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On the island of Nacula, in northern Fiji, there are two ‘resorts’. One is very basic, has no hot water, limited electricity, 3 basic meals a day – mainly rice based. The other (only) slightly more upmarket, at least in terms of calorific and personal hygiene options. I stayed at the “basic” one. Accommodation basically consists of huts (bure), either as shared dorms or privately occupied. The place is heavenly. Surrounded by tropical forest and the South Pacific, the overwhelmingly lovely Scandinavian 20-year olds who come to the islands sunbathe, take pictures of each other, starve until meals are served and recount their travels before they arrived in Fiji, adventures that were without exception, “amasssing”, “crasssy”, “awesssome” and the “adrenaline rush was fantastic”, but can also be “amasssing” or “crasssy” if you find yourself trying to blend in and you are stuck for words. Now, back to the island. Between the two resorts, just off the white sandy stretch that separates tropical flora from tropical fish, there is a kiosk, the only other place on the jungle-covered island one can visit without a guide. I say kiosk, it is really six poles (only just) holding up a holey and rusty layer of tin, hereafter referred to as “the roof” for the purposes of this text. image The white sign in front of it reads: “Welcome to the Tea House- delic(i)ous Cakes- opening hours 3.00-5.30 Mon-Sund”. As we shall see below, the sign is misleading at every level. To begin with, you’d need a very idiosynchratic lexicographical interpretation to call the place a “house”. When it rains, rust-enriched rain water drenches all that is under the roof, adding character to the place and flavour to the offerings. The aforementioned offerings are tea, very weak filter-like coffee and cake. With a Finnish guy who I met on the resort, we went there. Here is how it works: the kiosk has a bench that seats six thin people. if there is space, you take it. In front of the bench, there are two adjacent plastic tables, desperately needing each other so they both stand still. The owner comes out from a little cabin, 5 meters behind all this, also made of rusty tin leaves, and overall not unlike an outdoors portable toilet. He bakes the cake and makes the coffee there. A man of few words and even fewer teeth, the owner presents the options: “Bula (hi)! Tea or coffee?”. He means “tea or coffee with the cake that you WILL have?”. At this point it needs to be clarified, no client is likely not to have wanted the cake ever, given the 1000-or-so calories otherwise available daily. There is ONE cake. Not one kind of cake. One cake. You eat it if you are there early enough. We were. As any rational adult, we thought “never mind the tropical storm, there is cake. CAKE.” So we went. We were clients 5 and 6, so we sat down, already drenched, so we didn’t mind the rain continuing through the roof and on our heads. We ordered, the man disappeared for about 5 minutes in the porta-loo, came back carrying the coffee and cake in the tropical storm and brought them over. Banana and chocolate cake never tasted so good, not a calorie went wasted. He left and came back again 10 minutes later to be paid. He said “who has 5 dollars?” meaning 5 Fiji Dollar bills (about £2, 3$). “Reasonably priced” I thought, deciding to ignore for a moment that most Fijians survive on about £1 a day. He got the 5 dollar bills, gave it as change to those with 10s or 20s, settled overall and left. My impression is he had no other money to give change when he came to collect. We waited for the storm to end and then we left too.
A week later, on the island of Waya Lailai, I met a lovely couple, again from Finland, to whom I recounted the story. “What?” said the girl of the couple, clearly annoyed. At that point I thought she was going to start preaching about the hardships that the Fijian people go through and I should not make fun of such situations and so on. “We were in the other resort” she said “and we did exactly the same, visited the same place, had coffee and cake and they charged us 20 dollars each for it as a ‘bakery visit’ “