Monday, August 11, 2008


Tonga is a country of no street numbers, or even street names. You literally direct people using landmarks such as churches, trees, and/or the colour of buildings (ie, "take the first right before the Mormon college, past the green house on your right, and turn left at the pig..."). This leads to a very different way of perceiving spatial arrangements. For Tongans, they always know where they are. The main island of Tongatapu is only 34 km across, after all! For palangi (foreigners), however, it can be a little confusing.

My boss, the head of Tourism, has recently gone on the signage warpath, which is great, because it means that many turn-offs are now posted, enabling tourists to find their way around with greater ease. Please note though that I said "many turn-offs...", and bear with me as I tell you a little story...

One Friday, when the entire Kingdom had the day off in honour of the King's coronation, two resident AYADs decided to go for a bike ride, just a little explore, nothing major. So they set off at around 4pm, as the day was cooling down, taking nothing much with them as it was only going to be a little ride after all. The two girls soon found themselves on a familiar road, going out to a popular site known as the Blowholes (a 500m stretch of coastline where, at the right time of tide, the ocean hits the coral cliffs and shoots up in impressive columns). One of the girls - let's call her Isa - had driven out this way several times for work purposes, and thought it would be a jolly idea to continue along to the Blowholes, a suggestion which was met with enthusiasm by her travel companion. After all, it wasn't that far away from where they found themselves, so why not!

So, the two girls dutifully followed the signs, and though Isa recalled the work drivers always going straight when the sign pointed right, she assumed that it was just a short-cut. As the sign clearly pointed to the right it seemed that following the sign was the best way to prevent getting lost.

Oh laugh, ye innocents! After continuing along that road for quite some time (neither girl had a map, hadn't thought it necessary), past the massive Mormon temple topped by it's golden trumpeter,

past the three-headed coconut tree

(and, unwittingly, past every possible turn-off to the Blowholes), the girls reached a small villiage. Being female, the girls were not averse to asking for directions, however when their initial answer was a laugh, they knew something was up.

Turns out NONE of the turn-offs to the Blowholes along that road were signposted, despite it being the road that the initial sign pointed them down. The turn-off was only marked on the OTHER road, the one that only the work drivers (and every other Tongan person) knew about!

Thankfully a local farmer took pity on the girls, gave them directions, and then followed behind them in his car to ensure they didn't take another wrong turn. So two hours after setting out, the two girls arrived at the Blowholes, happy with their achievemenets, and laughing at their errors.

The first problem the girls encountered was the fact that it was now after 6pm, and neither one had lights for her bike. A taxi was considered, however after watching a taxi driver finish off one stubby of VB, launch it out the window, and crack another one as he drove off, the girls thought - perhaps not. The trip was decided to be gotten underway quickly. However, a few short metres after beginning the homeward trip, they encountered their second problem, when the bike chain of our second intrepid AYAD made a disturbing CLUNK sound, and refused to go any further. The plan to ride home was aborted.

But how then to get home? Isa carried her wallet but no mobile, and her companion had a mobile but no credit and no money. Luckily this was not a bad combination, and credit was soon purchased at a small falekoloa (like a corner shop). But, given the Public Holiday nature of the day, not a single taxi was running out of Nuku'alofa!

At this point in the narrative, when all seems lost, we present the Deus ex machina, in the form of a shining angel named Sita. Sita had grown up in Australia, and retained her Aussie twang as she approached the two girls in the dusk and asked "Is everything ok?" The situation was quickly explained, and then Sita came through with the goods - she had a friend who drove a flatbed truck, who could come and get the girls and drive them back to town - oh joy!

So four and a half hours after setting out for "a short ride", our two plucky heroines returned from their adventure, having ridden to the Blowholes via the villiage of Matahau, giving much mirth to the locals who could not believe the two silly palangis had actually gotten lost - ha ha ha, fancy that!

Suffice to say, a quick word was had with The Boss, and after he'd stopped laughing he agreed that perhaps yes, a sign might be a good idea. But just in case, if you're ever in Tonga and you want to ride out to the Blowholes - take the road out of town, past the King's Villa, turn right at the petrol station, then continue on until you get to a really big sign that indicates the Blowholes on the right. IGNORE that sign, and go straight, take the next right, and keep going until you pass a blue falekoloa on the right, taking the next left. And if you get into trouble, just ask for Sita!

1 comment:

Dash said...

hahaha! I'm loving your style!

But it must have been worth it for that photo at the end!