Malo e lelei, Tonga!

“Malo e lelei” is the Tongan version of “aloha” and “malo” means “thank you”  – you hear both phrases a million time a day here. The Tongans are a gracious people, very engaging and warm. From touchdown at Fua’amotu Airport in Nuku’alofa to my flight out to Fiji a month later, I was in the company of friends.

Tonga is a simple island, no frills, no fancy facades. Just real people who are devoted to their families and proud of their roots. It’s completely flat, so there’s no water runoff for use. All drinking water is in the form of rainwater (unfiltered) or bottled. There are lots of skinny pigs running around, and only a few main roads are paved. I was clearly one of the few Caucasions on the island as I never failed to get stares and different forms of attention, from young girls shyly waving and giggling, to overgrown young men asking me where I was going. Most people assumed I was a Peace Corps volunteer as it’s pretty uncommon to get Americans there on holiday. I was very taken by the school culture – the kids wear different brightly colored uniforms based on their religious affiliation – and yes, all schools are strongly tied to Christianity. The buses are all independently owned and rather shoddy – and most buses are packed to the brim with boomin’ systems echoing through the air. There are no timetables or bus schedules – you just flag one day if it’s pointed in the direction you want to go. All the young girls have long hair which must be kept in braids during school time. The boys wear skirts – yes skirts – with collared tops and it is such a handsome look!

My favorite part was the 3 hour ferry to the island of ‘Eua, and the 6 days I spent at this gorgeous, inexpensive whale-watching resort. It was so secluded and wonderful – I had lemongrass tea (moengalo) fresh from the stalk, homemade yogurt, and fresh-caught octopus cooked in the umu with coconut milk. And made a friend for life – Little Sione stuck to me like glue. We went on walks – one particular trek through the jungle during a thunderstorm really tested my faith as I assumed we were lost and Sione didn’t know the English words to reassure me.

Another wonderful outcome of this trip was meeting Elizabeth, aka “Bratt,” a hilarious and sassy, 1/2 Tongan chick who was my guide and showed me the most beautiful parts of the island (including the boys at the one dance club Billfish!).

 

Malo, Tonga, for everything! I shall return…

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