Rising from the cauldron of the boiling hot water his eyes are open wide like saucers glaring at me accusingly. His skin is a brilliant red underneath the sodden feathers, he wants revenge, he thinks I have done this to him he opens his mouth in one last death defying scream … Cock-a-doodle-doooo! I wake with a start… thank goodness it has all been a dream… except for the death-defying scream part that is. The rooster from hell is alive and well and he's right outside our window! He really should have that throat looked at, something sounds broken in there.
Again we were up early (for us) because we asked Matthew to take us on a "Tiki" tour of the main island. We intend to take a water taxi into Neiafu and he will pick us up there. We still marvel at how he seems to know everyone and have noticed that his English is almost perfect. He explains that he has travelled quite a bit to New Zealand and American Samoa.
At breakfast we ask Fu'naki how we're going to stop a water taxi as they speed by and she say's "Don't worry, I can stop a taxi any time I want." I'm not sure how she intends to do this but we decide to leave our transportation needs in her hands.
When we're ready to leave we give Fu'naki the nod, she walks out on the pier, raises her hand (and I notice she also raises her skirt a notch as well) and a passing boat comes to a screeching whoa right in front of her. I swear if water had more friction we would have heard the squeal of breaking tires. The driver seems crestfallen when I climb aboard instead of Fu'naki but his spirits brighten when he sees Mrs Wilderness is coming along as well. We climb aboard and as we pull away Fu'naki waves us good-bye and three more taxis pull into the dock.
This particular taxi is wooden and about 13 feet long driven by an outboard motor of questionable reliability. A wooden canopy covers the middle portion, partly to shade the boat but mainly to get more people on board by sitting them up on the top. Inside we find three dour passengers, like us heading for the big smoke but unlike us, probably going to work. One middle-aged gentleman had a woven palm leaf carry-all filled with sweet corn, an elderly lady has woven baskets, and both are obviously headed for the market. An elderly man sits in front scowling, he faces forward for the entire trip; we suspect he's a civil servant. The driver is wearing the traditional wrap around skirt known as a vala, which on men comes well below the knee and on women to the ankle.
As we thread our way down the harbour toward town the motor begins to skip a beat every once in awhile and slows down or speeds up of its own accord. No fear, it isn't far to a beautiful beach in any direction, but I constantly look for the closest point of land.
We enter Lolo 'A Halaevalu (Oil of Princess Halaevalu) Harbour. A poetic name given to the Port of Refuge Harbour because the water becomes so smooth it looks as if oil has been poured on the surface. Soon we arrive on the waterfront at Neiafu where Tongans are busy loading a small freighter with coconuts, fruits and vegetables of all descriptions. Matthew is nowhere in sight and all I have is a Tongan $10 note. The driver shakes his head in a daze when we ask if he has change. I suspect he was well versed on faking ignorance when it comes to the word 'change'. I ask him to give us another ride free sometime and give him $8 more than expected for a significant tip. He nods his assurance but I think I hear him say under his breath, "Sure, on a cold day in hell."
Since there is nobody wearing a sign that says, "I speak English", we wander around until we find a way out of the freight loading area and find ourselves on a sidewalk at one end of the small town. We walk past the Fatafatamafana Supermarket and I immediately start singing Shirley Shirley bo burley, Banana fana fo firley, from the "Name Game" song all those years ago. No, I never did find out what Fatafatamafana means but I suspect it is Tongan for Wal-Mart. As we continue down the sidewalk we pass a couple of gift shops, the local bank and a few small restaurants until we finally end up at Ana's restaurant which is located at the bottom of a long flight of stairs down near the water's edge. We have only walked a couple of blocks and we both need a cool drink before going any further. A couple of young girls are working at Ana's and we ask if they know Matthew? Of course they know Matthew and one of them starts telephoning around the town trying to find him for us. Again, that is the charm of these friendly islands. In a couple of minutes Matthew arrives and tells us he told Fu'naki to have us "call him" when we arrived. That's OK, we finally made our connections and we got to wander around town for a while which is a favourite pastime.
