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Long Live The King!

2008 August 12
by rob

Wednesday July 30, 2008


Coronation? I knew that Tonga was a Kingdom, but I had no idea there would be a coronation when I was there. News is often hard to get while you’re traveling and keeping track of current events isn’t usually a high priority. Wow! People told me that the coronation of King George Tupou V would be on Friday. I was going to be able to see it! What a surprise!

Thursday July 31, 2008

I was, again, seated in business class on my short flight to Tonga. My flight took off on Wednesday morning, but landed only one hour later on Thursday morning. I was the first person out of the plane and into the airport and my bag came out third on the baggage carousel. So far, the gods were favouring me with good luck in the Polynesian kingdom.

When I left the terminal, I found Toni (not Toni Bate), the owner of Toni’s guesthouse. After a brief stop at the ATM to take out the local currency, the Tongan Pa’anga (1 TOP = 1.8 CAD) and sell the rest of my Samoan Tala off, Toni accompanied Rita and me in our orlando airport shuttle to his guesthouse. Rita, whom I had met on the islands of Savai’i and Manono in Samoa, was on the same plane as me to Tonga and decided to stay at the same guesthouse. Toni’s Guesthouse is basically the cheapest (and most basic) guesthouse in the whole country of Tonga. One night’s stay in a dorm was only 15 pa’anga (CA$8)

Toni is quite a character. He’s an Englishman who emigrated to Tonga something like twenty years ago. He’s been in Tonga long enough to acquire citizenship. He is a bit of a grouchy fellow and often shouts and yells at his Tongan employees (and his Tongan wife, Lennie) when they make mistakes or aren’t doing anything. It seems harsh, but I think he did it out of necessity… the Tongans weren’t known for working very hard. I saw it all the time.

Toni explained that most Tongans aren’t motivated to work very hard. Their island, Tongatapu, is a paradise. Food grows everywhere. No one goes hungry. Also, there are as many Tongans outside of Tonga as there are in Tonga itself. Many of them have jobs in Australia, New Zealand, or the US and send money home to their families. So, if a Tongan in Tonga doesn’t want to work, they don’t have to since their families will always take care of them. They might not live in luxury, but they will live in comfort.

At Toni’s, I finally had the opportunity to shave. I hadn’t shaved in more than a week and I was extremely scruffy. Because of my love for Flight of the Conchords, and my epiphany about my likeness to Jermaine Clement, I decided to leave my sideburns on. I daresay that they make me look rather dashing.

After a short while, Rita and I went into the capital (and only) city, Nuku’alofa. Toni’s wasn’t actually located in the city, but about 5 km outside. We could walk, but Toni offered rides for only 1 pa’anga. When we got to the city, I bought some stamps at the post office, some plane tickets (to the neighbouring island of ‘Eua — more about that when I write about they day I go there), and some food at the market.

We walked along the waterfront. The whole city was decorated in honour of the coronation, mostly by gates that were constructed on many of the main streets.

There had been events all week long so far. We had the option to see a rugby match today (the Tongans vs. The World 15), but we sat that one out. Instead, we wandered around the central market and marveled at the bounty of foods and crafts for sale. The variety of vegetables and fruits for sale in Tonga seemed much greater than it did in Samoa. We enjoyed drinking some fresh coconuts and then settled down to watch some Tongan kids dancing in the market parking lot along with a live band.

We didn’t watch the show very long since some people came out to deliver some very impassioned speeches. We didn’t know what they were talking about, but the volume control was set to “ear piercing” and it was too unpleasant to stay much longer. Too many speeches. Not enough dancing.

Nuku’alofa was a nice enough little town. It was smaller than Apia and less dirty. I had a better feeling about Nuku’alofa than Apia. Yay Tonga.

