GETTING TO NAKAVIKA
After getting our first night’s rest in Fiji, we got up and ready for our Day on the Luva tour from the company Rivers Fiji. The shuttle would pick us up by 7:15am and we would join the rest of the people on the tour in their office at Pacific Harbour.
The Day on the Luva tour was basically an all day adventure that begins with a drive up into the Namosi Highlands while visiting a Fijian village. Then, we would go onto our own inflatable kayaks and run our way down the upper parts of the Luva Gorge. Then, we would catch a motorized boat that would return us to an awaiting shuttle, which in turn would take us back to the Rivers Fiji office. Then, we would finally be returned to our accommodation.
So with a full day to look forward to, we caught our shuttle and promptly made it to the Rivers Fiji office in Pacific Harbour. There, we met the manager of Rivers Fiji who was actually a guy from California. While we were there, we picked up dry bags to ensure some clothes and camera gear would stay dry.
At 9am, we boarded the open-air truck and headed up into the Namosi Highlands. The road we took headed north from the township of Navua. The road got worse as we headed higher up into the mountains. There was even a couple of moments where other Fijian villagers hopped on the truck to catch a ride. One group especially needed a life because their own pick up truck broke down.
Eventually, we would reach the village of Nakavika at 12pm. At that point, we got off the truck and followed our guide (named Andre) into the village. We were supposed to meet the chief of the village who happened to be his father.
NAKAVIKA AND THE CEREMONY WITH THE CHIEF
As we walked through the village, there were lots of people saying “Bula!” to us and we did likewise. Some kids even wanted their photos taken and so I happily obliged.
The houses here were about as basic as can be. From what we could tell there was no running water. Their water source was basically the river. Clearly these folks lived a simple life, but they all seemed jovial as it appeared there was going to be some big celebration going on. We could tell because there was this skinned pig (it looked inside-out and not particularly appetizing at the moment) sitting behind the open-air hut where the chief and some villagers sat.
Andre told us that many of the Fijians are off between Christmas and New Years so they leave the coastal townships and cities for their native inland villages. Then, they celebrate.
He then went on to tell us that we were about to celebrate our arrival and meet the chief.
And so after we shook everybody’s hands, we went through a little ceremony that was composed mostly of Fijian sayings. Andre told us that we were primarily asking to be accepted by the chief and the chief would eventually accept and bless us.
Next, the attention was focused on this giant bowl full of this cloudy brown water. One of the Fijians was dipping into it some cloth that was holding something before squeezing the water out.
Andre told us that we were about to drink this stuff, which was part of the Fijian way of celebrating. We would be asked, “High Tide? Or Low Tide?” which dictated the size of the coconut bowl we’d be drinking out of. Of course, there was the third option called the “Tsunami,” which was a huge intimidating bowl for those brave enough.
And so this part of the procession began. At first, a couple from Orange Count, California got their turns. The Fijians would clap once before you drank and clap again afterwards. It looked like we had to clap in kind after each of their claps.
Finally, it was my turn.
“High Tide? Or Low Tide?” asked Andre.
“High Tide,” said I.
A few Fijians onlookers then gave a clap from the bottom of their curved palms as I was presented the coconut bowl full of this cloudy brown liquid. I clapped in kind before receiving it.
For some reason, I kept thinking about dirty dishes when I laid my eyes on the liquid before me. But my sense of curiosity was every bit as strong as strong as well. Besides, everyone was looking at me and I couldn’t let them down. So finally I just said the heck with it, put my lips to coconut bowl, and quickly gulped the kava.
Another round of claps. Then, I clapped.
Soon I started the effects of the liquid started sinking in. It tasted like Sensodyne toothpaste, but it went down surprisingly easy. Then, my tongue and throat felt fuzzy. My mind felt fine though. It was quite different from my expectations of taking a shot of hard liquor or gulping down beer quickly.
“This was some strange stuff,” I thought to myself.
Next, it was Julie’s turn.
I was a little concerned about whether she’d try this stuff or not. But she was game and got herself a “Low Tide” dose of the kava.
When everyone got their dose of kava, Andre went ahead and had himself one. Another Fijian named Lino, who accompanied us on the way here, drank out of a “Tsunami” bowl.
Then, we had another round of kava. I had my high tide. Then it was Julie’s turn again.
Julie had this uncomfortable look of apprehension. I knew she must’ve thought she had enough of this stuff already. She even said out “Very Low Tide” before she was even asked the question.
But she downed the kava once again and all was clear after that – or so she thought.
When the ceremony was over, we shook hands with everyone again and left the open-air hut. As we proceeded to walk back towards the shuttle truck, we were stopped by a house full of villagers who were having a kava ceremony of their own. Andre couldn’t say no to them and so we joined in for another round of kava.
I had another high tide, and Julie reluctantly had another low tide. At this point I started growing concerned about how she’d react to all this kava. I was worried we might be kayaking with the kava buzz or something.
Anyways, when we had our round of kava, we shook everyone’s hands and continued on our way out of the village.
Then, we were stopped once again by another house full of Fijian villagers. And yes, they were preparing more kava.
And so we joined these friendly folks for yet another round of kava. I had another high tide and then came Julie’s turn.
“No more,” she said with her hands up.
But the bowl was handed to her anyways. Julie, being a good sport about it, drank another low tide bowl full of kava. I wasn’t sure if even I could handle another round of kava after this. Even Andre was concerned that we might not be in any shape to paddle our kayaks.
