The Friendly Island

One of the most fun parts of travelling is the growing collection of stamps in your passport. Unfortunately you don’t get that many in Europe due to the Schengen Agreement, but outside Europe… oh la la! The more stamps you have, the higher you are in the ranking of ‘world travellers’. In my old passport I had scraped a bunch of stamps from Canada, America, England and a few European countries. We simply asked the custom service. When my passport expired I had to go  to the municipality to renew it and I had to hand it in: bye souvenirs!

My current passport will expire in four years but I’ll definitely keep it. Why? Because I can show off with one of the most exotic stamps which put me in a higher position on the ‘world-travellers’- ranking: The Kingdom of Tonga. The smallest kingdom on earth and the first country to see the sun rise.

As you might know, I’m doing an internship at the New Zealand Writer’s Guild till February. New Zealand is not so far away from pacific islands such as Samoa and Fiji. That is why we (a group of 8) decided to take the one-in-a-lifetime-opportunity and go on a five day trip to Tonga. If you are already on the other side of the world anyway…

The island Tonga lies north east from New Zealand and south from Samoa. “It points to the ocean”, said one of my friends when she had looked it up on Google Maps. True story: Tonga is really small. It has multiple islands (52, to be precise) but the main and biggest island is Tongatapu, which is about 260 km2: that is about 10 times smaller than Limburg. So when I say small, I really mean small and it also means that you have seen everything –  really everything – in less than a day: The stonehenge, dating back to 1200 AD: the underground swimming pool in a cave: the capital Nuku’alofa: the Royal palace and its tomb… don’t miss the unique palm tree with three branches – the only one in the world! I can die in peace now. Or lie on the beach first. Or crack a coconut. Or pick some bananas.

You probably won’t spend all your savings for an exotic stamp and a 48 hour flight to see this. Especially if you can’t survive without your hair spray, internet, warm water or smooth rides we were transported in a van with plastic folding chairs in the trunk; zigzagging between the coconuts which were scattered all over the road. Neither if you want to improve your English because people just don’t speak it: They speak Tongan which has some unpronounceable phrases such as Fakamolemole toe tala mai” Please say that again.

When I asked one of my travel friends what his favourite bit of the trip was, he said: “The culture, definitely the culture.” I have to agree with him: I can’t really compare it to other cultures I’ve seen. The island has never been colonized by any other country and that might be the reason why everything is so ‘real’. Sometimes it looked like time stood still in Tonga: clocks were almost nowhere to be found and if so, the time was incorrect or they were out of battery. The island created its own time and space and lived by the rising of the sun: I’ve never seen a moon shining so bright as in Tonga.

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