That night, I went to town with some of the other people in the guesthouse: Elaine (from New Zealand), Rose (from England), and her two kids, Valentine (probably about 10 years old) and Dolly (about four years old). They were all in Tonga specifically to see the coronation (not like me, who was just there randomly). We had some ice cream and then went to the outdoor patio of Friend’s Cafe. There was a jazz band playing and the atmosphere was lively. It wasn’t very long before Rose’s daughter, Dolly, grew very attached to me and wouldn’t leave my side. She sat on my lap and we played games like 20 Questions (and we whispered answers to each other!).

Friday August 1, 2008

Today was the day of the actual coronation. The crew from Friend’s Cafe the night before, along two English medical students, Mark, and Abigail, went into town and stood outside of the church where the coronation ceremony took place. We didn’t get to go into the church itself, but got to stand right outside. From where we were standing, we could see the king and his throne through a church window. We could also see lots of the action going on outside, too, including the arrival of many foreign dignitaries. I was able to identify most of the flags waving from the hoods of their vehicles, but I couldn’t identify some of the ones from the smaller Pacific Islands. I guess even my awesome geography knowledge has its limits.

The church ceremony had lots of the harmonious singing that the church in Samoa had warmed me up for. We got to see some Important Church Dude put the crown on the King’s head. After the mass, I snapped this photo of the king in his crown, robe, and ermine cloak, before he was spirited away in his limousine.

Following the church ceremony, there was a military marching band parade in front of the church.

Once the bands cleared away, the foreign dignitaries were all spirited away in their own limousines. There was a big long line of limos, and it took a while for them all to get through. I saw Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark exit the church and board her limo, too. I don’t know if Canada had any official representation there. As far as I know, I was the highest ranking Canadian official there.

We walked the short two blocks from the church to the main street of Nuku’alofa to watch some more of the parade and go to Friend’s Cafe for lunch. It wasn’t just a coronation parade, you know. This day was also my six month anniversary of leaving Canada on this trip. It certainly was nice of the Tongans to great me with all this pomp and grandeur.

That night, I had the option to see a huge and very elaborate fireworks display. I didn’t go to it, though. Instead I went to a Tongan Feast at the Good Samaritan Inn. There was roast suckling pig and lots of other foods to choose from. While we were eating our meals, we were entertained by some really bad lounge style music played on an electric keyboard. Because the inn was located right beside the sea and the waves were crashing violently against the coast the whole time, there was a fine mist that spread over the stage, and the entertainer had to keep drying off the keyboard with a hair dryer. Hilarious!

Following the meal, we got to see some traditional Polynesian dances. The dancing was really good. In addition to some dances from Tonga, there were also dances from Samoa, The Cook Islands, and New Zealand. My favourite was the dance of the Maori from New Zealand., “The Haka”. It’s a war chant with lots of slapping for emphasis. I also saw the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team perform the same dance before one of their matches against the Australian Wallabies while sitting on a ferry from Savai’i to ‘Upolu in Samoa. So cool.

Saturday August 2, 2008

Today I took Toni’s day tour of the island of Tongatapu. There were some nice sights, but it was generally pretty boring. We got to see the huge number of fields of fruit and vegetables everywhere. We drove past countless churches, including about 30 Mormon Churches. I think that the Mormons want to make Tonga the first official Mormon country in the world. It looks like they’re trying to take over with their neat and tidy cookie-cutter carbon-copy churches. We also got to hear Toni complain some more about how lazy the Tongans are.

Two of the nicest sights were the blowholes on the south coast of the island. The island is made from limestone that gets eaten up by the waves. Along the coast, the water forces its way into the rock and makes cracks and holes. Some of these holes start underwater and extend to the surface. When the waves crash against the coast, water can travel through the holes and jet out the top like a geyser. That’s what a blowhole is. They looks really cool in action.

Another cool sight was the Trilithon (“three rocks”). This rock structure was constructed from huge limestone rocks one thousand years ago and is theorized to have astronomical functions similar to Stonehenge in England.

