Kava is to Vanuatu as grabbing a beer with a friend is to the U.S. Kava... is not coffee. Kava tastes like dirt, and rightfully so, it's made from a root. 

The root is picked, cleaned of its skin (think potatoes), chopped into bits and then made into pulp one of three ways... 1. mashing (like potatoes) 2. chewing (yes in someones mouth) and spit back out or 3. by using meat grinder. The pulp is mixed with water and then strained again and again till it's a basically a dirt Kook Aid. Let the record stand that we only consumed options 1 and 3 during our stay, however, I cannot speak on behalf of Jeff during his time in the Peace Corps. 

Kava is a suppressant. It slows and relaxes the body and is completely legal, even in the U.S. Years ago Vanuatu launched a campaign to open more 'nakamals,' pronounced 'knock - ah - malls,' (where kava is sold) in effort to reduce the violence and fighting among the natives.  

The night of our arrival we met up with a long time friend of Jeffs who was also once in the Peace Corps. Only, he never left. Matt took us to a nearby nakamal that was one of those places that unless you'd been there before you'd have no idea it existed.  

You order kava in number of scoops. One scoop is 50. Two scoops is 100, and so on. In Bislama, the local language, Jeff and Matt explained to the vendor that it was my first time having kava and that Jeff hadn't taken it since he left the country (nearly two years ago). They agreed only one scoop for me, but Jeff wasn't getting off that easy and was forced a 200 his first time back. 

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"Hold the cup with two hands," they told me. "It's a sign of respect." Then they explained that I would want to drink the entire shell all at once and after, spit a whole lot.  

Jeff had previously warned me about the taste and about the possibility of 'trouting' or vomiting. The pep talk reminded me of my first shot of tequila - when I turned 21 of course. 

I held my breath, gulped it down and immediately felt my tongue go numb - something they also warned me about. As they instructed, I spit. Seriously, it's no joke about the spitting. Half the guys sound as if they are morphing into the hulk. 

Then there's the 'chaser.' Typically a hard boiled egg, a candy sucker, peanuts, or a cigarette. On this particular night at that particular nakamal it happened to be a birthday so we each grabbed a small piece of chocolate cake. The cake was dry, but dry cake is better than dirt mouth. 

Moments later we sat by the fire and I listened as Jeff and Matt caught up on the last two years. It could have been the kava or the travel of the last 24 hours, whichever the culprit, I was relaxed. 

That night we crashed at a nearby motel of sorts in Port Villa, the capital of Vanuatu. We slept for 10 hours straight.  

{  N.R.S. }