Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu

Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu

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by J. Maarten Troost

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With The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Maarten Troost established himself as one of the most engaging and original travel writers around. Getting Stoned with Savages again reveals his wry wit and infectious joy of discovery in a side-splittingly funny account of life in the farthest reaches of the world. After two grueling years on the island of Tarawa,


With The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Maarten Troost established himself as one of the most engaging and original travel writers around. Getting Stoned with Savages again reveals his wry wit and infectious joy of discovery in a side-splittingly funny account of life in the farthest reaches of the world. After two grueling years on the island of Tarawa, battling feral dogs, machete-wielding neighbors, and a lack of beer on a daily basis, Maarten Troost was in no hurry to return to the South Pacific. But as time went on, he realized he felt remarkably out of place among the trappings of twenty-first-century America. When he found himself holding down a job—one that might possibly lead to a career—he knew it was time for him and his wife, Sylvia, to repack their bags and set off for parts unknown.

Getting Stoned with Savages
tells the hilarious story of Troost’s time on Vanuatu—a rugged cluster of islands where the natives gorge themselves on kava and are still known to “eat the man.” Falling into one amusing misadventure after another, Troost struggles against typhoons, earthquakes, and giant centipedes and soon finds himself swept up in the laid-back, clothing-optional lifestyle of the islanders. When Sylvia gets pregnant, they decamp for slightly-more-civilized Fiji, a fallen paradise where the local chiefs can be found watching rugby in the house next door. And as they contend with new parenthood in a country rife with prostitutes and government coups, their son begins to take quite naturally to island living—in complete contrast to his dad.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for The Sex Lives of Cannibals:

“A comic masterwork of travel writing.” —Publishers Weekly

“Troost has a command of place and narrative that puts his debut in the company of some of today’s best travel writers.” —Elle

“A delightful, self-deprecating, extremely sly account of life in a place so wretched it gives new, terrible meaning to getting away from it all.” —National Geographic Adventure

At the end of The Sex Lives of Cannibals, author Maarten Troost and his girlfriend, Sylvia, were safely back home in Washington, D.C., far away from their erstwhile home in the Equatorial Pacific. But, as we discover in Getting Stoned with Savages, "advanced civilization" could not hold our intrepid Czech-Dutch traveler. Before long, he and his beloved were once again traipsing through tropical parts unknown, in this case the remote South Pacific island of Vanuatu. There, Troost meets the prime minister; chats with members of a cargo cult; witnesses a major pig sacrifice; mingles with naked forest villagers; and experiences two typhoons and an earthquake. And that's just in the first third of the book!
Publishers Weekly
Using a format similar to that of his previous work, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Troost creates another comical and touching travel memoir. Troost and his wife, Sylvia, move from busy Washington, D.C., to Vanuatu, a nation made up of 83 islands in the South Pacific. As Sylvia works for a regional nonprofit, Troost immerses himself in the islands' culture, an odd mix of the islanders' thousand-year-old "kastoms" along with imperialist British and French influences. This really means that Troost gets to live in a nice house while he gets drunk on kava; dodges "a long inferno of magma and a cascade of lava bombs" at the "world's most accessible volcano"; and checks out the "calcified" leftovers from one of Vanuatu's not-so-ancient traditions, cannibalism. At the end of the book, the couple move to Fiji so that Sylvia will have state-of-the-art medical care when she gives birth to their first baby. While modern-day Fiji provides little fodder for Troost's comic sensibilities, the birth of his son enables him to share some deeper thoughts and decide it is "time to stop looking for paradise." A funny travelogue with a sentimental heart, Troost's latest work genuinely captures the search for paradise as well as the need for home. (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Those who enjoyed Troost's account of living on an atoll-a ring of closely spaced small coral islands-in Kiribati in the South Pacific in his previous travel memoir, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, will not be disappointed with this follow-up. After a two-year stint working as a consultant for the World Bank in Washington, DC, Troost began yearning for the adventure of the South Pacific. So when his wife, Sylvia, was offered a job in Fiji, the two jumped at the chance to return to the far reaches of the world. This time they set up camp in Vanuatu and Fiji, where the author discovered the delights of kava, attempted to find a cannibal, and experienced the joy of parenthood. For those readers sitting in offices, yearning to break free and live on a tropical isle, this book provides a wonderful, witty view into the experience-the good and the bad. Recommended for all libraries with travel collections.-Louise Feldmann, Colorado State Univ., Fort Collins Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Troost returns to the South Pacific, where he had spent a couple years on Kiribati (The Sex Lives of Cannibals, 2004), when the sensory overload of life in Washington, D.C., gave way to a gilded weariness. His life as a well-paid drone for the World Bank got to Troost. He yearned for his days on Kiribati, at their wonder and mystery, of water so blue it made him gasp. Forget the human feces on the beach, ringworm and dengue fever, the unrelieved diet of rice and rotten fish and the dreadful time the beer delivery went to the wrong island. Living on a South Pacific island could be grim, horrifying and revolting, Troost writes, but never less than interesting. So off he goes with his wife to Vanuatu, where the earth is alive and well and reminds you of it everyday, whether through volcanic eruptions or earthquakes. Troost works hard to find all that is fine and weird on the former British-French land mass. There will be coconut shells filled with kava-the local recreational intoxicant wrung from a masticated spitball of pepper bush root; discussion of the impulse behind cannibalism ("while I may not have completely understood what holy communion was all about, Catholicism did allow me to see the nuances in cannibalism"); and considerations of the spectacular governmental corruption of the island. Troost, who also briefly nests in Fiji, is a travel writer who delivers the gratifying, old-school goods: curious cultural practices; encounters with venomous, nay murderous, creatures; perspective on recent history, with all the chaos wrought by European interlopers. Troost is now washed up in landlocked Sacramento, but this "unapologetic escapist" should soon be on the move.

