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Published: October 15th 2008
Pilar at LAX
Researching things to come.....
Well after a year plus of juggling plans and destinations we finally headed for Heathrow on September 2nd 2008 for our flight to L.A. then Tonga Nuku'Alofa.
The trip with New Zealand airlines was, well, boring but the food and service was excellent. My sinuses exploded due to cabin pressure midway across the Atlantic. I wasn't alone with this problem but a few free beers and a little medication put me in a warm fuzzy place, although a little sweaty, but I settled in for a couple of movies to help pass the time.
1st stop L.A. airport…….LAX is a dump!!!!! Nuff said (I owe you one Paul, no hassles).
After catching our connecting flight things went a little easier apart from an initial mix up with Pilar's seat number. After our meal Pilar and I settled down and caught a few zzz.
Approximately 2 hours from landing I got talking to a native Tongan who was flying home to see his family for the first time in 20 years. The man and his sister were travelling from Utah to attend their brother's funeral. The guy was approx 60yrs old. I told him about our
We've arrived Knackered!
FUA'AMOTU INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT 04 Sept 08
travel adventure plans and he seemed genuinely pleased for us, especially when he realised that Tonga was our first port of call. After returning from the toilet and taking my seat he reached over and said "son I would like you to have this and buy yourself and your beautiful lady a drink on my family's island" he then gave me $20.00. I was stunned; here was an old guy I'd had a brief conversation with showing me genuine warmth and generosity. Of course I refused with a sincere thank you but he insisted and said that he would be insulted if I didn't accept. This was not the last time we would encounter this genuine attitude during our stay in Tonga, in fact it was the general attitude. We had taxi drivers invite us to their humble homes, people pulling over to offer us direction or even going out their ways to give us lifts. Everybody we encountered was warm and welcoming, always smiling and waving. I had heard about this but until you actually experience this it's hard to comprehend. We all have a lot to learn in the paranoid west; it's time we refocused from our 5
Our Togan Home
Also known as SVEN's Palace
foot stares and remember what it's like to connect and be warm to our fellow man.
On the last 30 minutes of the flight we could see clearly below us amazing little islands, dozens of them scattered and uninhabited in a shallow aqua marine sea.
We finally touched down on the 4th of September and we were hit with the humidity as we descended from the plane. It was just dawn but within minutes we were heading for the air-conditioning in the airport waiting lounge.
My first memorable experience in Tonga was rushing to the nearest bathroom (a little too many in-flight beers). While taking care of business I heard several female voices outside the cubicle; on exiting I was greeted with a dozen giggling natives and I realised I had ran into the ladies in my haste. Blushing I bowed, said 'thank you very much' aka Elvis and exited very quickly. What a good start; Pili found it very amusing!!
By the way we need Star-Trek transporters right NOW! I do not recommend to anyone this length of flight, it's inhuman, unhealthy and one of the most tedious experiences of my life, the in-flight curry
and chilled beer were outstanding it has to be said though 😉
After our 20 minute shuttle ride we arrived at our Tongan residence, The Heilala Holiday Lodge. Our first impressions were very positive. Then we met Sven, our German host. I won't list the clichés but they were all there. Our room was very simple, a little musty and very hot; at least we had a fan, a shared kitchen, bathroom and even a dodgy WiFi connection.
In the afternoon we decided to venture into town with a Canadian couple, Maria & Jason who were also staying at the Lodge. After a beer and a sandwich the heat and jetlag kicked in and we dragged ourselves back to collapse into a sweaty sleep. First day over!
5th September 2008
On waking the next day we departed on a guided trip around the island. An ex-pat Tony was the guide. Tony had a colourful and imaginative patter that he obviously had repeated hundreds of times. He told us the island's history, claimed he was a reverend and pointed out the hundreds of Mormon churches.
On one of the beaches we stopped at he ran into
Our 1st Tropical Beach
Our driver a bare assed Tony is behind us out of shot.
the sea to cool off then returning to the beach he completely stripped off, bare ass to the wind and changed back into his shorts. At that very moment Pili and I were having a romantic photo taken, thankfully we obscured the ass shot in the photos.
The island was breathtaking; it was exactly what we had wanted to see, paradise beaches, clear blue waters and friendly locals. We stopped for lunch at an amazing beach restaurant and consumed Tuna sushi & wasabi, the wasabi was a little too fiery for most, no complaints from me though.
After lunch we continued our journey heading to the very impressive Mapu'a 'a Vaua blow holes with the surrounding rocks covered in large and very defined fossils. We also encountered Captain Cook's landing place, flying foxes (fruit bats) and evening fishing pigs, yep you read that correct.
Our final destination before heading back was the Tongan henge 'Ha'amonga A' Maui Trilithon' (to Paul, Ian & Mark guess the latitude, yep 19.5 degrees, ummmm!)
On our arrival back to the lodge we were greeted buy a stern looking Sven. We had all arranged to go to the Oholei Beach Resort
Doing what I do
Pili got her own back
for a traditional feast and entertainment with a local band (not good at all) and a traditional dance show. The evening went very well, the food was good, the beer flowed and with our new friends Maria and Jason we generally took the piss out of all concerned.
