Lee, the chief guide, takes us to the main bure (basically a large thatched meeting room) and gives us a lowdown on the island.
“The beach where we just arrived is called Sunrise Beach, because from there you will see the beautiful sunrise each day from your bure. If you walk through the palm trees fifty metres you will come to our other beach. It is called Sunset Beach.”
Steve, the American (and most senior male member of the castaways), is appointed our chief. Lance, the very affable Australian, is appointed as our chief’s ‘spokesman & bodyguard’. This might seem like some tourist nonsense to anybody reading this, but this is the local custom in such a situation.
After dropping our bags at our beachside bure, I play volleyball with the ship’s crew before we all reconvene for dinner in the main bure, followed by my first kava ceremony.
Kava is a root vegetable. It is an anti-depressant, muscle relaxant (it contains 14 anaesthetics) and has similar affects to low toxicity marijuana. They take the kava ceremony and ritual very seriously. The kava root is reduced to a mush, water added and then it is filtered. The drink is then scooped into a small coconut shaped bowl/cup. Before it is passed to you, clap once then, upon receiving the bowl, shout bula. Then down the contents in one, give a big smile and then clap slowly three times. It is considered an insult if you don’t take the first bowl offered to you. The initial taste, as you might expect, could be described as ‘earthy’. But the kava almost instantaneously numbs your tongue and the inside of your mouth. This is because the saliva in your mouth immediately triggers the plant’s ingredients. So your second bowl is far more palatable. English Jamie, Jan and I make it 3 bowls each early doors to buy favour with the local lads.
I am going to throw some vodka into the mix and see what that makes me feel like.
Next the crew sing some beautiful Fijian melodies to us and we all dance. And I feel sort of numb all over in a nice way. I like one of the German girls and when Lee tells us to grab a partner she jumps towards me and offers out the two palms of her hands. I haven’t met anybody at all since my breakup. I don’t suppose I am about to when I cared about somebody enough that I wanted to marry them. If that feeling is real it’s not about to just disappear. So when Annika asks me to dance with her and holds my hand gently it sends an almost forgotten surge of positive chemicals and a faster heartbeat through my body. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ready to be with anybody new and, for all I know, Annika has a boyfriend, but it’s just a lovely feeling to know that somebody likes you (perhaps) and you like them. And I only tell this story in the context of me struggling with a depression and no longer being able to recall what it feels like to even have my hand held by a woman who cares for me.
The kava and vodka have clearly worked because during a discussion about football songs I feel the urge to sing the words to Three Lions to Jan and the girls:
Four lions on the shirt. Jules Rimet still gleaming. (Sang with a slight slur.)
“Four lions! But, surely, there are just three Justin?!”
After spending the night with my six new German friends (although, truthfully, it’s four as the couple from straight-laced Bavaria aren’t what you’d describe as talkative) drinking Fiji Gold and vodka, and swatting insects that have crawled down the back of my T-shirt, Jan manages to light a fire on the beach just in front of our bure.
And there Jan and I plus the three girls from Hannover sit under the stars with no other light pollution aside from the flames of the fire. Twenty minutes of this and our eyes are dark adapted to see just about anything that is visible and Jupiter is now so large and bright that it begins to trick our senses (or is that the kava?) and make us think it is the light of a helicopter descending towards us. A shooting star then blazes across the sky; one of those very special meteors that looks like a small airplane burning up in the atmosphere rather than just a streak of light.
The waves are crashing so loudly and the palm trees are rustling with such intensity in the wind that I can barely hear Jan telling one of his jokes and, suddenly, I find him and the girls fading from my consciousness and I drift away. For a moment or two, negative thoughts attack me about not sharing these moments with a certain someone and what would otherwise be my second moment of near bliss in one day is ruined…
…but I muster up the strength of mind to remind myself that, just now, I am one of the luckiest people on this planet, sat cross-legged on the fine white sand of this remote Pacific island beach, and another one of those all-coming-together-at-the-same-time moments of bliss consumes me and leaves my arms and neck covered in goose bumps.