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Crown Publishing Group
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5.19(w) x 8.01(h) x 0.75(d)

Read an Excerpt

chapter 1

In which the author, much to his surprise, finds himself holding down a job, a real job that could possibly lead to a career, which causes him considerable distress as he envisions his world reduced to swirling acronyms, whereupon his beguiling wife offers him another way, an escape, an alternate road, and together they decide to move to the distant islands of the South Pacific.

I have been called many things in my life, but if there has been but one constant, one barb, one arrow flung my way time after time, it is the accusation that I am, in essence, nothing more than an escapist. Apparently this is bad, suspect, possibly even un-American. Mention to someone that, all things being equal, you’d really rather be on an island in the South Pacific, and they’ll look at you quizzically, ponder the madness of the notion for a moment, and say: “But that’s just escapism. Now would you kindly finish stocking the paper clips so we have time to rearrange the Hi-Liter markers? We need to make sure they’re color-coordinated.”

I’m not sure where this tendency came from. Escapism, we are led to believe, is evidence of a deficiency in character, a certain failure of temperament, and like so many -isms, it is to be strenuously avoided. How do you expect to get ahead? people ask. But the question altogether misses the point. The escapist doesn’t want to get ahead. He simply wants to get away. I understand this, for I am an unapologetic escapist. Once before, I had abandoned the life I knew in Washington, D.C., escaping the urgent din of the continental world for a distant atoll in the equatorial Pacific. I lived there for two years, never once looking at a clock, marveling at what a strange turn my life had taken. I may have heat rash, I thought back then, and I might be hosting eight different kinds of parasites, but at least I’m not some office drone. I had escaped, I thought mirthfully as I tended to my septic infections. And then, suddenly, my life took another dramatic U-turn, and I once again found myself back in Washington, where every morning I was confronted by a debilitating decision: What tie to wear?

The dissonance was overwhelming. One day, I found myself pressed inside the Washington Metro, soaked through from a November rain, palpitating slightly as I realized I had an 8 a.m. meeting and it was presently 8:17 a.m., and just like that it occurred to me that six months earlier I could be found paddling an outrigger canoe across the sun-dappled waters of a lagoon in the South Pacific. This had been happening for some time, this juxtaposition of my former life upon my present one, and the contrast never failed to leave me twitching in bafflement. How had this happened? Huddled on the subway, I lingered on the image for a moment, far away, envisioning the canopy of palm trees swaying in the near distance, the urgent leap of a flying fish, the fishermen in sailing canoes returning with their catch, the brilliant, shimmering colors offered by a setting sun, until my reverie came to an abrupt end as the subway doors opened and I was swept into the tumult of the rush-hour commute. It was a disconcerting sensation. Blue, blue water, I thought in vain as I was shepherded onto an escalator crowded with pasty-faced suits like myself, dejected already. I tried imagining swaying palm trees as I scurried through the rain toward my office at the World Bank, flashing the color-coded ID card I kept tethered to my belt. Inside, I tried conjuring stress-free tropical living once I found on my chair a dreaded note from my boss: PLEASE SEE ME. 7:45 a.m. But the image was gone. Poof.