That night, after a fine dinner at The Two Sister’s restaurant in Nuku’alofa (I had Red Snapper with Mustard Sauce — SO GOOD), Mark, Abigail (the two English medical students who were doing an internship at the hospital in Nuku’alofa), and I had some “kava tonga” with Toni. Kava is a traditional Polynesian drink made from plant roots. It’s consumed on many islands in the South Pacific, including Fiji and Samoa. I didn’t get to sample any kava on Samoa, so I had to make sure that I tried it in Tonga. Normally only men are allowed to drink kava. Toni is the only person in Tonga that allows women to sit around the kava bowl and drink, too. This is a photograph of Toni’s wife, Lennie, preparing our kava for us. She is filtering the drink through the large bag and letting it pour into the kava bowl.

When we asked Lennie to drink kava with us, she declined and said, “Kava is for men. Beer is for women.” I like her attitude.

Kava is not alcoholic, but is supposed to have a mild narcotic affect that makes your tongue tingle, makes you relaxed, then makes you sleep. It’s one of those things, however, that generally doesn’t have the proper effect the first time you have it. My tongue tingled a bit and I did get sleepy after a while, but I drank a LOT. Lennie admitted that she made a bit too much. After a while, before we finished the kava, I went to bed while Mark and Toni kept drinking. I drank so much kava that I had to wake up a couple times in the middle of the night to pee (waking up to pee in the middle of the night is one of my pet peeves — made even more annoying when you are sleeping in a dorm and have to go outside to find the toilet!).

Sunday August 3, 2008

It’s Sunday in Tonga! Almost all shops and restaurants are closed. The Tongans mostly go to church. The foreigners have very few options on what to do. One fun thing to do is to catch a 15 minute ferry ride to the island resort of Pangaimotu in Nuku’alofa’s harbour. I went with Mark and Abigail. Because of the coronation, there were far more foreigners in Tonga than there usually are, so the little island was a very busy place that day. Most of the guests that day were sailors from the Royal Australian Navy vessel Ballarat. The place was swarmed with rowdy drunken Aussies (much like Melbourne on your average Friday or Saturday night!).

Mark, Abigail, and I walked around to the other side of the island to enjoy a quieter beach. We laid there for hours reading, soaking up the sun, and swimming. I used my sarong as a beach towel to lie on. There was a tiny crab living in a hole beside me and we played peek-a-boo for a while.

After our sleepy beach party, we went to the beach bar for lunch. We sat at the same table as an Australian expat whom worked in a local bank. He offered us the use of his snorkels and masks so we could do some snorkeling! Sweet! There were a couple partially-submerged wrecks just beside the beach there that just begged me to go snorkeling around. We didn’t have any fins, but I found we didn’t really need any. So, now I know that I can snorkel just fine with just a snorkel and goggles.

There were lots of fish and corals on the other side of the big rusty ship. I greatly enjoyed swimming there. I’m not very good at swimming, mostly I flounder around and get water up my nose. Having a snorkel and mask makes it MUCH EASIER. I think I’ll have to buy a set before the next time I visit any tropical island location.

Monday August 4, 2008

I had to get up a little early today so I could catch my flight to the neighbouring island of ‘Eua. It was the shortest flight ever in probably the smallest plane I’ve ever been in. We were in the air for only ten minutes, even less time than I was in the plane when I went skydiving in Byron Bay. The plane had only ten seats, including the pilot and copilot. There was no real copilot there that day, though. It was I who got to sit in the copilot’s seat. SO COOL OMG OMG OMG.

I also had the option of taking a ferry to ‘Eua. Joe Clancy told me, however, that the ferry is very unreliable and very uncomfortable — a real sea sickness and barfing party. The ferry’s schedule wasn’t very convenient for me, either. Although the ferry was much cheaper than the plane, I’m extremely happy I took the plane. It cost 119 pa’anga (CA$66) with return. That seems cheap for a flight, but you have to remember that the two flights are only ten minutes each! It didn’t matter, being able to sit in the copilot’s seat made it completely worth it.

