required by my compunction for experiencing local culture to try kava.  I also have a compunction for trying new mild (mild-only!) narcotics.  So when, on our first day ashore in Lautoka, I found myself wandering the market alone, I knew I would immediately get a chance.  City markets, the one in Lautoka in particular, are where men hang out.  And wherever men hang out in Fiji, there is probably a kava bowl being passed around.

In the market, I walked by dozens of yaqona vendors.  Yaqona is the dried but unmasticated (nowadays they more hygienically pound it) pepper root.  I learned later a longer root indicates a more aged pepper plant and in turn better kava.  Kava apparently is like wine, and gets better with age.  Two or three years is young but frequently used, five years is better.  Most of the yaqona at the market was about 18 to 24 inches, though I saw some four foot stuff that was artistically bundled into something resembling modern art.  Next to the vendors were the drinkers, twenty tables under a tent, all filled with men lazily sitting around.  At the first table I walked by, a man named Mesake cried out “Bula!” and invited me to join them at the table drinking grog.  The Fijians are extraordinarily nice; what else could I do but accept?

Despite being far removed from the traditional ceremony, Fijians still retain some aspects of the traditional kava ceremony.  Namely, they clap.  Guide books will say you have to clap exactly once before being handed the coconut shell of kava and after handing the shell back, clap exactly three times.  The claps should be proud, with an exaggerated motion.  While this might be true in the remotest villages,  I’m here to tell you, in the markets, pool halls, resorts and backpacker camps where I drank the grog, you can feel free to clap an indiscriminate number of times, loudly or softly, shyly or ostentatiously.  The only thing in common to all the places was the rhythm or pacing of the clapping. Think the pacing in a rock-paper-scissors game, slow it down just a touch, and you’ll about have it.  Certainly not standing-ovation-at-the-theater style.  At the pool hall, they simply pat a leg at the requisite speed.  When I asked why, laziness was attributed.

Mesake offered me a shell, and as I had read up on kava drinking, I knew about the clapping and that when I drank it, the kava is supposed to go down in one smooth go.  There are about three to five ounces of liquid in a normal shell, so anyone with experience from college shot-gunning a poor-tasting American light beer should have no problems smoothly drinking this poor-tasting sandy bath-water concoction.

I handed Mesake back the shell and thought, ‘maybe sandy bath-water isn’t so bad?’  My tongue went slightly numb, and with the two or three subsequent bowls the tiny tingling extended around my mouth and throat.  That was about it for effect, just some tingling, maybe some numbness.  The bowl went around, celebrating my joining the table.  Ten or fifteen minutes would go by and then the person in charge of the kava tanoa at the table would decide it was time for more kava and start passing the shell around again.  The time in between passed with Mesake and a woman seated across from me, Paulini, telling me about Fiji at large and more particularly the villages they were from in the Yasawa’s.  They gave me the names of people they knew or were related to in the villages they were from and insisted I ask for them when I arrived there.  Alas, we never made it to those villages, but the kindness was indelible.

I drank some kava again in the Nadi market while wandering around there with Allison.  I secretly presumed there would be grog there, that we would have a chance to try and wanted to see if she would.  And so we walked around longer than necessary as I tried to locate some kava drinking.  She demurred this time, hesitant at the cleanliness of the whole operation, which admittedly is suspect.  I can’t fault her on this point.  The same coconut shell is passed to everyone: one person drinks, and the shell is immediately dipped back into the kava in the tanoa and handed to a next person.  They certainly don’t clean the coconut shell in between uses.  She was, however, up for it at the welcome ceremony at Octopus Resort and she reported that yes, like pretty much everyone else, she thought it tasted like bath water and didn’t particularly like it.  I however, was developing quite a curiosity for it.

Two and a half weeks later, I went to Nadi International Airport with Allison to trade goodbyes and other newly learned Fijian.  She and I had had a fantastic time together, and I was certainly sad at the thought of not seeing her again for three months or so.  The taxi was headed back to a dorm room bed at the awkwardly named Nadi Bay Resort Hotel (comfortable beds and amazing food… best kokonda in Fiji!) It occurred to me that what better way to spend a melancholy evening than around a kava bowl.  I redirected the taxi to someplace where they drink kava.

I ended up in downtown Nadi at a pool hall.  A pool hall is somewhat of a misnomer as it invokes images of a location filled with pool tables, a dozen of them, maybe two dozen or more.  This place was certainly packed with pool tables, you had to nearly sit on one table to take a shot on another.  But there was just two tables.  I walked in warily but like I belonged and saddled onto a wall to check the place out.  All the way on the opposite side of the pool hall, eight feet away, a Fijian flagged me over and handed me a bowl of kava.  His name was Ben.

After another bowl of kava, the owner of the pool hall, Sue who also happened to be, I’m pretty sure, a prostitute who propositioned me, motioned I should put money down to play at the only table with action going.  It was a challenge table so you had to beat the previous winner, currently a young teen who had been winning ever since I walked in and was dispatching people quickly.  So I did, and played one of the best games of my life, banks, combinations, strategy, and a little luck.  One of those inspired moments of pool that only come after a couple of beers have steadied your hand and your gaze; instead of beer though, this time it was kava.  While playing, we would trade back and forth a few shots, I’d have a cup of kava.  In the end, I won and the kid stormed out perhaps upset that the popeye (white foreigner.  I hope not derived from the silly cartoon) drinking kava, when he was too young too, had run him off the table.  A couple more games saw me lose and I went to the bench to talk with Ben and another Fijian Joe about Fiji.  I bought some of the powdered yaqona for us to have more kava after we finished what was in the tanoa.  Interestingly, their tanoa was definitely not a traditional one.  Instead it was a flimsy blue plastic dish.  Flimsy like two-liter coke bottle plastic.  After ten bowls of kava I decided it was time to leave.  Sue asked if I wanted company; I politely declined and left to find a taxi.

Back at the hotel, lo and behold what do I walk in on but the bartender, a couple of his friends, the security guard and a couple of patrons around a kava bowl.   I earn an invitation.  One guy is from Kiribati on a fishing boat.  Another’s name is Damian, and after hearing I have a yacht, is interested in crewing to Australia.  Two hours go by, and with the security guard in charge of the kava bowl, everyone is consuming plenty.  After another ten bowls, I’m feeling woosy, almost certainly though, from it being 3 am, five hours after I normally go to bed these days, and not from the twenty or more bowls of kava I consumed.

The next day, I woke up early.  No hangover.  No residual effects.  There weren’t really any effects at the time either.  Which makes you wonder, if there’s no effect from drinking poor tasting dirty bath water, than why drink poor tasting dirty bath water?  My curiosity with Fijian kava was killed and I haven’t had it since.

Vanuatu kava, on the other hand….. two bowls lays a wallup, four bowls and you won’t be able to walk.  We’ll soon find out.