1. The view across the Fulaga lagoon from the lookout hill
2. Look who came to dinner
3. Jiko and Meli making baskets from palm leaves
Today we had a perfect lesson in how to harvest food and transport it home without the sorts of tools and equipment that we westerners regard as essentials; having arranged with Meli and Jiko to visit what they described as 'Meli's island', we collected them from the beach at 9.00am and set off across the lagoon in the dinghy.
We'd learnt that Meli's 'clan' originally lived in a village on a small island within the Fulaga reef, a couple of miles away from the current centre of population; the men were widely-respected as fierce (and, apparently, ravenously hungry) warriors when a spot of defending-against-incomers was called for. So a couple of hundred years ago, the Big Chief of Fuluga called them in to come to live in the main village, with the promise of some nice plots of land in the up-and-coming west end, because he wanted them as handy additional muscle to meet unwelcome guests bearing spears and clubs. Their original island was left deserted but Meli still retains ancestral rights to the place so goes their once a week to bring back breadfruit, cassava, coconuts and cabbage that he's planted in clearings in the forest.
He first led us up to the old lookout post at the summit of a steep and very rocky hill, with a detour via a cave stacked with the skulls of the clan's erstwhile enemies, placed there after a series of hearty post-battle luncheons, presumably. His normally taciturn face broke into a slow and wide smile as he watched our shocked reactions at coming face to skull, so to speak, with the contents of the cave.
Sightseeing over, we returned to the plantation and a fire was lit to roast some breadfruit as a starchy but tasty mid-morning snack. Whilst these were cooking (15-20 minutes over a medium flame, until the thick skin is nicely charred if you were wondering), it was explained that Meli would go and dig up some cassava roots and Jiko would take us crab-hunting in the mangroves around the low-tide mark. "Did you bring a bag?" asked Jiko, to which we apologised and said no; she just giggled at our lack of preparedness as Meli swung his machete and brought down a huge palm frond from which the two of them sat down to weave a couple of exquisitely-constructed and very strong baskets. "This one will be for the crabs" she said, "so we need to close the top to keep them in." Another swing on the machete and a perfectly pliable length of vine was tied in a series of rolling hitches along the top of the basket.
We followed Jiko, splashing across the sand flats as the tide ebbed away. Watching her stride confidently ahead, basket in hand, reminded Graham very much of his mum heading off to the shops, wickedly unyielding wicker basket in hand, when he was a boy. And it was clear that heading off into the mangroves to catch some intimidatingly large crabs comes is about as routine to Jiko as wheeling a trolley around Sainsbury's is to us. Sadly we weren't allowed to witness the actual crab-catching technique, as our amateur efforts at crab-stalking would have them scuttling off into the distance, but Jiko returned after only ten minutes with the basket containing 8 large crabs, thereby allowing her to use the "10 items or less, Baskets Only" checkout. Sorry, we know what you're thinking – it should be "10 items or fewer" but the finest minds of Asdasainsmorrisco haven't understood that point of English grammar yet, so far be it for us to spoil the already-weak joke in the interests of pedantry.
Back to the clearing for a fill of smokey-tasting breadfruit (use breadfruit tree leaves as oven gloves to prevent burns, if trying this at home), we then returned to the dinghy, pausing for our hosts to find a dozen or so clams in the shallows to use as bait for the next chapter of our provisioning trip. Leaving the baskets of goodies in Maunie's cockpit, we heading north across the lagoon to anchor the dinghy in several 'good spots' for some fishing; sad to say that we visitors didn't cover themselves with glory, catching precisely no fish whilst Jiki and Meli hauled in three each (Perch-like fish called Ninos which have needle-like spines on their dorsal fins) but, in our defence, it was too windy and too cold for good fishing, apparently.
We returned to Maunie, getting pretty wet from the spray in the wind-driven waves, to warm up in the sunshine and have lunch. Here we managed, at least, to regain a modicum of self-respect; we'd been up at 6.30am to fillet and cook the last section of the mahi-mahi that we caught on the passage from Taveuni (the combination of a fridge and a Lakeland vacuum packer keeps fish fresh for 8-10 days so it's good that none of it was wasted). Our fish curry was given full and enthusiastic approval by the Fijians, though, of course, we didn't admit that the coconut cream came out of a tin.