The Escalating Escapade

After one week of being witness to the many deviations of tourism, having inflatables with 50hp engines zipping around Aluna at breakneck speeds, listening to thumping loudspeakers all night long, seeing load after load of cheap thrill seekers shipped out amongst dive tanks strapped to the railings, watching innumerable clones of the same kind of motorboat with a funny stick on it motor downwind out of the harbor mouth (the only times I have seen them with their sails unfurled on their funny stick is in the charter company’s brochure), and being harassed for the nth time by some poor local trying to land yet another dubious sale on a palangi, we’ve had enough, and once the wind had backed from some nasty Westerlies to the South and was due to continue doing so to the steady South Easterlies of trade wind fame, we raised the anchor and had some fun tacking up the long harbor basin to see if amongst the probably over a hundred moored and anchored boats were to be found some adorable exceptions to the fancy fiberglass production yacht with radar and satellite phone domes (there were, more on that later). Then Aluna spread her sails wing to wing and we sped out the narrow harbor mouth, sailed half way around the 130 Meters high table shaped Mount Talau and up into the lonely Bay of Fangaliki due North of it.

It took a couple rounds of exploring to find a suitable patch of sand between the many coral heads strewn over the seafloor to drop our anchor into, but the search was well worth it. We’re now looking up at a wall of green, tropical jungle from which a different kind of music emanates, the songs and screeching sounds of birds. Towards the South it drops down to the water and tapers off in an overhanging canopy grazed flat from underneath by the rising and falling seawater. This headland just spares our view from including the rusty ruins of a short iron bridge that used to join the two portions of a causeway crossing the mouth of yet another long and narrow lagoon. Yesterday late afternoon, after having assured ourselves that the hook was holding Aluna securely, we paddled around that headland and along the causeway to the other side of that lagoon, where the road is supposed to lead into town from this side of the woods. Around crumbling pieces of the old bridge’s rusty remains construction machinery was busy extending the causeway with freshly quarried limestone blocks carried there on old trucks. We had seen those big trucks before. All day long you could see them speeding through the town of Neiafu at break neck speed like a rolling thunder, stacked high with enormous boulders on their gingerly propped up bins with no tailgates whatsoever. Now we knew their purpose.

While landing Alunita and pulling her up the coral rubble beach, a compact group of sharply dressed what from afar looked like school kids in uniform was returning from a stroll to the construction site. They did walk a bit too stiffly for being kids and approaching them we realized they were all of Asian complexity. A little chatting revealed that they were a team of Chinese engineers employed with rebuilding the bridge. “So there must be quite a good deal of cooperation between China and the Kingdom of Tonga!” I asked the round-faced Chinaman who appeared to be the leader of the pack. “Between China and world!” was the proud response. We continued walking up the street together and got absorbed in their tight formation. My inquiry about taking our sailboat to China, a vast, mostly unexplored cruising ground (maybe the last one there is and it won’t be long!) was met with an enthusiastic invitation. “Yes, you should come! Although Chinese people are not like you Europeans, they don’t go out on the water. They like to live on land!” My hints at the famous Chinese junks were to no avail but the invitation stood. Soon we parted and our short but friendly encounter came to an end. They headed off, still tightly groomed and grouped, down a little side road towards a wire fenced campus of high-tech bungalows, complete with a set of brightly colored flags fluttering in the wind and shiny solar water heaters on the roofs.

We continued our stroll uphill towards town, chasing two ever longer shadows that mimicked our moves with plenty of longitudinal distortion. Soon the sun was setting behind us and we decided to turn around so as to get back aboard before nightfall. We had seen some of the local black and white striped sea snakes curling through the water and Beatriz was terrified to step on one in the dark. They are said to be poisonous, but are deemed harmless due to their fangs being set back way inside their mouths. I guess you would have to stick your little finger down their throats if you really wanted to look for trouble. The front yard of a house along the road was filled with a series of tables equipped with racks and plastic covers. “What is it you’re doing here?” Beatriz investigated. “We’re drying Kava”, was the diligent response of the gentleman on the lawn. Across the fence and over the broad head of a salivating dog I could see the light brown rounds of Kava root and the twisted bundles of bark spread out on the tabletops, ready to be covered up for the night. “It is for human consumption. That’s what people do here in the afternoon”, was added as a cautionary explanation. Once dried and pounded into a fine powder this derivate of a local pepper tree is made into a slightly narcotic drink that is consumed all over the Pacific in more or less ritually regulated contexts. The owner of this operation turned out to be a customs officer by profession and quite obviously saw no conflict of interest in his narcotics enterprise.

