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essays | places


sandy drops in the ocean



Fafa / Tonga  · 2009   Eden arrival



   I had never heard of Tonga and if you have, you’re probably dreaming. You could count the tourists without counting. Fiji, sure. Samoa, of course. But Tonga? Tonga was the archipelago next door.

The Bed & Breakfast was more bed than breakfast, but the meager morning provision – toast and jam, a fruit here and there – was served with a full plate of sweet and sticky tunes: Piano Man, Hotel California, all sorts of generic treasures from the 70s and neighboring eras. Always put me in the mood for a day. And every day felt like a day in this kingdom, the only island group in the South Pacific that had kept its sovereignty no matter who came knocking.

Fueled by fresh coconut water and the most savory peanuts that ever crossed my tongue, we bounced across Tongatapu like two bouncy balls, from one mini-destination to the next: lava cliffs, overexcited blowholes, a baby Stonehenge, a beach where I napped so blissfully that I can still feel the melody today.

And then there were the other islands, cheeky little things, peeking out of the waters around Nuku‘alofa. Fafa, Pangaimotu, What Have You. Now those were exactly what they sounded like: little white discs with green hats on turquoise velvet.  


a glimpse

Store in the countryside of Tongatapu, Tonga
House in the countryside of Tongatapu, Tonga

Tongatapu / Tonga  · 2009   yellow shop



Tongatapu / Tonga  · 2009   curtain door



What a trick, how vegetation takes hold anywhere, even on a sliver of sand in the middle of the ocean.

Fafa / Tonga  · 2009   between blues


Tongatapu / Tonga  · 2009   chocolate cliffs

places / stories

Fafa / Distilled Remoteness


Fafa / Tonga  · 2009   smiland



Fafa / Tonga  · 2009   bent over backwards to impress



Fafa / Tonga  · 2009   thin water


A tiny drop of sand in the Ocean, somewhere in the vast Pacific nowhere, Fafa was distilled remoteness. But there isn't a nook in this world where you don't find Germans. They ran a resort and it didn't leave you wondering why they had left home for good.



Fafa / Tonga  · 2009   blonde fringe


Fafa / Tonga  · 2009   to be a guest in paradise


Pangaimotu / Octopus & Snake


Pangaimotu / Tonga  · 2009   sweeping the sky


To waddle into the water with fins on your feet really made you look like the tourist you were. One time, I almost stepped on a striped creature, which was either a very venemous sea snake or a very harmless eel. Another time, I almost stepped on an octopus. I didn't know that at the time though. All I knew was that suddenly a blackish-violet cloud formed in the shallow water around my calfs and that a mild panick seemed to arise from down there. With my thoughts ricocheting ailmlessly through my skull, the most sensical hypothesis I found in there was that a shark had taken a good bite out of me and that I was standing in my own blood in shock. But that wasn't it. So I put on my goggles to have a look what was going on down there and saw the tiny fella – no more than a handful – take off in a hurry.



Pangaimotu / Tonga  · 2009   totaled


Tongatapu / Eden Comedown


Tongatapu / Tonga  · 2009   asphalt crater



Tongatapu / Tonga  · 2009   rockhole



Tongatapu / Tonga  · 2009   ocean sneeze


Tongatapu / Tonga  · 2009   captaining


Tongatapu / Tonga  · 2009   TOKO 5



Tongatapu / Tonga  · 2009   front yard store 


Tongatapu, the archipelago’s centerpiece, home to the capital Nuku‘alofa, and base for our little expedition party of two, wasn’t exactly Eden and had you plummet back down to Earth from whatever heights your tourism appetite would reach. No cocaine-colored beaches, no psychedelic turquoise in the water. It was a good reminder that even paradise has realities. And this here was a poor paradise.



Tongatapu / Tonga  · 2009   fire red



Tongatapu / Tonga  · 2009   family kingdom



Tongatapu / Tonga  · 2009   batmen



Tongatapu / Tonga  · 2009   miniature airport





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