So, we swam with the local humpback whales (see part two) and the ground beneath us was still imitating the rolling waves as we arrived back to the guest house. That morning, the owner had invited us to a family feast being held in celebration of his niece visiting from Hawaii. The feast was the best food we experienced in Tonga: we drank from coconuts and were treated to octopus salad, chicken in taro leaves, fresh fish, and the privilege of being part of this private family occasion. One moment that will stay with me is when Louise, the guest of honour, was asked to give a speech and bless the food. She did so graciously, expressing our gratitude to all those who had helped prepare the meal and her happiness at being amongst the family she hadn’t seen in so long. She acknowledged family members back home who couldn’t be there, saying that she would “live this experience for them”.
“You can tie your bikes to a coconut tree”
The following day, we hired bikes so that we could ride them to Vava’u’s top tourist attraction: the botanical gardens. Or rather; a gardening enthusiast’s backyard. This was a lovely way to travel: the roads were near-empty, we could take in the countryside at our own pace, and we passed a horse whose wanger almost reached the floor. I’ll confess this is a somewhat rose-tinted version: while it was a nice way to get around, I spent the first half of the ride cursing my ineptitude with the gears, and the second half (gears finally mastered) with a terribly sore vagina.
We arrived at a beautiful beach, tied our bikes to a coconut tree as instructed by the man we’d hired them from, and sat in the café while the owner of the gardens gave us his life story: having loved the story of the Garden of Eden as a child, the gardens had been his life-long dream that he brought to fruition in his retirement. He reminded me of Rafiki from the Lion King, in the way that he swayed when he walked and had a long stick, which he kept using to point to trees.
The commentary continued as he showed us around; he told us about his friendship with the king and recounted stories from the many countries he had travelled, including a particularly embarrassing incident in India when he was laughed at for what he thought was an impressive collection of mango species. Turns out it was measly. Embarrassing.
The gardens host thousands of species (including the weeds: “I keep them”) and he admitted that it was fairly haphazard planting of an eclectic collection. My highlight in the commentary was when he was telling us about a medicinal plant he takes, and how it had helped his wife: “Every time, she was always in pain before getting her period”, he began, “now she has no pain, and it can be very embarrassing for her because she is flowing all over the furniture – she doesn’t even know it is coming!” You’re welcome.
After bidding our friend farewell and taking a swim in the picturesque bay, we begrudgingly climbed back onto our bikes. We were prepared for dealing with our sore vaginas; what we weren’t prepared for, were booby traps. What followed was reminiscent of a scene from Home Alone.
The school day was over, so as we rode through the first village, the road was lined with children playing together. How lovely, I thought. Booby trap number one: dogs. Two of them came darting at us from a front garden, barking and snarling as they proceeded to chase at our heels. There are a LOT of dogs on Tonga. Most people own several but they aren’t so much pets as a personal security system. And an efficient one at that. ADT with teeth. I’m nervous around dogs at the best of times, and despite Rose’s advice being pretty darn obvious: “Just keep pedalling, George!”, fear had been idiotically telling me the opposite until Rose’s words kicked my thighs into TURBO ACTION. I’ll be grateful until the day I die that the dogs’ owner didn’t live on a steep hill (*shudders*). The beasts eventually gave up the chase and I breathed a sweet sigh of relief, but I didn’t let my thighs know because WHAT IF THERE WERE MORE DOGS?! I pedalled all the way home as if I had E.T. in my front basket.
Second booby trap: kids. They kept trying to jump in front of us, not getting out of the way until the very last moment so that we had to swerve to avoid them.
Third booby trap: bloody kids. Little girls with a skipping rope? More like little witches with a death trap. They stretched their rope across the entire width of the road as we approached, to-ing and fro-ing as we veered from one side to another in a bid to get round them. Again, it was only at the very last moment when they finally got out of the way. Cackling their little heads off.
Fourth booby trap: f*cking little kids. Due to my turbo-charged thighs and fear of encountering more dogs, the final booby trap occurred behind me, and was relayed to me by Rose once I’d stopped somewhere that looked as dog-free as I was going to get. I’d noticed that lots of the kids had been putting their hands out at the side of the road, encouraging us to high five them. I normally would have indulged in this, but I wasn’t going to risk even a split second of one-handed instability with the dogs about. Rose, however, sweetly gave a high five back. She’s nice like that. What did the kid do? Grab her wrist and try to pull her off the bike. Thankfully they didn’t succeed, and despite my thigh-enhancing fear that we would run into more territorial dogs, we made it back without further incident. Just two sore minges; could have been worse considering what we came up against. (But actually, it was quite bad.)