Wiping the hangover from my forehead, I exited my bed in a manner reminiscent of a slinky going down the stairs. It was 11.15am. Check out was 10am. Oops. A quick shower and some heartfelt apologies later, and I fell asleep in the TV lounge waiting for the rain to stop.
The afternoon of Christmas Eve I darted into Suva Town for a little bit of (traditional) last minute shopping. I needed to get a little gift for today’s Secret Santa. I then headed over to Sandy’s brother’s place and met up with Sandy, Peter and Ann, as well as a bunch of Sandy’s mates a good old fashioned Christmas barbeque. As with barbeques in the UK, it was raining, but since when has that stopped anyone?
Peter has just got back from Durban where he was one of the Fijian delegates. Just want to say a big THANK YOU to all our American, Canadian and Australian cousins for blocking the EU’s attempt to get a meaningful emissions scheme set up before the year 3000.
By ‘a big THANK YOU’, of course what I really mean is ‘DAMN YOU, you stupid, cowardly, greedy bastards; damn you all to hell’, much in the manner of Charlton Heston pounding the sand with his fists. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just telling you what the civilised world is thinking.
The BBQ was followed by a round of karaoke, and I’m proud to say I’m as bad as ever. It really does boggle the mind that people who can’t sing still try their luck on X-Factor. Have they never recorded themselves and played it back? Eek. Make the bad man go away…
I stayed the night and on Christmas morning Sandy and I headed over to her mum’s place for some fantastic Fijian festive fun. With at least 20 mouths to feed (and this was a ‘quiet’ Christmas for the Fong household!) work on Christmas lunch began in the wee small hours of the morning by setting light to the Lovo.
The Lovo is a type of earth oven that has been used by Fijian people for centuries (and boy is it looking old). Imagine Ray Mears had 20 hungry mouths to feed and you’ll have some idea of what we’re doing here. First up, you make a nice big bonfire and once it’s going you chuck in some big stones. The type of stones you use must be of a particular type: ones that don’t crack when they get hot. They usually come from the river.
While the stones heat up you start work on scraping the hard white stuff out of a heap of coconuts. Once you get a pile of white coconut mulch you squeeze out the juice into a large metal bowl. This milky juice is then sieved into a bucket. Glug down that bucket and you would suffer the worst dose of the squits since you last had anaemic dysentery. To counter the explosive diuretic effects of coconut milk, you have to add salt and use it sparingly. The milk is added to fresh onions and then the coconut/onion mixture is wrapped up in several taro leaves, ready to go in the Lovo.
Next up you need to prepare the meat. After leaving in a tasty marinade over night (or filling with stuffing, whatever takes your fancy), the meat is then expertly weaved into a palm leaf, creating what looks like a funky green basket of meat.
While your meat weaver is expertly doing his stuff, the others will be fending off the heat of the bonfire and picking out the burning wood.
Eventually (after a singed eyebrow or two), the wood has been removed and all that is left of the fire are a bunch of white-hot stones. Onto those stones are laid a grid of reeds (that somehow don’t burn) and then the food you want to cooked is stacked aboard, starting with your taro, then your meat and then your taro-leaf coconut milk stuff.
Then the entire shebang is covered in these big-assed leaves (I think they were banana leaves) which, after they get hot, create a steam-proof seal around your food – the final product looks a lot like an improbably large Brussels sprout.
The bottom edges are covered in soil to stop any steam escaping from underneath and hey presto: an earth oven!
Leave your din dins in there for a couple of hours and when it comes out it’ll be tastier than a missionary kebab.
After din-dins, we spent the afternoon in the most traditional way possible: we played Monopoly and watched Spy Kids 4 with Sandy’s many nephews and nieces. I like the idea that there’s a good possibly that at least one household in each of the 191 countries I’ve visited so far on The Odyssey Expedition which spent their Christmas afternoon doing exactly the same thing.