Continuing on with my love affair of J. Maarten Troost, I now bring you Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu. Acting as a follow-up to Troost’s adventures in Kiribati, as documented in The Sex Lives of Cannibals, this book covers the author’s return to the South Pacific with his wife and a different way of island living.
Two years after Troost and his wife returned to the States from Kiribati, they once again heard the call of the islands. Unable to fully readjust to life in America, and now working at the World Bank, Troost would find himself daydreaming of the islands and wanting to escape the corporate lives they’ve built for themselves since their return.
Eventually the couple start to make the necessary arrangements to return to the Equatorial Pacific. Troost’s wife, Sylvia, had once again obtained a position with the Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific (FSP). This time, their placement would be Fiji.
In May of 2000 however, shortly before the couple were due to depart the States, a coup d’état broke out during which Fijian nationalists overthrew the non-native government. In light of this, Troost and his wife were rerouted to Vanuatu until tensions simmered down in Fiji.
During their time in Vanuatu, the couple faced typhoons, earthquakes, mudslides (the author woke up one morning to find his backyard completely gone and resting on the neighbour’s house at the bottom of their hill), and giant centipedes. They also trek up Yasur — one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Troost also decides to explore Vanuatu’s history of cannibalism (no humans were harmed in the making of this book), for which he provides the reader with a back history of “eating the man” in the island’s culture
If Vanuatu gave the author anything, it was a newfound taste for kava — a drink popular throughout the South Pacific with sedative and anesthetic properties, that’s produced by chewing, grinding or pounding down the roots of the kava plant and mixing it with water. It has a murky appearance and odd taste that makes it unappealing to drink, but as one of his new friends suggests, all you need to do before drinking your shell of kava is to focus on a spot in the distance, think of a perfect moment, and drink.
“I was beginning to realize that kava is like the sausage of the Pacific. One doesn’t really want to know how it was made.”
There’s also a kava culture in Tonga, so for curiosity’s sake, I may just have to try this drink while I’m there in August 😉
Eventually the couple learn that Sylvia’s pregnant with their first child, so they decide it’s finally time to head over to Fiji. Here they make another new set of friends and coworkers, settle down in their new home, and after nine months give birth to their island baby. They mingle with local chiefs, explore some of the outer islands, and learn about the intricacies of mixed-race living in Fiji.
There comes a time in a person’s life when the paradise that they were chasing becomes found, then it eventually becomes every day life. Once this happens then one might feel the need to return to normalcy and return home. This is what happened to Troost after his second extended jaunt in the South Pacific.
“Paradise was always over there, a day´s sail away. But it´s a funny thing, escapism. You can go far and wide and you can keep moving on and on through places and years, but you never escape your own life. I, finally, knew where my life belonged. Home.”
And so, the couple and their island baby return to Washington, D.C. to once again live the American life. From there they eventually move to California, where they are now permanently based. My assumption is that Cali was a happy medium for the family — at least they have palm trees and ocean breezes there to suffice their mood if they’re ever missing island life again.