The police met our ship in Tonga enmass. They unpacked their weapons… lined up… on command of the officer… they greeted us with “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Welcome to Tonga. The young women in faux grass skirts clapped along before the police band gave way to the Polynesian group with steel guitar and ukes. They alternated songs as passengers disembarked.
Our welcome started before that. Two tugs sailed toward us out of the sunrise and stood by while the ship, with its azipods and bow thrusters, docked itself. Tonga has a new dock, all nice white cured concrete, because the tsunami caused by the undersea volcano took out the old one. We could see its old bones. On the bottom, in the clear water, near the wrecked dock, colorful yellow and stripped fish blended in with the coral.
I had hoped to go snorkeling in Tonga but the doctor told me to lay off the swimming and walk slowly as I recovered from COVID. So I canceled my snorkeling tour (Suzi couldn’t go anyway, she was still in isolation). Actually it was a good thing I had. The beach resort we were going to had been wrecked in the Tsunami and they rebuilt it on a bluff sixty steps from the beach. The refreshing swim would have been followed by a sweaty and exhausting climb.
One of my friends was concerned about my walking. He thought it was too hot. He may have been right. One of the tour guides on a HAL tour passed out from the heat and had to be taken away in an ambulance. It was at the end of the tour, so the visitors didn’t miss much.
I walked quite a distance but stopped several times, once on the way out and once on the way back at the post office to buy some of one of Tonga’s biggest government source of money (I think except for Chinese aid), stamps and post cards. The post office had set up a tent outside the main building and sold postcards with stamps. They had writing tables in the shade and pens for us to write the cards. I wrote two sets, one going and one coming back to the ship.
I stopped in three different cafes for water or passion fruit smoothies and sat under the big tree in Raintree square watching and listening.
Some of the things I saw and heard included:
“I don’t want the tourist rate, I want the local rate (woman to cabbie.)”
“Buy you ARE a tourist.”
I heard, what I thought was a car horn that sounded like the cat’s meow. I looked up and saw a cat hanging out the window of a car, with a toddler next to her. The toddler let out a big meow and started giggling.
In cafes people were friendly and stopped to talk. They were happy to have us back after the pandemic and tsunami nearly destroyed their economy. I heard from a couple who owned a café. He hurt himself carrying a case of beer up the stairs to their rooftop venue. He went to hospital and when the pandemic hit couldn’t get back to Tonga for two years. His wife had to keep the place going.
I heard from a man whose wife had a problem pregnancy and went off island to have the baby. She and the baby did not get back for two years.
On my walk I saw a building with purple bows on the fence, sign of a funeral, walked past the royal tombs, and the Centennial Church, a “Polynesian Gothic” Wesleyan Free Church (The established religion here). The coral stone church had been wrecked in a typhoon.
I enjoyed my walk through different neighborhoods. I strolled through the market and got Suzi a gift before getting back on the ship. The tugboats came back, this time sailing out of a rainbow, and stood by while we waited out a rainsquall before departing through a break in the reef, headed for New Zealand.