The next day is our last 'full day' on the island and we realise this adventure is coming to an end. We have 'been there' and 'done that' but the one thing we didn't do is 'nothing' so that is exactly what we intend to do today.
Our plans are well made and go off without a hitch. We swim in the waters right in front of our cabin, read a book or just lie in the sun. All this and the occasional break for a bite to eat from the kitchen or a refreshing drink from the bar.
Dinner this evening is a barbecue served on the tables in and around the bar. Everyone gathers to have a few drinks, talk and just enjoy. Murray cooks the steaks and we enjoy them with two kinds of potato salad, vegetables, salad, and a pie that was out of this world.
Neil, Ashley and we are leaving in the morning so, with reluctance, we head back to the room for packing and preparations to leave. We have been on so many holidays where, at the end, we thought it time to leave. Not this time… definitely not this time.
Maybe we can miss the plane too!
I'm sure everyone that has ever totally enjoyed a holiday knows how this day feels. We have our last breakfast and say goodbye to the other guests, exchanging E-mail and snail mail addresses.
As if it wasn't hard enough already to say goodbye, Sam and Murray along with the entire staff of the resort gather at the gate to sing a very beautiful Tongan "song of farewell." As Matthew drives us across the causeway away from the resort we look back to see them all waving.
Driving through Neiafu I ask Matthew to stop at the bank so I can change my money! He looks at me in terror because that's what happened when the Americans missed their plane and he got blamed. I told him I was just kidding but unlike them, we really wouldn't mind missing the plane.
When we get to the airport we find a large number of people queuing up for the plane to Nuku'alofa. It seems to me some of us are going to have to sit on the outside (maybe they have over-booked and we will be able to stay longer). No such luck, we find out they are using another plane, a twin engine jet, that has just returned from Samoa where it went for "repair". Are the Samoans more reliable at fixing an aeroplane than the Tongans or just cheaper? This time our seats are 15 A-B, it's reassuring to know that someone has numbered the seats in order. Also we notice they don't weigh us this time, only our luggage, things are really looking up.
After saying our goodbyes to Matthew we go through the check-in procedures and proceed to the departure lounge. It is only a short wait while they load everybody's luggage and just about on time we board the plane. We find that seats A and B are together but the rows start numbering from the tail of the plane towards the front? Never saw that before but who cares how they number, just so we have a place to sit.
We just settle in to our seats when a very large man gets on the plane… I mean large. He is allocated three seats and he straps himself in with his own seat belt that he thoughtfully brought on board with him. It is an extension that spans the distance from the window seat to the aisle seat. I remember worrying if the plane would fold in the middle when he sat down. This flight is much more relaxing than the one 'to' Vava'u and we totally enjoy the trip except for the slight worry that the large man would have to use a lavatory in mid-flight.
We land at Nuku'alofa without incident and proceed to the departure lounge once again. We have to leave to get stamps to mail our postcards but otherwise we sit in the lounge and begin our two-hour wait for the 737 to Auckland. As time to leave nears we all notice that the plane hasn't even landed yet on its trip from Niue. Sure enough, rumour spreads the plane will be at least an hour late. We are never told so officially but it becomes pretty obvious as we wait for the plane to even show up. We all know it will take at least an hour for a turnaround.
Naturally we have already exchanged our money and end up with only enough to buy a Sprite and a Coke, what's new. The wait seems interminable but eventually the plane lands, they get it refuelled, cleaned up and we are asked to board. This time our seats are 2A and 2B and they are counting from the FRONT!
We settle in and it isn't long before the plane takes off and the cabin-staff immediately starts to feed us lunch. We are sitting right behind the bulkhead so our tray-tables come out of the armrest and unfold in front of us. Mine is three inches closer to the seat than Mrs Wilderness'. Of course my stomach is much more than three inches further out so I almost can't get the damn thing down. While it's down I have to suck in my stomach and find I can't inhale until the meal is over. The stewards keep coming back with coffee, tea, and wine and I'm dying for them to take the tray away so I can breathe again. Finally they do just that and we sit back to enjoy the movie "Famous Airplane Crashes" or something like that.
The stewards are very slight, effeminate looking Tongan boys, which reminds me of the Tongan custom of families without enough female offspring raising boys as they would girls. They are known in Tonga as "fakaleitis" ("Like a woman") and live lives similar to those of the "mahus" in Tahiti and the "fa'afafines" in the Samoas. Usually it is the last-born boy in a family with no girls. I surely don't know if any of the stewards are "fakaleitis" but I do know the service on the plane is outstanding... and colourful, with them all dressed in their American Indian, cowboy and construction worker uniforms and singing YMCA! Just kidding.
As we leave The Tongatapu Group I notice the sea is flat and the sky is full of small, white puffy clouds. As time goes by and we get closer to New Zealand the brief glimpses I get of the ocean through the grey sky reveal dull water full of white caps. Soon the sea disappears altogether and we float above solid cloud cover. As we begin our approach to Auckland International this cloud surrounds us and it seems almost a mile thick. Underneath a lush green New Zealand countryside is revealed but we have lost all contact with the sun. One of the stewards gets on the intercom and announces the weather in Auckland as fine, then there's a pause and he says the wind is blowing at about 25 knots, it's raining and the temperature is 15 degrees Celsius! He then admits that maybe it isn't fine and we probably shouldn't have left Nuku'alofa. Most of us agree with him but it's too late now.
As we're passing through customs we ask a Maori lady at the passport counter if the weather has been this bad the whole time we were gone? She says, "Oh no, I got a suntan just a couple of days ago." Her smile gives her away. On the other side of the gauntlet our shuttle driver is waiting almost where we left him, it's like he never left the airport. An hour or so later we are home once again.
If the reader cannot tell from my writings that this brief trip was one of the most enjoyable we have ever experienced then I haven't done it justice. Without a doubt it was a fantastic adventure and we will treasure it forever. As is always the case, the people you come in contact with can turn a chance encounter into a precious memory. To the kind and generous people of Tonga we say, "Thanks for the memory."
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