Refined Tastes

6.30am

My phone buzzes, ripping me from sleep. It’s a text message from Annie, that simply reads “being awake is so not legit.”

It’s a Sunday. It’s 6.30am. Normally my Sunday routine is to rise around 11am, making whimpering noises until I have a cup of coffee. I then spend the next half hour slumped in a café booth, alternating between checking twitter, pretending to read the paper, and wincing at loud noises.

Annie’s right. 6.30am is so not legit.

7am

I prepare a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee. Annie pops the lid open on her second beer of the day.

Today we have tickets to Toast Martinborough, a wine/food/music festival held amongst the wineries of the Wairarapa. It’s my third year attending, which means it’s the second time I’ve ignored my own advice from the year prior to never, ever, ever return. Each year I’ve arrived home with no money left, sunburnt skin, and mascara-stained cheeks after the inevitable fight with a close friend.

Unfortunately, I’m not very good at saying no. So once again, I have agreed to part ways with my money and sense.

8am

We walk to the bus stop in dresses and jandals. A car passes. Without explanation, Annie screams, “stop judging me, dicks! My life choices are legit!”

Two breakfast beers on an empty stomach have obviously left their mark.

8.30am

The queue at the train station coffee cart is lengthy, which justifies my decision to buy two cups.

In Canada, I believe they call this "double fisting". Those Canucks are so innocent.

In Canada, I believe they call this “double fisting”. Those Canucks are so innocent.

Meanwhile, Annie buys two huge cans of beer from the supermarket. It comes to a grand total of $5.98, and it’s clear from her first sneaky taste that the beer’s cost-effectiveness is definitely its only selling point.

She doesn’t want to get caught drinking in public, so her surreptitious sips are accompanied with suspicious stares around the station. I gulp down the rest of my coffee, handing her the cup so she can refill it with her cheap ale, which she does under the table.

She peers inside the cup, frowning.

The foam at the top is half beer, half coffee-froth, and it quickly separates from the rest of the beverage into a single floating mass. She hooks her finger and scoops the pond scum onto a napkin. The spume starts evaporating, wobbly gas pockets popping open with little lactose farts.

She continues to drink from the coffee cup, her eyes wary.

“I should have brought a goon sack” she laments, sighing about her poor planning.

9am

We meet our friend Michelle on the train. As it leaves the station, Annie fills her coffee cup with beer for the third time. Meanwhile, Michelle paints her fingernails, a bottle of candy-floss pink squeezed between her knees.

9.25am

The rest of the carriage is filled with husbands and wives, passing sections of newspapers back and forth wordlessly. Annie leans in and nods her appreciation. “I like when like, old people come to these things. And wear like, pants. With a shirt. It’s legit.”

This guy is "legit". You heard it here first.

This guy is “legit”. You heard it here first.

9.30am

Annie stops mid-conversation to say, “oh, hold on, I need to take my anti-babies”.

As she rummages in her bag for her contraception, she announces she texted Becky.

“Who’s Becky?” I ask.
“Oh, that girl we met that one time at Public, remember? She showed us that penis picture on her phone?”
“What did you say to her?”
“I said, remember that one time we met at Public? And you showed us that penis picture on your phone?”

9.35am

“Ooh ooh, she replied!” Annie shouts.

I try to shield my eyes from Annie’s phone as she waves it in my face. Unfortunately, Annie does not give up easy, and so I once again find myself looking at an image of a man’s genitals photographed next to a bottle of Tui (for scale). I’m impressed with his ingenuity but the image still leaves me feeling dismayed. He couldn’t have picked a classier beverage?

10.15am

There are mandatory bag checks in place at the train station, to stop people sneaking in their own alcohol or food. Annie & I are waiting outside the tent when Michelle storms up. “Well, I’ve already had my first fight. Shall we go?”

“So he found my croissants, and said I had to throw them away. And I said well, excuse me sir, but is this encouraging responsible behaviour, with the binge drinking culture we have in this country?” Michelle furiously spits out.

You may be able to tell that it is not Michelle’s first fight. She even made a guy cry once. To be fair, he started it, by introducing himself as “Hey ladies, do you know where Helen Clark lives? I want to give her a piece of my mind”.