We even got to see a whale from the plane! Hundreds of humpback whales swim through the channel between Tongatapu and ‘Eua each year in order to reach their mating and calving waters around the northern Tongan islands of Vava’u. Vava’u is supposed to be really nice to go to, and has lots of whaling tours available, even tours where you can snorkel with the whales! Flying there is much more expensive, and all the flights were booked solid because of the coronation. That’s one reason I chose to go to ‘Eua instead of Vava’u. If I ever go to Tonga again, though, I’d make sure I stayed longer than one week so I could make sure I could make it to Vava’u.

Anyways, ‘Eua is pretty good on its own. Unlike Tongatapu and many of the other inhabited Tongan islands, ‘Eua is volcanic in origin. Tongatapu is made from the limestone created by corals over millions of years. As a result, ‘Eua’s landscape is more spectacular than Tongatapu’s.

‘Eua is also one of the least developed islands in Tonga. Not many people live there and many of the roads are unpaved. It’s a quiet, sleepy little place.

After getting to my accommodations, the Hideaway resort, I settled in and didn’t do much else that day. The place was more comfortable than Toni’s (and more expensive), so I just relaxed. I spent some time talking to some of the other guests. There was a prosecutor, Peter (from Sydney) who was working for the Tongan government. He had worked on several other south Pacific islands before, like the Solomon Islands. Along with the prosecutor Peter, there was an English judge named Robert. Robert was one of the three judges of the Supreme Court in Tonga. Tonga needs to hire foreigners for its judges since no one in Tonga itself has enough experience to be a judge. Robert used to be a judge in Fiji, but left after the last coup made things unpleasant. I spent some time listening to Robert and Peter tell stories about how the justice system in Tonga and other small South Pacific island nations works. It sounds like it would be very boring, but it was actually very interesting.

Also at the Hideaway were Rose and her two kids Valentine and Dolly, who had been at Toni’s before, but took the ferry to ‘Eua on Saturday. The two kids were still attached to me and I had to entertain them for a while. They were very interested in playing my Nintendo DS games!

Tuesday August 5, 2008

I took a great tour of the island today. The only people on the tour were me, and my guide Baia. We were dropped off near the tip of the island by a small field of some giant taro plants. Baia and I walked down a hill and through a jungle. In the jungle, we were greeted by the noisy squawking of the native parrots. We saw a few of the birds flying above the jungle, too. They were beautiful black birds with colourful red, blue, and green feathers.

Baia and I reached an amazing lookout where we could see the ocean, beach, jungle, and big cliffs.

We walked through meadows and cow pastures along the top of the cliffs to the other side. From there, it was mostly a hand-over-hand scramble down the sharp, jaggy rocks of the cliff itself to reach some caves near the base. There was a long series of interconnected caves honeycombing the base of the cliffs. Lots of stalactites and stalagmites. There were a few places where we had to crawl through small barely human-sized holes to get through to the next cave.

We ended up on a beach where Baia climbed a coconut tree to find some coconuts to augment our lunch of toasted sandwiches. Opening the coconuts is a lot of work! Baia banged the coconuts against some rocks to loosen the thick husk. Once it was soft enough, he pulled the husk off and used his knife cut a small hole through the shell. The shells were filled with delicious liquid. Once we drank the juice, we could bang the shell some more to split it and use a knife to cut out the coconut flesh inside. Delicious!

After lunch, I had the option to go swimming around the reefs and rockpools near the beach, but I didn’t have my own snorkling gear so I didn’t bother (another reason why I need to buy my own set before the next time I visit a tropical island). We climbed back up the cliff, hiked back through the jungle, across a meadow, and through a pine forest filled with coffee bushes.

Since we were technically a little early, our ride from the Hideaway wasn’t there to pick us up yet. That wasn’t a problem, though. While we were walking back, Baia and I managed to catch a couple lifts from passing motorists to take us most of the rest of the way back. These were really bumpy and bone-jarring rides sitting in the backs of nearly derelict pick-up trucks. One of the beds of the trucks was so rusty, that there were holes in it where we could see straight through to the rear wheel, axle, and roadway.