After a tranquil night of sound sleep, our first on the island, I’m now looking at the wall of green. No, I’m staring at it. I’m losing my entire self and whatever else I possess in this curtain of green lushness. It calms my frayed nerve ends; it soothes my restless soul. Leaf upon leaf of chlorophyll-drenched vegetation carpets my retina with different shades of viridescent, olive, jade, pea green, emerald, lime, from dark to light, interspersed of course, with specks of brown and grey of stems and stalks. Then on top of it another layer outgreening the one below, sprawling creepers strangling entire trees without one single trace of mercy. Three blindingly white tropicbirds shoot out of the wall now and spiral skywards in their eternal pursuit of each other. While the big plump dove lupe flutters from one branch to its neighbor, three dirt red butterflies climb their rather erratic path to some golden flower pods. In the shade at the foot of the wall a white egret stalks helpless prey with an awkward gait, curving its neck in a tight wound S. Thick, fat and black-legged spiders spin weightless nets of stickiness across overhangs in the canopy luring withering little moths to come and have their fickle blood sucked out of their veins. Eddies of gusty wind come tumbling down the wall every now and then, combing violently through the foliage and exposing for an instant the whitish green underside of the leaves, making them sparkle in the sunlight with verdant laughter. A mighty row of coconut palms crowns the wall with its fickle fronds, towering tall, swaying supremely from side to side, holding on tightly to the precious nuts so full of tropical sweetness. My transfixed gaze wanders freely back and forth, up and down, in aimless zigzag, pausing lustfully, hurrying hastily, leading and following simultaneously, skipping gaily, floating heavily, meandering helplessly in a never tiring, never ending, and continuously unfinished story with no literary structure.

We’re now paddling our little outrigger canoe along the foot of the wall. Gliding silently over fragile coral antlers, dark blue sea stars, grey sea cucumbers wound pretzel-like around each other in loving embrace, little silver fish dart hence and forth, round mini seamounts hint at tiny dwellers under the fine coral sand. The paddle digs into the wet and distorts the view with wobbles. A short shove propels our craft along mangrove roots darting through the salty brine into the seafloor forming an impenetrable maze of red-brown stalks supporting a world of thicket where again the green dominates convincingly. Further into the little bay some isolated islets of mangrove thicket people the tidal flats in a surreal seascape, a frugal freeze frame of the struggle between land and sea, fluid and fixed, dissolved and concrete.

The following day awakens with overcast sky. A grey cloud cover spreads amongst veins of white above. I’m trying to restart the magic and focus on the wall. Two or three disturbing thoughts want to be dealt with. They scream for attention like some spoilt thirteen-year-old brad from Beverly Hills. If I just ignore them, will they go away? Please, just leave me alone! I implore a somebody else inside myself with no proper name while delicately trying to divert my attention along the lianas, searching for the soothing green. The hues are darker now under the ambient grey, but maybe the magic is in the shapes today. Hearts, ovals, spades, half-rounds, ellipsoids, radiant gradients, concentric veins, stalking stems, globular goblets, hourglass waste lines, jagged joints, graceful steps, bloating clusters, cringed crossings, softly swaying seams, showers of tiny droplets… Out of nowhere a sound intersects my trepid intent of mediating meditation. Compressed air escaping a safety valve in some preindustrial machinery? The thin hair at the back of my neck bristles in aroused erectness. I’ve heard that sound before, yes, the night we drifted windless at the entrance of Vava’u’s maze of fjords. But here, all the way at the very end of one of those five mile long inlets? My gaze gyrates around towards the open bay. A slick of flat water gyrates in the opposite sense just past where the coral shelf dips into the 80 Meters deep basin. Then just to the left of it a hump breaches the surface and a jet of steam shoots out of a blowhole. Right next to it another blowhole appears and ejects a smaller jet. Incredible! Mama humpback and her calf have come all the way up the channel to pay us lovers of nature a visit! At regular intervals the two surface in perfect synchronicity and explore both branches of the bay. Long, slender bodies of enormous proportions, shiny black arcs sloshing amongst wavelets, leaving behind a sheen of transparent reflection that eventually vanishes, like everything on the water, without even a hint of traceable impressions. Then the rhythm of emergences is ruptured and the giant dorsal fin remains aloft and stationary, triggering ever latent worries that the leviathan might be helplessly stranded on the reef. Man’s endless fantasy that Mother Nature does need his assistance. On closer inspection mama whale is slowly drifting with the outgoing tide, eventually resuming her aerobically timed intervals of heavy breathing and finally slowly fading away into the distance with her hatchling at the side mimicking her own mighty behavior perfectly, albeit with a ginger touch of infant clumsiness.

I return to the wall of lush and lustful green. It is my home now, it is my wall, where I feel sound and safe and one. How long will it hold me, how long will it keep me sane until, again, I will shatter into the million and one pieces of civilized persistence? A minute maybe? A seemingly endless hour?  A long and winding day? A treacherous stretch of a week possibly? Could it last the length of a lunar month? Will the healing be for good?

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