Communiqués From Geezerville: Via Tongatapu in the Kingdom of Tonga
Corie Skolnick’s latest Communiqués From Geezerville “Via Tongatapu in the Kingdom of Tonga” has her reflecting on her trip to Tonga in light of the recent volcanic eruption.
Dateline: Geezerville, January 15, 2022.
Word of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano eruption reached Geezerville around nine a.m. via iPhone alert. A tsunami warning for all coastal areas of the Pacific West Coast is no joke. G-ville is a few miles inland but still at sea level. Facebook alerted me that a friend was evacuating from the Berkeley, California, marina neighborhood because of flooding and extremely high tides. Pickleball games were canceled, and high anxiety commenced.
According to this recent Big Smoke article, the eruption, forty miles away from the largest Tongan island, was so intense it caused the entire planetary atmosphere to ring like a bell. The actual sound of the eruption was heard a thousand miles away. I couldn’t help but think about the time I spent on Tonga and the lovely, dear people there.
Note to self: don’t forget to send the Red Cross a little something-something for relief efforts asap.
Reprinted with permission from Desto3.com (March 2014) with great fondness and hope for a speedy recovery for the Tongan people from Geezerville.
Oh, good lord. How many mosquito bites can one girl get? Fuckers. Two applications of industrial-strength DEET and the bastards are biting me through my clothes. (Michigan redux for those of you who were lucky enough to receive my communiqués from America a few years back when a certain someone watched the state of MI variety bite me through my bike shorts! Through lycra for chrissakes!)
Someone, please inform me: What earthly purpose do mosquitos serve? Food for the bats, I guess? Speaking of which, yesterday on our car tour of the island of Tongatapu (the main island of the Kingdom of Tonga) we stopped to admire a couple of trees full of fruit bats hanging from high branches. Biggest bats you’ve ever seen. Wingspan about 25 inches give or take. Big mothers.
I guess they get that big because they are feasting on all the g-d mossies. (FYI, “mossies” is island speak for mosquitos as if they are fond of the useless mofos. Me? I do not use a sweet-sounding diminutive for an insect you can barely see yet has the power to keep you up all night long scratching like a meth addict.) Yes, you might be of the opinion that a bat-filled tree shouldn’t really qualify as an E-ticket attraction on a national tour, but honestly? It was kind of great. Not killer whales great, or herds of elephants great, but somehow reassuring that somebody out there is devouring those goddamned mosquitos by the gajillions.
One of the truisms (and sometimes an advantage) of traveling on the “shoulder” season, especially at the end of the “high” season, is that things are quite a bit more relaxed. Things and personnel.
You should expect that facilities will display a bit of delayed maintenance here and there. At most tourist destinations, there are fewer travelers around (a good thing generally), but that can mean a reduction in staff and in some cases a reduction in service. Not a big deal if you’re talking about menu selections (“Sorry, but we are all out of everything on the menu except grilled fish and roasted breadfruit for the foreseeable future, i.e., the duration of your stay.”) but a very big deal if you’re talking about a breakdown of your twin-engine motorboat transport from Atata to Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu, when headed for your return flight back to Fiji. Word of imminent disaster spreads fast on a motorboat that is about the size of my hot tub in Oak Park.
Picture me and Pablo (and five Tongans), mid-Pacific, down one engine and the other one starts to whine like I’ve been known to when the chardonnay isn’t cold enough. All of the adult Tongans (there is one baby aboard) are talking loudly and excitedly on five different cell phones. The only word I can make out is “Americans.” There is no laughter. I have learned this one true thing about Tonga. If nobody’s laughing, it’s time to worry.
Anxiety is contagious on a small boat. Our anxiety was (stupidly) about missing our flight. The Tongans, it was to be revealed, were more concerned about losing the one remaining sickly motor completely and drifting into the reef where the rocky shoals would surely punch a hole in the bottom of the boat. (During the crossing, the “captain”—a shoeless teenager—steers with one barefoot while standing up on the seat, rather like a flamingo, to look out for hole-punching rocks sticking up out of the sea. This should have been a clue to the peril, but alas—or maybe luckily, depending on your preferences—we were clue-LESS.)
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Eventually, it was conveyed that the “engineer” was on his way out from where we had just departed, to reconnoiter and “repair” the engine. The “engineer” is the one guy on the island who can repair anything, and he does. He is the plumber (fixer of toilet stoppages and leaks), the electrician (fixer of ceiling fans), and now the nautical engineer (boat fixer). He caught up with us in another boat (this one the size of a large-ish bathtub) and after a hasty discussion, which included all highly agitated Tongans, one of the girls abruptly decamped to the smaller vessel with her luggage and a few other leaking parcels containing fish. I supposed that they were reducing the load in our boat to prevent us from sinking but, not for the first time, I supposed wrong. Part of the Tongan’s concern, (the lion’s share, I might add) was that she was going to miss her ferry to another small island. That was the crisis. The secondary issue was the Americans and their itinerary.
So, as our “rescue” vessel steered toward the mainland, one rather hefty young Tongan woman standing mid-ship holding aloft an umbrella—did I mention it was pouring down raining?—I did have to fall in love with the Tongans (again) a little bit for the obvious deep concern that they feel for each other. It is a culture that truly is all for one and one for all.
The boat transporting the Americans limped into the harbor a little late, but well within time to catch our last Tongan meal at the very wonderful Friends Café and also have a whole other adventure which can be summed up thusly:
Why Leaving Your Luggage in the Back of a Taxi in Tonga to Go Toddling Off in Search of Cappuccino Is A VERY BAD IDEA.
Help the Red Cross help Tonga.