10.40am

We huddle under a marquee tent, rain pouring outside. I hop from foot to foot and complain that I’m cold and that straightening my hair was a waste of time. Annie scoffs at the people smart enough to bring rainwear, muttering “golf umbrellas? Fuckers. Who do they think they are?”

A group of girls scuttle past, clad in floral mini-dresses and wearing candy coloured heels. Annie derides them too, saying “Heels? Idiots. Why would you wear heels?”

She then launches into a story about how she met a woman in a pub and told her to wear jandals. In the time it takes her to tell the story, I’ve finished a glass of wine and caught up on the last three hours of my twitter feed. This is because the drunker Annie is, the more context she includes in a story. Given by how far she rewinds in this one—starting with “I was having lunch, and”—the train beer has obviously left a mark.

11am

We sip our second glasses of Riesling and agree that, whatever happens, at the end of the day we will definitely split up and leave every man for himself. Annie suggests a motto of, “we are friends, with no responsibility”.

I make a note of it, as I am dedicated to blog accuracy.

I make a note of it, as I am dedicated to blog accuracy.

11.15am

The sun comes out and everyone in the area cheers, throwing hats and ponchos onto piles of handbags and flocking out of the marquee.

11.17am

The rain comes back. We all awkwardly crowd back back in, embarrassed of the fuss we’d made moments earlier. This process repeats itself three or four times.

Noon

We arrive at another winery. I’ve eaten an entire bag of macaroons before we’ve even sat down, washing them down with a glass of sparkling rose. The combination leaving me feeling like my teeth are coated with moss. I quietly hope that Mum forgets to ask how quitting sugar is going.

12.15am

Annie waves the camera around, hissing at me to pretend to smile so she can zoom past my face to take surreptitious photos of some guy in a white shirt.

12.30pm

I listen to the band, who seem to be working their way through the Pretty Woman soundtrack. The nineties numbers are broken up with the singer’s attempt at audience banter. “Who, is, um, from Wellington?” he booms. “Who, um, took the train?” His questions are met with polite “woos” from a few people who take pity on him, but mostly the audience is indifferent.

1pm

Annie gets too excited telling a story and flings her arm in the air, spilling wine all over her dress. We head towards the bathroom: a caravan atop a flight of stairs, which wobbles with each door slam. The toilets inside are filled with blue water and the floor is dotted with clods of grass, making it feel like a mix between a barn and a hospital. On wheels.

As I wait outside for Annie, a woman sidles up next to me. She stands close enough that for a second I assume we must know each other, but she’s unfamiliar. “Yo”, she says, as she reaches up under her skirt, digging for a moment, before snapping her knickers back into place. As fast as she arrived, she’s gone. I feel used.

An approaching girl is weeping, wiping her tears away from under her glasses. As she gets closer, I catch snippets of her conversation. “She got cash out (hiccup hiccup) and I was like, but this is (hiccup hiccup) NOT what we agreed on”.

Annie emerges from the toilet caravan, her dress still splattered with the wine stain. We find Michelle and decide to move on.

En route to the bus, Annie declares “by the way, this is NOT jizz on my dress, Michelle”, answering a question that no one was asking.

1.15pm

As we exit the bus, Michelle throws a “thanks, driver” over her shoulder. He replies, and she stops abruptly, turning and screeching, “did you just say thanks WOMAN?”

Bewildered and shocked, the driver replies, “no, I said you’re welcome?”

“Oh”, Michelle says, pausing for a moment to consider if she should still be offended. She shrugs off the potential squabble and skips across the road to the winery.

2pm

I make peace with the fact that I’m not going to be able to decide between the pulled pork ficelle and the lemon cake, so I get both.

No regrets.

No regrets.

Meanwhile, Annie’s telling Michelle about two of our friends that ended up in bed together recently. Michelle doesn’t approve, and I try to ignore her gagging noises while I eat. “If I go out, and I need to vom but can’t, even after I touch that little dangly bit, I am going to think about her and that guy” Michelle announces.

2.15pm

Michelle flops back in her chair, her nose scrunched into her face. “Is it still an abortion if you find out you’re pregnant and then you kill yourself? Or is it just suicide?”

An elderly couple shuffle up to our table and gesture to the two empty seats.

“Do you mind if we sit down? You can continue your young people’s conversation!” the man says.