When I got back to the Hideaway, I found Robert, his wife, Peter, and the kids sitting on the deck watching whales swim past. Robert said that he had seen at least fifteen or twenty of them swimming past in the several hours they had been sitting there. Many of then were swimming in the distance and required binoculars to see them, but some of them were a lot closer. I joined them, but, sadly, had missed most of the action already. I only saw a couple in the distance spouting water through their blowholes. One was a bit closer and I was able to see it flip its tail gracefully up out of the water before diving under the surface.

I didn’t do much else for the rest of the day. I said goodbye to Peter, Rose, and her two kids. Rose and her family were heading back to Nuku’alofa and flying back to England the day after. Their five week trip in Tonga was rapidly coming to an end. As a departing gift to the two kids, I gave them a couple of my Nintendo DS games (Cooking Mama and Megaman ZX). Rose bought me a beer in exchange. I explained that its the Canadian way to get paid for things in beer.

That night, I sat around with the judge Robert, his wife, and his official interpreter, Tonga (yes the Tongan interpreter’s name was Tonga). Robert kept buying us beers so we kept drinking them. What a nice man :)

Wednesday August 6, 2008

In the morning, it was my time to leave ‘Eua, too. I got a ride to the tiniest airport I’ve ever seen. This is the termina
l building! The check-in desk and waiting room aren’t really even inside.

This was the baggage cart and carousel. The big blue bag with shoes hanging off is mine.

Again, I got to sit in the copilot’s seat on the tiny Britten Norman Islander plane. This time, I spent some more time looking at the instruments, dials, and guages, on the control panel of the plane. We reached a maximum altitude of about 1000 feet during the flight and reached a maximum speed of about 110 knots.

When I got off the plane, my pick-up from Toni’s Guesthouse wasn’t there. I guess they forgot to come pick me up. I had to call them using someone else’s mobile phone so they could come and get me.

So, I’ve been traveling for more than six months now and had purchased very few souvenirs. I had less than one month left, and decided that it was time to start buying some. I went to the market in Nuku’alofa to do some shopping. Kerstin (from New Zealand) and Ann (from Sydney, Australia), who were also staying in Toni’s, came along, too. Kerstin had just arrived in Tonga and was scouting out the market for her own souvenirs to buy. I ended up buying a cool (and kind of gruesome looking) wooden hand-carved mask.

We ended up sitting in Cafe Escape for a while to have some coffees and lunch. Ann had a couple of Tongan friends join us, too. The three of them then left and left me and Kerstin behind. We decided to walk to the Tongan Cultural Centre, located about midway between Toni’s Guesthouse and Nuku’alofa. Sadly, the museum was closed so we just walked the rest of the way back to Toni’s. I bought some beer and a bottle of Tongan rum. The beers were for drinking tonight at Toni’s. The rum was to bring back to Australia.

Kerstin and I made it back to Toni’s and spent the rest of the afternoon chilling and listening to music. She was a fan of Feist, but had only heard the second album, so I played the first one for her. She copied some of my music and I copied some of hers. She listened to lots of Japanese and Korean music (she also spoke fluent Japanese), so she gave me some of that to listen to.

That night was my last night in Tonga and I hung out with Mark and Abigail for the last time. They had started working at the hospital in Tonga. The work there was pretty laid back and they could show up whenever they wanted. The hospital didn’t have a lot of medicines to give to people, so they mostly gave out Panadol for most problems.

Thursday August 7, 2008

My time in Tonga was over. I had to take a plane today to get back to Melbourne. again, I got to fly on business class the whole way. Sadly, this time I didn’t get the very swanky lay-down-flat seats that I had the first time. The food was excellent, again. I ended up drinking a lot of Pinot Grigio wine that day. After spending a few hours enjoying the business class lounge in Auckland again I took another business class flight to Melbourne. After three weeks on the islands, I was finally back in Australia for one more time before heading back to North America.

To be continued…

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