An Island Get-A-Way

The Kingdom of Tonga is not really an "island" nation, but a nation of "islands". There are four main island groups: Tongatapu (which includes Eua), Vava'u, Ha'apai and the Niua's. Within each of these island groups are many small, mostly uninhabited islands. As you stand on the shore of the major islands, you can often see the small islands that dot the ocean landscape. In Tonga, you really can have an island all to yourself, at least for a day. All you need is a boat to get there.

And if you live on an island, where do you go to get away? Why a smaller island of course. Friday, I made my first trip to a smaller island to celebrate my birthday. I went to the island resort of Pangamotu. Don't get confused by the term resort. It is not what most Americans would classify as a resort. They are beach fales (huts) where you can spend the night, but they have no electricity and the water comes from a cistern. The only electricity here is from a generator they use to keep the freezer and fridge running in the restaurant. Most people come for the day as it is the closest beach to Nuku'alofa. (While the capital city of Nuku'alofa is on the water, it is a port and not a beach.)

To get to the island, you get on a small boat. However, there wasn't room at the dock for the boat to dock, so we walked across another boat, to get into the launch to the island. As Peace Corps volunteers we are required to carry our own life jackets anytime we get on a boat. We followed the rules and certainly stood out as we were the only people with life jackets on the boat.

After the short one mile ride to the island, we pull up at a dock that looks as if it has seen better days. It is high tide and the dock slants toward the water. One slip and you will get wet. We walk the remainder of the way to shore, paying TOP$15 to get off the dock. That's the fee for using the island for the day. First stop, the bar, where two glasses of red wine from a box cost us TOP$17.00 or about US$8.0o a glass. Not cheap and probably the reason you are not allowed to bring your own food and drink to the island. Lunch was more affordable but features basic bar food like hamburgers and fish and chips.

The bar is in a place called Big Mama's Yacht club. It's very quaint and looks like something you would expect to find in the South Pacific. Off the deck in the water is a ship wreck. Kids take turns climbing up and diving from the top of the vessel. There are rope swings and plenty of beautiful sand beaches.

My friend Craig, who has been to Pangamotu many times before, and I decide to explore the island, finally stopping at an isolated stretch of beach where we can safely break out our contraband bottle of wine that we have smuggled onto the island. We don't get caught.

Swimming in the ocean is a pretty amazing experience here. The beaches are littered with sea shells and the ocean floor has lot of life. I pick up star fish and numerous shells with the creatures still alive inside. I even find a perfect sand dollar, still alive. We toss it all back of course, but each sweep of the hand brings a new treasure.

We headed back and then treated ourselves to pizza at one of the few pizza places in Tonga. The pizza was surprisingly good, and while we certainly overspent our Peace Corps budget for the day, it was a great way to spend my birthday.

The next night, I got a nice surprise from some of my fellow volunteers. One of the current volunteers birthday is on the 30th. They surprised the two of us by baking brownies and putting candles on it and signing Happy Birthday to both of us. The brownies were great. The mix had been shipped to Tonga in a care package from the US.

***Other News***
I may have a place to live on Vava'u once I move there at the end of February. My friend James sent me a link to some pictures he took of the house where I might live. It's not official yet but the bank manager and the Peace Corps staff have been talking about it with the landlord. The house next door is James.

Our group of 33 is still intact as we now celebrate 3 full months in Tonga. However, two people are actually out of the country for medical reasons. One was sent to the US and the other to Australia. Medical care is downright scary in Tonga and if you need anything, even a simple MRI, you are going to be sent elsewhere to have it done.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year. Thank you for reading my updates and sending me comments and e-mails !!

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