So we pile into Matthew's car and head off out of town in a cloud of dust. Our first stop is for some petrol at the local Shell station. As if the narrow coral road full of pot holes, wash-outs, chickens, dogs and pigs isn't enough to bring on the feeling of dčjá vu (all over again), we are amazed to find the petrol station has two "pump-up" gravity feed gasoline pumps. As we pull in to the station, a young girl is pumping gasoline up into the glass tank on top with a long lever on the side. Matthew puts the hose into the tank and the gasoline flows down with gravity feed into the car. I can't recall how many years it has been since I've seen one of these pumps but it brings back memories.
I also notice that Matthew fills a five-gallon can full of gas and puts it in the boot of the car. This is the car we are going to ride around in all day, bouncing over the rugged roads while the steaming hot sun beats down on us turning the car into a travelling oven. I don't mention this to Mrs Wilderness but I can't forget about that explosive can sitting right behind us ready to light off like a Roman candle.
Matthew steers us past the airport and gradually the road gets rougher and narrower and the air hotter. We pass many small villages and garden areas planted with Taro, vanilla, mangos, coconuts and other fruits and vegetables. Tongans of all religions bury their dead in unique cemeteries set in groves of frangipani trees. The graves are sandy mounds decorated with flags, banners, artificial flowers, stones painted white and seashells. Brown beer bottles turned upside down border many of them. Many of the graves are on the same property and very close to the homes of loved ones. Most houses are quite open in design and windows are usually not provided, let alone closed.
We pass a small group of men working on the road and Matthew waves and shouts at them. It turns out to be a work gang from the local jail and Matthew went to school with most of the prisoners as well as the cops guarding them. Not much further we pass the jail compound, which is a group of small cabins with a three-foot fence 'partially' surrounding them. When we comment about the security Matthew, with quiet logic asks, "Where are they going to go?"
Eventually, the vegetation closes in on the road and we can't go any further. We get out of the car and Matthew leads us up a path that suddenly stops at the edge of a cliff overlooking a most beautiful stretch of coastline. Below us we see the brilliant blue sea breaking against cliffs and occasionally a white sandy beach with Pacific rollers breaking against the shore. It seems like each new sight in itself is what people travel halfway around the world to see.
All too soon we backtrack down the trail, out the road and past the 'summer camp' jail. Our next stop is a local picnic area on a beautiful white sand beach. There is plenty of evidence of past parties with fire pits and opened coconuts. Large amounts of white coral lay on the beach and we find a treasure of washed up seashells on the seashore. Much of the White 'finger-like' coral shows a tinge of blue on the tip that is brightly coloured when it is still alive. We wade in the cool water for a while and then reluctantly return to the car.
We're off to our next port-of-call, the local market. Matthew does the buying for us and we get fresh watermelons, pineapples and bananas. The sweet corn looked good this morning on the water taxi but we don't have anywhere to cook it so we let that one get away. We note that even if the stops were just everyday scenes on Tonga, the best part of this tour is the getting there and with the bomb in the boot, quite adventurous. The whole day has been fantastic.
By this time we've had another hard day (someone has to do it) so we head back to the welcome, warm sands of the outside-bar at the resort to relax and give "Toa", the bartender, another 'Tonga Sunset' test.
At dinnertime we join the Australians and Canadians for dinner inside the restaurant. We notice another couple, Neil and Ashley, but we don't meet them until later. It turns out they are from Vancouver, British Columbia. As the talk turns to the cold of the Arctic, another couple introduce themselves as being from Alaska and tell us that they have chartered a "Moorings" yacht for a week out of Neiafu. What an international bunch we are.
The stories and adventures continue until we all decide to call it a day and head for our cabins and welcoming beds. Another day in paradise comes to a close.
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