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Saturday, 13th of July 2024


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Tonga - Episode Seven Is This Heaven


Young Dancers

Today I'm up at the crack of dawn but only to close the door to the bathroom in an attempt to shut out the noise from our friend "Foghorn Leghorn". I wonder at this bird's ability to stay alive at a resort where people, generally like to sleep at night or at least, late into the morning! The closed door doesn't seem to work so a short time later it's back to the normal drill; fresh fruit, coffee and toast at a table in the sand on the beach… under a palm frond sun shade.

After breakfast it's time to go to work, we have decisions to make… do we snorkel, fish, swim or lay in the sun? It is difficult but in the end we decide 'none of the above.' We select a likely looking pair of Kayaks from the resort's fleet and paddle off for parts unknown. As we head down the coast, staying close to the shore I might add, it isn't long before we spot a nice sandy beach with coral on the outside rim. Here we find all kinds of shells and coral of many different designs and colours. There are many brilliant blue starfish around which we have never seen before. A couple of cowry shells are found under rocks but nothing very large this time. After a while we realise a packed lunch would have been nice but since we didn't think of it, we launch the kayaks and start our slog back to the resort headlong into a freshening breeze.

It is only now that we realize that maybe we should have gone 'up wind' when leaving the resort so that the homeward bound trip would be easier. Have you noticed that there is never a tugboat around when you need one? Neither of us has spent that much time in a kayak so we are now discovering muscles we never knew existed. Eventually, and what seems like hours later, we arrive at the beach in front of the resort. I roll off my kayak like a new oil tanker being launched; all the while hoping the gentle waves will be strong enough to deposit me on the beach. As I approach the sandy beach I can hear a faint shout from the shore… "Thar she blows!" Thankful to be back in the embrace of the resort, once again we head for the confines of the bar to replenish our reserves.

After regaining some strength through infusions of Tonga Sunsets we return to our room to get ready for the 'Tongan Feast' we are attending this evening. Matthew is taking Vicki, Andrew and us to the Feast but he can't stay or bring us back because the bank is having a retirement dinner for the president tonight and he and his wife are invited. So Matthew comes up with a 'clever plan.' He will drive us to the beach area where the Feast is going to be held and then leave us his car to get back to the resort. This sounds simple but maybe, just maybe, it is more difficult than we realize.

On the way to the Feast we are all so engrossed in seeing the passing scenery, waving at people and dodging chickens, pigs and ruts in the road that nobody bothers to remember the route… including me. At the beach we drop off Vicki, Andrew and Mrs Wilderness and then Matthew and I drive to his home in town to leave him off. That's when I take over at the wheel of Matthew's (Wilderness) Taxi Service. Getting out of town seems to be no problem and for only a moment my confidence soars. All too soon I reach a fork in the road and reality sets in, I don't know how to get back to the beach! What an experience, trying to dodge, what I hoped were, familiar ruts, chickens, dogs, pigs and a plethora of Tongans all over the road and at the same time returning waves to everyone who recognises the car but not the driver.
I remember thinking; "How many roads are there on this small island, will I find the beach, would I ever see Mrs Wilderness again, will they ever find me, did I already miss the main course? I never did know where I was until I reached the end of a road and recognised the clearing as the one where the Feast was being held. Civilization! Food! I parked the car and calmly walked up to Mrs Wilderness, Vicki and Andrew like nothing had happened. Of course, nothing did happen except I had a great time waving at everybody and getting lost on one of, probably, only two roads on the entire island.

The Feast is held in a small bay full of yachts from the "Moorings" charter company. A portion of the charter fees for the yacht includes the cost of this Tongan Feast. As a result, most of the people off the boats come ashore to join in since it's already paid for. Many Tongans have brought their crafts and have them laid out on the grass in hopes of selling them to the charterers, and us too. One particularly enterprising Tongan lady has a credit card machine sitting next to her on a mat and she sells more than anyone because nobody seems to carry much cash (Pa'anga).

Many of the crafts are laid on Tapas, a mat made from the bark of the Paper Mulberry tree. Most of the Tongans are wearing their wrap around valas while some of them wear finely woven mats over their valas called ta'ovalas. The ta'ovalas are a sign of respect to the Royal Family and to each other. The men hold these up at the waistband with coconut fibre and the women wear decorative waistbands known as "Kiekies". It is reported that the King owns some Ta'avalas that are over 500 years old. We learn that it is against tradition for Tongans to appear shirt-less in public (men as well as women).

The men are watching over a pig roasting in a pit in which hot coals and embers have been placed. The pit is covered with palm leaves to contain the heat and may not need all the attention it is getting but, it is 'what men do' you know. The local band, two guitars and a banjo, are warming up and all the dancers are running around in their brightly coloured costumes. One of the best-attended ventures is a Tongan lady selling beer out of a chilli- bin. We wander about looking at the crafts and drinking beer but all of us are anticipating the show which is scheduled to begin after dark or when the pig is done, whichever comes first.

We mingle with the "yachties" off the charter boats in the bay and most of them turn out to be Australians. Mrs Wilderness borrows some mosquito repellent cream from one couple who turn out to be from Germany. We witness one of the most beautiful sunsets of the trip on this little beach and we take pictures of Andrew and Vicki and they take pictures of us, using both cameras just in case.

After the sunset it starts to get dark very quickly and everyone begins to gather at the covered area where the Feast will be held. First of all, the dancers form a long line and begin to dance the "Lakalaka" together. After that a girl performs a dance individually known as "Tau'olunga" or some girls perform in two's or three's. Their bodies are covered with coconut oil and tradition dictates that if you like their dance you stick paper money on them. If the money sticks to them through the dance they keep it, if it falls off the boys in the band are supposed to be all the richer. I watched very carefully, as you can imagine, and never did notice any money falling off a dancer. I doubt the boys in the band made much from this arrangement.

The Food! Ah yes, the food, how to describe it? First there was the pig that most of the yachties looked at with a great deal of scepticism. The islands are full of these pigs eating crabs, old fruit, rotten vegetables and anything else lying about. This put a few people off but I wonder what they would think if they knew what the pigs were eating back at home wherever they came from. Much of the food was served in bamboo halves or hollowed out fruit or vegetable of some sort. No utensils were provided and the hero of the Feast seemed to be an Aussie with a box of Kleenex. A very nice fruit salad was served in a fruit cup and eaten with a flat piece of bamboo. Most of our time was spent trying to guess what we were eating but never quite figuring it out. We didn't eat all the food presented but we did manage to sample everything. It was a very unique experience and we enjoyed every minute of it.

After the eating, drinking and talking until late, all the yachties got into their dinghies and paddled off into the night. We four intrepid adventurers jumped into Matthew's taxi and began our trip back to the resort. At this time of night there are fewer obstacles on the road but it is also very, very dark. Once again I was lost but this time I had company. None of us knew where we were until we stumbled upon the darkened town of Neiafu and from there we knew the way back to the resort.

Arriving at the resort, we find that the other guests had experienced their own version of a Tongan Feast but everyone agreed our version had been the most authentic and, by far, adventurous.


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