While sipping our morning tea and coffee on the balcony of our Air BnB we hear our host’s grandson screaming below us. Not like he’s distressed or anything, but just because he can, I think. We lean over the balcony to say good morning, and he replies “hello palangi” which is the best thing that’s happened to me so far today.It might be the best thing that happens all day, because we don’t have much on schedule. Our flight back to Tongatapu leaves awkwardly late at 6:50pm, and we have to check out shortly. I think there’s a limit of things to do in Vava’u especially with our backpacks on us for the rest of the day. It’s going to be a chill one. We catch a ride into town with one of Maria’s friends, and have to hold on for dear life.
We visit the market where there are rows and rows and rows of pineapples and some other goods. We chat to a woman selling jewelry and other handicrafts, who tries to sell me pearls from Tahiti. What about pearls from Tonga?
She also shows us some paintings of a Maui hook, which is a symbol from a legend that spans most of the pacific islands. The legend basically states that a man named Maui was fishing and thought he’d found a giant fish but actually pulled up land and created an island. She shakes her head and says “New Zealand thinks that Maui used the hook to pull up their land, but the true story is that he pulled up the land of Tonga”.
I don’t know how true either of those stories are, but that’s cool.
We do a lot of waiting around and keep moving locations to keep it interesting. Down on the rocks in the harbour. This cafe. That cafe. Breakfast here. Late lunch/dinner there. We share an ice cream. It’s raining again so we’re not exactly inspired to go for a big adventure.
Our final meal in Vava’u is kale sipi (coconut curry lamb), and we try another ota Ika (raw fish in coconut milk) for comparison to what we had in Tongatapu on our first night here.
They’re 8 pa’anaga each (5 NZD, 3.50 USD) and delish but the best part of the meal is when the little food truck starts blasting Mate Ma’a Tonga from their speakers. We have been chasing this beat ever since we heard it during the Tonga vs Australia game but no one could tell us the artist’s name. We ask the girls who sings it and they tell us, “Tonga!” but I need something searchable on YouTube. They show me their phone and I finally get a name: DJ Mitime ft. Stamboat – Mate Ma’a Tonga. Get into it guys. I can see she also has several other versions and remixes of the same song on her list, but this is the TUNE. One girl shouts “this is my cousin!” over the loud speaker, then play it 4 times in a row and dance in their kitchen. Best meal yet.
Finally the time comes for us to catch our flight to Tongatapu, and we arrive foolishly early, once again. We know the airport is the size of a suburban house, why did we get here an hour early? It takes us a maximum of 5 minutes to get out of our taxi and make it to the departures lounge. No line, no security, nothing. The other passengers arrive 10 minutes before departure and I wish we’d been so clever.
We make it to the other side alive and head straight to town, swinging by our hostel briefly to drop our bags. We’re curious to try this “Kentucky” which has been listed at a few restaurants. I assume it’s fried chicken, but I want to be sure. Like, why shorten it to Kentucky, when it is literally fried chicken. It’s just been named after the fast food chain which is both heart breaking and hilarious.
We find a little restaurant in town and order 1 BBQ and 1 Kentucky. The woman behind the counter proceeds to remove a pre-cooked fried chicken from a warming cabinet, sitting in a half open box that is held together by a plastic band. A blob of ketchup is already on the chicken (ruining it) and has been sitting there for lord knows how long. It is served over the same unknown “aggressively bland” vegetable that we’ve had with all of our street food meals.
It’s not great, guys. Not great. Chesney says “I am a devout believer in fried chicken… but this has been a test of my faith” while picking apart the barely- warm chicken with his hands.
Next we go to our favourite weird little bar with the party lights and slow music that we visited on our first night here. Somehow, in the last 8 days, they’ve still spruced the place up a bit. The bar is empty but there are 3 staff members on, who keep coming over to chat. One of them is a very flamboyant young guy who tells me he wants to move to Canada but is surprised when I tell him it’s cold. Then he asks me where in the United States it is. I take a deep breath. I can’t blame him for not knowing, but I’m not American! We pull out a map and show him that Canada is its own gigantic country, and he’s surprised to see Mexico is also its own country. He then talks about his time living in New Zealand, where he got married but didn’t like the way of life. He shrugs and crosses his arms and sassily states, “I just left my husband there”. We ask if he misses him and he says “ummm I miss him a little bit. He’s really hot”.
He’s the best.
A musician gets on a little stage and sits behind a keyboard. He sings covers of pop songs, and takes a minute to dedicate a song to “the couple from Canada at the back” (we are the only people in the bar) and plays I Can’t Help but Falling in Love, by Elvis. Our waiter is slow grinding on the dance floor.
Later he plays a song that starts off chill, playing strings on one hand on the keyboard, and steel drums with the other, but kicks it into high gear with the reggae equivalent of a drop.
We order a glass of Tongan whiskey. It is clear and reeks of rubbing alcohol. Goodbye to my vision.
After a couple pints we think it’s a good idea to go to one of the more hoppin’ bars across the street. I think this is the local club, because there are security guards and everything. One guy is off his face wasted, falling over, and dancing on the floor but no one seems fussed. There’s not a big drinking culture in Tonga because of the religiousness I assume, so it’s strange to see so many drunk people. Partying has not been the theme of this trip. We make friends with a guy at the bar who demonstrates some traditional Tongan dancing, but to club music, and Chesney tries to convince the DJ to play our favourite remix of Mate Ma’a Tonga that we got the name of at lunch, but he never does.