Slovenians like to complain when a postcard from Rome to Ljubljana first goes through Bratislava. How in the world can postmen mistake our little country below Triglav for Slovakia? Maybe it will provide some relief to know that we’re not the only nation with this problem and that we should in fact be happy that the post intended for us remains on the same continent. Somewhere in the middle of the Pacific, between the Cook Islands and Fiji, there is a small kingdom that not many people have heard about. So it often happens that a letter sent by a lady in Los Angeles to her parents in Tonga first travels to the other side of the world, to African Togo.
The Kingdom of Tonga is the only South Pacific country that has never been colonised and it shows. It has remained pristinely Polynesian, which is interesting for tourists (admittedly few), and an endless source of frustration for those who move there and try to create something. Bureaucracy is extremely inefficient, public services are terrible and entrepreneurialism is truly rare. It seems to me that they mostly lack vision, which is why their decisions are often very short-sighted.
Of all the people from the Pacific region I’ve met so far, Tongans are the most reserved. They’re very kind, like all Polynesians, but it’s obvious they’re not used to being in contact with people different from them. It’s very hard to form deeper friendship bonds with them. After initial failed attempts I have accepted the fact that they see us as “palangi” (white people) from another planet and just want to keep a safe distance.
Tonga also differs from its neighbours in terms of economy. There is very little money on these islands. People grow taro and cassava, and fish, and for big holidays they slaughter one of the many pigs who roam freely around gardens and beaches.
The main source of income are in fact the Tongans who have emigrated and work in New Zealand or Australia and regularly send money to their families. For all public projects, from building schools and hospitals to help in natural disasters, Tonga is dependent on other countries.
Despite economic problems, the Tongans are happy people. They like celebrations (and they make a special effort when the king comes to visit), they socialise a lot and smile.
Only on Sundays is everything quiet. Tongans are very religious and the Lord’s day is—also by law—intended only for rest. All types of work are strictly forbidden, including sports activities. An acquaintance even had problems because he was caught on a bicycle on a Sunday! Some people complain (for example the owners of diving centres, who lose one day’s worth of profit), but I in fact quite like being forced to do nothing one day a week.
Tonga is an ideal destination for those who need a break because there's not much to do but lie on the beach. But, as a matter of fact, it’s best to visit it with a sailboat, either your own or a charter one. By far the most beautiful face of Tonga are its numerous uninhabited dreamy islands that we can have just to ourselves for a day or two.
I have always had a connection to the sea. Born in the coastal village of Sistiana (near Trieste) in northern Italy, my earliest memories are of watching the heavy waves slam ashore when the local winds were blowing hard. As a teenager, the sailing club became my focus – not just for my love of water sports, but also for the handsome boys that sailed there. I went on to become an Optimist instructor for the club by summer and a junior school teacher by winter. However, ten years of focusing on the needs of children dampened my maternal instincts somewhat and I felt the need to travel. The sea was the obvious way to go…