My Island Escape
My first attempt at hopping on over to an island failed miserably. I was hoping to tag on with the vet and nurse heading over for a part clinic part vacay trip, but it appeared as if the little amoeba’s growing in my stomach had other ideas. I was shaking and sweating and spending a lot of time with the porcelain god. Luckily it only lasted a day but didn’t want to risk a 3hr ferry crossing with a delicate constitution.
However, ‘n boer maak ‘n plan (a farmer makes a plan), and I soon had things sorted for the following weekend. The plan was to leave on the 12.30pm ferry Friday, be picked up by Taina of Taina’s Place and then take the 5am ferry back on Monday.
That morning I woke up feeling like a kid about to go home from boarding school. I was so excited. I had my bags all packed and went to work to get a few things done, before (I hoped) someone could take me to the ferry. In the midst of autoclaving and making kits and folding drapes and still 3hrs before the ferry, one of the group swept in and said they had to run an errand and so I was going now and to get in the car. Wow… ok sure, hang on, just need to , am coming….
All good though, I got to the terminal with 2.5hrs to wait and so settled in to watch them load the ferry. It was not just a passenger ferry but a cargo one too, as everything (particularly toilet paper and diapers apparently) had to be ferried to the island. I managed to ask one of the other passengers if this was the ‘Eua ferry and got confirmation… I hoped.
Later a gentleman in overalls walked up and asked if I was going to ‘Eua, I said yes. He asked if I had a place to stay, I said yes at Taina’s Place. He said “I am her husband, Tei”. Well what do you know, he is also one of the captains. Sweet! I was still a little confused as to where and when I was meant to buy tickets, whether or not it was safe to put my bag on board etc. But watching all the other passengers I decided to at least put my bag of clothes and bag of food on board and then wait and see about tickets.
Cutey with her peanuts
About 1hr before departure time I noticed a lot of people gathering around someone who seemed official. I assumed right and bought my ticket for 27.50 Pa’anga (about $20). The ferry ride would take at least 3 hrs and we would be crossing open ocean at one point. A few minutes later the ticket guy came over to chat with me. He asked where I was from and how long I was staying on ‘Eua. He was kind of cute, especially in his official work sarong (not sure what the actual name is).
Another pa’langi (foreigner) arrived and we started chatting. Then we decided to get on the ferry and secured some comfy seats. But that didn’t last long as we all had to deboard and reboard so they could check our tickets. Only mothers with children could stay. There was much laughter when I asked to borrow one of the babies. We got off and stood right by the gangplank and chatted with the ticket guy. He was so cute and a bit shy speaking English, but it was all good. When we joked about bringing a baby with us next time so we could stay on board he looked shocked, realised we were joking and then started laughing and telling us to stop being bad. Too funny!
Finally it was time to board and we were lucky enough to claim the same seats. Once we were under way we both decided to go sit outside in the glorious sunshine. I had bought a bag of yummy roasted peanuts in their shell and was utterly enjoying myself. After about 40min in the sun though I decided to head inside before I fried. I nodded off for a bit and was woken to much lurching! We had reached the trench and the section of open ocean that could often be rather, exuberant, shall we say. I found it thrilling and would have been out front of the boat if it wasn’t being drenched in water. Instead I stood in the wheelhouse and chatted with Tei and some of the other people. Tongans are so friendly and have an awesome smile. As we crossed the trench one of them pointed out an island that was rising up in front of us and said that was ‘Eua. Higher than all the other islands, it has a wide range of ecosystems and plant life, it is also 1000’s of years older than the others. As we were pulling in to the harbor Tei came and sat outside and we started talking about why I was there. When I mentioned that I was one of the nurses with the vet group the following conversation occurred:
Tei: ahh you can make it so my dogs don’t have babies?
Me: well I just a nurse, not a doctor and I don’t have anything with me.
Tei: don’t worry I have knife and machete!
Me: ahhhh yeah no, am not a doctor.
Tei (with big grin): no worry, I be doctor you be nurse we do it Tongan style.
(I sincerely hope and assume he was talking about fixing his animals…)
All in all it was one of the best 3hr ferry rides I have ever taken and even if I didn’t see any whales it doubled as my whale watching trip.
Getting my sea legs
Captain Tei came and said that Taina should be on her way to pick me up but if she wasn’t there by the time he was done he would give me a ride to the guesthouse. Luckily I only had about 10minutes to wait. Taina is absolute honey, and very welcoming. I soon had a hand full of sweet bread and we were on our way back to the guesthouse. At only 25 pa’anga (about $20) for a dorm room, it is the best price on the island, the next price is over 80 pa’anga for a room at the resort with an ocean view. Taina’s was located in the center of the island which meant no ocean views but walking distance to the jungle hike. She has also been presented with a number of medals by the king, for the best garden on ‘Eua (there is a rumor that it is the only garden, but hey its a medal). In the evening we went to a local highschool reunion we had all been invited to (for some strange reason). For the most part it was rather slow (most of the attendees had started the party at the bar). But near the end there was a fantastic brawl as one lady started beating up another for sleeping with her husband. Ahhh yes the drama, hair was pulled, drinks were thrown, the police were called, ultimately a great night.
