Malo e lelei: Special welcome in Tonga Paradise
A dot in the Pacific Ocean, a remote paradise destination, far away from civilization surrounded by endless blue seas. People are wearing woven mats as skirts and directions are based upon “the next coconut tree”. This is the kingdom of Tonga: Where time begins and time stood still. I thought that this was ultimate paradise. This is an understatement. This travel experience goes beyond everything I ever imagined paradise to be.
I was recommended to go on Sunday, the day that all the locals hang out there. A short boat ride from the main island I arrived at one of the 176 little islands of Tonga, the island of Paigamotu. It appeared to be the perfect paradise getaway with white sand palm fringed beaches, good snorkeling and a relaxing atmosphere. I stepped out of the boat and looked up. I was awaited by the countries’ famous body build team. A group of 18 sexy Tongan bodybuilders were welcoming me with their songs, dances, and smiles. They were wearing tiny shorts and had decorated themselves with the leaves of a palm tree. THIS was Paradise!
Before I took off to Tonga I had learned that this nation is one of the most obese in the world, with 90% obesity. The fatter you are, the more status you have. I encountered the exception to the rule. What made the day extraordinary was not just the welcome by the sexiest men of the friendly islands. It was the mixture of Tongan children, fisherman, bodybuilders and the few travelers, having a genuine good time all together. That day we played beach games, joked about our culture differences, shared food, laughed and took many photo’s of each other. Where in many places in the world everyone else runs to catch the time, we were simply being on ‘Tongan Island Time’. Not many cultures are still so much intact as the Tongan culture, which makes it one of the most genuine destinations to experience. The friendliness of the people just cannot be beaten. No wonder why Captain James Cook dubbed the Kingdom of Tonga the “Friendly Islands.” This Palangi (person from the sky in Tonga language) was very fortunate to get to know the Tongan way of life.
I was in Tonga as part of the Pacific Tourism – Climate Adaptation Project, a project led by Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia. I was researching about the Tongan tourism sector and it’s vulnerability and adaptation to climate change. I’ve published the results in Sage journal of Tourism Hospitality and Research. The article is named: Tourism destinations’ vulnerability to climate change: Nature-based tourism in Vava’u, the Kingdom of Tonga[booking_pluginbox id=”3397″]