Published: February 28th 2012January 27th 2012
Our route to happiness
The plane seated less than thirty, and flew about 1km above the sea. Oh, also, we had to sit at the front of the plane, to balance it.
On Lifuka, in the Ha’apai island group, a chance encounter led to the semi-mothballed arts and craft centre being opened for us. An elderly Tongan lady showed us how to weave with strips of dried tree bark. Her birth-marked arm and crooked arthritic finger worked faster than we could comprehend, creating a patterned mat. It was getting late, and she had to be persuaded to let Mina finish the job another day. Which she did, with admirable patience and skill.
Although Ha’apai is now a relative backwater in Tongan terms, it was the site of two notable pieces of British naval history. The mutiny on the Bounty took place in these Tongan waters, in 1789. Almost twenty years later, the privateer ship Port-au-Prince was ransacked, burnt and sunk, just in the bay by where we stayed.
These strange foreigners, arriving by sea, gave rise to the term ‘palangi’, which is still in use today, to describe white people, in this case, us. The Tongans believed the ships’ sails, and hence their crews, were attached to the sky. Hence they, and we, are dubbed ‘palangi’ – (people) from the sky. It was quite common to be casually referred to as
palangi, or to have children say palangi as they greet you hello.
Port-au-Prince’s submerged anchor was recently found by the local divemaster, Brian, a cheery helpful chap from a distant land named Northern Ireland. Brian took us for a couple of excellent dives. We enjoyed the spectacular underwater scenery of pinnacles, narrow channels and wide openings. Not forgetting an abundance of hard and soft coral, and lots of other aquatic life including a huge wrasse, a reef shark and a banded sea snake, to name but three.
Despite us both being under the weather with sore throats and heads for most of the second week, it felt great to be back underwater – just us two and Brian, and healthy doses of ibruprofen. Thankfully, it transpired that we didn’t have dengue fever. Whatever it was, by the time we shook it off, it was time to leave the secret south, and head back to the northern hemisphere for the first time in almost four months.
There are more photos below