Thursday, September 4, 2008
Bula & Malo e lelei
It wasn't until I was in Fiji, 15 hours into my trip and staring blankly at the two mysterious buttons at the back of a Fijian toilet that I realized I was really on the other side of the world. Toilets are tricky and one doesn't want to make a move that would result in adverse consequences, especially when there is a line of a couple dozen 747 passengers that, like me, opted to hold it for 10 hours and 30 minutes. Big button or small button. BIG or SMALL!!? I hit both. It worked. That was when I knew it was going to be a good trip.
When I landed in Tonga another 10 hours later I was euphoric. And when I saw him waiting outside of customs I finally took that long awaited proverbial breath. My whole vacation was like a dream and so many times I had to ask myself...am I really here?
We went to two beautiful private islands for a few days Fafa Island and Pangaimotu where we saw some crazy looking fish, explored a sunken ship, napped on the beach, snorkeled, and hiked around. On the days we weren't at the little islands we stayed in a house in town right near the water, went to markets and mingled with the locals. One night we went to a luau at a resort and had a dance dedicated to us. (This was the same band who claimed they were playing an American love song and it ended up being Kenny Roger's "Coward of the County") Other nights we spent in the villages. We also did some snorkeling off the main island, sailing and discovered breathtaking secluded beaches that were hidden by massive rock cliffs, along with open caves and coves carved out by incessant crashing of behemoth waves. Ya, I get it. I realize I am about to break out in song but there were some un-perfect moments as well.
I woke up at 5:30 a.m. for three days in a row. Even if it wasn't for the fact that I was now on a different time schedule I probably would not have been able to sleep those first few mornings anyway.
Pigs, dogs and chickens run amuck there. We were in a gated house so never had any close encounters but before it was all said and done I wanted to kill every rooster I saw. I had it in my head that in a pastoral setting there was really only one rooster, in at least a mile radius, and he crows only once a day to greet the dawn - only after he is picturesquely positioned on the top of a barn of some sort. Well not true. I swear there was 20 of them right outside my window and they were shrieking every 7.6 seconds all day long. Moreover our house in town was right next to a church that met at 5 a.m. Sun-Wed. To signal that church is about to begin someone goes on the church steps and beats two cast-iron pans together for about two minutes straight. (At least it sounded like two cast-iron pans but I can't verify that for sure.) I was told they were on the church steps but again, I am pretty sure they were outside the bedroom window connected to surround sound.) The clanging stops just long enough for you to drift off ...and then the yelling commences. Now make no mistake about it. I am not dissing on the musical talent of islanders - many are extraordinarily gifted. But if you have ever been to any church where there are the older folks you will see that collectively they don't sing, they yell. The fact that the yelling is indeed in perfect harmony is only a small consolation at 5 a.m. But most of the time we just laughed at the situation. And caught up on our sleep at the beach to the sound of waves.
I also brushed up on my Spanish. English is taught in schools there. Some schools are just better than others at teaching it. So some people you run into speak perfect English, some can understand you but can't speak it and some don't understand a lick. You can't tell these people apart so the safest assumption is that they understand what you are saying. So we used Spanish (Loa's Spanish is much better than mine) to say things like "please eat this for me I don't like it," "lets go, I am getting sick" "when are they leaving?" "is that a girl or boy?" etc. Many of them spoke multiple languages but they don't hear a lot of Spanish. It worked like a charm.
I also had a number of firsts. I drank out-dated soda. We carried around coconuts and drank them like Gatorade, I sat at a table with a cooked pig in its whole form, I touched an octopus, I washed my hair in rain water, I boxed people out in a bakery line, I saw a cockroach the size of my phone, I gave candy to small children as if I was Willy Wonka and I was issued a Tongan drivers license. It was the best of times.