I kind of feel like I’m inside of a golden egg and I’m about to crack open and break out as something brand new, but I don’t know what that something is yet. You ever feel like that? I wonder what kind of gal is going to pop out? Maybe she’ll be a dusty cowgirl. Or an underwater warrior. Or a seaweed queen. Or a saltwater sage.
I don’t recognize the reflection of my face since the Fijian massage. Even the masseuse, who has since written a song for me called “My Ocean Princess,” didn’t recognize me after she did what she did to me. What in heavens did she do to me?
Maybe I feel this way because of the massage or maybe it’s this remote place that I’m in. There aren’t many cruisers in Vulaga at all. Seven boats total and most of them are catamarans.
It’s a hard place to sail to and the pass to the blue lagoon is narrow. Only 150 feet wide in some parts. It’s like threading a boat through the eye of a needle. You have to thread that needle at slack tide, which here is at mid-tide on an incoming tide, instead of at the change of tides, so it’s all the more confusing. Once your inside, your fighting your way around cabbage coral, and flying aquatic objects, and seashell sand shallows, just to get to anchorage.
I don’t know if I’d be brave enough to sail to this place on my own, but of all the places I’ve seen, this is a place worth returning. I love the psychedelic-mushroom-pinnacle waterscape. The faraway feeling. The tropical forests. The vacant beaches. The sun-drip smiles of the people.
The population of Vulaga is about 250 and it’s spread across three villages. There’s an overarching chief who reins by blood and each village has an elected Head Man. Visitors must present kava to the chief. The tradition is known as Sevusevu and grants one permission to explore his territory.
The main village is a fifteen minute dinghy ride across the blue marbled lagoon. The volcanic sculptures sky above like giant drip castles and it’s such an otherworldly acid trip, that it feels like I’m in a place that is both futuristic and ancient at once.
You know how all these volcanic rocks got into the lagoon? Legend has it that a monster chicken went mad and ripped the land apart by pawing it’s feet, causing all these rocks to fall in.
I keep an eye out for the crazed chicken as I hike the long path through the forest that leads to the village. It’s winter here, but you‘d never know it. Winter is butterflies and ripe papayas and hibiscus flowers.
It’s 11 a.m. by the time I reach the village. Kids are playing games beneath the shadows of trees, women are preparing food, and men are laying around drinking kava with the chief. The party has begun. It’s in honor of the village school teacher and it goes all day long, from breakfast to past dinner, but the guest of honor is nowhere to be found. Rumor has it, he drank too much grog with the chief the night before.
I watch women work in their long skirts with shoulders covered. Their bodies are lush landscapes and their hair grows in high afros with tight curls. Some are cutting up a pig, some are cutting octopus, some are cutting vegetables, and some are shaving coconut meat. I make friends with a gaggle of them. They have a naughty sense of humor, are more colorful than the reef, and more generous than anybody with money in a bank.
They tell me there is a cave nearby with human skulls in it, leftover from cannibal times. I ask a woman who the skulls belong to. She says, “Well men and women used to eat each other and that’s their skulls up there.” I say, “But men are still eating women.” At this all the women are rolling around on the ground laughing, and I’m laughing too, and we laugh all day, and the laughter feels like feathers.
I think it was that comment that glued us together in that secret and wild way that only women can be. They begin to call me Ollie and one refers to me as an “undercover angel.” It’s not long before they are inviting me to live there and pointing out all the available men.
I can’t tell you most of the words exchanged between us because it’s top secret. I can tell you that “Galala” pronounced “Ngalala” means “free or empty,” but when pronounced without the “n” sound, it refers to a males body part. One of the ladies taught me the wrong pronunciation, which I said loudly in mixed company! It causes everybody to crack up.
If the chief, who is rigid enough to forbid alcohol in the village, catches wind of what I did, I might never be allowed back no matter how much kava I give.
The day after the party, the ladies take me to see the cave of skulls. We scramble up a mountain in our long skirts, and stare at all the bones. It’s a strange site to see. I can feel the heat of the battle. The rock down of the roar. The bite of the blood.
I learn that most of the skeletons belong to Tongans. Back in the day, wars were won and bodies were eaten. Not in an act of pleasure, but in an act of victory. To show enemies that they are fierce enough to conquer and defeat a bloodline.
I’m still a little shaken by the cave when the chief’s ex-wife takes me octopus hunting. She tells me to call her “grandma” and she talks so close to my face, that sometimes I think she is going to kiss me. She finds an octopus fast. It‘s wrapped inside a crack of coral with seashells protecting it’s body. I tell her that I just want to admire the octopus and that she can’t kill it. She says, “Ollie! That’s my dinner, I have to kill it!” I can’t watch when she does what she does with her sharp stick, but a cloud of ink surrounds me and I feel like an island without sand. All numbed up. Grandma is all smiles cause she caught her one hell of an octopus for dinner.
I don’t let her see how emotional I feel over it and I understand that the hunt is a part of her survival. That this is a necessary cycle of nature. I think about how grateful she must be when she catches something from the sea, for she can eat. Or how grateful she must be when the rain falls, for she can drink. It’s easy to loose that type of gratitude when your food comes from a grocery store and your water falls out of a full faucet.
On our way back to the boat we see a sea snake. They’re black and white banded with venom deadlier than any land snake. She tells me they’re the sacred protectors of the sea. If people see one they must feed it part of their catch and it ensures that they will catch more the next day.
I wonder if I could live forever in a place like this. I think that I already told you that I feel the most like myself – more wild, more alive- when I’m with communities who live right next to the roots of nature. And I find the most comfort when I’m with people who don’t look or dress like me. Like being the odd one out somehow makes me feel less odd. And I wonder if death was such a woven part of my life, if it would almost make me more free to live, because I would fear it less.