All good things have to come to an end. Bros broke up, Ship 2 Shore ended, and now my travels through the Pacific Islands are done and dusted. I woke up early to watch the sun rise over the waters of Vava’u, Tonga, then packed my bags and got out of there.
During the short taxi drive through the palm trees, I had time to think back on the weird and wonderful people I’ve met on this trip. Sleeping Beauty, who kept me up all night (for all the wrong reasons) in Apia. The Italian sheila in Lalomanu, who I would’ve liked to have kept me up all night. Ross and Maria, who took me into their home and fed me. Henry, the heavily-tattooed homo, who’s also one of the most fascinating men I’ve ever met. Jojo and the other boys in Fiji, who shared their kava with e and gave me a glimpse of what it’s like to live in extreme poverty. Captain Frabiatore, who invited me to his home and was hurt when I turned him down to spend the night in a roach-infested hell-hole (sorry, mate). Papiloa the renegade newspaper editor. The ladies from the Chinese restaurant, who took me on the town and got me so drunk I woke up on the floor. And the boys from last night, who welcomed me into their home and allowed me to watch the football with them.
Sure, the Pacific Islands are about beaches and snorkelling and sun and all that, but the true appeal is in the people, who are warm and wonderful, simple and quirky, honest and strong. If you’re going to come to Samoa or Tonga (or Fiji, really) and stay in a resort, you’re doing it wrong. There are so many lovely families here who would love to have you stay, and all for such a low price. It’s the hospitality that sets the Islands apart from anywhere else I’ve been.
As it turns out, Real Tonga did let me on the plane, and when I got back to Fuaʻamotu International Airport, I found that it was strangely empty. They only get about 15 flights in and out a week, and I was bit early, so I sat in the vacant airport, reading and listening to music. Eventually some other people rolled in, and before I knew it I was on the plane, ready to leave. I wish I had longer out here.
I was looking out the window at the swaying palm trees, preparing for takeoff, when the plane started to shake. I looked up to see a mountain of a man crashing down the aisle. He was at least 160kg, with rolls of fat slinging from side to side as he moved, and I closed my eyes and prayed that he wasn’t sitting next to me. God must’ve been in the toilet or something, because the big fella stopped next to me, checked his ticket, then gave me a huge smile. “Guess we’re plane buddies,” he chuckled, then squeezed in next to me.
I was pushed up against the window as his blubber oozed into my seat, and I was about to hotfoot it over to the emergency door and escape back to paradise. How could I possibly sit next to this walking heart attack for the next five hours? I was getting crushed, like an abandoned baby in a garbage truck! And then the plane rattled and hummed, and we took to the air, and Tonga was nothing but a fading blotch in a big, blue sea.
And then everything got better.
“Hey, want some chicken?” asked the big fella, waving a delicious-looking drumstick in my face. “I’ve got plenty.” He opened up a bag and there was about 10kg of chicken in there, along with a variety of beautiful Tongan foods. I took a bite of the chicken and danced on my tongue, and we got stuck into it while guzzling beer and talking about football. Turns out Feleti is a great bloke and after a few hours, when the beer and chicken had worked its magic, I nestled into his fat rolls and went to sleep.
And that, my friends, is the story of my trip to Samoa, Fiji and Tonga.