Thursday, June 24, 2010

The forgotten island

The island I live on is not-so-affectionately known in Tonga as "the forgotten island" because, well, it tends to get left out a lot when people are talking about the islands. Guidebooks routinely leave it out, even the Tongan government seems to occasionally "forget" about 'Eua. It doesn't seem to bother 'Euanis (?) however, for the most part they seem to like being left alone. Tonga is pretty off the beaten South Pacific track, and 'Eua is off the beaten track, even for Tonga. We don't get a ton of tourists out here, but the ones that do come are always stunned by the untouched natural beauty of the place. Recently there was an article about Tonga in the Air New Zealand in-flight magazine, and the guy that wrote the article made it out to 'Eua and ended up writing nearly the entire article just about 'Eua which we all thought was pretty cool.

Flying into 'Eua you can see one road running nearly the length of the island, flanked by scattered villages and cultivated bush plots, and the rest is just...green.

We're on winter break here, and I got to spend the last two days showing a volunteer from a different island group and a few of her buddies around the island a bit. The first day we went on a trek to the North end of the island. We started out in a towering pine forest, then got spit out on a bluff that drops 200 feet to a secluded beach cove. We walked along the cliff for twenty minutes then found the "whale tail" tree trunk that indicated it was time to scale over the edge of the cliff and get down to the beach. There was a small opening between two huge chunks of limestone which we passed through, then began our descent. On the way down there were sections in which we had to scale down rock faces holding onto a rope, climb through caves, and scramble over tree trunks. It was a blast. Right as we got to the bottom we passed through a huge cave with stalagmites, stalactites, and other cave-y stuff. The beach was another treasure altogether; we were the only ones there and enjoyed hopping along the rocks, exploring the tide pools, and, well, just being on a deserted beach in the middle of the South Pacific.

The next day we set off on another trek, this one taking us along the East coast of the island. Our first stop was a giant banyan tree, which was pretty impressive from ground level, but then we climbed down into a cave below the tree which was stunning. To get out we climbed the roots of the tree back to ground level. Really fun stuff. We then set off uphill for about a half an hour, climbing to the ridge that runs all along the East coast of 'Eua. Once up on the ridge we walked along the trail, which had gotten pretty torn up during the previous hurricane season. We climbed over, under, and sometimes even through fallen trees. I was pretty impressed with the group, they had a great attitude and loved the adventure of it. We came to a hole in the ground. We went in. the hole was a small cave that led to another hole that we dropped down into and found ourselves in a cave on the face of a cliff, overlooking the protected rainforest and ocean. All we could do was laugh, incredulous at the beauty, and say, "Man, life is good." We pulled ourselves out and got back on the trail where, before too long we came across a wooden platform that again looked over the East coast of the island, the rainforest, and the Pacific. Again, just an incredible view. We watched the acrobatic birds playing in the drafts above the canopy far below us. Our last stop of the day was another lookout, not too different from the first lookout, equally as breathtaking. The trek back we again had to wade through thick underbrush and many, many fallen trees, but nothing could dampen our spirits and we tightrope walking on the fallen tree trunks and navigating the especially tricky obstacles.

Both of these hikes were ones I had been on many, many times before, but taking new visitors out to see them for the first time always reminds me of how very special they are. I literally get giddy when I get to show new people these places, and I'm not exactly a giddy person. And it's always rewarding when they enjoy the adventure and appreciate how special this island is. It really is like a giant, natural, outdoor playground.

Speaking of special islands: Lost. They are in Tonga, they have to be. They were traveling from Australia to LA, turned around to land in Fiji, got off course and ended up west of Fiji: Tonga. I haven't seen much of the show, but from what I have seen, the scenery looks very similar to 'Eua. So I'm just expecting that one of these days, on one of these hikes I will run into a polar bear.

After lamenting (again) about how wonderful this island is, I should say that I have made the decision not to extend for a third year here. There were a lot of factors that went into the decision, but what it came down to is that, come December, it will be time for me to move on. But I still have five months until then!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

80 minutes of live world cup soccer!

"But why only 80 minutes?" You might ask. Well, let me tell you. We were watching illegally in the first place- it started at 7:30 am Sunday morning here, and Sunday sabbath is strictly adhered to in Tonga* Across the street from my village there is an agricultural college which has a handful of students from Vanuatu. Apparently soccer is very popular in Vanuatu, and these guys scrounged up a little television and hooked up digital cable for a month just to watch the World Cup (awesome, right?). The one downside is that the games are shown at 12:30, 3:30, and 7:30...AM! But the World Cup only comes around once every four years...So a few other volunteers and I were up early Sunday morning to catch the USA-ENG game thinking it would finish just in time to get ready and get to church on time. The guy in charge of the TV was a little reluctant to let us watch in the first place, given that it was Sunday, and once the first church bells started ringing at 9, he told us it was time to turn it off. Church didn't actually start for another 55 minutes, there was 10 minutes left in the game and the score was tied 1-1. It was pretty painful, but we pulled the plug on the TV and went to get ready for church.

I woke up this morning with about 12 cockroaches in my sink, so, not knowing what else to do, I just turned the water on full-blast. Then I thought, "Hey! It's like I'm water boarding them! How very American of me! Maybe I'll fit in when I go home after all!" So that was really comforting for about two minutes until I actually thought about it.

I walked across the island to my favourite beach yesterday, and every single person I passed along the way knew my name. Pretty cool, except when they all know you skipped afternoon church to walk to the beach and you went to painstaking lengths to get out of your village without being spotted.

I'm listening to Tongan radio right now and this song just came on that goes:

"LA International Airport!
LA International Airport!" Over and over.

Never heard that one before, but I liked it.


*Just a few examples of illegal activities I've participated in on Sunday:

- Picking fruit from a tree to eat
- Swimming
- Reading a book (and not THE book)
- Playing my ukulele

I'm such a rebel I can hardly stand it

Here are the things you CAN do on Sunday:

-Go to church
-Eat
-Sleep


Here's a quick sampling of a Tongan song. I know it's sideways, I couldn't figure out how to turn it upright. Turning your head to the side works well though.


video

Friday, June 4, 2010

My kids' opinion of me is WAY too high

I was teaching night school the other evening- a lesson on reading comprehension when we came across a sentence they didn't understand, something along the lines of, "The magic trick was astonishing." There isn't a great Tongan translation of the word "astonish," so I showed them a simple slieght-of-hand magic trick and told them they would be astonished. Unfortunately it kind of backfired on me.

At the beginning of the trick I tolf them I would memorize the order of all the cards in the deck, then when they told me to stop at a certain point as I shuffled through the deck I would be able to tell the the exact card I stopped at without looking because I had "memorized" the entire deck (in about 15 seconds)- astonishing, right?

I performed the trick. They didn't seem very impressed. I showed them again. Certainly not astonished.

I thought about how they could possibly not be impressed with this trick. I thought and thought about it, then...was it possible? Could it be? I asked them if they thought I really memorized the entire deck (in order, in 15 seconds).

"Yes," they replied matter-of-factly, of course I did. And it didn't even surprise them that I could do that. I wasn't sure quite where to go from there.