Oh I forgot, on the way there we were driven by Sven's Tongan wife Carolina. Maria entertained us and our very silent German fellow passengers with some very colourful stories, we were killing ourselves laughing and it was made worse by lack of response by the others in the van. Maria you're a star 😉
The night ended about 1am after the traditional music & dance show, I think the band had only played a couple of times together but what they lacked in rehearsal time they made up for with energy. We then realised that Carolina (Sven's wife) was a little hammered and she was our driver. The Germans with us were not amused at all and protested for a good half an hour, it was potentially a serious situation but the more the Germans protested the funnier it got. The Tongan people are a very relaxed race, they
Admiring the Blowholes
Pili can't wipe off the silly smile
knew the roads were empty and she was just in a happy, relaxed frame of mind (Carolina' words not mine). She soon sobered up when she realised that the Germans were going to have words with Sven. The journey home went safely with us being surrounded by some very stony faced & silent Europeans which of course had us in fits of laughter again.
6th Septmber 2008
We took breakfast with Maria and Jason and said our goodbyes; they were off to a northern island in the group Tongan group and would catch up with us when we left on the same flight to Auckland. We were very sad to see them go, our 1st travel companions had been wonderful, I'm sure our paths will again cross one day, hopefully in Canada.
Pili and I had booked a boat trip out to Atata Island and the Royal Sunset Resort. We hoped to get a glimpse and some photos of Humpback Whales which at this time of the year are giving birth. During the 20mins boat journey we did get a brief glimpse of a mother and baby, unfortunately with the boat pitching in a less than a
calm sea, a good photo was impossible.
On arriving to our personal paradise we were shown around the resort complex, we had the place to ourselves which was just perfect. After we strolled down the beach for approx 1hr, marvelling at the clear blue waters and white sandy beaches with palm trees skirting the beach. It was finally sinking in exactly where we were and what we had set out to do over the next year, we are very fortunate.
After our little exploration during which we met some local children and talked with a guy who lived in a basic hut village on the island, we headed back to the restaurant for our lunch. Local fish caught from the beach that morning and sweet potato chips washed down with an ice cold beer. All we had to do then was find a beach bed and snooze in the sun, shaded by a majestic palm. We slept for about an hour then spent the rest of the day reading and watching the myriad of local fish species in the shallow waters.
Our return back to the mainland was a little rough to say the least. Our little
boat was constantly slammed onto the sea surface after rising 20ft on the increasing swell. I kinda expected Pili to turn green around the gills but she sat very cool with her shades on while I hung on for dear life trying to prevent my camera equipment from going over board and plunging into the abyss.
The next morning after I’d showered I found Pili talking with a Swiss guy called Xavier Rossett (www.xavierrossett.com). We hit it off straight away. In a previous life he was one of the World’s top snowboarders, he was now about to embark on a ten month stay on the isolated volcanic island called Tofua, no supplies, water, food etc just his survival skills and the will to live. This was the essence of a documentary being made about him, WOW!!!
We spent to whole of the day talking about politics, philosophy, history and even ufos. I only hope his adventure goes well and he comes to no harm, it’s an immense challenge for anyone; I think he has the right attitude to succeed, everything is crossed for him. Anyone reading this blog please check out his site I’ve listed above and send
him some support, he’s one of the good guys.
The rest of the stay on Tonga was a bit of a disaster. It started the afternoon after meeting Xavier. I had a little bit of green apple splatters if you know what I mean. I took a diarrhoea tablet and things seem to settle down. Xavier was leaving the following morning so suggested we all go and get a good steak to see him off with. I managed to hitch a lift for the three of us from a couple of Mormons. Did I mention that the whole island is covered with Mormon churches? Even more incredible is that because of this you are not allowed to display any public affection and yet it is very common and excepted that the strapping male population can camp around as ladyboys, I’m not joking, big rugby player size guys in women’s clothes giggling like schoolgirls, very unnerving especially as they seemed to like my long hair.
Anyway I digress, back to the steak. We were recommended a newly opened restaurant and we’re dropped outside the door by our new Mormon friends. We found out that they had not yet received
their alcohol licence; of course this would not do at all. We told the owner that we would go and had a cold one and return in half an hour. We went to a superb bar called ‘Friends Cafe’, ordered three beers and took a seat outside. Well I had barely wet my lips when I felt my heart rate go through the roof in a matter of seconds and I started sweating, and the World span around me. I grabbed Pili and told her I thought I was going to pass out, which I immediately did!!! I woke up with a crowd around me all looking very concerned. How embarrassing, always the bloody showman. After a drink of water I felt much better, I did say to myself that if it happened again I’d need to see a doctor. We decided to leave upon my request and made the three minute walk back to the steakhouse. Upon arriving I though I’d better get some more water in me before eating, within minutes exactly the same thing happened, out cold. This time it was time to go to hospital. (Sorry mom for not telling you, I’m perfectly fine now, I
promise) The hospital was just a three minutes ride in an ambulance, thank god. In the hospital they put me on an ECG machine, this was a joke in itself, they had no idea how to work the bloody machine, they kept slapping it and flicking random switches. Poor Pili, all she could hear was BEEEEEEEEP as the machine flat lined!!
They concluded that the shits that I had previously had dehydrated me so they gave me a glucose drip. To be honest I think this was just part of the problem. For the three days we’d be around the island Pili and I had been hammered by mosquitoes and other bugs. I’d been bitten by something the night before and awoke with a big blood blister on my toe. I think I’d contracted some kind a nasty, tropical ass rot. Anyway after being discharged we caught a taxi home and I went to bed for the rest of the stay in Tonga, just sweating, shaking and shitting in paradise, I think there’s a song somewhere in here.
Oh yeah a special thanks to Xavier and Pili for looking after me, Xavier I will see you again when
we are both through and out the other side of our adventures.
I never did get to see my bloody Humpback Whales.
NEXT NEW ZEALAND, Stay Tuned
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