2.30pm

“Well, back in the ‘50s, if a woman didn’t get married, she was an outcast! What a load of crap!” he says. His wife nods in agreement. “You don’t want to marry a crapper, you’d get stuck with him for the rest of your days”.

Emboldened by their use of language and their progressive message, Michelle jumps at the chance to tell them about her divorce.

Annie’s not here. I’m not sure what it is about the older couple that frightened her off, but my theory is that it was the dawdling pace at which the woman ate her salmon pie. Each mouthful was tiny yet she chewed it like a cow might – deliberately, using her whole jaw, and frustratingly slowly.

3.30pm

“Just with her vadge?” Michelle hisses across the table at Annie. “Or with her mouth?”

She gets no response, so increases her volume.

“ANNIE. VADGE. VADGE. HER VADGE?”

Annie is not paying attention, as she is texting a boy. It’s easy to spot. She only smirks at her phone if a boy is involved.

Michelle loses patience trying to get her attention and turns to me.

“KATE” she barks. “Do you know? With her vadge? Or mouth?”

I glance over at the four strangers who graciously allowed us to sit at their table. All four are in wide-brimmed hats with shirts buttoned up to their necks. They haven’t spoken since we sat down, and are currently staring straight ahead, actively ignoring this exchange.

“I don’t know” I hiss back, to Michelle’s question about what part of our friend touched our other friend’s genitals. “Stop talking about it. It’s gross”.

3.45pm

Michelle heads to the dance floor to aggressively shrug her shoulders, and Annie jumps up to join her. I’m full of pork and bread and cake and macaroons and poutine – not to mention the wine and the diet cokes and breakfast. Shaking my overstuffed and distended belly seems like a downright dangerous activity.

I choose an activity that’s risky in other ways, and head off to join the long queue for the portaloos.

I passed this couple on the way. Clearly a bigger day for some than others.

I passed this couple on the way. Clearly a bigger day for some than others.

3.47pm

Two girls approach and stop suddenly. “No fucking way am I standing in that line” the blonde says, and the brunette concurs. They stumble over to the urinal, pulling up the back of their skirts and backing in slowly. The 50-somethings in front of me are horrified. “Are those girls going to use the… the urinal?” one asks, her eyes wide behind her bifocals.

The girls emerge frowning and traipse off into the vineyard, their attempt obviously unsuccessful. I’m still in the queue when they lurch back, untucking their skirts from their tights.

4pm

“Katie! They swirled me! They touched me! They are in the army! What should I say to them? I’m thinking about saying, touch me again!” Michelle says, giggling, and pointing to two men dressed in sexed up fatigues, clearly not in the army.

She hops up and grabs my hand, leading me to the dance floor. We try to get into a waltz position but run into problems as we both try to lead. “Who is dom and who is sub?” Michelle asks, having learnt a thing or two from Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s revealed that she’s more of a Christian than an Ana, when she forcefully pulls me into her arms then spanks me.

After a lot of twirling, Annie cuts in, and I leave them to it.

4.30pm

At last year’s festival, we brought a houseplant with us, insisting that people pose for photos with it.

With great success, I might add.

With great success, I might add.

While she’d speculated that this year she’d try to collect snaps of “penis or female nip”, this year Annie’s been taking pictures of us in the reflection of other people’s sunglasses. It has produced some great shots – super-close ups of the nostril hairs of strangers, with our faces blue and fuzzy in the corner.

It was hard to explain the process to tipsy girls at noon, so it feels like a losing battle when Annie grabs the arm of a stumbling drunk and asks him to help. “What… whaddo I get outta it?” he slurs, talking to her cleavage.

“Nothing, just shut up and stand still” she barks with irritation.

“Can you buy me a drink?” he asks.

“Yes, yes, fine fine” she replies, waving her hand impatiently .

“Here, try-themmon” he says, dangling them from a finger. She looks through them and snorts.

“Bullshit!” she says, shoving them back onto his nose.

Annie then tries to employ logic to get him to stand still.

It does not work.

5pm

It’s definitely past the time we need to leave, but trying to round up Michelle & Annie is not an easy task. Annie wants to “smash another sav”, and Michelle keeps telling me to chill out, waving her arm around, saying my eyebrows look too angry.

I realise I’ve made a mistake in staying almost-sober, but it’s too late now, and so I resign myself to the role of mother hen.

