Nuku’alofa, Tonga. 16-21 May.
We arrived to light tropical rain and my hair sprung into curls and remained that way. I felt a little like an aged Shirley Temple. The rain lasted a couple of days and limited our exploration, then the sun came out and it remained pleasant.
Tourism has not made a big impact here so there is little to do for us tourists. We explored the local market in Nuku’alofa, which is of course colourful. and we walked to the port – at least twice.
Along the roads are small stalls with a barred front, a little like a cage. The store owner and all his goods are behind bars and customers stand on the road in front of the bars. The stalls are stacked with bags of chips and twisties, soft drinks, sweets, toiletries and phone cards. In fact you can buy a phone card anywhere. Small stalls with umbrellas are on every street.
We peered through the fence of the Royal Palace. It is an elaborate wooden building, quite recently renovated with views over the waterfront. There are other government buildings in town, some in need of repair.
Everything about this part of Tonga is slow and relaxed, which is a pleasant break from our “retired” working life. People are very friendly, and I had a lot of requests from ladies and young girls to take their photos. Hard not to oblige.
They giggled when I showed them their photos and yet they didn’t especially want me to send them the photos. I hope they find themselves here.
Education is free, and the schools teach in English, so English is widely spoken. School children look very smart in white shirts and tunics for the girls and shirts and lava-lava (men’s skirt) often with a ie toga or siapo (woven mat) wrapped around their waist.
Tonga has a very high literacy rate and yet it is an extremely poor country with most people living on subsistence farming. Even close to town, as we were, neighbours had crops with chicken and pigs roaming the garden. Dogs are definitely outdoor creatures and are free to roam the streets.
Tongan’s are very religious people, and every village has a number of churches. All sorts of Christian religions are represented here from 7th Day to Catholic and their own “Free Church”. Sunday is a holy day with everything shut except churches and Chinese restaurants.
The up market cuisine of Tonga is Italian food, often with rich, creamy sauces. We preferred the Tongan food, mostly fish and seafood.
We came across a group of people in the shallows outside our hotel. We assumed they were gathering shell fish, but the waiters at our hotel explained that they were cleaning cow stomach, a special culinary delight. I think I will leave that one to the Tongans.
They served good coffee in town at Friends. On one occasion we were lucky enough to be entertained by a trio of jazz musicians. Now that’s relaxation in Tonga.