Taina's medal winning garden paradise
Taina and me at the reunion
When I went to switch on the light in my dorm room I noticed there was no bulb. One of the guys came to replace it, he came in looked at the empty socket, tried the switch (not sure why), walked under it and then walked out. 1minute later a taller lad came in and screwed in the light bulb (guess I am not the only one with short issues). That night right before bed as I was having a mug of tea I heard a soft meow and looked up to see Phoenix, a very cute orange kitten about 6mths old. She lives in the roof of the kitchen and comes down to beg for food and cuddles. As I was loving her to death, Taina walked past and in true Tongan style said, “You like, you keep”. I was sorely tempted, but restraining a rambunctious kitty on a 3hr ferry ride did not sound promising. Instead I took her with me to bed. After being freaked out at not being in her roof, she figured out what to do and snuggled up next to me in bed. Ahhhhh heaven!
The next day a group of 6 of us went on the 3hr hike to explore. After 4hrs the happy chatter soon turned quiet and after 5hrs we were all dragging a bit. It didn’t help that we spent most of our time slogging through mud and slipping and sliding up and down hills. But after about 6hrs Taina met us and picked us up, thank the heavens. A hot shower and sleep was all I could manage. We figured we had hiked 7km, but it felt more like 17km. I took Phoenix with me to bed again, and she was way more comfortable even nipping out for a bit and returning in the early morning with a purr that was closer to a roar.
Giant Banyon tree, about 200yrs old
The view from the lookout
Smoking Cave - its a VERY long way down
The last day was a Sunday which meant church. We all decided to go. I had been to the Catholic Church on the main island, and it was very grand and austere and Catholic churches all over seem to be. But here the church was small and quaint and the singing was awe inspiring. Without any musical accompaniment the men and women wound their voices together in true harmony and I felt myself quite moved. That afternoon I sat and made bracelets for everyone and then we all had dinner together. After a cup of tea I grabbed “my” kitty and went to bed. Am really going to miss this little flea bag. She is so loving and spunky. But logistically its just not possible to get her across on the ferry and then have to find her a home.
Tei and his youngest daughter
Gas Tank a.k.a Tongan Church Bell
At 4am, those of us heading back on the ferry roused ourselves and got sorted, at 4.20am there was no sign of Tei or Taina. Finally I went and “knocked” at the curtain that was their door. 2minutes later Tei was there and we were off. As we pulled out I saw Taina shoo Phoenix away, she seemed to have tried to follow me. Dramatic pause to blow nose and sniffle
My beautiful Phoenix
The 5am ferry left at 6am (we had to wait for the tide). And as we sailed into the open area that was the trench the sun started rising. It was glorious to be out on the ocean and I loved every minute of it. Not to mention that we had an amazing captain who rode the waves and never once got the front of the boat drenched in water. Nothing quite like waking up to the sun rising over the South Pacific as you relax on the bow of a ferry. Truly spectacular. ‘Eua is definately one of my all time favorite places to be. And if any of you get a chance be sure to stay at Taina’s Place and say hi for me.
Getting My Flirt On
I had to return a week later to the ferry to give Tei the flea and tick medicine along with instructions that I had promised him for his animals. It was the least I could do considering I refused to use a machete to neuter his dogs. Feel free to cringe at the statement, I still do. As I walked up to the dock a young man came up to me with a huge grin and asked why I was there. When I said I came to see Tei he looked disappointed. That’s when I realised it was ticket guy, he wasn’t wearing his official sarong so I didn’t recognise him. He seemed much happier when I said Ihad to drop off medicine for Tei’s animals.
As we walked to find Tei, he asked me when I had got back from ‘Eua. He also said when his boss had to go fetch one of the vets to check his animals he thought it might have been me. Ahhh schucks he had been thinking of me. I don’t care who you are that always makes you feel good. After I finished explaining the medicine to Tei, I headed out. Ticket guy was there with a friend, and he proceeded to ask me where I was staying, how long I was here for, when I left and when I planned to come back. Finally he finished with saying, “well I probably won’t see you again then, so, ummm, good luck with your travels”. There was an awkward moment, as his friend stood and grinned like a cheshire cat, and then I waved and walked away. When I glanced back he had his friend in a headlock… oh to know what had been said after I left.
A South Pacific Sunrise
In hindsight there are a few things I would have approached differently with the volunteer program. But if I had to do this month over again I think I would still do it, bad and good combined. I have learnt some valuable lessons (life has never been really subtle when it teaches me a lesson, or maybe its me who doesn’t get the subtle lessons), and met some amazing people. Its not everyone who gets to say:
“I just spent a month in the South Pacific”.