After a day in yet another magical place, I take a good look around our cabin. It is starting to look like a souvenir shop with bits of handicrafts from all over. When I look at my photography folder it is filled with names of places that are hard to pronounce and the pictures of where we have been reminds me how fortunate we are. I upload the photos from the day into an empty folder named Tongatapu and the first photo makes me wish I was still standing where it was taken from.
Usually I take note of the landscape of a new place first but the thing that grabs my attention first is a group of ripped tattooed men, wearing traditional warrior attire, and beautiful women with leaves around their ankles dancing as I walk towards downtown Nuku’alofa. One of the men holding an intimidating looking war club shouts: “Malolele, heee haaaa!!!” It is clearly directed at me and I don’t know if I should run or say something back in Zulu. Only when he smiles at me I feel ready to carry on. Tongans are very happy people and they frequently express their happiness by giving a loud, high-pitched heeeeeehaaaaaaa shout called the Faka’ulu. In other words, he was just saying halo and that he is happy for me to be there.
I stroll around the Talamahu market and the abundance of local food and Kava root gives the place a distinct aroma. Women sit and weave baskets from palm leaves and men smoke hand rolled tobacco cigarettes while bargaining prices of the Kava root. I see a stall where a man sells beautifully handcrafted wooden flutes. I pick one up and bring it to my lips to play a tune and the man quickly stops me from doing so. At first I thought he is being rude, but when he starts playing the flute using his nostril I understand why he stopped me. He plays a beautiful tune and tells me more about its significance in Tongan culture. From the fishhook necklaces to the patterns on the Tapa cloth, I love how everything has a significant meaning to it.
“Mate, if the trade winds weren’t blowing then we would have been surfing perfect waves mate. It’s the wrong time of year mate, I have been waiting three weeks mate.” The Australian surfer I meet on Ha’atafu beach on the western tip of Tonga agrees that if its not the coral that will grind you up it will be the rip that makes you regret paddling out. I keep my board in its bag.
Wind at Ha’atafu beach
Mapu’a’a Vaea. Also known as the Chief’s Whistles, these blowholes are some of the most spectacular in the South Pacific. The waves crash into the ledge with immense force and at times the compressed water blows up to thirty meters into the air.
Just like Captain Cook took a rest under an ‘Ovava tree when he landed here, I stand at ease under a Banyan tree, mesmerized by the sunset unfolding in front of me. There is a beautiful yacht anchored to the side of the small island I am looking at and in an instant I am in a daydream, living on the island in the summer and sailing on the yacht looking for waves. Not far from me there is a band of old men playing traditional Tongan music and their soul full harmonizing voices carry me to a place far away.
…Ultimate dream got stuck
When I drop my last few coins from Tonga in the donation box while the dancers are performing, four of the men shout a massive Faka’ulu, and in Tonga it is custom to reply by Faka’ulu. I love doing things that would be frowned upon in our “normal” lives so I Faka’ulu back to these guys. Sometimes I keep receipts, sometimes I keep a small pebble or piece of driftwood as a reminder of special places, but for my Tongan amulet, I keep the accepting smile I got from one of the girls in the dance group when I showed my appreciation for their culture by means of expressing my happiness the Faka’ulu way.
Double-branched palm tree
Beautiful reef to snorkel on… this reef was 10m away from our bearth!
Catching hermit crabs