“Nope, we’re leaving now. Too bad. Chop chop” I say, ushering the girls to the roadside. The buses going past are already overstuffed, with people crowding the aisles and tired-looking girls squished in, buttocks pressed against the glass.

5.15pm

I’m getting worried; gnawing on fingernails out of stress.

A ute approaches with two men in the front, honking their horn and woohooing out of the window.

“HEY BOYS GIVE US A LIFT?” Annie shouts, and they ask what she’ll do for them.

“Bit of nip?” she replies, reaching into her dress, untucking her right breast and waggling it at them.

“She just did that” a girl says, behind me, dumbfounded. “I just saw her nipple”.

5.50pm

By some miracle we’re at the train station. A school group is manning a BBQ, and I buy us all sausages wrapped in bread, no onions, lots of sauce please. Annie takes hers and then stumbles off towards the portaloos, and Michelle just looks at it, confused.

“Where did this come from?” she asks.

“I bought it for you?” I reply.

“Oh, Katie, you’re the bestest person the whole world” she says, leaning in to nap on my shoulder.

6pm

A group of girls stands near us, going over the events of the day with frantic intensity. One is so into her story that she doesn’t notice that she’s tipped her glass of wine upside down, and with each arm gesture she spills more down the front of her apricot dress. One of her friends touches her arm and tells her. She looks down at her saturated frock, shrugs, and goes back to her story.

6.15pm

Exhausted, I made the decision to fall asleep as soon as we got onto the train. Unfortunately, Annie’s volume made actual sleep impossible, so I’m faking it by leaning against the window with my eyes closed.

Annie rummages in her bag, pulling out two cans of tuna. She opens one and bends the lid into a shovel, scooping meat into her mouth before passing it to Michelle. They eat both cans this way, never stopping their discussion about the smell of spew on the train.

They also amuse themselves by taking pictures of me.

They also amuse themselves by taking pictures of me.

6.30pm

“I fucking hate tunnels!” Annie declares, for the fifth time.

“FUCK FUCK FUCK!”, she yells, her voice reverberating throughout the carriage.

I’m not sure if she’s always had claustrophobia or if it’s a recent development, but it seems to be at a level of intensity that would usually necessitate some sort of medication.

6.45pm

Annie’s claustrophobia has the welcome side-effect of shutting up the rest of the train, as forty drunk people all pretend to go to sleep to avoid having to ask if she’s ok.

8pm

We’re on the couch. My grey trackpants have a racing stripe, whereas Annie’s are black and flecked with paint. I shovel fries into my mouth after swiping them over the sides of my McChicken, tidying up surplus mayo. Annie smashes another beer.

I’ve spent all my money, have sunburnt my back, and have probably picked up a variety of diseases from the portaloos. Am definitely never ever going back.

Well, probably not.

Fiji Travel Journal Part Six: Mushroom Brains, Front Naps and Tuna Smashing

Part One: Donuts, Margaritas and Waistcoats
Part Two: Airports, Adoption and the Kindness of Strangers
Part Three: Binkies, Babes and Bathtubs
Part Four: Carbs, Catamarans and Cast Away
Part Five: Baronesses, Orations and Foreign Gems

We’ve got two hours left at sea today – an hour on our sailboat then an hour on the catamaran. The weather has started to turn, and so we all huddle under the sheltered part of the boat, and the crew get their guitars out. Annie has a beer in each hand and shows no signs of slowing, and is enthusiastically woohooing the traditional Fijian music with the energy of a teenage girl at a Bieber concert.

They ask for requests, and Annie turns to me, her confused frown so deep that it has reached the top of her nose.

“What’s… what’s a guitar… song? I can’t think of any. My brain is FRIED! Like a mushroom!”

We try to come up with popular guitar songs but can’t think of any beyond Kumbaya, and neither of us know how it goes.

“No, I know what we need! We need a Shrek song! Accidentally in Love… how does that go?”

Everyone's favourite campfire collection.

Everyone’s favourite campfire collection.

This is possibly the last thing I expected to come out of her mouth, and so I laugh. She shrugs and lies down, the whole music selection task proving too much of a challenge.

“I’m jus… jus… a nap on my front. You know what I mean? Wake me up if we get there.”