But mercifully, we made it to the truck without any more kava stops. We soon headed back down the road and were about to go onto the kayaking phase of our day long tour.
ON THE RIVER
The truck would eventually stop at some part of the road where the river was nowhere in sight. The deal here was that we had to carry our paddling sticks down a trail that ultimately led down to the river. The rest of the kayaks and dry bags had already been carried down by helpers.
Before going down however, one of the folks on tour realized there probably wouldn’t be toilets along the river. So she asked Andre, “How do we go to the toilet if we have to go?”
Andre smiled and said, “Well, the solution to pollution is dilution.” And with that, we all busted out laughing, but in all seriousness, when you gotta go, you gotta go.
It was 2pm when we finally arrived at the river. I got to go on my own kayak, but since Julie couldn’t swim, she got to ride with the guide Andre paddling. We initially had a few minutes to practice moving around in the kayak in the calm river. Then, we got some time to go upstream and explore a little waterfall barrier.
Afterwards, we headed back downstream and down the first set of rapids. There were anxious moments as this was the first time I had ever been on white water, but we all made it through without incident.
The lunch was mostly sandwiches with various toppings that could be packed in coolers. We had refreshingly cold lemonade for drinks. The food was quite filling but the mosquitoes wouldn’t leave us alone.
Some of the folks on the tour joined Andre in a climb up to a cliff opposite the lunch area. They then proceeded to jump off about 20 to 30ft into the deep pool below.
We all continued to paddle down the river at 2:30pm.
After going through a few more rapids, we all landed in another rocky shore. This time, there was trail that left from the shores. So as we docked our kayaks and made sure it wouldn’t float down the river without us, the group started walking on the trail. I lagged behind as I was busy getting my camera out of the dry bag.
Lino stayed behind waiting for me. As I was about to start walking on the trail, both of us heard a loud crack. Suddenly, a few rocks were plunging off the cliff opposite the river. The rocks made a few harmless splashes, but that was an instant reminder that we were indeed in nature and you never know when these things happen. I shuddered to think about if we were still paddling under that side of the cliff.
Lino and I gave each other a surprised look before we both followed the rest of the group along the trail.
As we got climbed the initial embankment, we could see a very tall waterfall in the distance. Clearly, this was the Wainuta Falls that I had read about prior to the trip. And it was every bit as advertised.
The closer we got to the falls, the larger the falls loomed. We would eventually get to the base of the falls where some of the folks went for another swim. Julie and I marveled at this very scenic waterfall as it was easily the prettiest one we had seen so far.
At 3:30pm, we returned to our kayaks and paddled down a few more rapids. In one instance, I almost tipped over as I got stuck on a rock, but the inflatable kayaks were so buoyant that it even overcame my clutziness.
Finally at 4:15pm, we made it to a large river delta. We paddled over to another shore where a larger river boat was waiting. It was here that our kayaking was over and we had to deflate the kayaks. When we got on the river boat, they handed out sodas for everyone.
The river boat took us through the rest of the Luva Gorge (on the Navua River by now) and we got to see a few waterfalls along the way. Most of them weren’t extraordinary, but they were interesting eye candy nonetheless. Some of the folks on tour heard that we hunt for waterfalls. So they helped point some of them out to us.
There were still a few more villages we could see along the river. In one of these villages, a pair of Fijian women hopped on the boat and caught a ride with us.
Eventually at 5:15pm, the boat docked and we reboarded the awaiting truck shuttle. During the drive back, Julie and I were talking to Lino about what places were good to eat in Fiji. We expressed interest in trying something that was authentically Fijian like the lovo feast, but he told us that such an activity was normally by invitation and required lots of time to prepare. So with a lovo feast out of the question, we asked where else we could eat.
“Villisite’s,” he said. “It’s very close to your resort.”
And with that, we returned to the Rivers Fiji office in Pacific Harbour by 6:15pm.
While there, we awaited our final shuttle to take us back to the resort. In the mean time, both Andre and the Californian Rivers Fiji manager were opening up some coconuts that we picked up off the ground.
When our shuttle finally arrived, I already got into the mood to try out some Fijian expressions and told the Rivers Fiji folks, “Vinaka” and “Moce.”
The Californian guy told us, “Moce mada.”
When Julie and I returned to the resort, it was almost dinner time. We got cleaned up and ready to go out for dinner. I think Julie had such a good time on the Luva tour that she had even forgotten about her swollen arm, which started acting up on Day 1 (yesterday).
Since we were disappointed with last night’s dinner at the resort, we got into the car and took Lino’s advice. We headed to Villisite’s.
After about 15 minutes of driving in the twilight, we arrived at the restaurant. After a warm welcoming greeting, we were escorted to an open-air eating area that overlooked the ocean. It was dark, but we could still make out some of the shapes of the clouds and the horizon as the sun continued to set further below.
We ended up having a tasty meal of prawns and curries. The dishes were more simple yet much better than the Hideaway Resort food we had yesterday, we thought.
And when we were done with our dinner, we were given a warm good-bye. One of them Fijian ladies told me how to say “Thank you very much,” which was “Vinaka vakalevu.”
So with that, I said to them, “Vinaka vakalevu” and then “Moce mada” to try to utilize the new expression that the Californian manager at Rivers Fiji taught me.
And so ended a very memorable day that had it all – Fijian hospitality, good food, kava, kayaking, waterfalls, and even good weather. From now on, both Julie and I would start with this day when it came to remembering the good times in Fiji.