Tonga is one of those places you’ve always heard about because it has a cool name and sounds really exotic. It seems so far (and it is) and you know they have some big Polynesian looking dudes that play Rugby and some even play in the NFL. You know it’s near Samoa and some of those other “ones” down in the Pacific somewhere but you really don’t know anything about it. Sound familiar? You may recall it was the first place to ring in the new Millenium as it’s essentially on the date line. Well I have to say that after two days on Tonga I can say, not much goes on here and this place is as laid back as anywhere I’ve been. There isn’t much to do but for what there is to do, I like the Tongan attitude and slogan…”Do it the Tongan way…Tomorrow”.
I am staying on the main island of Tongatapu in the capital “city” of Nuku’alofa which is a sleepy little capital that contains 65% of the 100,000 people who live in Tonga. There are three main islands, the others being Niuafo’ou and Vava’u. The latter supposedly being the nicest and the best place to spot humpback whales from July thru November-although I did get lucky and spot one near the coral bridge (below). The timeframe I have and the prohibitive prices for short jaunts made me not go and stay on the main island and explore what it has to offer.
The Kingdom of Tonga is the only Polynesian nation to never be colonized which is something they are very proud of. The consequences being they don’t really get any money from a significant source like say American Samoa would from the US. Tonga survives on the small amount of aid they receive from other nations such as New Zealand and Australia which are their two main trading partners and the remittances from the 150,000 Tongans living abroad, mainly in the United States. You can see this lack of cash in the state of affairs here in Tonga. The roads are crap albeit scenic (below) outside the main city roads and they say 40% of the people live below the poverty line. When the Peace Corps is here, you know there is poverty and the Peace Corp is here in Tonga.
For the Pacific, Tonga is super cheap. Cabs are cheap and so is food but accommodation is expensive. I checked out several places around town and on the waterfront and couldn’t find anything of any value so I finally decided to stay at the Harborview Hotel for $40 right next to Billfish Bar and Restaurant which is the most happening place in town but very little actually happens!
The hotel is fine, crappy and creeky but typical of a traveler style falling apart place that you’ve stayed in several hundred times before (if you travel cheaply). However, what will always make this place stand out to me is the creepy gay guys working the front desk. The place is owned by a delightful Tongan woman but the two guys that make the beds and work the front desk both dress like women and are extremely flamboyant.
Now I have zero problem at all with gays. That said, the one guy kept inventing reasons to be knocking on my door even though the do not disturb sign was up. I would answer and he would very androgynously ask me if I wanted him to massage me. Taken aback and extremely uncomfortable the first two times I politely declined. Another time he knocked and asked if I needed a towel. It turned out I did because there was no towel in the bathroom. I thanked him and then he asked me if I was going to shower. Hesitantly I said, yes at some point. He smiled and asked if I needed him to scrub my back. Floored, I said no thanks and quickly slammed the door and he yelled through the door, let me know if you change your mind. Also, every time I would leave or come in he would smile and say something weird and crude. Ewwwww…that’s a first for me, getting hit on sleazily and repeatedly by large gay Tongan cross dressers at my hotel!!!
Anyway, so the guy who gave me a ride from the airport, Latu, came to grab me to take me on the island tour this morning. I was telling him about this and said thanks for the hotel recommendation jokingly. We laughed about it for a while as he showed me the island and gave me some cool and interesting history on the place.
We stopped at the archaeological sites around the island with the best being the “Stonehenge of the Pacific” called Ha’amonga Trilithon. As you can see above, it’s essentially a rock structure to track the changing seasons much like its English counterpart is alleged to be. Additionally, we drove by the Mu’a or the crazily decorated graves around the island (below) and also the awesome Mapu’a ‘a Vaca blowholes (2 down and top) which could reach 70 feet into the air from the crashing waves below. That was easily the coolest thing on the whole island and made for some cool pictures.
As far as the town of Nuku’alofa, there is a small dinky downtown with some Internet Cafes, clothing stores, a bank and a few restaurants. The one I went to for lunch today was called Escape Café and it was pretty good for panini’s and soups. Latu recommended it to me and he has been pretty good thus far.
Last night for dinner I went to Little Italy and got some pretty good pasta (penne arrabiata-my favorite) and some horrible focaccia appetizer. The place is owned and run by an Italian guy who spends most of his time yelling at his slow Tongan employees. While fairly amusing to a point, it was kind of awkward to see him belittling them in front of the customers. In his defense though, the guys serving my table didn’t know the difference between sweet and hot sauce and also what parmesan cheese was…or that there were multiple types of Cokes meaning regular, diet/light or zero. It took a while to get a zero. Oh well.
Anyway, I am pretty excited to get to the Samoa’s (and then to Tokelau) and probably won’t be coming back to Tonga anytime soon. Although it’s been interesting to a point as there are a ton of pigs, flying foxes and nice cliffs etc. There isn’t a whole lot to do here and the people aren’t the most welcoming I’ve met so I am pretty happy to move on. I would say unless you do go out to the outer islands for whale watching, a day or two is ample time here. Air New Zealand does connect to Samoa and to New Zealand so you’re not trapped here for a week or so as you may be on other Pacific Islands.
A quick update, I am on Samoa and haven’t had any wireless connection past few days so I am behind and tomorrow I will be on a 5-6 day boat trip to Tokelau so I probably won’t be posting for a few days unless they miraculously have wireless on Tokelau but I highly doubt it. Anyway, I will post on the two Samoa’s when I can and definitely Tokelau when I get back. Stay tuned…