How had this happened? I wondered again. For two years I had lived in Kiribati, a widely dispersed scattering of atolls at the end of the world, where I had led a rather lively and adventurous existence with my girlfriend Sylvia. And now I was right back where I started, in the real world, as some prefer to call it, wondering how I might leave it again.

As I settled into my office, I noticed another note on top of my keyboard, scrawled by the office assistant: IFC MEETING IN WBIGF CONFERENCE ROOM. WHERE ARE YOU??? 8:21 a.m. The message light on my phone blinked ominously. Sighing, I loped toward the conference room, pausing briefly to catch sight of my reflection in the window, and I noted with some interest that I looked like sodden vermin. It was not going to be a good day, I knew. The conference room itself was transparent, because the World Bank values transparency, and as I approached I wondered, Is that a Bank vice president sitting there? Why, yes, it was. Is that another one? Indeed so. And look, there’s our division chief. Does he ever look pissed off. I entered, and as I mumbled my apologies, my boss cut me off. “Finally,” he said. “Now we can begin. Do you have the PowerPoint slides?”

“Er... the PowerPoint slides... was that me?...I thought... Wasn’t Sergio...?”

Sergio looked upon me with serene blankness. I dampened a little further as the perspiration commingled with the rain, and as I studied the multitude of agitated faces, I thought to myself, Six months ago . . .

Inexplicably, six months turned into a year, and then two. Yet, that strange sense of dislocation never left me. Where am I? I’d ask myself with alarming frequency. How did I get here? What events in time and space have brought me to this moment? Glancing out my office window, I’d see limousines depositing presidents and prime ministers, Nobel laureates and eminent thinkers, even Bono himself, and I’d remember that not so long ago I had lived in a place that could not possibly be further removed from the global stage. In Kiribati, I would gladly have given up a finger or two for a newspaper, and now here I was, surrounded by newsworthy personalities. Even my friends thought my change in circumstances odd.

“The World Bank? You? You’re a hoity-toity consultant to the World Bank?” asked one.


“You were unemployed for two years, and now you’ve got this glam job at the World Bank?”

“I wasn’t unemployed,” I countered, pleased to hear someone describe my job as glamorous.

“I see. And what was it you did for two years?”

“I was writing.”

“Writing.” Long pause here. “And how much, if you don’t mind my asking, did your writing–and I’m sure it was sublime–how much money, would you say, did your writing earn you?”


“Yes, net.”

“Three hundred and fifty dollars.”

“Three hundred and fifty dollars.” This was savored for a moment. “Two years. Three hundred and fifty dollars.”

“Three hundred and fifty American dollars.”

“Three hundred and fifty American dollars, then. And now you advise countries, entire countries, on what they should do with their money.”

“Actually, my boss does that.”

“And so what do you do?”

“I help him.”

“You help him. And for this help, you are no doubt handsomely remunerated.”

“I can’t complain.”

I couldn’t, really. For the first time in my life I had more money than I knew what to do with. This, like so much else, was a startling change in circumstances. For years I had lived the easy poverty of the vagabond. And just as everyone else was boarding the Internet money train, I disappeared to the far side of the world, where I lived as a financial parasite while hacking away at a novel that meandered into failure. Money–the possession thereof–should have made me giddy with joy. And it did. For a day. The day I saw my bank account surge into the four figures, which seemed a stratospheric sum. But then, what to do with it? I mean, after the restaurant splurges. And your need for Paris has been sated. Where do you put it? In stocks? Bonds? That’s what I did. And here’s the funny thing. Then you begin to worry about money. To my everlasting disappointment, I discovered that it’s true what they say. Money doesn’t buy you happiness.

Damn it.
It was all so very baffling to me. I had money. I had a respectable job. If I tried just a little bit harder and played my cards right, I could turn my consultancy into a permanent staff position and then I would be set for life. I could move on from WBILG to WBOPA, maybe even to WBPCL. And from there all sorts of possibilities opened up: UNDP, EBRD, IMF, ADB, maybe even a job with the bad boys over at IFC. Well, perhaps not the IFC. That meeting had not gone very well. Not at all. I had made my boss look bad, a big no-no at the World Bank. But still, if I simply applied myself, I could count on lifetime employment as a well-compensated international bureaucrat with all the perks the job entailed. There would be busi-ness-class travel and six weeks of annual vacation. There would be health insurance and an extremely generous pension. And best of all, I could never, ever be fired. Once encased within the United Nations system, a staffer is guaranteed lifetime employment, perhaps not as a rule, but most certainly in practice. The office next to mine, for instance, was occupied by a Korean gentleman who, as far as anyone could tell, had not produced even a suggestion of work in well over three years. Some days he showed up, some days not, and yet every year his salary percolated ever upward. It wasn’t quite what I aspired to, but I did recognize that there are much, much worse ways to make a living.

