We have moved to paradise!
Ok, we were already here but now we have moved out of jungle camp and into Fofoa Cabin. Now we have the luxury of dry space, a large deck looking out to sea, separate bedrooms, showers, and power (solar and genie), and best of all; water on tap. We are taking nothing for granted and feel very lucky to be here. Fofoa cabin sits on the outer edge of the blue lagoon, and so looks straight out to big ocean and seven other islands scattered in the distance.
Who else makes up this tiny community of Fofoa? Well, actually on the island there are now 5 houses. We are now in one, the Von Engelbrechtens are in Happy Api, and next door to them are Elkie and Werner, the islands longest established residents. They are an impressive fairly self sufficient older German couple (Werner is in his 70’s) who have been here 14 years. They’ve seen a lot of changes of course and talk about times when the coral was good and the reef was teeming with life. They arrived on a yacht that they continued to live aboard for many years, then they built a basic ‘fale’ (a traditional Tongan hut made with woven pandanus leaves) as their first land based home, and finally they have built their current simple home. It’s beautifully made, unusually from moulded concrete, and has some special touches like coloured windows made from glass bottles. They have a wonderful productive garden full of fruit trees they’ve planted over the years.
In the middle of the island is Sonny’s house. It’s bizarrely an old bakery built by Germans back in the 90’s and is now surrounded by bits of old machinery and a large plantation of Taro, pineapple, and mango trees. The taro are a staple root in Tonga, unfortunately totally tasteless, but look amazing with their huge elephant ear leaves. Sonny and his son Raymond work on the plantation there but don’t stay in the house full time, preferring the more sociable community of Hunga village. Sonny is a lovely old guy who sometimes comes and sits with us, smoking strong local tobacco over broken conversation.
The 5th house on the island is now abandoned and beginning to fall down. It sits on the other side of the island above a little beach overlooking Hunga lagoon. It’s an intriguing place that must have been lovely once – another broken dream it wasn’t lived in for long – and is now for sale if anyone wants to embark on their own south pacific dream
Across the lagoon, facing Fofoa, is Feleti’s place, a small ‘resort’ made of huts he’s built perched along the beach. Feleti sounds like quite a character, a tempestuous man who seems to have fallen out with many and prefers to keep to himself. He has sometimes not left the island for 2 years at a time, isolation peace or pain I’m not sure. He is married to a strong Tongan woman, and has 3 lovely, and very sociable sons who help run the resort. They are great whale guides due to their wealth of local knowledge, and I’m sure are charming hosts to all their guests. We washed up at Feletis’ once when we’d ran out of fuel in the dinghy in a storm. He did help us out, but sadly we never got to know him, or felt welcome to return.
The small community of expats here also extends to those few that live on Hunga. There’s Barry and Cindy from Canada, 2 years into building their home, and New Zealanders Steve and Caroline who’ve been running Ikha Lahi, a fishing lodge on Hunga lagoon. After 17 long years they have finally sold up and are moving on. Caroline is a remarkable strong woman with epic tales of the early days; hurricanes and droughts, how little food was available and how she had to learn quickly to run a busy kitchen serving high quality food. Steve is an expert on all things Marlin, and holds a record for number of blue marlin caught – mainly tagged and released. He has just released a beautiful book resulting from years of extensive research on marlin fishing in the South Pacific. Finally there is Kiwi Sherri and Tongan Niue, who originally met in London but returned to his home village of Hunga to bring up the kids. They live right in the heart of the village, the kids are bilingual, and Sharri teaches in the primary school.
All these people are so diverse with a wide range of ages and interests, but in our short time here I can see how much they mean to each other. Unlikely friends, they offer support and community in this isolation, and come together for birthday gatherings or special occasions. What they all have in common is a sense of adventure, something of a pioneering spirit. They relish the challenges that this simple off grid island living requires, and are happy to learn a simpler way of living.
My only regret being here is my lack of contact with Tongans themselves. This is mostly because of the nature of where we are and our lack of a boat. We do know Sonny, and we know Soane and his family, a Tongan guy who works for everyone around here and has a plantation on Fofoa. He’s from Hunga village nearby and is really our only link with any Tongan locals – he usually comes to any motley gatherings with his wife and kids. The first social event we went to was round at Sue and Morts, here in Fofoa cabin. The warmth, light and laughter was a welcome change from our quiet camp nights. It was easy finding our way there along the jungle paths, I was more impressed by the tenacity of the others coming from Hunga. Bobbing headtorches they gradually emerged from the dark waters in a selection of kayaks or dinghys, smiling and happy to be part of this tiny unusual community.