Thursday, October 25, 2007

October 26, Nuku'alofa, Tonga

There are 176 islands in Tonga, 36 are inhabited, 12 have cars, 7 have electricity. We experienced all of these variations on our trip from the far north reaches of this country. The capital, Nuku’alofa, has people, motor vehicles, electricity, and quite a bit more – a royal palace, government buildings, three consulates, a modern seaport and airport, and a smattering of tourist facilities. However, with a population of 26,000 (out of a total of 100,000), this is a small, quiet town. It is great to have Amy with us to experience this backwater capital…we have a lot of laughs about it.
The weather has been in the mid-70s, cloudy, with no rain. It is pleasant to stroll the long seawall to promenade “downtown”, about half an hour away from the small boat harbor. One sees vibrantly decorated cemeteries, a large proportion of people dressed in traditional attire (black with a woven mat tied around the waist), and small stores with rows of cans neatly piled behind the counter. People are very friendly. The guy who runs the internet café also has a bingo operation; the man who makes jewelry drives a cab; the lady who sells crafts caters parties.
While “desert island”- hopping south, we saw pigs grazing on a beach (they forage for seafood with their snouts in the sand) and a man showed us how to eat a great delicacy – the raw entrails of a sea slug, straight from the sea. Didn’t try it.
Tonga is still a feudal society, even in the capital. The king is at the top, along with his family. There is a class of nobles. Then the commoners. There seems to be a church in every square block in this part of the city. (These blocks are of small one story dwellings with big yards). The churches are filled with young people including trendy young men wearing western branded T-shirts - with traditional black skirts and mats around the waist. It is really something to behold.
Business operates at the discretion of the royal family and royal influence has tended to favor China and Chinese investors in recent years. Last November, Tongans rioted in the streets, destroying many small businesses. The unrest was initially aimed at the Chinese (who, throughout the Pacific, run a big percentage of the small businesses) but spread out of control. Downtown is now pockmarked with empty blocks, where just the concrete pad remains. We have seen a couple of political banners but that is the only sign of discontent now.
The long term weather is that the next good window for the trip to New Zealand will start around November 3. Weather permitting, we hope to get back out to some Tongan “desert islands” with Amy before that time.


Blogger Megan said...

Amy! You made it! I hope that you are enjoying the quality time with the parents, and Amy's parents, I hope that you are enjoying the quality time with your lovely daughter. So I Google-mapped Nuku'alofa-- looks like a pretty cozy little place as far as island nations go.

I hope that all is well there in the middle of the ocean, I just wanted to let you know that I'm thinking of you and your adventures as I sit here, shivering in an overly air-conditioned library. Paradise doesn't sounds so bad right now...

PD- Can you believe Sarah is going back to relive the GTO glory! It's good to know the project will be in good hands.

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