Outside dogs bark. The air is a heavy mix of humidity and jasmine. A fan rattles around to cool. I hear distant cicadas. Across the veranda, the stars are out in abundance. I sit here thinking about Tonga, for that is where I am, and I think about the States, where I am heading, and I think too about, Ireland, where I’ll soon return. The final leg of my travels is about to commence, but first, let me indulge. Let me tell you about Tonga.
Spin the globe around many times and randomly select a place. Do this over and over again. Chances are you won’t land on Tonga. The reason being, there isn’t very much to land on.
To be official, The Kingdom of Tonga is an archipelago in the South Pacific. 176 islands. 36 (last count) inhabited. Population 98,000 (last count). Some islands so small you can walk around them in five minutes. I ran around one earlier in the week and it took me ten. Think palm trees. Think white sandy beaches. Think pineapples. Think coral reef. And importantly, think ocean, lots and lots of it.
That is Tonga. That’s the bit the tourists, the few that there are, get to see. But given the size of the place, there is so much more.
There are a few basic rules to survival in Tonga. Follow them, and you’ll be a step ahead to finding out what that more is.
1. Don’t be in a rush. Things don’t happen quickly here, so what is there to rush to? You’ll be amazed at what you notice when you slow down.
2. Like your vowels. Because at least every second letter is going to be one.
3. Don’t be on an Atkins diet. Carbs are in here. Taro, yam, tapioca, bread fruit, potatoes.. often all on the one plate at the same time.
4. Stop and chat. It is the way this place works. If you can’t think of anything to talk about, talk about carbohydrates. They are really popular.
5. If you don’t swim, learn to, and get a snorkel- there is a magical world of reef and colour just below the surface, waiting to be explored. Dive in.
6. Swim with most of your clothes on. Bikinis are NOT in. Togs are very 2050. Try shorts and a t-shirt instead. You’ll fit in better.
7. Go to church. You don’t have to believe in it, but at least appreciate the singing. It will give you a glimpse into the Tongan soul.
8. Share. Share whatever- smiles, sweets, greetings. People give here. They give a lot. Give a little in return.
9. Get off the main island. The capitol of Nuku’alofa may seem like a one street wonder, but it is a metropolis compared to the rest of the islands. Hop on a ferry. Hop on a plane. Explore.
10. I’ll say it again. Slow down.
Follow that, and exploring doors will be opened. I have only a few hours remaining here. I’m off to knock on a few more.