Now that she’s snoozing, I take some time to write in my travel journal and peek at the couple who I’ve been stalking since we boarded. The woman has bizarre facial features, and I can’t work out if it’s from plastic surgery or not. She looks like she’s making a lemon-face, but without the squinty eyes – no, her eyes are wide and without wrinkles. Picture Susan Sarandon being surprised at a sudden urge to vomit, and you’ve got it. Her husband is bald and deeply tanned, and has great legs for an older man – and I’m not a leg girl, so my appreciation really is saying something.

They are definitely not having a good day.

This morning when I started listening to their conversations he was already in trouble, because the yellow bag was back at the hotel, and that’s where the sunscreen is, and why didn’t he bring the yellow bag? I had considered feeling sorry for this man with the fantastic legs, and then he had sort of chuckled, and had said, “well, no, because, what purpose would I have? For the yellow, um, bag?”

Something about his phrasing was just so grating, and it made my skin go all itchy. I decided that if I swapped places with this Susan Sarandon woman, I would probably spend my life looking like I too was holding in the urge to be sick.

I’ve spent the day watching these two, taking perverse delight in their holiday frustrations and snappy bickering. Now that  we’ve all been out of the water for a while, her hair has dried in a Bride of Frankenstein electrified afro.

Right?! Now try to tell me that you wouldn't eavesdrop too.

Right?! Now try to tell me that you wouldn’t eavesdrop too.

I’m wondering if I can get away with taking a sneaky photo when Annie wakes up. She thanks me, profusely, for not leaving her behind on the boat. She then gets up and, swaying from side to side, attempts to walk towards the beer bin. A crewmember stops her, and I think she’s about to get cut off, but instead he just offers to fetch the beer for her.

Her nap has revitalised her, and she manages another four beers before we transfer to the catamaran. For those counting along at home, she’s now had seventeen cans of beer. It’s 4pm.

**

We board the catamaran and find the upper deck mostly empty, as the choppy ocean is sending layers of ocean mist over the side of the ship. Having discovered patchy stripes of sunburn where I failed to apply sunscreen properly, I’m generating my own heat at this point, and don’t mind staying outside. This is good news for Annie, who has already created a bed on the floor. Her sarong is draped over her like a blanket, and her towel is balled up under her head as a pillow.

“Wake me up at Beachcomber, ‘kay?” she asks. “That muscles guy better be on the boat. I’m gonna… I’m gonna.. ok. First, I’m gonna say, can I touch your guns?”

She nods sagely, satisfied with her own plan, and falls asleep. Earlier in the day she used her towel as a napkin. Now that it’s been repurposed as a pillow, the grease from the chicken kebab has now made the journey from cheek to towel to cheek again. It’s kind of nice, in a circle of life sort of way.

I sit and smile at a tiny Fijian boy with impossibly huge brown eyes who’s sitting three rows ahead with his dad. When I wave at him, he goes all shy, dropping behind the seat then peeking up again. In between bouts of feeling what I can only assume is my biological clock grinding its start-up gears, I keep watch over my drunken friend.

Five minutes into her sleep and she’s flung one arm above her head, freeing her left breast from her bikini. No one else can see, I don’t think, but I feel a bit strange having a close friend’s nipple and a stranger’s child playing peek-a-boo with me at the same time, so I cover her with my towel.

That's what friends are for.

That’s what friends are for.

We reach Beachcomber and I try to tap her awake. No luck. I end up having to grab her hip and thigh and rock her back and forth on the floor. Her eyelids flutter open.

“We’re at Beachcomber,” I tell her. “Remember? Muscles?”

She replies with “I have a pillow for you. A pee-low. Yes? Sleep. Naps? Ten minutes!”. She scoffs, as if it’s the most absurd suggestion she’s ever made, and immediately goes back to sleep.

Muscles doesn’t end up boarding, and instead a British girl who looks a bit like Amber Tamblyn sits between me and my wee Fijian friend. We start using her as a new obstacle in which to play peek-a-boo around, but this is quickly thwarted when she turns to look at me, eyes half-closed, and says “no, please, I’ll be sick”.

Her boyfriend joins her from the lower deck and they start talking about his friends’ tattoos. One has a dog smoking a cigar on his butt, on his butt! Amber is worried for when he turns 80, because “they need injections, when they’re old. And he’s supposed to show a DOCTOR that he’s got a smoking dog on his arse?” The boyfriend’s shakes his head and says, “well, you never see a tattoo parlour with an old man’s sleeve on the wall”. I feel like both of them just ignored each other’s argument entirely, but they seem content in their mutual oblivion.

