June 24, 2022. Last I wrote we were anchored in Yalobi Bay, Waya Island. This adventure takes place on the island of Nanuya, further north in the Yasawa chain of islands. And once again, it is about food! But it isn’t about just donuts, it’s about a pickle, too.
Friday June 3 turned out to be not just any other day. We set out for a twenty-minute walk across Nanuya Island, and those twenty minutes turned into a four day adventure. Winding up through the gardens of the resort, full of papaya, banana, pineapples, cucumbers, coriander, tomatoes, spinach, and shallots, we came upon two kiwis (for my overseas readers these creatures abound in Fiji and hail from New Zealand) asking for direction from a local.
It was our lucky day, because not only did they have directions for the walk, they had DIRECTIONS TO LO’S FAMOUS HOMEMADE FIJIAN DONUTS!
We decided they had the scoop, so we tagged alongside and chatted as we padded on a mud trail winding through tall grasses, over rolling hills, past smoking pits, by open fires of lemongrass tea, along hidden huts with treasures and shells, and finally, spilled down to the pale yellow-green turquoise waters below.
After some enquiring of those we passed, we hailed a woman lounging on one of those marvellous, cool, wooden platforms the Fijians have built all over their islands.
‘We are looking for Lo’, we explained.
‘I’m Lo!’ she said.
‘Oh, Hi Lo!’
‘Yes, that’s my name, HiLo!’
And then she had a good laugh. She had done this routine before I expect. She is so famous you can find her on Google maps, selling her donuts and cakes and cups of lemon leaf tea. …. (And what’s more amazing is when you go on to Google Maps now, you see a photo of the sign I painted for her…. but you must READ ON…!)
She took our order for four donuts (it was a hot and tiring walk and we needed sustenance!) but made a point of being very sorry no one ordered her cake. We felt we owed her an apology, so we ordered four donuts and one cake ….and in the end got five donuts and one cake!
We chewed away in exquisite paradise, the ocean breeze strengthening under the shade of her donut shack made of palm leaves and cane, built to replace the actual donut shop that got blown away in Hurricane Yassa. Materials were far too expensive to replace it till more tourists came and she sold many more donuts. The setting was so perfect, and I couldn’t help but ask her if I could return the next day and paint.
‘I’ll buy another donut!’ I promised.
|‘Ah!’ she picked up quickly, ‘You paint. Nevermind the donuts. You can paint me a sign. My sign says I sell cakes but my daughter forgot to write that I sell donuts. Everyone wants donuts. So now I have to make cake every day, but no one buys it because they come here only to buy my famous donuts! So, every day I have to throw away my cake!’
Sure enough, her sign, a vibrant lime green with blue letters, attracting every tourist who raomed these paths, revealed she sold coffee, tea, cakes, lemon leaf tea, hot chocolate, but no donuts. Perhaps, she worried, they would not realise she was the famous Lo of Google donut fame.
What a pickle she was in!
‘My niece painted the sign but forgot the donuts… and now we have no more paint!’ she said with exasperation.
‘Do you have any paints?’ I asked helpfully.
‘No!’ she insisted,’ You are the artist! You should have paint!’
She arched her brow, ‘I tell you what. If you paint me a sign I will make all the donuts you can eat for free!’
I considered her offer. Her donuts were very good. However, when I asked if I could come and paint, I actually meant sit and paint with pastel. I use chalk pastel for my plein air work, and they would not do for painting a sign, it would only wash away in the first rain. But I did have some paint on board, so I considered her request.
‘Do you have a board?’ I asked. In these remote wind-blown islands even a board is a treasure.
‘You can just paint over the sign my niece made!’
At this Nicky took charge ‘No! That sign is perfect. We can’t paint over it. It is part of this place.’ It was a good omen that I heard Nicky use the word ‘we’ ; I now had a partner in crime to help paint the sign if I agreed to take up the job. I also happened to agree with Nicky. The existing sign was too perfect to overwrite.
We brainstormed. We did not want to paint over her existing sign, and we wanted the new sign to be in keeping with the old, so we decided we needed to keep the fluorescent lime green background. Almost anything that can be painted on that side of the island is painted this vibrant lime green: boats, houses, signs. They must have got a good deal somewhere along the line.
I figured I could make a very close approximation with a mixture of Cad Lemon Yellow and Pthalo Blue both of which I had on board. It was an artist grade Cadmium Yellow and therefore would make this the most expensive sign in Fiji! But no matter, Lo was in dire straits and needed a solution.
I decided I would give it a go, provided Lo let me sit in her garden and work on my pastel. We made a deal. I would do some designs and bring them back tomorrow. If she liked one, I would make it for her.
|After three days of visiting Lo, taking the sign back to the boat for refinements, returning and continuing to paint it while in parallel working on my pastel, we finished the sign. Lo was chuffed.
Of course this sign advertised the donuts, but Lo still had a problem of having to KEEP MAKING CAKE. So I broached an idea with her.
‘What if we just wrote in parentheses ‘sometimes’ under the word ‘CAKE’? It would be funny!’
‘Sometimes.’ Lo and Domi rolled it around in their head and, after a while, nodded their approval. They liked the joke.
‘Yes, ‘sometimes’. Write that.’
We made sure they were happy with it and then Nicky wrote it in. I was lucky I had the same blue in my Poscas as the letters already painted and Nicki inscribed the caveat into the sign. Although the lettering is in the fine print, I hope you will agree, it warns the passing traveller they will not always be certain of getting cake!
The final day was Sunday and Lo would not let us leave until she fed us lunch, and Paul and Wayne (Nicky’s partner) joined us for our last couple of hours. Frances and Lo posed for me to pretend they were drinking tea and I finally finished my pastel.
Lo was so happy with her sign that she did not want to nail it to anything, because she wanted to take it into her house every night, safe from weather and wandering looter.
We had to figure out a way to hang the sign to ensure she could bring into her house every night. And so Paul came with me again the fourth day on the high tide, to drill holes, string rope, and instal massive screws to hold the sign in the strongest of winds, but still allowing Lo to be able to bring it into the house every night.