It does take a bit of getting to Tonga – especially the way I did, taking advantage of a Qantas special to Fiji…. but after arriving at Fiji airport at 4.30 am to stringed instrument playing cheery Fijians in the International Airport; I set myself a task of trying to find some water. I did not anticipate that the currency exchange would not open until 9am and my credit card which I usually sign for – required a pin to withdraw some Fijian Dollars. NOTE TO SELF – ALWAYS have enough local currency even if transiting so I can purchase some water for a 7 hour transit between flights.
It was hot with the rising sun blazing in on the hard aluminium bench seats, with the beating of the overhead fans moving hot humid air around the airport whilst I tried to doze with my crinked neck supporting my head on my luggage attempting to ward off sleep deprived nausea. AHHH the joys of travel!!
Arriving at the airport at Nuku’alofa cemented for me that I was really in a totally different culture. Most of the Tongas were wearing a Ta’ovala which is a traditional woven mat wrapped around and worn like a skirt; and many were wearing black which I was to learn later was because there had been the death of a significant member in the community.
I was collected in Nukuʻalofa by a kind man who wheeled my luggage to a small van with a smashed windscreen, no window handles, no seat covering and needed to be started by joining wires under the steering wheel. I thought to myself “This is going to be one adventure!!!! ” I was really happy!
As we drove I was a bit stunned by what I saw. It was really my first true experience in a developing country. Rubbish lined the roads, little children walked by themselves in the streets…. there were pigs, and roosters, and skinny dogs. Steel reinforcement bars provided a barrier between the children purchasing lollies from the roadside stalls.
I presumed that the children were not looked after. I assumed that there was a high amount of stealing. I made judgements about a culture I had only spent half an hour in.
I was wrong. The children walked by themseves because they were safe. The reinforcement bars were installed by the Chinese when they migrated in droves about 6-7 years ago and set up small roadside shops, and brought with them their own perceptions about their need for their shop’s security.
There were three other palangi’s (tourists) in the little van. I asked them why they were visiting Tonga and they said to fish. I said I liked fishing as well, and their excitement was soon replaced with barbs toward me after I shared that I enjoyed catching trout for a meal – an introduced species in the Guyra region of New South Wales; and that I personally thought for me that Game Fishing was cruel and said that in my opinion it was no different to putting a piece of meat on a hook and throwing it out for my dog to fetch and getting enjoyment from reeling it in. That was a definite conversation stopper and no more words were spoken until they said goodbye when they were dropped off at a bar for their post-fishing drinks.
I was driven to my accommodation for the night at a quiet, clean guest house and decided to go for a walk in the streets for an hour before dark. I quickly learned the word for ‘hello’… and everyone I met greeted me with a beautiful smile and with friendliness. I wanted to take photographs of the extreme poverty, but was confronted by my own judgement and felt I should not take photographs until I was more clear about my intention for taking them.
I was exhausted so went back to sleep after being woken intermittently through the night by dogs barking, roosters crowing and mozzies buzzing around my ears – mozzies which by stelth had sneaked their way through the overlaid opening in my mosquito net. Although a bit unpleasant I was glad I gave myself a misting of insect repellent before I went to bed. I think it meant then the mozzies hovered at a distance annoying me rather than lumbering flying like B52 bombers laden with my blood! An early flight to Vava’u meant a ride to the airport in the dark, yet a flight which was smooth before the regular strong winds had a chance to gain strength.
James, my transfer van driver, held a sign which said “Julie Stephenson” and welcomed me with Tongan hospitality and genorosity which I soon fell in love with and now being home I’m actually really missing. A trip to Woolies yesterday afternoon made me recognise the extreme difference in our Australian culture’s way of relating to each other – and although I fully recognise I am making gross generalisations; generally speaking there are huge differences from my experience between the Tongan and Australian way of interaction.
James described everything we passed along the way… and his own property and home. I was met at a beautiful beach with pristine crystal clear water, by two very kind Tongan locals who transferred me to my home for the next 2 days at Reef Resort – for a bit of R & R before my Whaleswim adventure. More next post….. 🙂