Besides, some tattoos are timeless.

Besides, some tattoos are timeless.

After they discuss their dinner options, Amber notices Annie on the floor. She pokes her boyfriend in the ribs and whispers, “there’s someone down there!”

He glances at her and says “woah, check out her sunburn”. I look down and he’s right, Annie’s cooked her skin medium-rare today.

My earlier attempts to wake her had required such force that they probably left bruises, but apparently I should have just attempted an impression of a British man whispering. All of a sudden she’s awake and scrambling onto the seats with far more energy than I’d expect.

“I’m up! Oh my god. I can’t wait for dinner. I could smash a can of tuna, let me tell you. SMASH it. WOW my arms are warm!”

For some reason, this makes Amber and her boyfriend give each other a sneaky high five. I feel like these two are definitely going to outlast Vomity Susan Sarandon and Annoying Forgetful Legs.

“Um, are you sure you want to go to dinner?” I ask. “We can just get room service and do it tomorrow?”

“No” she says, emphatically, shaking her head back and forth. “Otherwise, Kate, we will just put it off FOREVER.”

Seventeen cans of beer, six chicken kebabs, no water. We are expected at a gourmet restaurant in an hour. Am I a terrible person that I have just shrugged and decided to go through with it to see what happens? I question my moral compass as we climb aboard a bus to get back to our resort. Annie slurs “sup” at a bewildered man then she falls asleep again, but so what? Friendly people who like their rest have still gotta eat, right?

To be continued…

Fiji Travel Journal Part Five: Baronesses, Orations and Foreign Gems

Part One: Donuts, Margaritas and Waistcoats
Part Two: Airports, Adoption and the Kindness of Strangers
Part Three: Binkies, Babes and Bathtubs
Part Four: Carbs, Catamarans and Cast Away

Bobbing in the water next to the boat we’ve just jumped from, we clumsily put our flippers on underwater. Annie has the added challenge of a belly full of beer and an unopened can in her hand, but she manages.

We swim to shore then ponder our next move. Our fellow tourists are taking photos, reading novels, and snoozing on the sand. Of course, because we leapt from the vessel, our bags are still on the boat, so our options are to either lie directly on the beach or spend a full hour snorkelling.

Annie decides to do a self-exfoliation treatment (basically just “rub wet sand everywhere”) and I go to explore the reef. My goggles immediately fog up and I have a pebble in my flipper, but I am determined to tell everyone that I had a good time snorkelling, so I pretend these things don’t bother me.

Maybe I’ve been out in the sun too long, but I can swear this little blue and yellow fish is smiling at me. We swim, parallel, for thirty magical seconds, and I feel like I am definitely at one with nature. Like, this is it. Then my fish adjusts his course to head straight at me and I panic. I assume I’m about to get savagely attacked by the rare and exotic whatever, and I can’t remember if my shots are up to date, so I hysterically splash away.

From a fish. About the same size as my hand.

Terrifying, right?

Terrifying, right?

I feel like despite my best efforts, I am one of those skittish blonde villains in a kid’s movie. The sort that take lipstick to the jungle and are scared of moths. Depressed that apparently I’m more The Baroness than Maria von Trapp, I give up and paddle to shore. Annie has washed off her sand treatment and wants another beer, so we head back to the boat. The crew is busy having lunch and tell us to go back to the beach. Too bad, because Annie is “done” with swimming. She fetches another beer then sits on the bottom step of the boat’s ladder, a little bikini-clad barnacle on the hull.

Too scared to ignore instructions from a Sea Captain, I stay in the water, attempting to come up with a way to tread water that is easier than the commonly accepted method. Turns out the commonly accepted method is that way for a reason, as all my other ideas result in me inhaling a significant volume of seawater through my nose. It’s not ideal. But Maria von Trapp didn’t complain when the Nazis arrived, I doubt she would complain about this, and so I persist.

Apparently it looked about as graceful as it felt.

Apparently it looked about as graceful as it felt.

Eventually we’re welcomed back onto the boat, where we balance paper plates piled with food on our laps. Annie swigs from her beer can and gnaws on chicken kebabs while I burp through my now-warm diet coke and ask for a third bread roll, please.

