Tea house bliss

A big slice of cake and Fi­jian friend­li­ness

Paradise - - Contents -

“Bula bula, wel­come to Lo’s Tea House,” says Lo­raina Ma­si­buli as we walk into Enedala vil­lage on Nanuya Lailai Is­land. “Call me Lo,” she says with a daz­zling smile.

Twenty min­utes ear­lier we had left be­hind the tran­quil wa­ters of Fiji’s famed Blue La­goon Beach Re­sort, tak­ing a well-trod­den path through a co­conut plan­ta­tion, down a val­ley, across a river and over a ridge to get to the tea house.

Even by Fi­jian stan­dards, Enedala vil­lage is tiny. It has just 11 fam­i­lies and 30 peo­ple. Lo sits us down in­side and away from the blus­tery south­east trade winds that buf­fet the beach a few me­tres from her door. She tells us how she es­tab­lished the tea­house with her hus­band, Voka, 16 years ago.

“My hus­band is a chief at Nabukero vil­lage near the Sawa-i-lau Caves in the north­ern Ya­sawa Is­lands,” Lo says. His chiefly du­ties keep him from home most of the time so that he re­turns to Enedala vil­lage just once a month. With her hus­band ab­sent, the first 10 years were tough for en­tre­pre­neur­ial Lo as she es­tab­lished the busi­ness. Vis­i­tors were sparse in the early days, some­times just two or three each week.

“I didn’t have any­thing in the be­gin­ning, I had to bor­row ev­ery­thing to get the tea house started,” Lo ex­plains.

She says she would go to nearby tourist re­sorts to en­cour­age trav­ellers to visit her.

In re­cent years, Lo’s star has risen. Trav­ellers come from across the globe to in­dulge in her spe­cial choco­late and ba­nana cakes, served with tra­di­tional lemon-leaf tea. “The tea is the best. It makes you healthy and strong,” she says.

She ducks out­side to a healthy look­ing shrub and plucks a hand­ful of leaves from the bush.

Lo’s charm­ingly ram­shackle tea house in­te­rior walls are lined with cot­ton cloth in colour­ful Fi­jian de­signs. Ex­ter­nal walls are clad in clap­board painted a vivid lime green and trimmed with bur­gundy shut­ters. Beach sand that clings to our feet is as wel­come in­side as the her­mit crabs that wan­der in con­fi­dently. As we sip tea and tuck into a gen­er­ous wedge of choco­late cake drip­ping with choco­late frost­ing, Lo re­veals the se­cret to the rich smok­i­ness of her cake.

“My se­cret in­gre­di­ent is fresh co­conut milk straight from the co­conut,” she says. “We have plenty of co­conuts here,” she laughs, spread­ing her arms wide to in­di­cate the co­conut palms that dom­i­nate the land­scape.

Shun­ning mod­ern con­ve­niences, Lo’s cakes are baked as her grand­mother did, in a cast-iron pot over an open fire. “I bake my cakes us­ing fire­wood, rather than us­ing gas, which gives them a spe­cial taste,” she says.

Our con­ver­sa­tion is in­ter­rupted by Lo’s four-year-old grand­daugh­ter who waltzes in, red rib­bon in her hair. “This is my naughty grand­daugh­ter Mili,” Lo says. “She’s in­ter­ested in the guests who come to the tea house. She runs out greet­ing them bula, bula, bula,” Lo laughs, pulling Mili into her lap for an af­fec­tion­ate hug.

Lo’s is the kind of place where you could eas­ily while away a few hours, laugh­ing and chat­ting in true Fi­jian style. “I am very happy,” Lo sighs con­tent­edly. So too are her guests.

Lo’s Tea House is on the south­east coast of Nanuya Lailai Is­land in Fiji’s Ya­sawa Is­lands. Open daily.

Air Ni­ug­ini flies from Port Moresby to Fiji three times a week. See airni­ug­ini.com.pg.

Cake and smiles … Lo­raina Ma­si­buli with her grand­daugh­ter Mili (right); a gen­er­ous wedge of the choco­late cake, cooked in the tra­di­tional way (op­po­site page).

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