Days 1,105-1,106: The Friendly Islands

Mon 09.01.12 – Wed 11.01.12:

After quite literally skipping Tuesday, we arrived in the port of Nuku’alofa in the Island Nation of Tonga two days after Sunday… on Wednesday. In what is becoming a bit of a tradition for us us Lilynauts, the port agent came out to greet us off the ship and then took me, the captain and Joe (the ship’s cook) on a tour of the main island of Tongatapu

I should point out that ‘Nuku’alofa’ means ‘Abode of Love’ in English. How much better is that a name than ‘Hull’, ‘Grimsby’ or (urgh) ‘Skegness’? I should also point out that Tonga is the Scandinavia of the Pacific. By that I mean they substantially added to the gene pool by totally stealing the best looking women from Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Tokelau, Niue etc. in days of yore. Much in the manner of the Vikings (hence Danish/Swedish/Norwegian girls being hot to trot). This sits in stark contrast with Bolivia, where all the best looking virgins where sacrificed to the gods, thus diminishing the overall totty quota of said Andean nation. Silly ancestors!

Also, possibly in an echo of what went on in Sparta, the men here are built like the proverbial brick shithouse. The words ‘you lookin’ at my bird?’ would have me on a rowboat fighting the current back to Fiji before you could say ‘eek!’.

First up on our sojourn around Tonga’s main island: the blowholes. Captain Andriy had promised me a show, and by god these babies did not disappoint. A mile-long stretch of coast where every time the waves crashed against the rocks below, small but perfectly formed holes in the basalt allowed the salty brine to shoot ten metres into the air. AWESOME!!

After watching nature’s fountains, we toddled off to go and see the bay where Captain Cook landed in 1773. So overwhelmed by the hospitality and the generosity of the Tongan people, Cook Christened the country ‘The Friendly Islands’. What Cook didn’t realise is that the natives were just buttering him and his men up, ready to murder them all and steal their ships. However, a dispute occurred as to whether to strike during the day or at night and the plan was called off. Cook never found out how close he came to an untimely end.

Well, that is until he actually did come to an untimely end upon his second visit to Hawaii…!

There’s a monument to Cook’s landing, and a breadfruit tree where I learnt what breadfruit actually is from Joe the ship’s cook. Funny that I was there with a Captain and a Cook eh? Only just thought of that. Wakka wakka wakka!

We then headed to the east of the island in order to go see the Ha’amonga ’a Maui (Burden of Maui) – the Tongan equivalent of Stonehenge. The irony being that I’ve never visited Stonehenge, but I have been to the Burden of Maui. Debate has raged over the origin of this magnificent trilithic monument, but the consensus is that, like Stonehenge, it is a calendar for setting the exact dates of midsummer and midwinter. Hey: great minds think alike, eh Tonga?!

In the evening, Captain Andriy and I had a sad duty to perform. I had promised the guys on the Southern Pearl that I would go and see the late Captain Mafi’s family to pass on our condolences. It was with a heavy heart that I met Mafi’s widow and his two daughters. We sat outside their family home and chatted about Mafi as the sun set in the west. They asked me if he had appeared ill while I was on board to which I had to give the honest answer of no: he was faster getting up the stairs to the bridge than I was. But he did smoke like a chimney and the smokes will kill you if something else doesn’t get you first. That’s (sadly) the way they’re designed.

Captain Mafi’s grave was (as is traditional in The Pacific) placed at the front of the house. So, so sad – Mafi was due to return home to his family on the day he died.

Captain Andriy and I headed back to the ship and got ready for tonight. There was an all-you-can-eat buffet followed by a traditional song and dance display going on at one of the resorts to the west of the island. Joe The Cook came with us and I have to say, the place did not disappoint. After filling up our leaves (not dishes!) with tasty seafood, you almost needed to roll me down the beach into the cave where we could watch the dancing.

It was pretty good, but it was the finale that really kicked ass: full on fire twirling, breathing, swallowing and craziness. I loved it. So, Tonga, what can I say? You, like pretty much every Pacific island that I’ve been to so far, ROCK! Us three Lilynauts got a lift back to the ship standing on the back of a Toyota pick-up truck, the night wind whistling past our ears. Man, I could get used to this.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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