I start to wonder if we are doing a good job representing New Zealand.

Our next stop is a visit to a local village. Ben tries to make sure we’re all going to be respectful, insisting that we all cover up and no one drink alcohol on the island. Annie fashions her sarong into a sort of dress and launches herself into the dinghy, a can of beer in her hand.

“Didn’t you hear him?” I say. “No alcohol on the island”.

“Oh, I’ll be done by the time we get there” she insists, throwing one arm up in the air in what I assume is a reassuring gesture. Given her consumption today, we’re lucky this manoeuvre doesn’t fling her backwards off the boat.

After we get to the island, and Annie is told off for smuggling beer (don’t worry, she’s very saw-rey) we are given a tour of the village. Simple wooden houses have woven floor mats peeking from underneath doorsteps. Children with huge white teeth play soccer with an empty Coke bottle. Faded towels hang from ropes tied between lemon trees. Stray dogs with alarmingly present testicles sniff at our fingers.

If this place had wifi, I could definitely live here.

The Baroness needs her giant bows, I need the internet.

The Baroness needs her giant bows, I need the internet.

Ben says we are to take part in a ritual kava ceremony, and could he have a volunteer? I notice everyone’s eyes immediately shift to Annie, and when I turn to face her, I see her arm already straight up in the air, eyes closed. Perhaps she is paying respect to the prestige of the situation. Perhaps she is taking a nap. Perhaps the eleventh beer has left its mark.

“Good, ok. Annie and your friend, you will be our volunteers”.

This is how I come to be sitting cross-legged in front of the elderly chief, his son, and a wide-eyed little boy who is learning the kava ropes. They’re sitting next to a huge bowl of what looks like muddy water. We’re taught to clap once, accept a coconut shell full of kava from the boy, drink it, hand it back, clap three times, and say ‘bula!’

Annie goes first, and as I expected, this set of instructions is way too complicated for her. She muddles through, managing to clap a few times in various places and only spill a little bit down her chin, and then it’s my turn. It’s a lot of gritty water to add to a stomach full of all that bread, but I get it down. Afterwards, the chief says a few words in Fijian and then Ben gestures at me.

“As the second in command, it is your job to say something on behalf of the group”, he says. I’m not sure if this is an actual tradition or if he’s removing the responsibility of the speech from Annie, but either way, I’m stuck with it now. Public speaking terrifies me, and there’s the added pressure of having to represent what is effectively the entire globe, with Swiss, German, American, and Japanese people sitting cross-legged behind me.

“Uh, uh, um, thank you, um, for allowing, um, us into your um, village. We are, um, blessed to be, um, welcomed. Thank you?”

My um-filled speech impresses the chief’s son, who requests that I have a second bowl of kava. I wonder if this is some sort of Fijian pick-up strategy. Sure, he has lovely eyelashes and Johnny Depp cheekbones. But there’s no wifi here. It would never work.

Afterwards, I join Annie outside the meeting house while the others drink kava and pose for photos.

“WOW”, she says, looking at me with reverence, eyes wide. “You said a SPEECH. You’re IMPORTANT. You’re LEGIT”.

I’m suddenly saddened she wasn’t called on to say a few words inside, as I feel like whatever she came up with would have given the “I Have a Dream” speech a run for its money with sincerity and length.

Probably with a bit of this thrown in at the end, for good measure.

Probably with a bit of this thrown in at the end, for good measure.

We walk back to the beach, where a pop-up market has opened. Fijian women all sit inside ramshackle lean-tos made of wooden planks and rope. There are maybe ten shacks, but the stock is exactly the same at each one. Each item I pick up I’m informed is made of “coconut shell, ma’am” – yet it’s all  plasticky fuchsia and candy apple red. I wonder if it’s even made here, or if it’s all made in China then shipped here for resale. The idea creeps me out, and I hastily buy some bracelets out of guilt.

While I’m shopping, Annie has been down at the beach, making friends with local village children. When I get back from the market she’s asleep on the sand, using her own arm as a pillow. She’s had eleven beers, zero glasses of water, and six chicken kebabs. I stupidly assume she’s done for the day. No. When we get back to the boat she heads straight for the chilly bin and returns with two beers. She’s got her game face on now. There’s only an hour left on this boat and she has to get her money’s worth.

To be continued…