‘Wallis and Futuna. Where? Wallis and Futuna. Never heard of it.’ This is a pretty good characterization of some of the conversations that I have had about Wallis and Futuna recently as nobody has ever heard of it. I must say, there’s no real reason to have heard of it unless you are fascinated by French overseas territories or you are a Travelers Century Club member. The two islands are linked together through French colonization only but trace their roots back to Tonga and Samoa. I visited the island of Wallis and found out it was a land of extremes. Extreme heat, extreme rain, extreme humidity, extreme amounts of dead pigs and extremely large money. And oh yeah, the streets have no names. In fact, there are no signs period. But that’s part of the fun.
I have to admit that going into Wallis I was not the happiest camper. I had been extremely ill and was a little concerned about going to Wallis where there are no real facilities, just in case. But obviously I still went and arrived on AirCalin with my man Wee Cheng (below), who if you recall I met in the airport in Honiara, Solomon Islands 10 days earlier or so. It was a blessing having an interesting guy like him with me because it gave me someone to talk to, drive around with, educate me about Singaporean history, share stories and made it much easier to pass the time on an island with very little to actually do. Be that as it may, two intrepid globe trotters set out to find what there was to find on Wallis.
First we needed wheels. Wee Cheng is from Singapore and has never driven before in his life. I was surprised too but nonetheless I love to drive anyway so no big deal. Only problem is they only had manual transmission cars. I had only driven those twice before and not in seven plus years.
The first time was when I lived in Venezuela. It was a real piece of shit Daewoo minivan kind of thing that my buddy Tom insisted to teach me on. That didn’t last too long as I busted the transmission after just learning to shift gears-or not. The second time was when my buddy Jake and I drove from Playa del Carmen, Mexico to Tulum to see the ruins on the beach in 2003. It wasn’t pretty but I managed to get us there and back. Only problem was I couldn’t get the car into reverse and that made parking difficult. Plus we ended up having a huge shouting match with the rental car guy but that’s another story for another day.
So this time we had the lady from the hotel Moana Hou drive us to the factory type place that had a rental car. The car was again a real piece of shit small Citroen that was beat up to hell and smelled of mildew like you can’t even imagine. The guy drops it off in front of me so that I would have to get it into reverse right off the bat. I was not pleased and proceeded to fail miserably several times. This made the rental guy nervous and he said he wouldn’t let me have it because he thought I’d have an accident. That enraged me to no end as I hate people telling me I can’t do anything so I insisted. He reluctantly agreed and eventually after some quick tutelage from a random Fijian man who was there and spoke English, we were off.
To quickly summarize, I was horrible at first, stalling out constantly but eventually got the hang of it and even made some dirt road 4 and 5 point turns with few problems. In truth, the thing I am happiest about from Wallis Island was learning to drive a standard car for real and with confidence. This has been a thorn in my side for years and I just never bothered to learn. So if I can drive the world’s shittiest car for 2 days on dirt roads, then I can drive anything. If you asked Wee Cheng, he may have feared for his life a few times or at least from the way I was yelling at the car when it wouldn’t do what I wanted it to! But alas, all ended up well.
The island is small. We could drive the whole thing in under an hour and we made it our mission to see every single road on Wallis and damn well did! All of the main sights to see were off dirt roads. There are no signs or street names as I said so it made it difficult. However, the guy at the hotel gave us a map that was bigger than the car and eventually we found our way to the Talietumu archaeological site.
There is a Tongan fort settlement there that was more fun finding than actually seeing. It really wasn’t that impressive as it was essentially a pile of lava rocks that formed some type of wall. The best thing about it was they had land crabs that were always willing to fight!
Next and lastly, we headed out in search of Lake Lalolalo (top). This is a crater lake in the islands highlands off a brutally bumpy dirt road and it was spectacular. Far and away the best thing on Wallis period. It reminded me of other crater lakes on Easter Island and Grande Comore Island that I thought were impressive as well. Lalolalo had 30 meter sheer rock cliffs on all sides and I bet you no person has ever swam in it…at least that got out alive. They say the US soldiers dumped a bunch of weapons in the lake at the end of the Second World War but who knows. It’s not like there are signs or tour guides on Wallis. To me, the lake made the journey to Wallis worthwhile.
Another cool thing we saw was a ceremony for their big holiday. We actually were right next to the king (above in blue) and all the slaughtered pigs (self explanatory below+) which were everywhere apparently for the festival. It was pretty revolting but cool at the same time because we got to see their main cultural day in person and literally in the front row next to the king.
As far as food and drink, there are very few choices. Each of the hotels has a restaurant where they charge a king’s ransom for crappy food. For example, the fist night we ate at our hotel as they told us they had a French chef. Strange we thought but nonetheless, I was happy to eat anything after not really eating for 3 days while I was ill. I ordered spaghetti pomodoro and Wee Cheng spaghetti with pesto sauce. Both were abysmal. That could be expected but the fact they charged $25 for the crappiest spaghetti and sauce you’ve ever tried (that I could have made for 50 cents and it would’ve tasted better) was appalling.
To boot, the French chef came out to ask how it was and we both lied and said good so we wouldn’t hurt his feelings. Turns out he is just some crazy French backpacker type who ended up staying here and cooking for the past 3 weeks so he could stay for free. He was like 25 or something and had never cooked in his life.
The rooms at the hotel were another shakedown as they charged over $100 for a nothing room. At first my AC didn’t work and they were basically like, sorry dude. That clearly did not please me and I eventually made sure they changed and made me up a room that had AC as was expected, it is ungodly hot and humid on Wallis and you sweat just breathing. They did and I slept pretty well (Tylenol PM helped) on lumpy mattress and pillow but what can you do.
Wallis is an incredibly expensive place. It can afford to be because nobody really works yet everyone has money. They are subsidized by the French government and most people have some type of administrative title or something and just collect checks but don’t actually work. Sounds great right?! The king and his cronies allegedly pocket much of the money but since there are only a few thousand people on the island there is enough to go around and nobody complains that much. But for tourists, which there are very few as you’d imagine, get shocked when they see the prices for what they actually get.
There is no internet on Wallis, well occasionally they say there is but it is often down as it was when I was there. Luckily though, they had a DVD rental place that had some English titles so I was able to rent Million Dollar Baby and kill a few hours that way watching on my laptop. It is one of the 5 or so films that have ever won Best Picture Oscars that I hadn’t seen and it was fantastic. It really didn’t end how you’d think, which I liked, and I can see why Hillary Swank won best actress and Morgan Freeman best supporting actor. Although it was essentially the same exact role he played in Shawshank Redemption so go figure.
I am typing this on the plane to New Caledonia where I will spend the next three nights. It’s another French place I expect to be unreasonably expensive but it is what it is I guess as I cannot change my flights anyway. After New Caledonia I have one night in Brisbane and I finally go back home and I am so excited I can’t even tell you. This has been a very long trip with a lot of downtime to be alone most of the time and recently sick. So I am really looking forward to seeing family and friends back home but New Caledonia awaits first…it should be fun, stay tuned…