Yet, I didn’t apply myself any harder. Instead, as I stared forlornly at my computer screen, trying halfheartedly to decipher a complex economic equation (“No math,” I had told them. “I’m one hundred percent right brain”), I found that very soon, once again, my thoughts drifted toward the Pacific. Two years ago, I remembered, I was on an outer island in Kiribati, resting in a thatch-roofed meeting house and chatting amiably with an elderly man about the dozens of shark fins drying in the rafters. I didn’t think much of it at the time. It was just a normal day in Kiribati. But now, as I perused my wall, the stacks of heavy binders with titles like Privatization and the Energy Sector and Infrastructure Finance: A Global Challenge, binders piled so high that they nearly covered the ubiquitous Monet print–how I hated those lilies–I found that I nearly ached at the recollection. Once, my world had been filled with wonder and mystery. I lived surrounded by water so blue that I sometimes gasped at the beauty of it. I knew magicians and sorcerers. I slept under multitudes of stars and finally understood what is meant by the spiritual world. I . . .

“You’re forgetting the human feces on the beach,” said my wife, Sylvia, a little later, just as my exposition was beginning to roll. Sylvia was the girlfriend I had followed to Kiribati. We had faked marriage there, and after two years of practice we felt we had earned the rings. “You’re also forgetting ringworm, dengue fever, and ‘La Macarena.’ And do you remember when the beer was sent to the wrong island? You weren’t waxing poetic then. And the food– months of nothing but rice and rotten fish. Do you remember that Christmas package your dad sent, the one with all the cookies and chocolate?”

Indeed I did. It was a Christmas tradition begun by my grandmother in Holland. Every year, she sent us packages containing the buttery sweets and milky chocolates that the Dutch excel in producing. My father had taken up the tradition after my grandmother passed away. The package he sent had taken seven months to reach us in Kiribati, and by the time it arrived more than half its contents had been consumed by rats, with the remainder scarred by claws and fangs. It never occurred to us not to eat it. We devoured the remaining half in one long gluttonous afternoon, feeling nothing but blissful rapture.

“But wasn’t that the best chocolate you ever had?” I asked.

“Yes,” she sighed. “But that’s the point. I never want to feel that desperate again.”

She did have a point. Escapism is not without its costs. Life had been desperate in Kiribati. Whatever hopes we’d had of finding the South Seas idyll of our imagination were cruelly dashed by the realities of island living. True, it had been beautiful. But it had also been hard. Living in a state of perpetual denial, as we did in Kiribati, had a way of heightening one’s appreciation of the small things, like chocolate. But strangely, I didn’t appreciate chocolate anymore. Indeed, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d even had chocolate, and for some reason, this had begun to bother me, for what is life, a good life, but the accumulation of small pleasures? In Washington, we lived in a place where everything was available, for a price, and yet I couldn’t recall the last time I had really savored something–a book, a sunset, a fine meal. It was as if the sensory overload that is American life had somehow led to sensory deprivation, a gilded weariness, where everything is permitted and nothing appreciated. I’d find myself inside a Whole Foods, and remember that not long ago I would have engaged in all sorts of criminality for a chance to skip down these heaving aisles, yet now I found myself feeling a mite peeved that the cheese selection wasn’t quite as expansive as I would have wished. In Kiribati I yearned for all that we had in Washington–high-end grocery stores, reliable electricity, endless consumer choice–and now that I was in the midst of all this bounty, I pined for what we had in Kiribati, the intangibles at least, for there are no tangibles to be found on a remote atoll.

Meet the Author

J. MAARTEN TROOST recently returned from his years in Vanuatu and Fiji. He, his wife, and their two children live in Sacramento, California.

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Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I guess J. Maarten Troost is probably living the dream life of many of us. His first book, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, was a riot. This, his sequel is equally well worth the read. So far, only three books have made me laugh out loud. Troost has written two of those books. If you just plain and simply need to have a good laugh at the author's expense, read his two books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
.I haven't read J. Maarten Troost's first book but I must say this is actually a great book! I am not the best of readers nor can I sit down to read for an extended amount of time. Except when I started to read this book I found myself more eager to read to find out what will happen next. Within the book he undergoes many humorous events, shares facts that are interesting about the people and the islands in the South Pacific, as well tours around and uses his words to make you think you are there with him.
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